Friday, 27 February 2015

Appachan Dream

I had to write about her because i loved her. When in pain i mostly think of her and her pain. Love always came with pain. She was love the way she was also pain.
There was, for me, one love which did not hurt except in death. I never speak of it to anybody. Even when in love i hesitate to share Appachan. Appachan was mine and he was not to be shared with anything related to pain. He never hurt me and his love was precious.

For the past two days i have been dreaming of Appachan, my grandfather. Appachan, who gave me reading, his many word games, who said that i could use his lines and it still wouldn't be plagiarism (he chucked copyright away much before i learned the term), who knew meanings of all words i asked him while i sat with a book and he with another, who said gadget meant കുന്ത്രാണ്ടം and made me laugh yet understand what it meant, who sung me to sleep, who read me to sleep, with whom i slept for the most part of my childhood, who said that my arm on his back was like a feather.

Appachan, who grew up in Veethulikkunnu, Kunnamkulam, Kerala. Twenty years of his life there before he left for Bombay. Like how later his grandchild left for Kolkata after twenty years in Kozhikode. He gave all of those twenty years to me with his stories of Veethulikkunnu which got its name because of the shape the hill was in. A broad chisel. He lived in a house which was named Hillview by himself and his brother. They had a sister who died of cancer when she was 20. There was a cemetery behind the house which was close to the church. All of my dead are buried there. Most of my love went to people there.

When Appachan was a little boy one of his uncles gifted him a tennis ball. Yellow and bouncy, the children loved it. Their evenings which were usually of football turned around to new games with the little yellow ball. A happy little thing, unlike the tattered cloth ball they had earlier. One of those days the happy ball bounced up a path they failed to foresee. It bounced its way to the cemetery. Past the Kanjiramaram (Snake-wood) and the iron gate which must not have been rusted then. They looked for the ball, all of them and Appchan did in increased desperation. He loved the ball so. They never got it.

When he told me this story i tried comforting him saying 'It's a vast place. It could have been anywhere in there. Not your fault that you couldn't find it'. He smiled. His upper lip had a small bump. I once tried getting one such by biting my lip ritualistically. It bled and gave me no bump. I got in the habit of biting my lips till they bled. Still no bump. So he smiled his bumpy lipped smile and said 'No, it's not that. Nothing and nobody who went in there ever returned'.

His sister didn't. His brother didn't. His son, my father, didn't. His wife, Amma, didn't. He didn't, like how his tennis ball didn't.

Kaanjiram (കാഞ്ഞിരം) bears poisonous fruit. That is the tree which stood guard to the cemetery. It has been a few years since i visited the place but i can feel its shadow on me. Once when we visited the place with Appachan and Amma we spotted a peacock there. It cawed and fled when it saw us. On that hill where a man spent twenty years of his long life of 89 years was where his perakkutty (grand child) sprouted wings to soar her skies of sadness. Kaanjiram shed its fruit. I was earth and took the poison in. The casuarina trees (ചൂളമരം) up there made for the strange music to which i danced. Oh all my life was one stolen line which Appachan wrote. No copyright. A captain-less ship.

Kunju Thalona once made a painting of me and Appachan which said everything about us. That was how i slept beside him. I would place my arm around him and ask if it bothered him. That was when he would say it was light as a feather. That was why i asked him that every time i hugged him. He kept a torch beside him on the window sill. On it were other things as his medicine box, his fine toothed comb and always a book. My years of blissful sleep were the ones in which i slept beside him. Never after that have i had unperturbed sleep.

Appachan and i. Painting by Kunju Thalona


Last night i had the second consecutive dream about him. I don't remember the first one. In my dream i had made a music video with some of my photographs on instagram. There were a lot of dogs and cats. I was shooting. I shot a lot of footage which i could use in some film i was making. Later i saw that one of the kittens was killed by a dog. I witnessed that murder. I shot it. I held the dead kitten and i was bloody. A lot of animals were dying around me and the Pink Floyd like music was playing all the while. Then i saw my photographs being projected on sky. The closest to the music i heard would be High Hopes by Pink Floyd. I ran. I ran to Appachan like how i used to in my childhood when i got the spellings wrong and Amma ran behind me with drumsticks to spank me. Appachan was on a chair in a room under the ground which i learned was where we lived. There was a film camera there. Purnendu da who took care of cameras in the institute was there too, dusting it. Appachan spoke to me and i started laughing. I saw D Jeet there in some time.

When i woke up i only had blood in my head. All that blood from all those dead animals. A trail of blood which led to our house under the ground. We were marked, Appachan and i. Oh my!



Talk With Tee Pee

Tee Pee, one of our professors in the Department of Direction and Screenplay Writing had visited me while i was in hospital and semi-conscious following my attempt on life. Tee Pee only gave classes in the first semester. I remember vaguely some of his lectures on French Poetic Realism. Rules of the Game was screened. Later he helped us during our DV project in which i made a crappy five minuter called ചെറുപയർ or 'green gram'.
I liked him not for his classes. Never thought he was a good teacher. He could hardly finish his sentences and always digressed to an extent which made us students feel giddy just by listening. I liked him because he was the only professor who made me cry out of love. I saw all kinds of professors here. Who abused students, who slept with students, who made students believe they were iconic just so that they could thrive and professors who only wanted students to drop out and feel defeated. In Tee Pee, i found a professor who was worried about his daughter with all the rapes and attacks on women in the country, who wanted to click photos of a birthday party in the family, who planned holidays in Kerala and had to ditch them because god! were prices going up like crazy!, who took my banana chips and gave cake which his wife made in the same steel dabba. It might sound silly, but in here, he was the only real person who actually loved, for me.
May be that was why even though i don't remember anything out of his visit in the hospital, i didn't find it hard to believe when Kunju Thalona told me that i held his hand in bed. That was why even though he digressed just as much today, i felt at peace when i spoke to him of the documentary project, Derrida, Jung and suicides.

I spoke for long on the treatment we were adopting for the project. Of the concept of death and of a woman who dealt with the dead for a living. He was interested. In fact he was one of the people who was present when i was at the department looking for a topic which was related to death. He had talked about one of my seniors' work which dealt with morgues. That was when our HOD emerged out of his room and spoke to me about Bow Barracks and the family which decorated corpses. I felt he felt responsible, in some way, for what had happened. With me. And my work.

I assured to show him the first cut when it was ready when he drifted to the Derrida for Beginners which peeped out of my sling bag and later to his journey with Jung. Inevitably he landed on my attempt at life. Like many, he said that 'it was not done'. Spoke of motivation like most.

I spoke of losing control. In the moments before the attempt i had lost control over my thoughts. That scares me even now. I am still in those moments when i was watering plants and thinking of what to do with my clothes whether or not to iron them before popping sleeping pills and lying down to die. Except it wasn't me who was doing all those chores. I was a goddamn machine with no intellect. Intellect is the only reason i have to live. That scares me. I know i am going to be in the same spot one day or the other, again.

I told him about writing. How i had devised a survival mechanism through my blog, by writing about many things and finding peace to an extent. I also spoke to him of ice when he spoke of finding motivation in cinema. Ice was one of the images D Jeet and i had agreed upon to be in our documentary project. We were looking for objects which were of death but also of a beginning. While shooting Florence had a pack of ice cubes which she laid in the coffin to keep the body as it was. While transferring it to a bag one of the cubes fell down and started melting. I asked D Jeet to tilt down to it. It left a small pool of water there and a line of it extending downwards where the floor slanted. The shot didn't turn out as i expected, but the image stayed with us. I told him why cinema didn't motivate me enough to stop me from taking sleeping pills or slitting my body to ease pain. It was because i was like ice myself. It melted at a certain temperature. It could only exist as water and water i was. He asked me to write that down. I just did.

My psychologist the other day gave me three alternatives to my methods of harming my own body. One of them was to clench tight ice cubes in both my hands. Sounded cool. Well, literally.
I hope Tee Pee makes awesome films like he used to when he was a student of cinema like me.
I hope i find my love and lust for life back.
I hope i don't melt. Not cool for ice, i suppose.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Documentary Diaries #13 Dreaming On

The anti-depressants i am taking ensure good sleep. The first time in years i hit the bed around 11 p.m yesterday. In the sleep i again dreamed of Florence. D Jeet, NN and i were at Madeira Undertakers and Co. again. I approached Florence for an interview. I was hopeless. Thought she would dismiss me like always. She didn't and on the contrary started speaking in length about all things her. I made sure that NN was capturing sound. When i turned to D Jeet i realized that he didn't have a camera with him. I was shocked. I asked him what he was doing and he said that we could just make use of the sound. I had a panic attack but continued speaking to Florence.

I am yet to approach her in reality. I am scared. I hope she talks.

Documentary Diaries #14: nth Dream

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Other Diaries: Death Too Shall Pass

On 13th February 2015 i popped thirty sleeping pills in an attempt to suicide.
It amounted to 46mgs in my body, i found out later from the report i got from the hospital.
I was fifty three kilos. It was nothing in my body. My body was nothing.

The previous day while i was having tea i had given D Jeet's memory card which contained footage from our final day of shoot. The burial. The digging of the grave. Aalayam knocked at my door later that night and asked me 'what was in that card?'. I knew it in an instant. He had lost it. With a ludicrous grin pasted on my face i asked in hope for a miracle, 'tell me you didn't lose it'. He had. I conveyed the news to D Jeet. He was heartbroken. I was devastated and numb. I kept hoping it was a joke. D Jeet asked me why i hadn't dumped the card even after three days of completion of shoot. He asked me if i was busy with badminton or Florence. I was dumbstruck. He was hurt. I didn't know where to dump all my pain. Where does a director dump their pain? In a goddamn mise-en-scene gone wrong?

When it finally struck me i ran through the campus and into the street which Aalayam had walked. Went to the cigarette and liquor shops where he had bought things and asked if they could check their money box. They asked me to return at closing time. I went to the cigarette shop at 10.30 p.m. Waited till around 12 a.m. He cleaned the shop but didn't check the money box. I pleaded. He felt i was accusing him of robbery. 'I wouldn't take it even if it was a diamond'. I broke down. I couldn't even formulate my words let alone convince him. People gathered. Took my side and his. I was unable to speak. He didn't let me look in the steel bowls in which he kept all the coins and in which i was sure the 32 GB card was in. Tiny little blue thing. Looked ugly. Carried a tiny little funeral. A film.
I went to the liquor shop. They asked me to return the next morning. I did. At eleven a.m they let me know that the shop owner had gone home the previous night with all the money and that he hadn't found anything in there. I knew that they hadn't looked hard enough. The film was mine. It was my funeral. My death.

I had a lot of tea and bought a pack of razor blades.

I went back to the institute and wrote some mails and spoke to my concerned family. I assured everyone i was fine. I called upon her and hoped she wouldn't reply. She didn't. I was gleeful like i had a happy little secret inside my pocket. Only it wasn't happy. It was a weeping little wimpy child.
I looked at one of the blades and my wrist for a long time. My wrist was tired. I was scared of seeing my vein. I changed and headed for a medical shop. Asked for a strip of sleeping pills. They refused. It was not the first time i was buying it. They had given it to me over the counter the last time and i said that to them. I said i was insomniac. They complied. It was a bargain. Sad and helpless face in exchange for some breaking of rules.

I went back to the room again, tidied it up , watered my plants, curry leaf and all, took my dried clothes in, did dishes. Wrote a suicide note which made no sense to myself which as far as i remember said something about not being able to live without cinema. I wrote it on a paper from a sketch book that Sivaram had gifted me. The pen was a gift from Rehna. Purple. She had sent it twice just to make sure that the purple one was in there. My room was strip searched by friends later to find out which the pills were that i had taken. The note is no longer here. Good. I wrote the names of the six people i loved on earth on the note and popped them pills. I cut up my wrist so that friends wouldn't suspect when they found me if at all they did. I lay down to die.

I heard bangs on the door. Kunju Thalona had called the registrar and had asked him to check on me. She had intuition. I had death. They broke open the door. Emm, my neighbour was one of the voices i remembered. I kept asking her to keep speaking to me till i died. I wanted to hug her and kiss her and feel a human being till i died. I wanted a human voice which i loved till i died.
They took me to the nearest hospital. I was saved.

More than one doctor asked me how the 'experience' was. More than one of them asked me if i would do it again. School girl. Johnny Johnny. Yes Papa.
One of the doctors asked me why i had poured hot wax over my foot. 'Don't you think it's a funny thing to do?', she asked, ostensibly seeking a nod from the nurse stationed near her.
One of them assured Sethuvamma that i wouldn't do it again because i must have got tired of all the needles and pain and stomach cleansing. I must have. It hurts, physically. Tired? I hope so.
They could tell me a million things. I had nothing to say to any of it. 'You only laugh', one of the nurses remarked, amused. 

It was only on 17th february, after 4 days like she predicted that i regained complete consciousness.
In the days before that when consciousness peeped in and went back, i spoke to Sethuvamma, Kunju Thalona, her, calico and Rehna, August, Jay. I thought of the pens Rehna had sent me. I needed to start sketching again. I remembered some jokes from the conversations. Some professors, the registrar, the director and classmates visited.

I remember once when i noticed that there was a tube from my genitals which went to a bag full of my urine. I felt like an old woman. They did that in old age. When i sat up once it fell and piss spilled over my bed. The nurses changed me. I was naked. I must have been naked in front of a lot of people, i thought in the loo when i saw my shaven pubic area. I saw circular areas of glue marks over my belly and above my breasts. They were monitoring my vitals, i was later told. All cinematic. Wired girl, the vitals monitor and may be the green line going flat. Bated breath and tears in a cinema hall.
On the third day my withdrawal symptoms from cigarette addiction were the worst. I whatsapped a professor who was also earlier admitted in a hospital what he had done with his beedis while he was there. I arranged for cigarettes the following day and smoked in the loo. It was oxygen. I didn't know how smoke alarms worked and how much of smoke triggered it off. I coped. No alarm went off. It never did around me. Would have helped if some did.

In the hospital i had visions of streets in Kozhikode and Fort Kochi. I was walking them alone. Cloudy Evenings. Melancholic and hence nice.

On the last day there i dreamed of a funeral in Church of Christ the King, Park Circus. D Jeet, NN and i were shooting. There was a girl from my college. There was a car in which the coffin was carried to the cemetery and some nuns rode it. I sang Cohen's sisters of mercy in my head and whispered 'we weren't lovers like that and besides it would still be all right'. D Jeet and i had once spoken about that line. He had used it as a title for one of his work. I loved that line. All of us weren't lovers like that and besides it would still be all right.

Except nothing was.
It was my second attempt at suicide. The previous one was when i was 19. It seemed like a long time ago. It wasn't. I wasn't that old, urine bag or not. I was nowhere close to death in the first one. I brushed past it five days ago. I am alive but i know how i am going to die. It is terrifying and sad. It is an end and a definite one at that.

I sometimes wonder where i stashed all my love and lust for life away. In which dark closet of my past i had buried it so well so that i could fantasize about death and defy love. I will never find out. May be i don't want to.
Back in the institute i faced all sorts of responses. Bad to bad. I thanked Emm. She gave me a sketchbook. I laughed. Played badminton.
When Sethuvamma and Kunju Thalona leave i want to shut myself up in my room and weep. About what they went through i shall not even attempt to write. Nor about Calico or her. Something dies when you kill. I must have killed a lot of them. I was a born bitch. Fangs and all. Family killer. Killer.

I thanked a lot of people. There was a girl i fell in love with when i was in my first year here. Sri. She sent me a text when i was in the hospital. She was who was there when i was in CCU. Jay told me later that she was who was relaying news to family before they arrived and the one who stayed. A lot of people texted me. NN called every day. She was in Mumbai. So was D Jeet. Our short film was getting a 'married print'. [Sound and picture get married. Nothing fancy. Institutionalization of cinema, i called it]. Sri's text read this way

'Get well soon. You can't die without writing a single word about me in your blog. I exist in your life. I do exist. U better understand how much everyone loves you, you silly stupid girl. I hate u!'

Dear Sri, dear everyone, do you know why i write? It is so that i survive.
Much love from that closet in some alley bathed in darkness and pain.
Alive.
Fighting.

Out the window at the hospital. Was told it was on the 6th floor.




Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Documentary Diaries#12: Another Nightmare

12the February 2015

Dreamed that Florence was actually a man and that she was fooling me all the while. Her (now his) accomplice was his lawyer. Both of them were evading me for a long time because they were soon going to get away from the place. There was chess. There was me looking at Florence who now had a clean shaven face. I looked her (her for me) in the eye for a long time to to comprehend what was going on. And when i understood what it was all about, that familiar feeling rose inside me. Of losing everything. I felt that twice last year and i felt it in my dream yesterday. It's a pity that i am being followed by that even in sleep.

It was around 5 a.m when i hit the bed yesterday. I got up with a start after this dream. Was relieved that it was only a dream. I wanted to write it down in all its detail. There was nothing on the bed. I couldn't get up.

In the morning i was reminded of it only when i was editing last day's blog post on Bhawanipore burial. Had forgotten most of the details. It was better that way. Details in nightmares are the most horrendous things. I still remember the curve of a little girl's smile from a dream which scared me when i was in third standard. She was a witch.

Florence was a man in my dream and i felt cheated. Betrayed. Lost.
I am waiting for it to be the end of February to see her again and attempt talking to her.
Till then i will try and dream less.

Documentary Diaries#13: Dreaming On

Documentary Diaries#11: Record and Rest in Peace

8. 2. 2015

The previous day i had let both Sabari and D Jeet know of the funeral service and burial that was going to happen the next day. The newpaper had all the details. I wasn't sure that the family would let us shoot but decided to shoot whatever we could. I had asked both the men to wear black. When i, along with them walked Kolkata i felt like we were Shakespeare's three witches. Fun.

The funeral service was to be held at Church of Christ the King, Park Circus, Kolkata. The interment would be at Bhawanipore cemetery around 3 pm. We wanted to shoot the digging of the grave so decided to go the cemetery in the morning. Sabari and i left the institute around 9 a.m and D Jeet joined us there.

The cemetery was huge. People even went there for morning walks or jogs. We had made a wise decision visiting the graveyard before going to the church. The grave had been half dug. We filmed the rest of it. I constantly thought of the song in Haider which i had quite liked. This was nothing like it but we got what the documentary wanted. I was content. Every time i was happy with something Florence would start gnawing at an end of my head and make it all disappear. Such was my preoccupation with my protagonist.

Sabari and D Jeet recording the digging of the 'rest in peace' grave

We went to Park Circus and and located the church. D Jeet shot a bit there. Soon the family arrived, in black and all work. Booklets for the funeral service had to be placed in the seats. The table where the coffin would be placed was ready. The father at the church welcomed us but the family did not. We left after shooting the arrival of flowers in rickshaws. We could cut it and join it on editing table. It wasn't that bad.

It was after a long time that i was at a church which looked like the one i used to go to when i was a believer. I went on a brief nostalgia trip before hunger got the better of me and we went to Arsalan which sold the best biriyani in Kolkata (with potatoes, of course). D Jeet had his favourite biriyani and Sabari and i were true to our mallu selves and whined about food and in particular biriyani in Kolkata.

Church of Christ the King, Park Circus


By 3 p.m we went back to Bhawanipore cemetery.  After hanging around for some time we realized it was better that we operated like police in hollywood films. In other words i went out and told Sabari and D to be ready for my call which would let them know of the arrival of the coffin and family. When i did that i even slipped in a 'coming through' in there and felt really good. After the funeral party went in again and watched the burial. It again brought back memories when they sang 'Nearer My God to Thee'. I thought of Titanic too. Damn them films. Don't make any and don't watch any to make the world a better place. We shot. Till sunset.

It was then that D Jeet said that it was going to be the last day of shoot. He was going to leave for Mumbai in a day for grading our short film. I was not going to shoot without him. I felt empty again. When in love i let bits and pieces of it permeate amidst people closest to me. I knew that was why i was missing NN for the first time after being in the institute. It was why i was cracking jokes with Aalayam, my editor. D later said that he felt i was falling in love with him in those days. I apologized to him for having made him feel that. Confessed my permeation problem. I had to stop that madness and only honesty was going to do that. Honesty also hurt. I hurt.

Florence's whatsapp had 'love sucks, love punks' for a status and a picture which said she hid many things behind her smile. I looked at it a dozen times before i went offline.

On the last day of shoot which i called the 'last day of shoot of the first shift' because i intend to go back to Florence after D and NN return in the end of February, i watched a burial after ten years.
It was as dead as a corpse and as bland as death.

Sabari and i returned to the institute. Badminton matches were on. Sabari played great badminton and i sucked. He won many and lost the final. In the party after the tournament, i drank after a long time and for the first time after the beginning of the shoot, had a dreamless drunk sleep.

Documentary Diaries#10: Rose Day

7th February 2015

I had decided not to shoot that day. There was gloom in the air. I had apologized to Florence for having followed her to the hospital. As usual she had not replied. I sat in the room with melancholic music and tea. Then D Jeet pinged me saying he would like to shoot that day at Park Street Cemetery again. He was too unhappy with the previous day's footage. We decided to be there in the afternoon. I decided not to take sound equipment with me because we had already recorded the ambient sound there. Handling sound and the film together was becoming a huge problem for me ever since NN left. More than anything i hated how it reduced my mobility. Equipment was cumbersome. A pair wasn't a good number for arms, i felt.

That morning i got something i had been looking for for a long time. An actual death. I wanted to film a funeral and that day's obituary had one. We decided to attempt shooting that come what may. Decided to take my junior from Dept. of Audiography, Sabari along. Sabari and i had made friends on badminton court during the evening games i was playing as a stress busting routine. 

D and i met at Park Street metro station, Gate #3 and walked to the cemetery.
I was still out of my senses from the previous day. I was thinking of what Florence might be doing. How her nephew was. If she was thinking of me at all.
We again shot this and that at the cemetery. Looked at people. There were couples loving in the vast expanse which was the oldest and biggest in Kolkata. Kissing, cuddling, cooing, i even spotted a pair playing hide and seek. It was good to see people in love.

D shoots at Park Street Cemetery

When a girl walked in with a boquet of red roses i for a moment thought it was Valentine's Day. It wasn't. D said it could be Rose Day. I didn't even know one such existed. I thought he was cracking yet another poor joke.

We left only when the guards started shooing people away saying that the place was shutting down. It looked like during exams in school when you frantically hold on to the answer sheet and scribble away when the invigilator says the time is up. I was happy with one frame of what i watched. This wall which we together named the dead wall.


It was around 6 when we left and i was starving not having had lunch. We went to a roll joint (neither mean what they usually mean) and had chicken and mutton kati rolls. Oily to the core as usual, but good owing to an empty stomach.

On the way back i checked Florence's whatsapp profile as usual. It was then that i realized that it was indeed 'rose day'. She had that for a status. I thought of buying some roses and going to Madeiras immediately. Thought against it in a moment. It was the time for silence. Love was silent most of the time. 


Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Documentary Diaries #9: In Love!

6th February 2015

I have come to realize that i don't know how to love. I only know how to feel. Love is a responsibility and i have nothing to do with that. But feel i do. I feel what i call love. Now i feel that with Florence, the protagonist of our documentary project. Strange, but true. It's our first and probably the last non-fiction project in the institute and no surprise that it is stranger than fiction and yet much like it.

Even without me realizing it, i was pursuing Florence. I was always in anticipation for a sight of her. This has happened only once in my life. With her. I went back to that time when i would stare at my phone for a long time awaiting her call. When it rung unexpectedly my heart would skip some beats. I would be scared to pick the phone but dying to as well.

When Florence started avoiding me ostensibly because she was busy with family matters, i started feeling the pain of rejection. I would dream of her every night. Every morning i would set out envisaging new ways to make her speak to me. I only wanted to speak to her. To listen to her. Documentary was no longer the purpose. Florence was.

Every day when i heard more and more people say awful stories about her i started liking her more. When her neighbour called her a second Elizabeth Tailor i liked her a bit more. When some others called her and her mother 'servants who usurped a respectable family's property', i liked her a bit more. When i was told that she had numerous affairs, that she was in control of the Bow Barracks thana (police station) and its inspector, i liked her a bit more. When she refused to speak with me from the third day i liked her a bit more. When i saw a glimpse of her and rushed to her and when she turned me down saying her aunt was hospitalized, i liked her a bit more.

On that day we spoke to the neighbours again. Spoke to a tailor shop owner nearby. Found out the address of the house owner. Tried to speak to Florence again but were told that she wasn't home. We waited. Nikki, Florence's brother-in-law told us that we were making a mistake by waiting for her. I didn't understand what he meant by that. Things were becoming more and more obscure. I couldn't figure Florence out a bit. She knew that i wasn't media. She could have backed off due to the fact that i spoke to her neighbours but then again that was also reason enough to speak with me. She wasn't angry. Was just tired whenever she spoke to me. Most of the people in the crew had started seeing her as a fraudulent woman. What she is, i still don't know. But i believed most of what she told me. Whenever we asked the employees and other family members where she was we would be told contradictory things. One would say she was at the hospital another that she was in court. Nikki once told me that he knew all that i wanted to know. But i didn't love Nikki. I loved Florence. So i wanted to listen only to her.

After waiting for a long time i saw her pass in front of the office. I had to get to her before she climbed upstairs. Upstairs was forbidden. I rushed to her with the sound equipment tugging along behind me. I couldn't see. I couldn't hear what she told me. I just kept on asking her why she was avoiding me. I think she mumbled something like 'don't be silly'. I don't know. She brushed me aside and rushed up the stairs. I went back to the chair in the office and sunk in. I couldn't move. It had to be love.

I had felt all this only with her earlier. If i got a vision of her or heard her voice i would just sink back in my chair and go blank for half an hour. That happened with Florence that day. I told D Jeet that it was enough that i saw Florence. I only wanted to keep seeing her at that point of time. And she only wanted to keep rejecting me.

She came out in some time. I again ran to her and asked her where she was going. She said her nephew was sick and that she was going to the hospital to see him. I asked her which hospital it was. She said it was a children's hospital near Bridge no.4. I remember touching her. My heart was in my mouth when i held her hand and requested her to call me when she was free. She was cold. She was obviously oblivious to my state of mind. She was oblivious to me myself.

I thought i could get her on camera, going to the hospital and coming out. D Jeet was already thinking of filming our attempts to make Florence speak with us. The elusive protagonist who deals with death. I wasn't for the idea, but i wanted to go to the hospital. I knew she wasn't lying even when D thought so.

We found out the children's hospital. Things went terribly wrong there. When she arrived and saw me along with Bee and Venky who were also holding cameras (D was hiding and filming) she must have got skeptical. Two of her friends came up to me and said that i was violating someone's privacy and that i was stalking. I felt like someone had slapped me. I was losing my senses for Florence and perhaps turning violent in my approach.

Even though following the character to the places they go to and people they talk with is quite common in any character based non-fiction project i hadn't thought that i would be called a stalker by someone. I had never done that in my life. The first time i spoke to her i had told her that we would be filming her throughout the day too. I couldn't understand why she was being hostile in certain spaces. That wasn't important. What was was that i was intruding into some space which she didn't want me in for some reason. I was as foolish as i could get.

We left to have food. I thought only of Florence.
We went to Park Street Cemetery to shoot some graves in case it was of some use.
Nothing worked. We shot a little of this and that and went back to the institute.

I was in love and i couldn't help it.
I was being rejected outright and i felt like dying.

Bow Barracks became a sacred space for me that day. In the evening when i saw an elderly woman sit on the doorway and smoke, dimly lit street and a bundle of stories stacked up inside her, i felt like crying. Prescilla was walking her dog. The Madeira cousin was calling Florence names. I looked at the woman for a long time and she looked at me. We didn't speak, but we knew we were both bodies of pain. Pain i could sense. In the month of February love was only pain.


Documentary Diaries#10: Rose Day

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Documentary Diaries #8: Locked

5th February 2015

We set out in a car that day (perks of being in a government funded place) to try our hand at shooting at the cemetery again. I had to pick my friend Bee from Sealdah station. We crawled ahead like a snail in the car and i got restless. There was gloom even on a sunny afternoon. It was the day Kolkata was proclaimed the first city with free wi-fi in India. I don't know how that came about. I thought it was Bangalore all the while. Didn't bother to verify. Let the Bengalis revel in more achievements and feel proud all they want.

We were going to try to shoot with Venky's phone camera. Even a DSLR was drawing attention. I wouldn't have to go because sound  had been recorded on our earlier visits. I was worried. Bee was in Sealdah station much before us and we were not able to see each other for a long time because both of us were finding it difficult to make out which entrance of the station the other was at. Meanwhile when i called Debojeet he said that it was better that i got permission. All hope was lost for me. I was getting frustrated with all the walking around in the station as well. When i finally found Bee and took him along to the cemetery i saw that it was bolted from inside. When i banged the latch a nun peeped out and said that she had instructions from the father that nobody was to be let in. I swore at him in my mind. There was nobody i hated more in that moment than that person whom i had not even met.


In some minutes D Jeet and Venky came back to us. D Jeet already knew Bee from his visit to Kerala the previous year. It was at Bee's cousin's place he had spent some nights when he was in Trivandrum. I was anxious at what footage they had got. Neither D nor Venky seemed happy. My heart sunk. Then D told me how the gate was latched and they had to leave and after a long pause how they had got in through another entrance and had shot what we wanted. Madeira's grave. I jumped up and down out of joy. I wanted to hug him, but didn't because i still don't know how to hug people. I am a stranger to tactile forms of expression.


I reveled in that moment for a long time. We called our driver to pick us up and drive us to Chandni, to the Madeiras. When he took more than half an hour we felt that something was wrong. It was. He had locked the car with the key inside and was now unable to move it. We walked to the car. Some vendors offered help. They tried opening the door by inserting a metal wire down the window. It didn't work. One of them tried to slide the glass pane of the window behind. While all this commotion was going on D Jeet started shooting it. I had nothing to do than look at all this and feel lost. I clicked a photo or two and asked the price of grapes. 60 a kilo. Not bad.

Open Sesame: When our gaadi got locked

Finally they were successful with the back window. We were all dying of hunger and decided to eat at Nizam's, Esplanade. Since Bee, who was a malayalee too was present, i decided to speak of the plight of biriyani in kolkata and the non existent logic behind aloo (potatoes) in biriyani. Bee sided up with me and so did Venky who is from Andhra though settled in Mumbai. But he could understand having had a lot of Hyderabadi biriyani and even biriyani from Paragon, Kozhikode. So D Jeet drowned in our murder of Kolkata. After food we set out to Chandni.


As usual Florence refused to speak with me. We waited for a long time. Then went to her neighbours. I then noticed that Florence's family was peering at us from their balcony. I realized what the problem was immediately. It had offended them that we were talking to the neighbours whom they were not in good terms with. I quickly gave up talking to them (Prescilla and the cousin of Leon Madeira) and rushed to the road from where i could speak to Florence's mother in the balcony. She had a rossary in hand. I almost went on my knees pleading. She seemed upset for some time and asked me to go back to 'those neighbours'. She said she had to pray. I said i would pray with her (in the name of cinema, atheists offer to pray). She refused the offer but in the end promised to tell Florence to speak with me. Asked us to return the next day.


While going back we stopped to have coffee at Udipi House, Lake Market. D Jeet left for his home and all of us returned to the institute. Little did i know that the following day was going to be my undoing.

Documentary Diaries#9: In Love!




Friday, 6 February 2015

Workshop by Tanmay Agarwal: In Solidarity with Second Year Students of Direction

It is not the first time that i am coming across huge injustice being done in the name of pedagogy. Abuse and harassment in the name of education starts from the time a person enrolls in any educational institution. I will, however have to concede that it is in this film school that i met with the most dehumanizing practices carried out in the name of cinema.

There is something called 'film school culture', i came to know when i started my education here. As to what this precisely was, nobody had an answer. There were vague concepts. People did weed, drank, swore, discussed cinema, worshiped certain faculty, dismissed certain others and looked forward to the greater cinema that was soon going to happen. It all sounded fine, i could evade it or take it in. They only sounded like musings of a lost film enthusiast to me. But no, it was the norm. If you chose to be out of it, you weren't a filmmaker.

I was surprised when several of my fellow students gave me the key to good cinema. Listen to S Choudhary (one of the professors) when he was high. He only gave lessons when he was drunk. The sober classes weren't the real deal. Words of wisdom come only from an inebriated soul. People failed to understand what was wrong with such a statement. How much violence it contained. It only meant that those who didn't deem such a space fit for them were out of the 'great cinema' they dreamed of. Nobody seemed to quite understand what the importance of space was.

With the talk i had with the same professor about Tarun Tejpal i gave up on the much celebrated drinking sessions. It was simply not worth the wine while. Cinema i would explore, but kicking aside with confidence all that was created by a largely male, and desperately power seeking structure.

So when i heard what happened in the Lighting and Lensing workshop conducted under the 'guidance' of Tanmai Agarwal from two of my juniors in Direction and Screenplay Writing Department, i was not surprised. Infuriated, yes.

Oh, gurus, divine teachers, preachers of cinema and 'good' life, spare us poor souls, please. May be it's news to you, but really it's called common sense. People are equal. You are a teacher? No, you don't get to harass your pupils. You don't get to make them do manual labour in the name of education. If you chose to teach you chose to be responsible. You do that, and we shall then talk of cinema.

I learnt that the workshop was about seeking the meaning of life. That there was 'punishment'. One of the students was asked to carry bricks from one end of the campus to another and construct a brick structure which looked good. Another was asked to follow the former with her head held down and was asked not to speak to anybody else.

Punishment? An aesthetically brilliant brick wall? Oh dear sir, you truly are just another brick in the wall and we don't need no education to learn that.

I further learned that all the students were asked to make blog entries on the workshop every day with input given by the respected professor. If he didn't like what was written he would ask the students to change it. A little promotional work for his own website was demanded too. Wah. Wah. Applause. Whistle. Truly cinematic. 

I love blogging. While i am glad that the eight 'well behaved' students of the class started blogging i am shocked at the coercive nature of the teaching practices. I have been blogging about a lot of things happening on campus for more than a year now. There were professors who told the dean that i was engaging in slander, that i was calling him names. There were conscious efforts to portray my social media activities and blog posts as anti-institute. Where are the professors now? Why the blind eye towards this ridiculously mediocre exercise? 

Like during the time i raised my voice against ragging on campus i see that the classmates and faculty alike are ostracizing the two victims of 'film school culture'. They are being accused of ruining the otherwise splendid workshop. That itself is a clear indicator of violence. No, you don't get to accuse your fellow students of 'ruining it all'. Pursuit of happiness as one of the students who was harassed has aptly titled the workshop, [apparently Lighting and Lensing workshop was not about that, but about finding the meaning of life and getting enlightened] is not about silencing voices. All voices need to be heard and there is no hierarchy in it all. You speak, i speak, we all speak and let there be noise. Noise is good. Silence, is on the other hand, something which exists only to be broken. Film students, ain't you all, should be knowing this, i presume?

The problem in detail is on Sreecheta's blog and Mainak Guha's open letter to Tanmay Agarwal

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Documentary Diaries #7: Damn the Clergy



3rd February 2015

I got up to Venky's call at 7 a.m. There was no reason why a batchmate would call at that time of the day. Day began around 10-11 a.m for most people. For some like me from 3 p.m. So it was not hard to guess the whole story. NN's folks who didn't want her to miss the train home had rung all her batchmates and me, her roommate, up to wake her up. I sprung up from bed sensing the disaster and quickly woke NN up. Attended her mother's call and was surprised to hear myself say that we had started.

We left for Howrah, us limping women. We surprised ourselves by how agile we were. Better than people who are fit as a fiddle. Nobody like women to rise up to the occasion and hurry. Fret is an alternative word which i refrain from using here.
After seeing her off i took a bus to Sealdah. I had asked D Jeet to text me the name of the church and directions to it. I am very bad with direction and geography. I get lost everywhere. Home town, non-home town. Anywhere, everywhere.

It was Baithakkhana Church that i had to go to. It was called 'Our Lady of Dolours'. It wasn't difficult finding it with the first name. I loved the road to the church through the grocery sellers' lane and the huge baithakkhana market.

At the church i was asked by the sexton to wait in the parlour for the minister. I waited. I read. I waited. I read. Nobody came. When i asked for his number they said they couldn't give it to me. It was the first time i was in a church where the priest simply refused to speak to a mere visitor. It was strange. I left the place after waiting for an hour.

Parlour, Baithakkhana Church. The Sexton is not pleased with me.


On 4th February 2015 D Jeet, Aalayam, my editor and i set out to the graveyard determined to shoot at any cost. D Jeet went inside and started shooting. The keeper asked us if we had got permission from the minister. I lied i had. He demanded a letter which said so. I asked him to call the father and ask himself. During the time they took to make the call and confirm we shot more. There were more questions and some nuns gathered to ask us what the matter was. D Jeet asked me to go the church and get permission again. I walked all the way to the church and said i wanted to meet the priest again. They asked me to wait. I understood it was going to be the same. Nobody was going to come. I walked back.

D Jeet showed me the footage he had shot. I was really happy with that but we had not been able to shoot Madeira's grave. Which meant we would have to go back. I asked Venky, my producer to try for obtaining permission from the church. He called back later to say that they were not letting him speak to the minister.

Why was a minister of a church refusing visitors! I was confused and amazed at the same time. I had never seen this. In all the years of belief and even now from what church goers in the family tell me the clergy was a sort of family. The minister at the family church would be a frequent visitor at houses. If it's from a belief where they are allowed to marry, the priest's wife and the women gel well. Recipes, embroidery talk et al. [I wonder if this happens when the priest is a woman]. In most Malayalam movies which show a christian family story, there will be a minister who actively participates in the family affair as a moderator. Sphadikam comes to my mind. There was a scene which involved drunk Mohanlal wearing the minister's cassock and Thilakan, his father mistaking him for the real minister and having some sentimental talk.

So i learnt that in Kolkata, or in this church, things were different. That you couldn't see a minister. I thought of attending the service once and catching hold of this elusive character once and for all, seeking permission. A sermon and a service was a huge price to pay for a shoot. I was having enough headache pretending to be a christian everywhere.

We returned to Chandni, to Madeira's. There Florence again refused to talk to me. The woman needed wooing. We guessed that her change in attitude was because she had seen us talk to her neighbours with whom she is fighting many cases.

We decided to speak with some shop owners next to the Madeiras. We went to a tailor who had been there for over thirty years. Contrary to what we thought, he had only niceties to speak of the Madeiras. He said that what happened there was none of his business and that shop keepers all stood together and that helped them fight anti-socials. 'Anglo-Indians are very nice people', he told us. We asked him about the landlord. He said we could find the name written on the building. We found it but there was no address. When we asked around we were led to a building not far from the Maderias. But one of the flats was closed and the inmate at the other one told us that the person we were looking for had shifted some place else.
Disappointed, we walked down. Then we met an old man who claimed to know the owner. Told us that the owner's name was Abbas Ali and that he had his son's number. I asked if he could call him and ask him where he was staying. He rang him and i spoke. It was Abbas himself who picked the call. I asked him for his address and he gave the location of his shop in Stand Road.

Aalayam, D Jeet and i returned to the institute thinking of how to shoot the grave, the woman and her landlord. 

Documentary Diaries #8: Locked

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Documentary Diaries #6: A Fall and a Cemetery

1st February 2015

After a break of a day we set out to Bow Barracks again on 1st.

Nikki was around. I asked him if Florence was there. He said that she had gone out and didn't know when she would be back. I felt he was lying. We went to the neighbours. One of the neighbours who said he was Leon Madeira's cousin came out with newspaper reports on the place which said that Florence was running an unlawful business. He refused to speak on camera and said that his wife would speak after she was back from church. For the first time in my life my second name which is christian was of some use. When i showed my id card to make him believe that i was indeed a film student, he read it out aloud and asked me if i was Catholic. I said i wasn't. Tried to bring some faith on my face, the kind i have often seen on Sethuvamma's face when she thinks of me and raises her eyes up seeking help from god almighty, and said i was protestant christian. He seemed very happy. 'That is good', he said. I was relieved.

Even though he refused to give his face to the camera there was no end to his complaints about Florence. Speaking of how she was having an affair with an inspector at the Bow Barracks thana he used 'She is worse than Elizabeth Taylor' as a refrain. Someone was peeping through the small window opposite the man's house. It was a woman and he promptly turned to her and told us that she would be able to tell us more about Florence's evil ways. Her name was Prescilla.

We started talking to her. She narrated her experience with Florence which made me cringe. She had been hugely violated by Florence and her employees. After talking for a long time in the stairway and her dog barking from inside, we bade goodbye and decided to go in search of the landlord of the building in which Florence was living and working. I went up the building next to it and D Jeet and NN followed. One of the inmates said she knew where he was and led me down the stairs. I heard a loud sound and a crack. I turned back to see NN on the floor, cringing in pain and unable to move. My heart skipped a beat. I knew that she had twisted her ankle just by the look of it.

I ran to get the pain killers i was taking for my own knee. It was a Sunday and most medical stores were shut. By the time i was back her foot was twice its original size. We rushed to Medical College, College Street. Again, being a Sunday the OP was shut. We had to go the Emergency department. Took an X Ray and found that her bone was intact. She had sprained her ankle. Was given pain killers. She couldn't walk.

When i was on the run looking for a medical shop, Prescilla had called me to say that she had some more things to say.

NN decided to record sound in spite of her ankle and we went back to Bow barracks after lunch at Spanish Cafe. She held on. Suffering.

Prescilla, who is an Anglo-Indian and is neighbours with Florence was asked by the latter to vacate her own house. Prescilla was having problems with her family. It was something regarding her marriage. She didn't divulge too much about it. From the complaint she had filed at the Bow Barracks thana and which she showed us later, it was a grave matter. The family was forcing her into prostitution. Prescilla said that her family had paid Florence to evict her from the house she was born and grew up in. When she refused she was harassed by the male employees at the Madeira's. When she walked to work and back they would pass lewd comments on her. Once what she called 'a gang of burqa clad women' stood outside her door along with Florence and showered abuses on her chiefly accusing her of prostitution. They took her male friend to Madeira's and threatened to harm him if she refused to leave. When she approached the police thana they refused to file a complaint. Once she was arrested and had to spend a night in jail. This was based on a complaint that Florence had filed against her accusing her of disrupting peaceful environment of the locality. After that Prescilla approached the women's commission. Things got better after that. Florence and her associates backed off.

Throughout her narration Prescilla kept repeating the line 'I was alone and i fought the battle alone'. I felt a lot of respect for her. It is not easy to do that. If she won it is only because of her will which didn't falter in the face of terrible times. It is not something everyone has and those who have it have not had it easy.

Prescilla's dog Sally was barking throughout our conversation with her.

After that we decided to shoot a graveyard. We were thinking of which graveyard to head to when NN came up with a brilliant idea. We could go to the one in which Leon Madeira was buried. It was in St. John's Church, Sealdah. We went there. NN sat in the car giving some rest to her foot and D Jeet and i set out looking for the church. We found the cemetery and Madeira's grave.


In fact the whole family was buried there.


Both D Jeet and i at the same time sighed that it was a perfect love nest. That people should really make use of the place to make love. Since we had nobody to do that with we decided to get the documentary done and seek permission to shoot there.
We had to shoot there. When we asked the keeper he asked us to get permission from the priest at Our Lady of Dolours Church, Baithakkhana. We went there and were told that he would be available only on the next day and the day after that during 8 a.m and 9 a.m. We returned to our gaadi buying pappad for everyone. 

Pack up and back to the institute. 

On 2nd February we let the institute know that our sound person had injured herself and that we were unable to shoot. It was pathetic to watch most of them consider it as a ploy to delay our shoot. NN was to leave for Mumbai the next day. I decided to meet the priest on that day after seeing her off at Howrah station. D Jeet was also busy that day with another shoot so it would just be me and mr jesus christ after a long long time. 








Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Documentary Diaries #5 I Have a Dream

31st January 2015

During the night of 30th or morning of 31st i had a dream.
I dreamed that Florence shut us off from Madeira Undertakers building. I saw that the ground floor where the bodies were kept had been made over to function as an office alone. She cut off the passage between her house upstairs and the office by placing a huge wooden safe in front of the door in front of the stairs. I saw this and was very upset. I was worried how i was going to shoot her if she was to behave that way. Her mood swings were something.
When i was thinking that and talking to D Jeet and NN, Florence came close to me and said that there were some people who wanted to talk to me. I asked her who they were and she said that they were all her helpers in the business. I remember being hesitant for a moment and looking at D Jeet. She didn't allow him in and took me first and said that she would go back for NN. A peculiar thing i remember she did was pull me in by my pants. She in fact slid two fingers in the waist band of my pants and hauled me in, one could say. Like how you see sometimes is shown in cartoons. Angry school teachers to impertinent students.
Inside that room, there were men.
They sexually assaulted me.
Don't remember the details again.
I do remember crying for help. Then when the men had all got what they wanted i remember thinking how to expose them. It was terrible. What i felt in the dream. 
They were going to get NN in when i woke up.
We didn't shoot that day.
The next day, NN fell down the stairs while shooting and sprained her ankle. We stopped shoot till she left for Mumbai where her house is on 3rd February 2015.

Documentary Diaries #6: A Fall and a Cemetery 

Monday, 2 February 2015

Documentary Diaries #4: Mother and Child

30th January 2015

We went to Madeira's around noon that day. We had a better camera and also a tripod. Both were considerably heavy so we took a taxi. When we reached there people were only getting up from sleep. Some of them were watching tv. When asked where Florence was, they said she was tired from the last day's funeral and was sleeping upstairs. Meanwhile i saw her sister, Rupa. When i spoke to her, we got to know yet another thing. Nikki, who was in charge of the business in Florence's absence was married to Rupa. He was Florence's brother-in-law.

Rupa agreed to speak in front of camera on condition that i wouldn't ask her anything about the business. She spoke of Nikki. She said she met him on the way to sunday school. They were in love for ten years before getting married. Nikki had gone abroad and had worked as a chef before returning to work for Florence. Nikki said that he had won an 'Employee of the Month' while he was there. They had a son.

They were not allowing us upstairs let alone shoot. After some time an elderly woman came downstairs. She said she was Florence's mother. Her name was Sushila Biswas. She narrated a story which sounded like one from a Bollywood flick. Sushila was born is Australia and had come to India where both her parents died. Thereafter she was looked after by Mother Theresa's orphanage. When she was young in sunday school she became friends with one of the Madeiras. She started visiting the place with the young girl. Mother Madeira liked her very much and soon wanted to adopt her. She started living at the Madeira's. After her death Leon Madeira taught Sushila the secret ways of preserving bodies. Sushila used to take care of female bodies. Sushila had got married and her husband had died. When Florence (then Jogita Biswas), her daughter in that marriage was in her twenties Leon Madeira asked if he could marry her. Sushila said yes. [I am unable to fit in her two earlier marriages anywhere in this timeline. Sushila said Florence alias Jogita is now 33 years old. Florence herself said she married Leon Madeira nine years ago. Then she must have been 24. She is supposed to have been married twice before that. She has a daughter of 16 now who must have been 7 at the time of marriage. Which means she must have been only 16 or 17 when she first got married. This is if she had the girl from her first marriage. Then again one doesn't have to be married to have a child]. After Florence married Leon Madeira she also started helping in the business. Before his death Leon Madeira entrusted the business and everything he owned with Florence.

I was worried about Florence refusing to give her face to the camera. We stayed for long in the evening but were told that she had guests and was cooking and couldn't speak with us. I felt she was avoiding us for some reason. She must have seen us talk to the neighbours whom she knew didn't have anything good to say about her. We shot everything but her that day and left for the institute. Even at night she refused to talk to me over phone.

That night i had a nightmare.

Documentary Diaries #5: I Have a Dream



Sunday, 1 February 2015

Documentary Diaries #3: Bow Barracks' Secrets

On 29th January 2015 D Jeet, NN and i went to Bow Barracks to shoot Florence Madeira and Madeira Undertaking and Co. They were all busy preparing a body for cremation. It was a famous hockey player and olympian who had died. BSF was swarming the place. We shot everything. The body being taken out from the freezer to it being stripped bare and cleaned to clothed. Flowers were placed on it. People had gathered to find out who it was who had died. They were talking about the dead man. If he was married or not. If one of the women there was indeed his daughter. How he could have a daughter if he wasn't married.

While we were shooting the curious onlookers i thought we could strike a conversation with them about the place. We spoke to one of the neighbours who was looking at the crowd in his verandah. That opened up an aspect of the story we had not anticipated.
He told us that he was Leon Madeira's cousin and that Florence was a fraudulent woman who had taken over the business unlawfully. He said that Florence had been married and divorced twice. That her name wasn't Florence and that her daughter was from one of her earlier marriages. That she was a housemaid at the Madeira's and he didn't know if she had ever been married to Leon Madeira. The neighbour's wife joined in to say things which i couldn't imagine anyone would dare say in front of a camera. She passed a 'casual remark' about how she didn't know if Leon Madeira had died of natural causes or if Florence had murdered him. The family said they were fighting a case against Florence for the property. He promised to show us some newspaper reports regarding the issue.

We were dumbfounded. It was not that we felt fooled. I view people who accuse single women only with suspicion. The way they were speaking of her revealed more things about them than about Florence. For instance if a person told me 'She is a slut, sure dresses like one', i infer things about the person who said it rather than the woman they called 'slut'. It was the same with the neighbouring family. Even then we were excited to know that we had entered a story with many sides.

We went back and shot at Madeira's for some time before heading back home. I let my producer Venky know that D Jeet and i were working together again and that we had to quickly approve the project and get the production meet done. I submitted a project proposal that very evening and P Mahmood approved it. She spoke to me in length of the project. She was concerned about my parting with D and was relieved when i let her know of the change of topic and the new subject. She spoke about women's displacement with marriage when i told her that Florence was someone who had married into the Madeira family. She was so excited that she felt like meeting Florence.

For me the project had become one on death. It was also on a woman running a business alone. Both were not easy. Nothing was, we would learn soon.

One of the employees and Florence's nephew. The child is atop an unfinished coffin.
Documentary Diaries #4: Mother and Child

Documentary Diaries #2 Madeira and Co. Undertakers

On 28th Janurary 2015 NN, D Jeet and i decided to go on a secret recce without letting the rest of the crew or the institute know. People were still secretly gleeful that D Jeet and i had parted ways. I thought of not letting them down. NN and i left the institute in the morning and D was to meet us at Chandni metro station. What i remember the most about that day is the pain. My injured muscle was aching like crazy throughout the earlier week and i was taking pain killers. The medicine course of five days was over and i was hoping that everything would be back to normal. But an hour after waking up that day and trying to walk without pain killers i realized it was impossible. By the time i met D and we were close to Bow Barracks NN offered to get me my pills. She asked for the 'lady who deals with dead bodies' around and we were led to our subject of documentary project, Florence Madeira and her business enterprise called 'Madeira Undertakers and Co.'

Madeira and Co. Undertakers is one of the only two places in Kolkata which offers the service of storing dead bodies. Death is all about who the dead leave behind. It is never about the dead themselves. The burial or cremation will have to be stalled for some days if there is a relative living far away. In death, most people are not near the most loved ones. [I don't know if that is good or bad. From my own experience i thought it was better that we were far from love at the time of death. It's called escapism]. So people wait for them to reach the place of burial or cremation. Last time we were there the family was tamilians settled in Kolkata. They had to store the body for a night because someone from Chennai had to reach Kolkata. Florence Madeira recounted times when there were people who wanted to take the body abroad. They had stored bodies for as long as a month sometimes.

The building was quintessentially north kolkatan. Dull, damp, deep and sad. The ground floor functioned as the body storing, dressing place and the family lived upstairs. It was crowded when we walked in around noon. When i referred to the places as s dookaan (shop) Florence was quick to correct me 'It's a service. You can't call it a dookaan'. She asked us to return in the evening. We spent a little time in the place looking around and imagining visuals, sounds etc. All three of us were forming a basic treatment of the documentary in our own minds. We were hungry anyway and decided to go to Spanish Cafe in Sudder Street to brainstorm over food. Food=coffee.

There i was delighted to find that both D Jeet and NN were thinking along the same path with respect to the approach we would adopt. Some important decisions were made there. That we wouldn't shoot the face of the dead. That we would begin with a funeral. That we would end in something related to a beginning.

We wrote all our ideas on a tissue paper on the table. That was the beginning. We had no idea what was in store for us then. It was, i later learned, deadly material as far as a film maker was concerned.


We went back to Florence and she told us more about the place and the services they offered. She mentioned cases she were fighting in court for the ownership of the enterprise. She said that people didn't like her doing the job and there were many who wanted her out of the place. 'I am fighting these battles alone', she told us. She said that she had married one of the Madeiras and after his death had continued the business. She also said that she was thinking of shutting it down herself because people considered her 'unclean' and that was a problem especially when her children (a daughter and a son) were only growing up.

We sought permission to shoot her. She told us that someone was already shooting her and that she would have to ask him if it was okay for us to do it too. Both D Jeet and i felt that she was making that up. We were judging, but we are trained to judge. It's a pity. Innocence was the first thing we lost after being born. I called her at night and she told us that the 'other' film maker did not object. We were ready. For everything Madeira. 

Documentary Diaries #3: Bow Barracks' Secrets


She Leaves Me. Again

For years I have struggled to explain to her how she hurts me. How I get hurt even when she has no clue that I am getting hurt. She ...