Saturday, December 31, 2011

Bad Zoke

This happy new year I want a happy new yaar.

Have A Good One

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Grow A Pair

Three women got together one evening and through a fog of marijuana teetered down a dangerous path. They found themselves recounting their tumultuous adventures with unsuitable partners.
Towards the end of the evening, they converged upon an idea of spending their twilight years together in an Old Hag Home.
Then one friend said: And there'll be a sign outside that says 'Yay Boobies!'
To which the other one added: No entry unless you grow a pair.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pause For Reflection

Yesterday something unsettling happened to me. I was at my friend's home and her sister's son came bounding in. He and I have a cordial relationship. We greet each other when we pass in the hall and generally wish each other well. Yet, neither of us has really taken the time to create lasting bonds with the other.
I accept my fault, being inept at relating to the younger generation, just as he must own responsibility for being one year old.

Anyhoo, the little man came bounding along. I was lounging on the bed with my friend (his aunt) and we were debating the importance of woollen socks in winter. Generally, the child tends to shoot in & out of rooms at random so I didn't think much of it until he began to climb my side of the bed. I enjoyed watching the struggle for a while (the little bum attempting various wriggle-based techniques to make the ascent) until I realised that life with babies is not a mere spectator sport. I helped the boy up.

He was generally in good spirits having just eaten a boiled egg and taken a hearty dump and was feeling, I suppose, at one with the universe. He decided to jump on me and envelop me in a big hug. I was taken aback. While he wrapped his ridiculously tiny hands around my neck, my own arms were limp at the sides. What is the protocol in such situations? Does one say 'awwwww'? (I did.) Does one pat the child's head in validation? (I did.) Does one attempt to return the honour? Yes, it seems one does.

And so I hugged the little fuzzball back.

You know those National Geographic documentaries with the 3D animation of how neurons behave, with the whooshing of electrical impulses across the central nervous system? Something like that ensued and suddenly I had a vision. No, not of me cradling a brood of babies (it's surprising how many babies one can cradle at the same time in ones imagination), but of my mother saying - "See, doesn't that feel amazing? Don't you want some of that for yourself? Don't you feel the urgency of your biological clock ticking? Have some babies, won'tcha?"

I had to take pause for reflection.

To my vision I answer: Yes. No. No. No thank you.
I won't lie. The babyness of babies is a narcotic high like no other and I'm not immune to it. I'm down with babies. Babies are fly. I can even accept how becoming a parent could impart meaning to people's existence. I just doubt it would, my own. Of course, were I to have children I'm sure I wouldn't remain untouched by the experience. But must I invite this experience into my life when I feel no compelling requirement to? No argument extended so far has made me change my answer of Oh Hell No.

And there've been several arguments.

1. Perpetuation of the race: A relative was an insistent advocate of this argument. He didn't mean the human race either, he had narrowed it down to our specific Brahminical stock. On pressing him further the conversation entered the murky zone of how we Harvard-going, Padmashri-winning types (see how I inserted a show-off bit here?) needed to outnumber the plastic-bag-picking, garbage-collecting types. To which, I responded - I neither went to Harvard, nor does my barely-scraped-through-college intellect imply I'm winning the Padmashri anytime soon. So if he was refering to how valuable my genes are, they're at best Meh.
His argument may hold water if I were to meet & conjugate with a Harvard PhD-cum-Padmashri awardee, who also happened to belong to my gotra. I haven't met any so far, but if you fit the profile & possess a high sperm count, please contact me. Meanwhile, do excuse me, I have to take out the trash.

2. You'll regret it once you hit menopause: The sword of menopause has been hanging over my head since I first started menstruating in the 8th standard. I was told to expect the maternal urge in my mid 20's. It didn't happen. Then they said - wait till you pass 25, it'll happen. It didn't. Ok, talk to us when you approach 35 and realise you're dangerously close to the finish line. Nope, still nothing.
Because here's the thing: If at age 55, I truly wish to be a mother, there are wonderful options to adopt a child that someone else didn't have place for in their lives (Because guess what? Babies aren't a gift to everyone on this over-crowded and over-burdened planet.) In which case, if I indeed wish to keep the option of parenthood open, my only obligation is to stay fit & disease-free so that I can run after the little terrors even when I'm 65.

3. You are incomplete as a woman unless you give birth: Perhaps. But then you're also incomplete as a woman if you don't follow your passion, if you don't travel, if you don't invest in relationships, if you don't indulge your desires, if you don't perform selfless acts, if you don't possess an education and don't build a professional life.
I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted just reading that list (and it doesn't even include the requisite number of hours one requires for time wastage). I'm guessing all of us have dropped the ball on some of these items in order to pursue the others.

4. But babies are so cute!: This is the most persuasive argument so far. It's true that most babies are kinda awesome (even when they're cranky or poopy) and some of the older ones will say things that'll make you re-evaluate your life. Still, the basic problem I have with this argument is that babies grow up and their cuteness declines rapidly. They become, shudder, these things called individuals and tend to become their own sodding people with shocking alacrity.

5. But your mother needs grandchildren: Sigh. The ultimate diss. What a failure you are as a child to not spawn your own child. It eats me up inside, this selfishness I possess. I have tried to make it up to my mother by being a peace-loving citizen of the world and a generally happy person. When that didn't cut it, I offered to buy her a baby. This overture too was spurned.

The pause for reflection having run its course, I snapped back to reality. The boy had dispensed his share of love and was now squirming to get away. I released him after one last squeeze and cheered on as he ran off to chase a fly.


Also read: With Apologies to Nike by @chronicusskeptic

Covered In Love by Chidi Okoye

Friday, December 16, 2011

Death Be Not Proud

Everytime someone like Christopher Hitchens dies, I panic as though the world is running out of seering intellect & fearless folk.
That seems illogical.
Maybe I panic because in the absence of people like Hitch, I'll have to think & be fearless for myself.

Christopher Hitchens 1949-2011: Click here for a reading list

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Here's To The Asshole In All Of Us

...or maybe just the one in me.

December's not been very kind. I've had one health related mishap after another. First my back gave out on me. Then, a mysterious illness that had my mom sticking needles in my bum (it's ok, she's a doctor), a Masterchef-inspired finger massacre with a butcher's knife and finally a sprained wrist caused due to incorrect techniques employed in hooking a bra. I tried gaining perspective on my troubles by reading Christopher Reeve's autobiography 'Still Me' but since physical setbacks don't frequently occur in my life, suffice it to say, I was not a happy camper.

Of course there was the discomfort. But I was also frustrated because every evening I spent in bed was an evening not spent outside. I'm not a terribly physical person (by which I mean, I'm a sloth) but I do love walking. Summers, terrible as they are in Delhi, aren't feasible for long walks. So each winter day is extremely precious.

(The above is a prologue that, I'm hoping, will justify the upcoming telling of my assholey-ness.)

I didn't wait for the back to heal. I did a pilates class with a friend, experienced temporary relief and decided I was cured. A few evenings ago, I hobbled across to the colony's walking track and began a gentle round. Within minutes an elderly gentleman caught up from behind. He must've been in his 80's and was quite sprightly. As we walked shoulder to shoulder, he smiled at me. I smiled back but inside I was seething. The old guy hadn't just caught up, but would soon overtake me. What was that? A pity smile?! I pressed my aching bones into action and made a few feeble attempts to increase my pace. It was tragic, really.

For about five minutes, I pretended to be in a race with the gentleman, who by now had decoded my insanity. He wasn't looking for competition, he was just out for a walk. Now here was this crazy lady trying to out-walk him. There was a bit of a dance, a dialogue without words as our respective speeds did the talking. At some point the wiser one (not me) prevailed and he began peeling off to the right as I veered left. Unfortunately for him, in order to successfully complete this maneuver we'd both have to cross each other.

I should've let him pass but I was still raging in my mind. So I decided to turn left before he could turn right and cut him off sharply. In trying to avoid a collision, he stumbled slightly, then regained his step. As I sped away, like a renegade Salman Khan after mowing down innocents, I looked back shamefaced & mouthed an apology. The octogenarian, who'd reverted to his nimble stride, gave me the kindest 'It's ok, don't worry about it' grin.

This was hardly the first time I'd been an asshole. This summer something weird happened. Something shifted the value system I'd built carefully over the years. A situation presented itself & I wanted to be an asshole. I wanted to be selfish & uncaring. I no longer wished to see the larger picture. I was in full control of my mental faculties. I made a decision to be bad.
The joke was - I did unto others as I'd had done unto me (which had then undone me for a long time). I did the same thing. It was a decision, cold & calculated.

What made me do it? A sense of entitlement that I'd earned the right to be bad after years of being good. Or maybe, I got too impatient with internal debates. Perhaps I thought - 'If I could survive that, others would survive this.' I was definitely greedy.
I deluded myself into thinking that the past justified my present. It was a scary moment and in many ways it burst my little bubble of moral uprightness. Once the bubble burst, I had to question everything I'd been so sure about. If I wasn't good then what was I really? Suddenly words like 'sensible', 'silly', 'intelligent', 'dimwitted', 'honest', 'cruel', & 'thoughtful' seemed too lofty. They needed to be broken down into terms that were less loaded.

So in the spirit of keeping things simple and hoping I don't go rogue again, it's important to say this: I'm a woman who likes to trip up old men to feel better about her trivial problems.
I'm an asshole but I promise I'm trying not to be.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

What Would You Do?

I'm very excited about the Discovery Network's new series 'Curiosity'. They're doing some brilliant & inspired work in popular non-fiction. As someone who's worked in the Indian non-fiction industry for over a decade and is severely jaded, this series gets me energized. So of course, I'm going to plug it like crazy.   

Writer-Director Eli Roth hosts the second episode of Curiosity that asks - 'How Evil Are You?'
It's a topic I'm captivated by - acts of evil (especially mass destruction) and how evil-doers reconcile themselves to their actions.
Not all the answers can be found in this film, which focusses primarily on a famous experiment from the '60's called the Milgram Experiment, but it's still a fascinating watch.

The film's basic premise (as I understood it) is:

In terms of biology, evil isn't as far removed from 'good' people, like you & I, as we'd like to think.
And that critical moment when you decide between right & wrong action? It's not quite as straightforward as we'd imagine.

Turns out that at crunch time, it's not so much our moral beliefs we employ but those of the top dog who controls our environment. Nearly 65% of us will act, not in accordance with our conscience, but in accordance with the accepted 'code' of that time (Sounds a lot like Twitter, doesn't it?).

Turns out that even if women ran the world, the Holocaust could still have happened. (Sigh. There goes my favourite unsubstantiated theory.)

Turns out that decades of widespread 'sensitization' & awareness about things like genocide, murder, torture etc. have had very little effect on our collective sense of right & wrong.

Turns out empathy is one of the most difficult emotions to feel and even more difficult to act from.

Turns out that you & I will commit acts of evil even as we bury ourselves under excruciating guilt. That we, in the words of Eli Roth, are willing to be 'the torturer & the tortured all at once, never quite comfortable in our own skin'.

This isn't a comfortable realisation: because not only does this mean that you & I could plausibly run death camps, it also means that we can't be quick to judge or distance ourselves from those who do commit acts of evil.

But don't be sad. Turns out that the reverse is also true: that if someone intervenes with positive role-modeling, you & I will suddenly grow balls, rebel against provocative authority figures and refuse to commit evil acts.

To this I'd like to add my own little theory (which is based on little to no research data): I think empathy is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. At its strongest, it can overcome the compulsion of cowing to authority & prevent you from becoming part of the mindless herd. At its best, it can return to you, your sense of self.


John Steinbeck's work touches frequently upon themes of good & evil and what makes us act in one or the other way. His epic novel 'East of Eden' is a generational story that suggests evil is a genetic predisposition (as do certain segments of the Discovery film) but eventually hinges on a biblical word 'timshel', which is a game changer.
In the latter half of 'East of Eden', various characters debate the correct English translation for 'timshel'. One translation of the Bible interprets it as 'thou shalt' but deeper study reveals its true meaning lies in the phrase 'thou mayest'. 'Mayest' offers man a choice in his actions that the word 'shalt' doesn't. Out go any notions of religious compulsions, out goes the excuse 'I commit this act in the name of God'. Steinbeck makes a powerful suggestion that free will exists in holy scriptures and there is no basis for using religion as justification for doing evil (or good, I suppose).

In another of his famous works 'The Winter of Our Discontent', the 'good' protagonist grapples with a critical choice. To commit an act of evil or not. He is torn straight down the middle and, as a reader, one doesn't know what he will decide to do. But once he (and a very likeable 'he' he is too) goes down a path, he commits to it in its entirety. In the final chapter we get a glimpse of the price he's had to pay to make his choice. It's beautiful and devastating and to be frank, even though I've read the book several times, I'm yet to fully grasp it.

Also read: Does Evil Exist?: Neuroscientists suggest there is no such thing (as evil or free will). Are they right? (link via @culdivsac)

The Test

The above video is a popular test to guage which parts of your brain you're most likely to employ in the course of your life. Take a look and note your responses. Now match them to the analysis below:

1. You can't tell which way the figure is turning: You have a minor disability that causes you to insist automobile drivers turn left, while you gesticulate frantically to the right. At best, you will be the butt of humilating jokes. At worst, you will be involved in a terrible car crash. Either way, insist on medical insurance.

2. You think the visual is incomplete without a dancing partner: You are ready for commitment but only if you give up the nasty habit of sobbing 'I'm going to DIE ALONE!!' into your pillow every night.  

3. You wonder what the figure looks like when not in silhouette: You are perpetually horny and frequently channelize your productive energies into abusing yourself. You have a bright future in the porn or banking industry but must reconcile to a future where no one wants to shake your hand.

5. You're glad the figure is swathed in black from head to toe: You are a misogynist i.e. lady-hater. Don't worry, this does not mean you're a boobies-&-cooch hater. You just wish they wouldn't express any thoughts, feelings or opinions and stopped serving you cold paranthas dammit.

6. The figure makes you dizzy: You're either stoned, low on blood sugar or need an MRI. You may not live too long or prosper much but you can always switch to watching this.

7. The video makes you mad. You want to kill all videos: You're probably a high-ranking official in the Indian government and enjoy using the word 'sentiments' frequently. Congratulations, you must be rich.

"My dong this long. How long your dong?" ~ Kapil Sibal, Hon'ble Minister of Communications & Information Technology, Government of India

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Stupid Mantras

Live each day as if it's your last.

Really? Do you know what would happen if we actually did that? Lived every microsecond with the spectre of our mortality, our looming deaths? Fear would paralyze us into Tussaud versions of ourselves. Or we'd poop. Like, constantly.
And because we'd be pooping constantly, we'd have to consume constantly. Pooping, consuming. Pooping consuming. Pooping, consuming. The spiral would continue until our bodies were completely destroyed and we dropped dead in a pile of our own waste. Imagine how many years of productive life we'd have cut short because we tried living each day as if it were our last. Imagine the plight of the person who finds our corpse and has to clean up after.

Tell me, is that a risk worth taking?

What do you think happens next?

Note: The above corresponds to this blogger's personal views. If you find any ideas or words objectionable please direct your complaints to:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Excellent Deduction

Aw man! You smell awful!

What d'you mean?

That stink. You gotta do something about it! Phew!

That's presumptuous of you.

Dude! There's no one else here. It's you...god...

Oh really? Think of all the bad smells you've ever, in your entire life...

Jesus! What's that going to solve?

What's the common denominator in all those bad smells?

What's the common deno--?! Man, you're crazy! What's that supposed to mean?

Seriously dude, think. 

I don't know man...I'm dying here...

Your NOSE, man! The common denominator is your nose.

Excuse me?

Yeah, so quit hassling me & do something about that stink already.

Me No Speaky Rubbish Translations

So I've been on this Amrita Pritam kick for the last few days (NO? Really?!) and have been wandering through Delhi's bookshelves di galiyan in search of her like a lost-and-found lover (What? Stalker, you say? Huh? I. Can't. Hear. You.)
I will tell you this: the quest for Amrita is not for the faint-hearted, especially if you're faint-hearted and linguistically challenged like me. Because I don't just want Amrita. I want her in a language I understand. I know this is a travesty - after all, we're talking about poetry, where meanings can shift with every little sentence restructure and certain words, well they just might not exist in the language of your choosing.
I'm willing to make a compromise, though. I'll forgo English. Just give me Hindi, ok? I'll figure out the rest. After all, how far can the leap from Punjabi to Hindi/Urdu be?

Oh God. Huge leap. Huge, huge leap. The kind that makes you stretch so far out you split your inner seams. The kind that hurts so bad, there'd better be a baby at the end of it all. In short, I never thought words would pain me so.

To my uneducated ears, Punjabi has always seemed like a dance between Hindi & Urdu. As Urdu leans in, Hindi sashays out and when Hindi takes the lead, Urdu gracefully accompanies. The two are never out of step & together create something fresh and evocative.
The translation I eventually found was more like those drunken Unclejis who storm dance floors at Delhi weddings. The Hindi is hard and pushy (and strangely reminds me of L.K.Advani's screechy speeches at public rallies). The Urdu pops in and out most jarringly. The musicality & emotional impact of the original is totally lost in the mayhem. 

Now I'm left here like a spurned lover (stalker/ weirdo) with this useless translation filled with cold words. I'm pissed off. I might even commit arson. Create mayhem of my own. Conflagrations of fancy words, jostling with ridiculous college-level humour and needless parentheses (just say 'brackets' will you?). Hell, I'll also throw in some random images because who doesn't like a story with pictures?

This is my ode to Amrita's translator. Take that, bitch.

"I want world peace" ~ L.K. Advani

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Amrita Pritam: 'Mera Pataa'

Aaj main apne ghar da number mittaiyan hai
Te gali de matthe de lagaa gali da naam hataaiya hai
Te har sadak di disha da naam punjh ditta hai
Par je tussa mainu zaroor labhna hai
Ta har des de, har sheher di, har gali da booha thakoro

Ih ik sraap hai, ik var hai,
Te jitthe vi sutantar rooh di jhalak paavey
.........samajhna uh mera ghar hai.

Today I have erased the number of my house
And removed the stain of identity from my street’s forehead
And I have wiped off the directions on each road
But if you really want to meet me
Then knock at the doors of every country
Every city, every street
And wherever the glimpse of a free spirit exists
That will be my home

~ 'My Address' by Amrita Pritam (translation: Raza Rumi)

Also this by Amrita Pritam's partner Imroze, via Nandini Arora (Yes, Nandu, they did ruin it for the rest of us...)

फ्रांस के एक मशहूर नौवल में
एक पात्र अपने आप से कहता है-
मेरा जी चाहता है
की मैं दुनिया की सब औरतों
के साथ सो सकूँ ...
पर किसी के किसी नौवल कहानी में
किसी पात्र का कभी जी नहीं चाहा
की मैं उस एक औरत के साथ जाग सकूँ ...

सोने वालो को सिर्फ़ जिस्म ही मिलता है
औरत तो मिलेगी
...किसी जागने वालो को ही


In a well-known French novel,
A character reflects:
My heart desires
To sleep with every woman
in this world...
But is there not any novel, any story,
or any character, who feels:
I wish I could wake up next to that special woman...

Those who desire to sleep, only get the body,
The one who gets the woman the one who is awake.

~ Imroze (Translated, very poorly, by yours truly)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Spooky - Or Are You There God? It's Me, Aquatic

For the last week this one saying has been following me, popping up in the strangest of places, spooking the bejesus out of me.
First, as a random occurrence on my Twitter feed.
Then on a dear friend's art blog, as part of a beautiful painting that I decided to make my desktop.
And then, just 10 seconds ago, as the opening lines to a documentary I downloaded today.

"There's a crack in everything...
...that's how the light gets in"
~Leonard Cohen

These are the things that make you book the next flight to Lourdes. Or get you put on meds. Or make you re-evaluate your life.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


*This post is dedicated to the crazy lady who taught me about the 'Eros' of her 'doodle'. Don't ask.

It's funny how things (and meanings of things) can remain the same while transforming every instant.
Like the famous soliloquy from Hamlet, which acquires new symbolism while retaining its original existential dilemma with the single exchange of the word 'be' with its syllabic doppelganger.

"To pee, or not to pee, that is the question
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles..."

"But tal to me, Hamlet, are you sooar?" ~ Horatio

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Whatchoo Talkin 'Bout, Willis?

These apples taste like Satan's balls.

How dare you disrespect apples?

These apples taste like Satan's balls.

How dare you take Satan's name in vain!!

These apples taste like Satan's balls.

How do you know what Satan's balls taste like?



Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Teen Behenein: A Review of the Reviewers

Last evening I attended a film screening at the School of Arts & Aesthetics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. The film was Kundan Shah's 'Teen Behenein' (completed in 2005, not seen in theatres till date) travelling the country in its DVD avatar with Chief Associate Director Shekhar Hattangadi. It is thematically rooted in the dowry-related triple suicides in 1988 Kanpur, when three sisters decided to end their lives to save their parents the burden of getting them married off. (The filmmakers are at pains to clarify that this is not a biographical representation of the tragedy. The incident only serves as a take-off point for what is most certainly fiction.)
Cinematically, it's a simply treated film with its share of flaws that other reviewers have described better than I could. As for me, I found it extremely well researched and nuanced in terms of the characters' dilemma, their inner workings and the societal pressures they eventually succumb to.

It wasn't an easy film to watch. I'm one of two sisters fortunate to have been born to people who were excited to have us. (My doctor mother would tell us stories of her patients asking, "Only two daughters? No sons?" Then she'd proudly re-enact the feminist lectures she'd give them.) Growing up, my parents were focused on us getting degrees, building a profession and being financially independent. At no point was marriage the sole purpose of our existence, at no point was getting us married, theirs. Still, the film made me uncomfortable - but for a twist of fate, my sister & I could just as well been the siblings in Teen Behenein.

I was riveted. It brought back memories from when I was 9 yrs old and saw the front-page photograph of three hanging girls - such young girls too - and thinking: what would make you so miserable that you'd want to do that? The film laid it all bare in stunning and painful detail.

Then someone in the audience giggled. Her laughter caught on and soon her friends were giggling too. I can't claim to know what they found so funny but was taken aback by how different our viewing experiences were. Once the screening was over, the floor opened up to questions & comments. No one was curious about the characters or the story (or even the process of arriving at that particular cinematic treatment) but there were plenty of comments - some felt the film had a 'narrow' perspective because the girls had no aspirations besides marriage & that dowry was too trivial a matter to elicit suicidal decisions.  Some commented on how showing the sisters deriving strength from praying to Krishna was too 'romantic' and 'took away from the seriousness of the issue'. Other commenters, Shekhar told me later, took offense at the portrayal of educated young women, who 'gave in so easily'. 'Feminists', Shekhar said, were amongst the least impressed with Teen Behenein's story.

To me, their comments indicated a fundamental disconnect with the reality that countless Indian women live out every single day. It is a hard fact that, like in the film, many women are brought up to think they are mistakes, that they are the sole cause of their parents' unhappiness. (Like in the film, it is also hard fact that these women are often highly educated.) It's fact that these women derive their sense of belonging from their marriage-worthiness. Fact that they don't see education as a stepping stone to emancipation. Fact that they do not define emancipation the way I do. Fact that some of them subvert their identities to such an extent that, like the eldest sister in the film, they believe even their dreams don't belong to them.

Earlier this year, while researching reproductive health issues I interviewed a bunch of young married girls, ironically, in Kanpur. Many were college graduates yet couldn't speak to me directly. Every time they tried, their mothers in law would answer on their behalf.
They were all aware of the contraception options available (even the newly introduced 'injection' method that I'd been blissfully unaware of until I took on the project), the risks involved and the procedures they could get done. Most of them had no desire for more children, yet were unwilling to practice anything besides the most traditional (and largely ineffective) methods.
"Why?" I asked incredulously.
"Because." They answered. Just that - because.
Their mothers-in-law glared at me for asking such questions. I knew then that these girls had handed over complete control of their bodies to someone else. When I asked one 21 yr old girl with 3 children, what she was hoping would prevent another conception, she said: "Krishan bhagwan hai na."

Of course, I'm fortunate to have this perspective largely thanks to where my job takes me and I can't speak for the experiences viewers in yesterday's audience have had. But it upsets me that they refused to validate the Teen Behenein sisters' story as plausible (or that they accused the filmmakers of projecting an inaccurate picture of reality). It upsets me that some of the most privileged members of the audience thought the story was either so unreal that it was funny, or told so badly told that it misrepresented Indian women. Most of all, it scares me how blind our privileges have made us to how close we've all come to being one of the Teen Behenein.

But for a twist of fate it could have all been so different.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Thought Experiment

Try this. Try being absolutely non-racist, non-sexist, non-elitist, non-homophobic, non-sizeist - non prejudiced in every way possible. It's is not easy, I know. You have my sympathies...empathy rather, because I struggle too. Sometimes, I forget and an atavistic discomfort with the other creeps in. If you're like me, you might make a tasteless joke or become flustered & confused. Or you could swing the other way & be patronizing of the other. It's okay, get back on your feet and try again.

But try.

I liked this post a lot. It's fun. Also true: Important Truths For Your Consideration

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Really, people...Part IV: Look Ma, I'm Racist

Saw this in the papers today and thought - Wow! India has truly become a global superpower if it's beginning to exhibit classic signs of xenophobia in the mainstream:

Excerpt: Speaking to DT, Bhatt said, "There are similar apprehensions in Bollywood and everyone is planning to come together and fight this practice of Hollywood films being dubbed in Hindi or Tamil. We cannot allow them to have a right over our mother tongue and use it to their advantage just because they have the budget. Hollywood studios have big budgets for promotions and we can never match that. Hindi film producers are now planning to come together against this. Letters have been written to the I&B ministry secretary in the past also, and I can say with full certainty that something similar is on the cards now. We face similar issues in other states at times. For instance, I cannot get my movie dubbed in Bengali."

Hey Mahesh, here's a revolutionary thought - Let's make films that are less crap and maybe audiences will actually want to watch Bollywood rather than Hollywood films.

Yeah, that'll be Rs. 500. Come again.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Low Angle

It's been a difficult couple of days and I knew I had a solid cry coming. 
This evening I went to a screening of a documentary on Henri Cartier-Bresson. Once the lights dimmed and opening credits rolled across the black screen, I found the darkness & comfort I was looking for. I had me a quick & efficient weep.

And as the folks around me nibbled on their popcorn, tears fogged my spectacles and I thought - "It's been a difficult couple of days and I knew I had a solid cry coming...."

"There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment" - Cardinal De Retz

Monday, October 17, 2011

One Of A Kind

This one's for the sweet gentleman who left a comment on this blog about how sad I sometimes sound.
I'm one of those awful people who uses stories about her mother to get a laugh/ sympathy from people, when I'm in attention-seeking mode. Truth is, my mother is much more than the quirky, mooh-fat woman I paint her out to be. I love her dearly. She's strong, independent, generous, loving and tremendously funny - sometimes intentionally, sometimes...well...

Crank calls are a big problem for many women in this country. If you're female & own a cellphone, chances are that you've had your fair share of dedicated blank callers, heavy breathers and verbal abusers who call you up when their bosses/ wives/ dogs have kicked them around too much. I've tried many strategies to get rid of them: handing the phone over to male friends, shrieking loudly into the phone to deafen the caller, cutting the call (once, up to 27 times in an hour) or taking the call, putting the phone under a pillow to cut ambient sound and letting the motherfucker run up his phone tab.
None of it really works.

The day before yesterday, some poor sod decided to make an obscene phone call to my mother's cellphone. Phone rings, she picks it up pissed off (she's always pissed off when a phone rings, no matter who's on the other line) and barks into it: Hello!

Obscene Caller (OC): kshhhhhhhkkkkkhhhhhhhhhh

Mother: Hello? Hellohellohello? Hello! Hello? Hello? HelLO! HEllO? hELLO!!!!

OC: Kaun bol raha hai? (Who's speaking?)


OC: Main aapko dekhna chahta hoon. (I want to see you.)

My mother's a doctor and has many strange people calling her on a daily basis, asking to see her. She decided to continue the conversation.

Mother: Toh clinic me aakar dikhana. (So come over to the clinic for a consultation.)

OC: Main aapko chaddi ke bina dekhna chahta hoon. (I want to see you without your underpants.)

Mother: Accha? ACCHA?! Main bhi dekhoongi tumhey! Main bhi DEKHOONGI TUMHEY.....MAIN BHI DEKHOONGI TUMHEY CHADDI KE BINA!!!!! 



I guess you had to be there.

As for the crank calls, Ma hasn't had a single one in over 48 hrs.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Crossing Over

Hands held tight, they crossed the crowded street together. Him leading, as she adjusted her most stylish 'going incognito' gear - a pair of over-sized sunglasses, a massive grey poncho & skin-tight black leggings. Her hair was gathered rather messily at the top of her head. A couple of pimples that had appeared overnight had been camouflaged by an expert hand. She bent forward, leaning into him as they speedwalked through the crowd. Her ploy was working, the more she dug into his back, poky sunglasses and all, the less passers-by seemed to care.

And she said: "....I feel like a fool walking around with all this makeup on my face."

He replied: "Take it off then."

"I can't. If do and someone takes a picture, I won't hear the end of it in tomorrow's papers."

"Like what?"

"Like how old I look, how much work I need to get done. How the work I have had done is so terrible."

"So what if they do?"

"You think this is vanity? It's not. I'd just as soon be out for dinner with all my wrinkles & warts on full display."


"It's the machine. The machine can't function if I stop caring. One bad piece in the press, one paranoid producer. One paranoid producer, one film lost. One film lost, another piece of bad press. It snowballs and before you know it - you're done. Finished."

"Aren't you overstating things a bit?"

"You think? That's because you're not running the machine. You're not responsible if it comes to a creaking halt."

"Aren't you attending those prayer sessions? Don't they tell you, there is no machine?"

"Yeah, everything's a's all changing, I'm changing, you're changing. Nothing's permanent."

"See? You're not supposed to sweat the small stuff."

"Like the death of my career? Like letting down everyone who works for me? The loss of respect...bankruptcy?"   

"Well...hmmm...maybe 'nothing's permanent' doesn't necessarily mean 'nothing matters'...."

"I don't understand what you're saying. Are we there yet? How much further? People are begining to stare at me - I must look like such a freak with all this stuff caked on my face."

"Almost there. You're right, I don't get it either - how do you give a fuck about this world without giving a fuck? Don't worry, you look beautiful.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Note To Self

It's alright to accept that you're not all that. That the things you write about are neither very exciting nor relevant. That you're not as skilled with language as you'd like. That you make horrendous mistakes in grammar & spelling. That your blog is just a blog and not a stepping stone to anything more meaningful like a book or a script. It's alright if you can do this calmly, without self-pity, without loud proclamations of "I will never write again!" It's fantastic if you decide, in the face of all this, that you must never stop doing what you enjoy so much. That nothing can stop you from writing that book or script or from correcting your spellings.

When a story needs to be told, it will compel you to do the needful. Till then, go finish reading all those books you promised you'd finish. There's more than enough grammar to be learnt from those things.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Shit They Don't Tell You

It's taken me 32 years of living to realise I know nothing of love. At least not in the way they tell me I should.
I love both my families - the one I'm born into and the one I've cultivated. I also know that I'm loved back. I have felt deeply connected to creatures of all kinds, even objects. I've hugged my fair share of trees & even said "I Love You" to my Ipod and meant it. I've experienced what can only be described as love, when a piece of favourite music reaches its crescendo or when I read a sentence that's written so surprisingly, it takes my breath away.

But the kind of love they write pop songs & billion-dollar grossing films about? I've never known it.

I finally watched BBC's adaptation of 'Pride & Prejudice'. I hoped it would help me learn lessons about love, lessons I might have missed when reading the novel. It was very pretty, very charming and very infuriating - all the ingredients for a good romance, I suppose. Then came the most highly anticipated, deeply intimate moment the lead players had shared so far. After 5 episodes of waiting, this was it:

Surely Liz Bennett & Mr. Darcy had traces of anal-retentive South Indian DNA floating about
He's just proposed to her. She's just said yes. Super. Let's never talk about our feelings again okay? Okay.

Then there's this:
My route to understanding love, as you may have guessed by now, had more pit stops in popular culture than in real life. I never grew up with functional, positive examples of romantic love to learn from. I never knew any other templates of 'love' besides the ones pictured above. My 20's, therefore, were most exciting. 
I messed up all over the place. Misunderstanding what romantic love meant, what partnership entailed and what I needed to look for in a healthy relationship. By 28 I was most decidedly, and dangerously, on the brink of failure. So I gave up.
Then my friends started partnering up one by one and suddenly I had new templates to observe and learn from. Some crashed & burned spectacularly (because they, like me were following the above two templates of 'love'). The ones that stayed afloat opened my eyes up to a whole new world.

There are some who understand the real texture of intimacy more easily than I do. They seem to instinctively understand the unglamorous bits of being in love, the every single day hard work, the non-grand gestures that end up being more memorable than anything in a lovesong. I observe as these couples respectfully give each other the space to be the best individuals they can be, how they resolve conflicts, how they set ground rules, how they become a team, how they go about their normal lives. There's a distinct lack of melodrama, there's also a lot of talking (not as much 'reading of the minds' as I'd imagined) - in short, nothing that fits anything I've been taught 'love' to mean.

Maybe it's time to get real about how we tell love stories. Not just in films or on TV, but even the stories we tell each other, the stories we tell our kids: the little girls & little boys. Maybe in the tales we spin about grand gestures, we can sprinkle in some magic of the everyday kind. Maybe mention how loving oneself is as integral as divine luck in finding true love. Perhaps talk about how thrilling an argument can be when it leads to greater closeness. How sexy it is to know that someone truly sees & respects who you are. That love - any kind of love - is life's work, neverending & immensely rewarding.

It's taken me a while to get to the starting line. Even though I'm a little behind in the game it's not in my interests to look back or regret the lost time. What I can do is celebrate the fact that I'm no longer on the sidelines. 
This happy ending may or may not be like the movies, but I have a strong feeling that it will ultimately & profoundly be okay.        

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sometimes things just take time

I like when the unlikely character makes it.

A few years ago, I was watching Paris Je T'aime for the second time - having fallen asleep midway the last time it came on TV (not the film's fault, I was exhausted). I'm glad I stayed awake through to the end because the final story '14e Arrondissement' by Alexander Payne reached right inside me and made me cry. 

This was the genius of Margo Martindale - whose name, I'm ashamed to say I didn't know until last evening when the 2011 Emmys were broadcast in India. It was a great evening for unlikely characters. Peter Dinklage won. The funny women of American TV gathered en masse on stage and suddenly I had a glimpse of what the world might look like one day when more women were at the top of not just their game but THE game.

Miss Martindale is as far from the LA cookie-cutter star as your imagination can take you. She fumbles, bumbles, sobs most unprettily, does not have great posture or body, is not a 22-year-old 60 year old and she has never, until very recently, been recognized for her powerful talent.

Then this happens to her:

And in her acceptance speech I find the faith I sometimes struggle to have in my own life: "Sometimes things just take time..."

Friday, September 9, 2011

Memory loss

I can't sleep. Primetime newshour has rabid newscasters salivating over recently released recordings from 9/11. Can't flip a channel without the triumphant 'EXCLUSIVE' pasted over visuals of the WTC smoking & tumbling down in infinite loop. We're urged to appreciate the calmness of the inflight staff on doomed planes, to tune into the chilling frequencies of cold-blooded killers. We're asked to perform mass countdowns of the seconds to disaster.

Try not to forget, this is the 10th anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks on American soil.

Really, good people of the news channels, I won't. Especially since every couple of months (like the day before yesterday for example), the country I live in gets its own nasty little reminders. So what I need to know is this: what precisely do you want me to never forget? The voices on those tapes that I'll attach cinematic visuals to in my mind? That irrational near-conviction that if I paid close enough attention, I could alter the course of history allowing everything to end well? How do you propose we 'honour memories' through this continuous rinse cycle of broadcast tragedy? What do you propose I do with this insomnia?
Because if this is what you call 'rememberance' then I'd rather forget.

Street art by the charming Mr. Brainwash: Wikipedia him for shits & giggles. Better yet, watch 'Exit Through The Gift Shop'

Saturday, August 13, 2011


one day,
i'd like to go deep-sea diving in my grandma's pet fishbowl.
or be a whistleblower of whistleblowers.
maybe write a novel about my navel,
or how noses look crooked, reflected in my bifocals.

just small dreams, nothing fancy.

i'd love to travel with the millions i make in a parallel universe.
perhaps hike up my coworker's pants,
or take a gentle cruise down my perpetually stoned friend's stream of consciousness.

and love,
i'd like to hook up with john hamm's body double,
but because i value my roots, eventually settle down with a professional mamootty memorabilia salesman.

and when my day is done,
i want to be buried next to gandhi & then be cremated.
i want an obituary written in 140 characters by kamaal khan.
i want no one to weep for me, for i would have had a full life
so rejoice,
And I will soon return as a beloved character from your favourite sitcom. 

it's even funnier when you're sober

Thursday, August 4, 2011


"Wow, kya obituary-type picture hai."
That's the highest compliment my sister can pay as we both squint into the camera's display. What she means to say is that, for once, both of us look good at the same time. What I hear is this:
"...and that's the last thing she heard before her plane went down over the Atlantic. Tragic. This is Ryan Seacrest. Up next on E!News - Kim Kardashian's ass..."

And so the omens line up.
Waiting to board my connecting flight, a conversation is overheard between a mother and her young boy.
"What happens if there's a storm, Mom?"
"Then the plane doesn't take off baby."
"And if there's a storm after the plane's taken off?"
"Well, that's not so good then baby. But the pilots take care of it."
"Hmmm...good thing it's a clear day Mom."
"Yeah baby, good thing."

From here on out everything is a sign that I'm a fool for not heeding.
Everywhere I look people are reading the same headlines: "CRISIS!!!" "Armadebton!!!" It's clear I'm not the only one bracing for impact.

I'm seated next to a tobacco chewing Texan, who (because I have the aisle seat) has a tiny bladder. An hour into the flight, he taps my leg. I get up to let him pass. The next hour, he taps my leg again. And again in the third hour. By the fourth hour, I don't even need to open my eyes as I feel his finger approach my leg. I begin to get up for him.

"Don't get up...look out the window..."
It's a most spectacular electrical storm - beautiful but for the fact that the plane lurches every time lightening strikes. The Texan isn't alarmed, he just needs to go pee again. I shut my eyes tight and remind myself that I can't die now. Not after such a fabulous vacation, not before I give everyone their presents (especially that Apple Airport Extreme I got my dad - it's fucking heavy and I haven't carried it all this way only to have it vapourized in a freak accident), not before I get to live out at least 3 of the 97 resolutions I made on my holiday, to make real change in my life even though I'm getting older & have watched several of my hopes die and no longer have the same zest I did at 21 to dream those audatious dreams...

I don't remember much after that except a lame joke cracked over the announcement system about it being mildly windy. I sigh with relief and start scripting Ryan Seacrest's piece on my 'gripping escape from the jaws of death'.
And then there's a sound that chills me to the bone. It's a sound no one wants to hear on a long haul flight that's full to capacity. I've gravely misjudged the manner in which my doom would befall me but it's too late now. I shield myself from the impact but fail miserably as the son of a bitch in 30H turns his head towards me and with all of the life-force contained within him, sneezes.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Subliminal Messaging

He drove her mad with the time he took answering her text messages.
So the next time she sent him a carrier pigeon.
Two days later, he messaged back: "Yum."

What choice did he have? It carried its own seasoning & everything.

Within the first 25 minutes of this movie... get the idea that if you've seen a James Dean film and read enough Salinger, you know how things will end. But you watch anyway because the actor on screen is beautiful & damaged and this is really the first day you've had off in weeks. You give in to his demand for attention, hanging on to his face and every lithe movement he makes (do people, handsome people, really choreograph their moves like that?) because if you let go, fear will flood your body, your skin will burn with the dread of tomorrow and your heart will start pounding for all the wrong reasons.
Then he walks into an Indian restaurant in Manhattan and you smile distractedly as he orders a Kingfisher.

Monday, June 6, 2011


I am unsubscribing from New York University's film school email alerts.
I made it to the programme but couldn't afford to go. The alerts helped me pretend I was still connected to that world. But it's been 10 long years now. It's ok to unsubscribe.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

My Biggest Achievement

When life gets super sucky and I feel like I have accomplished nothing in the 32 years I've been alive, I stop and think:

At least I made it past this:

Ain't my country SOOPER?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Writer's Block

The ideas wouldn't come so she nibbled her pencil. She gnawed it down to the quick and started on the yellow notepad. Her teeth tore into the pages until she reached the desk. But she didn't stop. She chomped down hard, crunching its wooden legs down to their ends. Then she ate her way through the floor, which became the downstairs' tenant's ceiling. She ate the downstairs' tenant's ceiling & floor and kept on going.

She gobbled the foundation of the building and began burrowing into the ground. Swallowing fistfuls of clay, mud, roots & rodents, she made her gastric way through the earth. She grew larger & larger until her girth drilled a massive tunnel straight through to China. That's where she came up for air.

"I love you, oxygen!" she exclaimed before turning around.
She rolled all the way back, devouring earthworms & fossils along the way. When she finally reached home, she sat back down in her chair, pulled out a fresh sheet of paper and brand new pencil.
The ideas still wouldn't come but at least she was full.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What I Do

Whenever someone asks me what I do for a living, everything slows down as I release the word 'Screenwriter' from my mouth. I stretch time, savouring their widening of eyes and the 'wooooooowwwwww' that seems to go on for days.
I do this because the next question will promptly crash my little hovercraft of delusions into the ground.
"What films do you write for?"
"Non fiction."
"Like serials?"
" documentary films."
"Like Big Boss?"

Here, I pause. Because they're right. These films I help make (or 'supposedly' help make, as my mother believes) don't reach too many people. The last time I did something that was broadcast, was in 2007. I know of 2 people who saw it. One of them was my mother.

Still, it's a great job. Someone with a lot of money contacts me and tells me they don't have any money. Then they tell me the subject they wish to make a film on e.g: sewage treatment. I am asked to take a trip for research purposes. Thanks to such trips, I have experienced strange & fascinating things like the inside of a mountain, secret rituals of the Khalsa, Malyalee robots bumping into tables, a duet between Manoj & Shweta Tiwari and a Citibank conference.

Researching for documentary films is a respected profession amongst the 6 people who know what it entails. You're the equivalent of a Harvard PhD in this tiny group. What you say & believe about a particular subject is the gospel truth. You are, in fact Jesus of the film crew. (Or so you tell yourself as they delay your payment by another month.) No need for them to know that your analysis of the Guru Granth Sahib was the result of standing in the karha prasad line at the Golden Temple. After all, the final film will only give you 30 seconds of voice-over to expound on Sikh philosophy. Of which 'The Guru Granth Sahib is the Sikh holy scripture" takes up a whole 5 seconds.

After research is done, it's time for writing. This is a task of many contradictions. A good documentary film writer isn't one who actually writes well. It is one who knows when not to write. In a medium where the hierarchy of communication tools places visuals, sounds & interviews above everything else, the writer must constantly 'unwrite'. Shakespeare would've made an awful documentary film writer.

Then there's the unspoken rule. What you write is never right. Takes a while to get used to the gentle sounds of dismay when one presents first drafts. Contempt, horror & anger will be hurled at you by people who can't spell their own names correctly (or even spell 'correctly' krektly).
"Madam, you have not even written anything about our great Baba Kamdev's Exceptional Institute For the Hormonally Challenged!"
Who will explain to them that the visual of a building saying 'Baba Kamdev's Exceptional Institute for The Hormonally Challenged is quite Exceptional' does more than what a 2 page voice-over ever will.

And so you unwrite the script and present the film to your client.
They are effusive in their praise - "This cinematographer has done wonderful work!" "Who is your editor? Simply fabulous graphics!" Your chest bursts with pride or something like it and you eagerly await your pay cheque. You discover they've cut your pay because you only wrote 3.5 sentences in the hour long film.
You make like Guru Dutt in Kagaz Ke Phool and renounce the world.

Then, one day you're switching channels and catch a line that sounds vaguely familiar. You realise this is your line. You cringe at how horrendous it sounds but don't change the channel. You wait till the end of the show for that golden moment - the moment that, if your work was being shown in a cinema hall, would be the one when everyone walks out.
In a sea of names rolling up the screen, you see yours for a nanosecond.  It will be gone before you blink, not to return in a hurry, not to see a DVD release or fancy premiere. And so you stretch time again.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Word Terrorists

I am terrified that when they look back on our time, we will be called the Generation of Cynics. Or maybe that's just the world I inhabit.

Used to be that we chose a cause, believed in it, then acted on the belief. Used to be that idealism wasn't a dirty word.
Seems now that we choose someone else's cause because it delights us to ladle poison on it. We've become spectators, who've relinquished responsibility quite comfortably. We've bartered it away for the privilege of pontificating without leveraging anything.
We're expending our intelligence thinking of loopholes, always loopholes, until there's nothing left to pick and tear at.

The smartest minds I know are angry, blistering and explosive in their cynicism. Using words to a most powerful & terrifying effect. Questioning, not for the sake of acquiring answers, but simply to revel in the micro-second it takes for someone to answer. No one's interested in the answer. It takes too much time, too much effort and frankly we're all too pissed off. We're using words as weapons, play-acting some kind of 'rational' thinking when all we're really thinking is Kill, Kill, Kill.

And we say that cynicism saves. It keeps 'them' honest. It speaks the truth. Think again. Think of how your cynicism is a crutch, your lack of belief an excuse to crawl under the bed (or on top of the soapbox - you prefer). You build armies of cynics and then turn to your own 'god' in the hope that they don't turn on you. But they might. Hell, they will.

Or maybe that's just the world I inhabit.


A wonderful piece from The Guardian on someone who's often accused of being a word terrorist but is anything but: Amis on Hitchens: 'He's one of the most terrifying rhetoricians the world has seen'
(Link via Priya Singh)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Best Opening Lines Of All Time...

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and the scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants, and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses. Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, "whores, pimps, gamblers and sons of bitches," by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, "Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men," and he would have meant the same thing.

John Steinbeck (1902-1968)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Plan B

Midway through lunch, Doc got the call she'd been waiting for. The club sandwich, fondled lovingly only moments ago, found itself brutally flung to the side as she stood up with an electric sense of purpose, sending her chair flying across the floor.

She barked confident orders into the phone, "I'm coming. Prep the subject.". But her heart was a toy monkey, all wound up, clapping manically.

No stop lights heeded, no schoolchildren or old men with walking sticks allowed right of way. She bulldozed her way through traffic and within fifteen minutes made a screeching halt at the doorstep of the Institute. Keys still in ignition, she leapt out and rushed past the doors, which magically parted for her. Slipping across the polished floor, finding balance along the walls, she almost didn't make the corner that led her into her lab.

Her lab. Usually a chamber of isolation, tucked away in the back of the Insitute's building. Most passersby assumed it was a supply room full of chlorinated cleaning fluids & wilting brooms. Not today. The lab was humming with nervous energy. Doc's entire team was there, waiting with their eyes on the door for their leader's entry.

She burst in with a flourish and slightly out of breath. Assistant Moxy sprung to her side, shoving a tablet containing the latest data into her hands, while guiding her limbs into surgical scrubs. Doc hurriedly scanned Specimen A's stunning results, her smile widening, then disappearing behind a mask Moxy tied around her mouth & nose.

As she approached the operation theatre's entrance, the corner of her eye caught Dr. Spoote sidling up to her - "So, Doc, this is it, huh? This is your moment."

"Let's hope so, Spoote. I'm very confident."

"Of course you know this could go either way...."

"Let me interrupt you there Spoote. The subject is prepped - we don't want to fry the poor thing's nerve-endings now, do we? Or let me rephrase that - we don't want to waste the Institute's millions now, do we?"

Dr. Spoote stepped aside. Doc strode in, her eyes zeroing in on Specimen A, as she drew every fibre of her being into a nucleus of focussed concentration.

"Scalpel," she said.

The team gathered around her now, waiting for that single cut to begin the rest of their lives. Glory, sweet glory awaited each one of them.

Doc stood there, scalpel perched above Specimen A.

The team inhaled in unison.

"Oh dear," she said, "What exactly are we doing here?"


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A year and month to the day...

...the same dream, with the same intensity and the same sense of utter desolation.
I have just found out I'm dying of a disease that is slowly, but with great precision, vapourizing my insides. I am destined for death.
It is perpetually night in this dream, as I wander the hallways of this mansion that's supposed to be my home. There is no one here but me and two others - hired to be caretakers, but otherwise unrecognizable. They provide me with my basic needs - food, clean sheets and a kindly hello once in a while. Time is running out and I stumble from one room to the next, searching for a familiar face, someone who can hold me through the days I have left. But my body is continually weakening and getting progressively bent with each passing minute.
Like the first time, this dream too seemed to go on forever. I couldn't wake from it, I couldn't end the wandering. I found nothing, I just got weaker.
This time, it was too close to home. Just too close.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Boating in Kanpur

It is early morning and we find ourselves in the middle of the Ganga. We haven't had breakfast yet and our stomachs churn with every inch we gain rowing upstream.
Tiwariji, whose oil-slick of a hairdo violates my nostrils, sits two inches away from me. He has been sure to take a sip of the holy water before getting on.
We pass temple after temple along the ghats. Turn up the volume on your amplified bhajans. I don't think the gods can hear you yet
The stench gets worse.
"Chaliyega wahaan?" the boatman asks.
"Le chaliye, na."

With every slap of the oar, we are splashed by the Ganga; a putrid mess of untreated sewage. Organic waste, decomposed human & animal remains, chromium, arsenic and the always-in-ample-supply human excreta.
There is a man on the banks angling for fish. And now we can hear sounds of a waterfall...

Kanpur is taking a massive dump in the river Ganga and we have front row tickets to the show. The crows in the box seats are having a field day. The smell of human waste is unbearable and it's all one can do to not gag.
"Yehaan pehle bahut saara soos rahta thha..." says our boatman. 'Soos' or the Gangetic River Dolphin.
"Aur paas chalein?"
"Nahi, theek hai."

We're making bad jokes now:
Holy crap. We're in deep shit. We're up shit creek with shitty paddles.
Ganga hamaari maata hai/ Mooth humaari khaata hai.
The boat turns and the boatman stops rowing. The current will carry us back to Parmat Ghat. It will then courier the toxic sludge downstream to Allahabad and beyond.
"Don't ever drink anything but bottled mineral water in Kanpur," someone says from the back.
Tiwariji points to the floodplains on the other bank. They're growing watermelons there. Reminder to self: Don't ever eat the watermelons in Kanpur."
Try not to go to the bathroom in Kanpur. Try not to die here either.

At Bangla Ghat, we breathe in the heavy air of our colonial past. The British drainage system in Kanpur was visionary, yes, but we've taken it from strength to strength, getting creative in adding newer effluents to this poisonous legacy.
Oh look, a decaying calf floats by. Baby cow, not human.

Time to head back.
Tiwariji disembarks first. He bends down, scoops up the river water, takes a sip and pours the remaining liquid over his head.
We drive back to the hotel in silence. Breakfast is waiting.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Meeting Narender Singh Benarsi at the Golden Temple

Read my latest post on the music of the Golden Temple and a conversation with one of its senior raagis at the other blog And Your Bird Can Sing.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Much as I appreciate people visiting this blog, sometimes like today, I wish this was my private nook in the crowded Internet, where I could tuck myself into a corner and spend the day feeling sad, writing ungrateful & wildly incorrect stories about how pathetic the state of my affairs is. To let this sad music playing in the background become my reality and not have anyone see how selfish & sniffling I can be. I want to feel tortured without being reasoned out of it. I want to feel torn without good advice getting in the way. I want my mundane tantrums to take on the epic proportions of tragedy. I want to be buried under the full weight of this hopelessness. I want no one to come to my rescue.

Except that perhaps...I do.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

My Zara Bag

I bought my first big girl handbag recently. It's from Zara - a big girl brand with big girl price tags. It is charcoal grey, with two types of handles. One is the shortened version, where the bag fits tightly under my armpit. The other is a longer strap that allows me to look like a very chic postman. The main body of the bag is like a black hole into which anything & everything gets sucked. Ordinary laws of physics cease to apply in this realm. Only prayer and superhuman rifling through its depths can help you attain what you seek.
In that sense, my Zara bag pleases me greatly.
Although I bought my Zara bag on sale, the world does not need to know that. It gives me the notion that maybe someday I could dress like big girls too. That maybe one day I will chuck those denims and start wearing razor thin belts around my shirts. Those girls look so pretty and their hair never moves.

Two weeks ago, I got called away to a mountain. I took my Zara bag with me. Then I was told to go into a tunnel. Like a small girl, I took my Zara bag with me. Ten minutes into the tunnel, I slipped in a soft, clay puddle. I grabbed the sides with one hand as the other hand gripped my companion's. My Zara bag slammed against the wall. Charcoal grey met wet clay grey. My Zara bag sighed.
Back in my room I tried valiantly with paper napkins to scrape off some of the dirt. But there were these shiny specks that wouldn't come out. They glistened like diamonds, bits of mica from the rocks. My Zara bag had been bedazzled.

Yesterday, I was walking home from watching the Republic Day Parade. I had seen Sukhois do vertical ascents, a woman, with my name, inside a tank and an 89 yr old war veteran, who marched like a 21 yr old cadet. I had not sung the national anthem in over a decade. I marched home with a swagger, my Zara bag slung around me like those sashes around the Rajputana Rifles boys. Swing, swish, swing, swish. Suddenly I felt a tug on one of the shorter handles. I looked down. It was a little pi dog. He looked like he was in a good mood & wanted to play.
"That's what a Zara bag is for, right?" he asked.
"Bad dog!" I chastised.
He was gnawing expertly on the strap now, "What kind of girl buys a Zara bag and doesn't play with it?" he said.
"Man, you're a judgemental dog!"
"Well, you is short. Especially for dogs. I'm gonna get my kicks before this whole shithouse goes up in flames..."
"Wow...that's that famous line from..."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah lady. You gonna play with me or what?"

My Zara bag sighed. Really, what choice did I have?