Category Archives: life

I Quit! What Now? by Zarreen Khan

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 I Quit! What Now? by Zarreen Khan

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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.

Rains Ridiculous

Like a typical Aries one day I was returning after experiencing something practically life altering (to someone else it would be lunacy not path breaking), I decided to take a chance and get wet in the rain. My God it was a scary experience. So much for new experiences. It’s completely so not true what they show in movies. It’s the opposite. And highly impractical might I add.

It was humid, the clouds were mongering and I was waiting the bus for what seemed like an eternity. I was so busy writing I missed two buses. I people watched when I felt tired and fatigued. Man watching is the term. Finally got on one when I waved my hands madly and the bus that was moving away screeched to a halt.

Getting wet in the rains is overrated. (God help me if I am ever stuck in the Mumbai rains.) You soil your clothes and shoes which take forever to dry if you live in a humid place like I do. It ain’t Delhi my mind said. Cleaning them is a task, and then there is the imminent threat of a raging cold. I felt nothing but tedious. Where was the magic I wondered, when I was dragging myself through the roads.

Rainy season is the least favourite of the seasons though I love the accompaniments – clouds being formed, the colour of skies darkening and the streaks of lightning, sudden and unexpected. The dreamer in me cannot ever reconcile with the realist that shows up from time to time.

I will never say rain demands to be felt. Big fat drops hitting you with all their might making the short stretch leading home seem like an long endless road. Shudder! Continue reading Rains Ridiculous

Have a Safe Journey

 If walking on the roads wasn’t scary enough with increasing traffic, people following their own rules and the dismal law and order situation should be enough to scare you. It is the ugly truth. I think it is very commendable that such a book has been published. Nitin Gadkari played an integral role in bringing out the book. He has also written the foreward for Have A Safe Journey. The book is divided into two sections. The first section has stories by established writers and the second section contains stories by people who participated in the Have A Safe Journey (HASJ) contest.

Anand Neelakantan’s story Hit and Run was disappointing, an old fashioned fable on truth and morality. It was followed by Ashwin Sanghi’s story Something About Mary which is an account of the first accident. The way the story was presented makes the reader care about the character and the outcome. I really enjoyed it and wouldn’t have minded reading more about her. Kiran Manral’s story Sudden Break will speak to you and leave you thinking long after the story ends.

In Car Pool by Pankaj Dubey easygoing  Avni with a disregard for rules and Suryash, a stickler for rules, carpool to Goa. Opposites attract and they bond with each other to the extent of falling for each other. I really enjoyed the story. Written in lucid prose and very believable, you are in for the ride with them. It effectively makes a point about wearing seat belts without an ounce of preachiness.

Priyanka Sinha Jha’s Rush Hour is interesting because the victim is rescued by the one who caused the accident. He got her admitted, checked her progress and later on told her the truth. But left the decision to go to the police entirely to her. She got a new lease of life because of him. What would you have done?

I felt Why We Don’t Talk by Shinie Anthony didn’t quite belong in the collection. It was murky and a bit spooky. But the unexpected makes the story enjoyable.

The Level Crossing by Vikram Kapur is about a driver who hasn’t  slept three nights in a row and continues to be on the road. He is working round the clock because he needs the money for his sister’s wedding. Without sleep he’s a sitting duck. A disaster waiting to happen. As passengers all we care about is our comfort and reaching our destination on time. Do we ever care or think about the driver’s comfort? After reading this story you will think about your driver and be more alert on the road.

Now moving on to the amateurs’ stories. Most stories are good as quick reads which has to do with the format of the short story contest (1500 was the upper word limit). These stories present themselves completely, mostly. Some of these stories are predictable because you know someone will die or be gravely injured in a road mishap of some kind. But having said that many stories are unpredictable and those are the ones I enjoyed.

In Ambalika’s An End I Did Not See competitions are being held on the occasion of Road Safety Week at NEHU. In a debate for Safety Ideation Contest, a literature student talks about creating a mobile signal jammer for vehicles to reduce the number of road accidents. One of the panelists is eager to turn her idea into reality. Talking and driving has become more common than drinking and driving.The story is well narrated and the surprising twist will break your heart.

In Anukriti Verma’s Safety First Alex and Rick were inseparable like Jai and Veeru from Sholay until death played spoilsport. The story gives a strong message about drinking and driving is strong but it gets preachy towards the end.

In Arvind Passey’s The Street Photographer a street photographer who captures gritty images meets a grisly end. The way things played out was unexpected yet real.

In The Perilous Eve by Aritri Chatterjee the life of carefree youngsters drinking and speeding on a bike to celebrate the New Year’s eve collides with death. I don’t understand parents gifting their underage offspring bikes and cars. They have had so many years of practice but they still don’t know how to adult.

Misplaced Dreams written by Barnali Ray Shukla was one of my favourites.  Bus driver is casually drinking and risking so many lives. And there is no one to stop him. Three old friends are on a pleasure trip but they don’t know it would their last trip together. It is gut wrenching listening to their thoughts as they hurtle towards death. Even Gods can’t save you, if you drink and drive. Another clear message it delivers is that life is lived in the moment and does not come with any guarantees. Continue reading Have a Safe Journey

Neel Mukherjee’s A State of Freedom

The first thing that struck me about A State of  Freedom is it’s cover. The book jacket has a large bear on the cover, which is unusual and arresting but surprisingly aesthetically pleasing. When I began reading A State of Freedom, it reminded me of Lahiri’s oeuvre because of the way it started and the themes it deals with. But I soon realized Neel Mukherjee’s book is quite different.

The book is edgy and each section ends with a cliffhanger. You want to gallop ahead and connect the dots, and at the same time, you want to take your time to savour the way it’s written.

A State of Freedom has a large canvas and deals with many issues in only 275 pages. The book is divided into 5 sections and the events that unfold are in different geographical locations. The way the stories of these characters are narrated gives them depth, and makes them appear real.

In the first section a man wants to familiarize his increasingly Americanized son with his roots. So they visit Mughal monuments like Fatehpur Sikhri and Taj Mahal. Originally from Calcutta, he has been living abroad for two decades, and now feels like “a tourist in his own country”. He wants his son to see India, and understand the culture he was born into. But they are like aliens from another planet.

I felt disoriented as the first section ended and wanted to stop but I urge you to read on (and not be put off by big words).

The second section flows more easily. A Bengali couple, the Sens, live in Mumbai and their son, a young writer, lives in London. He returns to India periodically to visit them. He is working on a cookbook which will contain authentic recipes from India as cooked in Indian households. The cooking at their home is done by Renu, who works as a cook in many households in Mumbai. Their son is curious about Renu because of her surly manner and tries to draw her into conversations but she doesn’t respond.

Treating the domestic help as a lesser human being is perhaps a relic of the Zamindari system. The son now straddles both worlds, old and new, and finds it  increasingly difficult to deal with the way things continue to be done in India.

The love of food intersperses this section. If you pay attention, many a recipe can be mined out from these pages. While exploring India for recipes, he also visits Renu’s home at her insistence. It is here he witnesses the divide between the classes.

Another woman, Milly, comes to clean the Sens’ house. She reappears as a major character in another section of the book.

The third section is the longest, and is the soul of the book. Motherless twins brought up by a father, who dies in a forest fire. One brother leaves home to find work. This section follows the other brother, Lakshman, as he attempts to eke out a living. He finds a bear cub and keeps it to save it from being killed. He names it Raju. With his brother gone, the responsibility of feeding his wife and children along with his own family now falls squarely on his shoulders.

The way the bear cub is handled, in an attempt to tame it, is barbaric. This, in a country where cows are ‘worshipped’. It makes you question who is really savage, man or beast?

They are animals their pain doesn’t last. All these animals that live in the wild, in the forest, on the streets, you have never known them to need a doctor, have you? They heal quickly, they are strong. It’s we, humans, who are weak.

With hunger gnawing their insides, their lives are foremost about survival. They are largely unaware of the world outside of their existence. They have no time to understand the rights of animals. Lakshman has trouble believing bear dancing is a crime one could be sent to jail for.

Lakshman tries to train Raju to be a performing bear and wanders from place to place living like a nomad, trying to earn money by making him dance. Though Lakshman is cruel to Raju, he is aware that he is at the mercy of the ‘helpless’ animal. Lakshman depends on Raju; the bear can forage for food and fend for itself. It makes you think about freedom, who is actually free.

The book shows how leaving home in search of a better quality of life works out differently for people, and the price they pay for it.  (Warning – Animal sacrifice is described in this section.)  Continue reading Neel Mukherjee’s A State of Freedom

Stillness

In life there are few moments when you experience a kind of stillness which changes something in you, a perceptible shift occurs. Without being aware of it the conscious has changed. I hadn’t recorded my experience in any form then. It was days later I thought about that dusk inching closer to an inky night, in the wee hours of the morning in another kind of stillness, of dawn breaking and banishing darkness. I can’t quite put my finger on what it was but feeling centered and belonging to the moment as it unfolded was a big part of it.

The winding village road was bereft of street lights. The stars looked so bright without light pollution that I wondered why we were crammed in the city. The path through green meadows where a lighthouse like light moved on both sides made it all the more surreal. I remember there was a waning moon and it looked ethereal. Was it my imagination or the quality of light was different than the one in the city?

I wonder what would travelling alone on a bike, moving with the wind and experiencing it with every fibre of my being feel like. I guess that is why people travel. To live out their unlived lives.

The moment was fleeting (aren’t moments like these always fleeting yet so much is contained in that moment) and even though I was surrounded by people it was as if no one existed. In the silence my mind was completely still. In these rare moments of stillness I feel something I can’t quite explain. Is it what feeling one with the universe and acutely being in the present moment feels like? I intend to find out.

Have you experienced such moments of stillness?

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

Chod aaye hum woh galiyaan

When I saw the song Chod aaye hum woh galiyaan from Maachis, I couldn’t remember if I had seen the film but the song felt familiar to me and the visuals unfamiliar to me. How is this possible? I love this song and didn’t even know it existed until yesterday. Yes, you can safely say I’m losing my mind or is it something serious like going mad? Well I can hear my school mates saying, “we knew that you will end up in Ranchi”. It’s such a shame I didn’t write diary entries during  those days. It would have made mining out information so much easier.

When I was a kid I went to see films with my maternal aunt and her friends. She took me along, mind you, I didn’t tag along or demand to go with her. But I don’t remember if she took me with her to see Maachis or if it  was a recommendation by her? Guess I will have to ask her and I really hope her memory is better than mine. With Gulzar it was bound to be a double treat. He has directed Maachis and the lyrics are also penned by him. Vishal Bhardwaj is the Music Director. Now you know what I’m talking about.  I have a movie to (re)watch until then you check out the song.

Life on the other side of twenty. It’s all downhill I tell you. Nobody told me that  20 is the new 40. Well I have always been an old soul. Is that all I hear you say? I was not the forgetful sort but lately I have been having trouble with my memory and none of my friends take it seriously. They think I’m exaggerating. The bane of having self-depreciating humour is that no one believes you even when you are screaming the truth out loud. They think you are always trying to make people laugh by putting yourself down. No amount of wailing or complaining will get me my memory back or for that matter my past life. Believe me I have tried both and it’s not something you want to ever see.

A song can bring back many memories, memories you didn’t know you still had but they are there somewhere. I have a uncle who looks like Chandrachur Singh, who I had always associated with Kya Kehna and suddenly I remembered that he(not my uncle but the actor) was also in a movie called Yeh Silsila Hai Pyaar Ka. Before you roll your eyes, when I was young I wasn’t that discerning a movie watcher. I just looked stupidly at the moving pictures and it’s safe to say I have watched some pretty ridiculous and lame movies oblivious to their greater purpose. Oh wait you weren’t bothered about the movies but were alarmed by my scattered thoughts? Well  it’s not in my hands (resigned look on my face).

Speak

I saw Speak a while ago, the movie adaptation of the very acclaimed book of the same name by Laurie Halse Anderson, starring Kristen Stewart in the lead role. Despair not, it’s nothing like Twilight (to be fair to her, Twilight fans say that’s how Bella is, in that case excellent acting ) where she has only two expressions (longing and longing) but it doesn’t translate into emotion. She is so much more than a pretty prop. Incidentally I knew that she can act having seen her in the bit role I had seen her in Into the Wild (one book I must get back to again). She emotes with their silence which speaks volumes. The movie does justice to the absolutely brilliant YA novel that deals with teenage rape and depression, alienation as a result of it, very serious issues which parents, teachers and the society at large will rather not admit exist, forget dealing with it. I kept remembering stuff from the book, the lines from the book in the screenplay and the things they missed. I am going to discuss both the book and the movie so you have been warned. Spoiler ahead!

I always follow this rule of reading the book first if I can help it. Like most book lovers or booknerds (I don’t mind what you call us, we are what we are) if I know the movie is adapted from a book I prefer to read the book first (I had to wait for a long period to read Speak) and it has always been rewarding because I get to build the world created in the book, and that joy every book lover knows. Of course, on the minus side the movie usually (I thought of using the phrase ‘more often than not’ but now that I have read On Writing I feel King’s watching me) falls short of expectations, except the adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird which was stellar.

I don’t know why so many people look down on YA. Trust me there are many. What you read popular fiction?! The term pop fiction is even more hideous. What’s wrong with the term contemporary fiction? Other than classics and books written by dead writers everything else they look down upon. Book snobs! They deal with real things in a real and sometimes not so grim manner, and do not put people to sleep so that their target audience actually does read and understand it. I was absolutely bowled over by Speak. Anderson is brilliant in the way she captures the voice of a teenager on the precipice of completely losing her sanity and spiralling into a quiet depression, and would have lost herself but for her art teacher who gives her something to look forward to, hence something to live for and she stays in the land of living day after day.

It was first published in 1999 and five years later the movie followed in 2004. At first look the movie appears to tread familiar ground because we have seen so many high school movies but it couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

The book cover had intrigued me for a long time and I took some time to be convinced about the story – I did not want to read about another victim who had thrown her life away. I liked Laurie Halse Anderson’s website, read her blog, bought the book and absolutely fell in love with the cover again, one of the most beautiful covers ever and waited. I believe every book finds you at just the right time. Another way of saying it unless I feel compelled to read something I don’t read it. I read it and it was literally life altering. The author interview at the back gave me some background to the book and the furore it created after its release.

She deliberately goes mute, chooses not to say a word, because when she tries to speak out nobody listens. It gnaws at her inside and she changes from a girl who lived life to just existing. Finally she is the one who helps herself climb out from the horrific past and begins the process of acceptance. She tells herself that denial is futile because she is never going to forget it. The best way to deal with it is to confront it head on, which would someday eventually lead to healing.

The book is a must read. How come it doesn’t top favourite lists here isn’t exactly a surprise to me, it is because of the themes it deals with. I highly recommend it. Speak the book is more powerful than the movie. I will be talking about the book again soon. It’s been calling out to me again. Time for a reread.

You have to know what you stand for, not just what you stand against.

You can’t speak up about your rights and be silent.

You need to  visit the mind of a great one- Picasso who saw the truth and ripped it from the earth with two angry hands. If something is eating at you, you have gotta find a way to use it.

A revolutionary is only as good as his analysis. Why? We should be able to shout out how things can be better.

Youth is not wasted on the Young

When I was young
I believed in happy endings.
When I was young
I believed in the goodness of  people.
When I was young
I was idealistic enough to make the world a better place.
When I was young
I believed that love conquers all.
When I was young
I believed that a fantastic tomorrow awaited me.
When I was young
I believed that ideas could change the world.
 
When I was young
I believed  that everything happened for a reason.
When I was young
I believed that the universe gave you what you deserved.
(Now I know that the universe thrives on chaos and works according to its own structure with no one at the helm to control it.)
When I was young
I believed in a higher power.
(Now nature has taken this place and rightly so.)
When I was young
I chased happiness even if those moments were fleeting. 
 
When I was young
The rose tinted glasses were my constant companion.
When I was young
I saw the universe in black and white but there are were colours aplenty in my life.
 
When I was young 
I believed in impossible things  because I didn’t know that they were not possible.
When I was young
The possibilities were endless like the vast expanse of the blue sky.
When I was young
I just lived my life going with the flow.
(I was free from the analyses or a cynical view of the world.)