Friday, November 27, 2009

My Country In Bed With Me

I went to my hometown a few weeks back for a surprise visit to my mother. Three days later, while President Pratibha Patil was probably doing an extra kilometer on the treadmill preparing for her historic flight in the Sukhoi, I was slowly losing my health to my first major illness ever- dengue. Not that I was complaining. It was after all the gravest thing happening to me since common cold four years back.

I lay there, in the hospital bed, feeling like shit, vomiting, venting, sweating. And like the IV fluid that snaked its way through my system, in the rest of the country, memories of 26/11 were surreptitiously creeping into open minds. The first year anniversary of the Bombay terror attacks was drawing close and people were venting, sweating and spewing…has security increased? Do we have better arms and ammunition? Are the victims compensated? The date was drawing close.

Seven seas away, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was warmly welcomed by President Barack Obama. 350 guests were privy to the young President’s first state dinner, complete with curry prawns and aged basmati rice. I, on the other hand, was restricted to mashed rice and lentils. But I had guests visit me as well...relatives I hadn’t expected to see, certainly not every day at the hospital. I was happy they gatecrashed. Don’t know if Obama can say the same about his two aspiring reality star guests.

In total, I spent 7 days bedridden at home with a fever that stubbornly refused to leave my side. On the 8th day, I broke our relationship by getting admitted to the hospital. I spent 5 days there. I thought of Bombay everyday. I was itching to get back to my life. I had an interview lined up as well! And while I itched to get hitched to a production house, Bigg Boss starlet Shilpa Shetty was planning to get hitched to multi-millionaire Raj Kundra at one of the most hyped wedding ceremonies in Bollywood. I didn’t have a job at hand. The soon-to-be-Mrs turned down £75,000 for rights to her wedding pictures. I was keeping score.

I’m cured! And I am on my way to Bombay! I have a meeting lined up at noon. I take the train, then the bus, all the while taking in the city I sorely missed for three weeks. Ecstatic, excited, impatient, overwhelmed- emotions wreak havoc with my system. A friend calls, tells me of a new website- A music playlist for your every mood. I select sloth. Yes, I’m back!

26th November. I can’t keep track of the money flowing out of my pocket. Train- Rs 4. Cab- Rs 60. Movie Ticket- Rs 200. Drinks- Rs 500. Small solace- the rest of the country doesn’t seem to be doing too well with money either. Latest report- food inflation jumps 1% to 15.58% in a week. Potato prices are up 132% since April this year! And that’s not even the news. The Opposition takes a dig at the PM on the price rise issue and 7 out of the 11 rows of Treasury Benches in the Parliament are empty! Less than a dozen Congress MPs are present to counter the Opposition’s attacks on the day inflation numbers are announced. This on the same day we’re celebrating the first year anniversary of 26/11, when Idea Cellular runs a campaign called Talk for India Hour, donating call revenues for better protection gear for the police. Wonder who’s doing the talking. Certainly not our elected officials.

PS: I’m still glad to be back.

Friday, November 20, 2009

She's Always A Woman To Me

(She can kill with a smile
She can wound with her eyes…)

Lips the color of fire. Flaming red, raging. That full mouth, moistened ever so slightly with the tip of her tongue as she scrutinizes herself in the mirror. She presses her ring finger against the metallic insides of her silver kohl box and expertly applies black midnight to her eyes. With the curve of her hairpin she extends the line of darkness, arching it up, outside her eyes making them appear so big you can glimpse the universe in them.

(She can ruin your faith with her casual lies…)

She blinks once, twice, then reaches for the white packet, removes the transparent cover and peels off a big round bindi. Red again, this time a ball of fire that rests in the middle of her arched eyebrows.

(And she only reveals what she wants you to see…)

She stands up. Her white petticoat rises and falls with the curve of her hips down to her tapering ankles. Her blouse outlines her cleavage, teasing, taunting, working its way from her bosom to the hollow of her shoulder blades and then gliding down to her elbows. With the flourish of her hand she opens the sari lying neatly ironed on the bed. 5 meters of cloth- white with thick stripes of red and gold catches the wind, bellows and settles on the floor with a whimper. Round and round she wraps it, tucks in the folds just below her navel, smoothens out the creases with her hand and as the finishing touch shrouds her bosom with the free end of the cloth. It sticks on for dear life, hugging her frame, touching and letting go- her long legs, her flat stomach, her heaving breasts- before throwing caution to the wind and flying freely down her back.

She was almost done. She lifts her hands to tie her mass of black curls into a loose knot at the nape of her neck. Tendrils tantalize her bare skin, leaving her with waves of goosebumps when she walks. Glass bangles slip on effortlessly over her delicate wrists and with lowered eyes that hide the anticipation mounting inside her, she leaves the room, ready to meet the man she was to marry.
(She hides like a child
But she’s always a woman to me…)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Land Is Not Your Land

‘You know why it rains?’ Little Akash is picking his nose. 6 year old Siddharth is keenly watching his friend’s struggle. ‘Because god is crying.’

Siddharth’s eyes open wide. ‘Really?!’

‘My mummy told me yesterday.’ Akash examines his treasure. ‘She said if I don’t finish my homework, god will get sad and cry. Then it will rain and no one will come out to play.’

Blind faith because mummy said so. The kid doesn’t know any better. Let’s laugh it off. Give him a year or two and he’ll be rattling off the definition of evaporation and condensation.

What do you do with adults though? Many a school year has gone by and all definitions are in place. What do you now do with those who choose not to think and make up their own minds?

Case and point, Ayodhya. This ancient city, located in the state of Uttar Pradesh, has been referred to in the Hindu Epics and is described as the birthplace of Hindu god, Lord Rama. So far so good. It was taken over by Muslim invaders in the 16th century and Mughal emperor Babur is said to have built a mosque called Babri Masjid in the city. In the late 20th century came the claim that Babur had destroyed an ancient Hindu temple built on the very site where Lord Rama was born to make way for his mosque. 1992: Hindu-Muslim riots ensued in Ayodhya, Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad in which around 2000 people lost their lives- all because a group of Hindus destroyed the Babri Masjid so that a temple could be built on the site again.

1: Which year was Lord Rama born in? If we had a date (which we don’t), we could have retraced our steps in history to put archaeological facts in place.

2: Whether Babur had destroyed a temple or simply renovated an existing mosque to make it the Babri Masjid has not been confirmed.

3: Where in Ayodhya, Lord Rama was born has never been confirmed. Till the 19th century, Hindus and Muslims prayed side by side in the Babri Masjid complex, as both held the site sacred.

4: In 1986, L.K. Advani, president of the ruling national party BJP embarked on a mission of advocating Hindu nationalism. In 1989, he began the agitation of rebuilding the temple in Ayodhya as part of his political agenda. It worked and the BJP formed a coalition government. Ayodhya locals say they had never seen anyone from the party show interest in the city before that. (Courtesy: In The Name Of God)

Conclusion: Looks like mummy didn’t take a backseat when we grew up; she’s just taken the form of anyone we’re willing to follow. It doesn’t rain because god’s crying. It rains because he’s peeing. My mummy said so.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The King Khan Ages

Shah Rukh Khan, one of the greatest actors ever in Bollywood, turned 44 on the 2nd of November. What fun! The man’s lopsided grin, his famous stutter ‘K-k-k-k-kiran’, even his suspiciously built abs have the power of attracting attention equivalent to that of Princess D in her heyday. And no, I’m not exaggerating.

Here is a man who in his 40s, still plays roles of young 20-somethings, knowing very well that he’s way over his head with a character he stopped identifying with twenty years ago. Yet, you will see him donning tight jeans, the graffiti t-shirt and spiked hairstyle- something only capable of a man who has nothing to lose, and knows it.

There was a time when you only saw him on screen once a year, when he did some big budget movie with Karan Johar or Yash Chopra. Today, he still does only one or two movies, but you see him all year round- that’s because he’s selling you tea, watches, cellphones, cars, soft drinks and even lures you to watch the IPL…because he also owns a cricket team! And here I thought, the older you got and the more secure you got financially and otherwise, the less you would sell yourself for money.

So you know what happens when something becomes ubiquitous, right? You take it for granted. And it tips dangerously towards the ‘banal’ category. I like the King Khan. He knows what he’s good at (a.k.a melodrama) and does it with flair. But Mr. Khan, how about using your mass appeal to push for better cinema…controversial themes, experimental roles? You have a production house to call your own. How about getting some ‘art’ into filmmaking, sir?

Don’t get me wrong. I wish you a very happy birthday. I also fervently hope you preserve your name and the aura you exude. But as with everyone else, here’s hoping this year is different from the last. And I sure as hell don’t mean adding ten new endorsements to your kitty.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Riding The Qawwali Express

I pulled the shawl tightly around myself and with chattering teeth to keep me company, made my way to the railway station. It was twenty past ten. I had half an hour to spare. The biting cold was a bad host- the streets were almost deserted. Winter is only fun when you know you have a warm bed waiting somewhere. I was headed for an 8-hour train ride from Lucknow to Delhi.

As I neared the station, wisps of music reached my ear. There were people singing nearby. The melody of rich voices, the consistent clapping, the harmonium…I increased my pace and there, in front of the station gate was a gathering of about thirty people listening to one of the most enchanting forms of music- Qawwali.

This traditional and mystical form of Islamic songs promulgates dictums of prophets and praises of god by weaving spirituality with art. It is inextricable linked to the Sufi tradition, where Sufi saints believe rather than prohibiting music, it should be used as a medium of zikr, or remembrance of god. It is no wonder therefore, that like the repetitive turning of wheels, Qawwali songs include a persistent repetition of lines such that the listener and performer enter a trance like phase some believe is ideal for spiritual enlightenment.

Waves of goosebumps traveled down my body as I felt the energy of this confluence of past and present. Here I was, in a street in Lucknow listening to an art form that has its roots in 8th century Persia. Like then, even today it is a communal experience…with a group of Qawwali singers sitting on the floor and the audience actively participating in the performance. But while Qawwalis took almost five centuries to reach their current musical form in India and Pakistan, it took less than forty years for this music to make it to the global platform.

A Qawwali had just ended, and it was time for me to leave. As I walked towards the station entrance, I couldn’t help but look back. Across the road I was seeing a celebration, a pleasure ride as every participant took a swig of spiritual ecstasy. This was devotion sans strings attached. And like the long journey ahead of me, for those sitting outside, the night had only just begun.