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Monthly Archives: April 2007

Karan Johar & Rakhi Sawant Should Make a Baby

I hereby take back all my unkind thoughts about Karan Johar. Any man with the sheer genius to invite Rakhi Sawant on to his great big wet smooch on the butt of Indian celebritydom of a show (a.k.a. Koffee with Karan) deserves my vote. Forget Amitabh Bachchan, KJo for President, I say! The man has vision!

Look, I’m not a fan of Indian television. I used to be, back in the olden days when Doordarshan ruled the airwaves, Ekta Kappor was in kindergarten and none of us knew how good we had it, but these days I’d rather pass my time poking my eye repeatedly with a fork than watch what passes for entertainment on Indian TV. Okay, I exaggerate… but only by an utensil or so.

But when that same TV hands me an hour with the power to make me forget my vicious cold, the one that constantly makes me feel like I’m breathing egg-drop soup; ignore the powerful pull of sleep brought on by all the pills I’ve taken to kill the germs festering in my snot; and keeps my dad the impossible-to-please-critic in stitches – then, ladies and gentlemen, I know I’m watching greatness unfold.

It’s been pretty clear to me – and whoever else cared to pay attention – for a long while that Rakhi Sawant is the new punchline of snooty Bollywood.

She’s a publicity hound to end all publicity hounds in a industry full of them; she’s an unabashedly sexy item girl in a city where Mallika Sherawat roams around in a burkha (!); she carries her cheek implants, collagen (not silicon as she said, surely!) filled lips, botoxed forehead and silicon boobage with pride; admits to a live-in relationship when everybody around her is ‘buying apartments in the same building’; and she does all of this as if today were her last day on earth and she absolutely needs to get the word out before time runs out.

What she isn’t, is your typical Bollywood starlet –

  • She Spoke Hindi: Actually, she spoke in Hindustani. She was very upfront about the fact that her English isn’t very good and rather than make a faux pas on a show that was obviously very important to her, she wisely chose to continue in a language that made her comfortable.
  • She’s Absolutely Unselfconscious: She sang this song from her album Supergirl. It’s apparently this big hit? So I found the video on Youtube. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
  • She Made KJo Cry: Okay, so she didn’t. But she could have. Karan’s emotional range on this one episode was far greater than any of his films have ever achieved – hilarity, guilt, embarrassment, shock, sadness, concern, puzzlement… all culminating in that final tableau where he found himself trying to maintain peace between Z-Listers like Rahul Roy, Carol Gracias and Rakhi Sawant. Best. Show. Ever.
  • She Pulled No Punches: So Karan has this retarded ‘Rapid Fire Round’ on his show that he probably filched from the pages of The Babysitters Club or something similar. It apparently drives all his guests into a state of gibbering terror because Quick + Succinct + Coherent = Asking For Too Much in Bollywood. Rakhi on the other hand, had no problems letting her hair down, even giving KJo’s best buddy Shah Rukh Khan a 5/10 rating for sexiness. Why? Simple. “He doesn’t reveal, na!”
  • She’s a Mallika Sherawat Fan: Karan’s asked this question of other actresses a million times before: “Which contemporary movie heroine do you admire?” “Madhuri!” they’ll all chirp, safe in the knowledge that she’s all done and gone, comeback film or no comeback film. Rakhi is the first person I’ve heard mention an actual contemporary. I liked that.

Actually, I was really surprised by how much I liked this episode of Koffee. I didn’t think this was going to a hatchet job (KJo has enough professional courtesy to avoid that) but I did expect him to sit and giggle at her. I think he expected to sit and giggle at her too.

But there’s more to Rakhi Sawant than you expect. She might not be a role model yet the way she claims she is (“Fathers bring their little children to meet me and say their child wants to be just like me when they grow up!”), but she wasn’t half as annoying as some of the other people KJo’s had on his show.

Mika = Chewing Gum:

Randy Indian Team

[Originally published at Desicritics.org]

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20 Comments

Posted by on April 30, 2007 in Celebrity, Entertainment, News, Review, Television, Video

 

Maelstrom

The first time he hit me, I refused to believe it. My body felt it: my cheek stung, the sound reverberated around the room, for one slight second I could swear I saw double. My eyes took in his contorted face leaning into mine as he breathed heavily. But my brain said it was all a lie; it had to be a lie. The seconds filed calmly past as we simply stared at each other. And ever so slowly, into that shocked silence, my rage was born.

This was an unfamiliar anger. Fury in my soul usually arrives with a kind of blissful void created of adrenaline in its wake, wiping away all thought and memory and driving me deep into the most elemental part of my being as I lash out with every bit of strength I possess. This one though, brought with it a numbing sadness too deep for tears along with fear – and shock – and sheer disbelief – and an iron band around my chest that drew tighter and tighter as I tried to hurt him as he’d hurt me, yet knowing somehow that I could never make him experience a fraction of the ferocity of the pain and terror of that instant after his palm had connected with my face.

Even as I felt my nails sink into his flesh, darkly satisfying in the sheer viciousness of its grip on tissue and membrane and bringing with it fleeting images of broken veins gushing blood and torn flesh gaping in crescent shapes; even as the pressure built on my teeth as they clamped down, one jaw on another and drowned out the dulling throb of my cheek – I could feel him win this physical battle.

It only served to increase the intensity of the rage bubbling within me, and thankfully I felt myself sink into the familiar quicksand of my usual blind anger replete with tears and gritted invective. He threw me to the floor at some point and I kicked him and kicked and kicked and punched and bit and raked and clawed until all I could hear was the raspy breath in my lungs struggling alongside the sobs of hatred dribbling out of my mouth. I could no longer feel – his blows or mine. Dimly, through the blessed morphine of adrenaline, I was aware of pain washing my body in waves, relentlessly ebbing and flowing, now here – then there, but I couldn’t recognize its source: was it him and the memories of those nights spent in his strong arms or was it me and the shock of having my love ripped from me and replaced with this monster I wished to slay more than anything I had ever wanted in my life?

Was it him or was it me?

Curled up on the floor with tears (of rage or sadness, I did not know) flooding my face, my hands still instinctively sought his flesh to rend and tear. I could taste the salty sweetness of blood in my mouth and in my mind it was his blood I tasted. Muffled, as through cotton wool, I could hear the reedy wails still rising in my throat. He too was sobbing – I could hear that too but faintly. Perhaps he was simply dragging in some air. There seemed to be an impenetrable bubble of air wrapped around us that thrust away the world with its lights and sounds and other people.

I knew, or rather one distant part of me knew, I should be doing a great many things; all the things I’d thought other women should do when placed in the situation I now found myself in: scream loudly to attract attention, run to safety, so many things that seemed so simple and logical when I thought about it.

But lost in this unreal world of pain, all I could do was battle – for composure, for emotional survival and against him, against the overwhelming urge to kill.

That was what I wanted to do most – kill him. It overlay the other emotions seething within me, struggling for precedence. My brain wanted him dead for the unimaginable betrayal of his act. My heart wanted him stretched lifeless on the floor the way all my feelings for him now lay. My body simply wanted to bathe in his blood, every cell straining to experience the image painted for it by a fevered mind.

How dramatic that sounds in black and white. How melodramatic and silly and faintly disgusting. But at that moment (and sometimes even now in the dark of the night when the memory of that day is sprung upon me by a subconscious that refuses to forget) my hands tightened into claws because they wanted to shred his flesh until the blood ran over them, and my teeth tensed to bite into him and let the tongue at last experience the hot rush of blood it had already imagined.

***

That was not the beginning, of course. For the longest time, I dated the beginning of the end with that first day of outright violence but I was wrong. It began with the Speaking Look – a raised eyebrow, a sardonic half-smile, a tiny sneer, an expression of disbelief, a tightening of the lips, turning his head away.

Then came the actual words: don’t you think that will give other people the wrong impression – is that what you’re wearing – don’t you have something else – you can’t be serious – what makes you think that – let me tell you…

Soon, the words were deeper, sharper: you always have an answer don’t you – you may think so but – why can’t you do as I ask you – I want you to do this…

Then, came the other words: moron – idiot – bitch – slut – whore…

After that: everybody is sick and tired of you – nobody wants to be around you – if you didn’t have me…

And in a little while, the war between his world and my world: maybe that’s what your parents taught you but – you can’t think like that – behave like that – talk like that – walk like that – dress like that…

***

I wish I’d decided then never to see him again. I wish I hadn’t believed that it was something that could only happen this once.

But I didn’t decide that and it did happen again. Again and again and every time I cried, he cried with me – not at that moment, but later. At that moment, he only stared at me with eyes burning with hate and screamed things that were not true but were instead things that he hoped, fervently and obviously, would hurt me. But later, when he wept and clutched me close to him, hid his face in my lap and curled up on his knees to beg me to forgive him in a voice choked with sobs, he cried, I love you baby, don’t leave me.

I love you baby, he said as if that made it all right that he’d been trying to beat the parts he didn’t love out of me only a short while ago. Don’t leave me, he told me as if he had every right to tell.

And the thing that makes me ashamed to my bones, much more than what he did to me, is that I didn’t leave him. I went along with his presumption that love conquered all and that the rights bestowed upon lovers in the spring of romance can last forever. Every time I hugged him close and thought, he knows better now and every time I did that I knew I lied and that with every passing day my heart was learning the degrees separating love and indifference – and hate.

The shame was magnified a million times because the only thing that kept me with him was a kind of lethargic fear of the unknown. I had been a part of this couple for so long, I no longer knew who I would be once I left him. And rather than find out, rather than face the unpleasant task of separation and the ugliness involved in the dismemberment of a paralyzed relationship, I chose to continue life with a man whom I no longer liked, respected, admired… or loved.

To be honest in the cold light of the morning-after as well as hindsight, was to admit that the love had begun to die a long time before he raised his hand to me. It had withered under the relentless assault of his expectations that apparently could only exist upon the graveyard of my own, coupled with a chasm between our personalities that could only temporarily be bridged by sex. All that was left in the end was a rapidly diminishing comfort of the familiar and a vague feeling of irritation mixed with impatience every time I was confronted by his constant desire for reassurance. The rage, of course, was intermittent and carefully hidden at most times.

In a way, had I not been ashamed of my reasons for not leaving him, had I not been ashamed of the words of love that I gave to him week after week without meaning a word of it, I think I would never have crossed the line between disdain and hate no matter what he did to me. One didn’t hate a slug, after all, for being a slug. One hates a slug only when it touches upon something hidden deep within ourselves. My recognition of my own frailties when coupled with his attacks upon me, fed on each other to the magnification of both. And I began to hate him. As passionately as he wished me to love him.

Perhaps I would still have remained on this side of hatred had I been able to talk it over with someone. But I didn’t say a word. Instead, I chose to hold those bruises and that shallowly buried rage, which threatened sometimes to cut off my air supply when my eyes landed on his face, close within me where no one else could see them.

Why? Because I was afraid. Not of him. But, for the first time in my life (and this was his true ‘gift’ to me), I was afraid of what other people would say. I was afraid that they would either scorn me for my weakness or refuse to believe that he’d raised a hand to me. Of the two, I feared disbelief more than I feared anything else. I think I would rather have died than tell someone and then have them look at me with eyes that asked is that so? while their mouths said oh poor you!

***

We weren’t bad people, he and I. At least, I don’t think so.

He used to blush when I teased him about his ex-girlfriends and speculated about his wild past. I would blush when he paid me extravagant compliments, still unused to them after the teen years of braces and glasses. We loved buying each other little things – he would buy me the tiny pieces of silver work that I so loved; I would buy him the bottles of after-shave he was addicted to. He would play with my hair; I would pinch his cheeks. We made faces at each other in restaurants, embarrassing the waiters as they glided around our table. When the rains came, we bunked classes and went for long rides on smooth roads; I would hold him close for warmth as the bike hugged the wet road and the wind and rain whipped around us. We liked to eat out. We liked to dress up and go out to posh parties with all the fervor of the newly adult but we refused to color-coordinate, looking down disdainfully at the couples that did so. He was never happier than when he was in the midst of a crowd; I liked my space. He liked trance; I preferred Hip Hop. We both had a thing for classical music – Western and Indian. He liked Shakespeare; I was born on Shakespeare’s birthday.

No. We weren’t bad people, he and I. At least, I don’t think so. But something within us brought out the worst in each other.

When we first started dating, we told each other that we were meant to be. And perhaps it was true. Perhaps we were meant to be – not forever and ever amen… but to introduce ourselves to all that we didn’t want to be. Maybe we were each other’s guide to our darker selves, the ones we both hated but couldn’t break free of because they were us.

If the power of monsters lies in their name, I failed to recognize mine. I thought it was him, but in fact it was me. In retrospect, he was nothing – his presence in my life was limited to the ground I allowed him to occupy. Myself, I carried everywhere. An incubus whom there was no repelling for she was born of my own body.

The coward who refused to look life in the face; the doubter who introduced the word need into my brain; the woman who laid courage aside to live with a lie – the enemy within.

***

A month and a half later, it was summer break and we were both vacationing separately. He called me long distance from his parents’ house, a call remarkably free of all static, and asked me why my emails were getting shorter and shorter and came less and less often.

Don’t you love me? he asked.

Sure, I replied.

Then why don’t you say so?

I do.

I love you.

Me too.

Say it.

Sigh. I love you.

Like you mean it.

I love you. I love you. I love you.

You’re making fun of me.

I have to go. Absently, with my free hand, I twisted the bracelet I never took off: the one he’d clasped on my wrist the very day after he’d asked me to go steady. Hearts and flowers all around a delicate silver chain, it had broken once but he’d gotten it repaired before I’d had a chance to miss it.

What? What is it? Is there someone else?

No. I have to go. My mom wants me.

Walking into my room, I locked the door behind me. It took a couple of tries but finally the clasp came free. My wrist looked a little bare without that thin line of silver, a little tarnished now from constant use. It was astonishing how little it was, how tiny and insignificant lying pooled in the palm of my hand instead of stretched across my wrist.

Carefully, kneeling on the cold floor, I placed it in the wastebasket.

[Originally published at Chowk.com, 2005]

 
7 Comments

Posted by on April 24, 2007 in Fiction

 

Sanjaya: The Hair Has Left the Show

Of all the people made happy by Sanjaya Malakar’s exit from American Idol – and yes, I’m looking at you and your big fat grin, Simon Cowell – the happiest is, I think, Sanjaya himself. If he isn’t, then he should be.

I’ve said for a while now that the show was sapping whatever talent he had, pushing him to make a bigger spectacle of himself each week because plain singing just wasn’t enough in his case. In the process, he got some of the hardest-earned stage confidence that I’ve ever seen anybody garner and that’s the one positive thing he can take with him from Idol. Once the crushing weight of the show was off his back, he immediately relaxed into a much more confident and less desperate performer – the evidence is right there for you to see in his farewell performance.

So now that he no longer threatens the crown itself, everybody can sit back and enjoy his kookiness. No longer will he inspire hunger strikes and boos at ball games. Howard Stern and Vote for the Worst just got their rightful comeuppance. In this bright new day, people might even wave back at him occasionally. He is no longer the Anti-Christ of Idol (makes no sense, I know, but play along please, we’re pretending Idol hysteria has real world implications).

I personally started the process a full two weeks ago so I can recommend it for the rest of you haters out there. I was shown the light by Tony Bennett, people, when he said he loved Sanjaya because he was a performer. He must be, I reasoned, because the Sanjaya Freak Show had me transfixed at the pony-hawk. I mean, before that I was just appalled at the fact that he made it when people who could carry a tune like Sabrina Sloan and Stephanie Edwards got kicked off. But the faux-hawk convinced me I was witnessing some sort of greatness – some sort of awesomely bad greatness.

I know, I know, the rabid Sanjaya Sweeties (how come there’s no “official” name for Sanjaya lovers? I think his claim is far greater than that of Chris “Fro Patro” Sligh) amongst you will come out with your war cry, “Sanjaya Can Sing!” Look, don’t convince us, convince him.

This is the kid who told us two weeks ago that his mission was to “show America [he] can sing”. While it was nice to see that hubris hadn’t gotten the better of him and tipped him headfirst into a boiling vat of delusion (yes, I mean you Antonella!) like the one some of his fans were wallowing in, it also made me feel bad for him.

Look, he’s a nice kid. I’ve said that from the beginning and I maintain it till this day. The “Smugjaya” (thanks, Kaonashi!) that emerged to flutter its beastly wings in the past few weeks was entirely the result of a weak defense mechanism. Actually, I think in real life he’d just have taken his constant spankings and gone to his room to soak his pillow with tears. But that puts a damper on everyone’s fun, so I don’t doubt the producers were feeding him lines and propping him up to be as mean as he could (which wasn’t much).

It is worth noting that not even at the very bottom of the trough that has been his Idol experience did he exhibit the levels of sullenness shown by Chicken Little. Nor did he try to justify his bad singing a la Chris Timberfake this week (“nasally” is a style of singing? Ri-i-ght). And he didn’t try to smother his defeats under a cloak of fake-cool like the Fro Patro guy.

All in all, my pet object of hate this season has been very unsatisfactory. First of all, I couldn’t enjoy hating him because every time I did (which was every time he sang) I felt like I was kicking a puppy. Nor could I properly enjoy the full extent of his bizarreness because as soon as I tried, I felt like I was getting played. I don’t like the sensation of being a puppet on a string and every time I winced at Sanjaya I could feel the producers gloating at having hit the jackpot in a contestant who simultaneously made me laugh, hate, fear, and pity.

Laugh because he’s such a dork and nobody ever gets too old to laugh at dorks. Hate because I’m not tone deaf and there were a couple of songs he butchered that I really liked but now will never be able to hear without remembering his (shudder) version. Fear because Idol really would have gone down the toilet (at least for me) if he’d ended up a finalist and I don’t want to give up my yearly fix of crazy beeyotches auditioning to get their miserable dreams shot to smithereens on national television. And pity because the only thing this kid ever did wrong was take a chance on his dreams and look where he ended up.

He’s got the starring role in all kinds of conspiracy theories on an international level – in fact, I’m kind of surprised, what with all the egregious shoutouts to Virginia Tech Tuesday night, that nobody’s brought up the theory that he got voted out as part of an immigrant backlash. He has an amazing amount of name recognition and nobody really knows what he can do with it because if he did put out a record, what would it sound like?

Would it have an awesome video with him going crazy coupled with terrible singing? The two times he’s sounded decent on this show, he’s pretty much bored me to tears, so would it be a well-sung snoozefest with a hair fixation? If the tweenie market is his target audience and Stevie Wonder is his inspiration then how’re those two facts going to gel? If the older “I’m an underdog/I got laughed at in high school/I got wedgies in college” pity crowd is his soft spot, then will their compassion extend to buying his albums? Is the hair going to follow him every where he goes like the image of Faith followed George Michael and the briefs followed Mark “Marky Mark” Wahlberg…?

Hold on, rewind. Did I just lump Sanjaya with George Michael and Marky Mark? BWAHAHAHA!

Never mind. I think I just got an irony headache. Like Ryan said, we won’t soon forget you, Sanjaya, whether you get Sign-jaya or not.

[Originally published at Blogcritics.org]

Update: No way is this the end of the road.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on April 23, 2007 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Music, News

 

Love Affair

“Hmm,” she sighed.

“What’re you thinking?”

In a little while they would get up and go their separate ways but for this one instant in time, they were together and for now that was all that mattered. His big hands, slightly rough and very warm, gently stroked her smooth back as she rubbed her cheek against his shoulder and one slender finger traced his face.

“You’re probably the first man to ever ask the woman that.”

He chuckled. “We’re not all shallow creatures. Besides, it’s my feminine side – it hijacks me at vulnerable moments and then I like to talk – with certain people, of course.”

“Why, thank you,” she mocked gently. “Actually, I was thinking – do you remember the first time you said you loved me?”

“Hmm. And you said, ‘thank you’.”

She laughed. “Well, I’d decided I wasn’t going to say ‘I love you’ to anyone I didn’t really truly love.”

He pushed himself up on one elbow. “You mean you didn’t really truly love me?”

She put her tongue out at him. “We were sixteen.”

“I know – you were hot!”

She screamed with laughter as he nuzzled her neck while his fingers unerringly found all her ticklish spots. Finally, she caught his hands and giggled into the pillow.

“I had glasses,” she said at last.

“Hmm,” he said. “And your hair dripped with oil…”

A pillow landed on his face. He wrestled it away from her and looked up as she climbed on top of him.

“Ooh,” he said. “This is how a million fantasies have begun.”

“Pervert.”

“Whatever you say, baby,” he grinned.

“But seriously, did you ever think back then that we’d end up here today?”

“Do you mean did I see myself naked under you with – all right, all right, don’t smother me! Cut it out! Sheila… You mean when I saw you dressed in that dull gray pinafore with your fat glasses and your oil slicked hair, did I think I would still be in love with you fifteen years later? Nope, I didn’t – I didn’t even think I was going to fall in love with you then!”

“Bastard,” she grinned. “Was that when you were still panting over Smitha?”

“You say that like I ever got over her.”

“Aa-kash!”

“Shei-la!”

“I hate you!”

“Funny way you have of showing it,” he said, his hands wandering over her.

“Stop it,” she said half-heartedly.

“All right,” he said, promptly putting his hands behind his head.

They both laughed as she leaned down to kiss him.

“All right, truthfully?” he asked.

“Yes, what?”

“Your face was only incidental.”

She looked at him skeptically. “You fell in love with the ‘real’ me? My inner beauty bedazzled you?”

He was shaking with suppressed laughter. “No, I fell for your adorable little ass – or should I say your adorable big ass?”

“Beast!” she yelled.

“Shh-hh. Not so loud.”

“Really? I noticed you don’t practice what you preach.”

“Some women would take that as a compliment.”

She frowned in mock reproof. “Know a lot of these women, do you?”

He held up his hands. “It was another man in another lifetime, Your Honor.”

“You’re very cute when you lie.”

“Ah, the perfect woman – the one who finds deceit charming.”

“Well, there’re your hands too… I love your hands,” she said, drawing one from under his head and kissing the palm.

“Is that all?” he asked wickedly.

“No, it’s true… they’re just right.”

“Hmm, depends on what they’re doing.”

She pinched his nipple.

“Ow,” he said, rubbing his chest. “See, now that’s not a turn on.”

“I thought you once said I turned you on no matter what I did.”

“Did I? I must have been trying to talk you into bed.”

She gasped.

He laughed a little. “What? Didn’t you tell me all men are the same?”

“Ye-es, but not you!”

“Why not?”

“Because I love you.”

“And I love you,” he said softly, drawing her down for a kiss.

“I’ve got to go,” she said a little later.

“Hmm,” he sighed, his chest rising and falling beneath her.

“Aakash?”

“What?”

“I have to leave.”

“You might have done that a while ago – but now that you’ve already broken my rib cage, you might as well stay a while.”

“Stupid,” she giggled. “Are you calling me fat?” she asked mock-ferociously.

“Mm, moti khoti,” he said, slapping her lightly on her behind.

They collapsed laughing.

“I really have to go,” she said again.

“What time is it?”

“A little after five.”

“So the afternoon is over?”

“Yes.”

He was silent for a bit, his hand rubbed her back idly. “You feel good.”

“Hmm,” she said. “You too.”

“When can we do this again?”

“Next week as usual?”

“Monday?”

“No, you know that’s not possible. Saturday.”

“That’s a whole seven days away.”

“Call me if you get lonely.”

“Aren’t you afraid your husband will find out?”

“Not if I call you from work.”

“Doesn’t he wonder where you go on Saturdays?”

She shrugged. “Girl things.”

“Girl things…” he murmured and fell silent. Finally he said, “Sheila?”

“Mm?”

“What are we doing?”

It was her turn to be silent. “I don’t know.”

“But it feels good?”

“Yes.”

He hugged her tightly. “Do you ever feel guilty?”

“All the time.”

“Right now?”

“No.”

“Liar,” he whispered.

“Lover,” she replied, kissing his neck.

“What will you do if he finds out?”

“Do you want him to?” she asked.

“Do you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you love me?”

“Yes.”

“Are you sure?”

She raised her head to look at his hazel eyes, now glistening dimly in the early evening sunlight. “You have the most beautiful eyes.”

“That’s my line.”

She kissed him softly. “Does it matter?”

They both knew she wasn’t referring to her compliment. He was silent for a moment before whispering to her, “Yes. It matters.”

“It didn’t used to.”

“I was a stupid kid.”

“So was I.”

“So you knew about these things before I did. Women always do.”

“That’s a cop out and you know it.”

He sat up abruptly. “What would you like me to say? That I’m sorry I didn’t fight harder to make it last when we were both kids?”

“No,” she said, sitting up as well. “No.”

“How was I supposed to know this was the real deal? How was I supposed to know that you – “

“No, of course not,” she said, stroking his back. “Of course not.”

He didn’t turn around. “I love you.”

“I know,” she said, her hand resting on his back.

“Are you going to leave him?”

It was the first time he’d ever asked. The first time since they’d met at a class reunion three years ago. The first time he’d ever asked her that question since they’d begun their affair a year ago. She sat there silently as she thought about what she was going to say.

“No,” she admitted at last.

“You don’t love him.” It was a statement.

“Yes I do.”

He turned to her then. “You said you loved me!”

“I do. But we took vows… I meant them, Aakash.”

“Yeah? When? An hour ago when I was fucking the hell out of you?”

She looked at him.

“I’m sorry,” he said, expelling a long sigh. “I didn’t mean that.”

She said nothing.

“At least… I don’t understand.”

“Maybe you will when you marry.”

“Oh, please. Don’t give me the married-bullshit. You don’t understand this, Aakash but you will when you have a wife – like marriage gives you extra grey matter.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t say that!”

“All right… I need to leave.”

“Right.”

She got up and was at the bathroom door when he spoke again.

“So this thing has a shelf life?”

She turned back to face him. “Doesn’t everything?”

He rubbed his face. “Yeah. But somehow… I guess I watch too many movies.”

“First love?” she smiled.

“Yeah. Don’t tell anyone, will you? It’d probably destroy my street cred.”

“Like you ever had any,” she scoffed lightly.

They stared at each other.

“Come here,” he said, holding out his arms for her to crawl into.

He smoothed away the tangle of black hair and looked deep into her brilliant black eyes with their thick fringe of lashes. The late sunlight lit their depths and turned her skin to gold. Her lips were soft and pink, the traces of her lipstick still visible after all their hours of loving.

“Will you love me forever?” she asked, smiling.

“And a day,” he vowed, bending his forehead to rest against hers. He rocked her gently against his body as they held on to each other.

“It doesn’t really mean anything does it?” she asked.

“What?”

“Saying I love you. I thought it did when I – we – were young. Back then it seemed so important.”

“You don’t think its important now?”

She looked at him. “You love me and I love you and then what?”

He was silent. “It could mean something.”

She nodded. “If I were willing to leave him.”

“Why aren’t you?”

“I don’t know. Maybe because I love him.”

“Oh, come on Sheila – you really think any of this would have happened if you really loved this guy?”

She didn’t say anything.

“Seriously?” he asked incredulously.

“You’ve never met him, I’ve never really discussed him – how would you know?”

“Because you’re here with me!”

“And what does that prove?” she looked him in the eye as she asked him that.

“It means – it means you love me goddammit!”

“Doesn’t mean I don’t love him though, does it?”

“Sometimes I don’t understand you,” he said, getting off the bed and walking over to the window.

“No, that’s true. If I had been some poor woman in need of rescue, if you could just be my knight in shining armor come to rescue me from my sad, miserable, lonely existence as a bored housewife – then you’d understand me, wouldn’t you? Then I’d fit into your idea of me, of how I ought to be and then you wouldn’t have to deal with the real me. The me that you don’t understand. The me that has a life outside this room – a life that I like.”

“Weren’t you running late for something?”

“We’re always too late, Aakash. Always.”

Neither chose to break the silence. Aakash lit a cigarette and Sheila watched the lighter spark and light in the cool semi darkness of the room with its drawn cotton curtains.

“Come here,” she said finally.

Still silent, he padded over to the bed and sat down next to her.

“I don’t expect you to understand,” she said softly, draping her arms around him. “I’m not sure I do, myself. But somehow, I’m okay with this. With you and I in this bedroom once a week and with him and me in that house the rest of the time. I don’t know if I love you more or if I love him more or how my feelings for him are so different from my feelings for you. But if you weren’t here right now – if you got off this bed and walked out of my arms, away from me forever, right this minute… I would be – I would be – upset. The same way I would be – upset – if he were to walk out of my life right now, this minute. Do you understand?”

He drew deeply on his cigarette and then looked at her. “No.”

“Yeah.” She looked down.

He reached out and caught one hand and kissed it. “I love you.”

She smiled a little.

“And to answer your question – or at least, I think to answer your question – it does mean something. Not when we were so young all we wanted to do was touch each other, not then. But now – now that I’ve touched you and held you and tasted you and … loved you. It means something, Sheila.”

Leaning across, she kissed his forehead. “Even if it means something to you and something else to me?”

“Even if no one was ever able to tell me what that something is. It still means something.”

“I love you, Aakash.”

“I love you, Sheila.”

They held each other close as night drew nearer outside, knowing that while this afternoon had come to an end, another would soon come by.

[Originally published at Chowk.com, 2006. See you all next Monday!]

 
16 Comments

Posted by on April 18, 2007 in Fiction

 

Bloodshed at Virginia Tech

As news began trickling in about the shootings on the Virginia Tech campus yesterday morning, I was most shocked not by the tragedy itself but by the fact that I cared so little about it.

I’m not comfortable about how used I have become to violent death. Yesterday I was talking to my friend, who lived through 9/11 , and we began to discuss things like the spate of suicides that broke out on the NYU campus in Fall of 2003, 9/11, Columbine, etc. I was telling her about the grief counseling sessions that were made mandatory in the dorms post-9/11 and after the suicides in Bobst.

“Are you upset about this incident?” she asked me, referring to VATech.

“Not really,” I confessed. “It feels like just another day, another group of people.”

“I have a number,” she said. “If its more than 100 then I feel it’s fucked up.”

“I don’t have a number,” I replied. “But I do have a quality issue – it becomes a question of how people died. Rape, torture, hacking off limbs…”

It upsets me for days on end when I read about the tactics carried out by African militias, Middle Eastern terrorists, South Asian naxalites, Indian police and yes, American soldiers. But death itself? Oddly enough, the last time I was seriously affected by death by God’s will, it was a numbers issue – the tsunami of 2004.

VATech has brought up the same issues all over again. Is it a gun control problem and do we need to repeal the Second Amendment? Is it reflective of American society? Is it a reason we haven’t thought of yet, but will surely discover once we understand why it happened this time?

I have no answers. But I hope somebody will hit upon them sooner rather than later. Please visit CNN.com for more updates. This story isn’t going to be done for a long time.

Update – Indian Professor Loganathan amongst those killed. Source

Update II – More details from Glosslip

Update III – New and analysis from the NYT, check out the essay by a Blacksburg writer who used to live in Sierra Leone.

Update IV – Indian student amongst those slain. Source

Update V – No suicide note but his writing was “macabre”. Source

 
2 Comments

Posted by on April 17, 2007 in News, Politics

 

Alistair Maclean’s The Last Frontier

The novels of Alistair Maclean are some of the best works of popular fiction written in the last century. They include books that went on to inspire Hollywood classics such as The Guns of Navarone (Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn), Where Eagles Dare (Richard Burton, Clint Eastwood), and Ice Station Zebra (Rock Hudson). One of my personal favorites, however, is The Last Frontier.

For a fairly complex novel, The Last Frontier has a straightforward Cold War plot: Michael Reynolds is a British spy sent behind the Iron Curtain to rescue a British ballistics expert, Dr. Harold Jennings. In Budapest, he finds some unlikely allies in the form of three remarkable men – Jansci, once Major General Alexis Illyurin, now a revolutionary leader of great interest to the Soviets; the Count, a master of disguise who has managed to infiltrate the ranks of the dreaded Hungarian secret police, the AVO (later the AVH); and Sandor, a man of extraordinary strength and unswerving loyalty.

The plan calls for a simple grab job — Dr. Jennings is in Budapest being briefed for an upcoming press conference — but with the Russians on guard, nothing is going to be easy. For one thing there is Jansci’s private life. His wife is lost, snatched by government forces in a routine pogrom when he was not at hand and sent to some concentration camp where he cannot trace her in spite of his best efforts. Adding to this worry is his daughter Julia who refuses to leave him or her mother behind for safer climes.

Then there is Jansci himself. Reynolds is introduced as a hard and dangerous man of little moral compunction and willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish his goals no matter what or who gets in his way. Jansci is his almost exact opposite, a sort of Gandhian figure who consciously chooses not to take Reynolds’ path in spite of having every opportunity, not to mention ability.

The two men develop a fascination and admiration for each other, but inevitably find themselves clashing on certain ideological and philosophical points. Early on in the novel, there is a long dialogue between these two during which they go back and forth about the nature of fear, Communism, people, the West, and Russians in general. Although circumstances have changed beyond recognition since then, more than a half-century later it is still a thought-provoking piece of writing.

Reynolds argues that he can only see one unifying factor, one underlying reason why the world keeps coming back to the brink of an awful precipice with its threat of nuclear annihilation, human misery, and the obstruction of free thought – and that reason is Communism. Jansci disagrees. Communism, he says, “remains only as a myth, an empty lip-service catchword in the name of which the cynical, ruthless realists of the Kremlin find sufficient excuse and justification for whatever barbarities their policies demands.”

In his opinion it is fear that threatens the world the most: The fear of the men in power as to what the future will bring, of past mistakes in leadership that might one day come back to haunt them, of the reactions of their own people and, most of all, of the outside world and what the penetration of its ideas might do to them and their culture. He thinks of these as human faults and can understand them.

“You like the Russians. Even the Russian is your brother?” Mask it as he tried with politeness, Reynolds could not quite conceal the incredulity in his question. “After what they have done to you and your family?”
“A monster, and I stand condemned. Love for your enemies should be confined to where it belongs – between the covers of the Bible – and only the insane would have the courage, or the arrogance or the stupidity, to open the pages and turn the principles into practice. Madmen, only madmen would do it – but without these madmen, our Armageddon will surely come.”

Written in the 1950s, it is no wonder that with ideas such as these, The Last Frontier was a miserable commercial failure compared to some of Maclean’s other works. It is only in its ideological heart that this book differs from the rest of its brethren. Other than that it is classic Maclean.

Reynolds is suitably beaten up and put through the wringer, emerging as a better man with a bitter smile and Julia on his arm. The supporting cast and villains are by turns ominous (several AVO agents), heartbreaking (I’ll freely admit that the Count’s soliloquy about his only surviving child clogs my throat every time I so much as think about it) and comforting (the silent Sandor is just about the most useful human being I’ve ever read of).

The details of torture, murder, casual violence, corruption, and genocide as part of daily life behind the Iron Curtain are chilling. The Last Frontier, also published as The Secret Ways in the United States, is an action-packed emotional wringer of a book that offers a little more to think about than your average paperback. Normally that spells disaster. In this case, I recommend it highly.

[Originally published at Blogcritics.org]

 
8 Comments

Posted by on April 16, 2007 in Books, Review

 

Feminist Update – II

Tagged! I hope people have been keeping up with this feminism tag because there’s some great writing involved here. The latest:

At Blogpourri, Sujatha writes about her grand-aunt, married at the age of seven to a 42 year old man who promptly abandoned her. She went on to live a life that so many women today would love to have.

At Writing Life, Jawahara writes that she is not afraid of labels. Feminism is a part of her identity, not the definition and it has set her free to be all that she can.

I want more. But in the meantime, check out Charukesi’s post about the grand old ladies in her family. It’s not only an excellent blog but a look at her posts on gender issues is well worth your time.

***

More Tags!

DG brings the Mad Momma’s answer to a separate tag on feminism – Five Things Feminism has given her.

This was in response to Chatterbox who wrote about what feminism has done for her.

She was tagged in turn by Annie whose thoughts can be read here.

And this of course was inspired by Aishwarya who had so much to say, she was reluctant to say it all – but I’m glad she did.

She got tagged by Belledame – her take on things, touches on the greater civil rights issue.

And it came to her via Feministe here.

Who was prodded into it by Shakespeare’s Sister who was talking about American feminism.

And here, ladies and gentlemen, is the post that started it all.

Don’t you love the interconnected series of tubes and tunnels that is the interweb? I do!

 
8 Comments

Posted by on April 14, 2007 in Personal