Saturday, 18 October 2014

Two sisters and some wonderful, witty writing

I have been reading a lot of so-called light stuff lately. But, light doesn't mean 'fluff' or 'dumb.' Far from it. I haven't read lots of chick-lit, so I don't know if Anuja Chauhan's writing qualifies under that segment. What I can tell you is that she is brilliant at what she writes. One of the reviewers had called her writing style 'Bharat meets India', and it's very apt description.
Only she could coin witticisms like 'Bhainscafe.' I guess 'Bhainscafe' doesn't sound terribly bright when singled out; put it in a perspective of the book (Battle for Bittora) and you are bound to break into laughter.
I read her last book, (Those Pricey Thakur Girls) first and her debut book, (The Zoya Factor) last. They aren't sequels so I didn't miss out on family history or some such trivialities.
She is one Indian author who has got the small town part, damn right. So, terms like 'Bhainscafe' and 'yeh to bada toingg hai' are, and not just seem, real. Also, having worked in the advertising for 17 years (or more) long, she gets the detailing very correct. Except that she doesn't have to fit it into a 2-3 minute long advt.
My personal favourite bit is that chapter in The Zoya Factor, in which the internet is swarming with suggestions, abuses about how lucky Zoya is for Team India (Anuja has combined cricket and advt in this one). Those who have been trawling the net, know how 'personal' this medium can get. Also, to spill the story further, the bit about Zoya cashing in on her image decides to shoot for an agarbatti brand, and in the emerging hoopla, is claimed by political parties as 'their own.' It's an Indian circus, alright.
In Battle for Bittora, two childhood friends, are pitted against each other in Lok Sabha elections (Sonam Kapoor and Fawad Khan are to star in the movie based on the book). One owes her political legacy to 'Secular' ideology and the other to the 'Rightist' party. One of them is a Hindu and another is Muslim. One is a girl and another is well, a man.
While they are slugging out in their constituencies,
some cleric sniffing their romance calls out for 'Love Jihad!' Besides Sarojini (Jinni) Pande and Zain Altaf Khan, the story is driven by Jinni's Amma, Pushpa Pandey, who is a canny, old politician. The descriptions, the whole trodding of the constituency and the people, Jinni meet is an authentic (or shall we use the word 'real') account – Anuja Chauhan's mom-in-law is Margaret Alva, an old Congress hand.
What do I say about Those Pricey Thakur Girls? I have already written an entire post on it. All I can add is that I am looking forward to read its sequel, 'The House that BJ built.'
If I have to write about another book, which falls into the 'light' category, then it will be 'My Sister's Hurricane Wedding', written by Nandini Bajpai. She's Anuja Chauhan's sister, and like her is a delightful writer. It's written for Young Adults (YA), but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Both the sisters (they are four sisters) bring out the relationships really well. Maybe being one of the four sisters and several cousins (as their author's bio says), or just the fact that they are good writers, they have a firm grasp on the subject they are writing on.
The 'my' in the title, is Padmini Kapoor, who calls herself Mini Kapoor and drives a Mini Cooper! She is almost 17 and has decid
ed to get her older sister married off to her doctor boyfriend. Set in US, there are no hassles over a Punjabi girl getting married to a Tamilian boy. The only hitch is that there is no woman to take care of the preparations. Mini and Vini's (Yashasvini) mom has passed away six years ago because of cancer. And, their dad, Vinod, is in the process of setting up a start-up and wants to run away from all things Indian. Simply because his wife isn't there and he doesn't know how to handle himself in the scenario.
I guess my is writing too 'dry' about this book. But, as the words fly out from the keyboard, I'm transported to the pages of the book who weave love and laughter, misunderstanding and reconciliation, and the mother-daughters, older sister-younger sister bond! Do read! Reading about a normal, loving family is very reassuring. I want to take a break from reading about 'dysfunctional' families.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Proud of you

Disclaimer: I don't cover the civic beat and I have not visited many corporation schools, so this is not an expert commentary on how these schools are run. I only have something good to say of the students and teachers of K C Thackeray Vidya Niketan.
I happened to visit the school last year in December when there was a literary event in the city. The writers were visiting the school as part of an outreach programme. The first thing that one of the author (she isn't from India) said to me was that the school had a 'first-class' computer lab. That's encouraging. What impressed me was the cleanliness standard of the school - extremely high. A very good sign considering that the school is not located in the poshest of locality. Even the dog, (a stray)adopted by the students/school, was clean. Yes, the dog acutally attended the story-telling session along with the students. He lay quietly in one corner - not a whimper or a bark from him. When the story failed to interest him, he quietly left the classroom.
The authors and I were told that the students were first generation English speakers and so the stories that were told to them were simple. But, the students grasped them pretty well and answered questions put to them at the end.
The teachers are young - all of them wearing Fab India type kurtas over jeans and are addressed as bhaiya and didi. The school is run by Akanksha NGO and the 'teachers' work for the body.
I also happened to visit Chaitanya English Medium School run by Camp Education Society. I love old buildings, especially stone structures, so I was mighty pleased when I parked my scooter in the school's campus. The building was stone structure and surrounding it were tall mango trees.
The classroom was cramped with two classes waiting for their drawing class. But, it was cool thanks to the breeze. Some of the students were typically restless and were brought to order by Chaitra Nerurkar, who wouldn't stand nonsense at all.
Later I learnt that Chaitra was an under-graduate student - History major - and a Teach for India volunteer.
A young person who brought a whiff of fresh air in the teaching methods. Sample this: 'I want to see students of Std V in smart positions - straight backs, no slouching.' The craft products made by students were also different!
Visit these schools!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Remembering you

Dear Aai,
I was reading a book last night, Rujwan, by Maneesha Dixit. It's one of the best books I have read; there are a few more chapters left to read. The author has written about her father and brother and other people in her life. Actually, you could call it a book of portraits – of people, of relationships and the knots that bind them together.
She has dealt with the deaths of her father and brother with sensitivity. Some expressions and emotions described in the book cut me to the core.
I knew that feeling of foreboding; something inauspicious, bad is going to stare me in my face. I don't know why you chose me, out of your three kids, to tell that you aren't going to live long. That was on September 3, and 17 days later you passed away.
You had uttered these words earlier too, sometimes as an emotional blackmail, sometimes as a mock threat. But, that night on September 3, I knew you were speaking the truth. I could sense death marching closer and closer.
Trust me, I tried my best to help you dodge it. But, what is written, is written.
It was this feeling that prompted me to come home on 20th. I had made plans to take the bus home, after work. But the call came in the afternoon, asking me to rush home.
I did. I took a cab home and when it rolled down through the open gate, I half expected you to come and stand near the grilled door, watching as I alight, and then chatting with the driver, giving him baksheesh.
When you didn't appear, I felt as if something vital was missing. Like there is going to be a break in the routine. When I saw you lying on the bed, with no hint of recognition in your eyes, listless, and strangely quit, I was sceptical. I was angry too; I didn't know what was happening; I just wanted to console myself with normalcy; normalcy of your chatter and instructions – wash your feet; don't dump your bag here etc etc.
The doctor had left before I came; he had assured everyone that all is fine with you. And, once the tranquilizing effects wore off, you will be back to normal. Just hang on for a day. You lasted for just 30 mins.
And, when that attack came, it was just Anu and I. You snapped your head strangely, almost twisting it in the process. It was Anu who held you on in her lap; I was screaming and then I was calling the doctor. It took me a few minutes to understand the name of the tablet which we were supposed to give you. Papa went to buy the tablet, leaving me and Anu to watch over you.
Your breathing was laboured; your face turned black and then blue and then the breath came out slowly. When the doctor came, he declared you dead. But, but, Anu said, she just exhaled. The doctor shook his head.
For days after that I questioned why I was the one to be told that you were dying and why I had to be present. What I gathered later was that you were awake and lucid for couple of hours. That you recognised your first born, my brother, vahini and your granddaughter. You spoke a few words with Anu and my father too.
Unfortunately, I am still not sure if you recognised me when I came home in the evening. You said nothing...Only when I was pressing your legs, you had held my hand tightly in your grip. But, not a word.
And, then you left.
That day, when I was in office, before coming home, I was reading this news on ticker. Some man got up from his pyre...he was mistaken to be dead. When they took you away for cremation, this thought kept popping in my mind. Maybe you were alive, and you felt the heat of the flames. Were you hurt? Could you shift away from the flames? I started looking for signs; I guess others were too.
Vahini pointed out there was sudden profusion of hibiscus flowers in the garden; red ones. Perhaps they knew that you were biding bye-bye and wanted to say their farewell too. I had never seen so many blooms of jaswandi before either. It could have been possible, right? They were your favourites and in any case you loved flowers and plants more than you liked us.
I also spotted this rooster in garden. We have had several animals and birds living in the garden. Was it you who had come back to see things for one last time? I didn't see it after four days. I don't think anyother rooster has made an appearance in all these years.
We found your diaries. I don't know if I should even be calling it a diary. You used up the empty pages in Chintu's notebooks to scribble notes and keeping hisaab. We read bits and pieces laughing over your spelling mistakes, and the typical Konkani lilt in the written word.
Then, of course, the house was full of wool balls; sweaters, half knit ones. Anu took away the sweaters, I brought along with me a white wool ball. I can't knit to save my life; but I think I should string the Shanta-Durga and Mother Mary's locket and wear it around my neck, like I used to do earlier. Now, I am wearing it around my silver chain.
Some of your books are with me. I still find money order receipts for Daddy and Mayo in some of the pages! Your musty-smelling sarees are still hanging in the cupboard. Somehow I don't feel like opening it and prying into its contents, like I did earlier. That's more Chintu's thing now. He opens it to go through the photo albums.
I still dream of you.
You seem to make up for that chatter-less evening. You keep talking, waving and gesturing. I don't remember a single word on waking up. All I can remember are the images, you sitting in the chair knitting, watering plants, ferreting out balls which fell into the garden and refusing to hand them over to the boys who came asking for them. Those balls went to Chintu when he played cricket. That was very wicked of you!
Earlier, I used to be troubled by these images. I hated you for not letting me move on. I still don't know what you want from me, what you wish to say. But, now I think I can make peace with your after-death/life existence. Some day it will all become clear to me. Till then..I guess you will make your presence felt through my dreams. And, you will keep a watch on me and on others too.
Maneesha Dixit, thanks for writing those chapters. I finally got the courage to voice certain thoughts.

Monday, 17 June 2013

The Big Picture

I think we are acting like “sheep”..where one goes, several follow. How else can you describe this coverage of Vidya Balan as the media-nominated brand ambassador for sarees?

  • Has it escaped everyone's notice that Sonakshi Sinha in all her hitherto movies has been dressed in sarees? Remember Dabangg, Dabangg 2 and now her forthcoming Lootera? Sonakshi might not be a powerhouse performer like Vidya Balan, but looks a lot better than her.

  • There were hardly any newsreports covering Cannes Film Festival; any ignoramus will think that Cannes is a fashion show; catty comments, bitching and some more bitching about Indian Princess wearing nathni. The only Indian who stood out there, not because of her sartorial sense, was Nandita Das. Discreet, elegant and sophisticated and INTELLIGENT.

  • YJHD crossing so many crore benchmark is a joke. How can anyone like this movie? This, self-congratulatory, well-done pat on the back, which Karan Johar needs every now and then? And, since no one will do it for Johar, he decides to revolve the whole picture around him, his productions and heroines and his buddyship with SRK. Or wait, maybe he meant it as a tribute to the Indian cinema (Bollywood to Johar). Listen carefully to Badtameez will find Chikni Chameli and Chikna Kameena..remember chameli (Katrina) from Agneepath and Kameena Shahid Kapoor. There's bole chudiya, there's reference to DDLJ running at Maratha Mandir, there's Karan Arjun joke, and then Awara tattoo being flashed by RK JR. Hell, we went to watch a movie made by Ayan Mukherjee (Wake Up Sid was the pull) and not this “pat me on the back” mess. Karan Johar grow up!

  • too! I agree with my friend who said that SRK needs to stay off the camera for 3-4 years at the least. Go take a break! Relax! Smoke! Fight! After that, perhaps you can stretch your facial muscles into emoting. Aren't you tired of doing the same, same thing, movie after movie. You are stuck in a rut. I watch Swades sometimes, to remind myself that you are a good actor. You can act sometimes; rest of the time you just HAM.

  • I am tired of seeing Aamir Khan parading as intellectual, working his grey cell charm. Please...Aamir..stick to acting. You do a far better job than express opinions on subjects which you know very little about. Little knowledge is dangerous – remember? And, what's this with cross-dressing? Cross-dressing to sell Godrej refrigerators? Wow!

  • Saif Ali Khan...don't every do the “pungi” dance. You are far too classy for that!

  • Katrina Kaif, do you know Kalki Koechlin? She is white-skinned of French parentage. Speaks Hindi far better than you; you with your half-Indian parentage could learn something from her. In fact even learn to act!

I am not being mean...okay. It's just that we are being fed selective truth for a long, long time. I just wanted to state beyond the obvious. Maybe it reads like a rant. But, this is how I feel.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Women in Mahabharat

Had attended a lecture series on "Women in Mahabharat" by Aaranyavaak. Speaker was Dr Sucheta Paranjpe. This blog is just a reproduction of notes that I took during the lecture.


Unlike Gandhari, Kunti stood up for her sons. They had Kunti’s unwavering support. Only exception was Karna. Kunti must have been sad when she set him afloat on the river, bundled in a casket. There’s a song which describes her state of mind, which is included in Durgabai Bhagwat’s Vyasparva.

When Kunti realizes who Karna is, before the war, she goes to him and asks him to join the Pandavas, but Karna doesn’t agree. That’s not ethical on Kunti’s part.

Similarly, she also fails Draupadi, when she inadvertently advises her sons that the “goods” Arjuna had bought should be shared equally amongst the five brothers. When she comes out of her suite (or kitchen), and sees that it’s Draupadi and not fruits as she had assumed, Kunti should have taken back her words. But, she doesn’t. Instead she says, “My sons will find it difficult to break my word.”

This is very tragic because Kunti has also been a victim of a forced parentage and marriage. Her biological father gave away her to King Kuntibhoj (She was adopted) without taking her wish/desire into account.

She was also cheated when her marriage was arranged with Pandu, who was a sickly man. Their marriage couldn’t be consummated because of a curse on Pandu; if Pandu kept a physical relationship with a woman, that would result in his death.

It so happens that Pandu is unable to overcome his attraction for Madri, his second wife. Their marriage is consummated and that results in Pandu’s death. When Kunti learns of Pandu’s death from Madri, she also realizes the reason. Her feelings are expressed thus, “Rati, Mati, Gati ya madhye tu vartan nighgalis.” That means, Madri was lucky to explore her desires at least once.

After this incident, Madri decides to commit “Sahgaman” (not sati). Her two sons, twins, Nakul and Sahdev are left in Kunti’s care. (Kunti has three sons – Yudhishtir, Arjun and Bheem born as a result of boons granted to her by Durvas Muni). Kunti has special affection for Sahdev, the youngest. She is also said to have told Draupadi, when it’s Sahdev’s turn to be with her, to shower more love on him.


She is the nayika of Mahabharat. Spirited, willful and confident. She is also said to be the perfect example of “Pativrata”. Her birth is said to herald the “destruction of Kshatriya clan.” There was a proclamation to that effect from the skies, so it’s said in one of the versions of Mahabharat.

Described as “tejaswi”, Draupadi was also cheated in marriage. After the Pandavas decide to adhere to Kunti’s wish, Draupadi is not known to have reacted. But, her, father, King Dhrupad took objection to such a marriage. He consults Krishna and a priest. Both say that such a marriage is valid. No one, however, thinks it necessary, to ask Draupadi’s willingness. Her humiliation isn’t complete though.

On the first day (night), Draupadi is asked to sleep at the feet of Pandavas’ in such a manner that each body part is in contact with the bodies of five brother. (the brothers would sleep in a row).

Why did Draupadi, who shows her fiery temperament, in the course of Mahabharata, not react when she’s divided amongst the five brothers? Two plausible reasons: One, she must be stricken at the turn of events and is too confused to take a stance. Secondly, she must have decided to avenge her marriage later.

The highlight of the epic is Vastraharan, as we know it. In the Critical Edition, it’s discussed as Vastrakarshan. When Yudhishthir, who has a weakness for a game of dice, and is invited to play along with his brothers, the Kauravas had no inkling that he would pawn himself, his brothers and his wife.

Thus, the Vastrakarshan wasn’t planned. Draupadi, who had that time was menstruating, was garbed in a single garment (as per the conventions), with her hair let loose, was in her suite. When a servant passed on the message that her husband had pawned her and she had become “Kauravas dasi” and was ordered to come to the court, she sends a reply, “What right does the man, who has already lost himself, have to pawn me?” – this displays her spirit.

However, the Kauravas, in a boisterous mood, send Dushyasan, who drags her back to the court. Dhritarashtra stands up for her and says the “Queen of Kuru clan cannot be humiliated.” He grants her three boons – she can ask what she wants. The Kauravas, who think that they will loose all riches they had gained from Pandavas, are astounded to hear Draupadi’s demands. Her first wish, “Yudhishthir should be freed from the shackles of being a servant.”

Her second wish, “The other four should be freed from the shackles of being a servant and be given one weapon each.”

“On the basis of these two demands they will regain what they have lost,” she concludes.

On hearing this, Karna, says, “Draupadi is the one who rows the Pandavas to safety/to shore.” She is given the simile of a “boat.”

After reaching their quarters, Yudhishthir is again invited to a game of dice by the Kauravas, which he accepts again, despite Draupadi’s pleas to not do so. This time they are exiled for 12 years and 1 year of ‘adnyatwas.’

In this period, Draupadi urges them to acquire skills – Yudhishthir is asked to improve his skills at dice, Bheem is advised to hone his wrestling, Arjuna, his archery and the younger two were asked to study veterinary science.

This aspect of encouraging and motivating husbands to explore their potential, is the finest example of “Pativrata.”

Interestingly, Draupadi, Kunti, Madri have no name of their own. Their names have been derived from the names of their fathers or the kingdoms they ruled. This lack of identity shows how women were treated even in that period.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

A heady mix (that doesn't give you a hang-over)

I have been reading a lot about Anuja Chauhan, the one who came up with the now famous Pepsi tagline – Nothing official about it! She is the newest entrant, it seems, to the chick lit genre. I have not read chick lit, so I wasn't sure what to expect. References to marriages, good daughters, bad daughters....and Men. Men you can swoon over. Is that what one finds in chick lit? I still don't know.

I did read Chauhan's 'Those pricey Thakur girls', but I am not wiser to know if it qualifies the tag of chick-lit genre. Anyway, my reason for picking up the book, was purely personal. The book is set in the 80s, the decade in which I was born. And, it has a DD newsreader and a print journalist in conflict mode. Endearing, lost and looking for honest, kind and brave man, Debjani Thakur finds herself in love with Dylan Singh Shekawat. He of the Manglorean Christian and Rajput parentage and the fearless, young advocate of “Truth. Balance. Courage”, (motto of the paper he works for), falls in love with Debjani Thakur. Sparks fly, misunderstandings galore; end result: the two get married.

I haven't really spilled the beans. Their romance is just one fifth of the love and longing floating in the Thakur's Hailey Road bungalow. Five daughters, each prettier than the other. A retired judge for father, who loves his kot-piece. An easy-going mother, who keeps a sharp look-out on her five daughters and shows each one her rightful place in the house.

The innumerable suitors of the girls (married and unmarried), a Chachi who is a hysterical believer in jadoo-tona, a Chacha who is lusting after the maid and Gulgul bhaisaab, who can't clear LLB exams, but dreams of opening jim (gym). How did I miss the mongrels lining up the Hailey Road? And, the cat? It is she who gets the wedding bells to toll.

It's an interesting concoction of the crazy Indian family. But, I prefer the Lobsters over the Thakurs. Dylan's mother is Juliet Lobo, a Manglorean, referred to as “Lobster”, by her sons and students. The interaction between the Lobsters and Rajput is priceless. Hilarious. Not even Judgesaab's humour in naming his daughters, like a file system (A for Anjini, B for Binodini, C for Chandralekha, D for Debjani and E for Eeshwari), matches the rowdy, bawdy bawling between the Lobsters and Rajputs. Daisy Duck – Donny Noronha...priceless.

If you know your Jane Austen and don't want to be bothered by the Indian version (this is my opinion, strictly so) then don't read this book.
(Oh yes, the book is also about the State-sponsored Sikh genocide after Indira Gandhi's assassination and how DD tried to gloss over the facts. One paper covered the riots, killings and is still pursuing the case. Any guesses of the names of the publication?)

Monday, 25 March 2013

Miracle vs Chak De! India

I chanced on "Miracle" on Zee Studio last evening. It's the movie on which Chak De! India is based, or to put it more blunty - Chak De! India was "inspired" by Miracle.
Out and out copy. Okay, there are a few differences - it's US vs Soviet conflict playing in the background; the coach is not battling charges of  being a "traitor"; Herb Brooks almost made it to the 1960 US Olympics team, but was cut out in the last week before the Games.
He is chosen to coach the US Ice Hockey Team, in times when the country's morale has been bruised and hurt; the Soviets appear invincible. And, the boys he is leading belong to rival Universities - Minnesota and Boston. In the Indian version, we have the States.
The "India" call which set the mood for Chak De...came in much later in Miracle.
I found this movie a lot better - you can see for yourself that SRK's mannerisms, posturing is based on the Brooks guy. The former is more "aggro" in tone/speech; Brooks is more in action. He hardly ever raised his voice. Their climax (win over Soviet Union on American soil) was thrilling, nail-biting even though I knew how it would end.
There's lot of history and politics in the movie too. It was the Cold War era; nuke weapons dominate TV and news headline and of course Carter's boycott of Moscow Games. The Soviet head instead decided to play on American soil, at Lake Placid, and lost.
In a preparatory round - US was thrashed badly by the Soviets. In ours, girls team lost to boys.
The YRF movie relied too much on gimmicks - of course the team chose them well. Creating women heroes, a coach whose patriotism is under question and then the State divide and the family vs career battle. They made it very Indian. Wish they were original too.