Thursday, February 06, 2014

Being normal: Chapter 1

"I love you," said he, as he leaned forward to catch her eyes when she stepped out of the car.
She collected her bag from the back seat and closed the door. Sensing his eyes still on her, she smiled back. "Yeah, I love you too."
He nodded and drove away.

She slipped her freezing hands into gloves as she walked towards her office building. That was not automatic, she thought. No, it was not. Did he understand? Would he remember, if he understood, that she had told him once that she would never lie to him blatantly? Or would he put it down to her stubborn refusal to forget things  and move on?
She felt her face thawing as she entered the building and walked towards the elevators. It was so much easier to keep doing the same thing, hoping that things would improve, hoping that what was happening, or, as he put it, what had happened, was just a "one-off" incident. Incident - that very word seemed like it happened to other people.
But still, it was also safe to keep to the routine.
There was comfort in routines.
 In not letting on how close to the edge you are...
 Holding on to the things that were normal otherwise...

The laptop monitor lighted up, telling her things that she already knew from her phone. Four meetings, seven mails to reply to, fifteen mails to read and assimilate and file away for reference, three more tasks to complete. It still meant to lot to her -  this job, the perks, the respect...the normalcy. It was ironic - when people said they want an adventure, they want to shake things up, they wished things were not routine, she was sure they did not mean this. Normalcy was so underrated.
Wow, that was a statement. She smiled at her reflection on the dark screen beside the open document and winked at herself. It reminded her of Esha.
Esha - the way she wiggled and twirled to the music, smiling to herself, the way she insisted on something and would not take no for an answer, even if it meant that you gave her grapes before washing them, the way she seemed suddenly vulnerable when she looked at her mother for approval...so vulnerable!
Someday...she mumbled to herself...someday everything will be normal.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Of dim lights and evenings in the big house in the narrow lane in Kolkata

As I sat on my bed, tapping on the keys of my laptop, I felt that the light was a bit too dim. Dim lights and US seemed like a rare combination till I realized that it was because of the general tendency to keep bedrooms dimly lit, sometimes with no ceiling lights at all and just lamps. Lamps have always meant romantic for me, but that was when I associated them with well kept hotel rooms, not with a room where I wanted to do my work. And today, this dim light, reminded me of low voltage, load-shedding and loosely plastered walls.

I am talking about my Dadu (grandpa)’s place. The house was old, is still old, probably a hundred years old, as it had been built by my mother’s grandpa. Even now, it is a grand house to look at, once you walk through the extremely narrow lanes wide enough to just allow a rickshaw to pass through, and then stop and turn right (or left, depending on which direction you are coming from) and catch a glimpse of it marking the end of another, slightly wider, but extremely short, lane with a dead end. Standing at the entry of that short lane, the house looks like a backdrop of a stage, with the other smaller houses leading up to it. The verandah would usually have clothes hanging to dry from the lines. The verandahs of other houses are so closely squeezed with each other that someone, who had a steady head and did not mind heights, can jump or simply walk to another, like a skywalk. These closely-build houses are akin to kids sitting knee to knee with each other and usually neighbors knew when the children in one house were being asked to come down for dinner, or when someone was practicing or receiving her singing lessons or being tutored in History, and of course, which house had which channel on. No, sorry, that was wrong. I am taking myself back to a time when there was only one channel on the TV, and when I would strain my ears to catch the Chitrahaar on someone else’s TV because it was banned for me at my place. Sometimes, I would lean over on the side of my balcony, and catch a glimpse of the oil lamp in my neighbor’s house who had electric connection in only one room, and the children had to study by the light of a oil lamp. Their rhythmic repetition of lines in a subject would add to the background music of radio news, television songs and my grandma’s evening prayers.

Evening, never morning. Evening, because it was in the evening that every sound seemed to be more prominent, maybe because they were not lost in the perennial cawing of the crow or the vendors shouting out the rates of fish as they rode past on their bicycles and neighbors calling out to each other from their own balconies.

Also evening, because evening makes me sad, nostalgic and reminds me that the day is over, and I am getting old. In that house in Kolkata, it reminds me of people long gone, of perpetual melancholy underlined by low-voltage lights. It also reminds me of the smell of rotis being roasted on earthen ovens and the sound of my grandma’s heavy aluminum ‘Khunti’ (long flat spoon) on the tawa as it turned the unroasted wheat rotis over and over, so that each one was roasted evenly. I can almost smell the curry that we would have with it – usually aloo-potol dalna(potato and parwal curry), the gravy smelling of ginger and cumin and having a slight tangy taste due to the potol. I would wait for the rotis folded at one side of the plate and the slightly thick gravy and vegetables on the other side, and feel the ginger warming my throat as I ate.

But before that, I would be sitting with my book, trying to complete studying those pages as determined by Maa and would soon get distracted by my shadow on the wall. I would listen to the bells from the temples and sound of the evening Araati, and get the breeze on the face from the balcony, cooled by the wet saree and ‘gamcha’ (thin cotton towel) hanging on the clothesline, left by Maa and Dida (grandma) after their evening shower. The air would smell of incense, curries and smoke. Sometimes I will see a small hole in the wall, and will try making it larger, marveling at how easily the outer plaster broke, but I would be very careful not to create a mess on the floor but gather the pieces and powdery plaster and throw them away when no one was looking.

The house is still there, but yes, the people are no longer there. Some are no longer in this world, and some, even if they do come back to it, no longer add to the character of the house. The neighbors’ children are grown up, some stay there still and some have moved, but every house now has electricity and off course, a variety of TV channels. The sounds are different now, and maybe one of those children would remember them and a decade or two later, mention how different things are.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Rajneeti: Predictable but engrossing

...along with strong characters, fertile women, large dialogues and extremely bloody violence.

There are movies, and I have seen many over the last couple of years, in which one needs to hold ones breathe to wait for the better scenes to come by, or 'indulge' some parts of the movie either because one hopes the other parts are better or one has read rave reviews of the movie. Then there are some other movies where we have been asked to leave our brains at home. While I occasionally do enjoy those movies, sometimes they become so mindless that the head hurts.
Fortunately, Rajneeti does not fall under any of the above. The storyline, though predictable due to it being adopted from Mahabharata, is still engrossing. Add to that some 'karara' dialogues and strong characters, and it was a great watch for close to three hours.

However, a movie which truly reflects a lot of research put together also throws up some glitches, and I wish they did not exist and we could have had a 'perfect' movie.

1. Naseeruddin Shah: What was he doing in the movie? And how believable is it, even for a young girl, who hero-worships him, to actually have one-night stand (for want of a better word) with him? Given that the total screen time was all of 10 minutes or less, anyone, slightly younger and a little more attractive, could have done a better job, seriously!

2. Character building: For a movie which rested on larger-than-life characters and grand dialogues, the characters were oddly one-dimensional. For e.g. it is not clear whether Ajay Devgan's character was only evil or if he had some goodness in him. He has been under-utilized and though in some scenes he lets his expressions speak volumes, for e.g. in the scene where he is introduced to the party cabinet as the new member, he does not really have much to do in the movie. Ranbir Kapoor's character is an utter confusion, or maybe I am getting this wrong - he is restrained, but much too restrained. Given his character's decisions and actions in the movie, I am not sure whether he really had any emotions for anyone. On the other hand, Arjun Rampal's character had a lot more shades, and whether it was due to his acting or the way the scenes came up, he comes across as a slightly disbalanced character - swinging between extreme emotions of tender love and violent hatred. And the mother's character - if the wooden face was to symbolize stoical sacrifice, the mother coming to the political party office and telling Katrina that women are always sacrificed in the altar of politics or something to that effect, was so very stereotypical. And 70's.

3. Weak scenes: What was the need of the mother-meets-illegitimate-son scene? Was it only to stay true to the epic? It just seemed as if the director had thought that there would be a scene, but then did not think what the dialogues should be. Otherwise how can one explain the mother's plea to the son to come home, and in the same breath, try to 'bribe' him with the highest post in the political party?
The sexual-favors-given-for-the-party-ticket scene between Shruti Seth and Arjun Rampal was crazy. Agreed that the scene was supposed to highlight that Shruti Seth's character was giving Arjun sexual favors for a party ticket, but the way she keeps repeating it in orgasmic tones when Arjun is apparently 'getting there' is ludicrous.
The scenes between Ranbir and Katrina, especially when Ranbir comes clean about his feelings or lack of feelings for her, is badly handled, or maybe badly acted. Katrina, till that time, had been good as the girl-in-love person, but that particular scene is devoid of any strong emotions, from any side.

4. Fertile women: Ah, this was my favorite. A few days back, rediff had done a feature on how some things are not seen in Hindi movies any more. Well, of those things which have remained the same, this movie brings back the extremely fertile women who become pregnant after their first sexual encounter. Every 'good' woman in the movie - Katrina, Sarah, Ranbir's mother, were epitomes of fertile womanhood.

5. Jerky editing: Songs were not required, but if they were put in, then they need to be cut off at a logical point. This was most apparent with the 'Ishq Barse' song. Also, due to editing, I am sure, the underlying logic of planting a car-bomb was not made clear. On the face of it, it looked like the oppostion wanted to kill Ranbir's girlfriend, or any random person in their family who would go to the car. But probably, and this is just a hunch, they wanted to kill Ranbir, because he was considered more of a problem? I am sure the director did not want to leave this 'why' to be worked out by the audience.

Though the criticism that I have seem many, I genuinely liked the film, and would be happy if there are other films which can have at least the standard reached by Rajneeti. I would differ from everyone's opinion about Ranbir's acting though. He was fine, but I have seen him act better, and his character having more versatility - in Ajab Prem or Rocket Singh. Here, all that was needed of him was to smoke silently and keep his face devoid of any emotion.
It was a relief to see Nana Patekar so constrained and his breakdown in just one scene.
But my favorite was Manoj Bajpai -  he rocked!
And oh, Katrina should take Hindi diction and acting classes.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The unreal life continues...

(An emotional retrospective of first year at Duke MBA on a flight just after the last exam)
Warning: Uncharacteristically long post ahead

I take a walk from the school to the parking lot, happy to hallucinate being here forever.
Being here, living the life that I have loaned from myself, to live that dream which I had nurtured over the last decade.
It still seems like a dream worth living.
And what a fabulous dream-come-true life this has been:

Downing liters of refillable coffee. Staying up nights, so much so, that midnight seems to be early, or else getting up earlier than an 8AM class to complete assignments.

Being so busy that you feel guilty when you are relaxing.

Preparing before classes so as to survive that ‘cold call’, so that not only the Prof, but also the classmates do not think that you are stupid. And also to get those elusive marks allotted for class participation. And then, even after being comfortable in your class, preparing it because it is a habit.
Then, preparing, simply because you love the subject. Or the girl/guy who sits next to you. Or you have a crush on the professor. Inane reasons? The result is the same. Not sure when one reason gives way to another.

Learning to agree and disagree more than ever before. Learning to be surprised at self for agreeing or disagreeing when you had decided the opposite.
Dissecting real cases, recommending unreal solutions, unreal because they seem so simple that it is surprising no one thought about them, and that brings in that doubt as to whether they will work in the real world. Come to think of about it, maybe having an outsiders point of view helps you take those detached decisions, which you cannot take if you are in the company itself.

Learning the hows of the American life, spiced with accents from around the world, and customs so varied that they usually are contradictory. Learning to laugh at the quirks of your culture, and the essence that you carry within yourself…all over again.

Tackling rejections from employers, club cabinets, leadership positions…all the time…well, simply because everyone here is good, too damn good.
And then, unlike in undergrad, trying to cope with everything on your own, knowing that probably half the people, if not more, are going through the same thing, so maybe you should not disturb them. The other half, well, they might be too busy, or too successful, or too something to bother. So, you are on your own, pretty much.
And so there are support groups, sometimes, counselors, sometimes, some more cups of tea and endless talks which usually skirts around the issue, trying not to discuss it. More indirectness, a little more stress, higher stakes, more depth and intensity, because there are probably very few raw emotions, every emotion is tasted, rolled over, chewed and then lived.
And yet, getting surprised, when something inanely emotional and overtly sentimental finds tears stealing up your eyes.

A few impulsive decisions, not many. And those sometimes seem to be the best that is ever taken.
Getting family, friends, pets trained to the fact that you are pretty much gone unsocial – not only because you are busy, but also sometimes, you do not want to share what is on your mind and some phone calls might just make you do that, so you intelligently avoid making those calls. Going from writing long mails describing student life in the beginning….to updating Facebook status regularly, simply to feel connected to “fellow suffering souls”.

Going from loneliness, to learning to stay alone, and then suddenly realizing that you are not alone.

Realizing that narcissism and image building are two different things – one does not naturally lead to another.

Not realizing when ‘I don’t know what I want to do’ became ‘This is interesting’ and then ‘I would really love to, but will it work?’ One more year left to know, or maybe just to be comfortable that you would never know, but would not be afraid to find out and do everything all over again.

And finally….driving a red beetle…sometimes on a rain-swept road, sometimes on a road bordered with azaleas, sometimes through dark nights, and almost always reveling in the realization that I am moving, am going places…albeit literally.

It’s been every bit an adventure that I had dreamt about but it has now opened the doors to more adventures…a risk that has now led to more risks…
Life has gone from a safe, warm cocoon to a uncontrolled wave of thinking big, falling down, getting up and trying again.

And that is getting addictive….

And what is worrying me is this: what happens when this life gets over, what dreams do I have to hold on to after that?

“Ankhon me jiske koi toh khwab hain…khush hain who hi jo thoda betaab hain
Zindagi me koi arzoo kijiye….phir dekhiye…” (Rock on: Phir Dekhiye)


P.S.: I understand that there were also ropes course, campout, around the world dinners, take home exams, networking and interviews, symposiums and case competitions, Fuqua prom, 80's party. But those need explanations to people not living it. Emotions do not. And not-so-strangely, as I sit in my 6 and a half hour long flight, and look back, I remember emotions.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Summer afternoons - never did change much.

Then
-------
Temperature: Touching 40 degrees celsius
Friends.
Hurriedly gulped down lunch.
Green, raw, sour mangoes. Ripe and green guavas.
Hide-and-seek in the gardens separated from each other by wire fences which were easy to pass through.
Not a single boring, dull, quiet moment.
"Do you know what teacher said today?"
"Fatso cannot climb trees, hide him behind that pile of wood."
"If you don't listen to me, I will not play with you."
Dreams, fun, adrenaline, opinions, worries, emotions - all at once, nothing can wait for the other.
Life couldn't wait too...

Today
-----
Temperatures: touching 30 degrees celsius
Friends.
Hurriedly gulped down lunch.
A few mugs of coffee...or maybe many.
Cherry blossoms. Tulips.
Yellow pollen on cars.
Some allergies, some early morning rendezvous, wi-fi coffee shops.
Team meetings, sessions, job search, projects, parties, trails and walks.
"So what's up?"
"I think you should..."
"Why don't you..."
"I really want to..."
"I really don't know."
Dreams, fun, adrenaline, opinions, worries, emotions - all at once, nothing can wait for the other.
Life still can't wait for us...

So what's changed?
Nothing, except for a gap of 20 years in between.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Babysteps to normalcy....

To decide anything...and not explain why
To smile...and not wonder why
To spread out my arms...and not be asked why
To be happy...and not know why

To listen to a song ... just because I want to
To write a story which ends happily...without any twists
To talk as much as I want...without a thought
To step down a way...without a plan to reach anywhere

To read a book... and only remember how I felt
To hold a hand...and not speak a word
To rush through emotions...and not be forced to change them
To shake my head at everyone else...and just hug myself

To live...and be happy...and drift...and just be....without explaining...without reasons...

P.S. This is probably the worst I have ever written, but this is what I feel like, now. To just be, without explanations.

Monday, February 18, 2008

What time of the day am I?


You are breakfasty, like a pile of pancakes on a Sunday morning that have just the right amount of syrup, so every bite is sweet perfection and not a soppy mess. You are a glass of orange juice that's cool, refreshing, and not overly pulpy. You are the time of day that's just right for turning the pages of a newspaper, flipping through channels, or clicking around online to get a sense of how the world changed during the night. You don't want to stumble sleepily through life, so you make a real effort to wake your brain up and get it thinking. You feel inspired to accomplish things (whether it's checking something off your to-do list or changing the world), but there's plenty of time for making things happen later in the day. First, pancakes.

Link via Tanu's blog....