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Running Away

You chose to run away.

Everyday you came back home and unpacked that invisible satchel. In that corner went the regrets, the other one was crowded with complaints. Scattered all around you were the remnants of your failures; the true monsters under the bed, waiting to surprise you unwary.

You said nothing. Everybody asked you where you’d been – how was the day – what did you do – who did you talk to and what about? They meant it kindly, unaware that you lived in a world all your own that they could never enter. “Nowhere,” you said. “It doesn’t matter,” you said. “Nothing,” you said.

All day you listened to other people talk. A smile for them, automatic and correct. A nod in agreement, handshake for goodbye, wave for hello, frown for concern, shrug to pass the buck. Questions to signify interest. Cloaks of invisibility are neither rare nor fantastic – you know them as quite ordinary gestures.

One day, you told yourself, you would leave all that behind. The secrets, the lies, the safe silences that left you unsure of your words when you finally let them form in your mouth. The questions, the codes, the stock answers that became transparent bricks of the wall around you.

Then why, now, do you feel abandoned this day? The chains have been cut, it is a liberation, you know. The ropes have been sawn through, you were set adrift, you feel.

A bird in the sky or a lion on the plains – neither; you are you. Solitary magnificence is for other creatures. Human beings live tethered. In yourself alone are you free.

Free to run.

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2010 in Life

 

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Bittersweet

Some places are gone forever.

The best part about moving on is that which is yet to come – the busy-ness of it, the sense of purpose, the future that awaits, the anticipation builds. You see a door and you don’t know what lies behind it. A whole another world to explore. A new house with new neighbors and new idiosyncrasies to learn; a new room with new shadows that wait to make friends with your old dreams and forgotten nightmares; new sounds that announce themselves in drips and creaks. A new life with new possibilities.

The worst part about moving on is that which is past – the sadness of it, the sense of loss, the memories that fade into a sepia tint despite promises of forever. You look over your shoulder and you see all that you’re leaving behind. You grieve because you know you’ve said goodbye even though you pretend it’s au revoir. The old house with its worn knowledge, its mysteries exposed; the shadows you know by name; the sounds you’ve investigated a million times; the walls pitted with your deeds. It is home.

Sometimes a song, the music of horns, snatches of conversation, the sound of someone’s laughter, wind rustling through leaves along an endless line of defiant trees, the smell of tobacco warming the morning air, squirrels at play, the squeaky tones of an adventurous toddler’s sneakers, mustachioed men at gates, the milky warm smell of a happy puppy, aged stone warmed by sunlight, the smooth grain of polished wood, bright red blood welling from a cut – and there you are again. In that place with no address; that space you carry within you. Fold by fold it opens to envelope you, until you stand there, just as it used to be.

Nothing has changed. But you don’t live there anymore. Nothing has changed, but these streets don’t look the way they used to. The trees have been cut down. The flowers aren’t the ones you love. It was the people who made it real but where have they gone? Nothing has changed except you.

The monster ate them. The bulldozer got them. The man bought them. They lost the directions. It’s a bittersweet realization, but some places are gone forever.

 
9 Comments

Posted by on August 20, 2010 in Personal

 

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Is This a Joke?

You know that scene from – what was it? Bones, I think? In which some guy too shy to put up his actual pic on the dating site he invented decides instead to photoshop the profile pics of several different men to create a brand new super datable person?

I feel like that’s what happened here. You’re looking at an experiment in Kapoor making! I can only hope he’s been programmed for etiquette, not destruction.

His name is Aditya Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor is his dad, they call him Mickey at home, he does the salsa, built Appu Ghar, has a guru called Bhole Baba, directed a movie called Sambar Salsa starring Rishi Kapoor and now he’s acting in a Bollywood movie.

I’m so not making this up!

And yet! Come on! Right? Admittedly, I’m not up to speed on my Kapoor family tree (look, I have an insanely extended family of my own if I were interested in that kind of thing) but this seems… so out of the blue.

I thought my fever was over, but now I have second thoughts.

 
18 Comments

Posted by on July 19, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, News

 

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Pygmalion Was Crazy

Does anyone remember Mannequin? The 80s movie starring Andrew McCarthy as this dork  who falls in love with a hot department store mannequin played by Kim Cattrall? Freaked me out!

In retrospect there were quite a few sketchy things going on with the premise of that movie – par for the course, I suppose, for plots based on Pygmalion – and I’m now old enough to think of all those insidious sex doll references I missed first time around, but that’s not why I was horrified by it. It was the thought of an inanimate object coming to life that really pushed my buttons.

I like the dark even if I do check under the bed for hidden monsters before I fall asleep in strange bedrooms; I have no problems with closets although I do like their doors to be closed before I put the lights out, so I can have a second’s worth of warning by the door creaking open just in case someone really is hiding in there; and I like to keep my curtains parted in spite of possible lightning strikes and Peeping Toms. But never, ever will I tolerate the presence of anything inanimate with a face on it in my room.

I will not be looked upon, especially while asleep, by photographs, the covers of books, posters, artists on CDs, cuddly toys and so on. If it has eyes, they must be turned away, hidden, covered or removed immediately. I insist.

Get. It. Out. Of. My. Goddamned. Room.

So I guess Rue McClanahan’s apartment with women moving through its doors is not for me. The boobies (and the butt, which is apparently on the other side), weird looking as they might be, are cool. Interesting as a concept, even! The face? Yeeeargh!

Tell it to stop looking at me! Me is neurotic.

[NYT via Jezebel]

 
10 Comments

Posted by on June 11, 2010 in Celebrity, Newsmakers, Personal

 

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Starchy Blue

Why do people do such weird things to their clothes? And then insist on doing the same to mine? Like, for instance, this stubborn belief that soaking white items of clothing in a vat of blue dye will magically turn it white.

You know how they show all those detergent ads where people walk around emitting light out of their newly washed clothes? Right, so you know that is some serious bullshit going on because no matter how many brands you switch or how closely you follow the instructions, your whites are never going to emerge from the wash sparkling like diamonds or mimicking a light source.  You know that. But where do all those blue dye people get the balls to pull the same stunt?

What genius looked at a dull white shirt one day and thought, “Ha, you know what this needs to make it all bright and shiny like new? Blue dye!”

You know what happens when you soak a white shirt in a bucket full of faintly blue water? You end up with a faintly blue shirt. You know what is the definition of “white”? Well, it sure as hell ain’t eggshell blue! Can you not tell the difference?

It’s one thing to do it to school uniforms, kitchen towels and uncle-ji’s Wednesday office shirt. But must you do it to my camisole tops? And it smells. Don’t tell me it doesn’t – it smells. It smells like wet. And no amount of cologne, deodorant, hairspray, other perfumed chemical can mask it. If you do manage to kill it somehow, it’ll crawl up your nose and die in there so you will smell it all day and know exactly what was done to your clothes even if other people don’t.

And talking of smell: you know what else I don’t understand? Starch. The only good thing starch ever did was to the potato. Yum. But why would you want to pour essence of potato over your clothes so that they could stand up on their own? I don’t want my clothes to get up and walk out of my cupboard. I want them to stay where I put them and not make noises when I walk.

I understand they make your cotton sarees look good. Well, maybe “understand” is taking things a little too far. I’ve seen women go to war against their beloved cottons to emerge victoriously, looking like puffballs and I don’t understand it at all. I must be missing some crucial female gene.

But. My t-shirts. Why would you soak them in starch just because they were cotton and white? Not even the elderly uncles who play badminton at the crack of dawn at the sports club starch their polo necks!

And there’s my dad who washes things in the washing machine. A day when he doesn’t get to wash things in the washing machine is like a day without internet access to me.

“Do you have anything to wash?” he’ll ask hopefully.

“No.”

“I’m washing things. You can put your things in with my things.”

“I have nothing.”

“What is this?”

“My jeans.”

“You should wash them occasionally.”

“Okay, I’ll tell you when the occasion comes.”

Pause. “What is this?”

“My shirt.”

“It’s been lying out here gathering dust for weeks. You should wash it.”

“What’re you talking about? I wore it just yesterday.”

“I don’t know.” He wrinkles his nose and stares down at it. “The presswallah comes tomorrow and if we wash it today, we can get it ironed tomorrow.”

“Thanks but I’ll just put it in the dryer and it’ll be fine.”

I’ve made several unconventional decisions in my life and all my dad has ever said to me are words of encouragement. But everytime I refuse to let him wash my clothes… it’s like stomping on a child who asked for a cookie. It is his ultimate housekeeping skill and I’m the ingrate that won’t let him be the good father he is. And that is how my shirt goes into the wash with the rest of his clothes and comes out happily bedecked with lint. His clothes remain perfectly intact yet half their fabric finds itself as fuzz on mine. It is some sort of miracle expressly designed to aggravate me to an early grave. At least he knows to separate.

Sometimes I miss the days when all I had to worry about was my grandma’s maid beating the everloving hell out of my clothes in an effort to get it clean. Sure, my clothes never lasted beyond the summer. But at least she knew better than to soak it in substances unless specifically directed to do so, and never let colors bleed on each other.

 
21 Comments

Posted by on May 26, 2010 in Life, Personal, Video

 

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Lekin…

Khanna-o-Rama has, justifiably, thus far been obsessed with Masala Vinod – the sneering, brooding, hunk of raw animal appeal that keeps its inner violence tethered on an excitingly thin leash. But those very qualities found him a niche in the world of a filmmaker leagues removed from the kind of cinema that set petticoats on fire.

As a director, multi-hyphenate Gulzar worked with Vinod Khanna in five movies: Parichay, Meera, Achanak, Mere Apne and Lekin. Each of them are fine movies but hardly ever get the attention reserved for the movies he made with Khanna’s contemporaries – Jeetendra (whom he directed three times – Parichay, Kinara, Khushboo), and the man most consider to be Gulzar’s true blue-eyed boy, Sanjeev Kumar (in Koshish, Namkeen, Parichay, Mausam, Aandhi, Angoor). Given that, I should perhaps have chosen to write about the only movie in which he cast all three – Parichay. It is a fine example of the wonders casting to strength can achieve in filmmaking.

I choose instead a movie that has long fascinated me – Lekin... (But…)

Produced by Lata Mangeshkar and featuring an outstanding soundtrack composed by her brother Hridaynath Mangeshkar, Lekin… begins with the arrival of Sameer (Vinod Khanna), come to Rajasthan to take inventory of a long abandoned haveli. Once there, he bumps into the hauntingly beautiful Reva (Dimple Kapadia), a mysterious woman from the desert who wanders in and out of his life at will.

A friendship of sorts grows between the two, Sameer’s curiosity about Reva fitting into her odd desperation to share her story with him; their interactions with each other escalating by degrees to an emotional point as baffling to the audience as it is to Sameer. Shocked at his rapidly deteriorating mental and physical appearance as he is sucked into Reva’s hallucinatory world, Sameer’s friends (who include Amjad Khan) convince him to solve Reva’s mystery before it consumes him.

It’s a story packed full of drama featuring villainous rajahs, beautiful dancing girls (Hema Malini), heroic father figures, helpless damsels, heaping amounts of depravity and evil – and yet delicately told, its entire structure balanced on the atmosphere built by Manmohan Singh’s desert cinematography.

The lonely sand dunes, windswept and barren, are a setting made to appeal to the supernatural. Few in Hindi cinema can beat Gulzar’s record as writer of the female spirit who is as haunted as she is haunting. Although Reva draws immediate comparisons to that other Dimple Kapadia-starrer Rudaali (also written by Gulzar), she is in fact a character he has visited time again in movies as diverse as Namkeen, Ijazzat, Khushboo and Mausam to name just a few off the top of my head.

It is the character of a woman stuck in a specific window of her history, unable to unchain herself, seeking her freedom through the love of a man. She is an odd sort of succubus, sympathetic while being poisonous to varying degrees; she is only terrible in the way a drowning victim can be – she means you no active harm, just obeying her survival instincts.

In Reva, Gulzar makes the metaphor literal by making her a restless spirit who needs to have her story heard so that she can finally “cross the desert”. Sameer, more than half in love with her and fully cognizant that his is a love that was doomed before it ever began, is the man who pours his soul into guiding her in the right direction.

The best part of Lekin… for me is that I don’t think I can explain it beyond this point. For a movie that has all the ingredients of the kind of Rajasthan-based masala potboilers that were all the rage in the 1980s, Lekin… is satisfyingly ethereal and personal. There are loose ends and lyrics and panoramas that defy a standard reading.

If Gulzar hadn’t chosen to close the movie as he did, in fact, I would have been perfectly content with the interpretation that Sameer had a psychotic episode of some kind.

Papa Khanna continued and, indeed, continues to be steadily employed but Lekin… gets my vote as the last great movie he made.

 
6 Comments

Posted by on May 13, 2010 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Movies, Review, Video

 

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The Savory Breakfast

congee

When you grow up in a home where they serve sambar for breakfast, the idea of a savory start to the morning is something less than the radical idea proposed by the New York Times.

But I can appreciate how liberating it must be for someone like Mark Bittman, especially if he grew up ploughing his way through cream of wheat with a little salt thrown in every morning, to find out that people elsewhere like to begin their days in considerably more flavorful fashion.

In fact, I appreciate it so much, I feel like an ingrate. After all, back when I was growing up, I was offered some excellent early morning fare, full of flavor and nutrition, cooked without any thought as to time or convenience, and I always turned my nose up at it.

You can chalk it up to my being a nightbird if you like, but the reason why breakfast has been a relatively recent addition to my diet is because I had to leave for school at half past seven. It sounds bizarre but you simply can’t force my body to swallow food at that hour of the morning. Around nine o’clock my body is finally awake enough to keep the food down, but anything before that and my stomach stages an instant revolt.

For a while there my mother thought it might have something to do with her idlis and dosas, and so out came the cornflakes and cold milk. No go. So she tried it again with warm milk. I ran for the bathroom and refused to come out unless she removed the revolting mess from the table. On Sunday morning, Daddy sat down to our weekly breakfast of leisure and asked for the despised cornflakes – “Me too,” I piped up. “If you vomit, I won’t take care of you,” my mother threatened. I rolled my eyes at her naivete. It was Sunday, it was nearly ten in the morning, why on earth would I waste my precious day off by barfing up my guts?

Next came the toast and eggs. I didn’t even get to eat that. (Any of that: she tried them hard boiled, soft boiled, poached, sunny side up and in an omelet. Zip.) The smell alone was enough to make me gag. She simply handed me my pocket money for the day and asked me to make sure I got in a good meal at recess before shooing me out. When I came back home, she asked me what I’d like to eat for lunch – “Toast and eggs, please,” I said. “Sunny side up. I’ve been dreaming of it all day.” She pursed her lips tightly and asked the cook to take care of it.

So then she went Punjabi on me and the parathas she usually made for my lunch made their appearance on the breakfast table as well. But then – problem! She didn’t think it was good for me to eat pickle at seven in the morning and she couldn’t serve it with curd because I wouldn’t touch that stuff at any hour of the day. Harassed, she gave it to me with jam. I surprised both of us by enjoying every bite. And then I came home early from school because I’d thrown up everywhere.

She toyed with the idea of toasted sandwiches long enough to actually buy a toaster. My best friend in school had recently opened my eyes to the fact that tomatoes could actually be very yummy, especially if you mixed them up with a little red onion and cheese before toasting the whole. I excitedly shared my discovery with my mother who carefully restrained herself from tearing me limb from limb and screaming “But I Made You That and You Refused to Eat It, You Evil Devil Child!” Somebody else’s kitchen was obviously the missing spice.

In the end she decided eleven o’clock was early enough for me to eat my first proper meal of the day and stopped trying to feed me before I left for school.

But the simple fact of the matter is that Ma’s example is something of an increasing rarity these days. Not only was she a stay at home mother, she had live in help who could cope with the kitchen while she sat guard outside the bathroom, banging on the door every five minutes to make sure I would be ready on time and on my way to school. She could experiment with recipes by simply telling other people to do this and that. I can’t imagine the average mother today having either the energy or the time, much less the convenience, to come up with an elaborate breakfast on a daily basis.

Or even dads for that matter. Mine was a workaholic who worked almost around the clock and the only reason he stayed home on Sundays was because he could never get anyone else to come in on that day – even with the promise of a free lunch. But he would still find the time to fix me my early morning chocolate milk and pick me up after school so he could eat lunch with me… and the reason he could do all that was because he was considerably older when he had me and was the boss man at work so he could arrange his schedule to suit his parenting needs.

I find it simplistic when people think money equals privilege, when it’s time that is the real privilege, at least as it pertains to raising a family. Money obviously helps, but by itself it’s limited in what it can do for you – it is what it facilitates that really gives it worth. Bittman, for example, is a food writer for the New York Times. In money terms, it’s probably pretty average if not low on the totem pole, especially by Manhattan standards… but it’s a high status job that allows him to change his dietary habits around so he can eat a polenta that took 40 minutes to cook for breakfast. Maybe he made it the night before and heated it up the next morning – but it’s still a lot more work than the usual person would sign up for, isn’t it?

It’s one of the paradoxes of the slow food movement that fascinates me, especially as an Indian who has seen the clock move so radically in her own, relatively short, lifespan:

The items Bittman recommends in his article, be it the congee or the polenta, are food that the people native to the lands that inspired them have consumed for ages. And it’s food that developed organically because it was the most convenient and cheap item available. Congee for instance is a dish from the rice growing parts of Asia, and it basically involves you throwing a little rice in with a lot of water and boiling it to hell and back, adding whatever you want on top to give it flavor, drinking it starchy water and all. You could even eat it plain with nothing but a little salt: it’s the Asian version of cream of wheat.

But such food is becoming increasingly marginalized in the countries of its birth, because it’s too time consuming to allow the people who traditionally ate it to compete satisfactorily with people who usually nuke a bowl of cream of wheat for breakfast. So they buy a box of Kelloggs or Poptarts or what have you because that allows them to run out the door faster in the morning, which in turn allows them to be more competitive.

And when they’re more competitive, it’ll lead to more success, which leads to their achieving a position of privilege… where it becomes once more possible to go back to the things that they discarded to get ahead in the first place.

Everyone’s either giving an excellent imitation of a hamster on a wheel or there’s a deeper philosophical comment to be inferred here.

 
23 Comments

Posted by on February 18, 2009 in Desipundit, Life, Personal

 

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