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.