Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Father of the bride

The first time I watched Meera Nair’s Monsoon Wedding, I was maybe 15, and my instant and most visceral reaction was to Shefali Shah’s Riya and her suppressed history of sexual abuse at the hand of a “trusted” relative. A beloved and revered uncle played to perfection by a young Rajat Kapoor masquerading as an old man, a quirk I noticed even back then.

Recently, I was influenced by my partner raving about the movie, and ended up re-watching it so many years later. To my surprise, the film and its themes presented itself somewhat differently to me upon this rewatch. No, not the usual “I  know better now” feeling we all harbour when we watch classics we loved once and cringe at now, I found myself enamoured with with Nair’s vision of the upper class Delhi household in the throes of a celebration all over again. 

What changed was the characters I empathize with the most. While on the first watch, it was without a doubt the “unmarried” and somewhat shunned Riya, on the second run, Naseeruddin Shah’s Lalit blew me away. What Nair has given us is a modern day parallel of the “kanyadayagrastha pita” of our texts and tradition. The father “burdened with the responsibility of a daughter”, saddled with the need to marry her off, and all the baggage that comes with it. He can throw all the cocktail parties he wants, but at the end of the day, Lalit will still have to sit down with a wad of bills to keep track of the budget, squabble with Dubey the event planner to make sure the set up is perfect, and ask his business partners with lowered gaze for a grant to ease his cash flow. Yet marry off his daughter he must, and with all the pomp expected of him.

The pathos of a man whose life has become about appearances shines through in Shah’s portrayal of the character. His chemistry with Lillete Dubey is perhaps my next favourite thing about this film now. I love Pimmi in all her regalia, and in her petticoat, surreptitiously smoking a cigarette on the pot. She is the empathetic, connected half of that couple, only lacking that intimate connection with her husband. In the moment that Lalit finally breaks down, the burden of the fact that he might not have been able to protect one of his children from a predator posing as a benevolent patriarch, he turns to Pimmi, clinging to her for comfort and assurance.

In that one ephemeral moment, the spark of their cooling intimacy is reignited. To me, it is a glimpse into how men’s emotions and sexuality are intertwined in some covert but undeniable way. Both taboo in their own way, and supposed to be kept behind closed doors. Perhaps their spouse is the person in most men’s lives whom they can show this vulnerability to, but even then, it is couched in ego and shame, and just the slightest edge of violence.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019


Sharey Teen and I had a tradition of sorts. Whenever he would lumber up the steps of World View and settle down for a little rest, I would get him a glass of water.

On hot days he would be panting and would lap up the water right away and I would refill his glass. But no matter what the season or time of day, I would always scavenge for a large paper cup (the kind Milon-da sold ice tea in), so that his snout would fit comfortably and he could drink the whole glass, wash it and fill it up for Sharey Teen.

I fed him sometimes, but there were plenty of other people to feed him and pet him. Getting him a drink was my responsibility. When the sun was scorching, I would pat his thick fur down with some water too, to help him cool off.

Largely, he was a very self sufficient dog. He would go sit in the shallows of the jheel on summer days, and he could easily find some water to drink from the many dripping taps on campus. But he always seemed grateful for the cup I put in front of him.

When I graduated, I remember telling a few of my juniors to give Sharey Teen his water when he showed up. I have a feeling they did.

He was extremely well loved by most people at the University. Wherever he went, people greeted him, and gave him pets and biscuits. He seemed to assert his benevolent authority by spending some time in different parts of the campus, gracing different groups of people with his serene presence. But his kindgdom extended beyond the campus walls. He roamed from 8B to Thana at will, and somebody once reported seeing him devouring biriyani given to him by a shop owner on a paper plate.

What a majestic bastard he was.

Monday, December 3, 2018


It's been a hard year.

But "the year is ending". Finally. I guess all terrible things come to an end too.

Why blame the year? Time is an arbitrary thing we thought up. The utter misery of existing as creatures of habit with little control over what becomes of us is much less so. It's like a fever dream. So many horrors, so little time.

Some days are harder than others. It's more difficult to carry on pretending like there isn't a giant, unresolved boulder of ugly emotion sitting at the base of my throat. In the meanwhile, time continues its dogged, relentless march.

Does nobody ever fucking tire of keeping on?

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Dogs are resilient

Dogs are resilient beyond belief.
The starving, the wounded, the abandoned and the infested
All survive.
Somehow, they persist.

In the face of calamity and
The cold calculatedness
Of human atrocity,
They persist.

In the driving rain,
And in the scorch of May heat,
You’ll see that one dogged mongrel
Trying to find shelter where there is none.

They will follow you home,
And wait like stupid children
At your doorstep
Even after you have slammed the door.

They will run to you, tails wagging,
After you have kicked them
For the umpteenth time,
For no fault of theirs.

Except that they came too close
Seemed too happy
Wanted to play.
And you’d had a bad day.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Lesson from the Mahabharata: Dharma is a dog

At the end of the great epic, as the Pandavas continued their arduous climb to the heavens, they were joined by a dog.

A perfectly benign and commonplace addition, especially to those who have ever climbed a mountain. On a trek, it's not unusual to find an amiable mongrel who will follow you, or sometimes lead the way to your destination. Their company is pleasant and non-intrusive, and to the lone climber, always welcome.

As Draupadi and the Pandavas fell by the wayside one by one, Yudhishthira, who was the last of them to keep climbing, must have taken solace in the presence of his four-legged companion.
But the real lesson here is that the dog turned out to be Dharma, the God of righteousness and dedication. Dharma can be loosely translated as ‘duty’.

There is truly nothing better than a dog to help you understand what duty really means. The immense patience and quiet dedication that goes into rearing a dog is the best lesson in being dutiful I have ever received.

Waking up at an ungodly hour to persistent toe-licking and little whiny noises to leash her highness up and take her for her royal walk, rain or shine. Paying for even a five minute delay in serving dinner by being subjected to a withering yet somehow pathetic look from princess Pancake the great. Sewing together ripped up mattresses, salvaging chewed up objects, lamenting drooled on papers with nary a sigh. Patience I didn’t know I had, energy I had no idea I could muster, all to serve the pure and benevolent Goddess of Dharma, with four paws and a few fleas.

But every labour of love and worship is rewarded. As all dog people know, that helpless ball of loyalty and love will follow you to the ends of the Earth, and they would even go with you to heaven, if they could.

Dharma is a dog after all.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

eye candy

Typical Thursday morning at work, when my boss marches out of his office, magazine in hand. The magazine is a popular Indian monthly that publishes business news peppered with feature articles about sundry things. He brandishes it at us, pointing almost triumphantly at the cover.

The cover is mostly white space, stamped with three words in a bold, emphatic red font: WAR OR TRADE

A sly smile plays across the boss’s face. “I think they came up with the cover story a little too late to actually design a cover,” he says. We chuckle. It’s a weak attempt at making a statement, of course, given that the whole idea of a magazine cover is to draw the eye and get the potential buyer/reader intrigued enough to pick it up.

But this reminds me suddenly and inexplicably of a beloved children’s magazine that totally nailed it when it came to covers.

It was called 'Shuktara', in fact, it is still published under the same name, although its covers have witnessed a sea change. It hailed from the land of little magazines, and was a favourite among Bengali kids long before the likes of 'Anandamela' (another popular Bengali children’s magazine, first published in 1975) came into being.

Shuktara has been around since my mom was a kid, maybe ever longer than that, I’m a bit sketchy on the details. What I do want to draw your attention to is the fact that Shuktara had a kickass cover idea from the start. Put a comic on the cover!

Kids lapped it up. Why wouldn’t they? It gave them a little peek at what the rest of the magazine had in store. Often this was riveting stories about brave adventurers in khaki shorts who undertook all sorts of perilous journeys and encountered dinosaurs and such. Kids love that stuff.

Exhibit A:
Photo: The Comic Book in India Project

Lurid and irresistible. The title of the comic is 'Dragon-er thhaba' or 'Dragon's Paw' Although that is a T-Rex, as far as i can tell). Aren’t you just dying to know what becomes of adventurer and dinosaur? I sure am.

Anyway, as I said before, the covers have since undergone a major design change, in what is probably an attempt to bring the magazine ‘up to date’. Here’s one of the more recent ‘Sharodiya’ or festive edition’ covers:

In my opinion, the new covers suck. They’re generic and pretty badly illustrated. Considering that Anandamela has been doing similar covers for years, and vastly better illustrated ones, at that, these are as weak as ‘WAR OR TRADE’. 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The patriot

I've held out from making this post for as long as I could. Or from making any post, for that matter.
All around me, people have been ranting and raving about everything from the beef ban to the roast ban, and the latest update on that, the furor over a PJ a comedian posted on his Snapchat.

I am in awe of these proceedings. Literally rendered speechless by the monumental insignificance of most things people have decided to obsess over lately. But mostly, the reason I haven't made a post or so much as a rousing comment is that I am a pacifist.
'Non-confrontational' is, in fact, my middle name.
Now, I admit that that's a much less cool middle name than say 'Trouble', but what to do? That's how I roll.
Or, more appropriately, given my age and disposition, that's how I take a couple of puffs and pass, when someone else rolls.

Anyway, as you, my too intelligent and often patronizing reader, have guessed, this post is about other, more important things. I actually have a point to make!! I know, right?

A point about patriotism, to be specific.
So, here's the thing... I used to be an extremely patriotic child.
Reared on a fodder of films ranging from 'Saat Hindustani' to 'Gadar- Ek prem katha', my devotion for my nation knew no bounds.
I idolized our freedom fighters, insisted that everyone stand up when the national anthem was so much as hummed, and felt 'proud to be an Indian' every single day.
Now, you might think that I was disillusioned when I migrated to another country or, you know, gained some perspective as I grew up, but nooope!
That's not even close to how I reached (cynical) enlightenment.

Here's what really happened...
I studied Indian history.

That's it. That's all, folks. That's all it took.
Suddenly, all my glorified ideas about heroism and sacrifice came crashing down.
At 15, I realized that our 'freedom struggle' was a political war, more than anything else.

As much as there were patriotic heroes, with their youthful passion and their rose-tinted glasses firmly in place (and I count everyone from Bhagat Singh to Birsa Munda among them), there were also the shrewd politicians, the Nehrus, Gandhis and Jinnahs, who were planning their empires, lining up their pawns.

I read about the freedom struggle, and I saw that it was really a negotiation between two sets of powerful people: the empire that was waning, and the 'democracy' that was rising, but both represented solely by their 'leaders'. Not their warriors.

This newfound patriotism is the disease of a nation fed on nationalist propaganda. This is a nation that did not study its own history. Because if they did, they would realize that this 'patriotism' is a sham.
Its an elaborate and fairly riveting story fed to us by clever marketing geniuses, who knew that their empires would only survive if the people believed that they were heroes who liberated them. Not cowards who struck a bargain with their oppressors.
Because, at the end of the day, many of our 'heroes' resembled our oppressors more than they resembled us. Many of our leaders still do.

Welcome to the animal farm, where some animals are inevitably more equal than others. Especially cows.

Bharat mata ki jai.