Sunday, September 28, 2008 15 reflections

The Note!

IT WAS QUITE UNSETTLING when Nandini found the note stuck on the large and overwhelmingly brightly lit mirror of the spotless bathroom. The first thing she thought of when she saw Jayant’s sticky note, weirdly enough, was not about the context of the words on that sad little piece of paper, but the location that had been chosen. Being a bride fresh from the honeymoon suite not fifteen days ago, Nandini found it a tad unromantic that her geeky ‘Americanized’ husband – who hated being called ‘hubby’ - would leave a message for her on a partially foggy mirror.

Nevertheless – there it was. Scribbled on a yellow dog eared piece of paper were the three words Nandini had never expected to read the first thing on any day…

‘we gotta talk!’

Being what seemed like a million miles away from her cozy little bedroom in one of Bangalore’s thousands of sleepy neighborhoods with sleepier streets intersecting amid them, Nandini was still coming to terms with the ways of ‘You Yes of Yeah’. She knew Jayant well enough by now to realize it was definitely something important since nothing else could explain the presence of the much adored exclamation mark in it. Many a time she had noticed him making quick notes while speaking on the phone and almost every time, an important string of words would end with the same distinct symbol that brought her grandfather’s tilaka* to mind.

But then there was something scarier about this three word puzzle. Once the waves of sleep had started vanishing from her eyes, she started seeing lines of worry appear on her forehead. A flood of random thoughts popped up as she frowned and started making instant connections.

‘What does he mean ‘talk’? We always talk! Don’t we? I mean, how much more can a couple only 15 days old really talk? And what does he mean ‘we’? Why can’t he say something more meaningful like ‘I need to talk to you’ or something with the word ‘honey’ in it. I thought these Americanized fellows loved calling their wives that. Humph. What big stories I had heard about these people being oh so romantic and what not. And here it is – some stupid note with a message that doesn’t even make sense. And why doesn’t he use those smiley things? I thought these people were addicted to adding emotion to everything they write. At least that way I can know if it was a good thing or not!’

In her head, she had put her grandfather’s tilaka next to each of those statements. Despite her obvious attempt at over simplifying the case as just being the first of thousands of notes she might find in her marriage, she couldn’t help feel a little scared.

Just a little.

And so, to avoid spending the day with speculations longer than her mother’s list of complaints about the price of vegetables, she decided to give him a call.

She spent an hour trying to get hold of him but all she got was his answering machine that seemed to know about the note. There was something in that recorded voice … ‘…you’ve reached Jayant….you know what to do…’ that only amplified the distress in her already worried mind.

‘Do I?’ she pondered as she showered and made piping hot cucumber dosa for breakfast. ‘Do I really know what to do? What if I don’t?’ she continued as the sun rose to the zenith and started his usual descend. She kept toying with the note everywhere she went creating sporadic cobwebs of assumptions and educated guesses. ‘What if I am not the kind of girl he wanted? What if he is unhappy with me? Lord! How bad should I be if he is leaving meaningless and threatening notes in just two weeks? What if he has a wife already! And he wants to talk me into getting her to live with us! Impossible! Where on Earth do men find the courage to do things like this? I will pack my bags and leave if it comes to that. God forbid if he has kids with her…oh…I just want him to be happy…’ Her eyes welled up a little at this thought since her simple upbringing had not involved putting static messages on lifeless mirrors. It had always been about words – seen, spoken, heard. But apparently that was a life she was now no longer part of. This was an alien land with a communication culture that she was having difficulties recognizing, let alone adapting.

Jayant was a simple guy. There was nothing pretentious or self-obsessive about him. Despite having completed his Masters in the states, he still ate only strict South Indian vegetarian food at home and was still crazy about K.L.Saigal’s classics. His Sundays were always filled with ‘diya jalao’ and ‘jab dil hi toot gaya’ that had now started becoming a part of Nandini’s life as well. As much as she didn’t think much of Mr. Saigal or his nasal journey of music, she was beginning to feel glad that Jayant understood the subtleties of the unspoken word. He knew what ‘dil ka tootna’ meant else how could one appreciate that song anyway? Ah…the ideal platform for a solid marriage, she had concluded.

But this note had somehow created a faint yet quite prominent dent on that platform. Being new and inexperienced in the matters of the scribbled word, she was feeling a little shortchanged at this new culture Jayant was trying to introduce. And what a debut! Three simple seeming words but with consequences no mortal mind can accurately fathom.

And so, without a choice or a sign of getting hold of a busy husband, she spent the day pouting. It was probably a little after 6PM, when her pouting stopped and something bigger replaced it – fear.

‘Did you get my note?’ asked Jayant as he removed his tie and started unbuttoning his shirt.

‘Hmm…’ murmured Nandini as she folded his trousers, unsure of what to expect next.

‘Alright,’ said Jayant in a decisive tone and approached a visibly anxious Nandini.

‘I want you to sit down. OK?’ and then she did.

‘Now…I know it can be a touchy issue. And…God knows I have tried to ignore it for a while now…’

His words were starting to pierce her soft exterior. There was something about to surface that Nandini would probably scream at – but from within.

‘…and I want you to know how much this will mean to me…to us…are you with me?’

Nandini nodded.

‘It’s just that…’ and he got up to face the window ‘…I work really hard all day. And I am so exhausted at the end of it. I think its reasonable to ask for some comfort after that, right?’

Nandini nodded again, unsure.

‘…And I know…you must be embarrassed about it but listen, you don’t have to be. It’s a pretty standard thing these days. You’ll be fine in a matter of weeks and ….Jeez…God knows I’ve had to work my words to talk to you about it. And so…’

Saying this he pulled out a brochure from his briefcase and handed it to his pale looking wife.

‘…George knows this really great place and he says it’s a sure thing. We just need to make sure you are OK with this though. It will take a few weeks, he says, but its gonna work. So…what do you think?’

And there it was – written in bright red colors against a white and vanilla background attached to the fading image of a sleeping woman - ‘WILLINGTON’S SLEEP CLINIC – your one stop spot to drive away snoring problems’.

© Copyright 2008. All right reserved.

* Religious mark on the forehead primarily worn by Hindus / Brahmins
Thursday, September 11, 2008 4 reflections

Between 11

WHEN SOMEONE IS EXHAUSTED beyond hope, bizarre things attract that person’s attention. Sights and associated metaphors that otherwise would have had no meaning, suddenly start to seem relevant. They start to get a context. Such an instance happened to me on the way back from work today.

So my day began at 6AM and after five meetings (one of which lasted 2 ½ hours and was on the phone with a developer in the United States), my watch still showed 6. As I later realized it was 6PM. I felt like flinging it under the Metro rail for being so true all the time. But I could not blame the innocent watch for my dying spirit. I could not even accuse it for causing the mind numbing sprain around my right shoulder blade. Somehow, in the desperate attempt to get home and find sanity, I dragged myself into the very busy and ridiculously overcrowded underground interiors of the Metro.

Being a weekday, this place gets bombarded with human entities between 4PM and 7PM. A time when everyone is either getting back to their nest or traveling to the airport (the last stop of that line) with their baggage on squeaky wheels. As I patiently waited for the neon sign to say ‘½ minute arrival time’ I couldn’t help noticing a crescendo of growing human breathes behind me. I was certain that they would push me into the train the moment the automatic doors hissed open so I stood guard to ensure I didn’t get hurt. Or more importantly, didn’t hurt anyone else in the process.

It finally arrived and the doors slid open welcoming a tiny streak of impatient heads attached to uncertain bodies. As we headed in I realized finding a seat was a lost cause since getting a spot to stand was becoming a challenge. I had never seen this train so crowded. What was the matter? I wondered.

As the driverless metro service chugged past grim cement corridors in the tunnel, I looked around me to find dull, bored, emotionless faces hanging low and trying to avoid eye contact. With every pull and shove of the machine, people would quickly readjust themselves to avoid any sort of body contact with the person standing just millimeters away from them. And just like that, somewhere between Christianshavn and Amagerbro … I noticed it.

I was standing holding one of the two yellow bars attached to the automated door and above me was a set of about four other hands clasping the same metal bar. As I tilted my head I noticed a collection of four more unique human hands holding on to the yellow bar at the other end of the door as if their life depended on it. What struck me as weird was not the fact that people were somehow waiting impatiently for their stop to get out of this human pool, but the fact that the collection of hands seemed like a Benetton Ad. Every possible shade was there from around the world – mine, Indian – Caucasian, Latino-looking, Oriental, African, Middle Eastern! So many different races – one bar to hold. I smiled at myself at how a simple thing like public transport had, for a brief moment, brought so many different civilizations into such intimate proximity. We all had to hold on to the bars to avoid losing balance and that was what made it unique. Our unity between those bars was what was keeping us safe, it seemed. I smiled at being so silly and blamed my exhaustion from the day for such weird thoughts.

It was when I got off at my stop did it finally dawn on me – nine different hands on two bars. Two bars standing apart, like the number eleven – 11. I shook my head in disbelief at that odd arrangement. Nine and eleven.



Tuesday, September 09, 2008 2 reflections

A Wednesday in a lifetime

IT IS TRUE WHAT THEY SAY about greatness. It is always meant to be. No amount of planning or foresight or pundits with beards longer than their hands can ever truly make someone something one is not. If one is destined to be great – one is. Most times one wonders how much more one has to shout and scream so that people can take notice while other times…well, other times silences creep in so beautifully that we hardly recognize them and something breathe taking has already been created.

Before, dear reader, the assumption is made that I am off on a track quite abstract to the common man – ah, that word suddenly sounds so powerful – let me underline the topic I have chosen. I was browsing through my usual collection of review websites when I happened to get a glimpse of one interesting review. It was for a movie I had never heard of. Neither had I ever seen any publicity posters of it nor had I guessed it would feature two of my all time favorites – Naseeruddin Shah and Anupam Kher. The fact that no one else, except maybe the highly underestimated Jimmy Shergill, was even remotely recognizable on the credit list apart from these three did not deter me from giving it a shot. Bollywood these days is being showered with ‘alternate’ cinema that runs a delicate line between commercial masala-fundas and the documentary type approaches. In such a rain it is easy to miss some true refreshingly different rain drops. Having shied away from such features for a while, I decided to give this a look-see since I knew Naseer and Anupam would definitely make it worth my time. With that random assumption, I began watching ‘A Wednesday’.

Two hours later…I was going through a very rare feeling. I did not understand it initially since it had been such a long time but then, I knew. It was the same bunch of emotions I had felt when I had seen the climax of ‘The Sixth Sense’. It was the same ‘Oh wow!’ feeling that had pierced my veins as the final few minutes of ‘The Usual Suspects’ drowned in my eyes. It was the very unique gut sense of genuine enthusiasm I had felt when I finally understood ‘Momento’ in its last frame.

But, this time it was different. I had never felt such a tingle in my heart for a Hindi movie in many years. Sure, I have had my share of laughs and appreciation for some decent Indian cinema over the years, but there was never anything in them that made me say to myself ‘…he is so right…this could happen to me too…today…tomorrow…any day…’ since there was never any context. What ‘A Wednesday’ successfully did was pick me up from my starry eyed slumber and slap a ‘REALITY CHECK’ sticker on my face. It reminded me of the times we are part of. It made me wonder about my own life and how unsure things are in the world we live in. It, if not anything else, made me think.

I am sure people often sigh and yawn about movies that make them ‘think’ since it is exactly the opposite reason of why one would watch a movie. No one wants to see relevant issues these days. There is a huge fan following for the larger than life, escapist features which come and go every week. We Indians, the world’s best consumers, lap it up in all our glee not caring about if it had anything to do with our life. Why? Since it does not matter. It never does, does it?

But then how long can we keep doing this? Once in a while we do need that refreshing slap on the face that makes us realize who we really are. And what a wonderful slap this was! No better way to bring me back to reality than a movie like this one. I was applauding myself for having taken a chance and seen one of the most relevant movies of our times. A silent yet beautiful effort at capturing human emotion on the screen. To summarize in one word – great.

Do yourself a favor – watch ‘A Wednesday’. A must see for every Indian according to me. If not anything else it will definitely catch you by surprise! I strongly recommend this movie to everyone who has ever sat back and said ‘I wish things were different…’


For those interested, here is the trailer of this movie –