Thursday, December 18, 2014

Chemistry

He used to call her Scout. She felt important because of that. He had a way about him: quiet, self-assured and somehow magnetic. It flattered her that a guy, no, a man like him found her interesting. He was intelligent and instinctive enough to be devastatingly charming when he needed to be. His attentions warmed her, made her feel like The Only One. Scout, the Only One for Him.

Their meetings were electric, secrets that she hugged close to herself. Every touch ignited a spark; every breath was an affirmation of desires granted. They lit up every time they were around each other. So this was chemistry, she thought in wonder. Each loved the hint of challenge in the other, the fact that this was no straight and simple love story which would eventually become mundane.

He disappeared one day. Given his intelligence, he did a thorough job. She knows the futility, but can't stop looking for him every once in a while. His absence is a vacuum she carries within. She misses being on fire. She misses being Scout.


Monday, March 17, 2014

The mountains are where I am

All my roads have led me here. This place where the gurgle of flowing water is a constant music. Where the wildflowers run riot in imaginative ways. The snow on the mountain peaks shines silver in the moonlight. Every breath of air you draw in your lungs is more than air, more than substance.

This is a hamlet in the mountains. Picturesque does not come close to describing it. Every way you turn, a picture awaits. A family’s humble kitchen garden against a backdrop of wild fir, where bears are rumoured to live. An undulating bridge over a blue-green river rushing off to its destination. Small roads with smaller paths leading away to mysterious places. Apple-cheeked children with diffident smiles running past you to more pressingappointments.

And yet, beauty is a very small part of the magic that this place casts.  There is a waiting, a knowing that one day, you will come here. An ancient acceptance of intertwined fates, of destinies that intersect after eons of unknowing waiting. The first time the mountains set their eyes on you, they remember. You may take a while to realize why your heart seems at peace, why there are faint memories that lurk behind every corner. It’s a moment you may not even recall later, but one that will change your life. The moment when you know, without any shred of doubt, that this is your place in the world. This is where you will be happy, where you can finally stop racing. Now all that is left to do is to come home.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Why Highway is probably the most personal film I will ever see

Spoiler alert: if you haven't watched the film, you probably shouldn't read further. Duty done.

Let me start off by saying that I haven't been Imtiaz Ali's biggest fan. I really like his filmmaking style because it is innately gentle, and somehow....decent. But I really disliked Love Aaj Kal, and  Rockstar's casting choice felt dishonest to me. Initially I dismissed Highway because I'd heard that Alia Bhatt was the female lead, and the ridiculousness of her debut film led me to believe that another Rockstaresque debacle was on its way. It was only the songs that pulled me to the film inexplicably; I've been obsessing over them for the last 2 weeks. Some instinct told me to watch it alone.

On Saturday morning I caught a morning show of the film, trying to temper my excitement with a cynical detachment. The film drew me in from the first frame. Somewhere, something wonderful happened: the line between the characters onscreen and myself became completely blurred. I was no longer watching a story, I was being it. It was one of the most profound, moving experiences of my life.

First, a tight slap to all the film critics who talked about the moral dilemma of liking a film about Stockholm Syndrome. A film critic is supposed to be someone learned and discerning, someone who can look beyond the surface of a film and find its internal rhythm. Stockholm Syndrome is a lazy, superficial and misinformed reading of this film; a reduction of a beautiful story to a cliche using its most obvious elements. This film is not about a woman falling in love with her abductor. The abduction is peripheral, a narrative device to explain how two very, very unlikely people came together. Even if it were about the Stockholm Syndrome, why on earth would liking the film mean that you were glorifying kidnapping? That's like saying that fans of Baazigar go around pushing women off skyscrapers. Ridiculous.

What I saw onscreen was a story about two people forging a tender, tremulous connection; one that need not necessarily have been romantic love. It was about the feeling of being trapped by the life you know, about the need to break away from the structure you are afraid to live without. It was about acknowledging that some hurts never go away or get easier over time, because they are not meant to. It was travelling over an emotional landscape that was brutal and dry at one moment and raw and vulnerable the next. I saw two people becoming more than the summary of their characters, becoming what the other needed in order to let go of the most private, the most brutal  pain. That may be love, but not the romantic love that made the critics uncomfortable. It was a love born out of wonder that someone, somewhere knows, even without knowing your story. Someone understands, and will still be there tomorrow.

I doubt if people who have never had anything really bad happen to them will understand what happened to me in that movie theatre. For the first time in a long time, I wept. The intimate knowledge of how it feels to lock down pain in the most secret part of you, the amazement of someone really seeing you for the first time, the ache of a lullaby that reminds that some aches always remain, the guilt you bear, illogically, for your own trauma, and the redemptive power of being truly loved: it was like watching the most tender parts of myself come to life. My most intimate emotional locks were washed away, I was left vulnerable after a lifetime, and I was thankful.

We all meet people who hurt us; a lucky few meet our healers. I know this personally because I married mine. An even luckier minority comes across a transformative artistic experience. I count myself blessed.

 P.S.: I am almost always let down by the pettiness of people. There were a few who just couldn't stomach the idea that a billionaire's daughter could hug a truck driver: it made them laugh. They couldn't understand the emotional intimacy resulting from sharing one's deepest, most traumatic secret. Would it stop you?


Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Letters to love

She sat under the tree on the hill, took out the notebook and began to write. Another letter to him, about life since the last letter. Her hand flew over the paper, struggling to keep pace with her thoughts. She paused once, wondering whether he would really be interested in reading about the shade of yellow that she had painted her bedroom walls in, or the new herbs that she had planted in the kitchen window of her tiny cottage. No, he would want to know, the voice in her head assured.

She looked down at the small valley below the hill, taking in the small, colouful roofs and the winding roads. Tiny figures walked about, going to school or work, engaged in their lives completely unaware of her observant eye. We must look like that to God, she suddenly thought. Pleased with the thought, she proceeded to pen it down.

She wondered what he was doing right at that moment. He must be in his office, with his back to the huge window, shouting at some nameless minion who had displeased him. She remembered how, at the beginning, she had never heard him raise his voice. The beginning was a wonderful place. It was where they had explored these mountains together after meeting on a hiking trail by chance. It was where they had been enchanted by wildflowers, the crisp, fresh air, and each other. The idyll was perhaps even more beautiful in her memory now. She remembered his glib talent for weaving dreams, dreams of a future with a grand house by the sea, a life where there were no empty moments. It had seemed something worth leaving behind the peace of the mountains for. After all, he had already taken her heart with him to the city.

She had tried. At the job which killed a bit of her spirit every day. At making the small, airless house that they shared a home. At being alive, even a little bit. At first he hadn't noticed her struggling. He was always busy, his eyes and heart full of the city, its noises and rhythms. The crowds, the jostling, the daily struggle for survival only energized him. Unable to return his enthusiasm, she retreated into silence. The one-sided fights and remonstrations started, and became a matter of course. He could not understand her, her unhappiness with his growing success. He didn't remember the last time she had smiled. He was sure her malady could be diagnosed and cured. His inability to do so led to another round of guilt-fuelled fights.He was becoming someone else, someone she couldn't love.

So she came back to the mountains. To where she could breathe again. Where a house could be small but still filled with sweet sunshine. Where people didn't jostle because there was nowhere to rush off to. She had feared being lonely at first, which is why she started writing to him. She realized it was easier to talk to him, to love him this way. Where he was just a memory, full of youth and hope.

She finished her letter, put it in an envelope and sealed it. She got up and removed the rock in front of the small hole in the mountain's face where the other letters were kept. A lot of letters, with all the love in her heart over the last decade. After placing the newest letter there, she sealed it again with the rock before going home.

The mountains would keep her secrets, and her heart.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

His True Story

He stirs slowly in his sleep, his body fully relaxed and entwined with hers. With the foggy vision of dream-filled eyes, he looks at her for a long time. The love of his life, lying asleep in his arms. It doesn't get much better than that.

He remembers the day he had first laid eyes on her. He had instantly recognized the soft vulnerability behind her mask of disdain. She had seemed cowed, afraid of the world. Her pride kept her back stiff, but he sensed the hurt that lay beneath. In this world that worshipped fair skin, her dark, glowing beauty had made her a target of scorn. The eyes betrayed the bewilderment that had hardened into anger; they spoke of the heart that somehow still held on to its softness.

She had been ill then, he recalled. Everyday she would have to undergo a ritual of cleaning and meditation that left her none too pleased. She knew that he watched her while all this went on; perhaps his gaze made her indignity worse. Whatever the reason, for a long time she had responded to his frank, open gaze with nothing but disinterest tinged with a faint whiff of hostility.

He cannot pinpoint the moment when he had tumbled headlong into love with her. It wasn't important anyway. He knew that she was the one he was destined for. He did not question these things anymore. He knew she was far from perfect. She would never be bound by notions like fidelity because she hadn't journeyed enough to realize that sharing bodies was also a form of worship. She would never be a good mother for their offspring: she was too wound up in her own fears, and wasn't fear another form of vanity? He  realized all her flaws, but they were just a part of the pattern that made her. He remembered, very dimly, once thinking that only perfection deserved love. He recalled, too, that perhaps, many lifetimes ago he had sacrificed love because the object of his affection had not proved worthy of the pedestal he had placed her on. Many lifetimes hence had cured him of these foolish human notions. He now knows that true love has no cause simply because it isn't an effect. He watches people around him still struggling with these notions. Most of them already know in their hearts whether they love or not. But in a world that prizes cleverness over honesty, most of them have forgotten how to listen to their hearts. Thank God, he shudders, thankfully at this stage of evolution he has left these things far behind.

He now remembers with amusement the slow, almost imperceptible thaw in her eyes over time, as she plucked up the courage to return his gaze. By then he had been sure of his feelings for her for a long time, but he knew she was still too timid, too fearful to reach out to him. And he wasn't about to wait another lifetime. So one day, when her attendants had left the door open in the midst of her daily healing ritual, he calmly walked up to her, gazed briefly into her startled, beautiful eyes, and started licking her thoroughly. He cleaned her gently, washing out the sickness, the sadness and the pain. He infused her skin, her being with his deep, unchanging love. Once she was clean, he pulled her to himself and settled her into his embrace. They fell asleep together, the first time in many times to come. When he awoke to see the light in her eyes, he knew that they had found their happily ever after.

She's still sleeping. Their children are curled up nearby. He licks his paws clean, breathes in a sigh of complete contentment, and goes back to sleep.

Note: Thanks to Elbee for the inspiring plot, and for the real-life protagonists, D and K.




Saturday, December 29, 2012

I Will Protect Myself

Being a woman in India is a compromise, a compromise that we accept at birth. We are taught lessons of acceptance, of shame, of fear. We are taught to keep our heads and voices down, never to 'provoke', either with words or actions. We are taught that all men have vicious animals dormant in them, and yet that they are better than us.

We perpetrate these notions in our sisters, friends and daughters. We demean other women by saying things like 'She looks like a slut' or 'Those shoes make her look like a hooker'. We teach our sons to disrespect women by saying 'Don't cry like a girl'. No wonder they think we're weak, that we will take anything they give us. We judge a woman's right to protest against assault by asking whether she was dressed appropriately, whether she was out late, whether she was drunk, whether she was the partying type. Those who refuse to live by our rules are asking to be brutalized. Even those who play by the rules are asking for it simply by being women.

Our political class knows us too well. They know that the best way to shut up a rape victim is to imply that she is a prostitute. They know that most of us do not believe that a prostitute too has a right to deny consent for sex, that she too can be raped. They know that our anger will abate the moment we leave the protest venue and go back to earning a living.

I have no faith in this government or any other because it is made up of men and women just like us. A government which is powerless even to make sure that auto drivers do not refuse female passengers hardly inspires confidence. A political class which passes resolutions to increase its pay with supreme efficiency cannot come to an agreement that women deserve to feel safe. I know that most of those six rapists will probably be hanged, because it's easy. Because none of them belong to well-connected families with political clout. I know that ultimately I'm the only one who cares about my safety. But I will do what I can to make things better.

I will not shame any woman for her clothes or her habits. Nothing gives me the right to do that.

I will learn to defend myself as far as possible.

I will learn to rely on myself as much as possible.

I will never do anything to put another woman in danger.

I will not teach my son that he is better than women.

I will not teach my daughter that she is less than a man.

I will not keep my voice down.

I will not be ashamed to be a woman.

To the girl who faced worse cruelty than anyone deserves, I'm sorry we all failed you.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Dear All, Fiction


Love is bandied around too much. The word, stupid. You don’t need to love to say the words. But I did. You remember that schmaltzy song, the one which said ‘Love was when I loved you’? I did love you, enough to know that you needed me. Even when you kept lying to my face.

Stop crying now. Don’t be a whiner. She’s gone, she won’t come back. Your tears are no magic elixir of life. I sent her away for good this time. I’m always the one doing the hard things to keep us together. But it’s nice that you need me that way.

No, you only thought that you loved her. How could you, when your heart was so full of me? I just had to make you see it. She kept getting in the way. Tenacious, I’ll give her that. Made me almost regret what I had to do to her. But then, I had to get you.

What d’you mean by that? Of course this is love. Yes, it’s vengeance too. What makes you think the two are different? Vengeance is just love gone bad. You know how love feels when it changes? Like a light inside you that suddenly turns into an inferno. You’re always burning, keeping it from the world, but smouldering  inside. Your heart turns black, but the love/vengeance keeps it alive till it consumes everything around. The weak ones let it destroy them. But you know how strong I’ve always been.

Yes I know you tried telling me that you didn’t feel the same way. At first I believed you. I actually felt my heart break. Spent a few days crying, thinking nothing was going to be the same. But then I realized that it wasn’t true, couldn’t be true. And the world righted itself again. Now look what I’ve done to you. I’ve turned you into what I was for those few days for which there is no forgiveness. Your tears, I’m actually enjoying them.

Let go of her hand, it’s cold already. Let’s sit here and enjoy the view. It’s the least you can do for me, after all I did for you. But then, my darling, you were totally worth it.