Monday, December 31, 2007

Phone Conversation of the Day

Phone rings... Mumbai number. I answer.

Female voice: "May I speak to Mr (The Guy)?"
Me: "May I know who it is?"
Female voice: "I'm calling from ICICI Bank."
Me (not wishing to throw an unwanted salesperson at him): "What is it about?"
Female voice: "He has an ICICI credit card and..."
Me: "But he has never used that card." (The card in question arrived about two years ago and was never used.)
Female voice: "Yes, I know. He's our customer and I wanted to ask him what card he's using, and other details."
Me: "But why do you want to know?"
Female voice: "It's my job, ma'am."
Me: "Of course, but why do you need these details?"
Female voice: "He's a customer, ma'am. Sometimes customers change their address and other details..."
Me (interrupting): "He's not your customer, he has never used the card. Why should he tell you his address?"
Female voice: "I want to speak to him, ma'am. I don't want to speak to you."
Me (speaking calmly, too suprised to be angry): "Do you receive any sort of training? Aren't you trained in politeness?"
Female voice: "I don't want to speak to you."

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Notes on a Movie: Taare Zameen Par

I finally caught Taare Zameen Par yesterday. Having been a lifelong Aamir Khan fan (that is, having fallen in love with him when my childhood self first saw him on screen - and never having managed to fall out), I was a bit wary of the very enthusiastic reviews and responses the film received. I usually manage not to like something that is popularly acclaimed.

But the movie was as good as all the reviews promised. Cynical me sat crying through most of the first half of the movie, remembering my childhood, the angst of going to school and getting lost in a crowd, the fear of humiliation and embarassment that teachers so effectively played on. Humiliation was their most powerful weapon, and they used it unsparingly. I could remember the humiliation, the pain, the fear so vividly as I watched the movie. And I, unlike the movie's Ishan, was good at academics. I was in a school that was then accounted one of the best in the state. I cannot even imagine how much hell less academically-inclined students go through; I can hardly imagine the horrors of other, not reputed schools where teachers are less likely to fear the disapproval of parents. This movie brought home what many of us must have felt growing up: school - at least schools like the one I went to - isn't meant for sensitive kids. It's meant for bullies, for thick-skinned children who play rough and don't mind getting it themselves. Are there such children? I don't know. Maybe because I was such a sensitive, fearful child myself, I am apt to think of children as sensitive, with fragile self-esteem. Which makes me wonder if many of those who become teachers are sadists at heart; or do they put up the mask to save themselves, and do not realise when the mask becomes reality? Where are the teachers who become teachers because they want to work with kids? Where are the Ram Shankar Nikhumbs to guide children and help them flower?

All that rant must have made you realise that I was deeply moved by the film. It reminded me of how parents - while claiming to do the best for their kids - routinely stifle their growth and make their lives unhappy. This is actually a movie everyone should watch - as Aamir Khan said, it's for everyone who has ever been a child. Much as I admire Aaamir Khan the actor, this movie made me feel he should give up acting and focus on direction. All the performances were superb. Darsheel is brilliant. No one looks like they're acting: especially in footages of Darsheel, it feels like the camera is hidden, he is that un-self-conscious.

Having raved over the movie, I want to share a few quibbles. There were a few things I found unconvincing: one, how the father changes towards the end and realises affection for his son, how he cries and thanks Nikhumb. For the kind of character that had been depicted in the rest of the movie, I would imagine him proudly saying, "Now that's my son!" and conveniently forgetting that he had branded him a failure in the first place. He had been consistently insensitive throughout the movie: to show him break down and cry in public was a bit too much. I understand though, that this was probably a gimmick to make all those parents watching the movie feel reassured that they're not that bad; to encourage them to take something home from the movie and use it on their children. But personally, I feel nothing should be sacrificed to the story, and the story was marred slightly with that jarring note.

Another thing I found a bit unrealistic was that Ishan improved dramatically over just a few months. I don't know much about this, but I wonder if it's not too optimistic a view.

I see I have neglected to mention the songs. Much as I admire Prasoon Joshi's lyrics in Rang De Basanti, the guy has outdone himself this time. Not only are the lines poetic, every word feels like it's just apt for the movie, for the character. I can't remember any other movie that has songs so poignant, so much a part of the movie. I did not much like the Bum Bum Bole song, but that is just because I have a grouse against lip-synching. I loved how Aamir Khan shook his butt to "bum bum bole", I loved the pun! (And of course, a view of Aamir's cute butt didn't hurt.) But when the rest of the movie was so real and close to home, to show a bunch of nine-year old boys singing without prior practice in perfect tune was more than slightly unconvincing. (Trust me, I would not want to stay in the vicinity if a bunch of nine-year olds decide to spontaneously break into song.)

I almost wish Aamir Khan hadn't acted in the movie, at least not in a character with so much screen space. It is somehow so difficult to ignore the actor when he is a star like Aamir, and notice only the character he's playing. Even though Aamir acted so well that I didn't even notice his acting, I wonder if I would have thought any differently about the movie if the character had been played by an unknown actor. I liked the subtle touches about Ram Shankar Nikhumb. Something about him suggested childishness, a Peter Pan-like character who refuses to grow up because he finds the world of grown-ups too intimidating. It shows in the hairstyle, in the way he identifies with kids, in the way he has made a vocation out of working with them, as if by helping make their childhood happy he is erasing his own bitter memories. Which makes it so much more real that he is devoted to helping Ishan: he is not philantrophic, but a man fighting for what he believes in.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


They say: A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Does that mean: Eat that cake now instead of pushing it away with the hope that you won't gain weight?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

To Effe, Who is Getting Married Next Week

How many years has it been
Since we’ve known each other?
I think I remember a fair-skinned child in my school
Whose name I knew, but who I don’t remember talking to.

I remember a girl in high school;
I don’t remember talking to her either.
Through all those years of school
I don’t remember ever talking to you.

And then college, and a large group of ‘friends’
Of which I was a fringe member.
I spoke to you then.
But I don’t think we really talked.

Two years later: how did we end up choosing the same major?
We sat together in class, just because we knew each other better than the others.
And then, we started talking… sometimes staying in the room long after the class was over.
I don’t remember what we talked about.

Slowly other friends faded out.
You grew more focused.
Surprisingly, you seemed to understand
Unspoken thoughts and feelings.

I took to going to your house after class.
Maybe to put off going to mine.
But I remember nostalgically,
many hours spent in your home.

Somehow, we turned inseparable.
People began interchanging our names when they called us.
Do you remember, we once wore dresses the same colour?
And no one believed that it was a coincidence.

And afterwards, we took childish pleasure
In dressing similarly.
Yet, we were so different.
I was so rebellious, you so pliant.

You seemed so stable.
Even when I went away,
I imagined you would always be there
Whenever I came home I could visit you.

Two years passed by.
You, notorious for not keeping in touch with friends
Kept in touch with me.
Not very regularly, but you did.

And then one day, you told me you were moving
To a big city, for a good job.
My world seemed to shift.
How could you ever dig out your roots?

That was three years ago.
Look at where we are now.
Twenty-six year old women.
Working, living far from where we grew up.

Me, happily married.
And you, going to take the step next week.
Married, can you believe it?
Grown up and living our dreams!

I look at you, living alone,
driving your own car
And I am proud, as if
I have achieved something.

As if my journey into adulthood
Is made more meaningful
Because you have, in your own way,
Come so far, too.

*I couldn't find a colour closer to that shade of lavender we both wore.


I have everything I need
Yet why this disquiet?
I have money (as much as I could reasonably want, anyway.
Who ever has enough?)

I have a love
The love that is considered
The destination of life.
Or is that in fairy tales?

I have myself, free
I have happiness and peace.
I have everything I have ever wanted
Except one thing.

And I know what it is. Yet
I lack the courage to go in search…
To risk much that I have for a dream.
Will I ever start?

Monday, December 24, 2007

Last Night's Dream

I dreamed of Lipika last night.
Dreamed that she was lost and I was looking for her,
That I was on a hopeless endless search:
I woke up before I could find her.

I woke up to the realization that the nightmare hadn’t ended
I hadn’t found her yet
I didn’t know where to start looking.
And I wondered how she was, and hoped she was well.

And I wondered why it was so important.
I have had many friends that I lost.
Yet no one that I want to find so eagerly.
Maybe because there’s no one else whom I cannot find if I want to:

Maybe because she was one of very few people I felt at home with.
She shared my honesty, my rebellion.
She had a childlike innocence
and a wisdom beyond her years.

We became friends eight years ago,
And parted in a few months.
She moved on to a college in a different town.
For some time, we wrote each other letters.

I feel an intense urge to look for those letters
And a fear that I will not find them.
What happened then? Did the letters fade away?
Did my going away to Delhi increase the distance between us?

It seems laughable to talk of losing someone
in this age of mobile phones and the internet.
But we only had handwritten letters sent through the postal service.
I did not bother to get a permanent address: I wrote to her at the hostel.

I remember the last time I met her.
It was some days after my father had died, and I was at home.
She had read about it in the papers, I think.
She was in town at the time.

And had come to visit me.
I am still touched when I remember.
Lipika, my friend, did not forsake me.
She was my friend still.

The next day, I think, was my father’s shraddha.
She promised she would come.
She was to go away again that day.
I did not ask for her address: after all I would take it the next day.

I do not know what kept her.
I do not know why she never called
Never wrote another letter.
Maybe she thought I wouldn’t care?

That was three years ago.
It seems so much longer.
I wonder if she thinks of me.
I rarely think of her, but I do sometimes.

And wish I could talk to her again
Hear her sharp childish voice raised in petulance
Or vibrant with laughter.
But I do not know why I dreamed of her last night.

And why remembering that dream has brought me to the verge of tears.

Notes on A Movie: Philadelphia

I watched Philadelphia again last night. The Guy had never seen it, and I was eager to watch it with him. I was afraid I wouldn’t like it as much as I had when I first saw it a few years ago. As had happened with a number of other movies I’d seen recently, I was afraid its allure would have faded.

But I loved it as much as before. I was touched again by its sensitivity, its poignancy. When it ended, the Guy refused to discuss it: he thought it was too good to criticize, even to praise.

Denzel Washington is one of my favourite actors, and it was exciting to revisit the movie that made him one of my favourite actors. I liked him as much as ever. The man is so good that I find it impossible to separate him from the character he plays. And perhaps what I love most about the movie is the personal journey of Joe Miller from a homophobic man to a sensitive, generous one.

Watching this movie is even more relevant in a country where homosexuality is a crime. Andrew Becketts in India are not merely unlikely to get legal redress for being discriminated against: they are likely to be imprisoned. Now I need to watch My Brother... Nikhil again.

Snippet of Humour

I was silent for so long because there seemed nothing worthwhile to say. I am breaking the silence today to share a snippet of humour. Maybe that will help me laugh at it longer!

I was at Lifestyle yesterday, and paid for a couple of things I bought. The bill was Rs 165. I handed over a 500-rupee note. The young man at the counter asked if I could give change for Rs 60. I obliged, wondering all the while whether he was going to give me a discount of Rs 5. When he entered the amount in his system, he seemed a bit surprised. He proceeded to hand over three 100-rupee notes and Rs 95 in change.

Monday, November 26, 2007

On Mistakes

I'm being lazy and putting up something I wrote two years ago.


No one ever sets out to make a mistake. It happens, due to ignorance, carelessness, foolishness. Mistakes remind us that we are not yet perfect. That we are not smart enough. That, perhaps, we are not as adult as we would like to believe.

I am a fool because I make mistakes. Because I trust in others. Because I believe in dreams. And it hurts if those dreams shatter, and I am left picking up the pieces. Sometimes, there are so many pieces that it is not worth the effort, and all you can do is walk away. And live a new dream.

The right thing to do with mistakes is to learn from them, and move on. Because each one teaches us something new. Ideally, each mistake should be the last of its kind, if we have learned the lesson. But then, we rarely do. We are what we are. One mistake, or even a series of them, rarely serves to change our character, to make us wiser. We continue in the same blundering way, making mistakes, hurting ourselves.

But I would rather be a fool than a knave. I would rather be fooled than fool. I would rather believe in others than stop believing in anything. I would rather make mistakes than be afraid to live. I am not worse because I am a fool. I am only more true, more trusting, more hopeful. I am a dreamer. The princess might have to kiss many frogs before one turns into a prince.

I am only human. After all, we all make mistakes.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Where I grew up, Diwali was more about noise than about light. I always longed for a Diwali with lots of lamps and candles, with love and good company. This year, I had just that. A few friends joined us at home for what I feel was a perfect evening - the presence of friends, good but simple food, cheerful conversation, and a festive feel. All of us went around to a couple of more houses later, and Diwali - for perhaps the first time for me - was about people, not crackers or lights. Diwali, for Gujratis, is also the end of a year and the start of a new one.

May this new year bring light into all our lives.

My Visit to Bangalore

Bangalore was one major city I hadn’t visited (unless you count a visit paid when I was about six). Therefore, I had a lot of curiosity to see what it was like. I fulfilled my desire recently, when I flew over to visit my oldest friend. Let’s call her Effe.

I loved the city. Bangalore really has wonderful weather – I had been sceptical of all the claims until I landed and the breeze caressed my face. Throughout my stay, it was cool, breezy, with light drizzles at times. Pune has weather like that for a couple of months in the year. Bangalore – so Effe said, though I suspect she might be trying to make me jealous – is that way most of the time.

I spent a lovely weekend there, enjoying the company of Effe and, intermittently, of her boyfriend who was christened the Man-Friend on my first morning there. (The story goes this way: I kept referring to him as “the boyfriend”, and Effe protested that it sounded too juvenile. So he became the more grown-up Man-Friend.)

We went on long drives on tree-lined avenues and wide highways. Once Effe was driving me away from the city, and I was delighted to see a rainbow right ahead of us. “It’s been ages since I saw a rainbow!” I exclaimed. As we drove closer, we could see the pale colourful arch curve right across the sky, like a gate welcoming us into the countryside. “I can’t remember when I last saw a complete rainbow like that!” I said. And then, next to the first one, we could see the faint colours of another rainbow. “I don’t know when I saw two rainbows!” I cried. We clicked away on my camera, trying to capture the image for ever. But nothing can replicate the breeze, the drizzle, the exquisiteness of that moment.

The next day, the Man-Friend was driving. Out of very kind deference to my aching back, they insisted that I sit in front. And I enjoyed the best view in a exhilarating ride. At one time, we went out on a highway that was still under construction, so that there were very few vehicles on it and we got miles of wide, deserted road. The Man-Friend got into his element and speeded till we touched 120 kmph. Probably not a wise action to perform on an old Maruti 800, but we weren’t complaining.

The lovely road with parks on either side, that she took me on a drive on

The sun shimmering through the trees

Look closely: can you see a faint rainbow to the right of the first one?

Would you like a ride in a Rolls Royce?

The long open road stretching before us

They took me out to dinner too, at excellent restaurants. Effe, of course, stuffed me at home as well and shouted at me when I protested. At least there was no embarrassment between us, both of us having become roundly well-fed specimens of womanhood.

On my last night there, we went to a place called the 13th Floor, which is – you guessed it – on the 13th floor. It gave us an amazing view of the city. Sporadic pre-Diwali crackers and frequent airplanes added some movement. Pictures, unfortunately, did not capture the view well enough.

View from the 13th Floor

A street decked up for Diwali

And I leave you with this final picture that records Effe hard at work, and my first encounter with dhansak.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Blast at Ajmer Sharif Dargah

Why do terrorists attack Islamic places of worship? There was the attack in the mosque in Hyderabad, and now this. Were the perpetrators of this crime not Islamic terrorists? That's unlikely - after all, the Hyderabad police claim to have uncovered a role of the ISI in the blast. Did they expect people from other faiths to be hurt? (Unlikely again, it being the time of Ramazan.) Are Indian Muslims blamed because they are not radical enough? Are mosques and dargahs easier targets than other congregations of people?

I remember going to the Ajmer dargah a few years ago. I remembered having heard of the amicability it represents, being revered not only by Muslims, but also by those of other faiths.

And when I went in, I was put off, as I often am at religious places, by the consumerism on display. The demands for alms were similar to what I had encountered at many Hindu temples earlier, yet more shocking to me because of the reputation of the place. I remember seeing a huge tub (more like a large well) full of money and jewellery, offerings of devotees who believe their wishes will be granted. I do not know if I was more awed by the faith or apalled by the waste.

This is the first time I have heard of some place I have been to outside of Assam being bombed. I do not know why or how that affects me, but that is a thought that came to my mind when I was watching the news on TV.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Six Movies in Five Days

Yes, I had a lot of time on my hands. The Guy and I were home taking a vacation. (That sounds like such a waste of time . To have a week off and stay at home. (Actually, it was two weeks, and I made a trip in the first week, but that’s another story that will probably remain untold.))

My employer generously gives movie vouchers on birthdays. It being mine recently, the Guy and I had the opportunity of watching a movie for free. We thought we’d hold out for Bhool Bhulaiya, whose title song has had us humming along and shaking our bodies for weeks. We were also tempted by Johnny Gaddaar, again, by the title song and its video. And this review by Jai Arjun intrigued me. But we have been disappointed by two many pricey movie outings to decide lightly.

Then I had a sudden whim on Wednesday and we were off to watch Johnny Gaddaar. It’s been hard to get it off my mind since. It’s the most entertaining movie I have watched in a long time. It is slick and stylish, and tells a riveting story. It is perfectly cast, and even Dharmendra fits into the character well.

The movie didn’t feel very real, which, for me, worked out to its advantage. It seems clearly a stylish work of fiction, and any sympathy you have for any of the characters soon runs out. And yet, you want to watch what happens next, want to see if the protagonist gets away with it all or gets only his just desserts.

The director pays various tributes throughout the movie to his influences, including James Hadley Chase and Vijay Anand’s Johnny Mera Naam, and the Amitabh Bachchan starrer Parwana, which has a role to play in the movie.

The Guy and I were so taken with the movie that we could discuss nothing else after that. We had to watch another movie to take the edge off – that partly explains the movie watching spree last week.

I had loved the director's earlier movie, Ek Haseena Thi. This one is if possible, even better (though perhaps less realistic and more entertaining). Move over, Vishal Bharadwaj. Sriram Raghavan is my new God.

Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi is a movie I’ve wanted to watch for a long time, ever since I read the reviews a couple of years ago. My new-found adolation of Shiney Ahuja post-Gangster only added to the eagerness. But we hadn’t been able to lay our hands on the DVD. We finally struck gold last Thursday.

The movie was every bit as good as I’d expected. Even though I’d known the story beforehand, it was engrossing. If Johnny Gaddaar was like a good piece of popular fiction, Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi was a hard-hitting piece of literature drawn from real life.

It was scary in a sense, because it drove home to me what a privileged and comfortable life we lead. We take for granted rights that do not exist for many, and that might be taken away from us as well. It angered me to remember that Indira Gandhi is still spoken of with respect, is still publicly feted by the Congress party, when she did something so deplorable as impose a dictatorial rule on a democratic country.

The story was heartrending, the characters were well fleshed out, the performances were powerful. I cannot point out one thing that I did not like in the movie, and it is rare to be able to say that.

Friday was the turn for To Kill a Mockingbird. It was, in one word, disappointing. I suppose our luck was bound to run out. It was nowhere close to the book, and it being one of our favourite books, it was a high standard to live up to.

The movie seemed in too much of a hurry, it rushed into the trial without taking care to establish the characters and the atmosphere. The children didn’t seem like the endearing, confused little people they were in the book – just a bunch of kids up to mischief. And Gregory Peck – so often lauded for his role in the movie – seemed loud to me. I had imagined Atticus as a tired, kindly, elderly man, not a smart and strong one. I had imagined him speaking gently, courteous to everyone. Peck was powerful and theatrical. There were scenes that seemed illogical, like Ewell threatening Atticus right in front of Tom Robinson’s house, where his relatives and neighbours might have been expected to scare him away. I liked how Heck Tate was played, though; the actor seemed to put in just the right mix of deference and authority for the part.

On the Guy's recommendation, we watched Something's Gotta Give. I loved parts of it: loved how strong and independent the Diane Keaton character was portrayed as. I fell in love with the house on the beach, and was willing to go right back to work so that I could save up for something like that some day. I liked how they exposed the hypocrisy of older men dating younger women with impunity while older women cannot find nice men to date. But I felt that the film fell into its own trap and winced when the female protagonist was so obviously uncomfortable seeing a younger guy. And I wasn't convinced why she would leave the very nice young man for a chauvinist, selfish older one (especially when the younger man is the droolworthy Keanu Reaves). I also found the ending rather sappy.

Victory was a movie I’d watched as a kid, and loved, and it had sparked my long (illogical?) fondness for Sylvester Stallone. It was perhaps expected therefore, that I would not like it as much when I watched it as a grown-up. Stallone seemed loud. I was disappointed that Pele received so little screen space: I had hoped for more football action. The movie seemed melodramatic and unconvincing. In the last scene, the German guards have guns that they do not fire, even into the air, when prisoners are escaping in a crowd. That credits the Germans with a kind of humanity that contradicts the character of a people that established concentration camps.

Oscar is another Sly Stallone movie that I had watched years ago and loved. I did not find this as funny this time, but it had its moments. It’s a nice watch on a lazy afternoon when your mind wants a rest.

On the whole, it was a week well spent!

Thursday, September 13, 2007


A friend enters the emptiness of life like music pervading silence.
A friend removes despair like a ray of light intruding into darkness.
A friend is always there to listen, not to judge; to support, not to condemn.
To sit beside you when you cry and not move until he succeeds in bringing back the laughter to your face.
To open your eyes to the beauty of life, as well as to its harshness, its squalor.
To tell you the truth, when all the world lies to your face.

A friend knows all your faults, your sins, your meanness… and still manages to love you.
A friend accepts your anger, your bitterness, your frustration – and waits for you to show your affection.
A friend asks for nothing in return – except that you also be there when you are needed.
A friend makes your thoughts worth while, as he listens when you speak of them.
A friend makes your dreams worth dreaming, as he dreams along with you.
A friend makes life worth living, as he shares it with you.

You may never say it, but you both know the special bond that you share.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Lovely Evening

I was rather out of sorts this weekend, with a bad cold and PMS. I was eager to go dancing on Friday night, but with the Guy’s back bothering him, we gave up the idea. We moped at home most of Saturday and Sunday. By Sunday evening, not only was I feeling weak and glassy-eyed after my nap, but also rather dull from inactivity. So the Guy’s offer of a drive was more than welcome.

We went wandering around narrow roads on slopes not far from our house. It was the time for sunset, when the hills around were bathed in a golden glow. The cool breeze ruffled my hair. I reiterated how lucky we are to live in such an area, in such a city.

As we drove back from the hills, the Guy steered the car onto the road where we live. “Are we going home?” I asked, reluctant to let this lovely evening end. “I’m not,” rejoined the Guy, “but I can drop you home if you want to.”

The evening had only just begun. We parked by the field nearby and talked for a long time, talked in a way that still seems new and special even when we talk for hours every day.

And then I wanted a drink. We rarely drink alcohol, but we both decided a small drink would be good for my cold. But the nearest lounge was reserved for the evening, so we ventured further.

With me clad in my homely skirt and top and most-worn sandals, we made it to a posh hotel whose roof-top restaurant came highly recommended from a friend. Deservedly so. Aptly called “Smoke on the Water” and set by the pool, it had homely furniture, delicious food and drinks, and excellent service.

We had a lovely lazy time, looking out on the city, with our office building in clear view right ahead. It felt magical, to have found a quiet terrace to sit in on a Sunday evening, when every public place is teeming with crowds. (Not to say that the place was deserted; and the men at the nearest table were making rather more noise than we would have liked, but it was easy enough to ignore them.) It felt like we had taken a wrong turn and magically found ourselves in a new world, very different from and yet so near to our own. Of course, we had to pay for the experience (there goes our goal of frugality!), but the price was not too high for such a lovely evening.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


I had my eyes closed, was walking in a dream.
I opened my eyes only when I stumbled.
The bright colors of my dreams contrasted
with the stark white light that blinded me.
I tried to close my eyes again – but encountered only darkness.

Finally my eyes grew accustomed to the light.
And I could see a way ahead.
Less colourful than my dreams, much straighter and higher.
But the color I had seen was as that on a butterfly’s wing.
And I grew to prefer the white light that showed me the world.

And I stepped out of the ruins of my fallen castle,
And walked towards my little cottage in the woods.
And while I may not live here all my life,
I am where I want to be now.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Exorcising My Demons

Lately, I have been looking into my past and staring my demons in the face. There is a lot that saddens me, a lot that makes me angry, and memories that still scare me. I need to delve into my mind and fish out those memories and let those wounds heal. I think longingly of therapy. It would be such a relief to have someone help me heal, help me let go. But I have someone to talk to about everything, and that is the best therapy I can have. And I have my gift of writing, to write down things that are more difficult to say, to let my hand spell out reasons my mouth cannot articulate. Now all I need to do is find the time and the courage to uncover those memories; to think over things, rationalise, and understand. Because I refuse to live with those demons any longer. Because I have finally forgiven myself. And now I need to look back and understand, so that my mind will be at peace with itself.

I am lucky that when I go forth to fight my demons, someone will be right behind me, so that my courage will not fail. I am lucky that I have stability and happiness to come back to after a harrowing meeting with my memories.

I am lucky that I have the Guy. That I have someone who loves me so much that he would follow me even when I walk away, even when I’m unfairly angry, even when he doesn’t realise that it’s the demons in my head that torment me and make me act that way. He has none of my impatience, my quick temper, my intolerance. He makes me feel inadequate, yet want to be better. There’s nothing I have done in my life that would make me deserve him. Maybe I got him as compensation for everything bad I had to go through. In which case, I am grateful for the bad times.

All this happiness makes me feel insecure, sometimes. I am not yet twenty-six, and I have everything I want to make me happy. A lifetime of happiness seems too much to hope for. Yet, with the Guy at my side, what could be very bad? It scares me. It makes me look around thinking of what might go wrong – till the Guy places a reassuring hand on my shoulder.

And so I need to exorcise my demons, to more fully enjoy the life I have, to come out forever from the shadows into the bright sun. If I am away too long, have faith: I’ll be back.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Eklavya: Movie Review

Watching a movie on television is not usually my idea of an ideal way to spend a Sunday evening. But yesterday, I plonked myself down in front of the TV while the Guy kindly made dinner. Eklavya was just starting. (Let me digress here to say how rare it is to catch a movie when it’s starting. There are so many movies which I love and have watched more than once on TV and never managed to catch the beginning of. Also, with my attention span for television, I have rarely watched entire movies on TV in the last few years.)

Going back to Eklavya. The opening scene gripped me. The Guy, on the other hand, found it predictable and refused to sit and watch with me, preferring virtual conquests in The Age of Empires to sitting by my side… but that’s another story.

The cinematography was magnificent. You feel the grandeur of the fort, the darkness of the story, the passage of time as clouds sweep past the building… I had a feeling of vertigo with one shot of the upper part of a building with clouds moving swiftly over it, creating an illusion of the building floating in mid-air.

The story was all right, maybe even good. It certainly makes you want to find out what happens next (and I, unlike the Guy did not think it was predictable. But then I’m more of a sucker for dramatic stories).

Boman Irani, as usual, was terrific. His was a complex character, grandiose and evil, yet seeming vulnerable and short-sighted at times. I don’t think anyone else could have played it so convincingly.

Jackie Shroff reminded me so much of his role in Mission Kashmir that it put me off his performance totally. But yet I cannot point out one thing he did wrong. I liked Jimmy Shergil in a different role for him, in contrast to the nice-guy roles he so convincingly portrays. He established himself as the cool bad guy very effectively in his limited screen time. Saif was good. Again, I feel he has played such roles before (Being Cyrus came to mind when his dark side came to the fore, and he has played the rich young heir – though not prince – in Parineeta), but there is no flaw I could find in his acting.

Amitabh Bachchan was – well, as good as he usually is. That is, I found nothing new here, again. He seems to show off a bit – but that seems the filmmaker’s vanity, not his.

I loved Sanjay Dutt’s portrayal of an untouchable who worked his way up to becoming the DSP of the local police – I loved the arrogance, the earthiness, and the triumph in the character.

I see I haven’t mentioned the women. Perhaps because they seemed peripheral, like the spectators of a drama that unfolds before them. Both Vidya Balan and Raima Sen were convincing in their roles. I liked Raima’s portrayal of a mentally disturbed young woman. Call me dense, but in the first scene it took me a few moments to realise she was not quite right in the head – which tells me that the acting was measured and subdued.

One scene I did not enjoy was Eklavya showing his skill by throwing his knife (or dagger or sword or whatever) blindfolded at a dove and cutting off the bells tied to it. For one, I thought the scene was melodramatic. Also, as an animal lover, it sickened me. The guy’s aim might be impeccable, but what if the bird turns in flight and comes right in the way of the blade? The whole thing seemed implausible. And then it suddenly cut to a flashback of Eklavya’s mother giving him the knife and making him promise to do his duty… I was as unconvinced as Eklavya when he wonders why he recalled it then. And Mita Vasisht seems wasted in her few-second appearance as Eklavya’s mother.

Perhaps the fact that I can find little to comment on the actors reveals how much of himself the filmmaker stamped on the movie. There was no false note, no unconvincing portrayal. There was a lot of evil, but I find evil more convincing than good, and grey more real than black or white.

Yet, when I watched it through to the end, the movie – though interesting and well-made – seemed to fall short of great. Yet I cannot point out what was missing. Perhaps the fact that I could not sympathise with any of the characters (except perhaps the DSP, but he is peripheral to the story), who seem caught in a time warp and warped (bad pun, I know) by the little world they live in. Or maybe in spite of my cynical assertion that evil is more convincing than good, I am a romantic at heart and want an all-out idealist hero.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Goodbye, My Friend

In you, after a long time, I found a friend.
With you I found fragments of girlhood I had lost.

I let go, for a moment, of my stoicism, my cynicism
I rediscovered that I like to giggle, to gossip, to be silly.

I, who am so rooted in reality,
experienced walking on air.

For a few short days, I had a girl friend again.
And now I have a sheet of paper on my wall to remember you by.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Happy Independence Day

I don't usually own up to patriotism. It seems so old-fashioned and déclassé. I resent the very premise that my country might be better than yours. I reject tradition and doubt the oft-extolled greatness of India - or at least the argument that its greatness in the past should make me any more proud to live in it now.

Yet, my heart skips a beat whenever I hear the Jana Gana Mana sung. I have dearly wished, these last couple of years, to have a tricolour to unfurl in my balcony or hang in my living room, to be put aside carefully for next year when the day ends. Sadly, I have not obtained one. My fault for not trying hard enough, doubtlessly, and for not remembering early enough before the holiday - yet it makes me wonder why we don't have them selling at every store, at the swanky malls, at the modern superstores. All you see are the horrible plastic versions selling at traffic intersections: none of those full-sized, sedate khadi ones. We had one of those in my parents' home. We used to bring it out religiously every Independence and Republic Day morning, unfurl it in our garden or balcony - a family ritual as strictly followed as my mom baking a cake on our birthdays. I remember standing in front of our building and looking in pride at our balcony which was the only one with a flag fluttering conspicuously - and perhaps dangerously in a state where the ULFA inevitably declared a bandh on the day and violence sometimes disrupted celebrations.

My dad used to wake us up - if we were lazy enough to be still in bed - to watch the official ceremony on television. Later, he would make sure to hoist the flag at home before going out to attend the hoisting - or to do it himself - in a more public venue: he was a professor at a government college for most of the years of his career and a principal at another for the remaining few.

Is all this emotional legacy the reason why I want to put up a flag at home? It is uncharacteristic of me to want to display any traditional symbols: I tend to believe that what is, is inside you and outward manifestations are usually a sham. Yet, putting up a flag seems a blow against convention in a world where patriotism is unfashionable and boring.

I wonder if my mother will dust out the old flag again this year. I know my day will seem a little empty without singing Jana Gana Mana under the fluttering tricolour.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Blue Umbrella: Movie Review

My favourite filmmaker has disappointed me again. I went to see The Blue Umbrella hoping for more of his magic, but - while it was doubtless a good film - it fell short. Once again, while the cinematography was haunting, the story failed to grip me. I found it rather too slow for a children's movie, with none of the lightheartedness of Makdee. I haven't read Ruskin Bond's original story, so can't compare it with the movie, but in spite of a wonderful performance by Pankaj Kapur, the movie failed to touch me. The music was good, though not great, the songs seemed forced, the children looked silly dancing in perfect tandem, the make up on the little girl was glaring.

Given the woeful state of children's films in India, The Blue Umbrella, with all its flaws, is definitely welcome. But with my hero-worship of the director, not to mention my intense admiration of Ruskin Bond, I had expected more magic. Maybe not the perfection of Makdee, but - who am I fooling? I had expected another Makdee, just as I'd hoped for another Maqbool in Omkara. But the guy seems to have lost his touch.

Next time I want to watch a Vishal Bharadwaj movie, I'll sit home and watch a DVD of Maqbool or Makdee.

Friday, August 10, 2007

And the Award for Best Husband Goes to – the Guy!

You guessed it – this is one of those posts where I go all-out sentimental. So stop reading now if you can’t stand mush.

Today is the two-year anniversary of something special, of a phone call that resumed our friendship and lead to everything that followed. Which is the excuse I’m going to use to extol some of the Guy’s many excellent qualities. Top that off with the fact that he has been exhibiting his best behaviour lately. So I’m going to show him off unabashedly and make all you women jealous.

The Guy had been away for a month, for work purposes. And he brought me back a whole load of stuff, and – to our common surprise, all the clothes fit me perfectly. And I love each piece. Which also went to tell me how much thought and effort must have gone into all of that. From a guy who hates shopping. I still can’t get over the fact, and am in a glow of contentment all day whenever I’m wearing – as right now – one of those garments.

Living away from me also drove him to appreciate – not my cooking (which he appreciates vocally enough, with gentle prompting) so much as the fact that he can now cook. Given that all he could cook slightly over a year ago was upma (which is admittedly, delicious, and which, therefore, I have always left to him) and that when I would ask him to put the cooker on the gas he would place it carefully on the burner and neglect to turn the gas on, this was a big achievement. (And a testimony to my careful training(!)) So he impressed his colleagues by whipping up (reportedly) delicious meals. And he has been practising his new-found skills since he got back. I feel like purring like a contented cat. What more could a woman want?

And then, a few days ago, he surpassed himself. He was at home nursing a backache, and asked me to let him know when I would be home so he could get dinner ready. I did not comply, because after all, he was home to rest, not strain his back standing at the kitchen counter. So, after the initial disappointment of finding me home earlier than he expected, he unleashed a flurry of activity, and hustled me firmly out of the premises. And my Guy presented me with an elaborate candlelit dinner, delicious and carefully presented on our best crockery.

He has since been ignoring my nudging him to take a few months off from work and rest himself at home…

Monday, July 23, 2007

Obituary of My Phone

This post is in lament of our phones. The Guy and I were both devoted to our ancient (or so they seem), cheap (relatively – his, at least, mine would qualify in absolute terms) mobile phones. We were determined to not abandon them for (read: too cheap to spend money on) newer versions. Add to that the fact that we used those phones during our courtship period and they therefore have a bit of sentimental value (not to speak of old SMSes) attached.

And then, one day, mine starts shutting itself down for no reason, at various times. Till it shut down completely. It underwent a long stint at the service centre, with little improvement. Never mind, I said. We don’t need three phones. We should do perfectly well with one mobile and one landline. Let’s shut down one connection. Given the fact that I have grown to think of phones as as much of a nuisance as a convenience, it wasn't a painful decision to make.

Then the other phone, worn out with many tumbles, falls, and knocks, has taken to disintegrating itself at the slightest provocation. Picture putting the phone to your ear to answer a call and having a piece of it fall at your feet. We’ve even taken to carrying it around without one of its not-so-vital parts, and telling ourselves that it looks prettier that way.

With my mom paying us a long visit, we could depend on her phone whenever either of ours was too difficult to handle. Then she left. She had used her hometown phone connection all the months she was here, and it worked fine even when in her stopover in Delhi. It was only when she finally reached her hometown that her phone stopped working. It would have been truly ironic if it was due to a problem in the connection, but it turned out to be a problem in the phone. Do phones get contagious diseases?

As for us - sooner rather than later, we’ll have to drag our lazy selves to the store and select a new one. Sigh.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Views of My City

Storm Clouds Hovering Over the City
View from My Window

Garbage Strewn under Flowers

One of Our Favourite Haunts

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Our Words

How do I live one entire day without talking to you?
I don’t know when I last did that. Maybe twenty-one months ago.
But afterwards, even when we could picture only the dimmest outline of each other’s faces,
We had each other’s words; we recognized each other by our voices.
That was all that existed: a voice.
A voice that stood for friendship, for understanding, for forgiveness, for hope.

Now I wake up each day with your face close to mine.
I start each day with a kiss or a caress.
I have the sight of you, the sound of your voice, your touch, your thoughts, your words,
To get me through the day.
Words through your voice, words on the computer, words on paper.
Words that have become so much a part of my life that they are less obtrusive than silence.

How do I bear the silence of this day?
How do I live through this day and hear your words again?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

My Name

I had a number of names when I was small. My dad had several teasing nicknames for me at various stages of my childhood. My sister had her own name for her baby sister. My mother called me by a name that seemed to me to be the most wonderful sound in the word, and I didn’t – and still don’t – like anyone else using it. Relatives outside immediate family, family friends and the like had another name for me – and their own interpretations of it.

It may be due to my myriad names, maybe due to other as yet unexplained reasons, that I took a long time accepting myself as Unmana. I remember staring at the name on my school notebook and repeating it in my mind, trying to realise that it meant me.

I remember being near the end of every queue, because my school believed in organising alphabetically. I remember that strangers, on first getting introduced to me, often asked what my name meant, or commented that it was unusual or beautiful. It did not mean much to me then except some probing from near strangers that my painfully shy self would gladly have avoided.

It was perhaps strange, then, that as I grew up, I became more attached to my name. You might say it grew on me. I resented being called by an abbreviation or nickname – something I had never minded when I was younger. I resented new acquaintances wanting to call me by one of the names relatives knew me by. As I grew up, my name and I seemed more a part of each other.

It helped, I suppose, that it’s an uncommon name; that I never had to call anyone else by it. A practical benefit of this is that I can usually get my desired username on any website or email service.

I still fumble when people ask me what my name means. Because it’s difficult to explain, and much of it gets lost in translation. Because it reminds me of my dad’s motives in naming me so, the prime one being that it rhymed with my sister’s name.

Perversely, I feel glad when someone who knows what it means compliments me on it. Even though some of them end up singing, “Unmona, mone mathu…” a popular song that appeared when I was in college. (Yes, I have heard it a hundred times, and never in the original.) The depiction of the word that I preferred was in an older song that I have regrettably forgotten.

What inspired this diatribe? That one person I do not even know has decided to name his daughter (if his unborn child is female) after me.

Congratulations, Rupam. I hope little Unmana - or her brother - will grow up to be the pride of your soul and the joy of your life.

Friday, May 25, 2007


I have shuddered every time I have heard of an incidence of violence in Assam. I have been overcome by shame, sometimes, at the attitudes of people from my home state when they attempted to defend or justify the violence. I have been apalled at the antics of one of Assam's most celebrated writers, a Jnanpith and Sahitya Akademi Awardee, who glosses over the atrocities of the terrorists and keeps asking the government to make its peace with them.

But today, I have smiled at the
courage that a few students displayed when they reacted to another tragic crime. Given that they studied in a Hindi medium school, these students were probably not "Assamese" in the generally-used meaning of the term. And no, I am not suggesting that violence should counter violence. But in the circumstances, I think these students acted in the most courageous and perhaps, most natural, way. And it is this spirit, this courage, that can bring peace and prosperity to Assam, in a way no government, no politician, no outsider can.

Friday, May 18, 2007

How I Forgave Vishal Bharadwaj

I have finally forgiven Vishal Bharadwaj for making Omkara.

The reason I was so disappointed with the man was because I so admired him. Because he had made a perfect gem in Maqbool. So it was a big disillusionment when Omkara turned out melodramatic and commercial. I should have expected it, with the stars it had, instead of actors like Irrfan and Pankaj Kapoor in Maqbool. Yet, with my reverence for Vishal Bharadwaj, I had hoped against my reason. And came away disappointed at the histrionics that stopped short of acting, the melodrama that stopped short of feeling, the hype that overshadowed the story.

And then one day I played the music of Omkara in a few leisure moments at home – obviously whatever objections I have to the movie do not extend to the music. As I heard a beautiful, unfamiliar voice sing, I picked up the cassette cover to discover the singer. I saw that it was Bharadwaj himself. And was floored by the amazing talent of the man.

As his mesmerising voice mellowed my feelings, I reminded myself that Omkara had enjoyed a success Maqbool could never aspire to. It not only earned a lot of money, but also a great deal of critical acclaim. In fact, I haven’t yet heard an unfavourable word about the movie: you’d think the Guy and I were the only people who were disappointed in it.

Why should I be angry with Vishal Bharadwaj for making a movie that was a success by every parameter? Why should I criticise him for wanting to be successful? After all, Omkara earned him the recognition his earlier movies never had. Why should I grudge him that? Why should I blame him for giving people what they want? After all, no one seemed to have liked Maqbool as much as I had. I had watched thunderstruck as it unfolded on the screen, thinking more than once, “Shakespeare would have smiled.” It seemed to have captured the spirit while casually discarding the body of Macbeth. It is only if you are acquainted with the play that you can truly appreciate the movie. Omkara, in contrast, felt like a laboured translation for minds that would never meet the original.

And then maybe, just maybe, he knew very well he was doing. Maybe he was cocking a snook at all of us, deliberately making a movie that everyone would praise, and laughing in his sleeve all the while. Maybe he wanted to direct "stars", most of who never got much further from acting themselves, and make a movie that was talked about. Maybe he is laughing at us all the while. I would be happier if I could believe that.

I still wish Omkara had been able to measure up to Maqbool. I still wish it had been a piece of art rather than a popular movie. I compare it with the subtlety of Maqbool and the delightfulness of Makdee, and grieve that he is more likely to be known as the maker of Omkara than of the other two.

But I forgive him. An artist too needs money to live and create with, and praise to live on. If making an Omkara allows him to live another day and make another Maqbool, so be it. If it is a price he is willing to pay, why should I complain? After all, he made an Omkara, not a Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Gham or even a Corporate. I was disappointed in Omkara because it was his movie – if Karan Johar had made it, I would have called it brilliant.

So I forgive Vishal Bharadwaj. Because his voice moved me. Because he makes beautiful music. Because however many popular movies he makes, he has given me one Maqbool.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

I'm here...

In another day, it would have been a month since I last posted. No, I wasn't incommunicado or ill. But what with lots of work, relatives visiting, and weather too hot to think in, I've been using the little free time I've had reading and playing games on the comp - to try to relax my mind and not tax it further.

I haven't stopped thinking about this space, however. I've written at least half a dozen blog posts in my head. Give me some time while I gather the patience to remember all of that and write it down.

Apologies to all (any?) who have visited this space in the interval, hoping to find something new. Keep checking back in the next few days and you will (hopefully) not be disappointed. With the Guy away, I should get some time for my other love.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


On Sunday, the Guy and I made it to the meeting of a voluntary organisation we are peripherally involved with. It was a long meeting; also one that I fully enjoyed. For me, the highlight of the day came some way into the event, when most of the young people (students whose education the organisation sponsors) were busy in a game and two young men got up to leave. They were blind, but easily walked over to the volunteers to say goodbye. Then someone spoke, "Unmana, these are your boys."

All I do is give in a small amount of money towards their mess fees in their hostel. Yet, the volunteers took up the cry, and I heard twice more, "Here are your boys."

One member led them over to introduce them to me. They held out their hands. They spoke, confidently, confidingly, mentioning in the same breath their challenging studies and their determination to overcome them. I wished them luck and said goodbye.

The world seemed to have whirled around me. I sank into a chair, my legs suddenly feeling like they could not support my weight. I just sat for some time, feeling numb. After some time I reached out my hand and touched the Guy.

I collected my feelings and examined them. One was embarrassment. I had not done much for them - nothing to denote them mine. I did not deserve that. Connected to that was shame. Could I do no more? Such a little went such a long way for them! Then came humility and respect in the face of that optimism, that confidence! Also perhaps, a little gratitude - to be able to reach out and touch that piece of sunshine.

In a little while, I remembered that it was Bihu - New Year. And I had received the best gift I could ask for.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Belated Post - Tharoor Again

So the world goes on as usual. Shashi Tharoor proves exactly how much of a fool he is by writing a response to the vehement reactions of bloggers to his prejudices on the sari. The only good thing I found in his article is that he mentions Emma's spirited rejoinder. Not that, of course, he learns anything from it. He goes on to recycle those same opinions - as if we weren't sick enough of them already. He even recalls how he bravely once wore a kurta to work in the UN and was ridiculed for it. And then, of course, without ignoring the criticism or fighting for his right to wear an Indian garment to work, he took to wearing suits and ties. Why should we women be daunted by mere trivialities like comfort and convenience (not that he knows a lot of that, of course - a kurta with trousers or jeans is after all more comfortable than most salwar kameez) in our responsibility of carrying forward Indian tradition?

I agree with
Gaurav Sabnis - give the guy something to do and get him off our backs (and the Sunday papers). But please no, don't give him a post in Manmohan's cabinet. I can imagine him giving away quota seats in universities to sari-clad women and giving subsidies to sari manufacturers.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Shashi on the Sari

I had another illusion shattered today. A small bubble that had floated, though despondently, among the debris of burst ones. I have lost my respect for Shashi Tharoor. In spite of his evidently media-savvy personality, I had admired the man’s charm, his success, and – most of all – his way with words and his sensible views. Though not overtly disappointed when he failed to secure the UN top job, I was glad that he was a brand ambassador of a country that so desperately needs respectable ones.

A few columns of space in today’s Times of India burst that bubble and had me foaming at the man for being such an insensitive chauvinist.

He wrote in lament of the sari’s failing popularity. He penned his regret that it seems to be going the way of the kimono. The entire article was a comment not on the state of the sari, but on the small-mindedness of the writer. Sample this: “Indeed, if you were stout, or bowlegged, or thick-waisted, nothing concealed those handicaps of nature better than the sari. Women looked good in a sari who could never have got away with appearing in public in a skirt.” Being stout or thick-waisted is a handicap? And I haven’t heard yet that Shashi has been appointed “Supreme Judge of All Female Attire and Physical Appearances on the Planet”. Or is that a position he is vying for? Perhaps he is just one of those multitudes of men who feel qualified to comment on anything to do with women, and believe that their opinions matter. I wish, then, that he would air his opinions in private, not in a national newspaper.

But that was just the second paragraph. Further on, he mentions in passing “the increasing dominance of our culture by Punjabi-ised folk who think nothing of giving masculine names to their daughters”, thereby demonstrating himself as not just a sexist, but a racist too (or a state-ist, if you think of the Punjabis as a state, or, perhaps better, a community-ist). Punjabis have a bad influence on “our” (by which I presume he means Indian) culture because they give their daughters masculine names? And which names does he define as masculine? And by what standards? I know of women named Shashi. Does that make Shashi a feminine name? Shouldn’t we look down upon Mr and Mrs Tharoor Senior for giving their son such a name?

It doesn’t stop at that. Tharoor kindly examines the reasons why “today’s younger generation of women” have rejected the sari for daily wear. He ignores their voiced argument of practicality and suggests that the sari is a casualty of the young Indian woman’s aspiration to modernity. That being in pants or salwar is more modern, enabling the woman to free herself from the trappings of an era where women, in Tharoor’s own words, “did not compete on equal terms in a man’s world”.

But neither of these reasons satisfies Tharoor. He deplores the “Westernisation” of Indian women, and speaks nostalgically of how Indians have always been “modern in ancient garb”. He even draws on the Mahatma and his – often criticised by westerners – loincloth. He describes how, when Gandhi was criticised for meeting the King dressed in his simple dhoti, he commented, “His Majesty was wearing enough clothes for the two of us.” And while you read all this, the photograph of Tharoor clad in suit and tie stares up at you from the column.

But of course, it is only women who are burdened with the responsibility of preserving India’s tradition – tradition that is bound up in those yards of cloth. Men of course, can be Indian in suits, but how can a woman in western dress be Indian?

I am not surprised at the sentiment. I have observed enough versions of it to know it is fairly common. I remember a male classmate in my college helpfully informing my jeans-clad friend that jeans were going to be banned in college. “Oh!” I exclaimed in consternation. “What will you guys wear, then?” His confusion lasted only for a second – while his companion laughed loudly – before he said, “I meant for the girls.”

“Ah,” I cried, understanding apparently dawning. “That is a good step. In fact, I am perfectly prepared to wear only mekhela-cador” (the Assamese costume) “to college every day. But first, every guy should be dressed in dhoti.”

It is infinitely worse to have a man of Tharoor’s stature state what seemed a vulgar sentiment in a teenager from a small town. It is appalling that the irony of expressing such views underneath a photograph of himself in western dress escaped a man supposed to be intelligent. For a man who is well-educated, a global citizen, and has worked much of his life in the world’s most overarching humanitarian organisation, his words unmistakably reveal the smallness of his mind.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Blank Noise

Happy Women's Day. I am writing today's post for the Blank Noise Project. Strike that out. I am writing this for myself. Thank you, Blank Noise, for giving me a way to speak out.

My first encounter with street sexual harassment (perhaps apart from sundry lewd remarks that I do not remember) occurred when I was in the sixth standard in school. I was too innocent to realise what was happening, and only wondered why the man stood so close to me in a relatively empty bus. I was too young to even understand that my breasts could be an object of desire. I was on my way to school when it happened – and yes, I was in uniform.

That was the beginning of years of what I can only term torture. I began to dread the daily commute to and from school. I tried to protect myself with my school bag, to defend myself with my water bottle, to show my discomfort, to move away. Sometimes, it happened so blatantly I wondered how no one else had seen it. Yet never did a voice or an arm rise in my protection. I did not speak about it to anyone. Telling my parents would only have meant giving up the little independence I had. I would pray to God each day to spare me from the torture. I wondered why he often refused to grant my prayer.

As I grew up, such incidents grew less frequent. When I got into college, it was rare and I could usually protect myself with an angry glance or push. Maybe it had to do with the fact that I looked older and stronger. Or maybe it had only to do with my school uniform, which had rendered me younger and more vulnerable.

When I was old enough to understood more fully the significance of those groping hands and thrusting bodies, I was filled with rage. I would sit on the bus, silently challenging anyone to come near me. I was raring to use my fists, my voice, to vent some of my burning anger. It was perhaps that look of anger on my face that acted as a deterrent. The frequency of such incidents fell away to almost nothingness.

Yet, there were times when someone casually brushed his hand against me and I did not retaliate. I remained silent, out of that aversion towards creating a scene that had been ingrained in me since I was young, out of an unknown fear that perhaps stemmed from those years of silent torture, out of shock. And each such time made me angrier, at the criminals who performed such acts, at the world that allowed such things to happen, and at myself for not having the courage to fight back.

One day, I was on a bus in which the only people standing were a middle-aged man, a girl in school uniform, and me. Some time passed before I noticed that the girl seemed uncomfortable. I looked to see the man pressing close to her. The bus was full of people: no one spoke. And the girl was not alone – she was with a couple of friends.

All my memories came flooding back. I asked the girl if the guy was troubling her. She nodded. I shouted at the man to stand back. So protected do these criminals feel by the shroud of fear and shame that covers the victims, that this guy needed telling twice. I told the girl to come stand by me and threatened the guy in a way that would make my bolder friends proud.

It did not make up for what I had gone through. It was probably not enough to stop the guy from harassing his next victim. After all, not one voice was raised to support me. I shrieked in the silent bus like a mad woman. Yet I felt vindicated that I had not committed the ultimate crime – I had not stood by and let it happen.

I spoke up again, when a woman sitting next to me was harassed. This was a couple of years later, and I was bolder then. Now, I would speak up again. And again. Until the silence of the crowds around me made me lose my courage.

And more than the groping hands and lewd whistles, it is this silence that we have to overcome. It is the fence-sitter that we have to get on our side. Because many of those sitters on the fence are men who are simply not aware that such things happen. They do not know what it is to spend one day as a woman – to walk out in the evening with your fists clenched and your heart beating hard, to go home in an autorickshaw or a cab with mobile phone in hand, ready to dial a male friend at a sign of danger, to not go out at all because the risk does not seem worth the fun. They do not know how it feels to walk down a street in broad daylight and hear lewd catcalls, to stand on the pavement and have cars stop by you, to talk to the grocer, the bus driver, even the courier guy, while his eyes are on your chest.

Most of the men I know would condemn such behaviour. Yet they do not often realise how frequent it is. That most women – especially women who work/study out of the home and use public transport – face sexual harassment daily, be it in the form of vulgar remarks, a lewd glance, or a groping hand. And it is the fault of us women, that they do not know. Read
this brilliant article by a man who discovered the daily horror of street harassment that women face. And, if you are a guy, look out for such instances and try to stand up for the victims. And if you are a woman, stand up for yourself. And talk about your experiences. By not telling our brothers, our cousins, our friends, we are losing allies. And we need all the allies we can get to win this war to make the world safer for ourselves and our daughters.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


I stepped into my first "real" (read: full-time) job two years ago. So this post is in celebration of two years of work life!

It is hard to recall how I felt that day. Nervous and excited, definitely. It also got off to a disappointing start, because, after completing the formalities (signing encyclopaedia-sized forms and documents), I got to my 'office' to find that the entire division was out on a trip! So I killed time for one and a half days before I knew where I'd sit and who I'd work with (and spent some more time figuring out what I had to do).

I spent 10 months in my first job, and those months were packed with learning and fun. I had landed this job after quite a few disappointments, and to think that this was the one job on campus that would have suited me as well as it did - it almost makes you believe in a god.

So, two years later, I am in my second job in another city. I've got raises, but no promotions (though a change in designation and work when I changed my job) - and no hope of promotion too, in the kind of job I'm in!

But no regrets. Some people have sometimes called me ambitious, which used to take me by surprise. I am not much interested in making what is generally called a 'successful career', in earning a lot of money or in gaining 'power'. What I am is, always, deeply interested in my work and dedicated to doing it well. If that is ambition, so be it. I would call it sincerity.

Continuing my self-evaluation - I am in a job I like, that offers me freedom, flexibility, and creative expression - and even pays me for it! Asking for more would seem greedy.

So join me in congratulating myself on completing two years in the "corporate world"!

Friday, March 02, 2007

A Mixed Experience

It's coincidental, even ironic, that I blogged about sexual harassment yesterday.

I suggested to the Guy last evening that we go out for dinner. We are moving house this weekend, and I was tired of thinking about packing and money and wanted a date.

We opted to sit in the open, enjoying the pleasant weather. There were a couple of guys at the nearest table. They were soon joined by two more. I noticed the guy nearest to our table turn his head around to look at me. (And when I tell you that I was sitting almost directly behind him so that he had to turn his head 120 degrees to see me, you'll realise that while I was engrossed in my conversation with the Guy, I couldn't help but notice.) Five years - maybe even two years - earlier, I would have tried to ignore it. Last night I just stared angrily and spewed venom. With the music playing loud, it only served to bring the matter to the Guy's notice and did not reach the ears of the brute. He did it a couple of times more. I swore to the guy, "Next time he does that, I'm going to go up and ask him what his problem is."

As any woman reading this may guess, there was soon a next time. This time I said, loudly and distinctly, while staring at the man, "What the hell is wrong with you? Bastard!" and then turned to the Guy and said, no less distinctly, "Next time he does that I'm going to pour this bowl of soup over his head."

Immediately, the guy at the other table pretended to be looking around for something, to his right and left and even up at the ceiling. That the other men at his table also imitated him only served to tell me that they were aware of what was happening.

The Guy looked flustered and angry on my behalf. But I would not let a pack of goons spoil our evening. So we sat there and talked - often shouting to make ourselves heard over the music. The goons sat on too, and while the head goon once came and stood quite near our table (apparently to look at the view over the balcony - I wasn't looking so I don't know what he was looking at), he did not bother us again.

But that was not the only reason why dinner wasn't a perfect experience. I wanted asparagus soup, but when we tried to order, the waiter refused to understand us. He even suggested we wanted "cream of tomato" instead. I opened the menu, pointed to the item, and asked, "Can you see it?" He examined it closely and admitted that he could see it. "Can we have that?" I followed up before I could lose my advantage. He was kind enough to agree.

When the soup came (brought by another waiter - the first guy thankfully avoided us the rest of the evening, apparently apalled at our lack of taste), it was one bowl instead of the "one by two" we had asked for. And not only did we get very little in the way of service, we even had to beg for our water after about an hour of sitting at the table.

I suggested complaining to the manager about the service (or lack of it) on the way out. But we finally decided against it, not wanting to spoil the little pleasure we had got out of the evening. We frequently visit the place and had lately noticed a woeful deteroriation in the service, but last night's experience was something exceptional. We merely decided against going there again, thus foreclosing the only respectable option we had for eating out close to home. But washing dishes after dinner seemed an attractive option last night.

We walked out to a lovely moonlit night. We stood on the pavement for a long time, deep in conversation, before finally heading off home. That kind of end to the evening made it difficult for me to look back on it with regret.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Street Harassment

Street harrassment is what is commonly and inadequately called eve-teasing. Inadequate because 'teasing' is simply not enough to describe the indignities routinely inflicted on women in public places. Indignities that women, at least in India, are subjected to frequently, if I am not a severe abberation.

If street harrassment is a crime, it is a crime that all of us abet. A crime I am an accomplice in when I ignore it and walk on, a schoolgirl assists - however unwillingly - when she lowers her head and pretends to be deaf, a bystander instigates when he chooses to remain silent.

Blank Noise Project shows you a way to raise your voice against street harrassment. If you ever chose to protest against street harrassment, if you were an Action Hero who decided to "give back as hard as you got", blog your story. If you know an Action Hero, blog theirs. Participate in the Action Heroes online blog-a-thon on March 8. And remember to come and read my story too.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Happy Birthday to Me

It is one year since I started this blog as a means to express my views and feelings. And it has recorded transformations in my life, thoughts in my mind, and even my varying moods. I presume it to be read by a friend who is interested in what’s happening in my life, a stranger who is looking for a way to pass a leisurely hour, and a critic who is analysing my thoughts (and often enough, the same person is all three).

I have written on success and education quotas, about bad brand experiences and forwards. I have written on dreams and on mist and described midnight rambles. I’ve praised two wonderful managers I’ve had and ranted about my wedding being a private event. I have explained some of my beliefs and revealed things I like. I have bewailed the sorry state of politics and the unrest in my homeland.

Some of my words make me cringe and some make me smile. It is perhaps for the sake of those smiles that I overcome my embarrassment at past failures and write on. Or maybe it is merely that as long as I have something to write about, I will.

Friday, February 09, 2007


This is my homeland - my Assam. The many hues of green that roll over the countryside. The serenity that calms and soothes you. And this is the land that they are tearing apart, this is the countryside on which they are spilling blood...
I thought often of writing something here in protest of the terrorists who are desecrating my land, sadly, in the name of 'patriotism' towards Assam. Even more sad that we let them get away with it, that there have been - and may be still, though I hope not - common people who have supported their cause.
Some months ago, I had put up an email alert for news on Assam or Guwahati, so that I would know if there was any untoward incident and I could get in touch with my mom, who lives there. Time and again - for some time, almost every day - I have been alerted of bomb blasts and killings. And saddened by the savages who are terrorizing my land, fearful for the friends I have there.
Often enough had I thought of putting up a post on this, of ripping apart their arguments, of bewailing in public the violation of my land. And yet, each time, I desisted. It was a cause too close to my heart for me to write coherently. Refuting the arguments of terrorists is an exercise futile enough to be laughable - when were terrorists ever lead by reason?
So to all the bloodshed and fear I have but one retort - this picture of my land that depicts but imperfectly its beauty and tranquility. Look at the picture, and imagine the brutality of minds that commit violence in a land like this. Look at the picture and spare a moment for the state's glorious beauty and its fertile land, and its oppressing burden of small selfish minds and savage tearing hands.