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.