Sunday, October 2, 2016

It feels like betrayal.
It also feels like the longest relationship I was ever in even if we were mostly not together. We were the best of friends. Although according to him, he loved me from before we became friends. Really. From when, I had asked. From as long as I can remember, he had said.
Then, as always happens, we became used to each other. Predictable. I have always maintained that if you can’t have a meaningful conversation with someone, you shouldn’t be with him. It’s the one thing I looked for, more than anything else. I didn’t care as much for attraction,  or for more material, measurable stuff like success (though the measurability of ‘success’ is debatable, no? I mean, what are the parameters?) although I will admit that I consider a sense of humour a definite plus. (And yes, he had a sense of humour.) What I did not realise is that conversations too become predictable. We still had them, oh plenty! But more and more we knew what the other was going to say.
Or at least I was predictable. I am. I sometimes think that I am predictable to the extent of being boring. These days I feel grateful. I feel like I should thank everyone who continues to be in my life in spite of the nothing I bring to theirs.
So after a little less than two years, we split. I backed off. I like to think that he created the conditions for it, even if I took the actual decision. But this is a never ending loop. Perhaps I created the conditions which pushed him to the edge. Then I used it to blame him. But that’s the thing about a loop. There are no corners, it goes on endlessly. So you can never stop and say this is where it all started. In any case, he did say I don’t see this going anywhere. That is a fact. Consequently, I did break away. That is a fact too. We’re great where we are right now, but the future is definitely apart, he had said.
It’s a cruel joke when life hands you the same cards a second time around and it’s a losing hand. Should I have seen it coming? Now, maybe. Back then it was a bolt from the blue. No, it was just a bolt. There was nothing blue about the skies those days.
We stayed friends though. The best of friends, like I said. Was that weird? Maybe, but I liked being unconventional. I had never allowed myself to be told how things should or shouldn’t be done. Things were done. In some way. It was ‘a’ way of doing things, even if it was not the usual way. And so we were friends. Of the best kind.
Then one day, while having tea at my place (there was always a lot of tea) and rolling a cigarette (and a lot of smoke too) he said we should get married. It had been two years since we had broken up, but what did that matter. He said we were so good together, we were meant to be together. In a warped way, I knew exactly what he meant. Yes, we were great together. Was that reason enough, I wondered. What about attraction? We hadn’t been together for two years.
A childhood friend thought I was mad to even consider it. We are great friends, she countered. Are you thinking of marrying me too?
Two more years passed. There were other loves, other crushes. But not the same conversations. Not with anyone else and not with him. That’s because he wouldn’t see me. Too hard being around you if I can’t be with you, he had said. So for two years we didn’t meet, didn’t speak.
Almost. I did call to check a couple of times if we could be friends again. The answer was a definitive no.
Then something changed. We met. Suddenly, it was okay to meet. Should I have wondered then? Then I jumped from the fence. I was tired and lonely. I was never going to find out whether it was a good or a bad decision if I never took a decision in the first place. (Isn’t that the point of sitting on the fence?) So I jumped.
It took us two days (maybe less) to settle comfortably back in our roles as if we had never been apart. It’s like I live in a time warp. Life stops and before you know it, you are two years older without having anything to show for it. You didn’t ‘grow’ two years older because you did nothing that could be called growing. You just are two.years.older. With a lot more grey to show for it, admittedly.
Then he was gone on work for nearly a month. When he came back, everything was the same, but something had changed. (In his head probably.) So we had the same conversations, we used the same words, but they had a different ring to them. Did I recognise the difference in the ring? In hindsight I think I did. But I ignored it. It was too unfamiliar, I did not know what it was. Or maybe I knew exactly what it was.
He feels detachment, he says. Everything is mechanical, and he feels nothing. Ah, mechanical. That was the tone. Our conversations were mechanical. It was as if we had had them before. Our movements were mechanical- whether it was making soup together or running hands through hair. It was all déjà vu.
I’m sorry, he said. It’s my fault, we should not have got back together. His face was stony, unmoving.
At least it was quick, I said.

For two years there had been an apparent sense of being loved. The reassurance that there was someone out there who wanted to be with me. It was a false reassurance, I realise now (as perhaps I did then too.) See, but that’s the thing about reassurances. They are so reassuring that you end up forgetting that they may not actually be true.
And for two years therefore, there was an apparent sense of loneliness. I was alone but not lonely. Not actually.
He thought he wanted to marry me, but he was wrong, he says. He calls it confusion. I see it as betrayal. All a matter of perspective!

In a single moment I have been left with two years of loneliness.

(This was written two years ago. Two years later, I am able to post it. I suppose that says something about time, and its healing properties.)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ode to missed opportunity or why it could-not-have-been (after all)

I have a fascination for good coffee
But I try not to make it too often
With coffee I associate conversation
And your company
(tea does not have to suffer such associations)

Sometimes when the coffee is particularly good
I dreamily remember what could-have-been
Times that could-have-been spent together,
Conversations that could-have-been had
(It never happened though,
we were never good friends.
But I could never forget
that which could-have-been)
We could-have-had long conversations
over restless starry nights
We could-have-had long make out sessions
over quiet lazy afternoons
(We would most certainly have led a most decadent life.)

As I sip my lonely coffee
This dim October afternoon
And the building opposite reflects tobacco light
Into my room
You return to your house,
resounding with the laughter of children
and without a doubt I know why…

(apologies for bad poetry :D)

Friday, May 30, 2014

Two days two films Part 2

I nearly did not go for the second film either... because I was running terribly late and would have missed the first half. I went anyway, and I'm glad I did.

The film was 'Menstrual Man'- about Arunachalam Muruganantham from Coimbatore, an extraordinary man who built a low cost machine to make low cost sanitary pads for poor women in rural and semi urban areas. His story is as bizarre as it is inspiring. The lengths to which he went, procuring used napkins from college students and wearing a pad himself with goats blood periodically seeping into it, in order to understand what the experienceis like for a woman...and getting ostracised by family and friends for his weird behaviour, is hard to even imagine. What kind of drive and dedication does it take for someone to do that... he is such a superstar!
His amazingness doesn't end here. He has worked hard to make a self sustaining model, so that women everywhere can be empowered, with little or no back up support from him. This objective informed decisions about the design of the machine- to keep it as simple as possible, so that no servicing is required, and to keep it manual, for the same reason. Besides it makes little sense to make an electrical machine in a country where electric supply is erratic and insufficient, especially in the rural areas.
He also takes into account the difference in the nature of men and women... by empowering women he realises, you contribute to better living conditions for the whole family, not necessarily the case with men who often spend away the money on alcohol or drugs or gambling or other such vices. There's a remarkable insight and sensitivity in the way he has designed and detailed both the machine and the business model. And through it all he has stayed remarkably humble, when he could easily have gotten lured by big money.
One of the most fantastic qualities he possesses is his sense of humour. Every once in a while the audience would crack up with laughter at one of his jokes. Another quality I found fascinating is his intelligence and clear thinking. Sample this: If I was educated, I would have given up. My advantage was that I wasn't, so I kept going. Or his explanation to a bunch of foreigners in London that they only understand the language of dollars, but in the village women would trade napkins for rice- a modern day barter system that would never satisfy the requirements of a western economic model.

The film was ordinary, but did its job reasonably well.  The man of course is a superstar!

Also check out his TED talk:

Post screening I returned home with a friend and his friend who turned out to be a midwife! I have heard of her before (we have friends in common) but nobody had ever mentioned what she did! I was fascinated. India always had a rich tradition of midwifery, but lately, with all our aping of the west, we seem to have all but forgotten it. The assumption of course is that the delivery is normal and natural, and I suppose it doesn't get more natural than this. All midwives by law are required to be tied to a doctor as well in case of an emergency, which is exactly how it should be and has always been. Anyway, I was thrilled to meet her. She has trained in the US and practises both there and here in Bombay.
I told her about this incident many years back when I had mentioned to a friend that if I ever have a child I would like to have it with a midwife, and she had balked. I'm sure if she met Jumana, with her reassuring presence and ready smile, and heard of her 100+ deliveries, she would feel inclined to change her mind...

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Two days, two films Part 1

I nearly didn’t go for the fist one. I really wanted to see it of course, but I really wanted to see it on the big screen, the way films are supposed to be seen. ‘Gopi gawaiyaa, Bagha bajaiyaa’ is a CFSI produced animation film based on the short story ‘Gopi gyne, Bagha byne’ by Upendra Kishore Roy Chowdhury. One look at the trailer will give you a sense of the canvas of the film- it has been designed to be a film for the theatre, not the small screen of television. Much work would have gone in the sound as well, and I was really not looking forward to seeing it at Vikalp @ Prithvi, at Prithvi House- those are hardly ideal conditions for film viewing.
But then I wasn’t sure when the next opportunity to see the film would present itself, and so I went...

Even though I must state at the very outset that there is little that I know about animation, so I can’t talk knowledgably about it, it was the animation that struck a chord. It’s a beautifully detailed film- exquisite, like some of our folk forms. The first thing, and the last, and throughout in between, that hits you is the colour and the detail. While things have been kept simple, a lot seems to have gone into designing it in a way that maximum possible communication is made possible by efficient production. A rich multicoloured palate is used throughout- every frame is a feast (some have too much going on- there were places I thought the background plates were almost distracting). And the textures, oh my! Things come alive because of her use of textures…
She seemed to have been inspired by shadow puppetry- especially in how she conceived the ghost, and the way facial features moved within the face of the evil Senapati, with overall movement, in a rocking motion almost- I had thought while seeing the film. In the interaction afterwards she mentioned that this was indeed true, and had informed everything from the animation, especially the movements, to how the various characters shaped up. While on the subject of characters- I was most fascinated by the noses! She said the film had about 80 characters- so many varieties of noses! And I was fascinated by the stitches everywhere on the faces and bodies, like they were cloth dolls stitched into shape.

The other thing noteworthy about the film is another subject I know little about- the music. It’s a musical, so from the first scene to the last, there is such-lovely-music.

Somewhere in the middle of the film however, a note of disapproval crept into my mind- when the boys started fighting over the girl. It was disservice enough to women to not have a single noteworthy female character in a film directed by a woman, though in a story that perhaps didn’t allow for it, it can, I suppose, be overlooked. But what explanation do we have for perpetuating the idea of boys fighting over a girl they haven’t even seen, forget interacted with. It made me shake my head, and want to shake a finger at Soumitra for having written it that way, and for Shilpa for having directed it…

Otherwise, it was mostly a lovely experience. See the trailer and judge for yourself.

Sunday, September 1, 2013


I miss Deepak.
Who is Deepak and what’s happened to him?
He is a recently acquired friend, one who was so open and easy to talk to, that we got along instantly. That’s saying a lot for someone like me who is otherwise shy and reserved.
He is a follower of Isha yoga, and it is to their ashram in Coimbatore that he has gone. To ‘be with himself’, to ‘do only as told’, ‘until there is no ego left’. I suppose the calling became too strong…

spirituality and me

I’m not spiritual, though I can perhaps say that I am drawn to spirituality in my own strange way.
When I went for Vipassana for the first time, I remember being very excited to hear Goenkaji’s evening sermons. I would bungle through the day, barely able to do as he asked, unable to ‘experience’ for myself. And I would wait eagerly for the evenings, for the explanations that I knew were coming, that made so much sense to my rational mind.
Supriti had called when I was at the shivir. (My phone should not have been on, but the Reliance one was, for it was doubling up as an alarm clock. No one really called me at that number anymore, so I figured I wasn’t breaking any rules by having it on me. But Supriti called, and though I didn’t take her call, I messaged back, and broke a rule as a result.) Anyhow I called back on the 10th day to explain my absence, and I remember telling her how overwhelming the experience had been. So much of what Goenkaji said was validation for views already held, if only intuitively. He gave words and made concepts out of half formed thoughts and beliefs that had been guiding life so far. And provided so much more new material to think about. It was wonderful!

I never really practised meditation however. Much as I have loved the two Vipassana shivirs that I attended, and I can safely say I gained much from them, it never really became a mainstay in my life. It’s not like I don’t see what it can do for me, it’s just that I lack the discipline, I suppose.

I don’t confuse religion with spirituality, and yet firmly believe that every religion must have once had a spiritual aspect, which has gotten distorted along the way. At any rate, it has been a long held wish to study different religious texts, at least those of Hinduism, Islam and Christianity to begin with, the idea being to go beyond the stories and understand the underlying concepts.

Along the way, I have visited different places of worship, and observed people’s customs, but more importantly their mannerisms and their ‘vibes’. And come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter which faith or philosophy they follow, truth and integrity is personal.
But that’s not what I had started to say… what I had really meant to say is that along the way I have visited very many places of worship/ meditation, to feel the vibes of the place for myself. From Buddhist temples and monastries in Ladakh, Sikkim, Bhutan and Japan, to Hindu temples in Puri, Calcutta and down South (and so many others all over the country!), to Jain temples in Khajuraho and Palitana, to the Bahai temple in New Delhi, to Igatpuri and the Global pagoda in Mumbai, to the Mother’s shrine in Pondicherry and dome in Auroville, to the synagogue in Jew town in Fort Kochi… and many more that I may not now remember. Could I include here the temple in Koovagam that eunuchs go to for their ceremonial marriage every year, or the temple complex so popular among the transsexual Jogappas of Karnataka?

What I have been most drawn to is silence and peace and love and compassion, wherever I have found it. Sometimes I have found it in places yes, but those places have very often not been places of ‘worship’. And sometimes I have found it in people. And those people have very often not been people of faith/ religion.
Am I stating the obvious?

Here I am reminded of Tagore. While attending rehearsals and discussions around Tagore’s writings (for Manav’s latest play- more on that in another post) I often came across these words: death, infinity, truth, beauty. My first reaction to ‘truth and beauty’ was to scoff at it. Especially since so much of what he wrote was addressed to a woman, undoubtedly a ‘beautiful’ woman- an idea that didn’t appeal to me. Not being beautiful myself, finding so much emphasis on beauty seemed highly unfair to me. This however was a very narrow view of beauty.
As I thought more about it, and tried to look for ‘truth and beauty’ around me, I realised it was everywhere, in everyone. It existed in moments. There are moments of truth and beauty, and they are often moments of absolute honesty, (and perhaps vulnerability…?)and they are everywhere… only the very evolved probably manage to have more in their lives than the rest of us who must experience them in their fleetingness.

Death. I lived in denial for a long time, arguing that Tagore did not experience ‘more than his share’. He lived at a time when families were large, and mortality was high. Everyone would have experienced death from an early age, it was Tagore’s response to it that made him what he was. While this is true theoretically, that still doesn’t take away from the depth of his feeling and the angst that he must have felt, which led to a most remarkable relationship with death, that would last a lifetime.

As I acknowledged my dishonesty in not giving the man his due, I realised something else. All my so-called spirituality, all my search, is eventually directed towards one thing: to make my peace with this thing called Death. All the strength that I attempt to build up in myself, is in preparation for that moment that I know is inevitable- when my parents will no longer be with me. That moment which I dread to even think about, which seems so impossible and so cruel, and yet will one day be real. That moment beyond which life will never be the same again, that moment when I will lose my anchor and my support.
The thought of that moment engulfs me in loneliness, how will I ever face it in reality?
The thought of that one moment brings in sharp relief the ordinariness and fakeness of my everyday life. And of the many frivolous emotions I waste precious time on everyday: guilt, envy, worthlessness, desire, anger…

This then- this love, and attachment to my parents, as mortal as mortal can be- this is my Achilles’ heel. Losing them would be the moment of my undoing. The moment which is unimaginable, beyond which is nothingness, a void, a black hole...

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Manav was over the other day. He picked up his copy of Nirmal Verma's 'Gyarah Lambi Kahaniyan' lying on my desk, and asked me how I was progressing. Slow, I told him, as I always am with Hindi.
He opened the book, glanced at his own words at the beginning of the book. बहुत पहले पढ़ी कहानियां... फिर फिर पढ़ने के लिए फिर फिर खरीदता हूँ।Lovely words I think, so telling of his love for Nirmal ji’s writing and full of so much warmth. Or perhaps it is his voice that is full of warmth when he speaks of Nirmalji and it is the memory of that warmth that creeps in when I read these words…
I read ‘Bukhar’, I tell him. Oh, that is a beautiful story, he says. I wrote about it on my blog. I must look it up, I think silently.
What are you reading now?
The first one.
I can’t remember the name of the story and for that I feel a tinge of shame. How is it that I never paid attention to the name? I think to myself.
Parindey, he says glancing at the Contents. Latika’s story?
Yes, Latika’s I mutter, wondering to myself how on earth the name Parindey relates to the story, I would never have imagined! Maybe that secret will reveal itself yet.
That’s also a beautiful story, he got an award for it. You should read ‘Kavve aur kaala paani’. It’s set in Bhawali, he smiles, waiting for me to react. I give him an expressionless look. Bhawali, he says again, it’s on the way to Sonapani, don’t you remember? You’ve crossed it on your way to Sonapani so many times! We stop there everytime for tea.
We have never travelled to Sonapani together, I protest. We have travelled back together, but we have always gone to Sonapani separately. And I never stop for tea on the way, so maybe that’s why I don’t know.
Offo, he says. You must do something about your memory. We have been in Bhawali together. In fact we changed cars there on one occasion, on a bridge.
This I remember, and my face brightens up. This I remember distinctly. It’s a typical little bazaar in a mountain hamlet, full of colourful small shops- selling candies, cigarettes and paan, plastics and toys, clothes, electrical repair shops, and thelas, selling pakoras or peanuts or corn; simple, cheerful people with weathered faces, selling stuff with a distinctly small town feel, in a distinctly small town setting. You cross several of these on the way to Sonapani, heck, travelling from anywhere to anywhere in the mountains. This one was beautiful, the river ran between the two hills, and our car had stopped at one end of the little bridge over it. We had to take a different cab from here. We offloaded our small luggage and kept it on the side of the dusty road. I was sitting on the parapet of the bridge, on the phone talking to Meghna, my editor friend. I had called her to tell her all about the exciting time I had just had, but I was afraid it would jinx my luck, so I didn’t. But this too was on the way back from Sonapani, I think to myself, making a point to no one.

You should do something about your memory, Manav breaks my chain of thought, which is ironically, my memory of those moments in Bhawali. He was wearing a white T shirt, I even remember that- how’s that for memory. What he is referring to though, is a genuine problem. I have a horrendously bad memory. I am reminded here of a peculiarity of mine- if it’s mine alone, that is. I often don’t remember incidents ie I don’t remember facts, details of what actually happened, but I do remember how or what I felt ie the emotion that the incident left me with. Is that weird? I mentioned this to Saeed sa’ab when I met him a few days back. His eyebrows went up in response, though there was also a strange appreciation in the shape of a half smile on his face. Anyway.
You should do something about your memory, Manav breaks my chain of thought, it might get worse. It likely will, I say, you might soon find me wandering the streets, not knowing the way to my house. Not like that, he says, that would still be ok, this is worse.
You should read ‘kavve aur kaala paani’, he repeats. It’s where the story of Tathagat began, he is in there.

So that’s what I am doing now, reading Nirmal Verma’s ‘kavve aur kala paani’. It’s alien, this feeling, finding in another story a character that I lived with and loved, whose story I helped put into visuals; a character that I tried to understand, and argued with Manav about. Here he is again, conceived by a different writer, put in an entirely different setting, and I am curious to see how Nirmalji has shaped him.
Alien and exciting, this feeling. 

(Tathagat is the name of the lead character in a film by the same name, that I shot with Manav. He wrote and directed it, and I shot it. It is about time that he told me this little story about the origins of Tathagat!
Though I have to admit there is a certain charm in this situation. If only I could explain how real Tathagat is for me, played brilliantly by the NSD actor Harish Khanna.)