Sunday, February 27, 2005

Excerpts from 'Eleven Minutes'

I can choose to be a victim of the world or an adventurer in search of treasure. It’s all a question of how I view my life.


All my life, I thought of love as some kind of voluntary enslavement. Well, that’s a lie: freedom only exists when love is present. The person who gives him or herself wholly, the person who feels freest, is the person who loves most wholeheartedly.

And the person who loves wholeheartedly feels free.

….in love, no one can harm anyone else; we are each of us responsible for our own feelings and cannot blame someone else for what we feel.

- Eleven Minutes, Paulo Coelho


The myriad colours of reflected light bouncing off a shining diamond.

The colour of her eyes

Writing is panacea for the soul. It is therapeutic – this is what I’ve always believed. It’s just that in this day and age, with SMS and e-mail making things so much more convenient – not to mention quick – writing often takes a backseat.

Sitting in a train on the way from Calcutta to Kanpur, however, I took out my stationery and began to write. Its something I planned to do, and the absence of any irritating co-passengers helped. The continuous rocking motion of the train didn’t, but that’s another matter!


The colour of her eyes. Dark chocolate-brown. She looked unblinkingly at the two children begging opposite, a short distance away, as she waited for the bus. The younger boy was looking to the older girl for a signal on whether to touch the man’s feet for money or not. The girl, dirty and clad in a short polka-dotted dress, was standing passively, her hips thrust out in an almost disturbingly evocative manner for a child her age.

She’d seen similar enough scenes enough times in the past, when she used to travel by train to go home from college. She’d wanted to work for the underprivileged then. But that was before she got accustomed to the coke at the parties. Her life spiralled out of control and she was on the verge of dying when she was pushed to the AA meetings by Varun, who finally discovered her ugly secret. He was so proud of her for coming back to his life the way he’d known her before it all happened. And she was going to marry him in a few months. She didn’t want to do social work anymore though. She believed there were people who could do that better than her. ‘Know your strengths’, someone had once told her.

She wanted to be an author now.

She went quietly back to reading her book.


The colour of her eyes. Soot black. She was tired of this rigmarole day after day. She longed to run and play in the fields she knew when she was younger in rural Bihar. She longed to study in school again and learn about planets and the moon and the pretty shiny lights in the sky. Moving to the city had made her life awful. Her family didn’t even earn enough money to have food three times a day, forget becoming rich like they said would happen. Papa hadn’t been able to get a good job as easily as they thought. The lady who lived next door to them in the slum had told her mother to instruct her to stand like that, jutting her hips out, so that they could get some money to ‘help the family expenses’. She hated it. She looked at the fair girl in the pants and long T-shirt reading a book nearby. She wanted to be like her.

She decided with renewed determination that she would study. She would study at night and pay for it by doing something else during the day – not this horrible work. A bright smile played on her face as she had the idea. She shook her head to say ‘No’ to her little brother, who was looking for the signal.

The colour of my life

Silver blue
Rippling through?

Blood red
Cursing through my head?

Sunflower yellow
Cheery bedfellow?

Ornate pink
A princess in mink?

Awesome orange
Unblinking courage?

Lime green
Shimmer and sheen?

Pure white -

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Designers and designer prices

There is no doubt about the class and superiority of Indian couture in the Western fashion industry today. Fashion houses like Armani get a lot of their embroidery and stitching done here, and cheap labour is not the only reason. The intricacy of the work on pieces by Sabyasachi Mukherjee, Ritu Beri, Tarun Tahiliani or Rohit Bal is faultless and extremely applealing, and the fall and feel of the material is classy and elegant. I have this to say about Indian haute couture - it is much more attractive than Western lines. We have our culture and rich textile heritage to thank for that. Ikat, zardozi, kantha, even basic tie-and-dye bandhni are all textile secrets that only Indians can draw on.

Of course (how can one not talk about this), the price is another story altogether. Ranging from the thousands to even lakhs of rupees, a middle-class Indian would have to think twice before buying designer wear. I suppose that also, by default, is what makes it exclusive.

I went to Ensemble, Kimaya and Carma today. Ran into Sabyasachi at one of them. Ah, the life of a Delhiite! A few more visits and I'd be on Page 3 automatically :-) In my old jeans and Nike jacket and backpack, I stood out like a sore thumb though!

And yes, I did buy a couple of designer wear clothes.

On discount :-)

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Delhi Metro

To those of you who don't have much faith in the ability of the Indian government to deliver public services that are a) clean and well-maintained and b) of international standards, I would recommend that you take a trip on the Delhi Metro. Even I, a self-proclaimed skeptic as far as the performance of the government is concerned, was reasonably impressed. The Delhi Metro is both the above qualities, and it also exceeds expectations. I have been on the Metro in London and Brussels, and let me tell you, Delhi's metro system is no poor cousin. For a country that has a pretty abysmal record in delivering public utilities like healthcare and education, this is a saving grace.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Oh! Calcutta

‘Oh! Calcutta’, incidentally, is the name of the restaurant I went to in Calcutta that serves authentic Bengali cuisine in the ambience of a place which aims to recapture the glory of Calcutta as it was before it became the nationalistic ‘Kolkata’. Well-preserved old books by Jawaharlal Nehru and Tolstoy, among others, line wooden bookshelves, and a painting of devotees on the banks of the Hooghly near the famous Kali Mandir dominates a wall.

What, after all, is a trip to Bengal without savouring its culinary delights? I sampled ‘Machcher Jhol’ – anyone who knows anything about Bengalis will know about their love for fish, and this is one of the best fish curries of the region. I must also mention ‘Aloo Jhinger Poshto’, a dish made of potato, capsicum and poppy seeds which could quite potentially make one an addict, just like the opium that the poppy seeds come from!

As for dessert, well, ‘rossogollas’, anyone? That’s always been my favourite Indian sweet and the succulent sponginess of the ones in Calcutta are without comparison.

If you ask me, the true spirit of urban India is in its bylanes. It was at one such corner stand that I tasted jhaal muri for the first time. It is very similar to Mumbai’s bhelpuri but a drier, spicier version. Smacking my lips, I grinned to myself as I watched Calcutta go by busily.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Page 3

Urban India as it is inhabited by the rich, beautiful and famous can be a shocking discovery for a middle-class person. Madhur Bhandarkar’s ‘Page 3’ is cinematic criticism of the murky world of any big city’s socialites at its best. I’d heard so much about the movie that I wanted to watch it, if for nothing else than its curiosity value. And like it or hate it, ‘Page 3’ will not fail to make you think. Think about today’s celebrities whose heights so many people aspire to reach. Think about the drive for success and the endless search for money and fame that even an average Indian indulges in.

‘Page 3’ is not what I would call a brilliant film. But it rings true somewhere and its characters, from the socialite’s driver to Konkona Sen Sharma’s middle-class journalist, make the film feel real. Fiction it may be, but it also holds up as a mirror of high society today.

Most people, in some way, want to be a part of Page 3. At the end of the day, for many these opulent parties may just be a way of letting go of stress, but for the majority, it is a chance to indulge in hidden fantasies, a chance to climb the ladder of success by being seen and by talking to the ‘right’ people. Drugs, sex, swapping partners - anything goes here, amidst the smoky haze and the loud music. At its most harmless, these parties are a gathering of people who make vacuous or scathingly hypocritical conversation.

Today, go to any glamorous party in any Indian metro and there’s a pretty good chance you will see some of the Page 3 phenomenon at work. Of course, not everyone thinks so. Lillette Dubey, Indian actor and theatre person, has commented in ‘Outlook’ magazine that the movie had the potential to ‘go for the jugular’ and shouldn’t have been so black-and-white. Well, any more jugular and the viewer would probably die!

So sociologically, what does this herald? An urban arena where money and fame are creating people with the minds and hearts of monsters, never mind their looks? Or one where the system makes people so cynical that they finally give up their long-held values for a more glamorous dream? Or worse, where that cynicism leads to apathy? I’ve grown up over the past few years and have come to believe that the sooner you come to terms with life as it exists and not as you think it should be, the better your life will be. That’s what Sharma’s character as the journalist who makes the transition from an idealistic young girl to a harder, stronger person eventually does. Also thought-provoking is Atul Kulkarni's character, who as a crime journalist in the film says, ‘To beat the system, you have to be in the system’.

Life, after all, isn’t all ha-ha-hee-hee.