Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Recipe for Redemption

Untrimmed fingernails and a hasty ponytail seem so justified when I walk into The New Lazeez Meat Shop. The people fell silent when I walked in. One kilo. I didn't feel like checking the weights. I frowned when the butcher cut right through the goat's privates. I didn't hear any scream in my head. I just chose to keep looking. It was a split second decision. He cut off the fat as much as possible. Everytime the chopper came down, I closed my eyes. But that was only because of the loud sound that I anticipated. Flecks of flesh flew. Sweaty customers around me, waiting in a makeshift queue. Neat discs of meat in shelves surrounded by dirty flies. Keema? I didn't ask. The chopper came down, again and again. A hollow, black laugh inside my head made a feeble observation. "That's a goat. And so are you." The hand that took the money from me had a ring on the index finger. Faith? Passion or religion? Why did it hesitate? One more experience that forced me to breathe. Later that night I dressed up the truth with onions, tomatoes, bayleaves, ginger, garlic, cardamom and a pinch of salt. Marinated it for 15 minutes and left it to simmer. I was hungry and gobbled it up pretty soon. It wasn't a sin anymore. Just a delicious dinner I had cooked for myself and something I felt like I deserve because I was there with it all along. Or was it just the feel of the flesh against my fingers as I mixed the vegetables with the meat? I guess one shouldn't question the food chain.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Thursdays, around 3pm, are so blah. It’s too late to go out anywhere far from home and too early for the weekend. It’s too early for a pedicure and definitely too early for the gym. I feel like selling off the car that I haven’t yet bought and signing up for driving lessons only if you give me the license in advance. Too hot for taking a stroll outside. And I can’t remember whether I took a bath. I know if I really want to find out about the Kerala Massage options here in Delhi, the information is a mouseclick away. But it’s too early for a cup of coffee to keep my eyes on the screen. My orange T shirt now smells like sardines soaked in sunflower oil because I spilled some on it while prying open the can. Time has slowed down so much that when I talk about a choice between pooping and getting off the pot, there are no metaphors in question. And I’m definitely not going to arrange the sentences in chronological order. My toenails are curling ominously and my wish to become a witch might be granted after all. The desert cooler makes it difficult to talk on the phone. The bedsheet with small mirrors on it pokes my feet and when I scratch the itch, I get reminded of TV commercials about dry skin. The first time ever that I sat with my chin in my hand, someone should have told me not to. I skinned my finger when I tried shredding cheese. I like poking the wound with my fingernails. It still threatens to bleed and I hope this is a case of barking dogs that seldom bite. Apologies, like love, should come accompanied with background music. How does one decide what to message, tweet, talk about on Orkut or Facebook or just know without talking about?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Games People Play

“It’s white and black on alternate days.”

“Your soul? So is it grey at midnight or is the switch more sudden?”

“No. Although let’s come back to that later. I was talking about the girl I keep spotting in my neighbourhood. She has curly long hair that she leaves open. And her clothes, I mean. She was in white today. I met her today for the third day in a row. She walks down all the way from somewhere on Max Mueller Marg. I usually meet her as I cross the red light just before the India Habitat Centre. Today, while I was returning from Khan Market, there she was again, crossing the road. She never looks hurried. In fact, the image of her dainty steps is calming me down as we speak. We usually walk towards each other but today we were at right angles. And then she just walked away.”

“At a hundred and eighty degrees, is it?”

“Laugh all you want. I’m choosing to treat her like a point whose coordinates keep changing. She’s a traveller.”

“Aren’t we all?”

“Well.. you are.”

“Okay what’s wrong?”

“They dug up Khan Market. The roads beside the pavements. It’s like ploughed land with huge boulders. All because of the Commonwealth Games. There are less cars there, so that’s good. But then someone had to go empty a huge can of nailpolish remover somewhere. The smell is all over the place.”

“It’s a nice smell. Come on, I thought it was next only to the smell of burning rubber. You love that, don’t you?”


“And look at the bright side. You usually go out with your camera. But it’s busted, right? On a day when the images didn’t leave you with a good feeling. It all works out.”

“Not all images.”

“What do you mean?”

“Foreigners with funky sunglasses and girl in pink slippers with a shiny, pretty pink shade of nail polish. Made me think of the piano piece called Bella’s Lullaby from the movie Twilight. And then that black dog outside the market with flecks of grey that walked side by side like a Godfather and parted ways a little later as it went in through Gate no. 2. And then that woman with that fluorescent ball, yellow, orange and green. Oh no, not her.”

“What do you mean?”

“She was wearing capris and her legs weren’t waxed.”

“Details that you could have skipped. Anyway what were you doing in Khan Market? Wasn’t there a movie you wanted to go to?”

“Yeah but that was at Teen Murti Auditorium at 6. I left late and didn’t find an auto. And there was something else as well.”


“Well this movie is from Austria and called ‘All The Queen’s Men’ with the tagline ‘War is a Drag’.”


“That’s like men dressing up as women.”


“Starring Matt LeBlanc. The guy who plays Joey Tribbiani in ‘Friends’.”


“Don’t you get it? I don’t want to support the universe’s decision to constantly make fun of him. It’s bad enough that he was the only one in the Friends cast to not be settled by the time the series ended.”

“He chose that life. He chose freedom. Just like you choose not to talk to that girl with the curls or the old guy who’s back in the Stein Auditorium to watch the film festival although all he can do is grunt. So what was the real reason you didn’t go to watch the movie?”

“The signs. It’s always the signs. And the realisation that you have exactly the amount of money that you need to recharge your cell phone. And a little more actually.”

“Oh. So why didn’t you go to the temple and offer some? Or try good old McDonald’s?”

“Not enough for Mac. And I ran out of prayers. Nobody’s sick. Nobody needs a boyfriend. Nobody needs a job. And if I need emotions, I know where to go.”



“Looks like someone found their addiction.”

“No. Lost it. But I’m still writing. And as Ingrid Michaelson insists, all I can do is keep breathing. So tell me. What colour is my soul today?”

“I can’t tell. It’s playing Hide and Seek. Get found, kid.”

The Age of Stupid: Are We Worth Saving?

The European Union Film Festival continues at the Habitat Centre and this time, it's a climate blockbuster from England, which, legend has it, premiered at the solar powered cinema tent at Leicester Square. This movie starred...

  • Pete Postlethwaite
  • Jeh Wadia
  • Alvin DuVernay
  • Layefa Malini
  • Jamila Bayyoud
  • Piers Guy
  • Lisa Guy
  • Fernand Pareau

This was a movie about our future, the one we were too late to save. But were we really ready to star in it? Could we really be up on the stage, under the spotlight?

Let's rewind. In front of the Stein Auditorium in Delhi, a foreigner sat dangling her legs, a fluorescent orange figurine of the Hindu God Hanumanji in her hands. The lady in the Bohemian gown with splotches of inky red, black and blue had her hands behind her back, holding a green Sprite bottle without a label. The fat lady with a bun had her right hand clenched in a fist, pressed against the side of her head, leaning against a shelf. The guy with a knapsack was pulling the nylon tails hanging from the straps of the bag on his back. He stood straight, focussed on the auditorium doors. Most of the men had their hands in their pockets, exploring the depths and tempted to draw themselves to their full lengths to make up for the apparent discomfort with waiting. No one stood with their arms akimbo. No takers for Superman, I guess! Not when you’ve come to watch a movie about global warming, called “The Age of Stupid”. We’d been waiting for a while. And everyone from the bespectacled guy with a rolled up pamphlet in his hands to the security guards confessing to the localite (that's me) that the DVD is simply taking an unusually long time to get set up, was at one point or the other walking about in the lobby uncertainly, not entirely sure why they were there in the first place. Stupid random molecules! I was no exception. I took a leaf out of Facebook and pretended to text in this awkward situation. They have a community for people who do that. I told myself, that at some point during all the walking in circles, if I find even one person who dares to stand straight with his hands by his side, at that very moment an intriguing hypothesis would stand dismissed.

“People never know what to do with their hands”, were the words of the director of a theatre workshop I once attended.

I found the guy, though, standing in between two guys who had their arms crossed. Minutes before the wooden doors opened for us, there he was. Senior citizen. A white kurta with a blue jean collar and faded blue jeans beside which his hands fell naturally. Confident body language and fresh out of a bath with a talcum powder look on his face. Drumrolls, people; we have a winner. I wasn’t just imagining the radiance and the white hair scarcely covering that wise baldness. It might be just a guess that he knew something that I didn’t. But I was sure that he looked happy. I looked away because had he met my eyes, he would have seen no reflection. He would have seen a girl in a black kurta and faded jeans with a shock of curls that sprung up on her barely a couple of days after she got her hair straightened. And a face that struggled to communicate that she isn’t fake, just controlled.

And then, he would have been the one to blink first but it would have been my lips that twitched. And I was scared of catching that infectious acceptance of me and my ways. He stood there like an open invitation card and I couldn’t even have believed that he’s a complete stranger to turn me away from him.

I would have felt like the woman inside the hall who later sat behind me and laughed throughout. She pointed out grammatical errors. She laughed because if she believed what she saw, she would have to carry it home. That was her reaction to the movie’s accusation that consumerism has taken over. It was almost like her saying, “What? No! I’m not even consuming the crap that you’re throwing at me. I’ll laugh it off instead and get amused.” She managed the moment and diluted the arguments being made with her windchime giggles. She made me want to leave the hall and look back and blast her to smithereens.

But I sat through. I obeyed. I looked interested because this was a classroom all over again. And I was competing for the award for 100% attendance. And for once, I wish I could use my hands to break a piece of chalk and throw it at that girl in the backbench who smiled with her gums showing. She could do with a speck of white on her forehead. It wouldn’t hurt much. It tasted nice too. And I would have loved to see her cry.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Solitary Fragments

All this month, the India Habitat Centre is screening award-winning movies from the European Union. The festival kicked off with Spain's La Soledad, a.k.a. Solitary Fragments. (Speaking of kicked off, the reason I wasn't glued to the FIFA World Cup and chose to be in the Stein Auditorium instead is that I never was a Football fan. At least not since 1994, when the Brazil vs. Italy finals interfered with my right to enter my classroom and I found it offensive that a young Mr. Lohia ask me to choose my team before I can step in. Especially since he didn't belong to my class at all. What nerve!)
The movie, directed by Jaime Rosales, is about how life for Adela (played by Sonia Almarcha), a single mom trying to raise her infant son, and Antonia (played by Petra Martinez), a widow with three daughters, are forever altered by the terrorist bombing in Madrid. I think it made it to Cannes. And both the film and its director also won the Goya (Spanish national film awards).
Rosales is known for films that show fragments of life and still shots. And I think that's what I liked about this one, too. It didn't force me to come up with an opinion. I could just sit and be with the characters. For me, the movie was like swatches of silence and characters that swam in and out of reality. Almost every other person in the movie had a pair of faded jeans. Of Antonia's daughters, the one that I wish I knew in real life was Ines, especially in the shot where she shrugs her shoulder, raises her eyebrows and matter-of-factly goes back to ironing something on a pale blue ironing board, scratching her head.
That reminds me, there is a lot of ironing in the movie. Ines irons. Adela irons. While Ines is more demanding and straightforward in her need for comfort, Adela chooses to be polite and withdrawn. I don't know if it's about being a control freak who's trying to smoothen the creases in her life or using the warmth to bring some order into lives touched by terror.
And this is where Rosales scores yet again with his use of profile shots. Two people sitting face-to-face and talking are seen through two different lenses. And the screen splits them up into a profile and a full frontal. Much like a coffee talk, or a visit to the therapist.
Speaking of characters, along with the humans, one of the main characters in the movie is the palette of colours. A lot of the sets have dollops of white and sky blue. You often hear conversations where two people are perhaps in two different rooms across a corridor and yet the camera never budges from those white walls in between. The kitchen has a white refrigerator, white cabinets and white casseroles that get replaced only by ones as red as an apple. Antonia is seen rustling huge white sheets and Adela typically seeks comfort in a bathroom with pale white walls with a solitary crack inching up inconspicuously. And later, in a dressing gown, sky blue again (the screenshot above). White empty chairs are all around Adela as she returns to a restaurant she had once been to, with her son. Makes me wonder, is white so alone because it's transparent?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Even You, O Princess, In Your Cold Room...

"Listen listen listen..."


"So there was this opera I went to today."

"Oh like the other one?"

"No.. that was live.. 'If I Were King', right? This was a movie that had filmed a live opera. And the name's 'Turandot'. It's part of a series of ballets and operas they are showing at the India International Center all this month. A Summer Carnival of sorts."


"So it's named after the Chinese princess Turandot, who's the protagonist, icy cold but very pretty and has insisted that she will only marry the guy who answers her 3 riddles. And the hero, Calaf, well he likes her and is brave enough to take up the challenge knowing that if he fails to answer, they will execute him. And he gets the answers correct. But then the princess gets cold feet and doesn't want to give up her independence. Then Calaf says, I have only one riddle for you. If you guess my name by dawn, you can execute me. But if you don't, you must marry me. So now the princess has ordered all the people of Peking (now Beijing) to stay up all night and look for any clue whatsoever into what the guy's name is. That's where a famous song comes in. Nessun Dorma."


"Well it's not really a 'song', in an opera they call it an 'aria', you'll have to google it. But you know how long I have been a fan of it? Ever since 2nd year in college I think.. it's just beautiful!"


"Yeah! And then there's a version of it sung by Luciano Pavarotti who used to give it such a majestic air. In the opera though, it was performed by Placido Domingo, the guy who played Calaf, as he talks basically about how the secret will always be safe with him and he will be victorious in the end. Nessun Dorma means 'none shall sleep' I think. So anyway the search is on and a slavegirl called Liu does know Calaf's name but she kills herself since she wants the guy to be united with the one he loves. She had a crush on Calaf but he just calls her Little Liu and is fond of her and that's all. Meanwhile, the people of Peking have been pushing the guy to surrender but he doesn't relent. And later, he kisses Turandot. Suddenly, the princess is transformed. She asks him what he's done to her and says she feels like she's melted and all that crap. But you know what scared me? A lot of the things that she said were exactly what I have been experiencing. In fact I was thinking maybe I could use some of her words in my proposal. It's a little sad to know it isn't original but as long as it's time-honoured, I guess that counts too. And you know what else? There's this image of a spy that's created to woo women. You know, the guy with secrets. The guy whose name no one knows. And it gets revealed only to the one he loves. Like if you see even in Catch Me If You Can, Leonardo DiCaprio goes around with a thousand aliases, Frank Connors, Frank Taylor, etcetera etcetera.. but it's only to some Brenda that he reveals that it's actually Frank William Abagnale Jr."

"Did you just say one person died?"

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Thanks for bursting the bubble-wrap!

Eight long years of the obsessive compulsive Detective Adrian Monk "trying to straighten the umbilical cord" have finally come to this. Speaking of which, nice to know he finally tracked down his wife's murderer and avenged her death. Nicer still, that Trudy Monk lives on in Molly, the daughter she never laid her eyes upon.
Yeah it's hard to wake up in the middle of the bed one morning and suddenly realise that a death that has been living inside you for 12 long years like a pet parasite has suddenly left you. Congrats, nevertheless, on the newfound hollowness! You'll figure it out. You always do.