Thursday, February 23, 2006

Skool Dayz

The words "Skool Dayz" were a trend that all of 8th standard aped. In 5th or 6th standard we had the trend where everyone called everyone "Ya" (which I think was an Anglisized version of Yaar) and when everyone irrespective of gender was "Man".

In 8th standard we also began sticking badges (please God, help me forget the "Dudes, let's party" badge!) on our school bags. In 9th standard the trend was to buy psychedelic tie-up blouses (for girls) and for guys to buy these flowery baggy shirts. 10th standard and 11th standard passed in a haze. This haze however, had its share of Swatch watches (the ones with the pop out dials that could be pinned) and of chunky silver accesories like big green peace signs. In 12th standard it was the turn of the colored contacts. Now, if you are used to seeing your normal black eyed best friend, and one fine day, she looks at you with blue eyes, you'll probably get as a big a jolt as I did! 12th standard also saw the dandy long haired boys who used up countless bottles of gel and mousse (any memories someone?)

Time for the college years. Boot-cut Levis, Fab India kurtis and delicate embroidery was the order of the day. One had to try to be as fashionable as possible without appearing fashion conscious. Got that? For boys or rather guys it was the turn of pocket pants and understated shirts. Then, in a while, Hrithik Roshan and the rest of the rippling muscle gang ushered in the era of tight tops. However, this tight top era did make men look a bit strange especially if your physique was not quite right and even if it was, it was a bit 'in your face clothing'.So the poor-physique man's answer was to wear Fab-India kurtas or Tantra t-shirts.

Why did I drone on about this? Well, I chanced upon a really cool blog for my school. These kids (yes, I'm old!)have done a great job. I saw their pics and they even had a couple of videos. These pics, especially the farewell party pictures and the basketball match pictures brought back memories of fashion faux pas. Especially, the time when some of us hired a professional hairdresser for our farewell. After proceeding to curl my hair and arrange this huge (and monstrous)pompadour on my head and heavily rouging my face, he declared his work to be a masterpiece and then went inside to get out of his work clothes as he was done for the day. As I stared in horror at my reflection in the mirrow, I saw him come out transformed into a her in a very sexy BCBG red dress.
If only wishes were..................................

Thursday, February 16, 2006


I think of Kerala all the time. The Kerala shown in periodicals and magazines and in the news, is either the Kerala with sun soaked beaches or the Communist Kerala soaked in red where unemployment is the flavor of the day.

However, when I think of Kerala I don't think of these things. I think of my house in Trivandrum and the family. All thirteen or so of us sitting on our verandah playing Antakshari, while the last rays of the evening sun light up patches of the lawn. I think of the first smell of the earth as the rain falls down and the paper boats made by us that bob up and down meandering around the drain. I think of the fragrance of the nishagandhi that floats in when I sleep at night. I think of the lime lamps we light at the temple near our house. To light these lamps, you must cut a lime in half,squeeze out the juice from the halves and turn them inside out. then, you fill these turned out limes with oil, put in a wick and light them. After you light a dozen or so, you line them on the grooves around the temple, and then stand back to watch them twinkling in the dusk. I think of the old houses that line our street, each with their own tales and memories. I think of the family sitting together in the gossip room, chatting about everything and nothing, some humming a tune, some reading and some dozing.

I think of Kerala all the time. Not the Commi-Kerala or the millenium destination Kerala, but my own Kerala. A place that I keep dreaming about. Unfortunately, the dream always ends, just as I have unfastened the latch and am pushing open the gate. The verandah faces the gate and through the gap, as I push the gate, I can see the family looking............

Monday, February 13, 2006

We Indians

Recently, a South Indian friend of mine spoke a line or two in Hindi. Immediately, s/he was pounced on by another friend, who asked him/her as to what language s/he spoke in and proceeded to dissect his/her accent. This brings me to the question- Was this necessary? Even in the name of friendship?

As you have noticed from my previous posts, I have begun to notice a bunch of prejudices among us Indians.The following is my summary of one such prejudice

The North-South prejudice: This can be noticed in the critical analysis of accents, classification of food as spicy South Indian and bland North Indian, the tendency to charecterize everyone south of Mumbai as "Madrasis" so on and so forth.

Some charecteristics of this prejudice are:

1. The "Hindi Issue": . Here's my take it- I learned Hindi in school. I went to a school which had students from all over India making it a mini-India in itself. I can read, write and speak Hindi and Urdu. I can't write my mother tongue- Malayalam and can read it with great difficulty. However, due to the diligence of my mother, I can speak it fluently (thanks ma!).

This makes me wonder- what if the school and CBSE did offer Malayalam? I mean they offered Hindi, Arabic, Sanskrit and French, why not Malayalam? The focus on Hindi succeeded in eliminating any chance to study Malayalam. Also, I had to learn a language that was not my mother tongue from the scratch, while my friends who had Hindi as a mother tongue had an easier path carved for them.

On the other hand, learning Hindi has enabled me to fluently converse with people throughout my travels in North India (north of Mumbai). I also learned to read and appreciate Hindi poetry as well as prose, which I love and continue to read.

On the flip side, there were a bunch of regional prejudice incidents associated with Hindi. The tendency to categorize me as a North Indian, just because I read Hindi well, the tendency to assume that I wouln't be able to read Hindi well when folks knew that I was a South Indian, the tendency of some of my Mallu friends to see me as not one of them, the tendency of some north Indian friends to view me as an interloper and my own tendency to think that Hindi was cool and Malayalam was not (this has changed!).

Going back to the subject of travelling,as I said, Mumbai and north of Mumbai, knowing Hindi should put you in pretty good stead. But in the "deep dark South", it's good to know Tamil. Now what if we had to learn two languages in school- one from the North and one from the South, say Hindi and Tamil? It would ensure that Indians were aware of both ends of the spectrum and it would definitely foster respect for diversity. Also as my mother constantly reminds me-" learning a new language will increase the acuity of your thinking".

Finally, back to people who criticize folks and their attempt to converse in a language other than their own- a kick on the rear to you! A person's effort to speak in another language symbolises his/her effort to respect diversity and be a part of it and this should be commended or at the very least respected, not critisized.

2. The "cuisine" issue: Common symptoms include- classification of all south indian food as spicy and north indian food as bland; the idea of South Indians as carnivores and North Indians as vegetarians; the idea that South Indian food is full of coconut and North Indian food is full of ghee. Now, of course, none of us bother to think of why we have fundamental differences in our cuisine. A possible reason maybe climate. North India tends to have winter, South India does not. Hence, there is a need for heavier cuisine in North India and a lighter cuisine in South India (which is closer to the tropics). Similarly, most South Indian states (Kerala,Karnataka, Andhra and Tamil Nadu) are coastal states and hence fish figures more prominently. The tropical climate also helps spices to grow and hence the tendency to use these spices in the cuisine.

Reasons aside, what we as Indians should be aware of, is that the above-mentioned symptoms are generalizations. Several North Indians eat meat and several South Indians do not. Some South Indian states use a lot of spice and some do not. There are huge differences across states in Indian. For example, Tamil food and Malayalee food is very different as are the eating habits. Kannada and Telegu food also differs. The same holds true for North India. It is important as Indians for us to be aware of these diffrences and to respect them than to make generalizations.

3. Colour: This refers to the tendency to classify dark-skinned Indians as from the South and fair-skinned as from the North. On a more extreme level, there is a tendency for some North Indians to exemplify light skin as an Aryan trait and the darker South Indian skin as Dravidian or native. With the whole issue of the fallacy of the Aryan invasion theory (read Soothsayer's post on it: )this viewpoint may not even hold up. But more importantly, this an extremely petty and racist way of thinking.

That's all on this for now. I end this post with the hope and prayer that we learn to think of ourselves as Indians and respect the richness and diversity that is India.

P.S: I have tried to be unbiased while writing this piece. But of course, this is from an individual perspective, so I have only written about what I have seen or experienced. So anyone who has any comments or experiences to share is welcome to do so!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

review- devaki

Devaki is a movie supposedly about two different women, from very different worlds whose lives intersect etc. The main charecter, Devaki is played by Suman Ranganathan (yes the curly haired siren of the nineties).Devaki is a Dalit tribal girl living in remote part of India that bears a striking similarity to Bihar.Perizad Zorabian plays the town girl who after failing in her efforts to stop Devaki's marriage to an old fossil returns to the city.

Now, this is all very well, but the movie is an terribly bad one, with a weak script that has the two women going through everything terrible you can think of. Devaki is raped, mocked, then given a sliver of hope soon to be dashed by more exploitation. Perizaad faces the big bad corporate world and the evil western influence and Bengali babus cheating on their wives.

As for the acting, Perizaad is good. Ram Kapoor who plays Perizaad's charming boyfriend gives a good performance. Suman Ranganathan retains a meek oppressed look throughout the movie. As for the rest of the cast- pathetic seems like an understatement. Overacting seemed to be the norm of the day.

What makes the movie worse is that part of the charecter Devaki's story is drawn from real-life. Instead of introducing the city life angle plus a bunch of other unnecessary twists, the director should have focussed on the real-life story.

Overall, if you see Devaki playing in a cinema or available on DVD- run as far away from it as you possibly can!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

mile sur- a note

I got a lot of personal emails about my "Mile Sur" posts. Firstly for my non-Indian readers, "Mile sur mera tumhara, to sur bane hamara" translates as "Let my tune and your tune merge to make it our tune". This is the first line of a song aired on National Television in India (called Doordarshan), to promote national harmony.

Now, some of you asked me about the motivation behind this post. Simply put- "prejudice". Lately when I've spoken to fellow-Indians, I've noticed that caste, state and religious prejudices seem to keep cropping up. The conversations that I've attempted to replicate actually took place in my presence.So that's basically it.

Finally, it was great that some of you identified the symbolism (albeit a very amateur attempt) in the names Ekta, Bharat etc. Thanks!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Mile sur........- continued

Note: Readers, in order to avoid adding to any regional or community tensions, I have made up two fictional last names for this piece.

Yudaliar: That was a good meal

Dhukla: Yes, very good.

Yudaliar: Any tea or coffee for you?

Dhukla: Nothing. I don't drink either.

Yudaliar: Me neither! It's rare to find someone else who does not.

Dhukla: But then you do drink several things I do not.........

yudaliar: Like what?

Dhukla: You do have non veg.

Yudaliar: I thought we were on the topic of drinking. Since when do I drink non veg?

Mile sur mera tumhara, to sur bane hamara.

mile sur...........- Part 1

Conversation 1

Lady: I'm calling about the advertisement in the Hindu about the 2 bedroom flat. Is it still available

Owner: Yes, but who is this? What do you do? How many of you are there? What does your husband do?

Lady: I'm a doctor. My husband is an engineer.My husband is Bharat. I am Ekta. We have ___ children.

Owner: Ok, but what is your last name?

Lady: Our last name is Milaap

Owner: Milaap what?

Lady: Just Milaap.

Owner: Hmmmm. Milaap........So do you eat non veg?

Lady: Yes.

Owner: What I was about to say earlier ma'am was that my brother Mr Bhed Bhav might want the flat,so I will call you if he changes his mind.............

Mile sur mera tumhara to sur bane hamara

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Review- Udayananu Tharam

At the outset, let me tell your that this is a review of a Malayalam movie. For the non-Malayalee readers who have decided to continue reading this post, the movie title translates as "Udayan is the star".

I have been put off by the recent standards of Malayalam cinema for the past few years. Now, I'm not a particularly finicky movie watcher. I can pretty much watch movies ranging from the typical masala ones to art movies. However, my protest with recent Malayalam cinema is that of late comedy has come to mean mimicry, the simplicity that charecterized Malayalam cinema has been replaced by gaudy costumes and film sets designed by individuals with no taste and above all, our once great scripts have been reduced to riduculous storylines with some catch phrases thrown in (Mohanlal's "Savrigirigiri" forms one very painful memory!).

Udayananu Tharam is not National Award material. But, compared to trash churned out by Malayalam cinema recently, it's a refreshing start to what hopefully signifies a change. For starters, Mohanlal plays his age in this movie and does not overract. You can almost catch a glimpse of the talent in him that won National Awards in the past. The actress has pretty much nothing to do. The show-stealer is definitely Srinivasan with his depiction of a street smart but hopelessly untalented actor who has conned his way into being a big star. The screenplay (also written by Srinivasan) is pretty good. The film pokes fun at the recent antics of Malayalam cinema including the trend by actors to ghost direct their movies and to potray themselves as invincible beings. It even takes a shot at Mohanlal himself when it refers to attempts by actors to start businesses in the Middle East. The songs are not bad and there's a spoof done on an old song which is charmingly picturized and has a catchy tune.

To sum up, Udayananu Tharam is a good beginning. Here's to hoping that the trend picks up to produce more bearable Malayalam cinema!

review- 15 Park Avenue

15 Park Avenue is directed by Aparna Sen. It stars Konkona Sen Sharma, Rahul Bose and Shabana Azmi. Now, owing to the popularity of Mr and Mrs Iyer, viewers (like me)probably watched the movie with hopes of seeing the magic recreated with the trio (Aparna, Konkona and Rahul) with the added bonus of Shabana.

To say my hopes were dashed would be an understatement. 15 Park Ave is a strange movie. To begin with Konkona seems ill at ease in her role of a mentally disturbed girl. She tend to overdo it quite a bit. Shabana is not bad and Rahul is pretty steroetypical. Adding to this, the charecters primarily talk in English with a little hodge-podge of Bengali thrown in (It's cool to throw in a bit of Bengali into movies, post- Devdas)!. However, the sing song convent English (especially Konkona's) seems quite artificial. Waheeda Rehman and Shefali Shetty play small roles superbly. I must say that Shefali Shetty is an underrated actress despite strong performances in Monsoon Wedding and Satya.

However, the movie's nemesis is not in Konkona or in the "Hinglish" spoken. It's nemesis lies in the story itself. Designed as an "intellectually creative" story, the movie moves extremely slowly, with Konkona's life being one grand storehouse of misery, rape, rejection and everything else. The movie is full of handloom sari clad caricatures of intellectual beings. The end is probably the best and the worst part of the movie. The worst because it makes absolutely no sense, the best because it finally brings this tedious movie to an end.