Sunday, December 29, 2013

Of Vikram Seth, Old Friends, New Shows, B Players, Changed Memories, and You...

Long time no see. I have not written for long but there is so much I want to write about. So much has happened that I almost forgot what all I wanted to write about.

A few days ago, the Indian Supreme court set aside the historic 2009 judgement of the Delhi High Court that decriminalized homosexuality. The court said that the Indian Parliament should deal with it, instead of the court trying to overstep its authority. I have always been a strong proponent of gay rights and I abhor the comic depiction of homosexuality in Indian films. Our society is so prejudiced that calling someone gay is another form of abuse. I have written many times before as well. This past summer in the US, the US Supreme Court ruled on Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act; in a way, it legalized same-sex marriage in the US. My problem with this whole argument is that people think it is a choice to be gay. I just do not understand how can anyone choose to be gay. Do straight people force themselves to like the person of the opposite sex? No. Attraction comes naturally. Sexuality is something that people are born with - we do not choose it. This whole argument of freedom of choice by even the strongest supporters of gay rights is simply ridiculous. There is a study that has actually shown that homosexuality has a genetic basis. Read this. It is not about choice, it is about your right to be who you are. It is a question that deals with human rights, guaranteed to us by the Indian Constitution. Legally, the case will continue and I hope better sense prevails. One thing to note is that a lot of people call it as Article 377. Even MJ Akbar, in his column, wrote about Article 377. It is not Article 377 but Section 377. The difference is that an article belongs to the Constitution whereas a section belongs to the Indian Penal Code. India Today brought out an brilliant edition with Vikram Seth on the entire issue. Vikram, one of our most prolific writers, has openly talked about his bisexuality in his writings. He wrote a deeply moving column as well. He says, 

We live on a small planet of an unimportant star. Life is not easy for anyone here. Loss and fear, failure and disappointment, pain and ill-health, doubt and death-even those who have escaped from poverty have no escape from these. What makes life bearable is love - to love, to be loved, and even after death or parting - to know that you have loved and been loved. To not be able to love the one you love is to have your life wrenched away. To do this to someone else is to murder their soul. No one who thinks about this-free from extraneous voices in their head-would ever, if they are human, dream of being so cruel.

At the 25th anniversary of NDTV, he also made a speech on how intolerance is another form of violence. He says, "There is no point in wrapping yourself in the flag, when you don't realize that a flag has more than one component. We are here for such a ridiculously short time in this ridiculously trivial corner of the universe, that if we are not ourselves, then what is point of being anything at all. Though it's too late to give you advise for for this life, I'd advise you for your next life. Choose your parents well."

I also want to share some incident from my school life, which I always regret. When I was in Class 11, there was a boy named D. You know how much school kids make fun of someone if he does not fit the conventional definition of a normal boy. All kids used to bully him, calling him a 'girl'. He was not in my class, but in the other section; however, we were together in an activity class. He was a brilliant painter; having seen his paintings myself. He was not good in all those science subjects. I cannot tell how much ridicule he faced every single day by the so called macho guys. I used to speak very normally to him - which honestly, no one in his class did, so he took me as a friend and he told me that no body in his class respects him. What happened was that our school was about to close for the Winter break, and he brought me a New Year card and he gave it to me in front of another bully. The extent of what happened next shook me. That bully guy spread the news that Pankaj got a 'romantic' card from D and within minutes, all sections of Class 11 knew I got a card from him. Even people in Class 12 came to know of it. I became the butt of all jokes. I just cannot tell how much I cried that day. It is still the worst day of my life. Everybody came and asked me to show them the card. They asked me that do I love him too? I was completely shaken because I am not a famous person in school and this entire thing became nothing less than a scandal. And what I did after that was I stopped talking to D in the activity class. I started avoiding him. He was not even bothered because he was used to such ridicule. Then, he came and implicitly told me, "You know if someone gives somebody a New Year card, the other person should also return a card." I did not even bother to reply to him. Then I completely cut him off. I still cannot forgive myself for that. I let him down. I did not stand for him. He changed his school after Class 11 because the school did not let him go to the next class. I do not know where is he, what happened to him, and just because a bunch of idiotic students who are not able to accept that somebody could be different from them, I stopped talking to him. I still have that card with me and I feel ashamed of myself. That is why I hate it when people make fun of homosexuals - people are different. Would anyone want to be treated this way? Do they not have a right to love? Are they criminals just because they want to love someone of the same sex? You give a three year punishment to a juvenile when he inserted an iron rod in a woman, and then you call somebody who loves someone of his sex a criminal? I mean what jurisprudence do we have? If you do not like those people, fine, stop talking to them, but please spare them the criminal tag, they already have a hostile societal judgement to deal with.

In the last few weeks, something very pleasant has been happening. Friends who I have not spoken to in ages messaged me. My friend J in Canada messaged after 10 years. Then S messaged after 8 years. J, K, B, S - all people who I have not spoken to in years, suddenly all of them are sending messages. It feels really nice when someone takes out the time and messages after so long, and that they remember you. The interesting thing is that one of these friends is from all the different stages of my life - from the first school, from the second school, from the college, from the first job, and then from the second job. B actually said a very sweet thing that he likes to speak to me because he feels motivated after :) Else, it is funny because if I speak to someone, I can turn the most happiest person into the most depressed soul. Remember the episode when Phoebe brings the most cheerful dog and leaves it to Joey for a day and at the end of the day, the dog becomes super depressed. That is what I do :\

I have started watching two TV shows - The Newsroom, and Parks and Recreation. The Newsroom is directed by Alan Sorkin, who also made one of my favorite films - The Social Network. What I love about The Newsroom is that it shows how news is actually collected, presented, and telecast. What all goes behind making the news everyday which we do not see. They take real life events and then make a fictional show out of them. The episode on Osama bin Laden's death was brilliant - how that news was broken by the White House. It makes me live the life of a journalist. In one episode, they played this song which has me addicted to it. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow by Amy Winehouse. It is so good.

I'd like to know that your love
Is love I can be sure of
So tell me now, cause I won't ask again
Will you still love me tomorrow?
Will you still love me tomorrow?

Parks and Recreation is another brilliant show about a group of people in the parks department in the city of Pawnee. It is hilarious, on the likes of Modern Family. Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope is terrific. What I love about her character is that despite so many setbacks, she never loses her optimism. Deadpan humor is any day better than slapstick.

This semester in class, we learnt about different types of workers. There are A, B and C players. B players are those employees that in a rough ranking are neither the fast-track A players who are the top 10% or the struggling C players who make the bottom 10%. B players are not necessarily less intelligent than A players. The difference is more in terms of temperament rather than achievement. B players do not like calling attention to them and they place a high premium on work life balance. They strive for advancement but not at all costs. They want to succeed but have something else they want to pursue. Family and their interests are very important to them. Some of the B players are recovered A players who have rejected the pressures of an A life. Another group of B players comprises truth tellers, who have a religious zeal for credibility, honesty and reality with their leaders. They are more interested in their work, than in their career and have the courage to ask introspecting questions to themselves and to others. Another group of B players consists of managers who may have second-rate functional skills but make up for those deficiencies by forging an excellent feel for the organizations processes and norms. They are also called go-to people. A players are those who are highly ambitious, they want constant praise, they set high expectations for themselves. They want to succeed in their careers. B players’ defining characteristic is their aversion to calling attention to themselves, even when they need to. The best way of identifying the B players is to list the people who make the fewest demands on the manager's time. Such a thing is utterly alien to most A players, who make sure that they speak loudly enough to get the attention they want. As we discussed this, a lot of people in the class were like they are A players. I said that I am a B player and everyone was like what? You do not want to succeed? You do not want to manage people? I was like I am happy to work but not at all costs and I like to do certain things. Working every day is not something that I want to do. Is being a B player then such a bad thing? Does that mean I will not be successful in life? I do not know. 

Finally, I am home. After 1.5 years. The landing from Detroit to Amsterdam and then take-off from Amsterdam to Delhi was the most turbulent flight. The plane was shaking like anything because of strong winds at Amsterdam. I even threw up :( But I reached safely. Mom came to pick me up and then she started crying at the airport itself. I told her to stop creating a scene at the airport :( I have been feeling very weird. As if I came back after two-three days and nothing has changed and yet it feels that so much has changed. The washbasin is the same but I have forgotten from which tap comes the hot water. The switches are the same but I have forgotten which switch turns on the light. The almirah is the same but there is no shelf for myself as sister has kept her clothes. Mom and dad are the same but they have become slightly more old. Sister is the same but the physical distance has led to more emotional distance. The nine-year old cousin is the same but he has grown taller and smarter. The house is same but there are three new houses built opposite to my house, in a way changing the memories of my own house. The stray dogs now bark at me when they see me, when earlier they did not say anything. The road outside the house is the same but a fresh coating of bitumen has hidden the broken road that I left. Is this my home? Or am I a guest living out of the suitcase? I have not told a lot of friends but I have been meeting some of them one by one. I also met you. I know how much I have missed you. I do not know when or how will I ever get over you, or if even want to get over you. You always say good things about me which makes me feel happy. I thought that you would have changed and you will not care about me anymore, but the way you talked to me and told me everything, I was wrong. I miss spending time with you. I miss talking to you so much. I am elder to you but still you treat me like I am the younger one. I know you are very happy with your special one, but you are my special person and you will always be. You insisted that I should meet your special one and that I should come to your place. I do not tell the problems that I have to anyone except you. And you put your hand on my head and said sab theek ho jayega tere saath. 

‘Has everything changed?’ the Squirrel asked the Rabbit. ‘Yes’, he said after a moment. ‘Yes, it has: It has become more itself.’ ‘Alright then,’ she said, relieved. ‘I was afraid I’d lost . . .’ She wanted to say you, but what she really meant was that without him she’d lost the version of herself she had known most acutely. ‘I was afraid I’d lost everything,’ she said, almost to herself. They looked up at the Christmas moon. She felt tiny, as if with every breath that she drew she vanished some more. But here, with the Rabbit by her side, she felt she was vanishing with someone. That’s it, she told herself, to vanish with a friend, to see the invisible with equal eyes, to know together the dark side of the moon.‘I have so much to tell you,’ she said, ‘that only silence will suffice.’ ‘Yes.’
‘Thank you,’ she said, for tonight she could lay down the erratic forces of her mood, her compulsions and desires - the awful doubt that she actually existed and that perhaps this was not the best of ideas. She gripped his hand, and the wild, spinning compass of her heart came to still. A cloud went across the moon, but on passage revealed a sky of unwavering brightness.
 - Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi

Yes, I have so much to tell you that only silence suffices between us. You will listen to my silence, na? You will still love me tomorrow, na?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu...

There are some films which have an immense tranquil effect on the viewer. Whenever the mood is off, these films bring an inscrutable peace to our mental turbulation. Dil Chahta Hai is on the top of my list and there are many others but I want to particularly talk about one of my favorites - Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu. I have already written about the movie here. Over the last few days, I have watched this film again, slowly trying to peel its numerous layers, which are adroitly disguised by the film's sheer subtlety. 

Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu is essentially the story of Rahul, a 25-year old architect living in Las Vegas. He has been fired from his job. His parents never considered him to be an achiever in life. Due to some confusion, he meets Rianna, a 27-year old hair stylist. One day, they both get drunk and get married in Las Vegas. What follows is a story in which Rahul develops his confidence and in the process, falls in love with Rianna. However, Rianna does not love him back and considers Rahul as that friend with whom she says, "tum mere vo friend ho jiske saath main apne screwed up relationships discuss karna chahti hun." The very unconventional climax in which Rahul and Rianna do not get together and remain friends is simply wonderful.

What is fascinating to me is that this two hour film is such an easy watch that a viewer will hardly notice the extremely understated discernment that it cloaks. There are numerous layers and there are some fantastic moments in it that show its depth and the ingenuity of the director - Shakun Batra.

Early in the film, when Rahul comes second in a competition, his parents instead of appreciating him, tell him that he should not be happy for the second prize because he lost the first. The constant nitpicking of Rahul and the almost ridiculous advice like ordering him to chew his food thirty two times that his parents constantly gave him made him feel like a perennial loser. In one scene, Rahul comes to his father who is criticizing his architectural drawings, there is a documentary of a lion devouring a zebra playing on the television. The carnivorous relationship of a lion and a hapless zebra was symbolic of the relationship between a powerless zebra-like Rahul and his lion-like dad. That is why in that scene Rahul says, "pachees saal me dad ke samne muh to khulta tha, lekin zubaan nahi hilti thi."


Later in the film, Rahul, since he cannot take his own decisions, again goes to his dad's room to ask his opinion on the color of the tie he should wear. His dad selects the tie for him and puts it in Rahul's neck and slides the knot of tie up till his neck, giving yet another indication of his almost predatory and powerful control over Rahul's life. And in the climax, when Rahul finally learns to stand up for himself, he takes off his tie and throws it away as if he is breaking the invisible manacles that fettered him to his dad. The tie 'tied' him to his parents, as if he is their pet, and he is finally able to throw that tie away. The tie was a metaphor of his freedom and that he has grown up from being a pet to a son.

Free from the ties - pun intended

What the film also shows is a contrast between the two families of that of Rahul and Rianna. The physical distance in the pictures of Rahul's family show the emotional distance between them. His parents, possibly, hate each other. Even when they are close, they have nothing to share because Rahul says that remaining quiet while travelling in the car was his family tradition. In contrast, Rianna's family is very open that her dad casually asks her if she has slept with Rahul. For a minute, I was puzzled as to why does nobody not sit in the front seat when Rahul's family is travelling? It is later the film tries to answer it when it is shown that Rianna travels with Rahul and his mother as if trying to say that Rianna has now come in between Rahul and his parents. Else Rahul should sit in between his mom and Rianna, right?

Distances - Physical and Emotional

Now, let me come to the film's most beautiful part. The wonderful relationship between that of Rahul and Rianna. At one point in the film, Rahul's mother had asked him to get a hair cut as his is too old fashioned. It is no coincidence then Rianna, who is a hair stylist, will not only cut and change his hair, but also bring a change in him. In another hair-related scene in the film, when Rahul goes back to India, his mom says, "kis tarah ka hair cut hai, aisa lagta hai kise ne electric shock de diya ho?" Little will she realize that the shock is going to be all hers. It is these finely etched minimalist layers through which the film shows its discernment, though on a superficial level, it might seem to be an absolutely mundane conversation.

Styling Hair and Life

At one point in the film, Rianna says to Rahul, "Loosen up, you are such a tight ass." Later on, we see that they go to a bar. Then they go for a massage, after that they go for a swim, and later they have a conversation in bed with both of them in their loose pajamas. It is again no coincidence that that all these places have a feeling of loosening up. Rianna is helping him loosen up and become more spontaneous. At one point, she says, "mujhe tumhara problem samajh aa raha hai, tumhari na self-esteem bahut low hai aur ladki patane se zyada ego boost aur kisi kaam me nahi hai", convincing him to go on a date. Some of the best scenes in the film are in these loosened up places. She will even force him to lose control and dance in the song Auntyji :) Not only loosening the muscles, but loosening up in life too.

Loosening up

At another point in the beginning, Rahul says, "udne ki chah to bahut thi lekin koshish karne ke pankh bahut kam." Rahul never had the guts to fly but Rianna will make him fly. After Rianna rejects Rahul's advances, we see that he puts aside his casual shoes and starts wearing his formal shoes again. For a moment when the song Aahatein begins, he taps his feet. His wearing of those formal shoes and the way he taps was his way of testing if he can fly in them and feel light like he felt in casual shoes. Later in the movie, when he goes to sort everything with Rianna, again for a few fleeting moments, we see that both of their feet are in the air. It was such a fantastic scene which I absolutely loved. Rianna has made him fly. Again, it is no coincidence that Rianna owned a scooter which gave her a feeling of flying. She had said to Rahul, "hop on", but Rahul had replied, "main paidal chalta hun." In an earlier scene, Rianna had told Rahul that when she was young she had always wanted to be a ballet dancer but she had met with an accident and there is a steel ball in her ankle because of which she cannot dance anymore. When they showed her ankle in air in that scene, it was also referring that despite her failure, Rianna lived life fully and she could still fly. Same way, Rahul embraced his failure or rather accepted his 'average'-ness and that he has, finally, learnt to fly. Beautiful, beautiful scene.

Flying in the Air

During one scene in the background in Las Vegas, there are a bunch of school kids crossing the road and their teacher helping them to. Later, Rianna takes Rahul to her school. It is at the school where Rianna will impart the most important lesson to Rahul of learning to accept that being average is not such a bad thing after all. When Rahul says, "You are so talented..mujhe dekho..I am. average", she replies, "tum pagal ho? ye hi tumhari sabse achhi baat hai, tum kuch bhi kam ya zyada nahi karte, aur yeh quality bahut kam logon me hoti hai. You are perfectly average." Rahul needs to grow up and what better place than a school to impart this lesson to him.

'Average' Lessons in School

Rahul's feeling of being a loser or being average was not at all his fault. It was completely his parents' and their upbringing. Just immediately after the scene with Rianna at the school, Rahul goes back to his home and wants to share something with his mother. His mother, instead, starts talking to him about her nail paint color. She says that the red color is so average, she likes to be unique. Should we then blame Rahul for feeling bad for being an average when his parents always wanted him to be unique? No, absolutely not. His mother forces him to eat using chopsticks, something so artificial and fake, which he does not want to be. His parents never understood him. On the other hand, Rianna completely understands him as a person. She gives him a camera because he always wanted to be a photographer. She praises him. She motivates him (serious shakal banana se job mil jayegi)In the scene, where they are talking in the bed, she keeps on turning the light and he keeps on switching it off. She enlightens him. Also, it is worth noting that only her side of the lamp is switched on. 


Then, I honestly do not blame Rahul for falling in love with her. He looks at her longingly. He found someone very special and that is why he dances to the song 'Koi Mil Gaya'. Ri is his 'new best friend'. He finally found someone who could accept him the way he was. He finds life through love. And that is why Ri is very special to him. 

Loving Her

Rahul says, "maine apne dost se pyar kar liya aur tumne pyar se dosti" and "itna paas baithti ho aur bolti ho ki mujhe galat idea ho raha hai." However, Rianna does not love him back. She only considers him as a very good friend. I loved the fact that even in the end they remained friends. Even though he loves her, she did not let that come in between their friendship. In the song Aahatein, at one point, Rianna is shown to be touching the fences. Perhaps it was referring to the fact that Rianna did not set her boundaries in front of Rahul. Her touching these fences was probably referring to the fact that she is also to blame for making Rahul fall in love with her.  

Good fences make good friends?

In the final moments, when Rahul finally feels free he raises his hands. In an earlier scene during Rianna's birthday, he opened his arms the same way. It was his way of thanking his Ri in whose presence he used to feel free. Now, he can do that all by himself and it makes perfect sense that the film ends with note of 'The Beginning' instead of the usual 'The End'. It is a new beginning for Rahul.

New Beginnings

And of course this scene :)

Do you want a hug?

In one scene, Anusha messages to her friend about how boring Rahul is. The friend's name is shown as Avantika Malik, who is the real life wife of Imraan Khan. She also makes a special appearance in the song Auntyji.

Avantika Auntyji

There are so many references to psychology as well. In a scene in the beginning of the movie, a young Rahul is shown reading Freud for Beginners. And later, Rahul and Rianna meet at a psychologist's place. It was Freud who postulated the theory of psychoanalysis, a process where a person talks about his or her feelings to another person. And later in that scene, the psychologist suggests his own book to read. It was like making fun of this whole Freudian concept of fraud. Also, the secretary at the psychologist's office is shown to be playing Minesweeper - a game that applies psychology and probability. When was the last time we saw Minesweeper in a film? I have seen Solitaire but do not remember Minesweeper :)

Freudian Fraud

The film is even more special to me because it is the closest portrayal of myself that I have seen on the big screen. The character of Rahul is me. There are so many similarities which makes me feel as if I am watching myself. Of course, I am not as handsome and dapper as Imran Khan. He says main 25 ka hun and roz subha uthta hun aur mujhe pata nahi mujhe kya karna hai. He says that he wanted to be a photographer and he used to take pictures kabhi kisi keede ki, kabhi kisi khambe ki. He says that he has a list of top 10 hated people (me too). Or when he says mujhe kutton se bahut dar lagta hai. He says he is so average. Me too. And falling in love with your best friend, fighting with that friend, and that hug scene. Again, so me :( I love this movie. Some day, I will make a film on myself too.

Teri aahatein nahi hai...

More here.

Dialogue of the day:
"Rianna roz mujhe kisi se milane ki koshish karti hai, but I still love her. And kabhi na kabhi main use convince kar hi lunga. Life is not perfect but I am happy."
 - Rahul. Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu

Monday, December 9, 2013

I think of you there

Yesterday, I deliberately stopped myself from writing about how much I have been missing you since the last few days. And today, Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi echoed my exact thoughts in his usual deeply touching way. He gave words to my disparate feelings about you. He says:

Perhaps I’m happier alone
Even when I’m here
I think of you there.

Maybe it’s for the best -
This bottle would never have lasted two.
I drink to you
And I drink for you.

It was wonderful while it lasted
And just as well after it didn't.

Yes, Sid. 
Even when I'm here, I think of my you there. :(

Sunday, December 8, 2013


Finally booked tickets. Will be going to Delhi.

There is an incipient elation that I will be going.
There is a glum hesitation that does not want me to go.