Saturday, January 8, 2011


Last week, as the year ended, we finally sold off our Zen. 10 years of memoirs went in a stroke of marketing genius as the automobile was sold for 80% of its purchase price after a decade (I must hasten to add that the aforementioned marketing masterstroke was my dad's and not mine).

The formalities completed, we handed over the keys, and walked off. However, like the Taj, you really must glance back for one last look at your precious.


It was dusk, and a single ray pierced through the arched dome of the adjacent Gurudwara. The light perhaps obscured my sight, but I thought I saw a li'l kid at the side of the wheels, excitedly prattling to his father who steered the vehicle through the gates of the temple after the ritualistic offerings.

A shock of hair, he surveyed the knobs on the dashboard with wondrous delight, the colours amazing his senses in a way, his future years wouldn't hold his sway...


The li'l kid seemed to have grown up a li'l bit. He was nervous. He had a match at college.Would he be able to play that one innings of glory. Or would a stupid short pitched delivery elicit a ridiculous and oft repeated pull shot to end at deep square leg. The bowler charged in after being cover driven for a boundary. The delivery was short...


A billion screams emerged from those six friends, as they crammed in the boxy interiors of the car on 31st. night. Sweat, bad jokes about the driver and anticipation of new beginnings drove the car forward. We didn't know where we were going. We didn't care. Times, when the journey mattered, not the destination...


She looked gorgeous. Everything in the car stared at her. Everything but my eyes. First date. First drive. Who'd have known that beauty was effervescent...


The kid was now an adolescent. More. The Zen now was a friend, a peer, a guide. It listened with the patience of a counselor as the growing up sauntered with his heart's tale. The ones, no one would know. From campus interviews (the heartbreak and rejoices) to the future unknown (fears, apprehension, hope, courage), people, life. The Zen listened.


A new threshold in life opens. One adventure has ended. Another is about to start. This one for life...


The sun-ray had disappeared! So did the Zen!

Somewhere along, I saw a familiar li'l boy peer through the windows as my decade long friend made way into another life.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

India Shining

As narrated by a friend:

Sometimes, its all about grassroots. Amidst the bonhomie of frivolity, sometimes, a sojourn to the basics can be refreshing alike a spring gushing before a parched throat.

Deepika was your everyday copywriter, with an admirable command over the language and the vanity to match. Hailing from a flourishing, and traditional Rajput family, she was your archetype Indian youth, caught between two worlds - One of a plagiarized lifestyle of the West, and the other, of her own, most of which she couldn't make sense of.

All of that mattered little to her as she revved her hatchback to overdrive on a solitary Jaipur street, emptied as much due to the heat, as owing to the weekend that consigned everyone to their abodes. Content writing could be demanding, with the best of the efforts falling flat on the quirkies of the client. Deepika, a psychology major, remained unfazed by the demands of her job. She was one of those rare few, who enjoyed her assignments, for her creations allowed her the luxury of the illusion that her writings were, in a small way, a contribution to a nation that was, in itself caught in two worlds of its own.Today, was however different. A grimacing Deepika was still contemplating the points of refutal to counter Soumya, her friend's argument over the concept of India Shining. It wasn't going to be easy, as the latter had quoted facts and figures that painted a damning picture of the nation, much of which was actually true. Patriotic fervor can only stand so much against reasoned debating.

Drat, she thought, as the lights turned red, just as she approached the C scheme intersection. Glancing around, she could almost catch a glimpse of Vasundhara Raje's ministerial abode. Neither she, nor the world would know that the political scion would have to give up her official residence shortly, and kick up an avoidable storm over a simple kiss a few days down the line.

A knock on the window shook her from her reverie. Craning her neck, she observed, with studied indifference, the street urchin, peering curiously into the dashboard of her car while making a fervent plea for the alms she had no intention of doling out. Instead, her interests were more piqued by the Porsche that had just pulled up besides. Sleek, elegant, jet black, it housed an apt set of hands and legs munching gum behind the wheel. The dark glasses turned towards her, and a casual smile exchanged lips over the shock of hair of the urchin.

By this time, the urchin had realized that Deepika wasn't going to resemble the sweet old lady who had given him an ice-cream alongside a 10 rupee note a few hours back, and decided to try his luck with the Porsche driver.

Deepika was still marveling at the automobile, as the urchin made his way to its window, when the young lad behind wheels lent out and spat out the gum on the street. Seconds later, a disgusted Deepika encountered an even greater shock, as she distinctly heard the urchin remonstrate the guy in the Porsche,

"Sharam nahin aati...(have you got no shame?)"

The lights had turned green by now, and as she sped away, Deepika smiled for the first time since morning.

She had to tell this to Soumya, India was still shining...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Little Bird

...the little bird disappear over the horizon.


I jumped into the waiting super deluxe express from Tatanagar, the silent behemoth beckoning my journey that I'd prepared for all this while. As I made my way through the mass of appendages, my mind lay in the wonders of my destination - Calcutta.

It didn't seem then, that this journey would ever be plausible. Raised in Jamshedpur, I was expected to follow my father's heels in the steel making chambers of the Tatas'. Truth be told, they had changed our fortunes, alike a majority of the 1.8 million residents who eked out their living from the many enterprises that Tatanagar played host to. Fate, however had other plans. A chance encounter in a theatre with a friend forced me to take on a dancing role and my mentor was in the audience, taking a holiday from the hustle bustle of Job Charnock's city. He was scheduled to leave the next day, but before he left, he left his number and a note to call him. 2 years of mind numbing efforts later, I was finally headed to Calcutta to participate in the World Latin Ballroom dance contest. I smiled at the irony. An ordinary forger's son, grooving to beats he plausibly would have never heard of, but for the insistence of a perceived stubborn friend.

I stared down at my legs, hardened and tempered from the countless hours of practice, the muscles flexed at tendons, a work of art. The very legs, that would carry me across the dance stage to the victory podium, along with Shruthi, my dance partner, I reminisced as most juveniles do.

A shrill whistle from the train's engine cut across my reverie. It was gliding past the picturesque landscape of Jharkhand border. Soon, very soon, I'd be in West Bengal, I thought, and even sooner, with some of the best dancers one could ever hope to see. The countryside glided by, in a blur of green and turuqoise. The rustic portrait of the state spread itself to the extent my sight could behold, and the golden rays of the great orb lent a halo to that pristine sight. A dusty lane snaked itself across the meadows, carrying with it, a cyclist headed for his destination, with a bag of knick-knacks slung across his shoulders. A mother hurriedly gestured to her kids, splashing about in the nearby puddle, the little shrubs swaying to the wind with a grace I couldn't hope to emulate in my moves. Amidst all this, banners of "Long live Mao Tse Tung" and "Marxism is the cure" adorned either side of the verdant panorama.

And then I saw the little bird. Black plumage, with little white stripes across its wings, the golden beaked creature glided across the empty sky. It was the first time, I'd seen a bird of so diminutive a size, glide across. It didn't have the majesty of the eagle, but it soared with a sense of promise that made my insides come alive with ecstasy. The sight of that little bird across the sky, spread out and free, seemed to hark a vista of hope, of luck, of joy, of freedom, of victory.

And that's when it struck!

The thousand screams that chorused with the crunching of metal, couldn't have known moments before, that the fish plates were loosened, the rail lines removed and that weeks after the accident, the Maoists would go into a denial mode after being accused of derailing the express. It all seemed pointless now.

As I managed to raise my battered head amidst the mangled wreckage of the derailed express, and over the thousand promises of pain, my body made to me, the last sight I glimpsed before passing out was that of both my legs were blown off below the knees and between them, I saw the little bird disappear over the horizon.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Good German

Dr. Klaus Thannheauser, at six feet three inches and commensurate broad frame embodied the typical German, but for the smile that seemed out of sync with the neighborhood and one that endeared him to me instantly.

I met him on a business trip, wherein he graciously offered to host me for a weekend, and drove me through the idyllic surroundings of Dortmund, Duisburg and Hannover. Somewhere along the drive, I realized, that I'd become as immersed in the fascinating tales of this towering German, born one year after the World saw the second of its biggest wars, as he took me through his formative years and the potpourri of his experiences.

Like any other of his kind, Dr. Klaus grew up in a state of deprivation that Germany was subjected to, in the post war aftermath, as his father attempted to put together the business, that had been dismantled by the machinations of evolving global politics. Herr Thannheauser Sr. was a strict guardian and insisted that all four of his children ought to undergo vocational training that would hold them in good stead in the new World.

Young Klaus had other ideas, and talked his father into letting him go to the United States to work the way he wanted to. I wondered what must have been the deliberation swirling in the mind of his father when young Klaus propositioned thus. A young German, wanting to go, in less than a decade since the end of the Second World War, to a nation that had contributed significantly in the destruction of his own Fatherland.

He relented, as must all Fathers do, and handed young Klaus a cheque of $500 for the next whole year that he was to spend in the U.S as emergency money, and waved goodbye to the steel blue eyes of his ward with the parting words of wisdom ,

"Remember Klaus, hunger is not an emergency!"

As I looked into the eyes of the old man peering across the steering wheel into the sun-kissed gravel, I saw the same steeliness that was forged by the wisdom of his father five decades back. It was so obvious, that he almost didn't need to tell me, "Soumya, it was such a moment of pride for me, when I brought back that cheque and told my old man, that I had made it on my own" (his father coolly said "Oh, well done!" and tore off the cheque in two and went back to his pipe"). "I believe, I'm a better man for those hardships that I endured".

My last question to Dr. Thannheauser was how did it feel like, being in a nation, that had brought his to its knees, and was, in some way, responsible for the hardships that he had to endure during his upbringing. His response smacked of an optimism, that was like a zephyr in an ambiance parched of any freshness.

He said, during the War, his father's best friend, a Jew, fled the country. Five years, after the War was over, his father could track his friend down to London, where he discovered, that his friend had lost his wife and all his relatives to Hitler's depravity. They met up, and vowed, never to let the hatred of the War percolate to the next generation. "Soumya," said the would-be-Septuagenarian, "the greatest battles between the good and evil are usually fought within and we need to ensure that the former prevails".

Fittingly, Dr. Klaus married an American, and went on to expand his father's business in a manner that didn't require him to tell his son,

"Remember Christopher, Hunger is not an Emergency..."!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

LSD - A noxious high

Voyeurism is ubiquitous. Its ubiquitously reviled in public and applauded in the solitary confinements of our mind. With LSD, DB (Dibakar Bannerjee) turns the former on its head. For once, a theatre full of moviegoers succulently smacked their lips and cheered full throated at seeing some of their own thoughts, if not their lives being played out on the giant screen before them. DB doles out his ode to the Devil without garnishing it with the moral turpitude, for he knows we sold out our souls long back, to even care. This nation needs prime time entertaintment, not a bohemian discourse in morality;

The film has been hailed as a masterpiece by some sections of the critiques and more. I'm hardly surprised. After all, we are the same nation that eulogized the makers of Kaminey as India's Tarentino. Whether this is a reflection of an all pervading sense of mediocrity, or the brazen imprints of a colonial hangover is a subject that merits a separate post. Personally, I found LSD to be a good experiment, brilliantly enacted, and suitably dumbed down for the popcorn audience to enable them a mirage of being participants in an alleged intellectual pursuit of the abstracts sorts.

So, what works? For starters, Bollywood has rarely experimented with digital cuts from handheld camcorders (so what, if there are about a million masterpieces at FTII and other such places. They will never see the light of the day because the normal paying public want to see a few jokers masquerade as actors who are in turn directed by effeminate directors doling out coffee and filling their coffers).

What can be commended beyond reasonable doubt is the pedigree of the performances. The actors (and actresses) fleshed out the characters under the aegis of a director who knew exactly what he wanted. And so, we saw pitiful angst,heartfelt innocence, disturbing rage, forced betrayal, shaken morality, vexed insecurity, touching abstinence, naked lust all rolled into one potpourri called LSD. Boy, sure suffices to give a high...

Which brings me to the one question I walked out of the film with. What was the whole purpose? Was it to entertain? Was it to shock? Was it to comment on the nature of our society and the devious turns our own lives are snaking towards? Did we not know of the casting couch saga, or the Miss Name-whatever-City scandal, the brutal cocktail of money and carnal delights, the horrific repercussions of adolescent rebellion in marital affairs and so on and so forth. Isn't society's very existence today, a putrid testimony to the deviants portrayed on screen? Where was the scope for debate?

About 3 decades back, a certain genius named Satyajit Ray directed a masterpiece called Agantuk. Ray's story questioned the society of that era. It however, did so, with a debate that compelled the viewer to deliberate upon the the nuances of civilization. LSD is a freeway headed towards a straitjacketed destination of the director's view of our society. Dark, Darker, Darkest; No light at the end of the tunnel. Not even Sidhu's light of the approaching train.

Now, even for a cynical Bengali, that's transgressing the ethos of objectivity. No commentary is complete unless it leaves room for debate, for deliberation and for acceptance. With LSD, I missed an opportunity to exercise my now almost extinct grey cells. It seemed almost vapid.

Was it a good experiment? Undoubtedly! Was it good cinema? Maybe! Is it a masterpiece? You gotta be on LSD to even suggest that...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Grass is Greener...

The searing pain in my legs screamed at me to stop the rigour I was putting them through, as I trudged along the roads flanked by the evening sun en route my jogging trail. I ignored their pleas and drove myself harder, notwithstanding the thousand promises of agony my body made me. At the end of it, as I lumbered off, I saw him...

I was never a chiseled hunk, but when I couldn't survive for ten overs on the cricket due to sheer lack of stamina and finally failed to cover a yorker on off stump owing to the fact that my expanding girth constrained my stance, and thereby the ability to get the bat down on time, the unpleasant truth dawned upon me. I'd become a slave to my indulgences, and banishing that slavery was going to be a long, arduous path, snaking endless kilometers up and down the Yewr mountains flanking my twelfth storey abode at Thane, Bombay.

So, there I was, hauling myself amidst grunts up the road that eerily mirrored a sine curve, though unfortunately displaying more crests than troughs. My breath came in shallow bursts as somebody seemed to suck the oxygen from the atmosphere and every step was an embarrassing reminder of just how much ground, I'd left to gain. I could almost feel the fat in my chest and midsection voice their displeasure at being disturbed after being catered to for ages by dint of my culinary extravagances.

As cliches go, all bad times come to an end (they just seem to last way longer than the good ones do) and so did my tryst with the mountain that evening. As I walked off, weary after a jog that'd be considered amateurish by any regular on that track, I saw him.

He appeared a laborer, to my judgement at first sight. A shock of unkempt hair bore witness to his toils as it was matted with the dirt and filth that so abounds at construction sites. The sweat glistened off his brows as his eyes perched atop his forehead to catch a glimpse of his son hoisted over his shoulders. He rocked the little boy gently, as he took careful steps towards the hawker his son was excitedly gesticulating towards. A packet of flavored ice and a few coins changed hands as the lad feasted on the delicacy. His father surveyed the toddler with a sense of pride of being able to purchase him a moment of happiness, something, I suspected, wasn't an everyday occurrence.

The kid, unaware of his father's pecuniary status, demanded a second helping, at which those proud shoulders drooped. He'd run out of means to avail the next round of smiles for his son. A few words passed his lips as he cradled the boy's slanted countenance, and on turning around, caught my eyes. It was the first time I saw him in entirety. A mass of brown muscles slithered across his lithe frame. His endless slog had burnt off the last sliver of flabbiness that so dominated my subcutaneous layer. I'm sure he never hit a gym, didn't know what crunches were and certainly didn't follow the 4000 INR/month diet that my consultant had recommended to me. And yet, he had everything I craved for. He could, at that instant, easily scale up the mountain twice over, that I'd struggled to merely jog across, if it could buy him the extra scoop of flavored ice for his son.

I wondered, what he thought of the figure I cut. Dressed in tracks and fancy sports shoes, I'd my Sony Walkman strapped to my ears and sported a Kenneth Cole watch that was shimmering in the dusk. Did he envy my relative fiscal suzerainty? Could he see beyond the package and read my desire to achieve the fitness that would never desert him.? To be able to lead a life, where watching ones son feast on a mound of coloured ice was a source of paramount joy. Or was it a case of The Grass Forever Being Greener on the Other Side?

We sauntered away in opposite directions, my mind meandering to many a memoir each bringing with it fond reminiscences that made me feel distinctly closer to life. Of times, when I thundered down the tracks with a ball in my hand and fire in my eyes, of times, when I could bend my body to my will, and not the other way around, of times when I first learnt to cycle away, aided by my father as he hoisted me on his shoulders after I expectedly toppled over! It didn't involve a Kenneth Cole Watch, a Sony Walkman or the fancy boots that I currently wore. Suddenly, I had an overwhelming wish, that just for once, that unknown father knew the magic of the moment he was encased in, and just for once, he didn't feel, when he looked at me, that the grass is greener...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

My Name is Khan, Khan from the Heart

First things first! I'm no Shah Rukh fan and I'd no sooner like Karan Johar than mix my favourite fruit punch with a liberal dose of canary poop.

So, this afternoon, I went for the noon show of MNIK aided by a juicy epilogue of a review from a dear friend in whose opinion I've reposed considerable value in the recent past. It took only a couple of scenes to dispel that opinion, not in its entirety, but enough to blunt the scathing sheen I'd let myself be quoted with.

To begin with, what could have been improved in the movie. Atleast 20 minutes could have been trimmed off in sub plots that only deterred from the crux of the movie. Somehow, there was a glut of messages the director endeavoured to communicate to his audience and it doesn't always work. In this case, it didn't work for me. Khan's compassion was evident, without raising him to superhero status. Also, it seemed, atleast to me, that while the movie, amidst various other tracks, tried to question the notion that An ordinary man can't meet the President Of The United States, it ended up reinforcing the very notion by showing Khan meeting POTUS only after displaying his compassion tantamount to his supernatural ability to fix a village just by gesticulating with his appendages. Also, Mr. KJo, Muslims around the world don't exactly have to prove their innocence by informing the FBI about Jihadi outfits (as don't Jihadi outfits discuss their indoctrination in the open environment of a mosque). Ideologically, it was a BIG drawback within the film. As a viewer, I felt that the movie attempted to show that a Muslim can be considered innocent only after managing to discover an extremist coterie or something equivalent. Its a sad reflection of the world that we live in. Somehow, we just can't see without our rose tinted glasses.

What was good about the film. Plenty! How I wish, SRK imbibed few aspects of autism in all his future projects. It cuts out the histrionics to such admirable levels. MNIK is a stark illustration of this point. His Asperger's Syndrome is like manna from heaven for us viewers who know the Star's capability to act when he's not busy declaring to the world that he's the moniker of all eyes, which usually happens nine out of ten films. Well, this was the tenth one. The syndrome didn't allow him to ham, and while the expected overacting did seep through in a couple of scenes, they were thankfully juxtaposed with ample flashes of brilliance. Watch out for the scene when he breaks into a shy giggle after being proposed by Kajol, or the one, when he declares to a church about his personal tragedy with muted grief. The eyes do all the talking and that's when you know that you have a good actor in your midst. Kajol is back after a hiatus, and how. (I'm a tad biased for her, so please excuse any excessive praise herein) The actress packs in a sincere and endearing performance as Mandira. Its not her best, and to be fair, it'd take a bit to go one better than DDLJ or Dushman, to name a few, but she gave her best to the role. I've heard comments from many a corner stating that she went over the top towards the end (She screeches, someone said). Well, the screech came at a time of intense personal angst, and I wonder how many mothers would react differently in the situation, her character was cast in at that moment. Go, watch the film to know what I'm talking of. The support cast does a decent job, albeit having very little to do. The music scores, and the two melodies - Sajda and Noor-e-Khuda are lilting gems in a casket of ornaments. A lot has been said about the cinematography. I have, to the contrary, seen far better work, even within Bollywood (Black and Kal Ho Na Ho being two examples that I can quote from the top of my head).

Someday, and hopefully before I meet my maker, Bollywood will appreciate the power of subtlety. It has, so far, managed to butcher brilliant ideas on the alter of melodrama. MNIK suffers from this syndrome but thankfully not to the extent that epic disaster titled Rann did. It could have been a sensitive film that would have connected with the audience had it stuck to its original premise of expressing the torment of Rizwan Khan whose simplicity is brutally massacred by a world increasingly dominated by the evil of prejudice and radicalism. That having said, it was nice to see KJo emerge from his candy floss romance and attempt, sincerely if I may say so, to mesh insightful cinema with commercial entertaintment. Its a long journey, but as a viewer, I came back gladdened with the knowledge that the first steps have been taken...