Thursday, June 29, 2006

What If . . . ??


Situation 1

I decide to meet an acquaintance, and so I venture out. But due to heavy traffic I decide to take a detour.

If I hadn't taken that detour I would've found a woman waiting at the signal for a light to turn green and for an old love to reappear. This woman had once been my life. Then I had lost her. To circumstances. Nothing that either of us could've done much about. She got married, had a new life. I didn't see her again for long years. And now life has turned a full circle. Her husband is dead and she is alone.

Maybe our love would've rekindled. Our dreams would've agreed. One small change in our timelines, maybe, would've changed our lives.

Situation 2

I go out to photocopy a friend's book a day before an important exam. All but a few pages are copied. A trivial mistake by the shopkeeper. I don't realise the pages are missing until the next day when there's a question from those pages. I miss the cut-off and the job. I decide to change my aspired profession and turn to something else. I'm no good at it and I fall apart.

Now tell me what are the odds? Against any decision of yours making an irreversible impact on your life? Was a life decided that very moment those few pages weren't photocopied?

And what are the odds against life or death? If you had gone out a second sooner onto the street you would've been run over. A second later and you would've met someone at the turn with whom a lifelong friendship awaited.

What is chance? And coincidence? Accident? Free will, volition? What about destiny? How can any one thing be pre-ordained when there are a billion other possibilties? How can there be a design when there are infinite other likelihoods? If there is a plan is it that life's random? Our paths criss-cross with some and we don't meet the rest but it could so easily have been the other way round.

We are always pondering about the decisions we make in life. About how much of an effect, or repurcussion they might have later. But what about the decisions we don't take? The choices we don't make? Would life have been better, or happier, or sadder? Is there only one right path and hence, are the countless other paths wrong? Are we taking a wrong lane this very moment?

PART 2 (I rewind a few decades and mull over the questions)

Circa 1940. Think of a girl child. Village bred, with a chidhood spent learning culinary tricks and braiding oiled hair and a life of matrimony shrouded in purdah. In all probability her life's script was set in stone years before the incidents actually happened. A plan devised so foolproof and airtight that Fate found it hard to tamper with and resigned herself (to whatever higher powers you can think of). Caste, religion, gender dictated her Fate.

Today, do we need to be scared that our lives are faced with more potentialities?
Or should we feel lucky that we can exercise our will?
Should we think that with this freedom comes a greater risk of things going wrong? What if you can't sleep tonight worried sick that you'll mess up?
Wouldn't you be happy to let your future be offered to you on a plate?

I've this hunch that with passing years, with more intersections and crossroads in our lives, Fate is going to have a tough time choosing roads for us. It'll have to put in extra Fatehours to decide whats in store for us. Just look around and you'll get an idea of what all and what not can happen. Tarrot card readers, Bejan Daruwallahs, astrologers will have to sweat it out before wagering on our futures.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

from the fringes of society . . .

"Where do you live?"

"In the fringes of society."

"Never heard of it. Where is that?"

"Oh, that's just about everywhere. I've been all around this place."

"Well then, how is it that I've never seen you?"

"We only see what we want to see."

"If that is so, I should've chanced upon you quite a few times. I wouldn't have minded meeting you, really."

"Thats correct but thats not how you would've seen me,you know. You never would've wanted to run into a transvestite."

"You mean one who cross-dresses?"

"Well yes, that, and a lot other things."

"Like what?"

"Like one with a pair of tits to go alongwith a dick."

"What! You can't be serious!"

"I can't be kidding. You see, my silicon has somewhat dropped off and I haven't put my lipstick and mascara on. I can't blame you for not noticing it."

"It's a bit difficult to digest, frankly. Still, how have you been doing?"

"I've been busy, for sure. And I've been doing a lot many things. At first, after my operation, I tried regular jobs but then I just wasn't a sight for sore eyes, you know. I tried waitressing but the patrons didn't like the food, I was a salesman but the customers didn't want the goods. I wanted to teach but the kids just wouldn't stop staring at me."

"And then?"

"So I became what they wanted me to be."

"What? A preacher? A nun?"

"Hell, no. I became a lover, kindof."

"You fell in love? With who?"

"With whoever wanted it. With husbands tired of the smell of their wives, with old men and women who had forgotten what it used to feel like when they were young, with teenagers who wanted a forbidden sip, with people afraid of commitment and with those too committed to be free."

"You call this love?"

"Why not? In fact, my love is unconditional. Well, almost. I give away myself and all I ask in return is a little dough. Which is, I'm sure you'll admit, much lesser a price to pay than attention or love.

My clients tell me their untold secrets, and I help take loads off their weary chests. When with me, they keep aside their responsibilities and worries which have been like, what, millstones? They become who they really are, and sometimes they surprise themselves by how much they open up to a stranger."

"You mean satisfying the whims of debauched men and women is unconditional love?"

"If you choose to call them so. Some live out their fantasies with me but most are just regular folk with their jumbled-up lives. You can club them together in a clan but you'll be astounded by the variety you'll end up with."

"And you claim to put their pieces together?"

"I claim nothing.

I drive a streecar named desire and my passengers just hop along the way. During the journey I'm a lover, a whore, a friend, a confidant(e) or whoever they want me to be. They enjoy the ride and get down happy."

"Haven't you ever been, like, kind of roughed up?"

"Not just kindof. Every once in a while I get those macho, sadist types who have to see blood to feel a throb. But over the years I've learned how to handle such scum. I call it an occupational hazard.

You know, once I had got my nose done and it had cost me a fortune and then I had got thumped the next day. I let it stay that way and came to be known as 'the crooked one' since then. It has increased my clientele - this name, you know. Funny how you much you sweat making yourself look perfect and then you're wanted all the more because of an imperfection."

"What about your social life? Friends?"

"My whole life is social, really. Actually its the underbelly of social.

I've made a lot of associations at my job. Friends I can call them although they don't recognise me on the streets. They've shared their most personal moments with me and they know it.

But I do have friends. You know, mostly people like me, making a living on the streets. And our friendship is that much stronger because we've nothing to hide, really."

"So how long will you go on like this? What do you want to do next?"

"My body can't keep up with the demands of the job. These days I just bank on my old clients. And I don't want another surgery, for sure. So, very soon I've to hang up my boots, er, my stilettos, rather.

And I'll just live off my hard-earned money. Write, maybe. You see I don't need what they call 'expansion of imagination'.

People's imagination has been my reality, pretty much."

P.S: Overheard conversation between a transvestite and a bystander somewhere on the streets. The bystander starts the conversation and then it follows in sequence.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

who is he?

I've known equations for a long time; not the simple or simulataneous kind but more complicated ones. No, not even quadratic or bi-quadratic but the ones even more twisted.

I'm talking about the ones anyone grapples with to come to terms with family, friends, life. A little tweak to his personality, a slight toning down or turning up of a personal trait and his variables settle into a pattern.

To his best friend he's this kind, forgiving, supportive person, to his childhood pal he's this dorky friend who had a weird, though funny, imagination in school, to his current girlfriend he's so cuuuute - this adorable teddy bear she loves playing with, to his ex he's a good guy but one with an insecurity that overrides everything else, to his easy going friends he's a bit of a domineering shadow that lurks over everytime they say 'no' to his demands, to his more independent and less malleable pals he's this easy going guy who is hardly ever pushy. The list can go on and on.

Who is he? I'm sure any character sketch going by all pointers furnished by his friends and relatives will have some common features but I'm doubly sure that it'll also throw up a wild assortment of extremities, making anyone wonder whether its one person being taken in context. We all wear masks to the world and hence appear different to different people. With each one we play a unique part; the parts are so many yet they seldom get mixed up.

And amidst all this, who does he think he is? Does he really believe any of this role play? Well, of course, he does. The girlfriend makes him believe he's so nice he feels good about his life, the old friend he had cheated once evinces a guilty distaste in him and he tries avoiding him. The bottomline is: Whoever makes him feel good about himself makes him reciprocate in similar ways. The ones who make him uncomfortable by laying open his ugly side or showing him what a hypocrite he has been make him react likewise.

And this is when the seeds of acrimony are sown; seeds which grow into plants and challenge the very foundation on which they stand. Sometime later when he tries to break the shackles of his stereotyped images he'll meet with resistance especially from the ones he thought he could count on. The girlfriend will wonder what happened to the cute teddy she loved playing with, the mother will mope about whatever became of her dutiful, unquestioning son and he'll brood over how he had been taken for granted all the time.

Truth be told, we are what we appear to other people and so we are actually a host of different people jostling for space and attention within one entity. And when we change which part of us changes? Which of the masks do we discard and which ones do we put on anew?

As in an equation, in life too, any tweak in the variables on one side will have to be compensated on the other side. Because this when denied there's no equation, no balance in a relationship. Because when it comes to, we all need the other side to complete our equilibrium. Our essence is valued by how well we fit into the scheme of things. A scheme laid down in society and followed by legions of men and women. And somewhere during this falling in line, this nodding of heads in agreement, our identities are lost and we roam about in fancy masks with our real expressions hidden.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

pArAdigm shift!

'Pa-ra-dime. Yoy never heard of the paradigm shift?
Example: you see a man with his hand up your granny's ass. What do you think?'


'Right. Then you learn a deadly bug crawled up there, and the man has in fact put aside his disgust to save Granny. What do you think now?'


'There you go, a paradigm shift. The action doesn't change - the information you use it to judge does. You were ready to crucify the guy because you didn't have the facts. Now you want to shake his hand.'

'I don't think so.'

'I mean figuratively, asshole,' he laughs.

This is an excerpt from 'Vernon God Little' where Lally, a media man explains to Vernon little what a paradigm shift is.

Lets take this discussion to a more practical setting and try driving home the point.

A black gangbanger - frustrated, edgy and armed - is about to do something stupid at a restaurant where he's having coffee. The waitresses are white, the service is indifferent to coloured ppl and ppl stay at more than an arm's length from blacks. Our man has made up his mind.

Just then a white waitress walks in with his coffee, smiling at a funny joke her boyfriend just cracked over the phone, lost in her happy thoughts, but looking at him while she serves him. His faith in people suddenly stands redeemed and is exemplified by this beautiful, smiling white waitress lovingly serving a black gangbanger coffee. Maybe the waitress hates blacks, maybe she loves them. But thats beside the point now because at that moment she can't be proven racist.

Closer home we encounter paradigm shifts all the time. Our hero robs, cheats, maybe even kills but all is excused when we learn that all this is for a reason and a noble one at that. There's this 'boodhi ma, jawaan behen' and what not. Our sympathetic juices start flowing unhindered. His actions stand vindicated.

I'm not saying this is flawed or anything. What I'm hinting at is this :
Positioning of facts and motives is everything.

What we see in movies, or read in books might be dramatised but reflects reality nevertheless. There's no such enity as a total thief or a perfect gentleman. If you're caught in the wrong place at the wrong time you better come up with a damn good alibi to escape.

I can hardly wait to see what Rahul Mahajan is going to come up with.

Friday, June 16, 2006

deconstructing Writers

Writers drawing inspiration from their experiences sounds familiar. Expansion of imagination (seems like something esoteric :-)) is mostly triggered by happenings, occurences, episodes - personal or otherwise; experience furnishes the seeds which germinate into plots and leitmotifs.

Reality oozes out of fiction. Characters are infused with the DNA of people who've shared treasures of life with the author; people who've let their secrets out, bared their idiosyncrasies and hence, have made themselves vulnerable. Even with the elbowroom of artistic license isnt there a moral obligation not to scrape open wounds in public?

Imagine someone who finds his habits laid bare across the pages of a book, the pages flipped through by many unknown hands, and judgements dispensed. Picture your old flame reading about the details of his/her love life on the stands with a syllable of his/her name changed for consolation (watch 'deconstructing harry' if you find it difficult to visualise).
I'm sure there is a palpable anguish because any linen, dirty or not, washed in public makes the waters murky.

Then there is the problem of perspective. In a work of fiction based on or inspired from real people, what you read is only one man's - the author's - point of view. Whether the portrayal is true to reality or not is extraneous; what matters is that it's been rendered the way only one person sees it. For instance, if its about the author's family then the overriding feeling within, especially if some old skeletons have crawled out onto the pages, is:

One of 'us' has suddenly alienated himself and judged 'us' from the outside.

Is this a breach of trust? Or isnt this a breach of trust?

From the writer's standpoint, is it an occupational hazard?

(No I'm not playing the devil's advocate)

The somewhat morbid demands of his occupaton, to speak matter of factly. He can conjure up fictitious names and add a few traits here and there but for authenticity he has to go back to his original subjects. For the writer working on his magnum opus there's nothing richer than his experiences. He draws ideas from it unapologetically like a prodigal son drains his rich dad's treasures. We all want to be heard and understood. We strive for means to this end. With writers, being read and interpreted arrives as an accompaniment to their work. Their understanding of the world and its people is duely reflected in their words. If they cease to paint their characters in solid, sure shades, or refuse to draw from experience it may very well mean the death of their imagination.

Would 'The God Of Small Things' have been as beautiful a book if Arundhati Roy hadn't based it upon what she went through as a child? Would Baby Kochamma have been as crookedly life-like?

It's a fascinating subject (with no final word on it) that breathes just beneath the surface and stands bolt upright time and again.

P.S: I just realised this blog is a quarter-of-a-century posts young. I've mulled over a bit, taken great pleasure in the process of it, and hopefully, my grammar has improved along the way.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

shitty bed-ridden days

The sloth has inhabited the precincts of my weakened body. Bloody uninvited guests at festival time. Spoil your plans and force you to chat nonsense with them. It's been 3 days now that fever and cough have gripped me. Like a budding martyr I went out on the 1st evening and have been warming my bed ever since.

Food tastes bland and bitter alternately, the amiable weather has suddenly turned chilly; in fits of activity I roam around my house like a caged animal in his territory. But mostly I sleep with the cough syrup acting like vodka shots (without the high of course). I am scared to go for an X-ray for fear that it'll show specks of tar and resin in my nicotine maligned lungs. And then the doctor in funeral white will pull my mom into a claustrophobic room and declare sombrely, "Inhe dava ki nahin dua ki zaroorat hai."

Fever laying you low is the worst thing possible. Its like a lingering taste of bitter gourd in your palate. ugggggghhh! Can a stupid virus make you lose interest in life? It sounds so silly it must be true.

The only silver lining is that I've been hovering in a semi-conscious state a bit. An in-between state where you cant tell for sure if you're dreaming or awake and your mind is playing fancy tricks. Lot of fun! Not psychedelic cos I havent had bhaang but a dreamy state where your secret wishes are carried out.

I've been reading Vernon God Little (2003's Booker winner) and laughing a lot too.
Its such a relief the Booker judges are not a prudish lot and give leeway for a kind of prose thats straight out of 'south park'. To the book's credit it makes you giggle and think all at once. And improves your lingo :-)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Reality Check

I decide to have an evening outing, drawn out by Bangalore's genteel weather. With a friend I visit a photographic exhibition on child labour. The photographs exhibited are part of a project called 'History Expediton' and have all been taken by street kids between ages 10 and 18. These kids picked up from the street (rag pickers, pick pockets, etc) and NGOs and trained in still photography at the Born Free Art School, Bangalore cycled 4000 kms and took about 25000 pictures. While they were clicking whatever to their judgement looked relevant they also collected background information and bio-data of their subjects. The result, after painstaking sifting and editing, is a poignant compilation of kids - underfed and overworked, broken toothed and tender hearted.

I see snaps of little girls plucking out stems from red chillies, carrying stocks of wood, working in the fields. Then I set my eyes on scrawny boys working in garages, laying bricks and wielding sledgehammers. They've made sure the photographs are life size. They already are life like - huge things hanging from the walls beckoning me to have a look at 'India Shining'. They aim at the viscera. I wonder if they had gone inside homes they would've found thousands of little domestic helps. And then they could've taken the photos of respected, dignified gentlemen who employ them without even teaching them to read and write.

We all know many such mass graves exist. We just hope we never stumble upon it. I come back with a set of photographs as a token of remembrance, willing to be disturbed on some other balmy Bangalore evening.

We feel, my friend and I, we still haven't been entertained. So we go for a Danish movie at a film festival being held at Pallavi theatre. The movie is about the world of journalism and politics, and how the two are so inextricably and so unscrupulously tangled. In the movie I see that 'honest journalists' are a misnomer and politicians at best are not absolutely corrupt. A rookie reporter, with an influential father and expected to be pliable to pulls from above, is mysteriously handed out scoops and the editor, rather too generously, puts them on the front page. And when the same reporter decides to see more than what meets his eye, he digs up some nasty skeletons, then loses his job, then realises his dad is also one of them - the bad guys. All in the space of 3 days of honest, ethical news reporting! There is a brilliantly shot footage of the main protagonist being coaxed by his father to apologise and salvage his career. Its then we see a son coming out of his father's shadow, shocked and bitter that his father is just one more link in the chain he's trying so hard to break.

I wonder if the same happens in our country, if our front pages are full of scoops planted there for a reason, if our news channels continuosly drum out slanted perspectives, if those aspiring to pursue serious ethical journalism are fighting a lost cause, and if they'll become the very movie chracters they revolted against.

I find this movie a little more hard hitting than what the pamphlet hinted at. Maybe they should've printed it in bold. Why do we watch such movies?

For awareness? No, we're already aware and even if we're not what difference shall we make?
For entertainment? Surely no. Atleast I respect all those who make no pretensions and eschew watching movies which leave you disturbed.

But then there's no reason to lose sweat over. I've seen many such realistic portrayals and I am sure there are many more to come. I am dwelling in excess and things are getting to my head.

My friend and I agree the movie was great and part our ways, not sure about how enjoyable the evening had been.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

growing up

Growing up meant outgrowing polka dotted fancy 'durga puja' shirts for less gaudier, plain, ones... it meant wondering how actors changed costumes in the blink of an eye during song sequences.

growing up meant learning about the worlds of Right and Wrong, Dos and Donts, and then witnessing their boundaries dissolve.. it meant watching the black and white blend into solemn grays... it meant learning that the 'ever after' in the 'lived happily ever after' ending stories was actually a Short, Finite period of Time

growing up meant asking questions to which there were no answers: in a fight between a hippo and a shark who will win? do you love daddy more or me?

growing up meant watching adults make funny faces and laughing at their foolishness.. or breathing life into battery powered toys, favourite pencilboxes, and fragrant erasers such that losing them sapped you of reasons to be happy

growing up meant letting school teachers build edifices in your memory that lasted more than a lifetime... it meant piling up birthday candles until there were too many

growing up meant not letting a drop of pee out until mother said 'ssssssss'... it meant learning to tie shoelaces by yourself... or lisping 'baba black sheep' before proud, indulgent mama and papa

growing up meant saying 'god promise' to be privy to deep, dark and mysterious littlechildren secrets... it meant swearing to be 'best friends for ever'

growing up meant dreading when you had to look mother in her eyes and lie and realising that it was futile... it meant listening to grandma's fantastical stories with rapt attention and then believing in them... it meant being petrified by the palpable dread in ghost tales

growing up meant having an idea of 'adult' questons and wondering who to get their answers from... it meant watching a world of infinite possibilties shrink when you fathomed those answers

growing up means biting nostalgic pies from memory and almost smiling out loud at the lucidity of bygone years... it also means losing an artlessness and not mourning the Loss

Friday, June 09, 2006

did kunal kohli just insult my intelligence and make me pay for it??

I watched Fanaa with a sense of deja-vu. With a casting coup of sorts (aamir and kajol, man) the reach of the movie was virtually guaranteed. But sadly a great opportunity was squandered.

Watching Rihaan (thats aamir khan for the uninitiated) single handedly carry the mantle of an elite organisation like ITF (an outlandish international terrorist outfit that essentially though is a one man army) while skiing down the Himalayan slopes, effortlessly throwing the creme de la creme of the Indian army off their snow scooters and self-respect, and bringing down choppers with a 9mm pistol ( its a small firearm with a range of a few yards, so plz explain how!!??) I remembered 007. He didnt enroll into ITF but he could've surely learnt a few tricks. And if Aamir khan was meant to play a superhero where the heck was his body suit? A superhero without his suit is like a superhero in his birthday suit!!

The USP seems to be the inattention to detail and the crazy indulgences of a script writer who has multiple personalities depending on which half of the movie he's writing about.

The attempt to introduce a twist in the tale leads to some inexplicable, unpardonable loopholes in the plot. How can an entire regiment (one reg. includes 5 to 18 battalions and each batt. has roughly 850 do your maths and keep rubbing your eyes at the figure you reach) be allocated to combat a terrorist unit and then be utterly and entirely wiped out save Rihaan aka Cpt. Ranjit Singh aka peddler of Kunal Kohli's screwed up dreams?? And why is Tabu making fun of herself?? If she desperately needs hard cash then she better host a game show on anyone of the million channels. She has the corniest lines in the movie like her introduction of Rihaan (who else!!) as ITF's mover cum shaker. SOS and LOL!!

But there are hints of human involvement in the making of the movie. Raindrops have never looked as beautiful (as in the 'dekho na' number) and the poetry is worth noting down on paper. Kajol looks and is fabulous (thank god she looks plump in the 2nd half..i mean why would a married,husbandless woman living in the snow work out??)
Aamir probably read some other script (esp. the part where the 2nd half was written) and had already been contract bound by the time he realised he was on the wrong set.

The movie makes some promises in the 1st half which are later conveniently forgotten for fancy gimmicks. The human element could've been better dealt with. We're never given so much as a hint of a reason for Rihaan's steadfast, almost implacable, belief in what appears to be a very strong cause. And somehow it escaped me how that love for a girl still smouldered for 7 years, and burst into flames hence, especially as it was never shown if Rihaan did feel the pain of bereavement.

P.S: I watched Anniyan in Hindi and quite enjoyed it.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

beyond and back

The past 6 weeks has had me travelling almost non-stop across the length of India. Across paddy fields, treeless plains, hills tonsured of vegetation, snow sheeted slopes, shaky bridges, bustling towns breaking into cities, moffussils bulging into towns. Through freezing chill, stifling heat and invited monsoons. To welcoming courtyards, cosy tents, old, asbestos roofed furnace like rooms, unfamiliar yet doting foster grandmothers, fawning relatives, inquisitive acquaintances, rusty, old friends, feisty mountainfolk, laidback but opportunistic small town businessmen. Lives were led in such varied and myriad forms that I felt India is but an assortment of cultures, habits, sensitivities; the boundaries are beyond the horizon.

Travelling alone for most of the time my mind was engaged; there was very little time for boredom. Solitude and introspection made happy bedfellows. Strangely because one is always alone and the other into his thoughts. Still when you are with them something stirs you up like freshly brewed coffee, wafting into your consciousness and opening heavy lids. Of neatly stacked boxes preserving the spices of life. She - your life - was bland, you realise, and merrily, hurriedly usher in the flavours. They say when this happens you evolve, become more of a man, grow up or rediscover the child in you. Whatever it is, when you get to here, anything is possible.

I can vouch that citypeople, shorn of the support systems of an urban lifestyle, can get listless and cranky beyond a point. Boredom, insecurity about not being in public eye rear their heads sooner rather than later. Personally though I shall treasure the people and places and the experience of spending time alone because it told me a lot about myself. I realised my roots are flimsy. Like those of puny shrubs in loose soil. The next shower can uproot me, wash me away into oblivion. As much as I need to grow taller I've to dig deeper. For stronger roots. For a stronger home.

P.S: I just couldnt think of anything to write on my trek and other trips I made. But surely, as the mood sets in, I'll tell you of la vie fabuleuse de le satyajit