Saturday, January 29, 2011

The eyes

The eyes, they haunt me.
The essence in them taunts me.

The longing in those eyes pierces my heart.
Bottomless depth, soaked in water, a piece of art.

Innocent, revolting, not knowing reason;
only themselves, all around causing pain.

They tether you to the bearer,
never to let go to life another.

Love misplaced, misunderstood, even abused.
Will take a while for gloom to be released.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Why Dhobi Ghaat?

The movie captures four characters chasing their so near yet so elusive dream. Just as the dream appears right there, ready to be hugged, it evades them - in many ways – just like life. The story dribbles through umpteen curves, twists and turns, rises and falls from pinnacles of ecstasy to nadir of depression, from the hollow of dysfunction to the near-fulfillment of by-the-way desires.

Yasmin, the girl in videographed monologues is the voice of director’s soul in the movie. Remove everything else but Yasmin and the story still makes you gasp at the suppressed anger of the wronged woman. Yasmin is ‘the’ character of the movie. She pours her heart to the recording and in the process gives it the life it oozes. She makes you wonder at her simplicity, desire her conservative feminity, admire her festering mutiny and chuckle at the wisdom behind the fa├žade of nonentity.

Amir Khan effectively straddles the various moods of a creative genius. He effortlessly segues through unflinching concentration during creative highs to glaring insecurity at Shai’s attempts to know him.

Shai and Munna share an uncomfortable camaraderie borne out of the overlap of their dreams and divisive compulsions of their backgrounds. They both desire something, settle for something else, igniting their corporal longing in the process which is brilliantly portrayed through Munna’s hesitance and shai’s glances.

All the characters in the movie live to realize a dream, and yet, someone, somewhere, disconnected, becomes an integral part of their lives, enough to take them along for a while.

The movie lets the characters go with the flow of their hearts, allows them to just be - without melodrama or value judgments. Pragmatism is relegated as the prerogative of the sidekicks.

The movie does not give any answer; instead, it leaves you with many questions. The artist in Kiran attempts to extricate the artist in the audience. Do you have the artist in you? Go watch the movie if you want answer to that question.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Old wine in a new bottle

Long back, I wrote a travelogue here on a wedding I attended. I was never satisfied with my description of the marriage, the bridal ensemble and all. So, I rewrote it.

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My Best Friend's Wedding

The wheels squealed lazily at being forced to move after a short but a well deserved halt as the train chugged painfully, fighting the inertial resistance, taking its first 'steps' out of the station I boarded it from. I pushed my handbag up on the top berth, settled quietly in my seat and surveyed my sleeper class co-passengers: a sexagenarian man gazing blankly through the window, a family with two kids; parents too busy teaching their kids how to enjoy and the kids too busy doing what they do best - flouting those norms, and a young lad unabashedly staring at me as if I was the only known key to solving the Bermuda Triangle mystery. It didn't take me very long to get talking to them. An enquiry about their destination was all it took to be a part of the group. A couple of hours later we had discussed most of our nation's problems, almost solved them along the way, shared our lunches and became a family. It was so easy initiating a conversation with sleeper class passengers. Compare and contrast this with a reaction from a co-passenger in an AC compartment. A similar enquiry would fetch a suave verbal reply masking a curt non-verbal expression overtly portending of a cold shoulder of non-reciprocation for any further attempts at initiating a conversation. The puffed up egos actually keep the AC compartment, which is otherwise cold, quite cozy.

I was traveling by train after a long time. The recent nose-diving of flight fares made them affordable to us lesser mortals. That, coupled with the traveling allowance provided by my company, made traveling by train not just unenviable but also unglamourous. And yet, there was something about trains I missed while flying. Although flying has its own share of ecstasies in take-offs, landings and God's eye view of earth, a train journey is about a different romance altogether. The snail-pace of Indian trains affords us the luxury of sliding open the window and enjoying ourselves in the unadulterated countryside breeze in all its glory. Watching the scared cattle fleeing, the confused dogs barking, the kids cheering and the adult males leering has its own beauty when viewed from inside the fortified window of a train. Sooner or later, our quest for speed will introduce faster, new state-of-the-art trains. But then, we won't be able to stick our necks out of the door and experience the gush of wind slapping our faces. In our hurry to reach the destination, we miss out on enjoying ourselves through the journey. Ironically, while technology helps us connect faster with far off places, it disconnects us from our immediate neighbourhood.

I reached Bhuvaneshwar slightly before dawn. To my relief, it had rained the previous night, forcing mother earth to show its more pleasant form in the midst of scorching Indian summer. I pushed my handbag in before getting into a pick-up auto that was arranged for me. It seemed to glide over the broad, rain-washed roads of Bhuvaneshwar. Engrossed in the surreal morning experience, I failed to notice when the smooth boulevards segued into potholed bylanes and brought me to my destination.

I stood in front of a big, black, iron gate guarding a small bungalow. A black metallic sheet, high enough to keep peeping toms at bay, was welded into the gate. An average Indian would not be able to see through its top. However, its bottom was considerate enough to show ankles. I rang the bell and a known voice hollered from inside the bungalow. It ordered me to hold on lest I wake others up. Out of excitement, I forgot it was still early morning. I heard a barrage of instructions progressively getting louder as the bearer of the voice approached the gate. The person reached the gate and started opening a chained lock at the bottom. I could see only the palms and feet, for the miserly gate would let me see no more. Intricate design of Mehendi adorned her hands and feet. Amrita opened the door and we were face to face after three years. That night was her wedding.

Amrita looked at me for a moment, attempted a wry smile and carried on with her verbal tirade as if we had met only the day before. I noticed her as I entered the gate. Her big black eyes were a little swollen due to lack of sleep. Her black curly hair were parted in the middle and hurriedly bound by a clip at the nape, a tuft of hair near the temples hanging down and resting lightly over her collar-bone, her gums protruded as she rebuked me for nothing that I had done. A set of glass bangles and metallic bracelets clinked as she gestured with her wheatish brown hands.

Her house was full of guests but it didn’t look congested. As her only friend to attend her marriage from out-of-station, I was accorded celebrity treatment. We chatted for a couple of hours in the morning before we moved on with the chores.

“Could you tell me how you feel?” I asked her, curious to know what a girl feels on the eve of her marriage.
“Don’t ask that,” pat came the reply, “I won’t be able to control myself.”

The only child of her parents, Amrita would not have been able to control her emotions had she let them flow any closer. The pain of separation from their loving daughter, in spite of the pleasure of her getting married to a worthy individual, was giving her parents a torrid time. Amidst her parents’ frequent breakdowns, she was the only one who composed herself and kept the situation under control.

Towards the evening, her relatives took me to the marriage venue. A hall was booked in one of the better hotels of Bhuvaneshwar. The route from home to hotel was marked with pot-holed roads devoid of street-lights. But the cool, unpolluted breeze made the journey exhilarating and refreshing. The sigh of untamed breeze of Bhuvaneshwar invigorated my spirits.

We reached the marriage hall excited and ready for the event. The bride arrived later, looking exquisite in the bridal finery, different from the girl next door I met that morning. She wore a bright red silk sari brocaded with gold-threaded designs. The free end of the sari draped over her head signifying bridal modesty. She was bedecked with heavily ornate gold jewelry that seemed to have jumped out of the matching design in her sari. A larger than normal red circular bindi adorned the center of her forehead. Gold bracelets were stacked on her slender arms. Decorative red strip was painted along the edges of her feet each of which wore two pairs of golden toe-rings. A group of elderly ladies carefully chaperoned her past the marriage pavilion in the main hall to an adjacent room where she was seated on a soft-velvet brown sofa until the marriage rituals began. Like a typical shy Indian bride, Amrita kept looking down surveying the carpet near her feet as the ladies slowly led her to the sofa. I had never seen her walk as slowly as she did that evening. I could sense in her face a mixed feeling - an anticipation of the wedding, an apprehension about life after marriage, a fear of the unknown, a remorse for having to leave her parents and yet, an invitation to find a loving life-partner.

The groom, his family and guests arrived much later. There was excitement all around as the groom’s procession arrived in the hotel. They were seated in an adjacent hall. The groom was dressed in intricate design bearing cream Sherwani and a traditional turban over his head. We chatted for a while after I introduced myself. He came across as a simple, shy and a mature person, quite different from the bubbly Amrita. I thought he complemented her well.

The marriage rituals started around midnight. Alone and tired, I followed the rituals with intermittent naps. But I was lucky to be awake at the most important moments of the marriage. I saw the groom tying the mangalsutra around Amrita’s neck. I saw them exchanging their garlands and taking the rounds around the sacred fire. I got goose-bumps as I watched them.
Amrita later told me her thoughts at that moment.
“I felt like the Vedic mantras chanted during the rituals celestially bound me to him. As if going forward we would affect each other’s lives astrologically also and not only through physical proximity. It was an act of giving him the control of my life, the key to my emotions. In that moment, I gave him the power to make me happy or sad, to make or break my life."

"Can such a moment of entrusting my life to him be anything less than sacrosanct? The priest chanted those mantras perfunctorily as it’s a daily business for him. I paused for a moment to think about the other life I was making my own and the responsibilities that come with it. My knees grew weak as I wondered whether I was fit for such a responsibility. I gained strength from seeing my groom leading me. It dawned upon me that he was there to lift me when I would fall, and guide me when I would falter.”

The next morning was her Vidai – the ceremonial farewell. Knowing Amrita, who used to cry at the slightest thoughts of missing her parents, I expected the Vidai to be an emotional catharsis. However, she defied all expectations and didn’t let tears roll out. Quietly, she sat in the car and didn’t look at anyone for long. Our eyes met only once. I could see the pain of separation from family waiting to explode but marvelously controlled. The car left, unsettling the dust and leaving everyone’s heart with an emotional void in its wake.

I wondered why Indian girls leave their families after marriage to join the grooms family. It is easy to blame the patriarchal society. Another plausible reason emerged as I pondered deeper. An average boy has much bigger ego than a girl. So a girl is much more capable of accepting a new family as her own. She can better manage the complexities of adapting to differences. Spiritually speaking, the ego is one of the root causes of distancing yourself from God. Being born a woman is hence a mark of spiritual upliftment. Only a spiritually higher being can make bigger sacrifices to keep another family happy. Unfortunately, the feminists take this as another form of female discrimination.

Thanks to Amrita, my trip to Bhuvaneshwar was an experience worth living. I came back with quite a few memories to cherish and thoughts that made me wiser.