So I say, Thank you for making frandship with me… :D

So, it is August 1, Frandship Day in the Archies World. Half a decade ago, the day entailed a race for popularity, counted on the number of bands people have on their wrists. Mine still reside in a polythene bag in my nostalgia locker. I’d be a hypocrite if i pretended it didn’t seem just the pits at the time, but now, friendship has a whole other meaning. Gone are the days when dad would have to yell and ma would have to fuss to get me off the phone. Now they just have to do it to get me off Facebook! The pleasures of voyeurism and distance social networking affords….but that’s another story 😀

Meanwhile, I’ve subconsciously worked on this script of a great big thank you speech all my life, hoping it might come in use someday, maybe some big finish to something. Seeing as i see myself as this pitcher, appropriating whatever i like about whoever i meet, there are certain people i am grateful to for being a defining factor in my life ( god i sound so full of myself! ) but anyhow, as it is always good to thank and love people for anything and everything, here goes!

Mummy-Daddy, for making me; Akash-Sagar, for being the joy and fight club of my life; Shishir, for being love, life and always there; Kavya, for the decade she’s given me, for her sense of humor, green eyes, unconditional love; Garima di, for the spice, the gyan and being the stable-headed sister i never did have (happy birthday to you too! ); Anand, for being there, for being so kind, so wise and so loving; Ankita, for being so scintillating, happy and a gem; Riddhi, for being so big hearted, and such a flubber; Vineet, for being ‘sick’ and just never giving up on me; Prateek, for being so much laughter; Baharul, for being himself without any airs; Subhojit, for being SO Bong; Shao, for being the most vibrant person i’ve met and the awesome parties; Lisa, for being just perfect; Naheed, for being eccentric to the hilt, being so open and loving and just the right bit of a snob; Sve, for being all the madness incarnate in the world and yet being all the sanity too; Nalini, for talking in her sleep and having the bestest smile in the world; Priya, for being honest and straightforward; Ruhi, for knowing so much and for being all the Punjabi goodness, and for wanting so badly to be really Kandahari; Sarah, for all her love and cuteness; Shobha, for being the biggest source of rofl’s; Megha, for being so stable; Blossom, for being a sweet gorgeous witch, for the love of her home and the kids and the food; Chanduji, for having a fab sense of humor, for the long rants and the patient ear, for the missed calls; Arpita, for being so bright and beautiful; Preetha, for being such a madcap; Zoya, for being happiness, for the best hugs in the world; Jalil, for being The Phiplosopher and being a compulsive, meaningless flirt; Divyank, for Grooveshark, all the stand-up comedy, all the comedy standing up and sitting down, the honesty and the beer times; Astik, for being the most understanding person i’ve known; Sanjay, Blossom and Sonal for teaching me the moves and the way to be i love the best…and so many many more, who mean more than their little presences might imply.

Phew, so that is long. Bound to ( and i sincerely hope it does ) grow longer. If it weren’t for the people around, one would be nothing but an underdeveloped, undernourished version of what they are. Thank you my peeps, looking forward to many more many good times.

Literature Gurus

I’ve always had a tryst of sorts with my English teachers. I think most people do, if movies are anything to go by in – Dangerous Minds and Dead Poets Society (even though that was one really boring movie) for instance. They have this aura of the romantics about them that makes them so appealing, I guess. Or maybe it is the idealism or a general utopian aspiration or at least a hope for a beautiful world as words can paint, that makes them so enigmatic a species.

The farthest back that I can remember is my English teacher at DAV, Ludhiana, a Mr Yogesh Duggal. I was in third grade then, this man doubled as our class teacher as well. Apart from being obviously handsome, in a very Punjabi way, clean shaven, gora and well built, he knew his subject. What he didn’t know was how to treat his students. Most of the girls had a crush (or whatever you can have at age 8 ) of sorts on him initially, and he returned the admiration – he was hugely biased towards us girls, specially the smart ones who got good marks and all. The boys loathed him though, and what made it worse was that he created an achievers club of sorts that had the privilege of lunching with him. About five of us would be summoned to the back benches of the class during lunch, and we’d take our special seats with him. In retrospect, he wasn’t a very good man, since he used horrible physical force against students who did poorly, but that’s another story.

Then, at DPS Bokaro, there was Mr R K Nayak, who belonged to Orissa and was arguably the best teacher I’ve had till date. Needless to say, I did have a crush on him, as did almost every other girl in class. He was funny, vivacious, full of energy – he’d make us enact the plays in our text book, he’d make hilarious speeches at school assemblies about diction in different parts of the country, where others gave long winding moral monologues, which were certainly responsible for the high rate of girls fainting right at the beginning of the day. He’d be there for us when we wanted consultation about anything. He was my first experience of the chilled out fella, since I’d only ever encountered very authoritarian teachers before him. And his coolness made him quite endearing.

And then there was Ms Shubhra Chatterjee in grade 8 in Amity, Noida – beautiful, strict and all-round fantastic. She’d play kho kho with the older students, and we couldn’t wait to grow up to that age, just so we’d get the chance to get informal with her too. She had a high thin voice that was very distinctive, despite the umpteen jokes that cruel teenage boys would make of it. We were always on the lookout to impress our sultry, exotically grey-eyed gorgeous English teacher. And when she did bestow us with a 100 watt Colgate smile (she had really white really even teeth), our day would be made.

Of course, there was Ms Annie at St Josephs, Trichy, who I hardly remember anything about, except that I really loved her and her handwriting and that I’d ape her style of tick marking whenever we played ‘teacher-teacher’. And Mrs Meera Sharma, also at Amity, who was too principled at one level but appreciated my compositions.

And all of the literature faculty at Ramjas. Particularly Mr Debraj Mookerji, Mrs Ahuja, Mrs Chandra and Mrs Bhalla and Mr Hemant Sharma. In their classes, or interactions otherwise, we could feel that love for the subject, and they’d somehow transfer it to us. And so, we spent wondrous winter hours, toasting in the sun in the English lawns, discussing theorists or poets, and feeling generally warm and very pleased with ourselves.

And for all the bad times I had in school for lack of interest in a subject, peer pressure or just plain laziness, English or literature classes always made up. Partly, in all honesty, because it was always one subject I was decent at (and I say this in all modesty), but also because I’ve been lucky to have had awesome gurus. What a good teacher can manage is unbelievable, and the kind of respect they earn for life is something on the same lines.

A tribute to women’s magazines

in the 1950s..

in the 1950s..

We all have our little escapes, don’t we? The secret little worlds we build in our heads that become places of refuge when things are wrong, or just not that right. And those worlds get their expression and even engendered from objects and places around us…

The other day, not too long ago, Pree n I were passing a magazine stand. The new Marie Claire was out, and in an unnatural state of excitement, I picked it up. Pree bemusedly watched me through all this from outside the store, since she thought she’d catch up on her smoke, and later said to me: You know, I’ve only ever known one other woman who spends good money on these good for nothing, weirdly expensive magazines. And that one was such a weird ass, got married at the age of 18 and all she could ever talk about was clothes and sob about all the men who’d broken her heart and think that the tests that these mags have defined her. I’d never really have thought you were one of those!”

Now, I don’t know if that was a backhanded compliment or just a plain snide remark against those that read the ugh-so-lame mags, but later it got me thinking. Let alone the fact that I’d loathe to be classified as one of those females, there was something still in what pree had unwittingly (as always) said. Why do a certain class of uber cool women who are given to defining themselves and generally identified as intelligent, sort of denounce women’s or fashion mags as the dust on their prize bookcases, or even as a conspiracy against them?

And then I was reminded of myself circa 2003-04, when I’d look at my aunt’s ‘Grihshobha’ or my mother’s Femina, and go – eeeuuch! Ma, how can you read such rubbish? Don’t you have any self respect? She’d give me a puzzled look and say, what’s self-respect got to do with it? And for some reason, I could never really explain my ‘feminist’ anguish to her.

It was undoubtedly feminist because the associations we’ve come to make with these beautiful, big, glossy pages is another male conspiracy theory of yore that women rebelled against by burning bras: that of keeping the woman involved in her life, and defining this life as an involvement with homes and gardens, children, the husband and a woman’s office and temple all-in-one, the kitchen.

I got a forward from a friend that had a scanned clipping of one such magazine from the 1950s which was a list of directives on how to be the good wife. It included tricks of the trade in the line of ‘never sulk when your husband re-enters the house after a long day of work. Always look fresh, with perfume, lipstick and smile in place because he will be tired from work which he does to bring the bread in.’ and there was worse, believe you me.

In other words, subjugation. Structuring the place of the woman in the family as the dependent and the slavish. Of course this was masked under heavy jargon of feminine strength, dependability and the real driving force. After all, every successful man has a capable wife and all that jazz.

But really, being career-oriented, rebellious and wild wouldn’t necessarily make a woman stop from being slavishly devoted to a man, even a wrong one at that, and reading such mags might not make any woman a given walk-over or brainwashed enough to take the nonsense akin to that of six decades ago and live with it. Hell, we have pre-nups today!

My mother’s reason for reading femina then was that they used to have good recipes. She has a folder full of yumminess, scraps cut out, Xeroxed, even stolen from her sisters. She’s stopped reading the mag since then, simply because she can’t identify with it anymore. And to extend the point, she’s equally, no, maybe way more fond of Agatha Christie and Ruth Rendell. And an excellent cook. My grandmother loves to read ‘Sarita’ because it gives her stories, real and fictional, of courage and happiness that she says she never saw in her on life.

I guess we need to get over our prejudice against this gloss, because unlike then, they don’t really come with an undercurrent of compulsion any more. If the arts professor at Wellesley college in ‘Mona Lisa Smile’ is agitated, she has reason in the proximity of those stormy events, and the possibility of a relapse. We urban women of the 21st century, on the other hand, do not really need to have our guard up so much.

Be cautious and own pepper spray, but not act militant against the innocent.

And me, I am a fan of Marie Claire simply because it is one of my escapes from the mundanity of daily life, ugliness of this world and what not. It does have some good features on social cultural positions of women, but mostly, it is the still beauty of places, ideas, being, existence and movement in their sprawling pictures that is my pull-factor. Nothing criminal about wanting to get away, I’m sure.

Re-discovered Patriotism

Michael Wood in Amritsar

Michael Wood in Amritsar

I recently laid hands on (or more like, was persuaded into getting hold of, by Shishir, and all thanks to him) this BBC  TV series by Michael Wood called The Story Of India. A six part documentary, shot over 18 months of extensive travelling across India and the extended subcontinent, he traces India’s roots, the circumstances of the birth of its diversity, the richness of a land that has seen civilisations old, new and constant and varied. So far, I’ve reached the point of entry of the East India Co, with the Mughal era just about descending into depravity, aka Chapter 6 in this fantastic story.

Considering the fact that history was not my favourite subject at school, since then, I was still dreaming of being an engineer/CA/big shot corporate honcho at some MNC, it comes as a pleasant surprise that a lot of what the man talks of in his travels still rings a bell in distant dusty cabinets of the mind. And then again, a whole other list of things he talks about are completely new.

Like the fact that king Kanishka’s empire included Afghanistan and a sizeable part of Central Asia.

And that Ayodhya was not a precise location till Chandragupta Vikramaditya II decided to use that myth as a guiding force of governance and good living.

And then some even more astonishing revelations: India has, over the past 2,500 years or so, been under the rule of almost every dominant existing religion in the world today.

That the so-called hatred between Hindus and Muslims isn’t a product of Partition, but has been an ebbing and flowing undercurrent that has existed since Muhammad Ghazni’s invasion, but which came to a significant rest during Akbar’s reign.

What Michael Wood, the historian, does is build up an enormous tale of various warriors, religions, holy men, gods, kings, peoples, philosophies, events and look at how all the many traditions the land has hosted and what they left behind for this soil. Effectively, the point he’s trying to make, it seems to me, is that India’s richest attribute is its multiculturalism. There is such a depth behind what has happened here, when time and space have coincided, over and over again, to generate myths, legends and reality still more fabulous.

What Michael Wood, the presenter has done, is to stand in a busy Mathura street and chat with a party of 9 female pilgrims, sit down to lunch with a Tamil agricultural family, watch Krishna kill Kansa and rid Mathura of it’s evil king in one of our local stage performances, talk to professors, play holi and basically get wholly enamoured and embossed into the colours of the land. And he speaks with such awe, love, amazement, enthusiasm and what not, that you are intoxicated, not only with him and his unending warmth and readiness to embrace, but also by what our own country has to offer us.

After all, we do live in a country where there are maybe 3 million gods ( “Or is it 3,30 million gods?!” he muses many a time), where the monsoons have revealed the treasure trove that this land is to the West, where some of the greatest discoveries and inventions, and religions, it is important to add, have not faced the kind of stigma and trauma that Galileo was forced to undergo, whose GDP was the largest at more than one point of time in AD history and whose people know the art of adjustment and happiness, at least from a macro, Western point of view.

The man is proud of himself for having discovered this beauty. It would be travesty not feel proud of actually being part of it.

One Hundred Years Of Solitude

Here’s an old piece, rediscovered. I love this book. And the man behind it.

one hundred years of solitude

one hundred years of solitude

When human nature endeavors to survive the arid desert of Time with all its might, Time too brings out its most ruthless weapons to quell it. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ most famous novel, One Hundred Years Of Solitude, dictates such a hopeless predicament, while bringing forth much more of the fantastic in the face of the gross mask of reality the world feigns to wear. The novel talks of the rise and fall of Macondo, a secluded civilization in a distant plain somewhere in South America. More specifically, it talks about the trials and tribulations of five generations of the Buendia family, who are the founders of Macondo as well as the last ones to die in its ruins. We are given a vivid description of characters such as Ursula Iguaran, an unlikely but powerful matriarch, under whose rule the Buendia family as well as Macondo prospered; Colonel Aureliano Buendia, who had 17 boys during his days in the war; Remedios the Beauty, who ascended to heaven (literally!) as her rightful place of being; and Aureliano Segundo and Jose Arcadio Segundo, the twins, who changed names in juvenile mischief and whose identities remained confused till their death as a consequence.
Macondo,a fascinating place, is endowed with all the characteristics of growth and existence and enriched by the imagination of the writer. Written in the post colonial form of writing called Magic Realism, the novel contains a myriad imagery, where storms of butterflies, clouds of yellow flowers, blue houses and incessant rain for four years seem more believable than the ugliness of civil war, the capitalism of a Banana Company, Guerilla warfare and a dictatorial government.

What is most fascinating, however, and what essentially is the crux of the novel is the final, irrevocable and endless solitude of each character of the Buendia family as well as of the whole community. Trapped in the cells of their minds, tortured by insomnia the characters seem to transcend the normal and exist on an exotic plane making them very enticing to the reader.

The novel is a masterpiece of read-between-the-lines revolutionary ideas, and what we as readers can enjoy is his somewhat satirical notion of a civilization. The existence of a strong political statement makes it intellectually stimulating and issues of life, love, identity and death are brought up without any answers. All in all, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a must read for all those who would like to indulge in a bit of contemporary reading. And otherwise.

Caffeine Bliss

An old piece, uncovered, discovered, and re-displayed…

The sun rose out of the mug.
As the black seas inside
Kicked up a storm
Within my subconscious
Burnt tips spilt out
A blatant blessing.

The warmth of your being
Is my saviour in solitude,
As I perch precariously
To look down upon the world
And trace the orbit of my soul.

Wisps of mist
Whisper secrets of the past.
Of those long lazy summers
When I met lovers
Under bright umbrellas –
But always coming to you again.

And now those memories
Are ground to dust
As a relieved tear spills out,
Reliving your harsh history.
Silently the morning cheers
And I dive headlong into bliss.

Another immortality

My grandfather breathed his last today. Before the day had even dawned in my subconscious, he was gone.

Sri Bhagwan Gupta was born on the other side of the India-Pakistan border, almost a century ago. He was the youngest in a family of twelve siblings. He grew up to become a farmer, learning to till the lands like his father. He must not have been more than 16 years old when he, with his family, had to flee from his village and relocate, restart life from scratch in some obscure village in Haryana.

Here too, they began with agriculture, but he wanted more. He was an ambitious young man, which eventually led to his own ‘padchoon ki dukaan ‘, his own wholesale grocery store. He resettled in Rishikesh- that holy town with the ram and lakshman jhula, which today is more famous for river rafting opportunities than anything else. He bore seven children, my father the youngest of them all. He also supported his brothers, who could never even aspire to be as successful as he became.

He was popular around town – smart, confident,god-fearing, benevolent, with the glint of the knowledgeable in his eye. He went about his business with sharp focus. He made donations and organised ram and bhagwad geetha kathas on Ganga’s ghats. He threw two of his sons out of the house when they didn’t show any inclination towards becoming financially independent. And welcomed them back when they proved their mettle. He made sure his daughters went to school, and were at least decently educated. He, along with his younger brother, opened a school and college for girls in Rishikesh.

He was the typical Indian patriarch , running his life, and that of those who populated his world, with an iron fist.

He talked in Haryanvi, read Urdu and even tried to teach me to do so. He used to say that it was the most beautiful language in the world. (but isn’t the language that we call our mother tongue the most beautiful always?) He used to take a dip in the river at 5am, every day, paying no heed to the season. He ate well, didn’t smoke or drink, was tremendously active (we would see him walking briskly, with his cane in his right hand as only an accessory, in and out of the house at least 10 times a day). He scolded us slothful city kids to get some blood rushing. Of course he was right, even though we resented being told so.

He would always be happy to see that his kids were doing well, and always took active interest in what we all were doing. And anything that pleased him was followed by “jeetey raho, jeetay raho “.
And those oft repeated words always made us feel happy, simply because you could feel how heartfelt it really was! (at the risk of sounding terribly cliched).

He was never the doting granddaddy, who would shower us with gifts or cuddles. He was the father figure, who we were all supposed to respect, and be a bit afraid of. But he inspired respect in every single person around him.

He lives forever in my mind as the sturdy old man, even at 70, who would sit in my tiny balcony on winter mornings, basking in the Delhi sun, lost in thoughts of divinity, with the makeshift temple in front of him. And there’d be the contented smile playing on his lips, and the bhajans that he’d whisper spilling out in a hurry, before he completely lost himself in his own pure world…