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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Henna for the Broken-Hearted : A Review

This was originally published in the July edition of DASHING MAGAZINE Pg 23-24

It was one of those days when nothing made sense. Life seemed like a meaningless itinerary I had to stick to, only the only places on it were work and home. I questioned life and its purpose. I sat at work wondering why I was there in the first place. Aimless blog hopping led me to a blog named ‘The diary of a white Indian housewife’. Piqued, mostly by a picture of a tall brunette clad in a red lehenga, I read more. In no time, I was on Flipkart looking for the cheapest copy of Henna for the Broken–Hearted.

This is one of those books you begin to like even before you read; it’s the essence of the theme, perhaps. This book, you can quite judge by its cover. The calm waves, a blend of azure and frothy white, nudging the side of a lonely boat and the intricately patterned teal floral designs on top of the cover page are certainly indicative of the pacifying story in the pages to follow. The illustrative description of the henna/mehendi designs adorning a woman’s palm and the possible implication of something on a level much beyond is nothing less than brilliant.

When Sharell’s husband breaks to her one day, that he is having an affair, it ruins her happiness and breaks her world apart. Suddenly life feels empty. Work was never fulfilling, but now, every second seems to bellow that into her ear. Lost and anguished, she decides to find a new life; one all for herself. She travels all the way to India, on a volunteering stint. In Kolkatta, where she stays initially, she meets a lot of new people: both Indians and visitors like her. One of those days, she meets Aryan, a rather calm and a calming man with a beautiful smile. There is definite attraction and liking. In India, Sharell finds something to keep her going, despite the initial glitches. She learns a lot, to adapt: hindi, handling the pestering vendors, bargaining, shooing away the pesky strangers and the nosey acquaintances and also what she sees as the amusing Indian washroom ways. Eventually, she quits her job back in Australia and moves to India. And that, she sees in hindsight as the best decision she ever made. The story goes on, along with Sharell, partying in Kolkotta, traveling to the Varkala beach down south and then high up in the valleys nestled in between the frozen white peaks of the Himalayas and then finally, to Mumbai which she makes her home and lives with Aryan for a long time to come.

Sharell puts out her emotions in every other paragraph of the book, hiding nothing. I empathized with her when she had a tough time fitting in, when she was gazed at by strangers, when she was unsure and scared and angry. To anyone that’s unsure or scared, the book is comforting and heartening. Sharell becomes a new friend, you relate to. Suddenly, all that you thought was not practical seems plausible. It certainly leaves one with conviction and hope.

If you’re looking for just any good book to lounge with after work, parts of this book might seem like a repetitive rant. You might not want to read twenty two times in two hundred pages about someone longing to run home and hide herself from people to find solace. Forty instances of the concept of Indian time, unexpected visits and wet bathrooms might not be the best choice for a world you want to engross yourself in. The zigs and the zags and the ceaseless vacillation can cause the book to get slightly draggy. The writing style is simple, too simple that it may seem dreary. At a point, my dream to write a book didn’t seem like a task as colossal as I thought it to be. However, this book is certainly more about the experiences and emotions it recounts than the writing itself, which can cause you to overlook the latter.

As the name goes, Sharell soothes the broken-hearted, inspiring them to keep faith. For all the others, it can be a fascinating read about a brave girl, a seemingly unfeasible decision and inconstant, nomadic life which all ends well or a passable almost daily written diary of a white Indian housewife.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

From a stereotyping hypocrite...

Arnab’s voice rises up, as he dramatically bellows out “Your channel poses a question; a question that the nation has in mind. Is Bollywood perpetuating stereotypes…” And the debate continues, with panelists desperately attempting to complete a sentence without being cut short by Arnab. The questions are rhetorical perhaps; he appears to have no interest in the answers. He seems more resolute on dramatically shooting shouting out more questions in relatively higher pitches of his ear-splitting voice. One of the panelists is evidently stifling a smile at the drama happening; it isn’t just me finding the talk funny.

Down south, everyone is all enraged. At ShahRukh Khan for Chennai Express. I suspect it’s mostly because of his earlier antics such as his famed “Enna rascala dai mind it” which ignorant people recited repeatedly in pride, to show the Tamilians they knew a new language. The rage, I think mostly about the men ShahRukh is flanked by. How comical the state would be if Tamil men actually don gaudy lungis while sporting a mammoth, hairy pot belly that causes the lungi line to drop to a massive U and Tamil women sounded like Deepika! What if it wasn't just Vadivelu walking around in boxers that reveal their unabashed self below the folded lungi. It would be a "bokwas" state if it was Shah Rukh’s way in actuality. Oh did you notice the difference in skin color between the whites at the forefront and the Tamils surrounding, in the poster? The contrast is starker than in my grandmother’s ‘contrast pattu sarees’. Bring in a few more whites and rearrange them; Voila: a human chess board. Someone tweets, “The men in Chennai Express look like the cohorts of Tamil movie villains.” and I wonder why no one ever called that stereotyping. Who said bad Tamil men aren't fair-skinned? In the same Tamil movies, the women always manage to look like walking goddesses. They even make us forget that they are just walking figurines mostly a result of the brilliance of make-up artists, sellers of cosmetics and Veet of course. Poor men, even their stereotypes are ugly.

But big deal! These are movies after all. Similar to what a caricature is of a person, an unreal and hyperbolic representation of reality, like this movie, exaggerates aspects of the subject it represents. If we can enjoy comics, if Anna Hazare is okay with cartoons that give him a mammoth sized parrot nose, we got to learn to be okay with wearing lungis on screen. How sad is it if we aren't okay with a joke made out of us? If the comedy isn't hilarious enough, laugh at the attempt or the movie itself. I did that watching Aiyya and it was a jolly good evening. 

Talking about stereotyping.. to the richer nations, India is that crowded picture that TLC paints of us: we pray to cows, charm snakes, read palms and prophesize, spend hours in the yoga room, ride buffalos and horses on the roads, sit on the pavement dressed in rags and scream things raucously in the already cacophonous street where vehicles try to find a way to get through the stubborn crowds. We are too many people and too small a land that we can mostly be found in herds doing the aforementioned. It was funny when Oprah got her backsides kicked and handed to her after her melodramatic show of poverty in India and not so much when Slum Dog Millionaire was resented for its biased exposé of a few aspects handpicked from the massive arsenal of “the world’s most diverse country”. Anyone stereotypes us, we get all mad; we run on the roads, burn effigies and paint their pictures with coal. And our channel calls Harsha Bhogle or Khushbhoo or any person they find, so Arnab can do what he does: let’s not talk about that further. The whole of India jumps up and down. And then in the evening, we sit down for tea. We talk about the world and politics and then about countries like Somalia. Arrey you don’t know Somalia? It is that country with malnourished children and anorexic people. It has dangerous, life-threatening insects too; it’s in Africa after all.

Stereotyping is an amalgam of partial comprehension, ignorance, creativity and a lot of exaggeration. It’s human to classify and stereotype. We can’t abstain from it, yet we make a loud hoo-ha when it’s not us that’s doing the doing. What hypocrisy!

And I talk about hypocrisy: again, what hypocrisy! 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The magic of music

I fidgeted with the TV remote while cosying on the beanbag and listening to a peppy tamil movie song. The song ended and the next one began. Vijay walked his funny stylish walk and Shalini looked her usual pretty self as Ennai Thalatta Varuvala began to play. I watched on in spite of uneasiness that crept in. Memories gushed in. I was 8 but half the size of the other 8 year olds. Appa used to drag me along to the swimming pool, every morning that summer. Mani, the swim coach who strangely taught us to swim without for a second getting into the pool himself, used to lift me up in both arms, swing and throw me right into the middle of the deep side of the pool. He would then stand outside, fully dry and yelling “Adi ma, adi” (translates effectively to ‘keep swimming’). The peculiar thing about me was that I used to keep swimming; yet I almost never moved or even drowned. I’d repeat the stroke just as I was taught, till I could do it no more. Then I’d give up and gasp for breath while blobbling in the engulfing waters. That’s when another old man would put a pole into the pool and I’d hold on to the end as he’d out pull my negligible load. I’d get out, run to the coconut tree in the corner and cry. I’d act like I need to puke. Mani would run behind tiny me in a pink swimsuit, drag me back to the pool and throw me back in. And through this trauma, there was one song that unfailingly played every day. This one. And 14 years later , even today, the song makes me anxious and tense. That, I realized is the influence of music.

Music gets easily coupled with events or phases in life. The link becomes so intense that listening to the music at any point of life, evokes the related memories. Play Teenagersby My Chemical Romance or Avril’s Complicated and I can’t help that it reminds me of all the pressure I put myself through because of college entrance tests and admissions. And the beginning of college has its own list of songs. TeriYadein is certainly right on top there. Play the opening music of Replay and my mind would drift away to my long ago beachy Pondy weekend. We all have a set of such songs we hold close.

I’ve always believed music is the strongest of all tools of expression. It magically takes a person from one extreme in the band of emotions to the farthest end on the other side. It can titillate the listener’s fury and soothe him into shedding soft tears, make the whole of him reverberate till he jumps up charged, bring back memoirs and make him wistful, cause him to dream a utopian life with the woman he is in love with, brighten up the evening and even make him get on the table and dance.

When one feels music and not merely listens to it, the feeling is like no other; it’s incredible. And that is precisely why singers are the most blessed of people. What power one must possess to kindle such emotions in many random minds! Just the ides of it is overwhelming. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Good-bye summer!

I decided to leave office early, like almost every other day.

I packed my stuff, waited for the elevator that weirdly takes forever to turn up (in spite of there being 6 or 8 of them), got on a relatively crowded one, went down 7 floors, walked to the exit and then realized it was pouring. I had to wait a while for the rain to abate before I could leave. In spite of my not-so-awesome health state, I decided to ride my Scooty home while enjoying the drizzle. Something told me it was going to be a pleasing evening.

I draped my stole around my head, sub-consciously ensuring that every inch of it was covered. I put on my sun glasses and let the bright white ambiance turn into autumn-y yellow. I twisted the accelerator n off I went. It felt nice to not have the sun venting its fury all over. It felt nice to touch my forearm and not feel the heat. This was the first ride this month that did not remind me of the full-arm gloves I had still not bought.

I turned into the main road; my stole stuck itself to my cheeks as the wind hit my cloaked face hard. I could feel the end of my stole fly up, stay taut and almost horizontal. Rain drops that hit my sun glasses stayed there blurring my vision of the road. A photographer would’ve envied my view of the drops: So perfect and fresh. The road looked like a Sepia image through my yellowish-brown glasses. The song ‘Radioactive’ refused to stop playing in my mind. I gave in to temptation and sang along - loudly and possibly in a cacophonous tune, but it didn’t matter. I felt liberated as I let myself loose. Just then, a biker whizzed past, causing the huge puddle on the road to spray its abundance on me. On any other day, such bad road etiquette might have pissed me off. Not this day. I sang merrily as I turned the accelerator a little more towards myself; my Scooty tore through a larger puddle, like ice skating blades scything through fresh ice. Water splashed on the biker almost soaking the man’s pants. I rode past smirking and savoring the guilty pleasure.

At the signal, I watched a little girl put her tiny hand out of the car window. I watched her giggle as a huge rain drop dropped on her palm. I watched her mom beam as she watched her girl. I saw two little boys jumping and bouncing in the middle of a puddle on the roadside. I could sense the elation when one of them managed to kick quite a lot of water onto the other’s face. I smiled as I watched them all. The light turned green. I rode past Nadini Café. As unbelievable as it may sound, I could smell the aroma of dosa cooked in ghee, on the road. I silently lamented not being at home munching on home-made dosas. I stopped at the super market on the way home, picked up a packet of batter.

And here I am on my balcony eating sour dosas (and wondering why they turned out sour). The view from here is lovely. The weather is breezy and refreshing. So is the evening.

Let’s hope summer has left our land, for the year.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Eager and hopeful

To be able to travel is a blessing. What can be more fulfilling than seeing everything there is to see in this world we live in? Every bit of me yearns to see so much.

I have traveled a little- Except for a week in the UK and two months in the US with my family, not so much outside India. I was quite young then, when we traveled across the USA. It was the summer of 2008. I still remember New York so fondly. I remember how I was fascinated by the Times Square: the humongous screens, the neon colors, the illuminated signs, the huge structures, the advertisements. I remember how the place was so busy. There were the tourists looking up in awe, quite typical of the place and the others, walking on hastily in different directions, like they all had something important to finish right away. They must’ve been the locals. I remember how my brother and I were thrilled and ecstatic when we spotted Mark Henry (or a man who resembled him too much) outside the RAW stadium. But much beyond all of this was the Liberty island. The view from the island – the waters leading to the impeccably picturesque New York skyline was a sight to behold. That picture, I still have safe in my mind. The Liberty Island gave me some kind of peace. It felt different, different in a tranquilizing way. I was proud that in a city as urban, metropolitan, busy and noisy as New York, I had found my quiet soothing spot. New York will always be special.

I wish I had been a little older and much wiser then. I wish I had appreciated what I saw better. I wish I had traveled the way I would now. But there is no place for regret where there is hope and time. There’s a whole life left, to do this and more, my way.

A large part of my traveling (otherwise) has been quite vicarious. I spend hours of ardent reading on travel blogs. They have taught me one important thing - the most beautiful places are always the unknown ones one finds on exploring. Every post I read, every picture I see of all the travel sites I’ve subscribed to, every time I think of Paris, Greece, the Caribbean, Australia, Sikkim and so much more, my desire to travel intensifies. This has all inspired me to want to travel-write. I hope that someday, my travel diary narrates delightful stories about interesting people, adventurous trips and unbelievable scenes, just like the ones I follow. The start is not too far away. Find my new travel blog here

Tomorrow is the day I leave. Three days in Bombay. Four in Lonavala. Half a day in Pune. And 24 hours of traveling by train – something I have been missing sorely. I hope it is an enriching week. 

Eager and hopeful,

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

If Only

Mr. Eric Arildson looked at his watch and sighed. It was 9 o clock. He was late, by his standards. He liked arriving ten minutes earlier, on important occasions. This was the most important of all such conventions he’d been in. In the next one hour he’d meet one of the most influential men in the country. The limo slowed down and came to a halt outside The Plaza. The chauffeur opened the door for him and he climbed out of the car.

It was a sunny day, the weather was perfect for the game of baseball that little Frank wanted to play. He remembered he had promised to take Frank and Bambi, their little terrier to the park to play with the other kids from school. Mark, his deputy, interrupted his thoughts. “Sir, I consulted three different financial advisors anonymously. Three other than our own. They’re all in favor of this buy. This could accelerate us to the top of the market in less than a year”. Eric murmured a cursory line of consent as he nodded. Mark knew it was best to stay quiet noticing his boss’ indifference. In spite of being the owner and Director of one of New York’s top real estate companies, Mr.Arildson wasn’t a very happy man. After he lost his wife to a tragic accident a couple of years earlier, nothing mattered to him. Unbelievable as it may sound, success did not elate him anymore; it had become a habit. He worked hard only to keep his mind off the sadness. He did not even smile when he was voted and awarded the Entrepreneur of the year by the NY Times. The only thing that cheered him up was the sight of his son. He loved the boy and his innocent giggle like laugh. He could spend hours with his little boy, only he had no time. He had hired a full-day nanny and a number of servants to make sure the boy got all that he wanted.

Eric along with Mark walked into the conference room on the 12th floor. The room was well lit. The décor was sophisticated – mahogany walls with tasteful pieces of art, deep green carpets and beautiful chandeliers. The room reminded Eric of Larika’s place. She was a beautiful, lovely woman he had met six months ago. He really liked her. She made him feel alive again. He wanted to move on and she seemed like the perfect woman. He had just never found the time for her. His pondering was ended abruptly by Mark’s loud sneeze followed by his characteristic “excusez-moi”. In the conference room, there was one table and at one end of it was the biggest business magnate of the city, seated with his retinue standing beside him. Eric strode across briskly and shook hands with the man. After exchanging some pleasantries, they got to business. Eric skimmed through the documents placed in front of him, perfunctorily. Mark had got them checked with their lawyer for loopholes. As Eric took out his pen from the pocket of his suit, a small yellow note fell off the pen’s clip on to his lap. He stared at the note. In the most childlike cursive writing he had ever seen, it said, “Daddy, I am turning 6 tuday. You fergot?“ It broke Eric’s heart. He had let Frank down. He did not know how he could have forgotten this day! It was the most beautiful, fulfilling one of all those days. Eric could feel all eyes in the room on him. He could sense inquisitiveness around. He could see one of the standing men lean slightly to get a peek at the note. He looked up at him as he neatly placed the note back in his pocket; the man turned red. He signed the documents in less than a minute, stood up as he murmured an inaudible “emergency”, then turned away and paced out of the room with no other word of parting.

Eric buzzed his chauffeur. He walked around the waiting room in circles vigorously. He had forgotten his son’s birthday. He did not know he had learnt cursive handwriting. He did not know his son needed tutoring on spellings. He was an awful father. He did not want to wait to be better; he sprinted towards the gate and hailed the first taxi that came along. As he got in, he thought of how life would have been if he had let Mark handle the businesses for him. He would have taken Frank to the games, the park, and the movies and everywhere else. He would have asked Larika to marry him. They would have been a perfect family. They would’ve played charades, sang songs, eaten pizza and spilt cheese all over and played pillow-fight with Frank. He would’ve taken them on a vacation to the Caribbean to play on the beach and build sand-castles. His dream was disrupted by an earsplitting crash. He screamed as something pierced through his neck. The taxi had crashed into a heavy transportation truck. Eric whimpered in pain. He could not shout for help; there was no sound when he tried. He cried, making as much noise as he could. The pain was severe and agonizing. He saw a man running towards the car. After that, he saw nothing. It was all black. It still hurt terribly. It was tormenting. A minute later, it stopped hurting too.

If only Eric knew the day was looming.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Do you have a bucket-list?

This is something I wrote for It did not get featured. So I found a place for it here. 

Some events add words to your vocabulary for eternity, like no amount of rote learning can - words that you never knew existed the day before. In some cases, words that did not actually exist the day before. Our word here is “BucketList”: a word that Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson effortlessly added to everyone’s lexicon and to many many Facebook status messages. It’s probably the most clichéd, banal, overused word online, yet still the coolest. Scroll down to every pic that has a caption “Bucket List – item1 – CHECK” and it cannot possibly have less than a hundred likes. That’s the power of this word.

Go on Google and by the time you’re done typing the words, auto-suggest suggests “Bucket List ideas”. And that shows people are actually putting some effort into creating their lists. . That’s how necessary and indispensable the list has become. Everyone’s got to have a list. And in this cool list, there are some items that EVERYONE has. They are very stereotypical. But if everyone has them, there’s got to be something amazing about them.

1.   Bungee Jumping: Imagine this. A cliff in an abandoned expanse. No one around, except for the Bungee Jumping organizer guys, of course. There’s peace. I scream and it echoes back. There’s water down there, down down there. It looks quite far away. God knows how many meters. Or kilometers? There’s green everywhere. It’s mid-day, yet I can’t see the sun. It isn’t bright or dark. It’s just the mild ambiance that you’d want. I breathe in and it feels fresh. It feels like I’m inhaling pure oxygen, for the first time. The impending jump would raise my excitement/anxiety levels to an all-time high. Fear would make me want to step back. But the jump needs just a second, and after that there’s no backing out. My shrill shriek through it will slice through the silence characteristic of the place. I’d come back up, feeling awesome about myself. And the place would be back to being tranquil and soothing.
What an experience that would be. This definitely goes on my list.

2.  Travel to Paris: Who doesn’t want to visit Paris? I’m not sure if it’s the romantic aspect of the city or if it’s the hot French men or the idea of kissing under the Eiffel tower or the vineyards in France or the fact that it’s the fashion capital of the world or if it’s something else altogether. May be it’s all of this combined. But this is one place on everyone’s to-do list. Even in movies, it’s Paris that people go to when they need a break from the monotony. It’s always ‘But I’ve never been to Paris’ that one says when one knows that death is looming. Paris is seen as a fun, sexy, beautiful place, all over the world. Paris is undoubtedly intriguing.
j'irai à Paris un de ces jours. :)

3.  Sky-diving: That’s one experience I will give myself. It will probably kill me, but it’s going to be amazing. It’s going to be out of the world. Can you imagine that feeling before the actual jump? Damn. And the jump, I’m sure my stomach’s going to be in my mouth. But that’s one thing I will do, no matter what.

4.  Visit the exotic country called India (Indians choose to vacation in Hawaii instead):  Sometimes, all one wants to do is to try something completely different. Something completely different from ones country. That’s the time to visit India. The country overflowing with tradition can help you find your lost self. It’s a beautiful country with beautiful people. Taj Mahal and its history must be inspiring. Kerala, down south, I’m sure, is a beautiful place. I’d love to visit India and take in all of the perspective it provides. I want to visit the beautiful temples. I’d love to learn Yoga and meditation. I’d like to see the Himalayas. This visit will give me peace like nothing else can, I’m sure of that.

But if you’re an Indian, like I am: Hawaii looks like the world’s most fun place. I’ve never never surfed my whole life. And what can be more awesome than learning to from some hot surfer. Canoeing might be fun too. An evening by the beach, some friends, many newly made friends, everyone clad in Hawaiian attire, some music, a lot of Hula dancing – now that seems like a perfect evening I’ll remember all my life. The beaches, the parties, the flowers, the bathing suits, the sun baths, the coconut shells, the Hula dance, the food, the music.. This place reeks of fun. It’s got to be the perfect spot for a fun vacation.

5.  Scuba Diving: Be it the Red Sea in Egypt or Mexico’s Le Paz or the Andaman islands in India, scuba diving seems to me like something I should try. I don’t know if it will be different in different places, but every time I see a picture of someone Scuba diving, it brings back my desire to travel and explore the world. There’s something about this that incites curiosity. The blue is always crystal clear. The corals look so pretty. And the idea of taking some time off to cohabit with the fish and the sea animals seems wonderful. This is different than every other activity that seems adventurous. This isn’t about the fear or the excitement. This is calm and beautiful. There is no anxiety whatsoever. It’s going to be lovely, nothing else, but lovely.
I’m going scuba diving some day!

6.  Back-packing through Europe: When can I go back-packing if not sometime now? This would be a very very economical trip. No resorts. Nothing extravagant. It would be simply exploring. I want to go all around Europe. I want to see it all – the monuments, the mountains, the lakes, the beaches, the people, the parties, the villages, the houses, the food, the music, the languages, the traditions, the festivals – all of it. I want to go on a Gondola. I so want to inhale the beauty of the Scandinavian countries. I want to eat freshly made Swiss chocolates. I want to see ancient Rome and Vatican and Spain. I want to stay in tents, hostels and homestays. I want to eat food from the vendors on the road. I want to meet new people and make new friends. I want to feel the place the local way.
Oh gosh, I want to do this.

7.  Climb some mountain: Nothing can feel more on top of the world than actually being quite on top of the world. It would be fun to actually mean the phrase, literally and metaphorically. This could be some hill/mountain on the Himalayas or the Alps or the Rockies or even a regionally known relatively smaller range of mountains. It doesn’t matter which. The view from up there would be spectacular. It would be an overwhelming feeling.

Some of these items, I wonder if we want to do them because it’s fun to do them or because we want to feel the after-having-done-them feeling. Whatever the reason maybe, each item is a new experience. And that’s surely worth it.

A bucket-list is a must-have. Clichéd to an indescribable extent, maybe. But who cares!! I have a list and mine has all of these and many more (including getting featured on ThoughtCatalog, which I'm working on)