The wait for badminton

Another year gone by. Shiny new racquets sitting in the cupboard never fail to remind me that I need to take charge of my life. Take a chance they (the racquets, not the voices in my head) scream. We are lonesome. Badminton is tailor made for our times – a socially distanced sport.

Some things pass you by because you didn’t try hard enough. At the surface it would seem like that (there are always underlying factors) but some of it is true. While waiting for a partner last year the universe intervened (thanks pandemic). I will have to be a quiet athlete (thank you for the term Susan Cain), if I have to be fitter! Next time I will definitely play a sport but when the time comes I talk myself out of it like the sleepy me does when the alarm beeps every morning at 515 AM. I always tell myself I will run/cycle/dance but I end up just walking.

I love my solo walks. There was a time when I couldn’t walk much so I feel truly joyful when I take a walk around the park or the forested roads beyond my neighbourhood and catch the moonrise, sunrise or sunset or just sit under the inky skies. They are one of the few things that make me feel alive (and connected to the world at large) these days and, of course, drinking copious amounts of coffee helps !

The days are longer now, summer is here, and the spring was virtually nonexistent. It is the oddest things we hold on to what connects us to our childhood selves. Badminton is just one of the many.

The racquets continue to sit on the shelf gathering dust. The time for playing badminton is long gone the adult me thought but the kids in my neighbourhood beg to differ. You see, they don’t quite believe in the rules we so easily accept. They truly understand the meaning of carpe diem, and continue to play badminton seizing opportunities when there is no wind during hot windy days, and cool breezy evenings during this unprecedented summer. This is the stuff that optimism is made of, and which self help books can’t really teach. The pandemic was there last year too , and maybe we are getting better at dealing with our disappointments and keeping our expectations in check.

The Namesake

Should I watch the movie or read the book first? Once upon a time there would have been no doubt. It’s odd that I even have to ask myself this question but our preferences change with time. The Namesake used to be one of my favourite books, and Jhumpa Lahiri, one of my favourite authors. I saw The Lowland many times in the book fair but didn’t buy it. Recently in the library I picked up the book again thinking my feelings might have changed but after reading a few lines I put it back on the shelf. I am beginning to question if there are some things we can’t return to. It’s not as easy to explain sometimes you know, and that’s okay.

Let me confess this post has been sitting in my drafts for quite sometime now – Irrfan Khan’s loss hit me hard. It’s a film which meant a lot to me, and it was his portrayal of Ashoke, a man whose quiet gumption made it so beloved to so many of us. I loved Jhumpa Lahiri’s book on which the film is based but he adds something to the character which will forever be how I view Ashoke. And it was reinforced while rifling through the pages of The Namesake (the book opened to the chapter where Ashoke dies)

The film is about freedom and alienation, and the difference not only between generations but in cultural backgrounds. I wouldn’t call them clashes but differences which crop up when one doesn’t understand something. No one truly understands their parents because the children have never lived through the transitions their parents have lived through. Tabu is masterful, and makes you weep with just her expressions doing the trick. Irrfan and Tabu age gracefully which gives a lived in feel to the film.

The movie released 14 years ago and I revisited it more than a decade later. Warm and emotional, it takes you on a journey. This film by Mira Nair is special for many reasons. She was the one who plucked Irrfan out of obscurity and gave him a break (That’s what I heard in an interview she gave after his demise).

Gogol, Ashoke and Ashima’s son, is played brilliantly by Kal Penn, who refuses to sit on a rickshaw because it is pulled by a man. Such cruelty is unthinkable to him but no one bats an eyelid in India. I have sat in rickshaws as a child, and sparingly as an adult in ancient cities where they still ply. It is also a cultural education of sorts to those who have never lived abroad as much as it is an eye opener for their children visiting India. Born abroad they will always be visitors in their own homeland. When he goes jogging his grandmother sends a servant after him not to keep an eye on him but to keep him safe. He may be lost in the streets of his homeland which never felt like home to him anyway. The milieu, the culture everything is alien to him.We sense his unease and disorientation.

“Is that what you think of when you think of me?” Gogol asks him. “Do I remind you of that night”?

“Not at all”, his father says eventually, one hand going to his ribs, a habitual gesture that has baffled Gogol until now. “You remind me of everything that followed.”

Continue reading “The Namesake”

Polite Society by Mahesh Rao

Mahesh Rao’s Polite Society is a viciously funny black comedy of manners whereas in Austen’s Emma nothing really bad happens. Polite Society is the darker cousin of Austen’s Emma – you know the talons will come out at a point and the characters will get hurt. In Austen’s world, there are allusions but here we see the ugliness that lies behind picture perfect lives. I liked the book for its refreshing lack of morality, and there certainly is no redemption. By now you know not to expect a happy ending. A biting social commentary for the 21st century set in the snobby upper echelons of Delhi, just as segregated as Highbury.

All the characters from Aisha danced around in my head merging with the brilliant adaptation of Emma by Autumn de Wilde (that’s really her name!) plus the original characters from Austen’s Emma which I finished in lockdown (with a little help from the brilliant audiobook which made me feel as if I was listening to a radio dramatization). In 2019, I read a contemporary adaptation by Alexander McCall Smith which was neither here nor there. I had to have my bases covered, you see.

Ania Khurana, our desi Emma, is as vapid as Sonam’s Aisha. (Many people trashed the film but I liked it except for the trite ending.) Ania lives in a bungalow teeming with servants but there’s no one she can be honest with. The paparazzi track her every move. For all her material trappings, she is terribly lonely. Ania is rich but not really the daddy’s girl like Emma was. Ania and her father don’t have much of a relationship even though they live in the same mansion. The affection that Emma lavished on Mr Woodhouse is absent here perhaps because Dileep Khurana appears to be a cold father (it takes two to build a relationship). All we want in life, whether rich or poor, is to be accepted for who we are, and feel a little less alone.

A character I wanted to know more about was Dev (it will always be Abhay Deol in my mind). He has a fleeting presence in the book hovering in the background. He never shouts at Ania just teases her or ticks her off gently. Where Mr Knightley remains superior to all and sundry, Dev’s pursuit of intelligence and appreciation of intellect lands him in a quandary many a time. In short, Dev is Mr Knightley, who has been humanized, and hence more real.

Renu Bua is the unmarried aunt modelled after Miss Taylor. She may not be treated with outright contempt but she has a lesser importance both inside, and outside the house until she gets married and moves out. Old maids are still a thing. So much for all our modernity.

The author writes women well. (I am always surprised when men write women well!) The characters’ inner motivations are revealed in the chapters given to them which was quite interesting (a departure from Austen’s Emma). You see what they think about themselves, where they are really come from, and how it contrasts with the facade they have built for the world.

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The Big Sick

I had wanted to see The Big Sick since I heard the name and now I want to see it again for the razor sharp dialogue and the insights it provides. And, of course the humour.

Love isn't easy. That's why they call it love I thought. Maybe staying untethered isn't all that bad. But at the same time it has given me unrealistic expectations and hope that other than my parents and friends someone significant will stand by me.

Spoilers ahead. 

Would you stand by a very sick if not dying (but the threat is imminent) girl when you have just dated her for a couple of months, and broken up with her because you could see no future with her? Then, while waiting for her to wake up from a coma you realize you are in love, and willing to go that extra mile for her. I know! Truth is always stranger than fiction.Can this happen for real? Isn't cinema the fantasy that we escape to? The ideal. And then I found out that this was the story of the writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily  Gordon around the time they started dating. I was done waiting for Augustus and now here comes this guy. How will real people match up to their standards? I realized that if I have to watch movies and read books I have to believe in things working out, realistic fairy tales in other words, and not be sister grim(m.

Emily doesn't magically go back to Kumail because she heard from her parents he was there for her during her illness. She takes her time to figure things out. He was there but she wasn't there there to witness it. In a relationship two people have to be on the same page for it to work out.

The intense scenes were done well by Zoe Kazan whereas Kumail Nanjiani looked like he was a throwing a fit or having a nervous breakdown but I have to say signing up with an acting coach was a good idea.Her parents played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter are superlative as Emily's parents.

The jokes about 9/11, ISIS and religion were really out there and it was brave of them to put it in the movie.Family, rejection, heartbreak,the question of race - all so wonderfully handled with humour. 
 
I realized as a writer you cannot be embarrassed about using things in your life as fodder in the most obvious way as long as you don't really break someone's heart. I know asking for permission or waiting for it to be granted isn't realistic but you could at least avoid the heartbreak.
  
This was my first white movie which had a Pakistani protagonist (Next will be The Reluctant Fundamentalist which has been on my watchlist since I read the book). The family values are very similar and their expecting you to do certain things or you will be kicked out of the family is quite relatable. India and Pakistan have so many similarities because the germline is the same. Anupam Kher played the father without making it desi. You will know what I mean when you see the film. 
  
Ray Romano seemed familiar too but I couldn't put my finger on it and then I found out he's the voice of Manny the mammoth in Ice Age, and later on when I saw Parenthood, he plays a rare character on TV who's a loner and very comfortable in his own skin.

Go watch it for the cast if not the subject matter.

Our education system

Why don’t I ever come across people who donate Tintin comics? Why why why? Oh, wait I just did. On my face is a gleeful smile which makes me look like a maniac but for once I’m not bothered. I didn’t know there were people, species of human, who give their Tintins away. Now as a crusty adult I have books which I won’t reread, ergo give them away so maybe these kids are detached like that from the beginning which is just as well (my conversion is fairly recent). And, also they have no time to reread so why clutter the house?

Okay, really. What kind of a childhood is it where children have no time to read comics forget reread books for leisure? I wonder if that affects their psyche in any way. *Reminds self to look up studies in this regard.*

Leisure is a bad word. Possibly worse than murder. What can I say I recently watched The White Tiger, and murder is on my mind.


Fill up their time.
Fill up fill up fill up.

Fill up their day with all sorts of activities.
Let not a moment go waste.
Lest they will be out of the rat race.

Human parents who want their children to be lab rats.
Race race race
To the invisible finish line
And to what end?
To be the same in a million – different genes but expressing identical thoughts (peas in a pod but not in a good way). Thinking for oneself thrown out of the window.

Studying English and Mathematics is still understandable but why on Earth would you teach coding to a 10 year old? Aren’t today’s kids burdened enough? I feel for children who aren’t allowed to play on weekdays. I knew a couple of them growing up and while we played they studied. I can’t speak for them but my childhood wouldn’t have been the same if I hadn’t been allowed to let off steam after school. There should always be time to ride a bicycle. But then who am I, an aimless wanderer with no riches to my name, to say anything at all to today’s smart kids ?

We remember.

We remember things but forget the minutiae, and sometimes even the most traumatic of experiences. Humans are adept in the art of self preservation hence we have colonized the earth (or so we think until a virus comes along and makes us question everything we knew). We move on with our lives for better or worse but try not to forget the things that really matter. Making sense of things is more important than moving on. Honestly, I have never really understood what moving on meant and with life passing me by and time galloping away, I’m not even going to try.

I lost a friend recently. Many people lost their loved ones this year, (it’s the season of loss) and we have our own ways of coping. But what do you do in case of an online friend? I talked to other online friends who knew her but I still felt bereft. This person was someone whose strength and innate goodness I had admired, so it hit me particularly hard even though we had never met in person. I haven’t seen her handwriting or heard her voice but I knew her. In unguarded moments we shared the story of our lives as it really was, in all its ugliness. We had a connection, and battled some of the same issues. Now I’m here and she’s not. Life isn’t fair. I know that by now, but it still doesn’t feel any less painful or make its acceptance easy.

We wander around life thinking we have forever but our days are numbered and the countdown begins the moment we are born. But how many of us how truly understand the nature of time? Now a person is there, now gone. Some things we understand only in hindsight; when we can’t do anything about it but lament. The things we don’t do for others keeps on playing into the regrets of our life stories. Whenever someone dies I am filled with regrets about the things I could have done but didn’t do. But I have realised to live and feel deeply, is to live with regrets.

This year has been hard for so many of us for a multitude of reasons. It made me realize you can’t just hope to exist and live this life coasting by doing the bare minimum, not if you want to live. Survive. Live. Thrive. One step at a time. Survival is something one has to want, and give one’s whole self to (heart and brain working in tandem), and that means dwelling in the past is out of question. We know that bringing our A game is something we need to do but it doesn’t mean we always do. Gentle reminder to self going forth into the new year to look at things differently, in a solution oriented manner, and focusing on the positive however bleak the circumstances might be. Broken I might be in places, but I’m still alive.

Life Over Two Beers by Sanjeev Sanyal

A few years ago I had the pleasure to listen to the author Sanjeev Sanyal speak at a lit fest, and coincidentally the same one concluded this weekend online while I finished the book. Talk about coincidences! I took my time with his book, with short stories I always do. You see, I need the gaps to swirl the stories in my head and think about them before I can move on to the next one.

The cover reminded me of another fantastic book I read this year, Mahesh Rao’s Polite Society. The writing is lovely but that I already know from having read his nonfiction. I was surprised to find a few poems in the book. He’s honest in the acknowledgements that he’d always wanted to write a book of short stories focused on satire, and he has done just that. I liked some stories more than others; some were too factual or too short for me to register its impact.  Most of the stories have endings which turns them on their head which is reminiscent of classical short story writers.

Reading the stories I got the feeling that he enjoys taking down snobs a peg or two. The tone of the book is somewhere between taking potshots, and gentle ribbing. I can’t help thinking he must have hobnobbed with the rich and the famous. He has observed their world from close quarters because the stories have an element of truth in them. Reading about what goes on in government offices was equally fascinating and horrifying. In a story discrepancies in testing are exposed which assumes greater significance during the pandemic we’re living through.

I read the first story last because I had forgotten to read it (not a case of saving the best for the last). I enjoyed the description of the lit fest in the story not just because I have attended it but because it rang true. I felt like the author had fun (gleeful is the word I’m looking for) writing the stories. A searing and witty book. For fear of giving out spoilers, which will ruin these stories, I am mentioning my favorites that include The Used Car Salesman, Books, The Intellectuals, The Caretaker, The Conference Call, The Troll and Life Over Two Beers. I’ll be waiting for his next installment of short stories because we all need a bit of satire in our lives to make the harsh truths palatable.

Newton by Amit Masurkar

I loved Newton so much I hoped it would be a series. I forced myself to go see it because I was unwell. I chose well because I came home invigorated albeit with a headache thanks to the blinding September sun. What times those were, solo movie outings in half empty theatres.

The writing is brilliant. We see the ground reality but the narrative is peppered with laughs drawing out maximum humour, mining it from unlikely places due to astute observations, proper research, and of course the incredible cast. It’s a treat to watch excellent actors play off each other. Watching Pankaj Tripathi’s interview today where he got asked about a scene from Newton I realized I hadn’t done what I had promised myself once I saw the film, I’d tell everyone to see it on a streaming platform. So here I am three years later!

Pankaj Tripathi is a class act injecting life into his part, and I will be watching this movie again for him alone. He was one of the best things for me in Bareilly ki Barfi apart from Seema Pahwa of course. Rajkumar Rao is spellbinding as Newton. We see the world through Newton’s eyes but the film is balanced with varied viewpoints which is a rare thing. One is the local Malko played by Anjali Patil (who was spectacular in Afsos) who has grown up seeing these “elections” so it doesn’t surprise her. And the other by Tripathi whose posting in Naxal infested areas have hardened him or perhaps made him more practical. He isn’t going to be taught about rules nor is he going to run a fool’s errand. Newton allows us to make up our minds, and doesn’t try to tell us what’s right or wrong.

I have come to believe that stellar actors can make any role their own. If this is not star power I don’t know what is, getting under the skin of the characters, making them believable, and not caricatures which Malko could so easily have been. And it doesn’t laugh at Newton. It shows us Newton as he is but doesn’t tell us why he’s the way he is. This is the rare film which doesn’t spoon-feed the audience or try to do their thinking for them. Continue reading “Newton by Amit Masurkar”

Author Uncovered : P.D. James

Cover Her Face is Baroness P.D. James’ first book.

August is Baroness P.D. James’ birthday month, her 100th birthday no less, and I took it as a sign from the universe to start at the beginning. I read a delightful autobiographical short from her childhood published in honour of her birth centenary, and that is how I ended up reading Cover Her Face. Also, gloomy monsoons, the sound of rain thundering outside while we are at home (most of us are thanks to the pandemic, right?) and murder go quite well together, no?

The title (I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t point out the obvious) seems eerily apt for our times! I was plunged into a different world (the story did appear dated but it was true to its time) and a simple murder mystery by today’s standards but the people in it were far from simple. I really appreciated the psychological insight into well fleshed out characters, and of course, the leisurely pace. I was impressed by her sense of humour and her scathing social observation. She’s a Jane Austen fan, and I could see that in her writing.

I listened to her interviews where she spoke about writing Cover Her Face which was published in 1962. I am one of those people who are always interested in the artist behind the art, in the life of the author beyond the book. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, it’s just the way I am. And I can’t say it doesn’t colour my perception but I try to be impartial to the written word.

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School of life

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Instead of teaching us geometry and mensuration why were we not taught basic survival skills, when we still had the energy to learn them? How to cope with a bad day or a bad partner (that is if you are lucky to have already chosen one!)? Making a perfect circle with a rounder requires precision but even better is a round roti, if one wants to fit in, I suppose. I don’t know about you but sticking out like a sore thumb is somehow less appealing during the times we are living in. Maybe not better just aesthetically pleasing. Not for me a job well done and all that, but the quiet sound of people other than my mother reaching out for my rotis. Mine turn out to be map-like hence I stick to baking where failure is less easily noticeable (especially if you have a sweet tooth) and you can always blame the elements!

Why weren’t we apprised of the fact that life isn’t neatly divided into past, present and future like the tenses we were so diligently taught in school? Just because you ate tiffin (lunch break it was but lunch it never was) together (okay you ate your friend’s tiffin and your friend ate yours!) and sat together in classes for nearly half a decade doesn’t mean that you will remain friends or even in the periphery of each other’s lives. From seeing each other everyday to now just seeing or liking their posts. If you are lucky that is! Oh yes, hate following is a thing.

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