Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Striking a Chord

The journey through film studies has so far been fascinating. 11 movies from across the world questioning our assumptions and the stereotypes we live by every single day. Last week was perhaps the most difficult and poignant as two movies struck a chord deep within and made me look around, look back and look within me; they heightened my senses and brought more depth into things I had always known.


Patriarchy is such an integral part of the society we live in that even the most rebellious of us get co-opted into it. It operates insidiously, not always through beatings and physical abuse; the process so routine that most of us don't even realise that we are being co-opted into our own oppression. And this is not a story of a 'conservative' society where women must wear the veil. It is the story of every modern patriarchal society.

A wonderfully sensitive film set in Iran, Two Women explores patriarchal domination through the lense of a friendship and the journey of the two friends through life. It is the story of how society slowly breaks the confidence of a woman who believed in her ability to conquer the world. Iran is not India and yet the story is so close home that if I close my eyes and look back at the women I have known, I can find at least two who have gone through that same relentless lashing of the water against rocks, dissolving it slowly, eroding, transforming, reducing. The movie brought these women closer to me, I went back and looked at their lives anew, my respect for their fight greater. One of them was a teacher who taught me at a time when I was much to small to understand any of this. She committed suicide. Her image came back so sharply during the film that I could have been 6 years old again.

The second is technically my maid, but I have long since stopped thinking of her in those terms. For 14 years she has been with us and is today as much a part of our family as anyone else in the household. She's a thakur from Madhya Pradesh, daughter of a Congress trade union leader, brought up in Kolkata. Married and packed off to a little village in the interior of MP early in life, she had the gumption to run away with four tiny kids as she realised that she had become nothing but a maid during the day and a sexual object during the night for her truck driver (and for good measure alcoholic!) husband. Rebuffed by her family, a woman who did not know her letters, had no qualifications, and four tiny children to support, packed her bags and one fine day landed in Delhi - a huge sprawling city where she did not know anyone and had no roof over her head.

Her journey to support her children by doing domestic labour has not been an easy one. And the physical labour was the least of the obstacles. Accosted by men, shunned by society for long, acceptance was not easy in coming. Today she is the president of the Mahila Samiti of her slum.

I took a woman's rebellion against oppression for granted for isn't it the natural reaction to any form of oppression? But then I realise now that the oppression itself can become so a part of a person's nature that to take that first mental leap to recognise the need for rebellion itself is so tough and requires a will power far greater than I had imagined.

The story of a confident woman breaking was scary. What was even more scary was the fact that one is forced to become an observer to the transition within oneself as cherished independence turns to clinging dependence, confidence into constant doubt, preventing the protagonist from breaking the bonds that shackled her and held her hostage. It was scary for it could someday happen to me and those like me and I hope then that I can show the same courage as Devi, who was able to leave.


Tom and Jerry has for long been one of my favourite cartoons. Sunday afternoon lunch, I would sit with my entire family and watch as a cat and mouse played out the most rowdy and violent chases. The impact of violence... I'll never be able to watch a Tom and Jerry cartoon quite the same way again. The sheer impact of this movie was enough to freak me out and I can generally sit through some pretty graphic stuff but not when I am expected to fill in the violent sequences from my own imagination; not when the "villain" turns for my approval, smirks and carries on.

The less said here, the more. A movie truly worth watching - it puts a lot of violence in perspective be it war movies or cartoons. It jars you out of the stupor, out of the numbness that settles in when something uncomfortable happens. It forces you to be a part of the process, to feel the pain and the sadism, to see the connection between fiction and reality.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007


-- From The Prophet by Khalil Gibran

When love beckons to you follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.

And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.
For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.

Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.
Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked.

He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God's sacred feast.

All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life's heart.

But if in your fear you would seek only love's peace and love's pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love's threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.

Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.
When you love you should not say, "God is in my heart," but rather, I am in the heart of God."
And think not you can direct the course of love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.

Love has no other desire but to fulfil itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.

To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.

To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love's ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.

PS: I read this today for the nth time... It has always made sense. Tonight it makes more sense than ever before.

Monday, 20 August 2007

In a Moment

"Maasoom si haansi, bewajah hi kabhi honton pe khil jaati hai.
Anjaan si khushi, behti hui kabhi, sahil pe mil jaati hai.
Yeh anjaana sa darr, ajnabi hai magar
Khubsoorat hai jee lene de."

Each step forward,
Two back.
Happiness, joy, smiles, giggles;
Confusion, nerves, fear;
Fullness and loneliness.

Walks in solitude,
a breath of fresh air,
the mind comes back to its motley mess.

An hour on the ledge, late at night,
peaceful, quiet, still.
The room as restless, as cluttered as I left it.

The wind, dragonflies and over grown grass,

tempting, alluring, hypnotic.
New memories in old places,
replacing another time, another day long past.
New conversations in place of old ones,
new meanings & new words;
but the same skip of beats.

The sun streams in, bands of light,
the air seems clear.
But it only seems.
The clouds are not far away,
altercation between light and shadow,
changing swiftly, seamlessly.

"Standing in motion",
anticipation brings joy,
the wait is itself so beautiful

Friday, 17 August 2007

For the Love of a Nation

15th August and 26th January are two special days for me. Two days ago I celebrated the 60th anniversary of my country's independence. Every year I wonder what makes that patriotic feeling come alive with such intensity for those of us who have not fought the battle for independence.

I was born in free India; just that side of liberalisation. My country has not been invaded and I have lived through one war that for me was fought on television. Most of the things that are commonly associated with patriotism have not even touched me. I could live the way I live here in many other countries of the world.

But still the tricolour makes me glow with pride and the national anthem gives me goosebumps. Is it because I was taught that a feeling called patriotism exists? Not really. I think it has more to do with the fact that I grew up here. And with the values and culture that my country stands represents in my eyes - its beauty, its diversity, its tolerance. There is something that is common to the way every Indian lives despite the apparent differences - this is generations of socialisation and culturisation at work! There is an Indian politics, an "Indian-ness" to how we think and react. It is a country of a billion cricket lovers, almost as many movie lovers. It is the Indian-ness that I celebrate on 15th August and 26th January.

Then I wonder, what differentiates this from the patriotism that makes people from one country hate people from another; that creates wars and makes people fight? Where is the line between celebrating and destroying, creating a Sarajevo, a Rwanda that hardly seems human anymore?

I wonder as an after thought, how I would react if my country was invaded or attacked in earnest? But then it is - almost everyday. With guns, with words, with actions. So where does the hatred come from? What is the nature of their love and the nature of mine? Why is one inclusive and the other exclusive? And most of all what DOES a nation and its independence mean?

PS: There always seem to be more questions than answers in my head!

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

The Virtue of Selfishness?

Like many other, this post comes out of a chance remark and a short conversation with someone. The person in question told me that he was "selfish" and that that was the greatest virtue. A year ago I would have agreed without qualifying that statement. For I do believe that Selfishness is not only a necessity but also a virtue. But now I see a need to qualify that statement. The need arises because this very person's "selfishness" has hurt not only me but other people as well and so, i question the definition of the term itself and all that it implies.

What is Selfishness?
Is it simply the act of being concerned only with oneself? Essentially, yes. That I believe is the first step towards being selfish. But to leave at that implies several things that I personally construe as negative and undesirable. It means that one is so concerned with oneself that one is willing to step on other's toes, to hurt them, to bring them down to achieve one's own goals. It is this definition that has made a primary concern for one's own welfare a vice.

Selfishness, to me, has to be qualified by a conscious choice to not willfully hurt anyone on the way to one's destination; to not plot to bring someone down to pull oneself up; to be self-contained enough to not use anyone for one's ends but to be able to trade value for value and do things together for mutual benefit.

Should I be concerned with my own needs and desires over everything else? Yes. Should I knowingly hurt others for it? No.

It sounds simplistic and I am not yet satisfied with my answer and I shall continue to look but I cannot deny that I do believe that for me I come before anyone or anything else. And to be that way and yet not hurt others, also I believe, is possible.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

The Unimaginable

(Two posts in a day! Congratulations to myself!!!)

Kids. The word only brings a smile to my face. Innocent, playful, cute beyond description and utterly devoid of adult manipulativeness (they do have a large amount of childish manipulativeness though!). I totally adore little kids, love spending time with them and can baby sit and play with them all day! My friend on the other hand pretty much hates them. Especially the ones whom she does not know.

She and I are similar in most ways. The things we cherish are the same as are most of the things and people we abhor. But not so when it comes to kids and babies. And so, like many other times, I wonder why?

And then the quote I put when I began this blog comes to my mind - "What is unique about the 'I' hides itself in exactly what is unimaginable about a person". So, irrespective of how well I know someone, there is something still unimaginable about that person. Something that I cannot quite put my finger on, understand or explain. And conversely, there would be things about me that seem strange or unfathomable to others I would presume.

These things make each of us what we are and keep that enigma and curiosity alive; making me want to discover more - about myself and my friends. It constitutes the journey that we as people make together, understanding more each day but never quite everything. They make for the surprises and the shocks that break the routine and the mundane; that form the memories that we come to cherish and recollect years later.

Lilting, Meaning...

Songs have so much meaning. I haven’t been able to escape this thought all this past week. Each song seems specially written for something in my life – they squeeze a tear, illicit a smile, make me twirl in joy and curl up in contentment. So perfect and so complete is the joy in a simple desire even though it remains unarticulated and unfulfilled. Just the fact that the desire itself exists irrespective of the object!

Echoes from the past reverberate and new music mingles with it painting a different picture from the last time. Music has been so integral to my life here, at MICA. It has been the constant companion – in solitude and in crowds. It has defined the space I call my own, created the cocoon I return to every night.

In the middle of this musical journey, the orchestra rises in a beautiful melody, full, rich and inspiring. I dance to myself and wait, for the first time, in absolute peace – wait for life and love to happen in its own time.