Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Make It Count

Big horror happens and we reel from the impact. Or we think we do.
We believe our hearts bleed so much for those who suffer that we can't wholly comprehend it.
We allow the terrible events unfolding outside to make us feel safe and grateful on the inside.

We tweet, blog and weep in our private corners.
Our sympathies are real, they express solidarity with an honesty of intention that eases our own anxieties just a little bit.
Nothing can help, even the tiniest thing helps.
How do we make sense of it all? What can we do?

We cling to hashtags and social media outpourings. Against our best instincts we look and re-look at photographs. We read and re-read grisly testimonies.

But how do we make it count?
Last evening, I fell asleep with the heavy knowledge of what happened in Peshawar, of what takes place every day in Syria, Iraq, Kashmir, Manipur, my own hometown of Delhi and too many other places on this planet. I wondered what I could do to make the horrific knowledge count.

The only answer I could come up with was to wake up.
To not make it about things that happened Over There but wake up to what I am complicit in Over Here.
Every moment that I am intolerant, or so wounded that I lose the ability to empathize.
Every time I see a child, a grown up or an animal in distress and do nothing.
Every time I allow injustice to happen in front of my eyes - no matter how tiny or how big.
Every time I am blind to injustice because my privilege allows me to be.
Every time I choose my comfort over doing what my heart knows is the right thing - I am complicit.

We wonder how men can look into the eyes of an innocent child and shoot point blank.
We must also wonder how we look at a shivering beggar child at a traffic stop and roll up our windows.
We wonder what makes people so ruthless they can set fire to a teacher in front of her students.
We must also then wonder what allows us to look away when we see a woman being molested in broad daylight.
These horrors are not equivalent, I know, but it is where we can begin to make them count.
Otherwise it's all empty, like a headline, a status update or a hashtag.

Thursday, November 27, 2014


There will be a lot of back & forth about the 'whys' of what went down.
There will be endless analysis of how you behaved and how the other responded. How the other behaved and how you responded.
You will think a lot about the other's context, history, subtext, station in life, morale and spiritual grounding. You will try to connect the dots with their actions.
You will attempt to do the same for yourself.
You will give all parties involved every conceivable benefit of doubt.
You will plan how to leave. You will cling to the idea of staying.
You will tie yourself up in knots. Then you will stop.

You will utter a word. Perhaps that word will be 'Humiliation'. Perhaps it will be 'Cruelty'. Or 'Disrespect'. Something that rings truer than any rationale you have tried to apply to the situation.
It will become untangled. And you will stop.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Dear India, sound familiar?

I've finally gotten around to reading The Millenium Trilogy, which is shockingly not fluff (goes to show what an illiterate I am). 
The passage below quotes a character, who visited Germany in 1941 and describes the ethos of that time. 
For anyone who's ever asked in a judgy tone (me): "But why didn't the Germans stop Hitler? Couldn't they tell he was a sociopath?", here, Tinker Bell, is a possible response. 
And colour me paranoid, but it sounds & feels a lot like what's going on in India right now:

"I won't tire you with the details but when I went there, Hitler and Stalin were still good friends and there wasn't yet an Eastern Front. Everyone still believed Hitler was invincible. There was a feeling of...both optimism and desperation. I think those are the words. More than half a century later, it's still difficult to put words to mood. Don't get me wrong - I was not a Nazi, and in my eyes Hitler seemed like an absurd character in an operatta. But it would have been almost impossible not to be infected by the optimism about the future, which was rife in the ordinary people in Hamburg. Despite the fact that the war was getting closer, and several bombing raids were carried out against Hamburg during the time I was there, the people seemed to think it was mostly a temporary annoyance - that soon there would be peace and Hitler would establish his Neuropa. People wanted to believe that Hitler was God. That's what it sounded like in the propaganda."

(I don't wish to compare any one person to Hitler but I do find it fascinating to read about that precarious moment in history right before Hitler became so obviously and famously 'Evil'...coinciding with the moment of brainwashing/ disastrous lapse in individual judgement/ herd mentality that the public suffered.) 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Procedure For Letting Go

This is bullet-point guide for getting over devastation like earthquakes, bankruptcies and being caught on the wrong side of genocide.
Or if you’re genuinely unfortunate like me, the end of a meaningful romantosexualTM relationship.

1.  The T-RAGE-DY CycleTM: When something beautiful dies, it’s usually the guy’s fault because he’s a jerk. Still, it’s important to acknowledge that there are jerks and there are jerks.

The Obvious Asshole will have broken your heart in some Oprah-approved act of doucheyness like cheating, stealing from your wallet, hitting on your mom or uploading your naked selfies on to It is easy to hate on this guy – all you have to do is steal his phone, pretend to be him and text his boss saying you’re setting fire to his car. Then find his boss’s car and set fire to it.

But then there are the Good Guys With Issues, who have truly made you feel loved for your personality and your boobs and who think you’re a fantastic woman with fantastic boobs but just can’t make a go of it because they have had a difficult childhood on account of that one time when they were 15, when the dentist touched them inappropriately in the mouth-area.
How to get over them?

I find that it is good to completely confuse yourself by indulging in some Emotional TrapezeryTM. This is a game of swinging between compassion for his human failings and fantasizing that a steaming hot pile of monkey feces lands on his face.
It goes something like this: At least he was always honest --> Gutless coward running at the first sign of trouble --> He tried the best he knew how --> I can’t believe I bought him silk chaddies with my hard-earned money!! --> He held my hair back when I puked indelicately into a sewer and never mocked me for it --> Bastard dumped me on the phone!!! 
Etcetera etcetera etcetera

This is a good exercise as it makes you lose sleep thinking of all the smart & bitchy takedowns you could lob his way.
It also makes you cry endlessly at the loss of That One Good Man, which in turn makes you lose weight*.
*This may not be a medically proven fact and is, in fact, empirically unproven as I have gained 2 kilos in the last 1 month.

Which brings me to…

2.  Crying YogaTM: In November of last year, I broke my back in a sexciting speedboat incident in Thailand. But enough about my fascinating adventures.
As a result, I have been forced into a life involving slow moving yogic sequences that must be executed every single day or else my vertebrae will fall out or cave in or generally disintegrate in a theatrical poof of angel dust.

Over the 45 odd minutes that I do these exercises, my body transforms its tense and rageful scaffolding into a more vulnerable mass of Zen-MushTM.
There is a very specific moment in the routine when this happens. It is right after I have done the standing poses and lie down on my tummy. I breathe in, raise my torso, stay there for 5 counts and gently bring my torso down flat on the ground. Breathe in. Raise torso. Hold. Breathe out. Release torso. Repeat 10 times.
Post heartbreak when I do my daily routine, this is the point at which my spine relaxes completely, in turn releasing Sob HormonesTM through the body. Such that, now it all goes something like this: Breath in. Raise torso. Weep for 5 counts. Bawl out. Drop torso in a heaving mound of grief. Repeat 10 times.

I find that this is a great way to release toxins from the body without paying for a therapist and I am now in talks with Gold’s Gym to start a pilot program for Crying YogaTM.
Do sign up one and all. You will find the mind-body-spirit relief especially useful as you approach the dreaded 4-7 days of every woman’s monthly calender (or not, in which case you may need to visit your gynaecologist)…

3.   The Dreaded Menses: Through most of my 20s I barely used my vagina. My reproductive system was in near-mint condition and more often than not I walked through the world without any awareness that I possessed a uterus.
Except for that monstrous week every month. It seemed ridiculous that I had to go through the agony so regularly (one might even say periodically ha ha), when I was extracting so little value from the damn thing. It felt like I was paying EMIs on an iPhone that would only be released 20 years from now.
So let me tell you this about heartbreak. It is even worse when you re-hire your vagina only to retire it much sooner than you expected. Because now, when the dreaded menses hit, they just don’t grab your Lady-BallsTM. They get your heart. They make its walls shed their inner lining and exit you in a most painful and bloody manner. Sometimes it involves hideous clotting of regret & longing.

You will want to hurt something. You will want to break stuff. You will want to speak rudely to a telemarketer. But don’t.
Because there is a better way…

4.  Pouring Angst Into Work: They will tell you that work is the best way to get over a relationship’s demise. The ‘they’ will probably be your boss. Do not listen to him. (Or her. Ha ha. Who am I kidding? Girls can’t be bosses.) Take huge amounts of time off work. Don’t make your deadlines. Turn in shoddy reports. Steal office supplies. Release your anger by having bitching sessions about clients. Create long email threads outlining your ideas on how to make the office loo a more ‘conducive place for all’. CC them to everyone in the organization.

5.   Friends Are Bitches, Don’t Trust ‘Em: When in the throes of heartbreak, friends can be those assholes, who are always trying to make you feel better. God, they can be so annoying. Please feel free to ignore their calls or attempts to meet you for a ‘coffee and a chat’. Later when you’re feeling better you can accuse them of not being there when you needed them the most. This will make you feel like a martyr, which totally worked for Gandhi and is a guaranteed ‘pick me up’.
The practice you gain in being a Bitchy MartyrTM will be invaluable in your journey towards letting go…

6.   Social Media Activism: Did someone say Bitchy MartyrTM? Sign me up for Twitter and Blogspot!
But be careful to make it an anonymous account that no one can trace back to you. Also be careful to block any and all followers, who may know you from real life.
Then go ahead and rant, sob, indulge in months of self-pity and hateful naming-and-shaming. Drink lots of vodka and babble nonsense on the timeline. Stalk other tweeters and mock their poetic tweets. Write poetic tweets. Write self-indulgent blog posts that you think are profound but really just get on everyone’s nerves.

Go forth and be a gandu. That’s what letting go is all about*.
*Does not apply to Facebook or Instagram. What are you, stupid?
"I'm not pointing the wrong way...I'd planned for you to grab my butt all along..."

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


"But plans are one thing and fate another. When they coincide, success results. Yet success mustn't be considered the absolute. It is questionable, for that matter, whether success is an adequate response to life. Success can eliminate as many options as failure."

~ Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues
Even Cowgirls Get The Blues

Friday, September 19, 2014

I Guess We've Reached *That* Stage In The Grief Cycle

Since everyone's been going on and on and on about 'Zindagi Gulzar Hai', I decided to watch the first episode.
I couldn't understand a word of what anyone was saying until this guy showed up:

She: I can't be the kind of wife, who waits endlessly by the door, for you to come home.
He: Why not? What's wrong with that? 

And then I got it.
I guess 'patriarchal asshole in progressive garb' is a universal trope.
You don't need to understand Urdu to recognize one.

Hashtag AmanKiAsha.

P.S. I don't hate it.
Also, I may not know what a 'trope' really is... 


The Stammering Comedian

I'm usually a combination of cynical and righteous about every folly made by Indian advertising creatives.
But this is one of the coolest Indian ads I've ever seen.
When life gives you lemons, sometimes it helps to create a juggling act with them.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

I wake up with a shortness of breath and tightness of chest, the kind of panic some 20th century philosopher or analyst must have described in great detail, and it occurs to me more and more each day that the island of peace and calm I live on is growing smaller and smaller and that too many of my fellow inhabitants on this planet are living lives, where everything they thought was 'normal' is routinely destroyed. As the panic rises, I keep clicking 'Add To Cart' until I feel hopeful again but, of course, I don't. I wonder if this concern for my fellow inhabitants might have something to do with the fact that each day I find something 'normal' inside me getting routinely destroyed and no matter how many times I click 'Add To Wishlist' to feel hopeful, of course, I don't.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Binary Code Boyfriend

He speaks in binary
Grunts and silences
1's and 0's
There is a novel in there
Maybe a mathematical mystery left unsolved for centuries
Mmphhh----Mmphhh Mmphhh----
"I need a holiday"
"Pass me the ketchup"
"You're kind of cool how you make me laugh and give me the benefit of the doubt"
"Stop annoying me"

It takes some dedicated decoding
And a possible career as a spy
To figure out the difference between
I love you

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Mrs. Dhillon

Fine, Mrs. Dhillon said, I’ll buy the flour myself.
She knew no one was listening. Her husband Jeetu was bent over his computer keyboard. Minty was holed up in her room and as if that weren’t separation enough, she had her plugged her ears with that angry music. So Mrs. Dhillon sighed a big sigh that no one heard and made her way to Madaan General Stores for the second time that day.

It was not a good day by any stretch of imagination. And that was just the weather. Mrs. Dhillon cursed her polyester salwar-suit as she valiantly tried to wipe the sweat dripping down the side of her forehead, stopping to sting her eyes before heading further south. But unless the day presented her with a tornado of fiery hail, nothing was about to deter her from the mission at hand.
Except that now she’d have to face Mr. Teji Madaan for the second time that day. Curse him for forgetting to put the atta into her shopping bag. I swear he does this on purpose…just to…just to…piss me off. Isn’t that the word Minty always flings at her? This food pisses me off, this house pisses me off, you piss me off. Mr. Teji’s crooked grin is upon her too soon.

“Teji ji. Once again you have forgotten to put full items. Please, quickly give the atta.”
“Arey, Mrs. Dhillon, good way to meet twice in one day, no? Nowadays who has the time to do their own shopping? They all send their boys. Just last month, I had to hire another chhottu because of all the home delivery calls. But these chhottus, I tell you. They want full-day salary for half-day work. Smoking and spitting and pissing just anywhere…”

There was that word again – ‘piss’. Maybe one of these days she would get through an entire day without having that vile syllable hurled at her. “Yes, yes. Of course, I understand. Yes, yes, thank you so much Teji ji. Ok then. Bye. Bye.” Mrs. Dhillon decisively brought Mr. Madaan’s rant to an end. The day wasn’t getting any cooler and now there was this 5kg sack of flour to haul up two flights of stairs.

“Hai rabba!” Thud. “Hai Rabba!” Thud. “Hai Rabba!” Thud. With every stair that she dragged the flour sack up, Mrs. Dhillon’s chappals were showered with white dust. At the first floor landing, she herself fell, thud, on the stairs and sat there heaving and wheezing, wiping her brow with her ineffective dupatta. Her hand rose to her chest and she focussed on steadying her breath. Why had Aman done this? Mrs. Ahluwalia from next door had told her not to get too upset – “These bacche, Kulwinder, they will do whatever they want. How can you stop them? Especially when they are so far away.” But still, thought Mrs. Dhillon, I am his mother. I have done nothing but support him. Even when Jeetu threw a fit about film school, she had been there, refereeing between father and son. The least she’d deserved was fair warning.

Mrs. Dhillon snapped out of her thoughts. Minty was standing behind her, one step up, white earphones streaming down her ears. Can’t remember the last time she was without those infernal appendages.
“What are you doing? You’re blocking the whole stairway!” Minty scowled and then leapt over her mother and the 5kg sack. “I’ll be back before dinner.” Mrs. Dhillon knew better than to ask her teenage daughter where she was going. At least, she knew Minty was a girl of her word. If she said she’d be back before dinner, she’d be back.
She gets that from me, thought Mrs. Dhillon, as her daughter disappeared around the bend of the banister.   

            Aman and Chloe decided to celebrate at the spot where they first met. It was a humid, mildly uncomfortable July afternoon and only two other tables were occupied around the periphery at Bryant Park. They carried their sandwiches and waters to one of the free benches. They set their lunches down, looked at each other and burst into laughter.
            “A toast, Mrs. Dhillon,” Aman raised his bottle.
            “Congratulations, Mr. Bernard,” Chloe clinked her bottle against his.
Last week, lying in Aman’s arms, Chloe had confessed certainty that she’d found her prince after kissing a thousand frogs.
“A thousand!” Aman had exclaimed.
Now she took his face into her hands and kissed him lightly on the nose. He smiled naughtily and croaked, “Ribbid!”
            As the city boomed and rumbled around them, the two reclined on the bench, sipping their drinks and biting into their sandwiches. The surrounding high-rises seem to bend gently over them, forming a protective alcove; offering up an oasis of sense in an otherwise bewildering world.

  Mrs. Dhillon had decided to throw a party. Nothing fancy, just a few relatives. Jeetu’s two sisters and their families, her brother Parmeet and his wife. Maybe Mrs. Ahluwalia. She’d told Minty she could invite her friends too but doubted anyone would show up. It’s ironic, she thought, how Aman had always been the easy one. It’d been Minty who gave Mrs. Dhillon sleepless nights with her dark moods. She barely had any friends besides Farhat, with whom she spent all her free time. The few times Farhat was over, the two girls would lock themselves in Minty’s room, chattering and laughing at god-only-knows what. Farhat, with her lily-white skin and Pathan height was a stunning girl. Well mannered too. Mrs. Dhillon just wished Minty had more friends. Sometimes she’d have nightmares that her only daughter would end up like Jeetu’s first cousin, Roop from Jalandhar. At 21, Roop had run away from home two nights before her wedding. Three years later she was traced to Gwalior, hair shorn, wearing oversized bush shirts and baggy trousers. She ran a paan shop and was living with a sullen, dark eyed woman called Kamal.

But Aman had surpassed Minty in giving his mother heartburn, leaving her with nothing to do but prepare a humble dinner for 15 odd guests. She cursed herself for not anticipating this day four years ago when Aman emailed to tell her about Chloe. He’d attached her photograph with the email. As the image inched down the screen, a skinny white girl emerged with dark brown hair and wire-rimmed spectacles. She was studying to be a lawyer and, he joked, would make enough money for both of them. Money, that Daddy was afraid he’d never make as a filmmaker. She’d laughed at the time and written back that Chloe was pretty.

The next time he called, she enquired after her, towards the end of the conversation. “And…how is Klo?” Aman had laughed out loud, wasting three expensive international dialling minutes before calming down. “Klo! That’s priceless! Babe, you’ll never guess what my mom just called you! Ma, she’s not Klo! Her name is Chlo-ee.” As Mrs. Dhillon bristled with embarrassment, Aman’s voice grew softer, “It’s okay Ma…Do you know what she called me when we first met? Aman Dylan. Like Bob Dylan! Wasn’t she silly?”

            Once the decision to switch coasts was made, Aman & Chloe’s tiny apartment began to disappear into bubble wrap and cardboard boxes. Over the week before the move, the rooms progressively took on the monochromatic hue of beige walls. The young couple’s fingers were permanently anointed with black marker ink and every so often, the sound of sneezing could be heard from one of the two rooms. Every afternoon they would step out to the local deli but the nights were always spent at home. Sitting on cartons, eating pizza or Chinese takeout; then making love on the king-size mattress that stood out like an island of blue in a sea of light brown.
After the boxes were finally sent off, all that remained was a single potted fern. When Chloe watered it after sunset, Aman stopped her, “Mrs. Dhillon, what are you doing? Plants go to sleep after the sun goes down.”
She chuckled, “What?”
“Don’t laugh,” he said, “My mother taught me that.”

            Jeetu was being cooperative for once. He still wouldn’t speak directly to her. It had been 5 years since he’d done that and Mrs. Dhillon had stopped questioning what she’d done to send her husband into his silent rage. Just as long as he helped around the house once in a while. Just as long as he joined her in putting up a brave pretence on occasions like today. Everyone invited had turned up and had been seated in the living room. Jeetu was regaling them stories from his college days, laughing, refilling his guests’ drinks; reminding Mrs. Dhillon of the first coffee he’d taken her out for in ’75.

Mrs. Ahluwalia joined Mrs. Dhillon in the kitchen. One pair of hands rolled out the dough, while the other manned the stove, dropping paper-thin discs of flour into sizzling hot oil. As the discs rose into triumphant, glistening puffs, Mrs. Ahluwalia twittered on about her Dimple’s misadventures in Melbourne. Kulwinder made the appropriate noises of commiseration but couldn’t shake off the heaviness in her belly that had nothing to do with the dahi-aalu breakfast from morning.

            So when the phone rang, she immediately made for it, knowing it was imperative she reach it before anyone else did.
“Hello, ma?”
Beta Minty? What happened?”
“Uff! Why do you always think something’s happened?”
“Ok. Ok.”
“Accha so…don’t get angry ok? I need you to pick me up from the Grandex Mall.”
“I can’t right now, Minty. You know the party is happening, no? You promised you’d be here on time. Why can’t you take an auto? You need money?”
“I can’t just leave, ma. You have to come.”
“I told you, beta, I can’t leave the kitchen right now. All the guests are here. I’ll send Papa, ok?”
“No! Not him.”
Mrs. Dhillon took a long deep breath. Of course, something had happened. Of course, Minty needed her and not him. Of course, the only way she’d find out was if she went herself.
“Ok, I’m on my way.”
“Thanks Ma. Bring a couple of thousand.”
“What? Why?!”

But Minty had hung up. Mrs. Dhillon whipped off her oil-stained apron and went back into the kitchen. Assured of Mrs. Ahluwalia’s support in holding down the fort, she promised a detailed report on return, gathered her purse and rushed hurriedly out the door. Sprinting past a confused Jeetu and expectant guests, she tossed a flimsy excuse of needing to pick up chocolate ice cream from Mother Dairy.

Minty and Farhat were located to a back room on the 2nd floor of the Grandex Mall. The store manager, whose office it was, informed Mrs. Dhillon that the girls had been caught shoplifting a combo pack of M&S underwires amounting to Rs. 1149.
“You are lucky, Mrs. Dhillon”, said the store manager (who reminded her, suddenly, of her puffed up puris), “I didn’t report these girls to the police. Who knows what would happen to them in the lock-up? You hear such terrible stories nowadays. And I could tell they come from good families. Isn’t it, Mrs. Dhillon? Isn’t it?”

“Yes, of course”, she agreed, knowing that the appropriate mix of gratitude, apology & acknowledgement of his superiority would do the trick. Plus the cash, adding a 100% tip over the price of pilfered goods for the man’s uncommon sensitivity at keeping her humiliation to a bare minimum.

The ride back was silent. Mrs. Dhillon wouldn’t have known what to say anyway. The child confounded her. Her black depths scared and intimidated her. She didn’t know where to place her affection anymore with this one. Mrs. D kept her hands steady on the 10-2 position on the steering wheel. Her gaze unwavering from the view in front. As they drove past Madaan Stores, she passed Mr. Teji bringing down the shutter for the day. He waved a friendly wave that was not returned by either mother or daughter.

Back home, the three walked in with a story of co-incidental meeting at the street corner. Oh, how silly! Mrs. Dhillon had forgotten to buy the ice-cream. Jeetu stepped, grudging & grumping, into the night to locate the one general store still open past nine.

            After the guests had gone, Jeetu retreated back into his virtual world and Minty & Farhat ferreted themselves away into her room. Mrs. Ahluwalia was sent off with a plateful of leftovers and a watered-down recap of the evening’s events. Alone in her bedroom, Mrs. Dhillon sat down with the telephone in her lap and dialled Aman’s number.
“Hello! Ma?”
“Hi, beta. Are you busy?”
“No, no, ma. Perfect timing. Chloe and I were just finishing breakfast.”
“Good. Good. You know we had a small party here. For you and Chloe. Everyone came. Parmeet Maama, Simran Aunty. They all send their love.”
“That was nice of them. I’ll upload pictures of the ceremony soon. You can send it to them.”
“Beta, can I speak to Chloe please?”
“Sure. One sec.”

Mrs. Dhillon took comfort from the sounds of the phone exchanging hands. In that moment, she wasn’t miles away from her son and his new family. She was there, watching the two exchange glances as Chloe took the phone, a bit nervously, rehearsing her opening lines. She heard Aman tell her about the party his mother had thrown in their honour that evening. She heard the involuntary intake of breath Chloe took before saying hello.

            The conversation was short, stretching the extent of Mrs. Dhillon’s spoken English to its limit. It was a slow, halting exchange of banal niceties with a valiant effort on both women’s part to infuse warmth into it. In the end, it was all too much with Chloe failing to understand the last thing said to her. She said goodbye and returned the phone to her husband.

            “I didn’t catch the last thing she said. Something in Hindi I think…”
            Aman took the receiver and asked his mother to repeat what she’d said. Then he smiled and telling her he loved her, hung up.
            “So? What did she say to me, huh?” Chloe enquired with a naughty grin. “Some ancient curse condemning the evil white woman to eternal damnation for stealing her son’s affections?”
            “She said ‘ Tumhey duniya ki har khushi miley. Mere hissey ki bhi’.”
“Which means?…”
Mrs. Dhillon, may you be blessed with all the happiness in the world – including my share.”

 This story was first published in 2010 in 'First Proof: The Penguin Book of New Writing'

Sunday, July 27, 2014


I often wonder what place I occupy in the lives of others.

I seem to get transplanted into these other worlds and placed exactly so, in a me-shaped hole that existed long before I came along. Each mindscape of intimates – friends, family and lovers – is like a painting that’s already complete but for that me-shaped hole in it.

Who I am to them depends on the painting they’ve made. If it’s a party scene then there I am holding a drink. If it’s an intimate nook then there I am suspended in a pre-ordained conversation. If it’s a port of departure then I stand with them, waiting in line for my boarding pass. It’s all as if they willed me into being there just so, regardless of my intent - like the mute apple-in-fruit bowl, forever trapped in still life.

It strikes me sometimes that my relationships might be more than that. That it’s not for me to occupy a hollowed-out silhouette; but instead, for me to change the scene just by being in it. Maybe, make it a moving picture, where characters inhale & exhale, where they evolve with the story and affect outcomes.

But of course, it’s difficult to ignore what would happen if I slowed the movie way down to its solitary frames. Then there I’d go again, slipping right back into my chalked outline in someone else’s still life.

Monday, July 14, 2014


All through my childhood, I waited to grow up. I can't explain how or why, but I knew exactly what the taste of adulthood freedom would be. I knew exactly. This conviction only deepened in my teenage years, when the claustrophobia of inhabiting my current life made me more breathless than ever. I held on to the certainty that growing up would solve it all.

And it did. Through my twenties, I knew I had to spend my time becoming somebody. Not a famous or rich person but a person of definite character and values. Not necessarily someone who looked or spoke or thought like others but someone who would leave others in no doubt of what she was like, how far she would or wouldn't go for love, money, friends, family or herself. I read books, had experiences and very gravely followed the procedure for becoming this person.

At thirty, I knew what kind of professional I wanted to be. I was a diligent worker, who understood the value of work-life balance. When conflicted, I always leaned towards fulfilling personal obligations and pursuing personal passions. I tried to make my work an extension of those passions. I enjoyed my job and used it to travel and learn new things. I always stopped to be grateful and tried to be a good person. I tried to manage my anger. I tried to stay hopeful in the face of deep loneliness. I told myself that no matter what, I knew how to love another person selflessly. That it was like swimming - once you learned it you never quite forgot how to do it. I built myself a solid personality with which I proceeded to live in the world.

Today, at thirty five, I have decided to change again. I have decided that money is important and that it isn't evil to want material happiness for oneself or one's family. My parents are growing older and I am becoming a responsible adult - someone who needs to think not just about shaping her self but shaping her future (with it the realization that the two are not the same). I have decided to swing my work-life balance in the other direction - maybe spend more time developing myself as a professional, even if it means coming home later each evening and spending a little less time with those I love. Maybe I want to make investments that will carry me into old age, that will make my parents feel a little less afraid of retiring.

I see my friends from the old days of school and college and I observe their lives closely. There are those that, like me, used their twenties to become someone. They worked so very hard and built themselves from ground up. It was so difficult, this journey, that they were relieved to reach their thirties & forties. There, they stopped. 'I know how to make money. I will always make money'. 'I know how to do art. I will always do art'.

But I feel, once again, like I did as a child. Like I can't wait to be free again. I've enjoyed being the somebody I was for the last fifteen years. Now I want to be a different kind of somebody - a somebody I once made fun of for being boring. I want to see what it would be like to live that kind of life. I want to see if I am set in stone because 'now I am too old yaar' or if I am an ever-changing human, who is capable of surprising herself. 
It's the only way I know how to keep things interesting. It's the only way I can think of to enjoy being alive from here on out.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

You People Work On Commission, Right?

If you wish to picture where I am in the food chain of my profession, think of an earthworm. 
The underground, slightly slimy (or sexy depending on what your preference is), creature that does all the work of aerating the soil so that plants can grow happily and bear fruits that bastard birds can get fat on. All the while, dodging the bastard birds, who might fancy a bit o' 'worm for breakfast.
I am said earthworm, making documentary films. The TV Channels are big bastard birds.

Senior earthworm & I went for a pitch-presentation this past week (which is basically earthworms groveling for Bastard Bird jobs using 15 Power Point slides or less). The Executive Producer (representative of Bastard Bird) was a young lady half my age (which comes to 17, so no, she wasn't half my age), who had just smoked a fat doobie of pure corporate power before stepping into the meeting. 
She told us to go get comfortable in a conference room. Once we did, she told us to get out of the conference room, since she hadn't booked it and in fact had forgotten to book one altogether (which is why I say that working from a one-room, airless hovel is so much more convenient. You don't have to book anything. It's all yours, down to the roaches). 
We disconnected our laptops from the projector and wondered where we would journey to next. 
It was the cafeteria, where instead of a projector, was a noisy table of people high on Red Bull. Executive Producer seemed to think they were one and the same thing, so we were told to begin. As soon as we began presenting the idea we'd laboured on for a week and had hoped to pitch in proper style, she developed an urgent need to check and answer every email sent to her since 2005. 
Undeterred, we continued, naively hoping to impress both her and her smartphone.

When we were done, she said some token patronizing things before informing us that hers was a fancy channel unlike the folks we usually work for (government-run national broadcasters) so we would have to step up accordingly. 
At which point, senior earthworm lost his cool and informed her that we'd been in the business since the time she first lost her milk teeth and that we knew what we were doing.
Having suitably annoyed us, the EP left the table. She had succeeded in reminding us that no matter how many awards our films had received, we were still earthworms, while she worked for Bastard Bird.
We would've stormed out immediately but decided to hang around in the fancy office a bit longer because the furniture was so nice and the air-conditioning worked so damn well.

All of it sort of reminded me of Pretty Woman. One day I too hope to be a hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold-who-gets-what's-rightfully-hers:

Shop assistant: “Hello, can I help you?”
Vivian: “I was in here yesterday, you wouldn’t wait on me.”
Shop assistant: “Oh.”
Vivian: “You people work on commission, right?”
Shop assistant: “Yeah.”
Vivian: “Big mistake. Big. Huge. I have to go shopping now.”

Sunday, May 18, 2014


You know what?
We need to take more selfies.

I've been in the dumps lately. Thinking I have no life, no friends, no social calender, no 'these-are-the-days-of-our-lives' moments anymore. And then I look at selfies of people in restaurants, eating a burger and I'm like: I go to restaurants. I eat burgers. Why, I did it last week. With friends, too.
I look at photos of people with pets, babies & boyfriends and feel sad for myself. Till I realize: I don't want pets, I don't want babies and I have a boyfriend, who is very nice.

The key then is, take selfies. Take lots of fucking selfies.  

Friday, May 16, 2014

An Optimist's Take on Election 2014

First off: Amit Shah, if you're surveilling, HI! Love what you've done with India. Totally amazeballs. Keep in touch, yeah?

It's the frenetic morning of election results in India and it's pretty clear that Gujarati Santa Claus is going to be our next PM, with the RSS finally in power (they tried with Vajpayee but he just wasn't that into them). 
It's going to be good for the oppressed Hindu right wing. Question is, will it be as good for us?
[By 'us', I mean people like me - with lady bits (or respect for people with lady bits), liberal views, sympathies for minorities & the marginalized and expectations of social reform along with economic development. In short: People who may not live the Hindu way.]

Here's my optimistic take on the matter: India is not the same apathetic country it was in the '90s or early 2000s and while the BJP/RSS may enjoy routing every other party, there are large sections of society that aren't going to sit quietly as they push their Big Balls patriarchal ideology on to us - however surreptitiously. The fact that the AAP has emerged in the last 2 years and that women are not as accepting of their second-class status as they once were, are two trends that suggest that this will not be smooth sailing for the right wing.

Let me get even more optimistic: There are going to be hairy moments in the next few years, where besides economic bonhomie, the RSS and its bretheren may be challenged to update themselves and their narrow world view. I would love to see how that unfolds and just for that reason, I might even be glad that Mr. Modi is now in power.

Inshallah, all will be well.

Or the government will succeed in numbing the vocal middle-classes with goodies and such, in which case: Hey Amit Shah, you're looking good. Have you lost weight?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

In Wonderment of Jose Mujica

Sometimes the robotic clicking of a remote can lead you to fantastic things.
Like this Christiane Amanpour interview of Uruguay's president Jose Mujica.
Read the CNN article here:

It's so refreshing to see someone in political life, let alone a president, who doesn't talk like a slick car salesman.

On relations with the US:
What is it like for a former Marxist guerrilla to enter the White House, that most potent of Western’s symbols?
“I cannot deny reality,” he told Amanpour. “I don't know whether I like this planet or not, but I have to accept it.”
There is not just one “United States,” he said. Yes, the country wields tremendous – “scary” – influence in Latin America, and the relationship between the region and America has a troubled history full of attempted coups and CIA operatives.
“However,” he said, “there's also a big debate in the States. There's human progress. There's a technological and scientific development that helps the whole of humanity. So we cannot just put everything in one bag and just say one word to describe the U.S.”
“I know that the U.S. is a bit of a global policeman, but I also recognize something really positive about the U.S. which has helped humanity.”

On Uruguay legalizing marijuana: 
“It is a measure against trafficking, drug dealing. We are trying to snatch the market away from them, because it's 80 years now that we are repressing drug use.”

“So like everywhere in the world, repression by itself doesn't do the job. We are trying to find another way.”
Regulating use of the drug, he suggested, could even lead to a decrease in usage.
“When you surround that with this forbidden aura, you are actually calling the younger to take it up. However, if you place it as a controlled product that you can purchase at the chemist – like some other drugs like morphine, which is used for certain prescriptions – then we are taking the mystery out of marijuana and we hit the drug dealers.”

On his past life as a political prisoner:
“If you catch a black ant, a normal common ant, you grab her with two fingers, you put her right inside your ear, and you hear it scream,” he told Amanpour. “But of course you need time to do that. And you have to be really lonely.”
“When you spend a long time by yourself in solitary confinement, a frog, a rat that comes to eat because you leave some crumbs there – it's life. It's the life you have there.”

On being the 'poorest president in the world':
He donates 97% of his salary, drives a 1987 Volkwagen Beetle – the original “peoples’ car” – and sells flowers with his wife at their home.
Mujica, a former Marxist guerrilla, lives in the same modest Montevideo house he always has, forgoing the presidential palace.
“I do not need much to live. I live in the same way I used to live when I wasn’t a president and in the same neighborhood, in my same house, and in the same way. And I am a republican” – small ‘r.’
“I live like the majority in my country lives. It was a majority who voted for me. And that's why I identify with them. Morally, I do not have the right to live like a minority in my country.”


On a totally whacked-out tangent, the only other politician who seems to be (relatively speaking) a straight-talker and someone who doesn't beat about the bush (too much) when answering journalists' questions is the mega-creepy Amit Shah.
Watch his interview with CNN-IBN's Rajdeep Sardesai and tell me if I've lost it:

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Art Is Confusing

He made a brilliant film, but he tortured his artists.
He tortured his artists, but he made a brilliant film.
Blue Is The Warmest Colour  

Friday, March 14, 2014


In a scene nearing the end of ‘Queen’, the camera homes in on Rani (Kangana Ranaut) as she says goodbye (probably forever) to friends she’s made on a life-altering European ‘honeymoon’. As viewers we’ve accompanied her on this journey of self-discovery and we’ve come to invest in her friendships – short and sweet as they’ve been. It’s as difficult for us to say goodbye to them as it might be for her. For a second, one hopes they’ll return because we worry for Rani, you know? But they don’t. Rani looks shaky for a moment and we hold our breath - Please be ok, Rani.

And then her face changes. Lightens. Something has shifted in her, not for a bit, not for a fleeting moment, but indelibly. She won’t just be okay, she will fly. The euphoria that comes from having made contact with her own power extends beyond her, permeating through the screen to reach us. We feel euphoric too because we know that with this film, something has shifted for mainstream Hindi cinema too.


Some reviews of the movie have called Rajkummar Rao’s character, Vijay, a ‘villain’, which is the saddest thing I’ve read in a while because this superbly-crafted obnoxious man is so bloody…normal. Who amongst us doesn’t know a Vijay? Some of us are dating him; some of us have him as a brother, a father, friend or boss. The guy, who needs to feel superior to you in order to feel good about himself. The guy, who really doesn’t care who you are as long as you serve his agenda. The guy, who struts around with such a sense of entitlement about his ‘property’ (and yes, you are his property, whether you like it or not) that he can’t fathom you’re an equal stakeholder in the relationship. The guy, who feels so small that he needs to make you feel smaller. The guy, who will fall apart, either grovelling or losing his shit if you ever realize your power. Vijay is not the villain. He struggles as much as Rani does – but unlike her, he hasn’t lost enough to put up a fight. In Vijay, I see the tragedy of so many men I’ve known and loved – men, who are as confused by their privilege as women are trapped by the lack of it.


‘Queen’ is extraordinary because of the male-female & female-female relationships it showcases. In Paris, Rani meets the free-spirited Vijaylakshmi, whose name shortens delightfully to Vijay, same as Rani’s ditching fiancé. This Vijay, unlike the other, likes Rani just the way she is. She helps her loosen up but doesn’t inspire Rani to change overnight (nor does Rani convert her or show her the ‘error of her ways’ like in that other horrendous movie on female friendship: Cocktail) but teaches her that women can be all kinds of different shades. In Amsterdam, Rani’s character begins to understand how fun and liberating it can be to get to know men. Men are humans. And some of them think women are humans too! Ergo, men can be friends with women! These are touching friendships, based on affection and mutual respect (and yes, even a twinge of sexual tension).

In spite of this, I’m ashamed to admit that till the very end I kept expecting Rani to find a man. As though the thrill of self-discovery would be incomplete unless witnessed & validated by a man (like that other film about an Indian woman losing & finding her self in the Western world: ‘English Vinglish’). In that light, what a masterstroke by the writers/ director to leave Rani walking away in the last frame, alone & more joyful than any Hindi movie heroine’s ever looked at the end of a film (even Konkona Sen in ‘Luck By Chance’ looked underwhelmed about her future, as the film ended on her charting her path alone). Rani may find a man, she may not. Whatever the outcome, she now has the skills to create value for herself (like that other recently released film ‘Highway’ that ends on a mid shot of the lone & unexpectedly not-tragic heroine, clutching a copy of ‘Women Who Run With The Wolves’, looking hopefully into the horizon).


I don’t know if this happens to other Indian women who’ve travelled – particularly to the West. A pall of gloom descends on me whenever I have to return home. Even if the trip hasn’t been long enough to grow attached to the foreign country, even if my entire life is culturally rooted and thriving in India and even if love waits for me at home. It feels like I have to put back into a box, this version of ‘me’ that had momentarily roamed free – going where she wanted, at whichever time of night or day, in whichever mode of transport was convenient, talking to pretty much anyone she wished to, learning to smile at strangers and not spending an unnatural amount of time worrying if her shirt’s neckline is ‘too low’. And even though coming back to India means coming back home, it also feels like the loss of a person I really, really enjoy being.

‘Queen’ allowed me to relive the thrill of being free in ways I didn’t even realize I craved and the sweet relief of not having to constantly be ‘proper’ or 'careful' or 'watchful' (or 'disappointing', 'unsafe' or ‘stupid’ if you choose to act differently). Like Rani, I too have had catalytic adventures (some of which terrified me, forcing me to recognize my strengths). Like her, travel helped me relax into myself, without apologies. Like her, I carried this transformative new energy back to India with me.

The biggest gift ‘Queen’ has given its viewers, is a story about an Indian woman on an adventure alone. Of course, travel changes everyone. But Rani & ‘Queen’ show us how a fearless journey to foreign shores can lead the Indian woman back to herself.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

We Are All A Little Yo Yo - Part 2

So then this morning, this happened - a Twitter conversation between two women:

Assuming the plumber in question was male (or actually even if they weren't), this exchange made me uncomfortable.
I couldn't tell why. Like another itch I couldn't scratch.

Then I remembered something I recently read on The Last Cookie.
Please read the whole thing, but here's an excerpt:

"The 'comedy' behind male abuse is a result of the patriarchy, which is exactly what feminism is trying to destroy. The patriarchy mocks weakness in men, so when men get abused, it’s not taken seriously. It’s a joke, it’s funny, it’s no big deal. 'You’re a man, suck it up.'
That’s not what feminists want. If you think that’s what we want, then you you’re not talking to the right feminists. It’s about equality, NOT just reversing the roles, understand?"


Self chatter: I have to admit that for a long time I've used feminism as a repository of my personal anger and shame caused by patriarchal forces. This anger and shame is real and needs to be addressed. But I now see how it's a mistake to blur lines between this redressal and the principles of feminism. Feminism can give me the tools to understand where the anger & shame comes from and to prevent its mitigating situations from being repeated - as far as possible. But feminism does not give me the right to debase other humans in its name.

I don't know what this means for my future as a lustful female that might wish to covet a man's body parts in a lascivious manner but I'm sure I'll figure something out...maybe the guys can help me out with this one.