Friday, November 21, 2008


"The cinema is truth 24 frames per second."

~ Jean-Luc Godard

 "Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life."

~ Oscar Wilde


The mother figure, as immortalized in Indian cinema since time immemorial by actresses such as Leena Chitnis and Nirupa Roy, has been an integral part of our films. The roots of Indian cinema can be found in the oral folk tales told to small gatherings under peepal trees, and, considering that most of these tales were offshoots of Indian myths and legends, it is no surprise that they were usually morality plays. Therefore, by association, Indian cinema started off- and still plays, to a very large extent- with morality tales.


The morality tale comprises of four essential roles: the protagonist, the antagonist, the crisis and the protagonist’s support system. The protagonist is, obviously, the wonderful, all-Indian virtuous hero, on whom the lives and happiness of many depend. The antagonist, in our gloriously polarized films, is the all-black wretched character who lures our hero into some form of crisis. The fourth role, of the support system, is what is at stake for hero: the reason he must solve the crisis and defeat the antagonist. This ‘support system’ can be of many forms: it could be revenge, for his sister’s rape, or father’s murder or mother’s insult, it could be winning the love of the heroine, or it could be redeeming himself in the eyes of a female character- be it his lover or his mother.


Therein lies the importance of the mother character. While the female lover may join the protagonist in any circumstance- she may, for instance, be Parveen Babi in Deewar who meets Amitabh Bachchan only after he becomes a smuggler- the mother is the one constant in his rapidly changing lifestyle. Thus, she may be Deewar’s Nirupa Roy who sees her son’s journey from a bitter atheist to an affluent smuggler, or she could also be Company’s Seema Biswas who watches with pride as her small-time-crook son rises in the gang. She could also be Rakhee in Karan-Arjun who watches with pride as her sons embark on their quest for revenge. Her role, in this scenario, is to be the keeper of her son’s conscience. It is only by looking at her and registering her opinion of him that the son realizes when he is wrong. That is why Amitabh Bachchan’s Vijay in Deewar, who is accustomed to all forms of pain, is the most hurt when his mother chooses not to stay in his house but to go with his brother to an impoverished but honest lifestyle.


This mother is also reflected in Nargis’s seminal Mother India where she plays the woman who suffers all hardships to bring up her family but would dutifully murder her son before he can force himself on a girl. Contrast this with the other child killer, played by Reema Lagoo in Vaastav, who murders her increasingly paranoid son to relieve him from further pain and punishment. While both mothers kill sons who are criminals, the former does it as a woman’s duty to stop a crime from happening, and the latter does it out of pity when her son is no longer a criminal but just a pathetic runaway. This perhaps would be a good platform to compare the changes in the mother figure’s psychology.


As it seems, mothers initially were harassed and miserable women who stood for all that is right and proper- their staunch white widow’s sarees reflecting their all-white personas. Mothers of today, however, no longer seem to be that rigidly bound in a given social straitjacket. They are allowed to have their own judgements, which can, like the protagonist’s, be swayed by money and glamour, as we see in Company. They are also allowed to behave like human beings, and the unwritten rule that the mother must be an epitome of goodness, sensibility and love no longer applies.


A perfect glimpse of the mother who inhabits today’s films is seen in Kunal Kohli’s Hum Tum. Both the protagonists in this film have several interactions with their respective mothers, as well as with each other’s. The mothers are played by Kirron Kher (as Parminder Prakash urf Bobby, Rani Mukherjee’s mother), who seems to have replaced Farida Jalal and Reema Lagoo as the favourite on-screen mother today, and Rati Agnihotri (playing Anju Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan’s mother), the yesteryear actresses making something of a comeback opposite Rishi Kapoor.


Kirron Kher’s theth Punjabi character is a very interesting variation on the caring mother. Firstly, here is a widow who does not resort to wearing only white (and therefore, when her son-in-law dies, her daughter too does not wear white). She is seen happily in elegant, colourful sarees, who is ever ready to flirt with other men. She understands her daughter’s plight, and is supportive of her decision to relocate to a different city, far away from all two-faced well-wishers after a tragedy. Her daughter’s happiness and loneliness are far more important to her than society’s opinions, and she sees nothing wrong in asking her daughter’s male friend to find a suitable boy for her. She is seen acting goofy and silly at times, ruining a tender, quiet moment by commenting how cute Indian children doing potty on the streets look.


On the other hand, Rati Agnihotri plays a highly educated career woman who not only has better things to do than run around smothering her grown-up son with maternal affection, but also, in a fresh new approach in Indian cinema, treats her divorce with utmost normalcy. She single-handedly runs her wedding planning business in a man’s world without needing a man’s backing, and never pleading anyone for compassion or help: in fact, in a particularly well-etched scene, she admonishes her son for waking up late and being scruffy, INFORMS him that he will be helping her that afternoon, and that he should fix up his own breakfast as she is very busy; all the while haggling on the phone with flower-sellers.


This is an important scene because, perhaps for one of the first times in Indian cinema, we had a mother who had decided to cut the umbilical cord. She undoubtedly loves her son, but sees no reason why he should be the centre of her universe- or, for that matter, in a bold, subtly hinted feminist statement- why any man should. Therefore, as she is very busy and her son is capable of getting his own breakfast without hurting himself, she feels they should both go about their respective work. Love does not imply sacrificing your own life, and here was a mother who understood that.


It would be a fair assumption if it was said that Rati Agnihotri represented the new breed of mothers, who are increasingly starting to infiltrate today’s society. The question is, therefore, how can companies and marketers take advantage of the “new mother figure”?


Mothers today, and women in general, are busier with their own lives, and more reluctant to give up everything else and live only for the sake of her son and husband. She wants her own life, her own career, her own bank account, her own money, her own car, her own independence and her own leisure time. This is clearly reflected in increasing sales of microwaves and washing machines, as more and more women discover the time-saving properties of these devices.


Kellogg’s Corn Flakes is working today not only because of its appeal to children’s pester power, but also because mothers are increasingly beginning to understand the convenience and comfort involved in serving breakfast cereals as opposed to the traditional parathas and puri-sabji. Thus, a mother who has to get her children ready and send them off to school before going to her own office can see multiple benefits of the quick, neat and healthy breakfast cereals.


Marketers too have started cashing in on these concepts. Similar reasoning as above explains the growing consumption of microwaveable dinners and pizza take-aways, as both are depicted as the ultimate solution to the dinner problem after a long hard day. Mothers, with increasing levels of education and awareness nowadays, can be lured towards products better suited for the children with the promise of more scientific and medical benefits, be it health drinks, tonics, diapers, sanitary napkins, water purifiers or even refrigerators- all traditional mother/housewife items are now marketed with an assumption of an educated customer who is worried about her family’s health.


Thus, the marketer who is trying to get to the Indian family today via the mother/wife, must focus his strategy on two aspects: one, the mother’s enhanced education and awareness of the world, and two, her insistence on putting herself and her needs at the centre of her universe. If he or she can appeal to the customer by promising benefits that adhere to either of the following, success cannot be far away. After all, he or she now has the mother as the loyal customer; to paraphrase a classic line, “Uss ke paas Maa hai”.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

It's A Deal!

Two very, very good friends of mine hooked up today. Yes, to each other. And no, they are not of the same sex. Not right now, any way.

Although I am committed- happily- for almost four years now, I find the proces of two people getting together no less mystifying than any of the skeptics. I mean, taking the two aforementioned people as a case study (yes, you can take me out of a B-School, but you can't take the B-School out of me), I and the rest of the world were waiting with bated breath for about six months now for these two to FINALLY get together and give us the inevitable treat. Seriously, if you thought waiting ten years for Ross and Rachel to get together was a test of patience, wait till you see these two!

This situation is a very clear reflection of what happened with me- when I was discovering the joys and the initial highs of love four years ago (the lows would come later, and, honestly, I wouldn't miss them for the world: you can't have a better test for a relationship), everybody around me too as waiting for us to wake up and start going around. I always thought that this is a very interesting situation- isn't it weird how, when it's someone else's life, solutions and answers and paths are so spectacularly clear to all of us, and yet, when it comes to our own lives, we get miraculously enveloped in a fog, and take an astonishingly long time weighing out the nitty-gritties?

And while we are at it, why is it 'nitty-gritties', and not 'nitties-gritties'? Never mind. I digress.

I think, as people, we are shockingly lacking in objectivity. That, above religion, fraternity, love and greed is what unites us as humans- our total and absolute lack of objectivity. I have always thought that as one looks at someone else's life, all he sees are two adjacent rectangles, one black, one white, only separated by a very thin line. It is only as we get closer, that that line becomes wider and wider, until we realise that is an equally large rectangle made entirely of grey. And that is why, when it is our life we are thinking about, we understand the complexity of situations as we can appreciate life's grey-ness. Otherwise, of course, as far as we are concerned, everything is black and white- so why is it taking them SOOO long to hook up?

It is also interesting to see how similar the process of a business deal is to our thoughts when we are considering someone for a relationship. After all, that is also no less than a deal. I mean, think about it:

  • You take an equally long time, sometimes more
  • There are various rounds of deliberations
  • A million negotiations ("okay, fine, I'll try and remember your birthday if you let me go out for drinks with my friends")
  • Numerous different reports are released to the public from numerous different sources ("She told me nothing is official!", "But he said everything is!")
  • PR plays a paramount role ("Listen, I think he is a really nice guy. You should consider him more seriously")
  • When the two concerned parties finally "sign on the dotted line", there are both official statements released, and a big, joyous celebration.
  • The share prices of both parties increase manifold- the guy suddenly seems safer and nicer, the girl seems more desirable (we guys have an inexplicable tendency to suddenly find someone else's property more desirable- psychiatrist call it an offshoot of the forbidden apple theory; I believe it is simply a case of "There must be something he saw which we missed!").

Yes, there goes the MBA in me talking. Management, you see, is a lifelong occupation.

But then, so is love. And this one goes out to everyone who has ever looked at someone sitting next to them and thought, "hey- my interest rate in you is rocketing upwards. How about a merger?"

Dear SCD and Roy- here's to you both.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Running through a few other blogs, I noticed that almost everyone has entries listing “Top Ten _________________________” where the author has filled in the blank according to the area of his/her expertise. Naturally, I got very jealous, and decided to punch back. I have always argued that nothing is more important in a film than the note on which it begins, and the note on which it ends. The former builds up expectations and hooks you to the happenings, and the latter makes sure that the film stays with you after you have left the theatre. At least, that’s what should happen in an ideal world, with ideal films. However, most films turn out to be disappointments on both fronts. May be someday I will compile a list of great beginnings. For now, here is a list of the best endings in Hindi Cinema that I could think of.

10. Don

Forget, for a moment, all those discussions about how much better AB’s version was, or how this new ending creates holes in the plot. Just ask yourself this- could you, in a million years, ever see it coming? I can still hear the audience whistling and clapping for SRK at the denouement. That is a testament to his stardom. And to Farhan Akhtar’s ingenuity and guts.

9. Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge

The thing with love stories is, from the moment you the posters, you know how its going to end. This is, after all, Bollywood. That is why, inspite of predictability, when an ending to a love story as you clapping, you know you have seen something special. Aditya Chopra knew one thing, and that was abundantly clear: it’s not what you do, but how you do it. And that is why, an extremely predictable, simple boy-meets-girl tale became the longest running hindi film of all time: by virtue of HOW the story was told. Aggression, angst, passion, a fight, and a wonderful, wordless exchange between SRK and the late Amrish Puri: what an ending.

8. Khoya Khoya Chand

Sudhir Mishra does not make his films for entertainment. However, if you ever wanted two diametrically opposite insights into the film industry of the days one by, never look further than Om Shanti Om and this film. Although this sensitve, moody and character-centric film pales in comparison to Mishra’s masterpiece Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (which too had a haunting, painful end) KKC is memorable for the courage he showed in coming up with an ending few would appreciate- or, for that matter, understand. By the time the ending arrived, most of the people I was watching the film with had stopped caring what happened to the alcoholic actress or the egoistic writer. However, if you were still connected to the film and characters, you would realise that few films end on a higher note (in the middle of the song ‘Thirak Thirak’, Soha Ali Khan suddenly stumbles and everyone, fearing the worst, comes rushing to the rescue of this dying actress- only to be told that her paayal had broken. Suddenly, sunlight breaks through and everyone starts smiling). And Mr Mishra- kudos for the last shot.

7. Kabhi Kabhie

Ignore the unnecessary fire-in-the-forest chase sequence at the end. And concentrate on only the real ending to the superbly crafted story: the magnificent dinner party scene where Amitabh Bachchan and Rakhee confront their age-old simmering feelings and Shashi Kapoor discovers their relationship. Brilliantly written, masterfully executed, and pitch-perfect acting. AB played the hurt lover with a dignity no one has ever brought to the character again, and Shashi Kapoor turned in his career best performance in a wonderful role. “Kabhi kabhie mere dil mein… Something something… Aata hai…” Wow.

6. 1947 Earth

For a man who tries to challenge himself with every performance, Aamir Khan has not yet tired of playing the roguish charmer. He may not have overgrown his welcome, but I am waiting for him to remind himself of what he is capable of. If he needs help, he can always pop in this DVD. Just observing the way his eyes pierce the screen when he watches Nandita Das being dragged away, or the intensity with which he looks at the little girl when he asks for Das’ whereabouts, is a testament to the reservoir of talent he is.

5. Satya (Company also)

Seriously- can you imagine a better, more apt ending? What better punishment for killing so many people than to prove so repulsive to the woman you love that she refuses to open the door while the police guns you down? Pure, great cinema- at once stunningly apt, as well as hauntingly tragic. Genius. (RGV would only rival this in his pseudo-sequel Company, where, bravely, brilliantly, he had a then unknown Vijay Raaz shoot Ajay Devgan just when a happily-ever-after ending was finally in sight.)

4. Johnny Gaddar

I cannot think of- for the lack of a better word- a cooler ending than this. I mean, finally we had a movie where there was no discussion on the hero sinning and getting just punishment- finally we had a hero who had no qualms about killing people for money, and we watched him, enthralled, engaged, and extremely on his side. And just when he seemed to have overcome all the obstacles on his path, just when everything was all over- happily- Mr Raghavan moved the floor from under our feet. We could almost feel his cheeky grin at the end.

3. Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron

It is at times difficult to remember that there were a couple of other scenes after the side-splitting ‘Mahabharat’ scene. However, Kundan Shah reserved the biggest kick for the final scene of his masterpiece: Naseeruddin Shah and Ravi Vaswani, in prison uniforms, walking amongst the crowds, with ‘Hum Honge Kaamyab’ playing in the background. At that moment, irony had a new name.

2. Sadma

Oh man. Oh man oh man oh man. This is an ending that kept me awake at nights. I kicked myself, saw the film three-four times, tried to believe it- to no avail. There’s never been a character on the Hindi screen I have felt sorrier for, and Kamal Hassan made this role his own. Perhaps the most ‘logical’ ending on this list, it is also the most profoundly moving and tragic.

1. Anand

Do I even need to start on this? Who among us has not spent the entire length of this movie praying that some miracle saves Anand? Who among us has not felt an inexplicable loss shared by all the characters in this film at Anand’s death? Who among us has not mirrored Amitabh ‘Babumoshai’ Bachchan’s initial exasperation and subsequent warmth for this man? Who among us has not screamed with Bachchan at Anand’s dead body, knowing that we are too helpless to do anything? And which of us has not felt those goosebumps rising when Rajesh Khanna’s voice calls out on the tape recorder, teasing, smiling, life-affirming? Life, indeed, should be big, and not long, Mr Mukherjee. You proved it.

Runners Up:
· Dil Chahta Hai (Oh, the joy of long lost friend re-uniting)
· Dil Se (I challenge you to find a more apt and effective ending to this story)
· Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (I have never felt so sad for Salman- but Mr Bhansali pulled it off with a flourish)
· Nayagan (Imagine- the court releases you, but the deeds of your past come back…)
· Main Hoon Na (for the sheer joie-de-vivre with which it ends in the song “Yeh Fizayen”)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Graveyard of Dreams

Right here beneath you lies your dream,
Broken, shattered, destroyed beyond recognition,
That which you thought you will hold forever close
Buried alive, fallen, hurt and still vulnerable.

You know now that not every poem must rhyme,
And not every day begins with sunshine,
Sunsets too are rarely breath-taking,
Only the occasional rainbow has all seven.

Loves and lives too are just days,
Roads are all lonely and endless,
Silence screams, and always louder than words,
Everyone is a stranger alone in a crowd.

But you have also discovered something else,
You know now that the wind will still flow in,
Chased by light and the occasional dew drop,
Even if you tightly shut all the windows you can.

Life you now realize is an adhesive,
No matter how many glass dreams you have,
No matter how many shatter on life’s rocky roads,
Life picks up all the pieces and moves on.

Uncountable dreams and ambitions die every day,
You watch them fall, sometimes resigned, often reluctant,
Adding another tally to the things you could never be,
Never actually making peace with their untimely deaths.

Life around you may be a graveyard of dreams then,
Each day a funeral, every whisper a requiem,
Yet you remember to bring flowers to these graves everyday,
Knowing their fragrance will wash out the stench of the corpses.

Black Suits and Blue Jeans

Isn’t it strange how your beauty never goes out of fashion?

You no longer wear that hair-do that was such a rage,
You have thrown away clothes belonging to another age,
The standard tees, tops and jeans still remain,
If only to prove to this world you are still sane.

Yet the smile blazes with the age-old kindness,
Eyes sparklingly clear with life that I have always known,
Your touch never let go of that nostalgic warmth
Your words still ring with love, making me your own.

There are things that don’t last through the night,
Then there are things which never go out of sight;
Black suits and blue jeans will always hang in my room,
And just like your beauty, always in full bloom.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Stage Wizardry

Theatre is a strange thing.

Forget, for a second, lights, sound, curtains, sets and fine costumes. Forget also, if you can, a grand stage. Theatre is perhaps the only art which, stripped bare of all its accoutrements, can still function, entertain and make sense. Sitting in a corner of a park yesterday, surrounded by children, watching witches, monkeys and five travellers enjoy themselves to the hilt, I realised how, bereft of all possible production values, complete the play was.

Unlike cinema, theatre does not need to be confined to a space. This not only reflects the fact that it is an age-old tradition (and does not, therefore, require the use of an auditorium, but can be performed simply in the middle of a crowd), but also a growing recitence among modern dramatists to restrict their plays to a physical stage. Since theatre can so easily go beyond the physical confinements of a stage, they are increasingly trigger-happy to explore further arenas to enhance the experience. A fine example of this is how EVAM, a small-but-successful theatre group in Chennai, blacked out the stage in the middle of the play and, announcing an interval, urged everyone to go out to the coffee stall. When the audience went there, they were both surprised and intrigued to find members of the cast enacting the next scene at the cafe. The play continued for a while at the cafe, before the audience was guided back inside, thereby not only exploring a whole new arena but also showing a remarkable desire to break the monotony of the wooden stage.

AKVARIOUS's adaptation of 'The Wizard of Oz', staged yesterday in the Horniman Circle Garden and innovatively titled "SHAHENSHAH OF AZEEMO" (there were moments when I expected the cast to start singing 'azeem-o-shaan shahenshah') was a fun, peppy excercise in showing just how simple, yet complete theatre can be. Using barely a curtain, a wooden frame and a tree (ingeniously lit up with a single light bulb to draw attention there when required) the team provided 100 wonderful minutes of pure fun and joy, as I watched some fine actors enthrall numerous little children with songs and jokes. That's another thing- if you ever do go to watch a children's play, make sure you sit between a lot of children. I guarantee you an unforgettable experience, thanks to some incredibly infectious laughter.

Yesterday I realised something very important. Theatre, ultimately, is not about sets, sound effects or dramatic monologues delivered with spotlights; theatre is simply a delicious and heady broth concocted of a strong connection between two- and only two- necessary ingredients: the actors, and an audience. If that connection is absent, no amount of production values, money or lighting can save you.

However, if you can get that connection, then we have possibly the closest thing to what we muggles know as magic.

Funny thing is, it took a 'Wizard' to show me that.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Yeh Woh Jagah Toh Nahi...

Haan, yeh shahar toh ab bhi wohi hai
Yahaan ke log, ghar sab wohi hai
Lekin jisse main kabhi chhod kar gaya tha
Yeh woh jagah toh nahi.

Hawayein toh ab bhi chalti hai yahaan
Magar mere baalon ko sehlati nahi,
Logon ki chehel-pehel aur hansi bhi hai
Par mere mann ko behlati nahi.

Ghar, baahar, ados, pados mere yahaan
Gair toh koi nahi par ajnabi sabhi hain,
Sadakein, deewarein sab jaane-pehchane se
Paraya toh kuch nahi par achanak door sabhi hain.

Fark nazare ka hai ya phir nazariye ka,
Behoshi mein iska ilm toh nahi raha,
Lagta hai aakhir yeh shahar hi badal gaya,
Ya phir shayad main woh nahi raha...

Monday, April 21, 2008

About A Girl...

I saw “Good Will Hunting” for the first time when I was very young and found it a dull, slow film. Recent viewings, however, unearthed spectacularly touching layers in it, catapulting it to the list of my favourites.

One of the best moments in the film comes from the following, seemingly casual exchange between Sean (played by a restrained Robin Williams as only he can) and Will (Matt Damon- thank you for that script!). It is a conversation that suddenly, strikingly exploded into my life once again.

Will: So, when did you know, like, that she was the one for you?
Sean: October 21st, 1975.
Will: Jesus Christ. You know the fuckin' date?
Sean: Oh yeah. Cus' it was game six of the World Series. Biggest game in Red Sox history.
Will: Yeah, sure.
Sean: My friends and I had, you know, slept out on the sidewalk all night to get tickets.
Will: You got tickets?
Sean: Yep. Day of the game. I was sittin' in a bar, waitin' for the game to start, and in walks this girl. Oh it was an amazing game, though. You know, bottom of the 8th Carbo ties it up at a 6-6. It went to 12. Bottom of the 12th, in stepped Carlton Fisk. Old Pudge. Steps up to the plate, you know, and he's got that weird stance.
Will: Yeah, yeah.
Sean: And BAM! He clocks it. High fly ball down the left field line! Thirty-five thousand people, on their feet, yellin' at the ball, but that's not because of Fisk. He's wavin' at the ball like a madman.
Will: Yeah, I've seen...
Sean: He's going, "Get over! Get over! Get OVER!" And then it HITS the foul pole. OH, he goes apeshit, and 35,000 fans, you know, they charge the field, you know?
Will: Yeah, and he's fuckin' bowlin' police out of the way!
Sean: Goin', "God! Get out of the way! Get 'em away!" Banging people...
Will: I can't fuckin' believe you had tickets to that fuckin' game!
Sean: Yeah!
Will: Did you rush the field?
Sean: No, I didn't rush the fuckin' field, I wasn't there.
Will: What?
Sean: No - I was in a bar havin' a drink with my future wife.
Will: You missed Pudge Fisk's homerun?
Sean: Oh yeah.
Will: To have a fuckin' drink with some lady you never met?
Sean: Yeah, but you shoulda seen her. She was a stunner.
Will: I don't care if Helen of Troy walks in the room, that's game six!
Sean: Oh, Helen of Troy...
Will: Oh my God, and who are these fuckin' friends of yours they let you get away with that? Sean: Oh... They had to.
Will: W-w-w-what'd you say to them?
Sean: I just slid my ticket across the table and I said, "Sorry guys, I gotta see about a girl."
Will: I gotta go see about a girl?
Sean: Yeah.
Will: That's what you said? And they let you get away with that?
Sean: Oh yeah. They saw in my eyes that I meant it.

It was a great match, the IPL premiere- stars, pomp, razzmatazz, glamour- and, perhaps first and foremost, McCullum and his 158 not out. A match that everyone I know made sure they did not miss- including me. I think Ananya will forever hate me for dragging her out of office- almost physically- well before the official end of the day and rushing to the station by auto. But that was necessary- I was set to view it at a sports bar on Grant Road, over an hour away from the office. I made it there too, just in time.

If Ananya minded my dragging her there, she will certainly not forgive me when I tell her I didn’t see any of it.

You see, I too had to go see about a girl.

Hope that makes sense, Ananya.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Where Hearts and Minds Meet...

When I was very young, I had a teacher who taught me not to be impulsive. Decisions, he said, should be taken with utmost care and after a lot of introspection. Well, so many years down the line, with enough instances of introspection and plenty of care taken, I have to say- Sir, you were wrong.

See, I am sick of all those SRK films that keep telling you to listen to your heart, and your brain. Frankly, when I think of something, that thought doesn’t exactly come with the postmark of my heart. Therefore, it is quite difficult for me to decide whether the swamp where the thought bloomed was my heart or my mind. Thus, I am never sure whether to listen to myself or not.

Over the years, though, I have realized that the heart and the brain are like two trains that start off at the same station, but while one is going to Ahmedabad, the other goes to Patna. In simpler words, with time, they are bound to increasingly diverge from each other. Hence, if you need to make a decision without any doubts or second thoughts- make it quickly!

Many decisions I spent ages pondering over have proven themselves to be not only incorrect, but also clearly undeserving of the time allocated to them. Hey- when you are at an airport, and have barely a few minutes before somebody very close leaves for months, do the 15 minutes you spent deciding what to have for breakfast make any sense?

Admittedly, I have found that there have been several decisions I made on the spur of the moment which have turned out to be questionable- and extremely troublesome. For instance- in hindsight- the decision to do MBA perhaps warranted more than the cursory 20 seconds I gave it. However, at the end of the road, I am glad that I didn’t allow further thought to interfere with my decision: imagine all the friends, fun and growing up I would have missed out on. Not to mention the suffering- and, as Steve Carrell says in ‘Little Miss Sunshine”, suffering is what makes you who you are.

Whatever a person is at any point of time, is ultimately a result of his or her decisions- and not abilities, to paraphrase J.K.Rowling. In that case, then, I am pretty glad I took some of those decisions.

Decisions I will always live by and hold close to my heart- and my mind…

Decisions taken in an instant, with one vision of somebody on a stage…
Decisions taken at the IHC, sitting and looking into somebody’s eyes…
Decisions taken walking in the dark, aimlessly, cluelessly…
Decisions taken while sitting alone, staring into the distance, seeing nothing.,..
Decisions taken outside someone’s house, with a thumping heart, and a sudden moment of clarity…
Decisions taken at the seaside, holding somebody’s hand, walking with feet flirting with the tide…
Decisions taken in love, with alarming calmness and total knowledge of the storms coming…


Taken in the spur of a moment. Sometimes looming over your entire life.

Moments where your heart and mind meld into one and in one, blinding flash, illuminate your entire being.

I am talking of those decisions. And Sir, they don’t need care or introspection.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Ek daag hai mere haath pe
Yaad hai ek chot ki
Kisi ki hansi ki goonj
Aur unko hansane ke zid ki.

Jab thamayi thi dor kisi ke haath mein,
Tab khwaab bun rahe the hum.
Bunaai mein jab gaanth pad gayi,
Toh haunsle bhi ho hi gaye kum.

Jo shikayatein hain duniya se humein,
Humari hi hai aur sambhalenge bhi hum,
Aakhir humara idhar aur hai hi kya,
Sirf thodi yaadein aur aise hi kuch nazm?

Kyun batayein kisiko humein kya lagta hai?
Zaroori hai bayaan karna apne ehsaas lafzon mein?
Unhe batao dard humara hai aur sirf humara hai,
Kyun aur kis haque se unhe hissa de uss mein?

Koi humein idhar kheenche koi unhe udhar,
Thak chuke hain hum ab iss jaddojehad se.
Haar gayein hain hum iss rozmarra ke kashmakash se,
Tang aa chuke hain hum pe haque jamane wale iss zamane se.

Thaan liya hai aaj aaina dekh kar humne
Ab bas yeh aankhein nam na hongi,
Lekin zindagi shayad ab humein chain na de,
Kyunki yeh shikayatein bhi toh kam na hongi…

Saturday, March 22, 2008

My Favourite Lyrics... My State of Mind.

Something about songs of disillusionment and pain always ring true with me... Yet no song captures the essence of our temporariness like this song. Sahir Ludhyanvi- God bless his soul- was matchless when it came to pouring bitterness and anger into words- be it this song, be it "Chalo Ek Baar Phir Se Ajnabi Ban Jaayein Hum Dono" or any of the classics from PYAASA.

This song has always been special to me perhaps because I have always felt that me, my writings, my love, my feelings are all extremely ephemeral. Good or bad, high or low, it shall pass soon whether we like it or not. And so shall we. Read the last verse carefully- there's no better way to put my biggest fear.

Aaah. Main Pal Do Pal Ka Shayar Hoon... Aren't we all?

"Main pal do pal ka shaayar hoon,
Pal do pal meri kahaani hain
Pal do pal meri hasti hai,
Pal do pal meri jawaani hain...

Mujhse pehle kitne shaayar, aaye aur aakar chale gaye
Kuch aahein bhar kar laut gaye, kuch nagmein gaa kar chale gaye
Woh bhi ek pal ka kissa the, main bhi ek pal ka kissa hoon
Kal tum se judaa ho jaaoonga, Joh aaj tumhara hissa hoon...

Kal aur aayenge nagmon ki khilti kaliyan chunne waale
Mujhse behtar kehne waale, tumse behtar sunane waale
Kal koi mujhko yaad kare, kyon koi mujhko yaad kare
Masroof zamana mere liye, kyon waqt apna barbaad kare..."

Most Eloquent Expression of Disillusionment Ever...

Jalaa do isse, foonk daalo ye duniya

Mere saamne se hataa lo yeh duniya

Tumhari hain tum hi sambhalo yeh duniya

Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye toh kya hai...

~ Sahir Ludhianvi... R.I.P.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Of Dead Clocks and Evanescence…

If Ashutosh Gowariker ever decided to make a sequel to SWADES, I will perhaps be the best candidate for the lead role. Born and brought up around the world- with a ridiculous accent and strange mannerisms to prove it- I was always the classic outsider here, trying desperately to fit in. I am also the quintessential urban cowboy, having spent my life in metropolitan centres of this world. It is strange, therefore, that halfway through my MBA, I would find myself wandering around a village, trying to speak Gujarati to domesticated housewives.

As a part of the YI-Net here, I was sent to Telav village to try and coax as many women as possible to come for the Women’s Day celebration that we were organizing. But that is not what this is about. This is about the three little local boys who were accompanying us, guiding us from house to house, speaking to those who were unable to understand us.

While making petty conversation to get to know them better, I asked them what they wanted to become when they grew up- yes, yes, I know, very irritating, very clichéd, but I am not sure what one says to a 13 year old. We had already discussed movies and cricket.

Now, all my life, I have been a pretty directionless, clueless, lost kind of person. So whenever some representative of the adult world decided to develop an interest in my future, I would usually tell them that I had no idea. Which, admittedly, they found strange of a 20 year old. Hence, I felt all the more hypocritical. But I wasn’t ready for their responses.

One, the eager-to-please kid, just smiled, while the other said, very prophetically, “Jo bhi banna hoga, ban jayenge”.(We will become whatever we are to become). The third, the most serious one, simply said “humein aapki tarah English mein padhna hai” (we want to study in English, like you).

The child-prophet was perhaps simply trying to sound smart, he may have only meant it as a throwaway comment, implying that he will decide when the time comes, but it is nevertheless a very strange feeling to have a thirteen year old stranger echo your feelings. He probably had no idea how limited in scope his future might be, given his economic and social background, but here he was, at peace with the fact that he will be what he is to be. I doubt if he got this attitude from his parents- I can only wonder where his thoughts come from. I am not trying to hint at any deep, life changing truths here- I am simply trying to articulate what I felt at that point of time.

What struck me most, however, was the third child’s desire to study in English. Now, when you live in India, you kind of get used to the fact that even though you are paying nine lakhs to sit in an air-conditioned seminar hall, two kilometers down the road hundreds are studying in small dusty classrooms with clocks whose dead batteries have not been replaced for months. In such a scenario, millions grow up wishing to speak English, recognizing the language as both a passport for upward mobility as well as a status symbol. But this child was not content with that. Like millions of others, he wanted to learn to speak English, but that wasn’t the end of the road for him. He wanted to go one level beyond all that. He wanted to study in English. Now, that was a kicker.

I think living in Indian metros somehow desensitizes us to the presence of these dusty classrooms two kilometers away from us, the eager-to-learn students who probably will never get an opportunity to, and all the dead clocks. The existence of millions of such desires sprouting all around us is also something we have happily blocked out of our conscience. Our English medium educations, too, are easily taken for granted by us. It took a thirteen year old and his prophet friend to disorient me- temporarily, of course- from my secure cocoon.

It has been several days since my trip to Telav. In the meantime, I have happily settled back into my wonderfully materialistic existence, surrounded with good food, funny movies and plans of bunking classes. I am not really sure what I have been trying to say in this piece. That we should do something for these children? No, I don’t think so. That’s just a cliché. Certainly, I thought about it, as does everyone else who is confronted with all this, but just like cigarette smoke, it is a fast evanescing thought, prone to getting overshadowed by various other, more immediate issues like what to have for dinner.

My determination to change the lives of these children was lost almost as soon as I came back. Yes, that sounds shallow, but I can live with that. Dishonesty- particularly with myself- is what I cannot accept. I think my only aim in writing all this was to sort out the millions of feelings and thoughts that passed through my miniscule mind that day, and for various days since then.

I have not done anything for those children yet. Somehow, I don’t think I will end up doing much either. Nor will anyone else. No matter how much we try, one day these children will wake up and find themselves alone. That day, perhaps, they will try and become comfortable with their existence, and I will be at peace with my conscience. As that prophet-child said, whatever is to be, will be. Until that day, all he and I will do is wait. Nothing more, and nothing less.

I do not know how long we will be waiting. This might be a good time, then, to replace the clock batteries. Or I might do that for them.

That, at least, is something I can do.

Frozen Images…

Bullets shatter the eardrums, as pellets spear through a million bodies at a time. In a bed decorated with corpses and fertilized with blood, a butterfly lands next to a trench on the Western Front, and slowly, slowly, a hand comes out from the trench. A hand that craves for freedom, for happier days, for the comfort of his home, for the love of his family… A hand that just wants to touch the elusive, beautiful butterfly, even if it means disclosing his position on the battleground... And the hand progresses, further and further, inching closer to one last moment of happiness…

An Indianised NRI lover steps onto a gently moving train, destined for a place far, far away, as his lady love and her fierce father look at him from the platform. Slowly he turns around, and looks right into his would-be father-in-law’s eyes. The train is gradually gaining speed, the girl is hysterically weeping, and two men simply stare at each other. A thousand words, a million promises, a billion agreements pass between them- and not a word is spoken. And then, suddenly, unexpectedly, the father lets the girl go.

“Jaa, Simran, jaa- jaa jee le apni zindagi.”

Millions endorse a book launching; an anthology by a poet whom no one ever gave due recognition, who they all believe is now dead… A door opens, and, framed in a harsh, bright background light, he stands, wrapped in a shawl, hands spread out, shrouded in the darkness that has engulfed his entire life. He then looks up, slowly, gradually, full of disgust and pity for the people around him- and, in words glittering with poetry that no one has ever matched since, spits out his fury, his frustration and his disillusionment with this world.

“Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye toh kya hai…?”

A deaf-blind girl, after years of perseverance and persistence, finally graduates. In what must be the happiest moment of her life, she comes back to meet the one man who taught her everything, including the ability to live and fight. That man, however, is now in the depths of Alzheimer’s, and, confined to a hospital, has not recognized anyone for ages. Yet she believes her achievement will mean something to him, and, dressed in her graduation robes, she hands him her degree. Like light tip-toeing into the night at dawn, recognition slowly dawns- he touches her robes, her hat, and in a moment so sublime that it transcends all celebrations, he dances.

“Come… Into… The light.”

An intensely lonely man stands in front of a mirror, armed with a gun and believing it to be his destiny. He has spent years alone, irreparably scarred in Vietnam, and has spent hours and hours alone in his room working out and writing his thoughts down. In a moment of inspiration and full of attitude, he cockily talks to himself in the mirror- for he’s the only one there.

You talkin’ to me? There ain’t no one else here.”

Confronted with overwhelming evidence, a strong-willed, concerned wife asks her husband if he is involved in his family’s crime business. He is reluctant with his answers initially, and soon graduates to full blown retaliation, warning her never to ask him about his business again. Then, after much insistence and a very long, pregnant pause, he looks right into her eyes and- unexpectedly, unbelievably- denies all we know to be true. She leaves the room, a relieved, rejuvenated, satisfied woman, but suddenly turns around- only to find a door being closed on her face forever.

“That’s my family, Kay, that’s not me.”

I sit at the table with her, holding her hand under it, facing her mother. Her mother has known about us for some time now, and decides its time for a tete-a-tete. Gradually, over the course of a meal in Lajpat Nagar, she tells me all about her husband, his life, his ideologies, his dreams. And what we must do if we want our dreams to be realized. It’s not an easy task. As I look at the girl next to me, however, she and I are both filled with an inexplicable and surprisingly clear sense of purpose and calm: armed, finally, with the knowledge that no test is too difficult; no mountain too tall. If this is what we must do to continue holding each other’s hands, then this is exactly what we will do- and more.

“Aapni chinta korben naa, Aunty.”

She refuses to be seen with me when I wear my favourite dark green shirt. My limited eye for aesthetics hides anything hideous in that marvelous garment. We have had numerous arguments about it, and it still creates ripples. Then I find myself penniless before our anniversary, and, in a moment of sheer lunacy and true filmi inspiration, I gift her my shirt, with only a smile and a simple logical statement to clear her evident confusion- as long as she has it, I cannot wear it. Clouds part somewhere and sunlight bursts through- she smiles…

I walk into my kitchen and see her frying puris with my mother and sister. They laugh together and my mother curses the ever-absent housemaid. It’s not a sight I expected to see- and yet, somehow, it seems so… right. They don’t notice me, and I just stare, enveloped in bliss. This is my life. And I like it.

These are not moments which have altered my life in any way, nor have they changed me as a person. True, they are discontinuous and disjointed; each is a part of a larger continuity which gives it meaning. However, as I sit alone in darkness, submerged in reminiscence, I find- more than anything else- these images recurring in my mind. They have all given me momentary happiness. And in a world where happiness has to be snatched from every single fragment of every single breath, they have taught me one thing- happiness lies in seemingly insignificant, inconsequential moments.

Each of these moments have one common thread running through them that bind them to me- somehow, at certain junctures of our being, our meaningless little lives are so filled with love and happiness, that what happens next is absolutely irrelevant.

Happiness is here. Now.

A Thousand Deaths...

Will we ever wish for them,
Does it ever bother you and me,
That we have never really missed
Things that were never meant to be?

Roads we have never crossed,
Places we have never been,
Windows we have never opened,
Sights we have never seen.

Words we have never spoken,
Things we have never said,
Hands we have never held,
Promises we have never made.

When the morning will not find us awake,
And our names will only bring tears,
Will we be remembered for being strong and noble
Or for our regrets, our doubts and our fears?

Give us a thousand deaths,
I would still wish we had lived,
I wish we had lived,
I wish we had lived…