Saturday, January 30, 2010

Story in two sentences

I love you.

Earlier stories.

Rains again

K leans over the balcony railing, watching something. ‘There are pigeons sleeping there’, he points to the top of the balcony down below. We watch them over cigarettes and he rolls his parathas in his hand and munches them thoughtfully. A clap of thunder follows a lightening tearing the dark sky like a thin old cloth. We stub our cigarettes and sign off for the day. I go to sleep, K to his book.

I wake up at three to a steady drumming noise outside – the slash of the rain on the glass door to the balcony. I heave myself from the bed and my feet find the slippers. I pull away the curtain, and pull the sliding glass-door slightly ajar – even at this height, I can smell the wet earth below. The curtain gently billows with the wind that sneaks in through the crack. I strip naked, leave the slippers inside, and walk into the balcony. I stand holding the railing, my eyes closed against the rain.

‘Why does it rain?’, I ask Ba looking at the dark clouds as we take shelter under the tin shed.

‘To make us wet, buddhoo! What else?’, she laughs.

I feel the water rise against my ankle. I gingerly move towards the switch on the balcony light, switch it on with a short jab from the finger and look towards the drain, and find a rag blocking it. I remove it and lay it over the railing, and the water level recedes. I switch the light off, go back to the railing, and close my eyes again to the warm rivulets tracing their streams from my hair to the hollow roundness around my eyes to the mounts of my cheeks to the nape of my neck to my torso to my legs.

‘We all have our own memories of the rain’, she tells me as we watch the rains sitting on the steps of the front door, our bare feet getting wet, ‘It’s like the moon – we don’t share it with everyone like we share the sun – it speaks to each of us differently.’ She pauses and the rain drums louder on the leaves. ‘Every monsoon which comes reawakens a joy in me. But it’s always a little sadder than before.’ The rains fall harder and we pull our feet in. She hugs her shins and rests her chin on the valley of her knees. ‘I wonder why’, she whispers.

The orange glow behind my eyelids from the sudden glare of the bulb darkens to a purple and slowly blacks out.

Because it reminds us of what we’ve lost.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Vidya Balan is dying...

Mile Sure - The original

Watched it after decades. Genius.

Phir Mile Sur

Great Bong has beaten me to a piece on the Phir Mile Sur video that has been released as an attempt in making the masterpiece “Mile sur mera tumhara” relevant to a generation twenty years ahead. I had attempted a similar piece but filed it away. Anyway, GB’s piece is much more hilarious a spoof I could have ever drafted. Much of the punchlines are predictable and very much the same themes I was picking on, for example, Abhishek tagging along wife and paa. (We think the same thoughts; only package them differently and flourish them forth like we had cooked it all ourselves; and them we hop to other blogs and read the same tired clichés and simmer – Hey! I had thought of that first!) Though his paradaa-faash on the Zoom TV angle was an eye-opener and explained a lot. The point is not GB, whose wit I am confessedly a fan of, but… something else.

I used to watch Mile Sur when I was a small town kid and really pretty naïve and idealistic, prone to believe anything I saw and read. It was, perhaps, a time; a generation. I was too young to realise the skill that had so deftly captured that simplicity. I remember but that my favourite portion was the fingers of Louis Banks on the keyboard (I have not seen the video for more than a decade) and the booming big B, flanked by Mithun and Jeetendra. J

That the new Mile Sur is almost entirely cramped with Bollywood, even to the depths of Shahid Kapoor, to the exclusion of even giants, I am not surprised. It is, in that sense, a very keen reflection of the present times. In fact, I liked some bits of it. Salman’s portion with mute kids touched me and I only wished he had left his baniyaan persona for a moment and worn a shirt at least, if not something more traditional, as, for me, appearing in a tribute like this demands a respect like standing at the national anthem, where personas of machismo and casualness have to be temporarily deferred. (For the same reason we refrain from tapori language among elders.)

Why I chose to not post the piece that I wrote was that I felt there was a bigger essence, of a loss, that words could not do justice too. Especially nit-picking humour recycling the same done-to-death bits.

The loss is not a loss of a time, but an aesthetic. More than that – a sensibility. I write this deliberately not watching the original video surely there on youtube, but relying on what I remember. (Education is what you remember after you’ve forgotten what you learnt. In that sense, memories can be a truer source of essence.)

I wonder if the video really needed to be made contemporary. Of course, not because they say it (the motive was the same which inspires any two-bit artist to do a tribute to a classic, Jessica Simpson’s “Boots are mode for walking” for instance, to borrow authentic glory for self-promotion). But, just seriously. I perhaps knew Zaakir Hussain and Kamal Hassan in the montages preceding the trio from Bollywood mentioned, including the heroines and Lata, but the video still affected me. Would it have made a difference if it had all been artists I would never have known the name of? No. I would have still intuitively grasped that they are all essentially and deep-rootedly Indian.

But then, I come from a generation which has seen a transition. In the video, I can see that subtle crowding out of ordinary Indian people and the really intelligentsia with bhaands, the faux poignancy and simplicity, but is there a generation that has been denied that yardstick? But what did we have that was denied? My generation jokes about how vividly they remember a Campa Cola sip (park behind GPO in small plastic cups in evening with Chicky at my side), how we had one toy we broke, repaired, broke, and things we didn’t have.

So what has been denied to the new generation? This very denial?

Or is this the same I-studied-under-street-lamps romanticism we got that we we got that we are throwing back to the next one?

But surely, the absence of silence, and simplicity, even in a post-modernistic meaningless world of simulacra, images flashing atop each other, sound bytes clambering upon eachotherblahblah is still felt. Do not we still welcome that silence between the intakes of breaths of a yakking idiot? Does silence have to be taught now? An absence, dignified and stating more hence.

Or is this mindless generation that ChetanBhagat and ZoomTVs and ShahidKs lay claim to only a minority? A simmering majority lie unexpressed below? If not, I shudder.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

What lies beneath

Last month in Kashmir, as our shikhara drifted from Char Chinar, I clicked a few parting snaps. By mistake, I kept overexposing these succession of snaps and I find the result far more beautiful than what would have come on the correct exposure.

Posting these snaps on fb, somebody remarked on the second snap that the true essence and colours are held beneath the water than what we see over the surface. I found it very fascinating, especially since my own writing these days is centered on this idea.

Kapil Thakur Unleashed

For those who don’t know, Rediff’s star spotting section is the nemesis of celebrityhood. Of the many flashes that accompany the mega-hyped celebrities, a snap sent to Rediff can rip apart the doe-caught-in-the-flashlight star, especially in the first few hours of moderated comments. Sample these “moderated” comments on the Kapoor clan sisters above.

Now it seems, rediff does not seem to need other celebrities, since it’s created a monster of its own. Kapil Thakur. In the last one month, Kapil has hogged the Spotted space and, for the first time, relieved the poor stars of the heat of anonymous unmoderated comments as there is only one question in every forum where his snap appears: Who the F*** is KAPIL?

All comments from Rediff.


Crowd Image:

Monday, January 25, 2010

Wanted:The Review

I am surprised to find that most reviewers have dismissed Wanted as an action masala belonging to the golden era of the eighties – Rajesh Khanna, Dharmendra, Jeetendra in their prime, dancing, beating people to pulp and weeping over raped sisters even before the usher has pointed your designated deathchairs with his steel torch. The movie starts with the sound of gunshots and blood splattering on the screen, the hero makes his entry in a basement warehouse reminiscent of Big B’s Deewar sequence and beats them in a fashion jo maanav kalpana se pare hai, unfunny spoofs crowd upon each other, the chief comedian’s punchline is his obese physique and his hilariously impossible desire for the heroine (who carries more weight on her front than the comedian on his entire frame) and one of the gags involves the shlokas – “Teri ma ki choobeep, teri ma ka bhonbeep”.

Honestly, does this sound to you anyway like a cheap masala flick? It’s obvious that the critics have missed the heavy symbolism hidden in the folds, as manifold as the folds on Ayesha’s love handle.

The movie starts in the fashion of a Bhansali period drama: a woman kick boxing sequence with roaring East Asians around and a Bihari Don (a bloated Abhishek Bachchan) watching the proceedings. The don is the character Dawood has based his life on and is now on his way back to Mumbai. A brief sequence follows the narrative of Company then: a Mohanlalesque honest cop arriving in Mumbailand with the resolve of cleaning it of its filth – the Shahid Kapoors and Dino Moreas– but is advised to start small and then told about the evil Bihari migrant workers who threaten to take the cake from the mouths of the Manoos who just by virtue of being born in a place now deserve to have them all and eat them too, even though if others have baked it. Montages from Company are quickly shown to refresh our memories.

The cop immediately pulls away a lowly officer from his duty patrolling the waters outside Gateway of India to the task of protecting Mumbai from a greater threat than a bunch of strafing terrorists – Bihari workers. For that purpose, the hero has been given a double O to take out any Bihari eking out a living. He hangs around with a bunch of peons at Churchgate, Andheri stations, taxi stands staring stiffly ahead all the time but with excellent peripheral vision. Immediately, the cop lays a trap to encounter a bunch of workers who have just landed at Virar and induces them into an abandoned PSU factory, with showering sparks and molten metal but abandoned by the striking workers, with that old North India weakness – supari.

Now, the run-up to this introductory sequence is MCed by the head peon, a puffy Indra Kumar who once, along with Armaan Kohli, defined the rank bottom of Indian hero type, with Abe, woh Rambo ka baap hai, Terminator ka chacha hai, Rocky ka dadu hai, Bruce Lee ka nana hai, Last Action Hero hai woh!And then surprise o’ surprise, emerges from the shadows not Tusshaar Kappor but Raj. Not the Malhotra one, but the Nunnu Thackrey, played by Salman, the inspiration evident in the announcement by the faux rappers: “Super Killer Demented, Momma says he’s Wanted!" Raj then proceeds to stamp his “Immigration Denied” seal on the poor bunch of workers in the manner of South Indian Action flicks.

Tired from a day’s work here, he steps outside to get some fresh air where about a thousand Manoos wait to garland him and do what they used to do in the workless halcyon days – taking out Ganpatis and dancing on the roads to synchronised PT steps – before the migrants came and made their gaan fatis. [A note here: Watching Prabhu Deva and Govinda dance together was a history-being-made moment only a diehard masala fan can understand.]

And then he goes back to lolling around the stations waiting for the next batch of the desperate migrants masquerading as the mafia, and Prabhuji keeps spewing truckloads of them every time Raj disposes of a battalion of them while filing his nails. And that is every fifteen minutes into the movie.

Enter Uddhav, played by who else but Mahesh Manjrekar as a corrupt cop, who remains surprisingly restrained and hence just a million decibels over the top. Uddhav is in the same business as Raj – killing Biharis at random – and indeed their territories, and constituencies, might have never overlapped had not the case of the Bihari baloonwaali fallen in both their laps.

Now the gubbarewali was not always a gubbarewali. As the brilliant transcripts accompanying my CD suggest here, she started as a weatherman (sorry – weatherperson) who gets thrown out of her TV show because of her excellent English. Forced to rely on her wits, an impossible task on any day, she becomes a vendor of balloons but does not know enough of Marathi to get a license to sell her wares and has to carry them around under her clothes while pretending to work in a BPO. Indeed, the balloons become twin symbols for her ethnic and sexist stereotyping. In a scene when trapped in a hot lift (full of delicate romantic moments reminiscent of Mere Mehboob like when the heroine sits between the hero’s crotch and asks what is vibrating and he answers – my cell phone) the hero blows air in her mouth and just as he asks her to blow him in her turn, the doors of the lift part.

A lot of critics have unfairly panned Ayesha’s role saying her presence in the movie is as good as a chair with two cushions. I disagree on two counts. First, a doormat would be a better home furnished example. Second, the symbolism embodied in her character is difficult to understand for the unsubtle. Branded for her English, gender and ethnicity, the heroine carries the painful burden of this hate on her chest courageously; her immense onus suggested only in delicately framed shots like these.

You might say that Ayesha is the script of the movie. Had it not been for her the movie would have been endless streams of Bihari workers, deprived of their rakhwala trapped in the Big Boss house, massacred at the station by Raj and Uddhav.The introduction of Ayesha introduces the very dilemma Ralph Fiennes faced as a concentration camp officer in Schindler’s list – the temptation of the gubbares of someone you have been taught to blindly hate.

In all, Ayesha propels the movie with four scenes along.

1. First, she goes to an aerobic run by Vinod Khanna to pretend that the only secret to her bloated top is a fine fitness regimen and no balloons.

While returning she runs into and gets groped by Uddhav or some Bihari goons (In fact, Uddhav is so desparate that he even threatens to rape the heroine’s lighter-by-quintals mother! – another definite first in Hindi cinema)

2. Second, she summons Raj through her irritating and fat Maggi brother with a mobile

3. Raj turns up and stamps his double OOs

4. Fourth, when Salman turns to her and wants to move to the other O with her, she weeps copiously and engages in philosophical dialogues with him like here where she questions the preconditions of affection thus, “Jisse bas logon ki jaan lena aataa hai, woh kisee ki feelings ko kya samjhega!” All Raj can do is look desperately bored and checking her balloons with his amazing peripheral vision and wishing she was peddling grapes and he could just walk away.

These four scenes run endlessly in a loop and indeed threaten to do so forever till, fortuitously, two things happen. Vinod Khanna dies and the gym closes. And then, Raj kills all the Biharis, and even Uddhav, who could have molested the heroine. And the picture ends thus abruptly – a bare-chested Raj (I seriously thought that after a decade I might be able to survive a Salman flick with seeing his shaved nipples but no – the villains had to throw Molotov cocktails at his shirt) heaving over the corpse of Uddhav and staring at the camera and realising it is over. The End flashes.

Ali G - Economics

I must be watching this AliG video for the nth time. Might as well share it.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Back from Jaipur Festival

When I woke up at five yesterday morning, with dense fog gathered outside my window, for a moment, I almost gave up my plans to catch the early morning Shatabdi to Jaipur. After all, while people spend a third half of their life sleeping, my own is nearer to half. It took all my will-power, and a persistent alarm from the mobile I sleepily groped for in vain, to get up and slip my feet in the slippers.

I am glad I did.

The Jaipur literature trip is the most fascinating trip I have taken in recent times. Like sholay, all the elements clicked in place. Well, almost. A surreal one-hour wait at the Gurgaon station which reminded me of my engineering days, a comfortable train-ride alongside Faiz, a cheap and decent hotel, Sudha, Andy, me and Faiz – in that order – managing to fit our bottom curves into the back of an auto to the Diggi palace, and the festival. So what if the first day discussions fell short of our expectations a tad bit. The second day more than made for it – and the real winner was really what Al Pacino would call the vaataavaran and Murali Manohar Joshi the ambience. People milling with books in hands, some of them having even read portions of it, authors and wannabes mixing without pretensions, eavesdropping on conversations like (“I am writing my own ‘On the Road’”), art students, girls as pretty as the Jaipur spring after the Delhi winter, people from every possible country, the gliteratti (that is, the bullshitters), the literati – some of them credible, seeing the faces of some of the bloggers I have cursorily followed, good bouli-narrative fusion filled evening, and booze.

I attened about half a dozen discussions ranging from most enjoyable (thank you Vikram Chandra, Maya, William Dalrymple, Roddy Doyle, Ayaan Hirsi) to a ridiculously pathetic quartet.

With this I pass the baton of descriptions to Faiz as he promised he would blog, though in a confession (where I exempted him from kneeling in front of me as I find men kneeling in front of other men a little bothersome) he told me that he finds descriptions of ambience tiring in books. Faiz, write and I will paste the content here with proper references.

I would rather post random thoughts for now.

Why are school girls so damn annoying, now that I am out of that age where they made me tongue-tied? I would any day prefer the “Man, this is so bullshit!” shuffling discomfort of adolescent boys to the shrill vacuity of girls. Roaming around in hordes, shrieking at celebrities (one of them who spotted Shabana Azmi, sister of Shabana Admi, came shrieking to her friends so horribly that I thought she was parodying her own kind and so grinningly turned, to find a shocking earnestness in her face) and oh! that twangy accent. As a bunch of them crowded around Om Puri, I almost prayed for him to turn into Shrek and yell at them Woaahhhh!

Chetan Bhagat sucks on stage. I am in no position to comment on what he sucks on backstage. Read this hilarious article(second of the two) that sums up totally Faiz's and my experience of his session.

All said and done, anyone who has managed to get a book published needs to be applauded. It is a tremendous soul-wrenching effort. More than the discussions, I scanned the faces in the audience and believed saw the determination in many to write a book of their own. After all, it is the latest fad. Many a time, we delude ourselves that we can better the person under the lens without actually lifting a finger. The thought of the action becomes the action itself and we assume that there is all to it – the thought. The execution a mere minor formality. At least, I have. That is why, so late in life, a respect for achievement has grown grudgingly in me. No more was the difference more apparent than the stage. Many of the authors did not meet the standards I had imagined for the festival, but still they were there, a couple of feet over the audience and a microphone thrust in their hand, because they had earned that privilege. I was left thinking that writing a novel (I can’t comment on other forms) is a journey which can only get its meaning when it reaches its destination. If it doesn’t, the years, the effort, are reduced to a nothing, a meaninglessness. Perhaps there is a purification that happens, an ennobling of the self - but right now, I do not buy that.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Separated at birth?

The Voyeurs

Left alone, I pick another drink from a passing bearer and wander along the walls. I pause in front of a portrait, an old woman beggar crouching beneath a lamp-post, hugging herself so fiercely that it must be really cold there, when I suddenly sense her at my elbow. ‘Tch, I wonder why people here find this beautiful’, she sighs.

I try to remain silent for some time; to not take the bite. I take long sips of whatever it is.

‘Because it is not our reality. We can see it, taste it but escape it any time we want. With a blink.’

She looks at me with a half open mouth, the tongue rolled to one side and pressed against the rim of the champagne glass tipping against her cheek, the palm of the other hand cradling the elbow of the arm raising the glass. She smiles and takes a sip. ‘Someone just told me it’s the pain which makes it beautiful.’

‘The horrible.’

‘The horrible?’, she enunciates slowly.

‘Yes. The horrible. The biting cold, the hunger pang. We think it’s beautiful because its pain has the keen sting of beauty and is nothing like our lumpy misery. If you ask that woman, once she has a warm house and a meal, she would prefer a poster of fat white babies with cotton-puff cheeks coochy-coo on the walls. She thinks that’s the reality which belongs here. But we don’t call it art here. We call it kitsch. No provenance, you see. And its joy, its melodrama is so so crude. So whole.’

Her mask slips for a moment and she blinks and frowns: she’s buzzed too. ‘So you think this is not art?’

‘Oh this is art. You know what Baudelaire called art? Prostitution. She’s the whore and the artist the pimp.’

‘Then that makes us the clients’, she bends her head a little forward in mock conspiracy.

‘No’, I slowly bend mine and whisper as I look askance at Ajay, ‘he’s the client. We are just voyeurs.’

‘Are you sure?’, her forehead tips against mine and her incisors flash white. ‘Or are you that whore’s secret lover who can’t bear to see her fucked like this?’

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

3 Idiots Review

The answer, I hear, Hirani gave a 44 year old Aamir when asked why he was being cast as a 18 something was that Hirani could not imagine someone else. (Much like the directors in the 80s couldn't imagine anyone else other than a Jeetendra or a Rajesh Khanna to play a college heartthrob.)

Well, Hirani. That is why we have a process called casting. And a thing called thinking afresh – something your movie touches in words but not deeds.

3 Idiots is not about 3 idiots, it’s about The Idiot. Not the Dostoveosky one, not the Bhagat one, but Aamir Khan. The King has been toppled. Aamir is the new crowned king of Bollywood without a doubt. Nothing but him can explain the BO numbers he’s generated with Ghajini and the undermarketed Taare Zameen Par (Mangal Pandey doesn't count as the implosive effect of AmishaHamPatel can offset fifty explosive Khans); nothing can explain why even after a mega-successful run Hirani felt insecure enough to rely on this real ikka of Bollywood.

Aamir is an excellent actor. He is the only big Khan who doesn’t ham and hence he is an excellent actor. I like Aamir. He knows he is not as good as people make him out to be and he tries hard – and honesty of intent is a worthy attribute in a hollow industry like BW.

Coming to the Idiot. The film takes off from where all movies like these have taken from since DCH. Only this time instead of another Khan to steal the idiot’s limelight, the two Chunnu-Munnus from RDB are added. There might have been the Tunnu but he was rolled into the character of Munnu himself, the Muslim-un’-like-us Madhavan. That way another painful subplot is avoided when all that the character has to do is weave his life around the leelaayein of Rancho and drop his mouth to his chest in awe, grin and shake his head at another of his antic-cum–miracles and weep and give him butt salutes now and then (a ceremony only Kareena is exempted from). Sharman Joshi tries bravely to eke out something for himself but Madhavan, clearly on the fag end of his hero career in BW, doesn't even try. They don’t even get a token side-heroine to romance. What happens to the Isha Koppikars and Amrita Raos when you need them?

To complete Prabhu Khan’s dasavtaram, there’s even a sequence in a song reminiscent of DCH’s Saif and Sonali’s song (btw, the music is pretty sad in the Idiot), where Aamir does a news anchor, chef, Hanuman, astrologer on the boob tube in front of another boob, Kareena. And no – it was not an ad by Coca Cola. And he becomes the only junior in the history of Indian ragging to get away with electrocuting a senior in the gonads. (By the way, the senior is played by a noted actor from Bangalore theater scene – Rajeev Ravindranathan. How pitifully these actors get wasted by BWood!)

And the new Jadoo ki Jhappi, from previous instalments, is All IZZ Well – stated with more emphatic thumps atop bus roofs by the real Prabhu Deva a decade and half ago as Take it easy policy.

Oh, don’t mistake me. The movie is entertaining. And I disagree with many when I say that the second half is better than the first. The subplot of Javed Jaffrey is deftly handled to explain Rancho’s decade long absence and still get something out of it. The movie is neatly, if unimaginatively, directed and the script is crisp despite the loopholes. What really make the movie work are Irani and Chatur. Aamir, never a spontaneous actor, is so busy trying to decide on the next cutesy mannerism to impersonate a 20 year old – blinking, craning his neck forward, scratching his head, look over that spot over the fulminating father's shoulder, sticking his hands deep in his pocket, wide-eyed – that he looks like he’s dividing pi with e in his head.

A pause here to establish my own credentials on why I might be able to connect to the lives portrayed.

  1. The protagonists as Madhavan mentions were born around the year 1978. At least, he was. Ahem.
  2. The movie is supposed to be life in the campus of an engineering institute I went to. Though not the Delhi one.
  3. The movie is shot in my other campus – the MBA one.

Yes, my emotions might have colored my judgement had I found an inkling of my own life in the life described in the movies. But the kind director rarely let that awkward situation arise and beside Boman, nothing else in the movie – except for its moments like Sharmaan’s “per plate cost” question, two typical engineering students touching themselves under the vest as they browse Hindi cheapies on exam eve, students again praying to every possible god and animal on the eve of the results – touched me as strongly resembling my life in engineering and I quickly adapted myself to enjoy just some other fantasy ride. Which I did.

Where I did have a problem was when the film drawls its messages at me.

In what I would suppose it supposed a key scene, Aamir tells the professor about how ‘Yehaan par koi naye ideas ki baat hi nahi karta… baat karte hain to sirf marks ki…’

Oh yeah? And what new ideas have you offered to press that point? Recycling done to death urban legends, jokes and clichés.

Aamir asks the prof boasting about a pen built my Americans for space, why they could not just use pencils. Actually, the done-to-death urban legend is about Americans spending billions in research for the elusive pen while the Russians took pencils aboard.

How is a funeral filmed? A Christian cemetery, rains, black umbrellas.(For this only the dead character was a Lobo; beside the point that he died waiting for his convocation while the rest of his batchmates were waiting for the results of their first semester.)

Sharman, when told that nothing is impossible, presses the paste out of a tube and asks Maddy to try and put it back.

And having a 44 year old portray a teen never had anything to do with the BO marks scored right?

Yes. The movie truly stumbles where it tries to get serious. Suicides are thrown in like rapes in a Ranjeet movie. There is that obligatory suicide due to pressure that all half baked college movies and books resort to as a dramatic device to suddenly turn the mood from flippant to serious. When a nanha idiot is asked to make a choice between getting rusticated or turn a witness, he gets a nayaa idea and jumps out of the window. (‘But not a snitch!’ – as Pacino would have thundered here.) The prof’s own son had committed one, his bawling daughter tells him – like we did not see that coming since his introductory passage. Curiously, there is only one man behind all these suicides – Boman Irani who remains impervious to his Axe effect, even ignorant. When he breaks down, it’s only when the hero saves the day for his daughter - much like in his previous avatars in the Munna Bhai series. New ideas indeed.

Boman Irani’s character is a caricature – and credit to the man to bring it out in living flesh and blood. He’s the only totally credible piece to the movie and I could very well picture him stumbling into a class in Kanpur. The finest performance. I have studied for four years from professors like him and I can attest that 9 out of 10 of them would go behind the whiteboard and push it rather than pull it from the front. It is details like these that make Boman’s genius all the more special. Unlike the movie, he alone tries to be plausible not to the general but the people whose lives they portray.

Other than him, the movie remains mostly indifferent to what life in an engineering college in North India ten years ago might have been. Mobiles ring galore, people sport hairdos and fashion of the last few years, the GPA system is discarded in favour of a mysterious department-independent ranking system, a college of considerable stature is run autocratically by a single professor who cuts into classes at will, and a climax is resolved via a laptop to laptop live streaming delivery. And Kareena steps into a male engineering hostel in the dead of the night and steps out alive.

And there lies the movie’s biggest fault. Its lack of empathy – to a time, a context, a class. A reality away from colleges where the DCH cast hangs around. Times when most Indians still did not have the choice of doing whatever they wanted to do with their lives (and still don’t). The film shows no understanding of the deeper constitutions of its subjects: an engineering student, genius, a topper, a professor, a system. It’s no surprise therefore that the film’s second half does better than its first because now the protagonists are driving a SUV in picturesque valley, much like the DCH gang en route to Goa, and have brushed off the dust and lint of their humble bothersome and alien contexts from their classless metrosexual suits.

Other than that, the Idiot works just fine. (I would not have labored over its faults if it had not tried to preach.)

Tho’ I have never rested easy since I saw how suddenly my past from ten years back can land up at the door in a helmet – and a red wedding-sari.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

A very bad idea

I have been sent an invite to join the community for a book whose description runs thus:

He could've had everything. If only he had said 'Thank you'.

In September, the month when IITians do distinctly Non-IITian things, Samar was having the time of his life. With Rock shows, JAM sessions, debates and politics, his life resembled a colorful graffiti. Adding chaos to this randomness were his three partners-in-crime, Pranav, Skimpy and Jiya. Together they made sure that life was impossibly wild and barely legal.

Things hit a crescendo when Samar found himself as the front runner in the race for the head of the student body at IIT. And that is when the tide began to turn, in a way Samar could have never imagined. A casual ambition threatened to come true, and threw at Samar dilemmas which would stump any IITian with a pair of glasses.
Dilemmas which required skills not taught in any classroom, including the secret art of disaster management.

I can't wait for this one to come out.

My room from first year MBA

Been five years since I saw it.

Jiggly post

Abhishek Bachchan, I just learnt, calls John Abraham, jiggly poo.

So the next time you're sitting on the commode and earthquake comes, stare between your legs at the half length of poo jiggling in mid air, and imagine this is what the tiny B sees in John.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

first rains - 4 - End

‘Say’, Abhay’s closed fist yanks out of his pocket, pulling it inside out, and opens to offer me the diamond he had discovered when we were digging in the back garden; Ba had dismissed it as a pendant from the chandelier but we knew better. ‘Say it’, he brings the open palm under my nose, and rolls the crystal in it, tempting me with its flirtatious winks. ‘Say that you hate Preeti too.’ I look up anguished at his mud-crusted face, the tear stains like dried rivulets, the welt under his eye where she had punched him before rubbing his face in the flower-bed turning a strange purple. ‘I can’t’, I weakly mewl again.

I came to our small world two years after her, and like a leg trailing the other a step ahead, I chased after her, pulling at her heels, mimicking her, demanding and claiming the same as she did. Sometimes she would stop exasperated and push me away; I would pick myself up and hurry after her again.

I have no memories of discovering her. I must have discovered her the same way I discovered my toes as an extension of my essence. We fought, we laughed – but love? Hate? These verbs which defined the world of our relationships held no meaning between us.

The only time before Lucknow when the chasm between our selves revealed itself was when she bitterly told me that I had killed ma; that she had started dying since I came. I crawled beneath the bed and lay their hiding in the dark, my heart throbbing, too scared to breath, to comprehend. Ba pulled me out and holding me with one hand, she dragged Preeti with the other and sat facing us. ‘What did you say?’ she shouted at Preeti, ‘What did you say to him?!’ Preeti remained silent, her hand limp in her grip. Ba let go off my hand, and slapped her. A tear coursed through her cheek but she did not cry, till I fell on her crying, and then both of us cried on Ba’s shoulders, and laughed between our tears to hear the strangulated way Ba would weep in.

Preeti digs her heels between papa and Badi Ma and stares defiantly at the lens in the platform, half-clutched hands dangling at her sides ready to pull out the six-shooters, only we could see the fear knit in her frown. I lie slumped across Ba’s shoulder, my face unseen but it’s not hard to imagine me from behind– eyes half-closed, mouth half-open and drooling, hands clutching at her back.

I could not follow her in the world that began from that photograph. The legs cleaved.

I sulked on the parapet as I heard her scraping and shuffling behind me. A day ago, I had put my head into a room and she had lain on the bed staring in my direction. I had hit my head on the awning in the hurry. Clambering below, she greeted me with an indifference which made me decide that she had not spotted me. Evidently, I was wrong.

After a few minutes, I turned my head and she stood at the edge of the parapet of the dining room. She turned away and I reluctantly got up and followed her. She sat on the awning of the sky-window opening to the drawing room, her feet dangling a few inches above the tar, her face solemn. I dragged my feet and stood in front of her.

‘Take out your hand and swear.’

‘Swear what?’

‘That you will not tell anyone about this. Not even Ba. And especially Abhay.’

I swore.

‘On papa? On Ba?’

I nodded.

‘Now you swear that you won’t tell too!’, I shot back bristling.

‘Of course, I won’t’, she shrugged and hopped from her seat to her legs. ‘Anyway, I don’t swear’, she walked away dusting the back of her frock.

The fierceness with which Preeti took on this new world surprised everyone – even me. By the time I recovered enough to join in the games, she was the ring-leader. I never saw her beat anyone else other than Abhay in their skirmishes but I saw how they flinched when she would freeze and turn her eyes on them. In a wedding, a boy rushed ahead of a mob following us and asked us something and then howled at our accents; the next time he drew in again, she whirled and stamped a raised leg flat on his stomach; after the crying and wailing had been done away with, after the chap had been thrashed a second time by the mother he had pulled along, he was eagerly plucking the choicest marigolds from the strings and fetching them for Preeti, and, as a further appeasement, offering them to me which I eagerly grabbed by the bunchful, while Preeti disdainfully picked a single orange bloom and plucked at its petals indifferently.

I knew it was an act; that she was as frightened as I was. That she fought for us – two waifs stranded on a shrinking ground between the sea, papa absent, Ba snatched away. Once, as they were being pulled away from a fight, Abhay landed a kick at her ribs; we all heard the crunch of the toecap against the bone, but she remained impassive, her hands dangling loosely at her side, watching him being dragged in a weeping bundle by chachi. After affecting a boredom for a minute, she walked away and disappeared behind the portico. I followed her to the corner where she lay crumpled behind the pipe. I squatted beside her silently and touched the rib below her pressed hand and watched her crying in silent convulsions.

Her struggle to master the language of this world was just as vehement. True it was a truncated world now – so everyone told us and so the old servants grumbled. The house which had so overwhelmed me was but a shadow of what it had been once. During the time of my grandfather, the front would be filled to the driveway with the daily supplicants and dropper-bys. They would crowd under the portico fans in the summer and sprawl in the lawn under the winter sun, and drink from the hand pump on the broken pedestal at the edge of the lawn which had gone dry. Even the chairs and rugs, now piled in mouldy corners, laid out in the shades then fell short and the lower sort (Jwala – the half-mad geezer who screamed and argued with an invisible companion between his day-long routine of dusting and re-dusting the sideboards, pausing to keenly listen to the other side of the argument – pursed his lips in grim satisfaction) had to squat in the lawns to share their tales of woes.

Ramdei would nod dejectedly towards the huge cauldrons and tell us how an army of cooks once cut the vegetables under her supervision to prepare the feast to fill the leaf plates for fifty men everyday in the leaping flames of a giant choolha – and look at them now! – she would point at them with the end of her smouldering bidi –Gathering dust in a dark corner, turning their black arses on the present!

The house was so full with relatives that the courtyards became dorms with rows of khaats smothered in mosquito nets stretching across their length and more than once, Bua tittered, an aunt had been woken up shrieking by a wrong uncle fumbling in the darkness.

And of course, there was the monochromatic evidence of those abundant times spilling out of their black scrapbooks: Nehru lunching in the lawn under a shamiana sitting in the middle of a row of white-clothed tables, a famous movie star sitting in the drawing room with a young Bua bursting with glee on his lap, grandfather bending his head to hear the soft words of the diminutive prime minister; ministers, bureaucrats, cinestars; and always, a sea of people behind them, faceless, with folded palms in supplication.

Whatever little world remained, preeti set out to conquer it with a doggedness I had never suspected in her; I had always worn her out. Within no time, she was dancing and singing to the folk songs in the ladies sangeets to delighted applause while I shyly hid behind the pallus. The aunts fawned and beamed at her interest in the feminine rituals of the household. The oiling of hair on Sunday mornings when they would congregate on the steps of the courtyard after their baths, smelling of sandal and jasmine, and spread their lovely black hair, dripping and staining the granite a dark grey: I can see her sitting behind chachi, opening the cusp of her hand slowly as she runs it along the length of her hair and spilling slowly the oil cupped in it. The clinking of the bangles as her tiny hands rummages between theirs through the white muslin the choorhiwallah would spread and squat a distance away; ‘Do!’; ‘Chhah’; announcing the price by the dozen of the bangles lifted to his eyes. The ceremony of preparing of the henna, the preparation of the rangolis, the washing of the brass gods by Badi Ma, … – she absorbed it all, stopping only at the rituals of cooking and washing because that would undermine her feminist war for the right of birth with Abhay.

‘But who was she?’, Preeti asks about a stranger who had just sat outside the kitchen chatting and laughing raucously with the aunt and munching on the dried red chillis laid out on a newspaper.

‘Arre, she is the wife of Sarju uncle, the son of Poorab chacha!’

‘Who is Poorab chacha?’

‘A family friend.’

‘Whose friend?’

Sarla chachi looks up from the pan and frowns at the wall for a moment. Then irritatedly she picks up the plateful of diced onions at her sides and tips it into the pan in a fury of sizzling smoke, ‘Arre, must be someone’s! Aise hi thode aa jaate hongein!’

I would hop in from school to find her sitting between the scene of dicing vegetables, fermenting pickles and grounding spices, her satchel tossed on the takhat and a rag doll or a book in her hand which she pretended to be occupied with. But, I knew, she was listening intently to the murmurs of gossip which passed from the servants to the ears of the aunts and Badi Ma. I tried joining her, despite her frown, sprawled over a sketchbook, badi Ma idly stroking my hair, and trying to listen and understand, but all I gathered were opaque whisperings of adult intrigues. It took me some time to accept that she could actually find her steps through some rooms of the labyrinth of people that encircled us, that she could connect the names and faces to us and even place them to some degree of proximity with each other. When in doubt, she would cross-examine hard, poke savagely at the fabric of tales, find holes and retreat to think and compare evidence; and then come with dark startling deductions.

‘There must have been another grandmother who died. Grandfather must have married twice. Chacha is not Badi ma’s real son.’

She spoke in our argot of Russian, Kazakh, English and many other tongues. We usually spoke it when we were alone. It made others uneasy and we used it less and less in public though Preeti would sometime throw a most irrelevant remark in my direction when we were with the other kids, I suspect, to add to her aura of impenetrability. And when Ba would chide us to speak in Hindi in that very khichdi tongue, the eyes of the aunts would narrow with suspicion.

‘How can you say that?’, I asked her in a whisper strangulated with intrigue.

‘How else can papa have three grandmothers?!’, she snapped, ‘Why does she dote on papa so much? And why else does everyone call her Badi Ma, chacha calls her Badi Ma, but papa calls her just ma?’

She turns away from me and sits hunched and frowning on the lower step, deep in thought. I sit beside her, waiting in suspense for more, waiting, and after some time, getting up and ambling away towards the bent guava tree. I turn to look back at her but she still frowns at nothing. I climb up the tree and sidle up a branch. Locking my feet, I fall and swing upside down and close my eyes and think about it.

Papa had changed after coming back. Not only his absences were more prolonged, coming back only in the breaks between the semesters, but his withdrawal from us when he was there. Preeti and I never spoke about it and we never complained to him. Instead, we clung to his neck when he would tiptoe into our bedrooms to kiss our foreheads, and once when he read softly from a book we smiled like the ritual from the apartment had never been interrupted. On the two occasions I remember when he secreted us in the backseat of the car and drove to the milk booth on the bank of the river, we smiled brightly over our bottles of flavoured milk and never asked him why we could no longer sleep with him, why we could no longer eat together, why did he look through her and never speak, why we could not still have our apartment in the twice-as-big smaller wing of the house. Because we sensed that more than us, it was he who was struggling to balance that secret world of deserts, excavations and our little apartment within with the world whose patriarchal sceptre had now been thrust in his hand. He was the weakest of us. In a way, Preeti was protecting me, and both of us papa; trusting that she could look after herself and, secretly, over all of us.

We blamed Badi Ma. For keeping him locked in his study when he was home and completing his sequestration by opening the room adjacent to the study, installing a new single bed there, and sun chairs on the verandah which he never used, since, she told everyone, he needed his privacy for his work. The lawn separating that wing from ours became a no man’s land where no idle chatter could corral and no child, even us, could play. Servants could walk across only with assigned tasks. Ba no longer kept his books; Badi ma assigned Ram Lal, grandfather’s lanky clerk with a mop of white hair and a brown half-sweater on his spindly chest even in the hottest summers, to that task. In the morning Mahadev would walk across to do the dusting and mopping. It seemed that the only time papa stepped out now was when he sat in the secluded room adjoining the puja to confer with Badi Ma on the affairs of the household and the many trusts she still ran, and to receive a screened batch of visitors. He even ate alone in his study, the food brought in by the Brahmin cook Hargovind and the plates brought back by Ram Lal; away from the dining room where Preeti and Abhay would squabble over a chair, where the servants would line against the wall holding the pots and ladles waiting to serve the circle of male relatives and VIP visitors only after she had hobbled out of the puja, plopped on the gaddi bolstered with many cushions with a groan and nodded towards them to go ahead. The wiring of the bell in his study to summon help from the main wing was fixed again but papa never used it. These rules, and roles, were never spelt out but understood in the same manner everything Badi Ma wanted was understood – unspoken.

It seemed ridiculous that the aunts had to bring in the chapattis to the dining table instead of one of the servants brining out the daal and the sabjis (Badi Ma would growl if a roti was served without enough ghee rubbed on it). Ridiculous like how Hargovind had to go and summon the ever unemployed chacha to fetch water from the brass pot for Badi ma every time she felt thirsty when he could have fetched it himself. But everything in that household, I realised later, had a meaning in its order; it was her way of keeping things and people in place. At least the appearances when things were no more what they had once been. There were hours for everything: when the household slept, when it woke, when it ate and when a certain amount of commotion could be tolerated. There were rooms where only certain people could walk into, bathrooms restricted to certain members of the household and visitors, cupboards cutlery and pots only particular servants could touch. The men ate before the women, the women before the servants, and some servants ate from steel plates, others from pattals, some of them seated on wooden pedestals, others squatting. Each servant had his task cut out, from the washing of plates to the laying of the beds to the serving of tea and lunch to the visitors; there were rules even to whether the visitor would be offered a chair and served in a steel or a leaf plate and whether requests for more tea would be entertained.

I ask chachi why Ba doesn’t eat at the dining table with us. She gapes and beckons Ramdei to come closer; they bend over me and she holds me by the arm. ‘Did she eat at the dining table there?’, the thrill barely suppressed in their whispers. I stand mute, frightened that I have betrayed something again. Suddenly chachi shoots upright on her feet and Ramdei rushes away to the rice she had been separating from the husk. I look behind to find Badi Ma staring tight-lipped at a blushing chachi pretending to look busy with an empty pot in her hand. She had this quality of leaving her hobbling groans and almost floating around the house to catch people with their guards down.

By isolating papa, she was trying to protect a weak king from the whispers of the mob. This was her love for her son, this was her way of protecting him from himself.

I startle and open my eyes. Preeti stands upside down staring through me. ‘She is not Badi Ma! The Badi Ma died and then she came! She must be Chhoti ma!’, she pauses, ‘Vimla bua called grandfather’s mother Badi Ma. She must have taken her name after she died, after both of them died.’

Her eyes suddenly focus on me, ‘Papa is younger to chacha. In fact, chacha is our tau!’

My legs slip and I fall on my hands and stomach. ‘Don’t tell this to Abhay’, she tells me.

I believe not all of it was kindness; it was also to suppress the secret of the advantage Abhay gained if chacha became elder to papa. But I knew better. Swinging back and forth, I had suddenly been overwhelmed by the epiphany that in this clockwork hierarchy of privileges and duties, I sat at the top. I had rushed that day inside the puja where papa and Badi ma sat poring over the ledgers and hid behind his chair, while the rest of the cousins and even Preeti balked at the doorsteps. Badi Ma shooed them away and then turned to smile indulgently at me and passed the key to her forbidden almirah from her karghani to the bending bracket of Ram Lal and told him to fetch a Threptin for me. Suddenly I understood. She was the stewardess holding on to the vestiges of the crumbling empire that papa had inherited; and that I was going to inherit it after him.

The crack had fallen off in plastery rubble and been resealed with fresh concrete. But I was now tall enough to climb the mesh and reach the ledge under the parapet, and directly swing to the low wall from there. I peeped over the roof of the dining room and she was there, squatting under the awning of the window to Badi Ma’s room.

I had long given up on that game. The only time I looked over now was in the hours of siesta, with a sketchbook spread below to watch them sleep. Badi Ma lying on her side, the drape of her sari across her cheek and spilling across the bed like a stray thick brushstroke. Below her, sitting upright but with his head resting against the edge of her bed and one hand still on the feet he had been pressing, Lallan, the village lad who taught me to climb the mango tree. Chacha on his stomach with his hands at four and eight o’clock, looking like a bird which had suddenly forgotten to fly and dropped with a splat. Chachi buried under a blanket even in the warm afternoon. Abhay on his stomach too, squashed between them, his butt half-risen in air. I would watch them: painter with the brush poised in mid-air pausing to stare at his freeze models. I would fill my insides like a diver with the air of their lines and forms, and then duck my head out under the awning and furiously attack the sketchbook before the vision, its memory, dissipated like bubbles breaking and vanishing at the surface, like a dream melting away.

Mostly I remained on the side of the outer rooms, walking across the low wall, to the other house, where Arjun, the boy servant and my companion, would be flying a kite while the family took its own siesta. I would take precaution to be never seen as Badi Ma had lost a son, and papa a brother, when he fell off the edge of a stepped farm into an abyss while chasing a kite. (Sukhi dada, the caustic octogenarian, the only relative I knew Badi Ma feared, who referred to us as pille, dog’s litter, shouts over his lunch, ‘Is there any onion? Or did somebody die eating that too?!’) Preeti knew; but then I knew many things too. So we both ignored.

I did not climb the roof now only to fly kite. And she to eavesdrop. It had become a secret world we shared without sharing, where we could be alone in our parts to catch our breath in its silence, to be unseen, to imagine. We wanted to tell her too but we were afraid that she would forbid us to climb up anymore.

I watched her cock her ears close to the window and tilt her head a little towards it.

I thought that no one knew our secret. But one day as I sat over the parapet, papa stepped inside the back garden and walked around the courtyard to the orchard and paused at the mango tree in its centre. I would have ducked away from his view but I was too surprised to see him there, I had never imagined him there. ‘I planted this tree’, he suddenly said without turning. And then he turned and looked directly at me and smiled, ‘I must have been your age then.’

I told Preeti that we had to take more care of not being seen; she shrugged and said that she only listened and never peeped, which was true; and anyway, she hardly even did that anymore, she waved her Blyton in my face. True again. And which was why her statue-like stillness, the unblinking glint in her eyes, piqued me and I approached her. She bade me to be quiet with a finger on her lips and remained intensely locked on to whatever she was eavesdropping on. I put an ear to another window and heard the deep sibilant echo of whisperings. I tried to follow the context but it was too vague for me. A word rang again and again, voh, followed by three matras – he she them. I lifted my head and gesticulated towards Preeti –What? She held a finger to her lips again. I turned and started climbing over the shade to peer inside; it had been so long since I had done that and the spiders had weaved thick cobwebs that I had to headbutt through. I saw Mahadev’s huddled form bending over Badi Ma’s ear, lying on her back, her bun open and thin grey hair scattered on the pillow like a half-crown above her head, staring straight ahead and looking sad but brave. And then Preeti pulled me out. ‘What?!’, I gesticulated angrily at her again and walked away angrily, sure that she was pretending.

That night, as Ba rose after tucking us in, Preeti held her hand and whispered, ‘Mahadev was telling her something about him again.’


I rush into her room but she’s not there and it’s his arms I fall into. His teeth flash, his eyes burn on his face and I flail in silent panic. He laughs, bellow, and lets me go and I rush out dizzily. I claw hard at the pillow, and I hear Preeti draw her breath.

‘You and him.’

Ba paused and then ran a hand over her forehead, ‘Piya, you shouldn’t eavesdrop dear.’ I heard her kiss her forehead, the shuffling of the sheet she drew and tucked under her chin, move to my bed and pause at my sleeping form, and then she walked out of the room, switching off the light after her.

I lay paralyzed and cold with terror in the darkness. Wrapped in a terror I had never known possible and yet realised I had known once: deeply etched in the birth of my consciousness, the terror of mutely and helplessly losing an essence so deep so deep.

That terror became a face.

The face of Badi Ma. Lying on her bed and mutely listening. Unbudging hardness glinting under her pudgy sorrow. The face I had seen hanging on the wall of his room that night.

That night, too frightened to even cry, I lay frozen like that day I crouched under her bed, suffused with only a primal terror and incomprehension no words could unfathom. The next morning, I was found wrapped in a drenched bundle of my sweat. I fell sick again. But my sickness could not keep her from taking her away from me.