Friday, 30 January 2015

Documentary Diaries #1 On Parting Ways and Patching Up

I had started thinking of the subject for my documentary shoot soon after the short film.
There comes the short film project and there comes the day after the shoot of the short film project. Believe you me, it is the worst day of production and the only competition is going to be from the day you watch your rushes. Till a day ago you were the busiest soul alive. You had so much to do, think, execute, there was not enough time to even dream let alone sleep. Then you crash after the shoot and wake up to a day so blank, it looks white, like a paper. You don't see people, you only see faces. Thus it was that i set out to my department asking for guidelines for the documentary project because i had to do something, soon.

As usual, the department had a set of guidelines which sounded shitty. I like the pressure that those guidelines give, sometimes. But shooting within 20 kms of the institute sounded ridiculous to me. So did the ten minutes restriction. I took a break and went to Hyderabad to Kunju Thalona. She told me about a lady don there and i got interested. Farah Khan. I made up my mind to steal equipment from the institute and shoot her in Hyderabad. It was then that Salmaan Mohammed, a student from Thiruvananthapuram got released on bail. He had been arrested for the charge of not respecting the national anthem. International Film Festival of Kerala was around the corner and some of my batchmates were attending. I thought it would be a good cover to elope and shoot him. During all this D Jeet, was being updated about the change of plans and ways and means to execute them. He was in agreement with both these ideas. He came all the way to Thiruvananthapuram to shoot Salmaan. As usual is the case with me, it didn't work out. I left shooting only a small bit. [I intend to go back to that project with more funds and to widen its arena to the concept of nationalism itself]. D Jeet left even before i did.

While D and i were in Thiruvananthapuram i had got this idea of shooting a girl going to school. I thought of juxtaposing such visuals with the photographs from the attack in the school in Peshawar by Taliban. It was a vague idea and D Jeet too wasn't too impressed.
Back in Kolkata, we nevertheless decided to go ahead with this idea. I found a girl with the help of a professor from editing, S Karmakar. After a day of shoot i realized the inevitable. I was not able to work with D Jeet any longer. I was too dazed by this realization itself that i went straight to him and told him the same. I was so close with him in terms of everything related to my work here that i didn't know who else to go to!

It was Republic day 2015. It was also Sports Day at the institute. Men were playing boring cricket and Vi, my classmate and Ki, my senior were giving a comic commentary which made me laugh aloud in spite of myself. I laughed. I watched the damn game. I went to D and said i was unable to work with him. I couldn't hear the players or the winners' and losers' shouts of joy. It was as if i parted ways with my ego. Was that even possible, i thought.

For me, working with someone was nearly impossible. From the time of mise-en-scene exercise through the short film project and the various documentary endeavours i was surprised that D and i were getting along quite well. Most of the time when i had an idea he would complete it. It was too good to be true. In terms of aesthetics it seemed to me as if we were in sync. When ideas were dropped in the bin we were equally upset. When something seemed appealing to the work we were equally excited. What had happened?


For the rest of the campus and may be D too, it sounded unbelievable that difference in opinion about issues could make someone take such a decision. Yet it wasn't the first time i was getting hurt thus. The first ever problem which pushed me into depression here was my batchmates' insensitivity towards things happening around them. When VK from editing called Anand Patwardhan's Jai Bhim Comrade propaganda of dalits, a professor cracked a joke about SC/ST, OBCs. 'Sound recordists during a shoot are like them. They would be in some dark corner on set and nobody gives a damn about them', he had said. Another earnestly wanted to know how Tarun Tejpal could have raped his employee. It wasn't that i had never faced such remarks earlier. I had. And i had engaged with them too. The problem was that this place didn't offer me the space to engage with that. I stopped talking or avoided politics altogether in the rare conversations i had. It was a sad thing to do and it killed me.

Then i learned to live with it. Avoiding, sometimes arguing, sometimes being silent and later feeling like crap. With D when i saw that we had our differences regarding a lot of such issues i managed it well within myself trying all these. It wasn't affecting me during work. Later i realized this was because we were working on fiction. Enter non-fiction and i sunk deeper into my dark pit of helplessness. I wanted to question a lot of things but i couldn't. I didn't want to, but i wanted to. I was going back to the old phase of feeling left out. He must have felt the same about a lot of things, i am sure, and i have no idea how he was dealing with it himself.

So it was that on Republic Day 2015 i rushed to him to tell him. What i thought. I did. And i thought it had all ended. I had only a void in front of me. I couldn't think of working with another person. Yet i had to do it. I had to complete the project. I tried doing a lot of things. N, one of the professors of cinematography had a talk with me. So did P Mahmood of my department. Later N, D Jeet and i sat down for a talk. Parting ways was the most difficult thing for me, always.
She always told me to work, talk, live etc without getting involved with people. People were only ideas. Tried a bit and failed as always. So i suffered.

Later that night i again asked D what we could do. He said he didn't know. Nor did i. By then the HOD of Direction had told me about a place in Bow Barracks, the last Anglo Indian colony in Kolkata. He spoke to me about a family who had been running an undertaking enterprise for generations. I felt like giving it a try. I still couldn't imagine myself shooting with any other batchmate of mine. I told D about this idea and asked him if we should give it a try. He said okay. To my relief.
We went to the place and soon it was like yesterday. Where we had seasons in the sun and cinema and good fun. I could speak with him about the topic and get a high. No weed included. No substance abuse. Just cinema. We spoke to Florence, the woman who was running the business. Got permission to shoot. The next day we went with a DSLR. NN was there too, recording sound. More on the place later. We had again begun to complete each others' sentences. I was seeing his images and he was seeing my whirlpool of thoughts. It was as if Republic Day 2015 had received a local anesthesia.

D still makes fun of my getting offended about the difference in opinion on issues. I even think he is going to kick me out of his cinema life forever after this shoot. This was that bizarre. Even then i know what it feels like. I know the pit i was in and its dampness. It's like when you are busy preparing for the UGC NET exam and your folks call you to say they are seeking alliances for you. Nothing is bad about it. It sounds perfectly normal and there is definitely no need to get hurt. But i will. Get hurt. And in that process, hurt people i am closest to.

This is from one of our days of shoot. D Jeet and NN.
I hope we stay together because when we part ways, we lose a bit of our ego and the world loses a bit of our cinema. Ah, and i thought i could be modest!

Documentary Diaries #2: Madeira and Co. Undertakers

Thursday, 29 January 2015

January 2015: Films

Gone Girl: David Fincher Successful in Creating Mass Paranoia

Most of the good reviews i heard about this film were from men. That got me skeptical. Thought it must be some patriarchal misogynist stuff. After watching it i have nothing much to say about it. No, i don't think it is misogynist or patriarchal in its content. Most people were talking about the film being against the institution of marriage. Didn't feel so at all. I didn't find anything much exciting in the craft of the film. What i did was get scared. I got scared that i would end up like the protagonist. The movie is not about marriage at all. It is about abusive relationships. The director has even taken it to the next level by making the protagonist kill another human being in the guise of love. Basics of abuse. Call it love and beat someone up. Call it love and not let people breathe. I also saw the sad state of the abused returning to the abuser just because they don't know what to do in the absence of abuse. The husband does exactly that. I would also like to add that it was intriguing to watch a female abuser. Abuse stories need to come out in all literature and this is one of them, from a male point of view. That way, it is important. That apart, the film didn't give me much. Just another movie.

PS: Haven't read the novel. Might not too.

Lost in Translation: I-Wish-i-Had-Done-it-One

How i ended up watching the film was interesting. My next project after documentary is playback in which i have to have music, preferably with lip sync and a short narrative of 5 minutes. Most of my classmates already have ideas for it and are in their prep. I am not even half way through my documentary. NN one day said she was in love with the music she was listening to then. It was from this film and she said that the whole scene was a great playback project. I watched it and was so impressed, i wanted to copy the whole thing in my playback project. This was the portion.

I downloaded the film that very night, intrigued and excited. Just finished watching it and what a film! What craft! I loved everything about it. What i liked the most was how brilliantly it was cut and how it was apt for the story. Audiography was no less. Everything had just blended in perfectly. There was nothing in excess. It was like a perfect meal.
The cuts gave me goosebumps. Sound design made me cry out of joy. These are some among the many places which i loved in the film.
How they met in the elevator briefly once and how she smiled at him. This later comes up in one of their conversations. That's called beautiful scripting.
How language brings people closer especially in a land where the common language is what a person misses the most. Tell me about it after two and a half years in Kolkata! Japan is out of the question. I would have died.
Both the marriages.
The way they bond.
The way they meet each other after swimming. That is how it always is, you know. You think you are the only one alone in the crowd and then you see someone who thinks just the same. Then it all begins.
His emptiness when she is gone for a day. Oh speak about love, and you will end up in emptiness.
The way she is alone. Her loneliness, i felt is the best portrayed thing in the movie. I always feel women's loneliness is deeper. And that is exactly how it has come out when compared to his.
The fire alarm scene is what i liked the best. I decided to copy it in my playback project along with the 'Alone in Tokyo' sequence. I feel so good. I hope i can make a good copy. Going to download 'Somewhere' now.
France being my next dream destination, i was delighted to read what Ms Coppola had to say about it.  "The Palais-Royal, the Tuileries Garden, the Musée d'Orsay. You can tell I love the city, right? It's a filmmaker's dream there; the colors are beautiful!"

I didn't understand why the film opened with her waist down in underwear, though.
This film made my month. Just lovely. I wish i had made it. I hope i will be able to make people feel what they felt watching this, one day. It will never happen, i know.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Impending Death and Another Nightmare

I was in the spell of 'Lost in Translation', the film, yesterday. Went to bed at 4:30 am which was quite an improvement, i should say. My room is gloomy now. My radio stopped working and i have discarded my usual songs so that they don't bring back memories. Songs selected by strangers are only what i can take now, i feel. Music-less sleep is difficult for me. I feel cold.
But from the past two days NN and i have been worrying not about people, but about an animal. Dee Bee, a dog that we took care of for some time and we loved. Dee Bee was found by NN and her friend Mal on the road. Mal liked her very much and took to campus. After the initial fondness he left her to NN to be fed. When Mal went to his home in Pune, NN took care of her. I grew fond of dogs because of NN who loves all animals. There were a lot of dogs on campus. Kolkata itself is home to a lot of homeless dogs. And people.

Dee Bee was the most energetic thing i had ever seen. In my sadness and pain when i saw her jump up and down and pounce upon me whenever my feet as much as brushed against the hostel gate, i felt a little better. Two minutes a day became bearable because of her. Piku, a kitten i had found and brought to campus was in the room along with Penny, also a dog Mal had brought out of impulsive fondness. Coffee, our long time cur cure was there too. So our room had three dogs and a kitten. We were scared they would just rip her into pieces and gobble her up. But they made friends. They played all day. Piku even started sucking Dee Bee's teat looking for mother's milk.

Dee Bee and Piku. Photo: NN

Our room was meant for the accommodation of only one person and we ourselves are amazed at how we are surviving here, us two women. With the dogs and cat included we didn't have space to even breathe. I tried giving my kitten to one of the professors. Then i decided to leave for home and as usual, a crazy idea popped up right before the 48 hours long journey. I made up my mind to take Piku home. I did. The journey was hell for her and for me but now she is happy in Kozhikode, eating five mathis (sardines) at a go and making Sethuvamma believe she is human. Sethuvamma doesn't talk about me on phone any more. Only talks of what Piku did that day. 

Dee Bee was sent to Kolkata Municipal Corporation to be neutered. Penny too. Dee Bee caught a viral infection there and has been sick since. She can hardly walk. Looks malnourished and gets scared at the slightest sound. NN took her to a vet and was told that she had distemper. Which meant she wouldn't survive, in all probability.
I think of people dying all the time. I never thought of Dee Bee's death. Not fair.

So there was the gloom of an impending death added to the room. Throughout the night Dee Bee made sounds of pain, unknown suffering and fear. I would jump up from sleep every time she whined or made a sound. When i slipped deeper into somnolence, i had the nightmare.

I was being sexually abused. Thankfully, i don't remember the details. But i do remember the man telling me 'You are liking it. Don't lie to me'. I remember people around me blaming me for having got assaulted. Them repeating that i had liked what he did and that i was making up the 'abuse story'.

Woke up with a start and earlier than i intended to. Dee Bee was dying. There was no radio. I had to repair it as soon as i could.

Some nights are like that. There would only be a sleep which was not fully one. It would be as if you thought you had yourself protected under the thick blanket. While shifting a foot slips out, and lies like that, cold, for the rest of the night giving you nightmares. Sleep, my foot. 

Saturday, 24 January 2015

On Pain

Pain is.

I always feel like writing about pain. Never do. May be i don't have the audacity to. I feel if i write about it she will lodge a more severe attack on me. Or may be i fear that writing might take her away from me. That would be suicidal. But then again, to survive, i have to write. So i thought about the other pain. The one some people skilfully overlook all the time. Physical pain.

Some people are like that. If it is happening to your body, you let it be. Some people are masochists. Some people think that by punishing the body with pain they are getting back at what their minds did to them. I would like to say that it is hard to explain. But there is nothing much to it. Some people simply supply a lot of pain to the body. Like how some people like NN, my roommate, ritualistically take vitamin pills.

When my body hurts i let it be. I wallow in the pain. Curse it and love it at the same time. I like to hide it. Define it and build theories around it. Like when i used to get migraine attacks in high school i would define it as a yellow cube sitting right in the centre of my brain. To kill the pain i would have to break open my head and pick it with thin tongs. When it was pulled out, it would make a click. Then the pain would be gone. It was only after practising this methodology for a long time time that i asked Sethuvamma to take me to a doctor. One month of pills and it was gone. Not fully, but the frequency was much less.

I am curious about the scope of it. I feel like trying out pain like clothes in a store. May not buy anything at the end of it, but just see how it looks on me. Like how once i saw a stapler and thought of how it would feel if i were to staple my skin. I tried it. Pressed it on my left thumbnail. It pierced through my nail and went a little into the flesh beneath. Good, i said, looking at the mirror in the trial room. Trial rooms are quite intriguing, you know. It's a closed space within a space which is not yours at all. Outside are people you don't like. The trial room is all that you have at a given time and space there. You cling on to it like it was your favourite doll from childhood.

When she wrote of Pain she wrote of songs. About strangers who left her with their songs. Of a lone sock which was left behind and never reached the laundry bag.
When i write about hospitals i will write only of them because her sock is still waiting. And my pain is only skin deep and a trial room reflection.

The first time i went to Medical College, College Street, Kolkata was to see a gynaecologist. I had not taken medicines for any of my petty ailments for a long time. Had not been to a hospital let alone a government owned one for my own consultation. And not alone. I had long gotten used to doing things alone. Walking, watching movies, shopping, eating out, i was only comfortable when i was alone. When i went to Medical College i felt cheated. I wanted someone. Not someone to guide me around places, just someone i could crack jokes to or bitch about bengalis to. Speaking of Bengalis the first thing which will piss you off here in Kolkata as a non Bengali is the truth that they only speak in Bangla. In Kerala, even if you look remotely foreign, people would try and answer you in English. Foreign is a relative term. If you were a girl and were wearing shorts or had your hair cut short people would like to believe you were a non mallu. Been there, done that, it's just silly anglophilia but during most of my first year here i was feeling happy about that situation at my native land. Here even if you asked for directions in hindi you would get a reply in Bangla none of which you would understand. You would have to repeat your question several times and tell them a couple of times that you didn't understand the language for them to start speaking in hindi. It all started to become easy when i slowly picked up the language. I can understand most of it now and can read if i take some time. On my first visit to the gynaecologist at Medical College i just got kicked around like a ball by a lot of people who showered me with instructions in Bangla. The doctor herself made me feel like shit. My depression was at its peak then and i lost a whole week to that experience, brooding.
[Then she called. Don't have to say more.] 

Today's visit was a cakewalk and made me realize how much i had acclimatized. I could read all of what was written on this board.

I learnt bangla script by comparing the writings on sign boards, buildings etc where it was written in both english and bangla. I walked a lot last year because i had a camera with me and this task was quite easy. So looking at the board i understood that my orthopedics department wasn't on it. So i asked around. When they said shoja i understood it was straight ahead.

Orthopedics because i had hurt my knee. The week i returned from my vacation was the worst. I couldn't sleep at night. It went past the standard 3 am barrier till sunrise. I would be starving by then. That's when i get out to have tea. A biscuit or two with it and then i would be able to sleep, tired. But i had forgotten it was winter. Weeping winter, not meek, not mild. When i got out and walked i thought it was better that i ran. That would keep me warm. So i ran. During summer sunrise is at 4:45 a.m here and during winter at 5:45 a.m. So after whole sleepless nights i would just run for an hour and head back, tired, around 7 am. On one such day i felt pain in my knee while running. Cute, i thought. It shot up while i walked and became milder when i ran. I was okay as long as i was exerting myself. After i got up i learnt that it was impossible for me to take a step without getting hurt. I had to shift the whole of my weight to my left leg and limp. I decided to punish my pain by walking normally. At night i played badminton. I ran for another day with the aching leg. By then my left leg had started aching slightly because of the weight. I stopped running but kept playing badminton. By the next day i had a conspicuous limp. People were surprised to hear that i was in pain. I felt good. I had done a great job concealing it. Then my schedule for the upcoming shoot was out and i realized i would have to run around a lot in the coming days. Hence Medical College.

This time at the hospital i looked around. Saw people. Quarreled with a guy at the mortuary when he refused to give me directions to a place, saw a dead body being taken away and felt nothing. This woman was there with two others and was in the X Ray room with me. It was saraswati puja day (it's always some puja or the other here) and may be that was why there were very few people there. Kolkata Medical College is a red bricked building which does nothing to me like what Medical College, Calicut does. But i like it now. I like it all.

I thought of my best friend who is a doctor now. (We talk once a year and meet once in three. No wonder i don't have many friends). She is in Medical College, Calicut, now and must be examining some patient like me there. She must be thinking of me too. The hypochondriac i am. I secretly want her to be a gynaecologist. So that there will be one good gynaecologist i know who doesn't treat patients like sinners in catholic institutions. 

I hate doctors because of the power they hold. I don't even know how to approach this problem. Will try to explain it. Everybody approaches a doctor because they want to live. Most people think they are going to die if they get sick. If not escape death, they go seeking help. With help comes a power relation. Ideally this shouldn't happen. Activists who get involved in issues shouldn't be about power, their involvement should be only regarding the issue. Likewise doctors shouldn't be bothered about the relationship with the patient. The illness and that alone is their concern. People don't feel obliged to a mechanic at a garage for having repaired their automobile. But in most cases patients are ever thankful to doctors for curing them. Even before the cure the mindset of a helpless person seeps in. Doctors are only human beings and are with all the flaws that fact entails. Many families even have a doctor whom they worship like god. My dream is a world where diagnosis and treatment of diseases is mechanized and when human beings have only to press buttons.

On my part i take efforts to never be thankful. Not just to doctors but to anybody who has ever helped me. Love is a different thing altogether. It's okay not to love too. What's important is to not confuse love with gratitude and obligation.

It was a muscle injury, the doctor said after examining the X Ray. I got three pills and was content. They were of different colours and looked good. Pain killers, something to make my muscle all right, cold compresses, and rest for a month. I took them and went straight back to court where i flirted with everyone and cracked jokes apart from playing poor badminton. I love the court and its people because it's fun. It's again a space i carefully found out from among all the rubble and ruin in this film school which almost killed me. Last week some of my playmates from Tamil Nadu celebrated Pongal. They made pongal in the badminton court. I scraped coconut for them. I consciously avoid being happy about Onam because the malayalees make a big deal out of it. Spreading malluness is something i hate. But anything for food is the general motto. Look at the poor tamilians with no human strength on court trying to make pongal.

When the effect of pain killers wears off i feel like slicing off the aching portion of my knee and pouring hot oil on it. Then put it back and stitch it back together. When around people i know i walk with a straight back. Otherwise i limp. To set my foot on ground takes effort. I won't rest. I press the area hard sometimes when i am resting. To remind me of the pain. No cold compresses. Not for a bad girl like me.
There ain't no pain which is unbeatable. There ain't no heartache which is forgotten. Pain is, therefore i am.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015


Speaking of space, i am reminded of my earring collection. I love earrings and buy them cheap whenever i can. Kunju Thalona is who showed me how to arrange them well on thermocol pieces. This is a portion of my collection. In it are earrings stolen, acquired, gifted and bought.

They have got nothing to do with space. Just that in the past month four people made comments on my earrings which i felt violated my space. I am trying to figure out how that was. Nothing seems to connect them. Yet, i found it strange.

Four men told me that earrings made me look good/beautiful/pretty etc.
I wouldn't have felt it was a violation of space if it were women who had said it.
I thought of all the times when i had said people that they were looking good when they hadn't asked my opinion on their looks.
I thought of her showing off her jhumka. Decided not to pay any attention to that thought and thought only of it for an hour.

More often than not i feel i am making it all up in my head. Then i think of her video on 'space' [swearing that that is going to be the last time i think of it] and feel relieved. There might be people who feel awkward with such things. I am still unable to formulate into words why that happened. I don't think it was about earrings at all. I would have felt the same if they had said the colour i was wearing was looking good one me.

While 'you look good' is quite generic for me, specifics is unsettling. Even then i decided to think twice before paying any compliment on looks to people. Actually i decided to stop talking to people about clothes and accessories altogether. That is when i say most of such things. Now when i think of it, i should stop talking to people altogether. Peace on earth and mess free mind.

It was today when i was waiting for my turn to play badminton that someone i detested spoke about my four piercings in one ear and how he liked it. I felt like punching his nose into his head with my racket. Simply smiled and said 'thanks' imagining that in my head. Yes, i do that a lot. And feel sick later.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Whisper a Prayer in the Morning

Sunday School also taught me a lot of songs. Even though i was the worst singer throughout the three or four years i attended it there was no harm in liking songs. The one i liked the best was 'Jesus Bids Us Shine' and that was because of my favourite 'you in your small corner, and i in mine' line. There was a song which i never had an affinity to. It was just a song among many. But when i think of her voice i think of this song. It's called 'Whisper a Prayer in the Morning'. [I shouldn't be giving a link to the song. They are only children and singing so beautifully already!]

When i first heard her voice i didn't know it was her. She was fooling me. Still does. I pretend to have known it all from the beginning. When we talked through one night in kochi, where coffee was made in a microwave and where there was only laughter and only sunshine, for the first time in my life i heard someone say nice things in an almost whisper. I didn't hear her. I listened. That was before i heard Arundhati Roy speak. She is the only other person whom i have heard speak that way. But then again she didn't come with coffees made in microwave. Huge difference. Hard luck, Ms Roy. It would never have worked between us anyway.

I don't think i can whisper. I don't have her voice. People threaten to kick me out of places owing to my laughter and my coarse high pitched voice. May be that was why i always hated people who spoke softly. If they had to say something important why wouldn't they speak up. Always wanted women to speak as loud as they could. I have heard Sethuvamma speak softly only in front of my uncles. Then she had a made up soft voice. It made her look and sound weak. And even as a child when i didn't know of my uncles' patriarchal stances i always felt like wringing her throat to coax her original voice out. I thought that gave a definite edge in male spaces. I have never let someone silence me with sound. If they hollered i hollered back and never left till i said what i had to. But she, she didn't blare. She simply slipped in silently into my head and settled there, soft voice and all.

I remember when she finally said her name after a lot of fooling around, i had missed the first syllable. Wha-? I asked and cut her speech in between. She repeated it still in the same soft voice till it finally made it past the cortex and into my brain. And it was in the same soft voice that i heard her teach her heart to say 'eesho' after a sneeze. It was how i heard her sing praises to the 'slow cooker'. God, does she love that thing! Anybody would wish they were born a crock pot! How i heard her speak about 'space'. Her voice never occupied any space, i think. It just carved niches in people's hearts. By people i mean me.

So i never whispered a prayer in the evening or morning and i know that no jesus is going to come at noon. But she was always in her small corner, and i, listening in mine. When i saw a child and hated it she would be in the same spot, not budging an inch from the darkness of it all and teaching it to say 'eesho'. When i dodged people's hits she would head it straight back, all with the softness of her voice, the absence of her space. Sometimes i would stand on rooftops and jump up and down trying to topple her from that chair in the corner inside me. I wanted her to fall into an open iota and be washed away in blood. I wanted to smear her with the sicknesses my fluids bore. But she simply floated. Plasma like. Later Coagulated. Dried on the edges of my veins.

She never had to whisper. She was one.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Daddy-Daddy Dream

17.1.2015 Saturday

Once again messed up days in my head. On friday, sent a mail to Sethuvamma asking her what saree she was going to wear to church on Sunday. It was only when i crossed the bridge over the pond between the hostel and my department that i understood it was a working day. The place was abuzz with students and staff. Days like that make me feel like someone who dressed wrong for an occasion. As if i wore a lehenga to an interview. That was how i was yesterday when my mind was set to battle a sunday and i got to know it was only a meaker, less pretentious, saturday. I lost the day to dilly-dallying and procrastination. At 4 pm when i looked out of my balcony i was surprised to see that it was dark. That usually happened at around 5. 30pm. I had four more hours till the badminton games started. At 6 when i got out to buy cigarettes i was again surprised to hear the sound of rackets against shuttlecock. 'Why were they playing so early!'. A look at my watch for the first time in the day made it worse. It was 8 pm. Suddenly it was all clear. The new OS installation had upturned my system's clock settings and it wasn't IST that was being displayed on it. Phew! It couldn't get worse. Or so i thought.

For over five years i was running my computers on GNU/Linux. Being a complete non-techie this was proving to be more difficult that i imagined especially after i installed Chakra. I was in love with everything Chakra but just wasn't competent enough to handle it. I had to rush to my techie friends online every time i faced a problem which was quite often. Decided to shift back to windows. The pirated version of Windows 8.1 which i am currently using is, however, proving to be a much bigger headache. Privacy is non existent and is a luxury. It is the most clumsy piece of technology i have laid hands upon. Thinking of shifting to Windows 7.

Between badminton and a half-hearted download of Windows 7 was when i spotted my heartthrob Fahadh Fazil starring 'God's Own Country' online. The film was usual mallu drama and offered nothing new. It was another sleepless night. It was 5 am. My roommate was up boiling water for coffee and our attempt to find happiness in the latest break-up stories on campus proved unfruitful. Nobody was as miserable as us. Our sugar was over. NN found a bag of sugar which had spilled on the floor full of dog fur, cigarette ash and weed leftovers. Like the last survivors of a lost island we gathered just enough for two cups of coffee from it. 'Dirty is good' we said to ourselves and sounded like a Surf Excel advertisement.

Dawn broke at 5:45 and i decided to go for a jog. That made me feel good. Anybody who saw me would think i woke up dutifully that early.
It was 7 am when i finally hit the bed.
And it was then that i dreamed of Papaji, my father.

In the dream i was with my father and his friends. One of them looked like John Abraham, the film maker from Kerala who is much worshiped for reasons unknown to me. They were all as old as i am now. It must have been 70's. I was an anachronic piece. We were all on an adventure trek to some place which looked like Wayanad to me. I was there, like i was their classmate. It was as if only i knew that Papaji was my father. There was a rope bridge that all of us had to cross and i almost fell. Everyone drank beer on a mountain top. The men were all talking and i watched papaji all the while. It was intriguing to watch something that i could never have seen in real life. Ah, exactly what dreams were put in people's heads for, i guess.

It was recently on my way home from Kolkata that i read Alexander Raskin's 'When Daddy was a Little Boy'. Russian literature which once flooded Indian bookstores is still a pleasant (and painful for pessimists like me) nostalgia for most people. Here is a blog dedicated solely for them. You will be able to find the pdf version of the book (Malayalam translation) which i read there. Well, i felt i was in one such book, 'When Daddy was an Angry Young Man'.

When i woke up it was Sunday, this time, for real.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

This Is not a Book Review: V for Vendetta

I had watched the movie only a few months ago. Had liked it. That is, had liked what it said. Usually if i happen to watch a movie before having read the book which was adapted to make it, i leave the book forever. Decide not to read it. It was only two years ago at Kolkata Book Fair that i finally got my copy of 'Godfather' and was able to watch the classic of a trilogy after reading it. This time when i got back from home my room was a mess as expected when it is left to the custody of my roommate. But among all the junk from all over the place i found two things which caught my attention. One was a suitcase which sat under my cot, unassuming. At night i saw one of my classmates in my room with a can. Looked like he wanted something from my room. Then i saw my roommate approach this suitcase and when she opened it the familiar smell filled the room. A suitcase full of freshly plucked weed! Was she serious! Thus i was told the story of how RK in his village had spotted some of his relatives go with the new stock and had asked if they could give him some. RK's weed was powering the general euphoria on campus for a week now. Phew!

RK's prized possession
I had quit smoking up the previous year and the suitcase stopped being of interest to me in a short while. The second thing in the room, however, interests me even now. It was the graphic novel, V for Vendetta. I had assumed that my roommate had found it in the library and was going to congratulate her on her achievement. I myself had failed at locating a copy. But she said it was dumped in the room by someone and she didn't know who. The thief in me awakened. I flipped the pages to see if there was some mark of identification of the owner. None! Oh it was just perfect. But i was scared if someone would turn up the coming day and claim it. So i decided to make the most of it while it was in the room. I read it. I liked it.

More than the book itself i liked the note from Alan Moore at the end on how the graphic novel was conceived and came about. Stories about creation are often as interesting as or even better than the creation itself.

The novel speaks at length about the concept of anarchy and i was reminded of a friend who had taken it to be his religion. Making fun of his anarchy was one of my favourite vocations during the vacation. The perennial source of fun was his obsession with cosmetics. Like how he had two hair gels. One 'soft' and another 'hard'. Soft one was for rough hair and the hard one was for soft hair. He said his hair was hard and that he used the soft gel. When questioned why then he needed the hard gel as well, he replied quickly, 'you never know when your hair might turn soft!'. Then i would go, 'yeah, great going, anarchist!'. [He is very serious about anarchy and its philosophy. This was all on a lighter note, between friends.] Vendetta's way of sketching and writing about anarchy was new. I felt theories and schools of philosophy would be much reader-friendly if people put it in this form. 

morning cuppa with a dash of anarchy

 Here are some of the portions from the book which i liked.

justice Vs anarchy
This is the conflict between 'justice' and 'anarchy'. I have problems with the way it has been personified as women. While justice was V's true love, anarchy is the mistress. This method of giving sexuality to ideologies itself strikes me as silly and unwarranted. The key concepts are valid, though.

V says 'anarchy' has taught him more that justice ever did. That 'anarchy' taught him that 'justice is meaningless without freedom'. Anarchy, he says, 'makes no promises and breaks none', unlike justice.

Flames of freedom
After attaining freedom with the aid of anarchy the adjective 'just' that the author uses to describe the 'flames of freedom' is paradoxical and quite clever. It is as if justice can be obtained only by losing faith in it and seeking shelter in anarchy.

sweet music
This portion where V gives an emotional guide tour to Evey before he sets off on his final mission is touchy. I loved this portion where he reveals his human side by saying 'Anarchy must embrace the din of bombs and cannon-fire yet always must it love sweet music more.'

Even though i found the relationship between V and Evey patronizing and to some extent abusive, the part where Evey meets freedom is quite something. 'You're in a prison, Evey, you were born in a prison. You've been in a prison so long, you no longer believe there is a world outside.' I find this to be true about any ideology be it fascism or religious fundamentalism etc which smothers you. He goes on to say 'You can feel freedom closing-in on you. You are afraid because freedom is terrifying.' Yes, freedom is terrifying. When you are free you feel so light, so light that you feel you no longer exist. There is no force of gravity from your beliefs and convictions which were binding you pulling you towards its core. You are floating and drenched in freedom. Like how Evey was in the rain.

So far there has been no claim laid upon the book. Nobody is looking for it and nobody is worried. I think it's a keeper.

Jesus Wept

There was a time when i was a staunch believer. On sundays was 'sunday school'. I had a crush on a boy there. His name was Ryan. He was in the choir and the last memory i have of him during teenage was that of his voice breaking and him being upset about not being able to sing. 'It would never have worked between us', owing to my absolutely poor sense of music, i used to tell myself, back then. Now when i think of it i feel like Mouchette in Bresson's 'Mouchette'. Always getting a note wrong, ridiculed and later pelting stones with a vengeance at her classmates. Later i learnt that Ryan had got in some college in US. I just went 'oh!'. I felt nothing. Same old crush story. It peters out. Always.

Sunday school was also where i learned the shortest line in the bible. It was 'Jesus wept', we were all taught. The question was sure to pop up in all tests. My favourite exercise in faith during those days was to impress my grandparents; appachan and amma with all the stories i had leared and in particular the ones at sunday school. Both of them were believers and liked it when their children or grandchildren talked bible. I would write letters to them describing my adventures in school and give constant reminders to amma about the ice cream that i wanted to be ready during Christmas holidays. And thus it was that amma's freezer had three tubs full of ice-cream during every christmas. Scooping out my third helping from one of them and watching appachan wash dishes because 'amma's arthritis means she can't wash dishes', one day in december i decided to impress appachan with 'jesus wept'. Out of the blue i sprung the question 'Do you know which the shortest line in the bible is?'. 'No?', he said, trying to put on his best histrionics coat. 'It's jesus wept', i said, proudly and gulping another spoon full of vanilla and milk. But when he asked me if i knew when it was that jesus had wept so that the line could be there in the first place, my mind went blank. I didn't know. 'Hey, that wasn't the question we were taught', i protested in my mind. Appachan then told me the story of Lazarus and his sisters and jesus' friendship with the family. He never stopped telling me tales.

Appachan and amma died years ago. I am an atheist now and proud of it too. During december, however, i still think of amma's ice-cream in the old godrej refrigerator. Nothing fancy. Full of love.

It was almost December when i first came to Kolkata. As a madrasi, and moreover as a bloody mallu, i had never lived in a place which was so cold. And kolkata winter hadn't even started! In kozhikode, kerala, during 'winter' we would just have pleasantly cold mornings and evenings. A jacket while riding, may be. In my room which i was sharing with a bengali from delhi, i was quick to station my bed next to the window. People try to make any place they are in as close to home as possible. Only natural, survival mechanism. At home i would leave a window by my head open and the other closed. I thought it was a clever move so that burglars couldn't lay hands upon my phone, radio etc and yet i could have all the wind and light come in. Grumbling about what a ghastly sight the mosquito nets affixed there was, i let all three windows open on my first night in Kolkata. I tried sleeping and couldn't because i couldn't even stay still because of cold. I was shivering and still not thinking of the open windows. How could windows have anything to do with cold! Cold was only in the morning. Till 3 am, i was in foetal position, trying to enfold my body in my body, occasionally clutching my feet tight with my palms to make it warm. Nothing worked. Then there was a gush of wind. Then i felt the cold which the wind brought in. And then i realized why it was so cold. I shut them goddamn windows.

January was colder. I really thought i was going to die. My blanket was flimsy. I had a huge thick jacket which a friend had gifted but even with that on i would always, somehow be cold.

Then she called.

After telling her all about the people i hated- which was everyone on campus, about how i had started cooking, how i felt even the curry masala in bengal was slightly sweet i told her my problem with winter in kolkata. She had seen many a winters. Much colder. She had seen snow. Then she gave me that priceless piece of information. It's through your feet and hands. That's the path through which cold enters you. Damn! She was right! She was always right. Why didn't i think of it. How stupid could i be. Cursing myself i started wearing socks even with slippers. Forget fashion, warmth is the key word. The coming year Calico gifted me woollen gloves. By then i had a smart phone and it made typing a little problematic. I stopped texting people. Warmth, remember.

This is my fourth winter in Kolkata. I am equipped like never before to fight it. My blankets are thick. Jackets are plenty. Steaming coffee, hot water baths. I ask appachan in my mind 'Do you know what the shortest line in my kolkata chronicles is?' Now he is genuinely at a loss. He adjusts his thick framed glasses. Dramatically i deliver a high pitched 'Winter wept'. He loved alliteration. Should be impressed.

Oh but for the heartaches and cold sting of grief, there are no gifted mittens or socks. I don't think even she knows where that enters me.

Thursday, 15 January 2015


In the dream i was again shuttling a lot between Kozhikode and Kochi. As is what happens usually, started talking to the man at the ticket counter. We talked more and more. Once while discussing Dan Brown's the Da Vinci Code, i saw a familiar glint in his eyes and a curling of his smile. It was so familiar that even intricate details of the 'there-she-goes-again love story' that would follow unfurled before me in my mind's eye. Scared, i was. The tone of the dream changed in an instant. The railway station was now trapping me. It felt as if the rails were crawling up my back and clutching my throat with inexplicable strength.

Then i was at his place in Kakkanad. A young man, probably my cameraperson and a girl i knew and had nothing to do with from highschool were there. It was a sleepover. I was scared again. There were calls. On the other end of the phone was a voice. The voice didn't want me to die. 'I won't die', i said. I had to run.
There was a pond. I was shooting. I took pebbles and held it in my palm. I was losing it, said the coldness resting on my palm. I looked at him. He looked sad. Puzzled. Knotted eyebrows, tense heart. I wanted to kiss him. Didn't know how to. I had to run.

The highschool girl's dad was there to pick her. My cameraperson was nowhere to be seen. I had to make it to the station and i shouldn't die. Big responsibility. But i had the voice, i had the voice, i thought. I ran, with all the air that was left in my lungs, not turning back to look at him. He had to disappear so that i could live. Damn! He would be at the counter in the station. I panicked.

I got on the train without a ticket. It would be night when i reached home. 'I won't die', i told the voice, in my mind thinking of dying and not dying. I saw myself bleeding. A bleeding body dropping off the train while it crossed a bridge over a river. Over a river which would have cold pebbles. Over a river which would have cold pebbles which could sit smugly on my palm. A thin streak of red climbing upwards from my wrist to the sky. Fairy tale stuff. A jack to climb the red beanstalk.

It was the 'there-she-goes-again love story'.
Dreams are worse than ever. I should stop sleeping during the day. 

Friday, 9 January 2015

Kerala's Bleeding Women

December in Kerala was a happy respite from the chilly (for a 'madrasi') Kolkata winter. On 19th December BJP president Amit Shah was to make a speech in Palakkad, Kerala. My cameraperson and I were planning to shoot the speech. A day before that I, along with the rest of my state read about Nazeera who was ousted from a KSRTC (Kerala State Road Transport Co-operation) bus at night because the conductor was afraid she was menstruating. I thought of my own journey and for a moment wasn't sure if I would make it all the way from Kochi to Palakkad on public transport. 

Now for the uninitiated, periods is a complete no-no in religious India. Earlier in Kerala there were separate rooms constructed solely to house bleeding women every month. So that the rest of the family wouldn't be touched by or even be in the vicinity of such 'impurity'. Hindu faith demands that menstruating women don't enter places of worship or read religious texts during her cycle. In Christianity there exists silent consensus to the decorum that women don't go to church while menstruating or even if they do abstain from receiving the holy communion. During December faith takes a more bizarre turn. That is the month when devotees of Lord Ayyappa known as 'ayyappans' take a 41 days long fast after which they make a visit to Sabarimala temple in Pathanamthitta district in Kerala. This 'vratam' (fast) asks the devotees to refrain from any worldly pleasures. This includes sex, having fish or meat and it is also required that they be 'pure' in all ways possible. Bleeding women being impure by definition, this translates to devotees staying away from them.

The absurdity of it all was up for display when Nazeera along with her two children and mother in law was asked to leave the bus packed with Ayyappa devotees. The conductor was reported to have said that it was not possible for him to determine if the woman was pure (read bleeding) or not. The Ayyappa devotees themselves were silent in front of this government employee who had donned the coat of a defender of religious faith.
Soon after this incident was reported the online world, especially women, reacted with statements in solidarity and by even changing their display pictures to a sanitary napkin stained with menstrual blood. On 21st December, a group of women gathered at KSRTC bus station in Ernakulam to protest against the injustice Nazeera faced. Their plan was to board a similar bus and occupy the seats reserved for women to state that there were no laws preventing women from travelling whether or not they were bleeding. These women were arrested and removed from the place while they were having tea even before they got on a bus. This time state was acting as the guardian angel of pristine religious sentiments.

State's intervention in organized protests against moral policing, fascism and any form of injustice is at its pinnacle in the state. Khaki's new found epithet is kavi (saffron). Kerala had already witnessed it when Kiss of Love protests met with police brutality in three districts in the state. So it was of no surprise when the police refused to register a complaint when Nazeera approached them in the middle of the night. Later the city Commissioner of Police R Nishantini IPS said that women should learn to value religious sentiments and that they should opt for means of transport which were not as provocative. That there are no buses 'reserved' for ayyappans seemed to be of no relevance to the honourable officer. That the existence or a sign of it of a womb, an organ in a human body, could be provocative almost seemed believable.

Fear of the womb, however is not strictly religious in origin. It is also often connected with hygiene, which is deemed to be of supreme importance in a Malayali's life. The truth is that hygiene can be the perfect partner in misogyny when required. Thus proved another incident which occured in Kochi where a sanitory napkin was found in a toilet in a private firm and 45 women employees were asked to strip to find out who was bleeding and therefore using a pad. This fastidious care about hygiene is quite ironic when it comes from a place where the fight against indiscriminate waste dumping (Laloor, Thrissur district) went on for more than 25 years. The principle is quite simple. Women are people so long as their cavities keep mum. A member of parliament of BJP recently threw a casual advice that all Hindu women should bear at least four children. Yes, the womb has to remain silent and invisible and be host to eccentricities of religious fundamentalism or violence at all times.

On my way to Palakkad on Indian railways' dutifully late train I found myself bleeding and in a compartment packed with ayyappans. I thought of the possibility of an impurity meter on means of transport and its business prospects while clicking in solidarity with Nazeera. I think it's time Kerala's bleeding women started getting sacrilegious with their bodily functions. Period. Oops! No period.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Of Indian Coffee Houses and Lovelessness

I don't know what it is about Indian Coffee Houses that people are drawn towards. The coffee is good, i agree. But not everybody likes it. The food is pathetic invariably. Across districts and states in the country. Yet people flock to this place. For those in pain, in love, in lovelessness coffee houses have long been a comfortable abode. I attribute this uncanny love to a happy nostalgia that has been constructed around coffee houses. Of communism, youth, revolt, rebellion, discussions, cigarettes, poetry and everything it takes to kindle a sense of longing, a notion of belonging.

In Trivandrum where i spent a major part of my winter holiday from kolkata most of my evenings were in and around the coffee house near Statue. Trivandrum's most famous coffee house is at Thampaanoor designed by Laurie Baker and which is cylindrical in shape. This one at statue is however like any coffee house. Bustling with activity and people. We would have a coffee or two, sometimes eat. My friend would try to show off his 'british taste' with bread and butter and i would settle for porotta sticking to my malabari roots and pining about the south of kerala's (thiruvitaamkoor's) lack of ability to make any northern dish properly. We would smoke outside in the parking lot and argue endlessly about everything that was wrong with the world.

It was a brief friendship and it hurts to write or even think of it. Now back in Malabar, where you get the best porotta, i miss those bad non fluffy, hard ones at trivandrum. I hated the place and its people but my evenings were good out of love and lovelessness. Out of a strange relationships and a tangle of loose slippery threads of love.

Now in the evenings i make a visit to indian coffee house at calicut medical college. I ride my mother's honda activa and without a driver's licence. The coffee is the same. Even the dirt. Shared cigarettes are ten hours away and a lifetime apart. So much for a vacation which was anything but.

Two women on a night

That night was all about hushed speech and gripping fear. Two women were fleeing. R was on her bed trying to make sense out of her sleep and S was by her computer. They were seas apart but bound together by a thin supple silver line of fear. There was someone outside the door. He was listening to them talking. He could hear their plan. It wasn't foolproof. When R got up from bed and stealthily moved towards the switchboard she was scared that with the light the stranger would also find an entry into the room. Even when nothing happened she was scared. She bolted the door and unbolted it in a moment thinking of the possibility of him already hiding in the room. There were two doors to open and close before she reached the road. The rusted iron wouldn't easily budge. She had to pull at it with all her might and was worried if she would have to seek help. She couldn't afford to involve another person in the plan. She had to flee by herself. The railway station was only a few kilometers away. The journey was only ten hours long. She could sleep and get up to home. It was 5.00 am.

A teashop was open. The tea wet her throat and curbed hunger. Tea was the best thing one could find in the morning. An auto was fast asleep in the nearest junction. The driver was in the seat in deep slumber. 'Chetta', she called and he sprung up. Railway station would be Rs. 50. Okay. While getting off  she apologised for having awaken him from sleep. He smiled and said it was no big deal. She felt like hugging him to say thank you. Good thing she didn't know how to hug.

At 6:25 the train moved. It was hard to keep her heavy backpack on the rack. The weeklies in the side pocket were falling off. After securing her place near the window she went to the toilet for a quick smoke. For the first time in her 7 years of cigarette addiction she had forgotten to take her cigarette packet on a journey. Unrest began. She will have to sleep till destination so that the restlessness out of lack of tobacco wouldn't drive her crazy. She had a coffee and went to sleep. When she got up only five hours of the journey was over. Her arm was aching from pulling the suitcase in the morning. She had a body, she was aware because of the pain. This is all she could do in a day, she thought. Only five hours in a stretch. The plan had worked only half way, S, she tried to communicate through her thoughts. She got off where she had met S four years ago. They were in 'Life is Beautiful' now. Father and son playing a game which was anything but, to live. To live. When she thought of that R's throat glued its walls together. Only one survived in the movie. She couldn't let that be. They had to flee together. Together was the only way they could be.

The city welcomed her. The fear still hung in the air. She thought of S. She only thought of S. Survivors only think of each other. They survive to love. Love to survive. One more night, one more night and she will be home. One night a day. Safety is only one night away.