There is always a light

There is always a light
Don't be afraid if you are alone or surrounded by darkness. In some part of the world, the day has just begun. There is a always a light waiting for you to find your way to touch its radiance.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Coffee With Tuhin

By Ananya Mukherjee
When Tuhin A Sinha came to Mumbai, like many others he had a million go-getter’s dreams in his sharp twinkling eyes. The small town steel city boy from Jamshedpur wanted to make it big on the silver screen and create ripples across the country by making it to the newspaper headlines.
Sure enough, he achieved his goals. Not by being the guy-next-door face on television or cinema, but by launching himself as a successful scriptwriter and then using that launch pad to reach the stars as a very sensitive, mature and thought-provoking contemporary author of two very successful bestsellers.
Needless to say, Tuhin’s sensitivities, through his commercially successful writing, have managed to throw the light on some very volatile social and political issues, raising eyebrows and making readers sit up and think beyond what was served on a platter of black and white on print.
Here’s a quick rendezvous with the man who exemplifies success and demonstrates as articulately as he writes that if you believe in yourself, no one can stop you from reaching high up in the galaxy and creating a whole new starry universe around yourself.
Looking back at the milestones reached, Tuhin reflects that the journey so far has been anything if not superb. “After That Thing Called Love’s success, there was a huge temptation to write something similar or perhaps attempt a sequel. But instead I decided to make each book of mine as different as possible from the other. Cricket was an obsession for me at one point of time before crass commercialization turned it into a circus. 22 Yards was my tribute to the sport. Of Love and Politics, which is my best work till date, attempts something unprecedented. It delves into how ideological differences impact personal relationships,” he shares.
Through these experiments of writing differently, Tuhin has matured not only as a writer, but also learnt the key points of better story telling. “There are times when readers surprise you by drawing interpretations that you’d not have thought of at the time of writing. I consider every perceptive feedback a learning experience. They invariably help you in your characterizations and make you be a better story-teller.”
Talking about his third book Of  Love and Politics, which is likely to rattle cages, the author seems unperturbed by the repercussions, if any, following its release in March 2010. “Yes, it might ruffle some feathers.. so be it. Controversy is an inescapable part of an eventful life,” he says. The book is not only about politics, he clarifies. “Politics forms just the backdrop. The story is about relationships. To give you a brief summary of the plot- Aditya, like the Congress party he belongs to, tends to be elitist and aristocratic. Brajesh Ranjan, like his party, the BJP, swears by an overtly nationalist agenda and Chaitali Sen, the CPI(M) she represents swears by the disenfranchised. In this engaging and fast-moving tale, the author deftly entangles his three protagonists in a personal alliance, as volatile as the one their shape-shifting parties are continually forming and breaking. Through their journey, the author manages to give this compelling story some rare insights into the personal life of Indian politicians. I just found the whole idea damn exciting- a love triangle between Congress, BJP and the Left. Once I conceived the plot, I couldn’t rest in peace till I’d completed the manuscript.”
Tuhin is currently working on three books simultaneously, each of which, once again is very different from the other. He has worked on a film screenplay lately with Piyush Jha(director of Sikandar). Besides, he writes guest columns for the papers. “I’m open to writing TV shows, if they excite me,” he adds. Where does he see himself in the near future? “ A life less ordinary has got to be unpredictable. My guess would be as good as yours. On a more serious note, I should have completed 10 books by then. I’d want to write on issues of national and social concern,” he summarizes.
Though Tuhin, who’s not just an author but also a very dear friend and I had a preconceived notion of sharing this talk over a steaming mug of coffee on a rain swept monsoon afternoon in Mumbai, we decided to modify our plans to incorporate a larger audience on this platform for the time being. Till I catch him on our coffee date after the release of his next book, and this time probably with his newly-wed bride Ramyani by his side, here’s wishing him all the very best for a great year ahead.

Reaching the Stars

By Arghya Saha
Rahul had just taken a sabbatical from his job.

Business czar as they called him, he was heading one of the leading multi-corpus Investment Bank in the newly found infrastructure segment in India. He was known for his relentless and sedulous pursuit in whatever he did, piercing presentations, ruthless negotiations, and above all, superb networking of “pals”, as he called them – irrespective of whether they helped or despised him. He was quite tall by Indian standards, auburn complexion; dark black hair immaculately gelled and back brushed to reveal his wide forehead. Tiny stands of grey here and there complimented his thoughts of wisdom which he seemed to profess so easily and seemed to retrofit his discerning thoughts. For his age and lifestyle he was slim and looked chic and suave in his jade black formal suit, for which he had an obsession for. He just could not resist a wonderfully cut suit. His baritone voice was like that icing on the cake which made him such a popular business tycoon in the country and now across the borders. Paintings and music were the other passions which seemed to move him. He had almost anything a 42 year old professional could look for in ones life.
He parked his gleaming Spanish red Porsche at the parking lot overlooking the foyer of his 5 bedrooms duplex villa, part of the most up market housing complex in town. It has been years since he had the chance to see the evening light filtering though the mulberry trees on his courtyard. Autumn was just setting in; the slight chill in the wind was decipherable, the leaves were beginning to get the amber tinge, birds hurrying up to prepare for the winter. The light breeze had deposited the dry leaves against the sidewalk only to be carried away in by a gust of air from Rahul’s car as it backed into the parking lot. The squirrels playing on the boardwalk suddenly became aware of something close to them, raised their heads for a transient moment of surprise and scuttled to the trees. Rahul came out of his car without his usual pack of files and the heavily bulged laptop bag, which had since been his signature. He stretched his arms in the air and looked at the setting sun overlooking the car park. The sky was brilliant in amber with soft fluffy clouds with tinges of orange against the splendid blue sky. The distant hills seemed to have dwarfed against the massive sun sinking in its lap, only to be caressed rejuvenated by the wonders of the darkness to fall all over the valley.
The last six months had taken its toll on Rahul. So much had happened in these six months more than anything that would have ever happened to him all along his life. Unmindful Rahul stooped to put his right leg over the stunted wall of the railing, so that his shoes could fit into the slot left by the falling brick and rested his hands on the globe shaped light fitting which dotted the periphery of the housing complex. He breathed deeply like his Yoga instructor had advised him long ago, but he never managed to get it doing. He had gone though the Robin Sharmas and Deepak Chopras many times and had wondered when he could really sit down and try out these panaceas of life’s problems. He was so engrossed in the changing colors of the sky that he did not realize when darkness had engulfed the valley, He was startled when the globe light lit up suddenly, heralding another part of the day and he hastily removed his hand off the light.
He walked back lazily to his house a light whistle on his lips, shaking his head from one side to the other perhaps to feel that it was much lighter.
The last one and half years that he moved into his new house he did not find opportunity and time to see the place around. So after a quick shower he lazily put on his red kurta and kolhapuri slippers to make a round of the complex. He noticed the bread crumbs on the kitchen counter left by him while making today’s breakfast. Then he remembered he had corn flakes and fruits today morning, so these were remnants of some other day. Almost instinctively he looked at the life size photo of Rachna and murmured to himself, “I messed it again, dear”. He picked a couple of paper tissues and carefully wiped the bread crumbs from the counter and took them on the tissue and put them into the dustbin. A few flakes fell off the tissue on the ground, which again he carefully picked them up and placed in the bin.
Rachna was his school rival in almost all the extra curricular activities in school – debates, dramatics, recitation and even basketball – she was always the best and Rahul close second to her. It was only in academics that Rahul was consistently better than Rachna. Perhaps this indomitable urge to equal or excel Rachna did polish and metamorphose Rahul to scion the qualities he has mastered today and has taken him to these insurmountable heights that he has reached so early in his life. There was a spontaneous respect and regard for each other, which others around them termed as “wavelength”.
“Behind every successful man there is a woman, Rahul, so, choose the woman with caution”
“I don’t have a choice, dear. I do right things right the first time”
Like all love stories, Rahul and Rachna got married and quite early in life. Their honeymoon was restricted to lazy walks along Park Street, having pani puri at the banks of the river, three insignificant films in a single day, getting on and off local trains, not knowing where to go and finally the compulsion of spending the night in the deserted station waiting room, when the rain would just not stop. Fifteen days of complete togetherness with nothing particular to distract or observe no purpose, no hurry, no destinations to go. These tiny crucibles of such serene happiness did not come with price tags attached to them. They were priceless moments of treasure etched on their hearts forever. Everything else paled into insignificance for them.
“Honeymoon is about spending time together and it can be anywhere, because you do not get to see anything else” Rachna had said “Perhaps when we grow a bit older and possibly bored with each other, we will plan going to beautiful places” she chuckled. “Actually we cannot afford going anywhere, so a good consolation” Rahul said.
“Positive thinking, my prince”
Rahul and Rachna were swiftly sucked into the whirlpool of the “rat race”, which elevated them in leaps and bounds. A couple of smart moves catapulted Rahul to heights he never thought and provoked him to dare even further. With Rachna strongly behind him, Rahul never felt the pain; only enjoyed her presence and rose higher and higher up. Rahul saw the first and perhaps the only sign of pain in Rachna’s eyes when Dr Iyer announced gingerly that she was not pregnant, and this was the twelfth time it had happened. She was diagnosed for “Endometriosis” a disease which blocks the fallopian tubes and in her case exacerbated by her low back pain. The desire of have a child took them to the major hospitals in India and even abroad. The first loan Rahul had taken was for them to go for treatment as far as New Orleans.
Finally Rachna realized “You cannot have everything in life” sounding like those mantras of the monks. “We have tried everything and should not have any regrets. It is the will of God, Rahul, please accept it”
Then that fateful New Years evening and Rachna had just bought the bunch of dark red gladiolas Rahul loved so much. The unusual rain at this time of the year was like a sheet of water flowing from the heavens. The drunken driver swerved from the wrong side of the road and rammed into Rachna’s car. The impact was so intense that she was flung out of her car and she skid along the road to be stopped by the uprooted tree lying along the road. Three days, twenty surgeons, Rahul’s countless telephone calls, money flowing as if from the storm water outfall, nothing absolutely nothing could save Rachna. Rahul could still hear the simmering Rachna’s last words, “I want you to rise up to the stars and there we meet”. Her lifeless palms had slowly begun to become cold when Dr Shetty put his hands on his shoulder.
Rahul opened the door and a gust of cool breeze greeted him. The darkness outside was shimmering with brilliance on the moonlit night, crickets squeaking in almost continuous unison. The solidity of the hill sides were punctuated by the speckles of the kerosene lights of the tiny shanties here and there. All of a sudden all the crickets stopped and there was absolute silence. Rahul stepped out of his house, his feet on the dry leaves making a crackling noise as he walked towards the lobby of the clubhouse.
The lobby was sparsely populated with most of the tables empty so early in the evening. Probably everybody was within their cozy interiors watching television, teaching multiplication tables or maybe cooking a special dish and some even experimenting with new recipes. The large chandelier hanging down the half empty dome, with the other half decorated with glass beads on deep blue background seemed a bit like the sky above it. Rahul took his seat at one of the tables beside the glass glazed side from where the portion of the hills looked like a painting generally done by kids all over their art copies. He ordered a whiskey for him, for the first time after six months since Rachna had left him. The bartender put ice and asked if he needed water and Rahul asked him to top it up. He did so, pushed the glass closer to him and gave one of their plastic smile and left.
As time passed more and more people left the place and the chattering and the sounds of laughter and clapping of hands subsided. Rahul could hear the sound of somebody playing the piano. He turned around and saw a girl at the other end of the lobby playing the dark brown piano. She was playing one of his favorite numbers. It was quite late and did not notice when the girl had gone way.
Over the next few days Rahul spent the evenings in this lobby. He began to love the songs the girl played on the piano. One evening he decided to walk up to the girl and tell her how beautifully she played. He was surprised to see that the girl was older than he thought she was. She was quite fair with dark hair tightly braided into two halves. Rahul walked silently and softly put his elbow on the piano and said, “You play lovely music, what is your name?”
“Ishika. Ishika Bhatia” she replied quickly wiping her moist cheeks.
“Sorry. Did I bother you?”
“No, not at all. I see you every evening sitting at the same place by the window and you seem to stay longer than I do.”
“Then what makes you cry, my child?” Rahul asked, wondering if he had intruded into her privacy.
For her age Ishika was pretty cautious in the way she welcomed strangers and Rahul appreciated her apprehension and articulation of her words and accordingly tried not be seem overtly sensitive. Ishika sensed the genuineness of Rahul’s affection and concern and Rahul and Ishika “gelled” quite fast. Every evening the conversation extended incrementally and Ishika began to confide in Rahul many of her woes which she had being going through at this tender age. She told him how he lost his father, who owed a lot of his money to his flashy lifestyle, gambling and drinking. After his death his mother became a victim to some despicable sub humans whom she was forced to “entertain’ most evenings and how foolhardiness overcame her mother. Ishika mentioned one day that her mother was being pressurized to even get her married off to some loser fifteen years older to her and how she was petrified of the consequences. Rahul realized that Ishika’s mother had set out on a sedulous pursuit of bringing up her daughter, but which was fundamentally flawed. Rahul sensed the periodic acrimony in her voice when she spoke about her mother, coupled with a daughters love for her mother. This dichotomy seemed to bother Ishika, as much as it made Rahul worry of the consequences. Rahul enquired about Ishika’s academic interests and learned that she was excellent with numbers and loved mathematics. She had also shown him the certificates of some of the competitions she had won at the National Level. She had just finished her Class 12 examinations and had cleared the TOEFL as well.
“Nobody in this world will manufacture a lock without a key”, Rahul used to tell her often, not very sure where to find the key.
Rahul decided not to talk to her mother at her house, not even get introduced to her. He requested Ishika to trust him and asked her to convince her mother to come to his office next morning.
To start with, both her mother and Ishika were overwhelmed by the glitz and spank office located on the thirty fourth floor of Fontana Towers. Rahul came out briefly and excused himself for a few minutes, asking them to wait. Ishika could hardly recognize this man in his new avatar, she had never seen before. The chic tall secretary invited her mother to a large wood paneled room with what seemed freshly polished leather couches. The heavy woodworked door closed behind her and Rahul went about to complete the pleasantries of coffee, water, etc. “No phone calls, no interventions” Rahul advised the secretary in his deep rich voice. It did not take long for her to realize that she was in front of a very sharp and powerful person, oozing business every bit. What transpired in the next half an hour is something nobody knew. Rahul had made all the phone calls from his mobile so nobody in the office had any inkling of what was being negotiated within the closed door.
A month later, one early Monday morning, Ishika’s mother left for an undisclosed destination. Ishika got a part scholarship in a university in the US. She was scheduled to leave the same day in the afternoon, first to Delhi to clear some of the formalities and then leave for US at the earliest. Rahul had organized every tiny detail, as characteristic of him, and had blocked air ticket for Ishika for seven consequent days to cover any slips.
Wonder how time melts into years!
Fifteen years, and like any other morning Rahul enters his Porta Cabin office room of the UNICEF Project Office in Congo. He boots his laptop and logs onto the “Times of India” website to have cursory look at the headlines, as he has been doing as a habit now. He jumps out of his seat to see the headline screaming “Ishika Bhatia becomes the third Indian astronaut to be selected for Space Shuttle voyage”
Speechless, Rahul looks at Rachna standing on the photo frame on his desk. He was staring at her for long till the tears blurred the photo. He removed his glasses and reached for a paper napkin. Just then his mobile rang strongly - a sms arrived “My Angel, I am going to the stars. Please ask Rachna to meet me there!!” Rahul could not believe this and was overwhelmed that Ishika had tracked him all along – perhaps the only promise she had not kept, but wonderfully well done. He toggled down the message to find the number of the sender, but alas it was shown as “unknown”. Rahul could not contain his feelings. He sat down on his laptop and searched for the earliest flight to Colorado.
In another part of the world, a woman in her mid forties in some monastery in Darjeeling buys a pack of sweets for her friends. She folds her hands bows her head in front of an empty photo frame. A face she could see so vividly in her eyes.

Groovy kind of drink...

By Bidisha Bagchi
St Joseph, Michigan, USA
The Austrian adage, "Why drink fruit when we can drink rocks?” does not necessarily mean that ‘rocks’ are a part of their diet. It refers to the strong mineral aroma of the wines that Austria produces.

But does Grüner Veltliner, or Gru-Vee, as it has been nick named, remind of some fighter jet? Not to blame if it does though. The name is a bit ‘military’ style but actually it is one of the daintiest and a signature grape; the most popularly planted vine in Austria and the latest craze.
Grüner Veltliner is a late ripening variety that produces wines that are pale green in colour and display fruit notes of grapefruits, limes, pears, and sometimes hints of white pepper. The strong acid content in the wines enables the best bottles to age gracefully.
It is Austria’s own white variety accounting for 37 percent of the country's total vineyard area on the steep and sunny hillsides preening in the mellow sunshine as they had since the Middle Ages when terraces were built on every suitable slope.
The pathways of the stony vineyards are the specialty of Wachau in lower Austria that grows Gru-Vee. Perfect stone walls are built on the terraced vineyards, the rocks are sorted and laid with gaps as small as possible, allowing the roots of the vines to reach the soil through these gaps and drain easily. Narrow terraces of alluvial soil, rocky brown soil and a combination of brown soil and crystalline rocks are the best soil and rock combination for Grüner Veltliner.
Gru-Vee, with its distinctive, pungent aroma, an exotic array of fruit, herb and spice flavours with an attractive mineral undertone, makes its wines ideal partners for food, rather a marvelous alternative to the more mainstream white grape varieties.
With Gru-Vee there is hardly any food that doesn’t go. Asparagus, artichokes, mushrooms, turnips and scrambled eggs are standard. Its ample fruit and mild acidity and the sweetness factor are perfect for spicy hot foods, white fish either steamed or broiled, but without any fat content, or even as a plain pre-meal aperitif.
Simply put, Grüner Veltliner is that indigenous variety of Austria which can make any one look and feel cool this summer, and if that is desired ……then one should really be sipping Gru-Vee.

This article was first published in China Daily-Shanghai Star

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Life at Random: Inspired By The Drunkard's Walk

By Sunita Chandrasekaran
This book is written by Leonard Mlodinow a former writer of Star-Trek and a physicist at California Institute of Technology. Mlodinow considers the question, “What are the odds?” The book is an excursion about a random walk on a line and about the choice of stepping on to the left or the right by a toss of a coin or roll of a dice. When I finished reading the book, I realized that the title was apt– How randomness can rule our lives! How chance and probability can dominate the extremistan within us! How our brain is wired to misinterpret the odds! How blindly do we follow patterns in life?

The sentence in the first chapter of the book was pretty interesting - “The outline of our lives, like the candle’s flame, is continuously coaxed in new directions by a variety of random events that, along with our responses to them, determine our fate.” Mlodinow conveys the message to the readers that these decisions taken due to our minds being driven by randomness can forcibly ignore the facts and truth of a given situation. It could prove to be fatalistic or may-be at times, not-so-fatalistic depending on the serious and not-so-serious circumstances.
Let’s look at how random a publishing house can be!
For instance, J. K. Rowling who wrote The Harry Potter series was rejected by 24 publishers before somebody published her book. John Grisham had the same taken place with his first book being published too! So now you start thinking, can randomness lead you to success too!
But Mladionw reminds us:
“So some things in life are random and some aren't”.
For example, let’s take an example of an old TV game show “Let's make a deal”. You are presented with three doors, behind one of which is a new car. You take your pick, but before your fate is revealed, the M.C. swings open one of the other doors, revealing a booby prize. So far, so good, but now comes the big decision. Do you stay with your original choice or switch to the other unopened door? It might not be a 50-50 proposition as you are now thinking. If you lay out the possibilities or create a sample space, you will see that your odds actually improve if you change doors. The key to this puzzle is that the door the M.C. opens is not chosen at random. (He’s not going to ruin the game by prematurely revealing the car.) So had the player chosen the door randomly, it means that he had trusted his instincts. He could go wrong or right. Nothing is certain. At that point, he would have been biased by random thoughts.
So instead of trusting your instincts, if you go by constructing a table or a sample space of all the ways a dice may fall, you are closer to being correct by all means. An important message that the author conveys is if you are able to back track your decision and reason it out, it means that you are pretty confident about your decision, if you are not able to relate to the causes that made you take a decision, it means that you have decided by chance. So now the chances that it could go wrong are higher than it being correct.
Another witty example mentioned is about if a woman has two children, and one of them is a girl, what is the chance that the other is a girl too? I did try this out with my friend whom I “barely” know and it worked out to be correct. It is merely by probability and statistics that is well explained in the book and means no conjectures!
The author explains how the mathematical laws of randomness can affect our lives. He narrates an incident that happened with him. Nearly 20 years ago, his doctor had told him, out of the blue, that it was 99.9 per cent certain that he was infected with H.I.V. Mlodinow had none of the risk factors (except for being human), but he had scored H.I.V.-positive on a test that had a false positive rate of one in 1,000. If his doctor had studied probability in medical school, he would have seen the situation in a different light. One in 10,000 people tested positive and was ultimately confirmed as carrying the virus. In addition, there were the statistical flukes — the 10 (one in 1,000) who were false positives. Compare those numbers, and the chance that Mlodinow was infected (he wasn’t) was one in 11. So look at the kind of impact an erroneous statistical thinking can have!?
Mladinow relates to people having a poor conception of randomness. While reading his book, I felt that we clearly misjudge the role of chances in our lives and make conclusions/decisions that are clearly misaligned with our interests. A real-life scenario which I could relate to the incidents in the book is a small story.
When my uncle was admitted to the hospital for lung cancer, I felt he was going to pass away in few days/months time. The reason behind why I felt this way was because I started relating his condition to few of other stories that I have heard of. They were all sick too with lung cancer and passed away in few days time. So I related the existing condition to that of the past and predicted how it would be in the near future. So I presumed that my uncle would pass away in a day or two. In fact, all those who were around were drawing a sad conclusion that he will live no longer. But much to our happiness and surprise, he did fight back and survived for almost 4-5 years.
I am sure, many of you might be gazing away from the blog and retrospecting what had happened with your relatives. Now don't you agree, what I went through was a psychological illusion? I was amazed the way our brain recognizes patterns and misjudges the role of randomness in our lives. I had misinterpreted valid data. I had created a hyphothetical situation based on preconceived notions and refused to think beyond that boundary. I was more focussed on finding and confirming patterns rather than scrutinizing the false conclusions.
Similarly a government, for example, faces a “should-have-known-it” blame game after every tragedy. Take the Mumbai terrorist attack 26/11 or the 9/11 attack at the United States. It is easier to predict what could happen in the future based on the past. Many stories can be concocted with stories of the past, the patterns can be recognized and dubious/real alarms can be created. But it would be pragmatic if the future is not led by mere predictions and patterns but by reviewing both explanations and prophecies with scepticism. Since it is not easy to predict the outcome of complex situations -they come with uncontrollable factors. Well, this thought is certainly not even pessimism or optimism.
The book comes with a strong message which is to analyze a situation, discuss the pros and cons, retrospect, avoid false assumptions/conclusions prior to taking a decision. It comes with a little psychology to portray how our brain is wired to fool us. It is well written enough for a lay man to appreciate the “take-away”. You do not need to know probability and statistics to understand the different experiments demonstrated in the book. You may not learn any new concepts (which may be most of us may not be looking at while reading a book enjoying some latte!). But you could definitely challenge your assumptions and realize how difficult it is to make reasonable conclusions! There are several quotes from famous theorists, I had not heard about most of them until I read this book, so I could not imagine that I was reading about a great person, but I think the experiments that the theorists discuss are worth the imagination.
The book is worth a good read!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Mom, Is he real?

By Pritha Lal
Springville, Utah, USA

In the last few weeks, I have heard this question being posed to several of my friends from their children who are at an age, where they want to believe in the Big Guy in the red suit, but are a wee bit skeptical. Slightly wary, that the milk and cookies may not be reaching the friendly resident of the North Pole who makes his annual visits through the chimney, vent, or whatever air duct he can fit through.
The simple question has an equally simple and honest answer, though the delivery of that message to a child who will lose a part of his or her innocence forever, is probably not easy for any parent. I liked the approach my friend Amy took, when she told her son Ethan the truth and as harsh as it may have been to the little boy, it was also a poignant moment for him. He will know he can always come to his mom for an honest answer about anything in life and also as he grows older and the mortal sorrow of knowing Santa is "not real" will be replaced by an appreciation for what his parents had done to keep that innocence alive in him and his brothers and little sister.
This and such similar conversations got me thinking on the joys of innocence and sometimes pure ignorance. When I was growing up in India, Santa was an iconic Christmas character but he was not "real" and nor did he bring toys etc. Apart from all the other cultural nuances that I have experienced in the US in the last 12 years, a child's unabashed faith in Santa blew me away. I found it amazing to think that the innocence of a child was so beautifully honed by this fantasy that was only accentuated by all the bells and whistles of the holiday season.

However, in the middle of all this yuletide cheer, the question that I have been pondering for the last little while, is that are we really all that different from Ethan? No matter what age we are in, do we not hope and wish some things were real? Do we not want to believe that bad things won't happen to our loved ones? Do we not want to believe that the ones we love will also love us back with their all? Do we not have our own lists for Santa every year? You would have to be a liar or a prude to answer in the negative to all those questions and are probably better off playing Grinch !!!

The realities of our mundane lives sometimes get the better of us and we forget the beauty of a single snowflake or the wonder in a child’s eyes on a Christmas morning. There are more than enough cold hard facts in this world to make us sit up and take notice of the economy, environment, politics who knows what other grown up stuff. Maybe one day of the year, I want to go back to being that child in me and believing, even if the guy in red suit is a paid employee at the mall, love, hope, and joy are all real and they are always on the Other Big Guy’s list… all we have to do is open our eyes a little bit wider and Lo Behold.. it’s Christmas Morning every day….

Monday, December 14, 2009


By Ananya Mukherjee

I love her and I can’t lose her ever, to anyone. She’s mine and she belongs to me; wherever she is, in whatever she does, whoever she is with. It was destined to be that way. And I believe in the power of Maktub. You may call it my obsession or write it off as an idiosyncratic disorder of heightened passion and extreme possessiveness of a maverick. Call it whatever you want to, I don’t care. I hate anyone who tries to come between me and her and I swear to God, I can cheat, steal or kill if I must, to protect my love. I am in love with her like I have never loved another person, and I have a right to destroy anything that stops me from reaching her. Yes, I am an iconoclast. I don’t believe in traditions, nor do I subscribe to the norms of fearing the inevitable wrath of the Supernatural. She’s my God, the divine that I completely submit myself to, the omnipotent, omnipresent remote control of my senses, my intellect and my emotions. And nothing and no one is allowed the liberty to trespass into my territory. Yes, am crazy about her, am insane, you might say. But I can’t refute that woman’s all pervasive power on me, I can’t deny my yielding to that magical charm called love,  and I can’t deny us the togetherness that we deserve, come what may.
You may begin to think, why is this eccentric lover illogically rambling about his lady love when he can go and simply utter the vows and take her home? What’s stopping him? One man. I met my lady when she was already married to another man. He is a nice guy, everyone tells me. And he loves her dearly, she confirms. What do I care? I still hate him. I hate him for having time to his advantage and making good use of it. He married my girl. So what if she hadn’t met me or fallen in love with me then? She should have always known that she was the chosen one for me. I sometimes get angry thinking about her impatience, her rush to marry a well settled Mr Nice Guy. I can’t forgive her for not waiting for me. But then, I can never hate her for any of her sins. She was innocently ignorant of my presence whilst he stole her away from me. I hate him for dragging her into this temporary marital arrangement that I do not believe in. One day, am going to get her back to where she belongs... in my arms! And mind you all, protectors of the sacred institution of marriage, it’s not a duel. I am just too smart to let fate play the Russian roulette again. Failure in this matter is not an option anymore. It’s a war, and I will win.  Yes, I will do that, and no matter what price I need to pay, I will get my girl back.
I dial a number. The phone’s ringing. Mr Nice Guy picks up the phone and exchanges pleasantries with me. He’s a smart bastard; suave, diplomatic and shrewd to the core. He treats me like he would treat any of his wife’s close friends. I am extremely tempted to tell him that I am more intimate with his wife than he ever can be and see how he reacts! Would he continue to spill such polite social greetings on me if he found out that even his beautiful wife believed in her heart that she belonged to me? Wouldn’t he want to slit my throat? Anyway, why do I care? I want her. Period.
I don’t really want to talk to him but I have to, so I listen while he speaks. She is not at home; pampering herself on a shopping spree with some of her girlfriends, he informs me.  “You know the girlie stuff,” he laughs. I almost blurt out and tell him I even know the shade of the last lipstick she picked up half an hour back, but restrict myself. He invites me over for tennis and some chilled beer. I tell him it might be a good idea to follow up with a drive over the hill after a few games. He agrees and I hang up with the most sinister smile on my face. No, I don’t feel like Count Dracula. I am not a crook or a scheming politician. I don’t play games, am also not dishonest. I’m only fighting for my right. There’s a Lucifer in all of us, part angel, part devil. Today I am the devil’s advocate. It’s a war, you see, and a fair game is only an offshoot of peace.   
I drive up to her place in my sports attire, looking as good as I could with a synthetic smile on my mask. Mr Nice Guy greets me in a pair of white shorts and a tennis shirt. He swings his racquet in the air and I’ve half a mind to hit him hard with it to blow his skull, but I tell myself I have better plans. He calls me “mate” and I join in the pseudo camaraderie as if he were my best friend.
The score’s even and we are bored. I want some chilled beer and Mr Nice Guy tells his Man Friday to get some chilled cans. A light snack accompanies the drinks. I want to use the washroom and Mr Nice Guy shows me how to get there.
I splash water on my face, wondering what I am doing here playing and drinking with my biggest enemy. I hate him and I am not going to feel sorry for him. His sin is unforgivable. I walk back to the terrace where Mr Nice Guy has already laid out a fine arrangement of drinks and quick munchies for me. I pick up a can. He hands me over a stylish crystal mug frothing with chilled beer. We raise a toast and I think I see a wicked smile on his face. I am not sure. I don’t see his layers nor understand his astute expressions. And I try to imagine how difficult it must be for my simple and beautifully innocent girl to live with a man so different from her. My anger builds up gradually. I gulp in the beer as quickly as I can and ask him out for a drive to catch the evening sunset over the hill. He agrees and suggests picking up his new DSLR to capture the last rays of the sun setting into the sea. I know he wants to flaunt it to me, just as he shamelessly exhibits my girl by his side to the rest of the world.
I am enjoying the drive as we go uphill. I take him to the far end of a cliff, hinting that would be the best view for a perfect shot. The ride is bumpy, almost like a drive into nowhere but I am liking it. He tells me I am wild. I correct him and say, “Adventurous is a better word.” He laughs a hollow laughter and secures his feet on the ground facing the sunset. My mind deviates to the gorge below...the thousands of feet of nothingness, the perfect zero error site of my cold blooded plan. His eyes are on the lens and he’s oblivious to my huge frame behind him. I gather all my strength, and give him a push......   
It’s easier than I thought. I see him go down...down....down....hitting the rocks, over the trees, till his limp body flies into the deep. I turn around and head to my car. No, I don’t feel sorry for him. Why should I? I had nothing against him but he called for it. He married my girl. I start my car’s engine and my eyes start blurring....a strange numbness begins to overpower the sensations of my body. It is as if I am losing control...fading out into a sense of uncontrollable void, plunging into a fearful darkness I am unfamiliar with. I know something is terribly wrong, but what I don’t know as yet is that the poison in the beer has just begun to show its effects....           

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Reach Out To Me

By Anima Dey
Bangkok, Thailand
This is my story, story of Zinnia – “Blossoming Glory” as my friends in the hostel named me. It’s all about “Me Blossoming to My Glory”. How I learnt my lesson of transforming my potential to actual to fill the gaps in life. My Mamma passed away when I was just eight years, and Dadda almost physically inactive remained emotionally forlorn and lived an abandoned life in his self-created mesh. I grew up in my Granny’s arms. She was very active, emotionally twined with me and physically sound in health. Dadda was not a very dynamic man, so after he had that major accident he was unable to hold his mental and physical balance, and would just stay home and drink with friends many a times to get rid of his state of helplessness.
As he would often drink uncontrollably I had to relentlessly walk him into spiritual path to calm him. His unnatural demands of getting high on alcohol often got me worried and I wondered why he had to have so many breaths left. I had to exude my vaguely childlike womanly charm to emotionally manipulate Dadda’s mind and talk him out of his urge for consuming alcohol as his mind reliever. His garish friends circle, those endless summer nights smelling of alcohol - me in some corner under the bed or behind a cabinet watching Dadda’s furious outbursts and venting out his frustrations, the chill of winter down my spine, and splurging smell of maligned fear were becoming almost placid in life then. I tried so hard to change my emotions but realized it can only be changed to another emotion. Am I not the feeling itself? Oh! “How can I stop being a victim of feelings?
This not-so-old friend of Dadda was loathfully devilish – spineless man as he was. Whenever he sensed that Granny was away to her orphanage and I was alone at home he would take his chance and drop over posing to be a caring family man. As he sat with that glass of alcohol in his deathly hands I had to sit on his lap and then have those harsh fingers fondling ruthlessly and shamelessly all over me. Oh! How I loathed this and hated myself every moment for breathing in his trap. My innocence wailed and lamented and then shattered my soul that denied the torment this man old enough to be my Dadda’s age was putting me through.  At eight years, I felt ashamed of being born a girl but how could I voice my abuses in this abhorable man’s society. I didn’t need the consent of my future to know how happy or lonely I was then. Years were aging with a fear and shame condoned upon my childhood in my own house.
Dadda, who should have been my knight in shining armor, had turned out to be a lost knight with a bottle of alcohol. I did not know if what was happening to me was a normal torture every girl lives. For many years I lived with a notion that all older/younger men do this to small girls. The very sight of a man with a glass shadowed my world- a world I despised breathing, a world full of shame and man’s malicious intentions, where I hated every breath of a man’s presence in my life. Life dragged on for many years and my pot was brimming of fear and shame. How could I stop fighting the fact and start dealing with it? Didn’t know why I discarded myself again and again rather than be more of me. Granny often taught me a lesson: “Humanity is the seed of all godliness, and when the seed blooms godliness manifests”. When will I breathe that fragrance of divinity? When will this blooming humanity reach out to me?
At 13, Dadda finally left our world, not sure if he would have acquired credentials for being the shining star in the night skies, besides my Mamma. But it was only after Dadda passed away that I managed to gather my fears and finally one day, I busted out to Granny. She, of course, did not have a clue and with her faith shaken she was left heartbroken. We both did soothe each other and cried for hours over the ordeal I had been through. Her heart ripped apart as she had never felt as helpless in her life before as she felt that day and she held me in her arms rocking me like a baby. I was her only reason to live after she had lost her own daughter, then how could she have not been aware of what I was going through at that tender an age? She was torn and we decided we’d best bury the past and move on knowing that no one living on this earth could even dream of ever hurting me again. She taught me my second lesson then: “Misery needs great efforts, bliss and peace is natural, we can never create the bliss and peace, it’s just there, but misery is what we create.”  Forgetting past becomes bliss effortlessly, we must practice, for misery to live within we need great efforts.” Dadda drank alcohol to forget his miseries for that moment, to remain in oblivion but he knew he couldn’t have changed anything. Life was not just that moment after all.
After a year of Dadda’s death, I moved to the hostel to study further. I lived some golden moments of my life there, Making friends and learning all about life’s positives. Now it was the endless summer nights of working on class projects, sometimes in candle light to keep the warden away and eating cakes with pickles. Waking every morning with a hug from a friend and coming back to room to break in the arms of a caring sister like friend. I had worked hard and during my first year at the hostel and university I managed to be a pride for my teachers and the reason for that laughter on my dear friend’s faces. Again emotions were shifting from sad to happy, cries to laughs and fears to faith. But what changed my whole life was that moment when love reached out to me in the form of Anvy – my best friend Sassy’s cousin brother.  
Anvy, the man I had never seen before but at the first sight of him I felt a strange tingling in my heart. He was lean built not very tall, just average height, had straight thick black hair falling on his forehead, his eyes set deep inside lotus petals under his eye brows. His smile was so enchanting and teasingly naughty. I felt an ocean of tide inside me bursting to his sight, although I hated myself for having felt that way for a man. After all I had grown up hating men and how could I let myself loose now? Yet, I had lost control over all my feelings, I found them dashing and echoing at every corner, as I just sat in a daze. Heavens were ringing bells and I could hear them croon of love. Hints of devotion in my coy glances met his eyes now and then chancing. I tried so hard to stop the echoes of my pounding heartbeats, yet it was too late.
I’d fallen completely in love with that moment that chanced me upon him. For the first time nothing mattered to me, his smile so invigorating, his jokes so humorous, his presence so comforting, his words so gentle and his eyes so innocent. It didn’t matter if he was not mine, something inside was changing those doubts to unshaken faith. Anvy’s presence had taught me my third Lesson: “When Love is unconditional, and has not been coercive, rather welled up spontaneously inside then it holds tremendous power and beauty.” Such was the fire inside me that transformed all my metallic emotions into gold, and made him from an ordinary being into my extraordinary divine being.
Anvy unassumingly helped Sassy and me with our class projects. I felt transformed in his presence. Oh! I so desired the heavens to bless me with his presence in my life forever. I could go numb with the touch of his handshake, blush all pink and purple as he called me scary cat, admired his rhetorical support for all our college projects. How could I forget those silent nights sitting behind him, hesitating to hold him as his bike took the sharp turns on busy roads, and that look in his eyes as he waved a goodbye after dropping me safe at the hostel. His protectiveness shielded my fears; his understanding of woman’s rights bestowed me with dignity for being a naive girl in this man’s world. He would never demand anything in return; in fact, he made drab college work such an exhilarating challenge. Every time he was closer to me, I felt my heart beat racing, lids cozying lower, and lips smiling of puppy love. Anvy had never hinted me of love in any way though, in fact, most of the times he had ignored my presence conveniently.
Moments of working and laughing fleeted in a wink. My desires winged from the cage of distress/hatred and flew to skies of attachment/devotion to meet their awaited portal. I was unable to voice this bond and knew very well in my heart that Granny would never accept my new found reason for heartbreak because it was sure Anvy was already committed elsewhere. When I left the hostel, I took with me the biggest lesson of my life, and the most beautiful memory of having loved someone so selflessly. A year later when I was at work, I got the news that Anvy was getting married. Alas! My unvoiced devotion remained unspoken in my heart, and I had to be content with my remaining self. The love I had felt then was just mine, the devotion I had prayed was also just mine, yet the blessing was just not mine. Life has its ways, strange as they are yet powerful.
Years grew upon my devotion and memories faded with time. Passion for work took over the reins of selfless devotion and one day I chanced upon another man at work who came to me with a whole new meaning of love and passion. He promised me a love I didn’t quite believe in until then. All I had learnt was the art of selfless devotional love. I knew I adored Anvy and my pot of love was already full, I believed I would never have what I so craved and desired. I had learnt that love is not acquiring, rather it’s the sacrifice. Trusting men was something my childhood never blessed me with. That is also one of the reasons why I had never voiced my love for Anvy to anyone, not to him and not even to Sassy or Granny. But I often questioned my heart will Anvy ever hear my voice and reach out to me once?
Pabby, who voiced his love for me was masculine and strong and unlike Anvy, he gave my presence a lot of importance. He convinced me that if I believed in his love I would get it all my life, that there is no such thing as sacrifice in love, when you love someone then you work hard to make that love yours and keep it forever. He managed to get his message through across Granny and she agreed for our marriage. I knew that Pabby was a strong and handsome man, very intelligent and dynamic, a go-getter in life who never looked back and only knew to live in the present treading upwards, yet did I really need that for a living? He loved life and believed that he would always manage to keep us both happy. Granny often explained to me that I must allow fresh memories in my mind to grow new roots for a future I deserved. Granny wanted me to forget my dark past and move on with Pabby into a union that would nurture love, raise babies and live a blissful womanhood. I never disappointed Granny, and so we finally tied the sacred knot, of our passionately convenient love, thus began our journey of nurturing family values, looking towards each other on the path set out by our elders.
Although I had everything I desired in my life, there was something I despised and that was Pabby’s social drinking. He would drink with his friends at home or at parties/official meetings, and had successfully managed to convince me that he would never lose bounds and would never make me live my childhood fear. And although he had kept his side of the promise, every time I would see Pabby holding the glass of alcohol, my inner self that had suffered a marred and ashamed childhood, found my soul curl into a shell of the same fear of drinking men, hungry eyes full of cheat and that was unable to handle. Pabby was aware of my past and expected that I grow out of all draining emotions. Within no time he expected me to walk every step with him keeping faith alive that he will shelter me and protect me and never make me see what I did not deserve. I believed his words and fought every dark breath inside me. There was just that lesson I learnt then - “Eloquence is often very lyrically powerful, but unless it bathes in love, unless the words of love caress the heart and the ear, it remains only a beauty that inspires, but does not have the power to heal.” Every morning had dawned seeing those eyes of love, and every night had slept knowing it was for someone else.
I lived with the memory of how Anvy’s smile would lit the room with rainbow, his shadows spread rays of sunshine and my heart would beam in it basking of love’s sacrificial glory. Every time I felt insecure with Pabby’s drinking I’d remind myself of my fateful devotion for Anvy that gave my injured soul all the strength to love and trust a man again - Anvy had been my angel. When I traced my emotions with his devotion brimming my thoughts I’d gleam with pride. I prayed everyday for a moment in my life when I would be able to spend few hours of bliss in Anvy’s presence. I could never dream of cheating on my present love but all I desired was clock hours of life with Anvy to fuel my faith to live the rest of my life with hope and renewed vigor. As years passed, I became a mother of two most beautiful children. Pabby remained supportive, strong, dynamic and go-getter. Life was walking me on a tightrope: sometimes leaning left and realizing its time to change directions and lean right. Walking between my devotion and love was enriching and exhilarating. It was time to stop analyzing life, just live it. And just then :
One day the magical moment befell, I chanced upon Anvy in a departmental store where he was struggling to get his message across to the vendor. I stood numb, my hands cold, my cheeks warm, and a gush of chill down my spine, how could heavens bless me with this mystically magical sight, what had I done to deserve this soulful dream my heart nurtured. I couldn’t believe my fate and to test the clock second, I hesitantly went past him and helped him put the message across to the vendor. As I gathered my guts and shook my trembling wet hands, Anvy stood with the same intriguing smile on his lips and his eyes teasing me. I was sure in 14 years he must have forgotten all about my existence which was anyways so insignificant for him then. But he called me out by my name and thanked me. I stood numb as the closeness of his face sent those feelings flaunting, my name on his lips was a blessing from heaven.
I was flabbergasted and it was unbelievable yet true. I was choked to know he had remembered a lot of things I did not expect him to remember. I sensed that he was aware of my feelings for him all throughout and I felt so small. I felt ashamed for having called out to him in my thoughts, past so many years. I was so happy in my own world and so was he in his, I was so content with my feelings for him buried deep down and he was content with his life and his family, yet why did that moment feel so magically complete! I wasn’t sure if I was feeling right or wrong; a part of me wanted to keep feeling that same way and started looking for reasons to justify the continuation. A lesson again here: “I could either be my own self, or be consistent in my behavior, I cannot be both.”
By the end of those blissful clock hours, Anvy confessed that he had seen through me, how I blushed in his presence and he felt sorry that he didn’t think of me with the same love. He agreed that he never felt the need to ever reciprocate my love because he believed I was destined for another journey with another man. This was the moment my eyes held no sight, as I closed my lids the tear found its way down my warm cheeks and melted. Yet, there must have been some truth in my devotional love for him that heavens blessed me with that one moment in my life when I called out to him and although he was not made for me he could hear me calling. It was truly a blissful reality. I knew I could live the rest of my life in dignity believing that my devotion was pure of lust and passion of all worldly relationships and that is why he had reached out to me once. A glorious lesson of my lifetime I learnt that day - “Don’t fight a fact deal with it, don’t discard yourself be more of it!”
Reach out to me!!!!

As the hours go by
Memories linger on mind
A naive look in your eye
& those deeds so very kind

How do I express
Those dreams my eyes bound
Could I ever confess?
My feet don’t walk on ground

The skies shine aglow
Brighten my hopes to belong
As the groovy winds blow
They whisper to me your song

You dwell in my heart
Where your devotion makes root
Why do I dwell in your heart
Where my love uproots?

How can I reach out to you?
Want to hold on to your beside
Wish you felt the morning dew
As my love for you it hides

I know you are not near
& you don’t feel the same
Yet I want you to hear
When I call out your name!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

In Focus: Paa

By Abhishek Chatterjee

Somewhere in Mahesh Bhatt's 1987 release, ‘Kaash’, Dimple Kapadia lets out a heart-rending scream when her teenage son passes away. She is joined in a similar show of grief by her husband played by Jackie Shroff. It is a high melodrama moment, and Bhatt pulls it off well enough, but in the end it is loud, a tad over the top and almost rudely demanding of the audience’s sympathy. Refreshingly, for a similarly themed film, we are spared such moments 
in R.Balki’s ‘Paa’.
Nothing new about the story at all, but it’s the treatment that’s wonderfully disarming. Balki’s fascination with terminally ill children continues in this ‘dying-kid-reunites-the-parents’ plot and to mix things up, he uses a rare genetic condition (this is no ‘Taare Zameen Par’, so the disease is only incidental and we're spared lengthy sermonizing), Bachchan Sr. to play a small boy, sharply edited flashbacks and brilliant dialogue. And the final product is a warm, charming and heartwarming little film, almost a celluloid equivalent of the perfect cup of Darjeeling with an old friend on a rainy day.
Amitabh Bachchan’s Auro is indeed the star of the film. With a new face, a new voice and a twinkling sense of humor, Bachchan’s Auro is as sensitive as he is precocious and the film’s writers leave all the best lines for him. And they work almost every time. Its Auro’s world that’s so enchanting, so much so that the film could have been entirely about his life, his school friends and his aspirations and worked just as well. But then they all say we need a plot.
So we have the parents Abhishek Bachchan and Vidya Balan,then both students, who find themselves at crossroads in their relationship,when they realize that they have a kid on the way. However, papa wants to be a cool politician and suggests abortion. Mama predictably tells papa not to preach and exits stage left from his life, saying,‘I’m keeping my baby.’ Baby grows up to be Auro, and accidentally meets his father at a school function, thereby unwittingly paving the way for his long estranged parents to reunite. Weirdly enough, for a film advertised as a father son story, it’s actually the boy’s relationship with the ladies in his house, his mother and his grandmother that are more endearing to watch. Bachchan shares crackling chemistry with both Balan and Naag, as well as with the child actor who plays his best friend Vishnu.
But this isn't a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination.
Abhishek Bachchan’s political machinations are distracting after a point and screen time devoted to his battle with the media is wholly unnecessary. An uneven Paresh Rawal, as Auro’s grandfather doesn’t add anything to the proceedings apart from a couple of funny one-liners.
Maestro Ilaiyaraaja’s music, while soothing, could have been used to make more of an impact, the violin laden background score notwithstanding.
Cheerful, poignant, sensitive and intelligent, ‘Paa’ is great fun.

Silence: A Matter of Perspective

By Pritha Lal
Springville, Utah, USA

Silence can be deafening, it can overwhelm to the point of desolation, it can overpower one with a feeling of nothingness. Once in a while, however, comes an experience when you relish the power of silence because it fills you with more than the strains of a beautiful symphony ever could, the notes of which you carry in your soul long after the last crescendo has peaked and faded.
 I experienced or at least tried to experience a semblance of this during our recent visit to Monument Valley nestled in the rocky landscape that dots the Utah Arizona border. Miles and miles of barren mesas and colourful canyons stretch before you, as living edifices that bear witness to the ever changing faces of our living planet. Most of the land is a Navajo reservation and all you see are small settlements and a few trading posts where the starkness of this emptiness is accented with the bright hues of turquoise, lapiz lazuli, tiger’s eye, malachite, coral and such other riots of colour studded in handmade sterling silver jewelry. You could either buy these pieces of jewelry or see items like this beautifully pinned maybe to the bodice of a tiny little wrinkly Navajo woman who wears it with pride - the lines on her face as old as the rocks, witness to history of this region and of course, her people.
 The rest of the colour in this area during the winter comes from the blue skies riddled with white clouds, the greenish hues of the San Juan River as it meanders into the most artistic goosenecks, the golden dust that is kicked up by wild horses running through the wide open planes, the purple hues of twilight as the western sky gives way to a zillion stars piercing through the inky black of the horizon. There is really nothing to "see" here other than a few rock formations with names like the "mittens", "rooster and hen butte", "battleship butte", "the seven sailors" and of course the famous "lady in a tub". However, there is more to fathom in this place than many others that I have had the opportunity to visit.
 Driving along the famous Valley of the Gods Scenic byway as you make your way to Muley Point, the road meanders through rocky cliffs, to a point, where you feel you can touch the sky. The sunset from there amidst the dark thunder clouds is not something I will ever be able to describe in words, because there is only so much the eye can see and the mind comprehend. The place may not have the pristine beauty of Bryce or the verdigris of the Northwest. It may lack the aqua from the beaches in San Diego, or the quaintness of Alpine Europe, and yet it is the absence of all this is what makes this place so full of life, of hope, of the spirit that resonates in each of us.
 The memory of this trip was captured with our respective Canon Rebels, but the feel of the place is something we didn't even attempt to talk about. How can you even try to define the infinite?
 The picture on this blog comes closest to what I can possibly translate in coherent words. I found this little pile of stones (probably a little child's handiwork) and as I looked at one of the "mittens" behind it, the entire universe seemed to come together with a very simple meaning.
 We all have a place in it, however small, however insignificant, we have a role. Nothing would have been taken away from the landscape had those stones been missing, and yet because of those little stones, the monolith behind took on a whole new meaning and as I stood taking in this wonder, the sound of silence overwhelmed me once again and I knew it was time to leave. The soul is not always ready for all the beauty the world has to offer or understand the power of silence until it has found its own stillness.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Portrait

By Ankita Chatterjee

It was a dubious night. The pitch dark canvas of the sky held aloft a crescent moon and some countable glitterati of the galaxy. Monsoon clouds were yet to depart in preparation of Goddess Durga’s homecoming this year. The hills on the ridges of river Mahananda, that passed almost all the houses in the vicinity, drew a scary sheath. Nothing was objectionable. Nothing seemed to catch the human eye. Nothing meant to set standards, except the beads that shone on the unsteady upheaval of the Mahananda; a tinkle of life…a representation of brightness and intermittent hope.
Antara sat by her window. She looked pensive and hurt. She carefully tried to make out how frequent and bright those beads appeared on the surface of the water that were magically formed by the enigmatic sheen of the moon. There were thousands of them and each sparkled a shade brighter than the other. The moon, it seemed, had produced them to allow her to believe how dynamic life was and how seasons changed. She was defeated and trapped in her state of pessimism.
 The melodious rhapsody of an unacquainted flute casted a trance and tied a web of episodes to Antara’s memory. She had been hearing it for the past one week that she had taken refuge in this peaceful part of the world, which was Antara’s paternal uncle, Shubhomoy da’s home. Shubhomoy da had died of cancer the previous week. The flute from a distance played in compliment to Shubhomoy da’s home; a bachelor artist’s den. Antara stared blankly at the half-done clay pots and the pastel colours that were to soon adorn them. The pot carried a crack at its bottom and the battered grey on the colour plate spilled over to the floor. A tampered sketch sheet of a kind held two eyes; prominent and spiritual, humble yet brave, unfinished and waiting to be brought to life. Shubhomoy da’s last works these that were left orphaned and belittled in a material world that demanded reason and rationality. The eyes on the sketch pad resembled someone’s, Antara had thought.
She still heard the flute play, resounding in the wilderness. The arch of its notes pierced through her. It read like ecstasy. Tomorrow would be Mahalaya; a day of offering to one’s ancestors and the welcoming of Goddess Durga to her father’s home, the Earth. The eyes were as powerful as God’s herself. She stared into the eyeballs, that were blackened deeply at the centre, with a transluscent fade near its cornea, reflecting light. The eyes were as persevere and divine as the one who fought evil out. Antara waded into a part of her memories of childhood in Kolkata; ones that were evidence of her liberal upbringing, ones that had stamped the mark of a ‘tigress’ in her. She cried for the tigress had long lost her ferocity.
Antara pictured her mother, a devout, a pious and religious lady. She remembered her intoxicating eyes and tried to put together the set she saw on Shubhomoy da’s sketch sheet. Were they hers? Shubhomoy da had been close to his sister-in-law in many ways than one after she adopted him as her brother. Antara followed the thick brush of eye lashes that she saw on the sketch sheet. They were abundant and bushy. They were long as eternity and they could conceal the most wretched mistake. She remembered how her mother had protected her at the university when a fellow classmate, who she claimed was her biggest well wisher, tried to violate her dignity. Nobody came to know of it and Antara remained untarnished.
She wept in steady fits. She wanted to have her mother back, who was now no more and the days, she was fighting to get back.
The flute rang in perfect harmony to what was supposedly Antara’s last night of freedom. She was in shackles…ones that were trenching deep under her skin. The blood that ran in her was cold and discoloured. She hummed a forgotten Tagore song and latched onto the window bars. She wanted to know the maker of those far-off melodies and seek peace. She sailed with the Mahananda and hoped to become a sparkle in its sprinkle.
Antara shrugged a strange thought. Could those eyes be hers? Doe-eyed dame with a mission of a lifetime…that is how college mates had known her some ages back. She studied the stretch of its contours and noticed deep rings under the eyes. She felt purity in the whiteness of its sclera. The brows were tall and impressionable. A sumptuous amount of kohl marked its dimensions, as did it of the eyes. She felt a difference and instead strayed back into another resemblance.
The flute, as a companion of bliss suddenly became faint and obsolete. Antara pressed to its direction and fought to hold its tune together whilst images of her meeting with Benazir Bhutto, one of Pakistan’s political bearers, stormed her insides. She wouldn’t want to recall this part of her life and how sacredly she had tried to keep it at bay this night at least. Her memories were wild and frightening. Antara didn’t want to face those eyes on the sketch sheet anymore. She wished she could erase them as much as she desired those days in Larkana near Mohenjodaro, Pakistan, had never existed.  In a lowly built shack with bricks that edged out and a ceiling made of broken tiles she had spent some five years of her misery. Something or the other recalled for her the trauma every night. Today they were the eyes…she felt now were very similar to Lady Bhutto’s.
Antara was an undergraduate when Shafique, a Bangladeshi muslim, met her in the course of an interim project for her semester. Shafique was working as an intern with the art associates. Antara was just out of a relationship then and in her agitation would not know the duplicacy Shafique would bring to her life thereafter. In his posh New Alipore apartment, that evening after training, Antara pledged herself to him. She had looked around and had admired the exclusive mahogany chair in his study and the expensive bamboo ashtray. She knew what she wanted in life…an education to boost her skills, a freedom to soar and comfort of lifestyle. She found all in Shafique. It was a similar day in October six years back when she had duped her mother to settle for her beaux.
The flute was even fainter now, as if in resignation to Antara’s self chosen fate. The tones were much too distant and Antara turned the ring on her forefinger, her mother’s last gift to her. Those eyes on the sketch sheet stared at her in sheer disobedience and demanded explanation. Antara calculated her shaky steps that walked towards the sketch sheet. Her mind was into a whirlwind. She wanted to take the sketch to some conclusion. It had been years since she had actually put pencil to paper. The dim glow of the room reminded her of the house that had stripped her of all her grace and well being. The flute still sprayed among the hills a euphoric sheen and much to compliment the contrast in Antara, turned to farther, happier destinations. Antara didn’t try to hold the tunes anymore. She heard them move away from her and hit her only with a sudden gust of wind.
Shubhomoy da’s pencils and charcoal lids were littered in his case on the bottom most shelf of his book case. Antara picked a few of them and began her work. She drew an upward arc above the eyes on the sketch sheet and densed the side lashes of the upper lid of the eyes. The shade in the dip near the nose became prominent. She could feel some of its blackness in the corner of her own eyes also, reasons of which lay in Pakistan.
Opposite to the grand crematorium of the Bhuttos in Larkana, Antara had stayed with Shafique for five long years. As a revolt to hysterical relatives and explosive religious subjugation in Chittaranjan, Bangladesh, Shafique’s home, they had eloped to his ‘supposed’ maternal uncle’s place in Mohenjodaro. After some weeks of manufactured prosperity, the proclivity seemed to disappear. Antara would find pills that were stacked in Shafique’s drawers. She wouldn’t know what they were and hence was keen to know what took place behind her. Some Latif would visit Shafique twice a week and they exchanged some illustrious notes. Shafique’s ‘supposed’ maternal uncle didn’t seem to exist. There were neighbours but none would interact with intimacy and hence life would transform into a gory, isolated dungeon for Antara.
Antara aimed at the sketch’s forehead with a ferocity and focus she didn’t know to have had. She stroked a huge tuft of hair upwards in a continuous and deft manner leaving behind a virtually broad forehead. Her mind did stop thinking though, chapters of her life so painful and malignant that would, perhaps, require death to beat. A couple of months before her assasination in November 2007, Antara remembered to have met Lady Bhutto in Larkana. She had returned from London and was on way to reviving PPP’s stature in Pakistan, when she had visited their ancestral crematorium for blessings. Antara could not forget for days thereafter the aura and grit the lady reflected. She had seen a part of herself in Lady Bhutto’s quest of purpose. If her ways were correct, and if the final achievement worth it, were not Antara’s concerns. She still remembered her words when she had waved to a group of deprived women and hinted that their strength laid in their weaknesses. “How often great women speak alike!” Antara had thought reminiscing her mother.
A picture dredged up a tumbler of guilt and remorse in Antara when she remembered the phone calls she had made to her mother on Elgin road, Kolkata, weeks after weeks from her world of mischief. Her mother was as calm and elegant as a swan and had just advised her to be safe wherever she lived. Another week…and she was no more. The shame and pain of what was, perhaps, the dreadest part of her life, had cut deep into her conscience and though she had forgiven Antara, the quietness killed her.
Antara drew a sharp nose on the sketch sheet, taut on the outer cover of the nostrils. There was seemingly less space between the lips and the nose. The lips were painted red and the skin appeared flawless in the pencil marked image. Antara’s eyes were fixated on her work and she didn’t seem to garner any lament. The flute could no more be heard and the night was at its most silent hour. For days, as today, Antara had been wondering if the flute player could actually read her mind, for whenever she traversed melancholy the past few days, the flute would stop showering its ecstasy. She thought if that was metaphorical of God’s punishment to her.
Antara’s pencil drew a straight line on the sheet as did her memory on her mind. Shafique’s pills were drugs and he, a mafia. She took a while to find out the truth about Shafique. He was a drug addict and a lunatic too, who had forced Antara into three abortions. Latif was a jehadi and the house was a private trap. She would wake up to noises of crime and hidden agenda. She heard nothing of that New Alipore flat of his ever thereafter. Was that a mirage? She had questioned herself umpteen times to no avail till that day when she managed to escape playing the guise of a spy.
Antara was into the last few curves of her sketch. The jaw line fell from a height in a calculative stroke of her pencil. The face was long and the hair bushy. The picture wore a head cover that stood like a hood and those protagonist eyes were a mark of elegance and austerity. Antara had drawn Benazir Bhutto. She could see dawn breaking outside into another day. The flute and the beads were gone. She could hear birds chirping outside and the hills were partially visible now.
The morning opened to the chants of Mahalaya as broadcasted on the local radio channels. Antara heard after six long years those chants that were so dear to her mother and that she remembered an incredible portion of still. Shubhomoy da’s final portrait was complete and possibly held a different meaning from what he would have wanted it to be. Antara, stared in awe of the sketch she performed and its manifestations. Tears ran down and slipped from her chin as her struggle was over now.
Lady Bhutto was symbolic of the years she had spent in exile and anonymity. The face was a declaration that those years, indeed, happened to be an integral part of her life…somehow that wouldn’t leave her on her own…years that underlined her presence and defined her identity. She was an escapist. She was not the ‘tigress’. Her mother, as God herself, stood to fight evil. They were the epitome of patience and tolerance. Antara felt petty. She could see the banks of Bangladesh on the other side of the Mahananda. She hated to recall the man and her experiences that had reduced her to such a negligible frame. Mahalaya welcomed the Goddess of power. Three weeks later would be the sixth death anniversary of her mother. Lady Bhutto was among one of the graves in Larkana, being a victim to political hullabaloo. And here Antara sat, the once aspiring artist, with her masterpiece; the one that surmised her existence. Today, she would begin another chapter of her life. She would soon be fetched by relatives who would admit her to an asylum in Kolkata.