October is not a love story.

There are few movies where I immediately want to go back to the world it portrayed and my first thought after watching Shoojit Sircar’s October was just that – I have to watch it again. This is not a movie review but a discussion. Spoilers ahead.

For some reason October reminded me of The Big Sick (another movie I wanted to see again as soon it finished) even though the leads Dan and Shiuli aren’t romantically inclined like the real life couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon in the former. Perhaps because like The Big Sick, October dealt with something catastrophic happening out of the blue with humour.

I am foolish. I am naive. I am easily irritated. I am moody. I get affected by things which most people shrug off without a care. I am frequently annoying and have been known to speak out of turn when I should have kept my head down and stare at my feet. I hold on and be direct in the wrong-est of situations, and do things because I want to without thinking of returns in the hope of things working out even when there’s no chance of it. In short your typical Aries. (No better time than Aries season to embrace who I am.) So I could relate to Dan’s character in the film October more than I’d like to admit.

I don’t believe October is about a romantic relationship of any kind. Affection, connection and love are different things. But people have always seen what they wish to see. Although Dan and Shiuli work in the same hotel they had barely interacted with each other outside of work when she was conscious. Most of their interactions are after the accident. Shiuli cannot reciprocate Dan’s affection or repay what he has done for her but he continues tirelessly without hoping for much, a little (flash of) recognition maybe, and, of course, her recovery.

Dan finds a cause which changes the direction of his life. He insinuates himself into something which actually isn’t any of his business. And through this obstinacy and refusal to even admit a negative outcome or become jaded he actually gives hope to a family in a trying time, in a situation devoid of much hope.

Why did he fight for her? The world asks him why does he care so much. Can’t he get a grip on himself? Why is he so affected? To which he says how can you be so unaffected! They see him throwing his life away for a girl he barely knew because of something she said before the accident. They were colleagues not friends. It is perhaps feeling for someone who met a grisly end for no fault of her own and caring because they got the rough end of the deal which could have easily happened to him. Though I am the last person on the planet to admit this, I have seen enough of life to acquiesce that some occurrences in life cannot be explained in rational terms.

Setting the movie in a hospital is bound to connect with people. There is no one in the world untouched by sickness or hasn’t been a patient or a caregiver and dealt with such things in a family member or a relative. And though they are not happy places for me, I have made my peace with them. Knowing about medicines, chit chatting with the staff while waiting for the doctors felt like familiar territory.

Gitanjali Rao is outstanding as the mother of Shiuli trying to hold it together when faced with mounting hospital bills and imminent death of her eldest child. Her children, Shiuli’s siblings, go to tuitions and study in the hospital and she continues to take classes at IIT Delhi, sticking to their routines for the sake of sanity. I have loved her stunning short films as an animator and now adore her as an actor.

Banita Sandhu as Shiuli is especially amazing in the slow recovery and progress scenes.

The cinematography by Avik Mukhopadhyay is amazing; the quiet moments never drag but allow you to appreciate what is unfolding with an intensity that is immersive. The changing of seasons while circumstances in life’s barely keep pace with it is captured well. It took me back to a time in my life when I couldn’t do much except note the passage of seasons. This is what good cinema does, you experience the film and connect it with the story of your life.

Continue reading “October is not a love story.”

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Wanting to be saved

A Coldplay kind of day today, and when Death and All His Friends come to your rescue, you listen. It was not all​ Yellow not by a long stretch but​ blue and no one will bleed for you or die trying except perhaps your family (their job description since the day you were born) and a few close friends (if you are lucky).  So what are you cribbing about, you ungrateful wretch. Get over yourself. Live, thrive, survive (whatever suits you). No one can Fix You except you.

No I don’t want to battle from beginning to end
I don’t want a cycle of recycled revenge

It’s like I ​heard the song for the first time. For a long time the song was misnamed in my playlist as Lovers in Japan. Isn’t it amazing how a song will be whatever you want it to be in that moment – romantic, cathartic, healing, inspiring and so much more.

Sometimes a song saves you. The memories associated with it, the lyrics or the music itself (words become superfluous and it is the rhythm which carries you through).

​Watching This is Us brought Mandy Moore back into my life. For me Mandy Moores’s Cry is not about the lyrics but about nostalgia for me. It is about a bygone era when me and my friends used to read Nicholas Sparks (oh the horror). Now if I see A Walk to Remember (a fate comparable to being inside an MRI machine) I will definitely sob but it will be due to laughing hard and snorting at the dialogues. Thank god we grew up. Idealism has no place in the life of old people. (No, don’t tell me 30 is the new 20!) Youth and idealism go together just fine, complementing each other in envisioning a better future full of realized dreams, lost opportunities nowhere on the horizon and the harsh truth yet to dawn. The blinders come off eventually, either voluntarily or forcefully.

Sometimes humour saves you. Satire, sarcasm, nonsense, black – all shades of humour. Your sense of humour is the most important thing about you, so keep it close and try your best not to lose it in the chaos that is everyday life, unless you live on one of many moons of Jupiter. It might desert you and vanish from time to time but prepare a grand welcome when it reappears. Continue reading “Wanting to be saved”

Of letters and epistolary connections

Writing letters was quite common during my grandparents time when telephones weren’t ubiquitous and very few households had it. They wrote letters to each other to apprise each other of the happenings in their lives. They speak very fondly of those days, of waiting for a letter. They didn’t see each other for months and it was letters that connected them to each other, bridging the distance effortlessly. Look at us with our smartphones, connected on multiple platforms but still there’s something missing. In saying too much too often we are perhaps missing the point.

We are surrounded by words, we use words to connect with others on social media and on the phone. How many people write letters (=epistles) or for that matter long emails in the age of WhatsApps, which is the opposite of instant and needs some time to be responded to. Letters are the epitome of personal. There’s something about the act of writing letters that makes me feel like I’m not a part of this dog-eat-dog world or that I belong to a different time than the one I am living in (my sister says it’s a way of keeping illusions intact and delaying it being shattered by the real world).

Somehow a letter seems less intrusive but more revealing (if you know what I mean you have penpals) than a conversation when you only know the person online. It gives us the liberty to shape and build a narrative we want to present (quite like the image we create on social media) while being true to the self. Online or offline we are always telling our life stories. Also, there is the romance of it, how a letter feels in your hand. It is far more real than an email could ever be. Internet offers us many chances of finding like-minded people and connecting with them but texts can never be as personal as a letter.

The people I write to and who write to me, we have formed a unique bond that surprisingly goes beyond words. Even if communication happens via other channels the letters remain special.

Seeing the handwriting of someone you have never met is very personal but nobody thinks about it because of the way things have always been. Handwriting is a practical tool to write answers and get marks.

Writing to someone you have never met in real life teaches you to have faith beyond  what you see. Pen pals or email pals allow us to escape the tedium of reality without completely endangering ourselves. We think the person on the other side of the table can’t really hurt us. Apparently this is both naïve and idiotic. It can be foolhardy and dangerous if the person on the other side isn’t honest about who he or she is. And finding out later is nothing short of betrayal. Count yourself lucky if it doesn’t result in heartbreak.

Do people write letters in this day and age? They are dying tribe but they do exist. A lot of trust, patience and faith in the universe is required to sustain this habit. In life we get hurt. Our trust is destroyed by people who call themselves our friends (or acquaintances). So how do we sustain such a connection with so many unknowable variables? Is it by believing in the persona created by words but nothing to corroborate the fact in real life? Or something else? It works because we want to make it work and believe what the person on the other side says is true. Other than that, getting letters in the post is a feeling which cannot be described in words.

Did you have a pen pal? What has been your experience like?

 

Book review – I Quit! What Now?

Meet Nimisha, the protagonist of Zarreen Khan’s I Quit! What Now? She is a corporate drone (think Ranbir’s character in Tamasha except wittier) and works so hard at her job that she hasn’t had a weekend to herself in a long time. Sounds familiar? She hates her job and the daily grind that comes with the territory. She desperately needs some time off to recharge her batteries and the idea of a sabbatical is planted in her head when her colleague takes one because of her pregnancy. She thinks a sabbatical is the answer to all her problems. But life rarely works as per our plan. She is forced to quit when she isn’t granted a few months off. So she starts off with the list of options typed in her excel sheet, ready to dive in. And we journey with her as she goes through the list, trying things, with hilarious consequences.

Nimisha, fondly called Nimi, lives with her mother and maid. With a distinct personality of her own her maid is one of my favourite characters. Nimi has an elder sister and her nieces adore her. They love the stories she tells them. She has a bunch of friends who keep in touch in spite of their busy lives. Her relationships with friends, family, and office colleagues is portrayed in a real manner and there isn’t a single false note.

Nimi is afraid to make a fool of herself like the rest of us.  But she is a diligent worker who hasn’t more or less caught a break in 8 years and feels unappreciated. No wonder the burnout happened.

Nimisha is a likable protagonist but more than that she is flawed and real, like you and me. Initially I couldn’t connect with the corporate droning but I suspect most  people would identify with it. After that the pace picked up and I couldn’t stop reading. I haven’t worked in a corporate set up so for me it was looking in from the outside. A fresh perspective, and a scary one at that. I cackled at her jokes in the middle of a wintry night. There was a very real chance of waking people up and making them think I was a lunatic. Continue reading “Book review – I Quit! What Now?”

Lessons in life from a little girl (real and fictional)

Unexpected intrusions of beauty. That is what life is. – Saul Bellow

There are no words to express the way you feel when you hold the hand of an eleven year old, let her take charge and be your guide. For a few moments I felt like the schoolgirl I had once been, carefree, innocent and oblivious to what the world looked like to grownups. I thought I had left that self far behind but it was hiding in the open underneath the veneer of adulthood. I desperately hope (in spite of knowing that it will) growing up doesn’t rob her of her curiosity.

This child was knowledgeable about the technicalities of photography and that impressed me, I am still an amateur photographer years after professing interest in photography as a hobby. There lies the difference. It is more than a hobby for her. She is passionate about it.

I took to her immediately. Our vibes matched. It would appear strange when I say that because I am a world weary adult (even though I cringe while saying it) and she’s a bright kid. My inner child connected with her and perhaps in her I could see a glimpse of the happy-go-lucky child I used to be.

I have always connected well with children. At the same time, I have been told by my older friends that I am far too mature for my age. I am an old soul with a young heart. And only with a Gemini it won’t be a conundrum.

She was cheerful, restless and bubbling with enthusiasm like children are. It was something I could not have asked for but got in spades interacting with her that day. I was not supposed to meet her but she had come with my friend and how funny it was her that made my day.

The same night I found a book  I had been looking for ages, Oliver Jeffers’ The Heart and the Bottle. I don’t have to tell you that the illustrations are beautiful because it’s a book by Oliver Jeffers. It talks about a girl shutting herself away from the world because something bad happened to her. To live and to just exist are two different things. She allowed grief to overwhelm her and forgot to live until a little girl shows her what she was missing, just by being herself, full of life and not being afraid of the future (the great unknown for most of us unless you are a seer). I was that little girl but I don’t want to be that adult. Finding the way to yourself, and discovering who you are, isn’t that the purpose of life?

Life mirrors art. Art mirrors life. And we continue to live on trying to find meaning in the things we do.

Yesterday I read an insightful interview about Oliver Jeffers’ new book Here We Are which comes out today. The cover looks stunning and I cannot wait to read it.

Wild Child and Other Stories by Paro Anand

Wild Child and Other Stories contains stories about teens dealing with issues that they grapple with. Paro Anand’s earlier book School Days which I thoroughly enjoyed was about tween’s issues but this one is so much darker because of the themes it deals with. Teens are unruly, difficult and moody but always in the need of love, both tough and tender.

This is an award winning book but why does it have such a bad cover? I mean come on, YA audience is used to being treated better all around the world. So glad it has now been re-released by Penguin India as Like Smoke which has 20 stories.

The title story Wild Child deals with a girl who is always bunking school (I had read an excerpt and decided to buy the book), vanishing somewhere where no one can find her. Intent only on punishing her, the elders make no enquiry or try to find out what is the matter with her. The answer when it comes, sheds light on her behaviour. People who deal with children need to be more aware and open, not to mention perceptive, to catch what is really the matter.

This is Shabir Karam is about children whose parents have been killed in Hindu- Muslim conflicts. Kids from different religions live together in a home but they have no love lost for each other. How children, who have no clue what religion is, are caught in the crossfire of hatred and bigotry will make you very uncomfortable.

Children are vulnerable, yet to form their opinions and adults, who are in a position to influence it, do grave disservice to them when they do it to meet their agenda. It makes children easy targets. Early childhood trauma is not something that can be reversed and their childhood is lost somewhere.

They Called Her ‘Fats’ is about an unruly, unfriendly and angry girl. Fatima has no friends and the children in the school spread vicious rumours about her. It is not only adults but children also fear what they don’t understand, and Fatima doesn’t make it easy for anyone. The sports teacher sees the potential in her when she throws the javelin.

Very few people are lucky to find  something that channelizes what they have inside them. It just takes one person to believe in you. What makes the story riveting is that it has roots in reality.

Santa’s Not So Little Helper is in a lighter vein. A boy who writes a creative writing piece in class about being part of Santa’s family. It is funny and did take me back to my school days but it didn’t quite fit in this collection.

In Jason Jamison and Ia star tennis player with swoon worthy good looks is troubled inside. The perfect exterior is a facade. He is the new boy who defeats the old reigning champion. Looks can be deceiving (quite literally) and friendship can spring up in the oddest of places between unlikeliest of people.

Mixed marriages are taboo in India and it is the worst when it is a foreigner. When the marriage doesn’t work out the family is left in the deep end, shunned by the society. What is the child’s fault? But he or she is the one who has to bear the brunt of it.

Hearing My Own Story talks about abuse that goes on inside the house. Physical and mental abuse is a reality for many married women. They have no clue that they can walk out of their abusive marriages and claim compensation. But the ground reality is murky and in India where marital rape isn’t a crime, women are helpless. The social fabric is at fault. Both people, outside and inside the home tell you to keep mum. 

Like Smoke was gut wrenching but felt short and abrupt. Maybe that is what the author wanted to show, how living in terrorist climes is, with bombing and shooting being everyday affairs. How uncertain and fragile their lives are with the threat of death looming on the horizon.

It makes you think about what is really being done about the situation in Kashmir. The militancy is destroying the lives of so many people, who are easy targets because they refuse to leave their motherland; it is the civilians who are paying the price for the unrest. Continue reading “Wild Child and Other Stories by Paro Anand”

Tagore’s The Post Office and the living

I lay on the bed
for the better part of the day 
looking listlessly  out of the window
the wire mesh blocking the view
partitioning the sky into small squares.
Sleep eluded me
pain overpowered me
I longed to die.
I felt my heart thudding
hanging on to dear life.
Death laughing sardonically
watching with cold glee
whispering in a thin voice

your time is yet to come.

Continue reading “Tagore’s The Post Office and the living”