Turn on the light

The lead vocalist asks us to raise our hands if we’re proud of who we are, as people and as artists.

And something suddenly unravels inside me, a tightness that’s been there for a while. And with a few other wavering hands, I raise mine up in the air and smile.

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There’s a gentle drizzle. The accompanying breeze makes the yellow paper lanterns sway, as if in rhythm with the light strumming of the guitar and banjo down below. The drums weave a comfortable,solid presence as fifty-odd people, friends and strangers hum along. Music does this to people- it makes one body out of individuals, a body moving in seemingly eccentric patterns but with a wonderful coherence.

There is silence towards the end of the show as the performers play the opening bars to a song they have dedicated to survivors of depression. What amazes me is that it isn’t an awkward pause. In this audience, there are people who, in some odd way, understand, either first-hand or through their loved ones, what it is like to not want to get up at all, to not eat or bathe or write or paint for days, or to just do all of it in a frenzy until you’re not sure what you’re doing anymore. There are people for whom turning up to a live show like this is one of their greatest achievements this month- they might not have stepped out of home for weeks. There are also people who are lucky enough to be mostly non-depressed, even happy, and who take this moment to understand how that isn’t necessarily a “normal” every one is used to.

As I raise my hand, standing here in this city that I’ve been both non-depressed and depressed in before, it is because I am proud today- of myself, of being able to sing along, of showing up alone, of continuing to write even if it seems to be most ordinary on some days. It’s because I can now raise my hand without feeling weird about being happy about my own existence. And because I have done a lot of things in the past year, good, fun, somewhat crazy, mundane, only for myself, and have loved doing it. It’s because the rain, and the lights, and the songs have the ability to make the darkness beautiful and bearable. And so does my writing, and your art, and someone else’s strumming, or playing or mere existence.

There will be bad days. But try and hold on long enough, and there will be good ones.

Listen to these guys (When Chai Met Toast) here:

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On turning into my mother ( And how it’s fine, really )  

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At 18, in college, as I slowly grew into my “wild” side, casting away the demure facade I’d maintained all through high school, I gave my parents some cause for concern. Suddenly I transformed from having no social life to staying out late, going on trips with my friends, and discovering the phone and internet in ways that many of my peers would have already experimented with a few years earlier. In my headstrong, teenager mind, I decided that I would have a cool life, full of new experiences each day, as if to compensate for the stagnant calm of my life hitherto.

The one thing I utterly disliked was being compared to either of my parents, be it in terms of academic excellence or personality. I was especially determined to not resemble my mother in any fashion, and derived great pleasure in telling her how I was so totally “not her”. And yet, a mere five years later, living with a set- ranging from brilliant to not-so-great- of my own choices and actions, I find that I have, in a lot of ways, realised that very fear.

My Friday plans now include figuring out which clothes to wash on Saturdays. I can’t go to bed with dirty utensils in the sink. I don’t randomly say a yes to late night bike rides with friends I don’t know very well, even though I love bike rides. I don’t indulge in crying my eyes out for more than ten minutes at a time, choosing instead to do something practical, like cleaning the room or my cupboard. I still entertain the words of lovers, but don’t really believe them as willingly as I used to.

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Of course, I am also not my mother in many ways. We are two women with vastly different character quirks. She hates being alone. I love my solitude. She can laugh off many things with a careless ease that my twenty-three-year old over-thinking self envies at times. She moves on quickly, and I have never really moved on from anyone or anything.

But look closely, and you can tell how related we are. It’s not even something we focus on most of the time, but it’s there. We both believe in six impossible things before breakfast, just that they differ in specifics. We both shut the world out when we read, and eat chocolate when someone is being indifferent to our feelings. We can finish a tissue box between us when we watch Lion King, but we also have the ability to step up to make all the logical decisions when necessary. Keeping my head when others about me are losing theirs, is something in which I’d rather take after her, than anyone else.

So yes, as I become more me, I am, in some ways, turning into my mother. And that isn’t really a bad thing.

Lipstick Dreams

The last scene of Lipstick Under My Burkha resonates, in a rather curious fashion, with the book I happen to be reading at present, Reading Lolita in Tehran. As the various men in power say their piece and move away, ostensibly to get a good night’s sleep, the women protagonists of the movie are left, quite literally, to pick up the shreds of their existence. They gather around the remains of the forbidden romance novel capturing the sexual fantasies of Rosie, in what is, on the face of it, an impromptu reading session, but in effect, captures the essence of what director Alankrita Shrivastava is trying to say throughout.

What makes Lipstick an engaging watch is that its women are feminist by the sheer dint of being real. The characters range from the college-going Rehana (trying to reconcile teenaged rebellion with her cultural identity) and Leela (the beautician whose dreams are bigger than an arranged marriage in a small town) to the older Shireen (a saleswoman struggling to carve a niche for herself within and outside her marriage) and middle-aged Usha (rediscovering her sexual identity through telephone sex). Each is flawed in her own way, and therein lies her perfection.

Perhaps it is the gift of a stellar cast at the hands of a female director, but Lipstick manages, for the most part, what movies claiming to be pro-women generally don’t — well-fleshed out female characters that make both appropriate and inappropriate choices, and have dynamic personalities extending beyond but not necessarily in alienation of the men in their lives. So, Usha Buaji (aunt)’s desire to read racy romance magazines is not at odds with her solid business sense, and Shireen’s success on the professional front does not erode her desire to keep her family intact at any cost.

Another stroke of brilliance that the script possesses is a fine sense of balance, be it in its portrayal of right and wrong, or in capturing a whole spectrum of sexual desire. So, on the one hand, where you find yourself rooting for the women taking the obligation of a Burkha and turning it around to live their dreams, you also find them facing up to the repercussions of some of their ill-thought out actions. The women of Lipstickknow that all is not well with the world, and thankfully, the director doesn’t sweep in with a magic wand to make the young swimming instructor fall for Usha, or for Shireen’s husband to suddenly realise how much potential his wife has, or for the police to let shoplifter Rehana off with a warning even as Leela’s nice fiancé comes back with a clichéd “Main thaamunga tumhara haath” (“I will take you back”, or some such shit). Lipstick Under My Burkhaconcludes the way such events in life usually do, with a lot of tears, an occasional giggle and a mountain of understanding, collapsing upon you all at once.

The best part isn’t even really obvious until you focus on what’s not happening in this movie. Halfway across the movie, it hits me that these women are, for the most part, all very non-judgemental of each other. In what is a refreshing change from the “A woman is another woman’s worst enemy” trope, we see Shireen helping Usha buy her bathing suit, and Leela acknowledging that Shireen’s need to be touched affectionately by her husband isn’t something she should be hiding. Even as Rehana’s classmate gets her arrested and lashes out at her in anger, we don’t really see the typical “You stole my boyfriend” scene. The anger is directed towards the legitimate recipient, the man who got one woman pregnant before leaving her for another. The final scene is a silent war cry and a flame of solidarity all at once, as the women read the end of the novel and share a cigarette. And as you watch, perhaps you would wonder, like I did, if the next day, Shireen would hand in a resignation at work, and the widowed Usha be sent away to Kashi (a city where abandoned widows live in India). Maybe Leela would choose to not run away to Delhi with her boyfriend, and Rehana would eventually complete her degree through distance-learning. And if you’re reading this, maybe you’re a woman who has the ability to make some, or all of these choices for yourself. The question is- If you aren’t wearing as much (or as little) lipstick as you want, who and what are you waiting for?

Sputnik Sweetheart: Of mirror worlds and split souls

To my companion in all things Murakami (and many others),

You are a storyteller yourself. So tell me,have you ever just picked up your pen and written down something, seemingly normal,  and begun to realize its depths only much later?

A little under two years ago, I penned down a story called ‘The boy and the mirror’. It was written within an hour, reflected some of the very conventional romantic turmoil in my life at that moment and it was a concept that just flowed, without much thought being attached to it. It is fascinating how much your own mind can conceal from you. I see that story now in ways I hadn’t even thought about earlier.

Sputnik Sweetheart refuses to leave my brain, and this is, in particular, because of one specific incident that ties in to these other thoughts. One of the women, Miu, is trapped in a Ferris Wheel at night, and she happens to have a pair of binoculars. With nothing much to do except wait, she trains her binoculars on her bedroom window visible in the distance. And then she sees herself inside her bedroom. I won’t give you details lest it ruin the book for you. But to cut a long story short, it is as if her consciousness is split into two. She is in two places at the same time, if you know what I mean. And no, it isn’t a time-turner story.

Which brings me to, Horcruxes. I know it isn’t quite the same idea. But I have always wondered if there are other ways to create horcruxes, accidentally perhaps. Is it only murder that can tear one’s soul? Perhaps love can as well. This is a good question to research- does love in facts rip the soul, and if so, is the rupture permanent or temporary? But that is for another time.  (By the way, it is interesting how Riddle’s diary would have had fifty percent of his soul, and it was created with the murder that is perhaps the most justifiable out of all that he committed- that of the man who abandoned his mother.)

Moving on from that detour into Harry Potter,  I don’t know if you’ve felt this way- torn, between parts of yourself. I have, on occasion. It is interesting because of late, I have been reading some bits of spiritual philosophy that are focused on considering oneself whole, as an integrated being. You aren’t torn, or split, or divided, it claims- it is a construct of your mind. Well, of course, it is. But I do need to live with my mind. I cannot arrive at a certain destination in my mind-map before it is time.Perhaps the process can be accelerated, but honestly, I have a feeling that conflict leads to the best stories.

So coming back to you, the storyteller, would you keep the peace or the stories?

Sputnik Sweetheart-Of dogs, women and writers’ block

This is not a review of Sputnik Sweetheart

I read Haruki Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart in three and a half hours today. Not my personal best, but hey, it’s over two hundred pages and I have had, of late, a chronic inability to finish anything. (So well done me!)

It is a book about a woman. Two, in fact, and a man. Except it is not what you are imagining it to be. If you are indeed imagining anything- if you aren’t, well done you, you haven’t given in to certain stereotypes, mostly accurate though they might be.

This is not a review. I hate reviewing books. Perhaps hate is too strong a word because I do not hate anything. But reviewing a book, while a necessary, practical thing seems to me to be a crime in some ways.

Before I explain why I think so, I must point out that I had not intended for this piece to be written in sets of three lines. Now that it has happened, it doesn’t seem a bad way of doing this, which basically means that I shall do it this way until I get bored.

Moving on to book reviews. I think somehow, that no matter how rational you are, a review tends to colour your perspective of that book, even if it is to a really infinitesimal extent. Try loving a book if a person you absolutely hate recommended it.

Well, this might also turn around the entire premise and make you not hate the person ever again. That has been known to happen- books recommend people nicely, don’t you think? But basically, here I am trying to say- this is not a review.

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Dog credits: Yours truly Rest of the picture credits: http://www.dreamstime.com

This is a ramble. This is the fourth Murakami I’ve read. Like all the others, he picks the oddest of things to make one sad. For example, for years, I have known that the dog, Laika was the first animal in space.

What I didn’t stop to wonder was if she ever made it back. Well, as things turn out, she didn’t. The Russians left a dog out there all alone in space. I wonder why. Seriously, I’d possibly be okay if it were a cat or a goldfish. But a dog?

One thing I like about Murakami is that his women aren’t what you’d call normal. Sometimes, they’re a bit too esoteric but most of the time they’re real, confused women. The girl in this book, Sumire, reminds me of me.

I do not know if the above fact makes me happy or sad. That is possibly why I chose a Murakami book to finish in three and a half hours. It doesn’t decide for you what you need to be. The characters are too busy dealing with their mess to pay any attention to you.

One thing does irk me though. Amidst all the discussions of people who’re only half  of themselves in the book, one never gets to find out the male character’s name (he’s called K). Given what a fascinating man he is, it is rather a shame to know his innermost fears and not his name. I believe I shall name him after my friend. They do resemble each other after all. I don’t think Mr. Murakami would mind.

Why I will say a Hi to ‘Dear Zindagi’

images-8*Don’t read if you are spoiler-averse*

I’m not a person who posts reviews on Facebook for every movie that I go and watch. I have a simple rule- people do not need to know what I’m doing, where I’m doing, how I’m feeling, etc at all times.

And having watched Dear Zindagi a week ago, I was planning to continue this streak. Until I happened to refresh my newsfeed on that omniscient social app, Facebook and came across several people writing about how this particular movie was atrocious in indescribable ways. I know it possibly doesn’t matter, but I beg to differ.

I went to watch this movie with an open mind and zero expectations, despite hearing things such as “it talks about mental health” and “the director is the same lady who made English Vinglish“.  Deviating for a moment here, the latter movie, Director Gauri Shinde’s debut, revolved around a phenomenon that seems simple but is deeply entrenched in our society, what one could call a mix of ‘language shaming’ and ‘housewife shaming’. Shashi wasn’t abused, or molested, or cheated on- she possibly didn’t have any so-called ‘major problems’, but the character struck a chord with the audiences.

Moving on to Dear Zindagi, Alia’s Kaira doesn’t have ‘major problems’ either. She is not schizophrenic or bipolar, she doesn’t have a medical condition per se, she hasn’t been sexually abused as a child. She has a job. She has a family and friends. She has several attractive men in her life. So much so, that it might have you screaming, there is nothing wrong with her at all! She even has a dimpled therapist, played by SRK, who gives her weird stories and analogies by the second, that make her feel enlightened in life.

Why then am I saying that this movie deserves a “Hi”and not a “Bye”to quote a particularly inane song from the movie (which by the way is amazing if you want to walk/jog) ?

  1. It highlights something we often forget- every one of us is insane. Never apologize for your particular brand of it. (If it gets out of hand, please go to a qualified (not SRK) therapist though)
  2. It shows you that there are a lot of things adults can do to children that is not abuse but messes them up nonetheless. Please have children at your own risk.
  3.  It tells you that when you’re listening to someone, you must listen to them, without blabbering suggestions and delivering judgements by the minute.
  4. The most honest thing that the therapist says in the entire movie (albeit in a rather SRK fashion)- You need to take care of yourself. Everyone else can only help you along.
  5. Last but not the least, it talks about things. Normal ordinary things. Like parents thinking you’re homosexual if you don’t want to get married. Like you yourself, gazing into the mirror, defiantly saying “I’m a slut, and proud of it”. Like that childhood doll they didn’t keep safely- it seems stupid to get annoyed about that 20 years later but you still do.

Yes, it doesn’t reflect the depths of mental health issues or the realities of therapy. It makes typical Bollywood style jokes at times (that I am not excusing at all). But you can’t ignore the fact that from movies where the only task of the actress was to wait for the hero to dance around a tree with her, we’ve come a long way. Middle-class people, people who still think being lesbian is a “phase” and that seeing a therapist means you’re “mad”, people who think “parents know best”, people like that are going to see a movie like this.And amidst all the song and dance, and a simplistic two hour resolution of a problem, if amidst all of that, Shah Rukh Khan and Alia Bhatt tell people that it is okay to be single, poly-amorous, straight, lesbian or anything at all, and even if 50% of the people think about it for a while, well I’m okay with that.

If people go and see this movie and if they come back and spend an hour with their kids instead of an hour on their smartphones or talking about work, I’m okay with that. Among other things, cinema exists to reflect the dimensions of reality, yes, but it also exists to communicate to the masses. And if this is the language the masses understand, I’m okay with that, as long as they get the message.

From the pen of an “Upper-Caste” woman

My thoughts on caste

The Blue Dipper

They teach you in middle school that traditionally, there were four broad divisions in Indian society, based on different occupations, created to preserve the social order. They also teach you which box you are supposed to tick on various kinds of forms. I have always known which “category” I belong to. But having grown up in the 21st century, where I change my mind every two days about what career I wish to pursue, I’ve never paid much attention to what that one word- General- means. Like many others of my generation, I thought the only thing it meant was I’d have to do extra well in board exams and admission entrances, while some other people could get away with scoring significantly lower. I didn’t quite resent “them”, those who seemed somewhat unfairly favoured, but I remember feeling proud that I got by on sheer merit, and I also…

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