Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Zubaan's 21 under 40: New Stories for a New Generation.

It includes some of my favorite writers: Mridula Koshy, Annie Zaidi, Anjum Hasan, Nisha Susan, a few whom I yet have but a cursory familiarity with -- and the editor packs quite a punch herself. I heard extracts from a couple of stories at the IHC today; can't wait to read the collection.

Yes, you can sense there's something new happening in this anthology. Let's hope as many or more publishers in India become willing to take risks, as writers!

What's happening in Nandigram?

Were the killings, the disappearances, the terror justified? No way. Follow updates and analysis at Nandigram Lal Salam.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

poetry reading tomorrow

My first reading before an exclusively junior audience! Fifth graders, sixth graders, and even a few middle and high schoolers at the American Embassy School will be attending. Others reading/performing are Annie Zaidi, Taru Dalmia and Jeet Thayil.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Face (the truth) time

I'm giving you, here, just the introduction to a piece I wrote for Delhi City Limits in Nov 06 -- the very introduction which did not appear in the mag because of its length limit, and the very piece which I am slightly embarrassed to have "reported" (it was a chocolate facial, man!).

'Well-meaning salonistas always seem to know more about your skin and hair – or how to make it more beauteous – than you do, or want to know. Having apologetically mumbled “Umm, yes, but I don’t want blonde highlights” enough times, I thought I had perfected a fairly impregnable and strict Persona for Parlors. Sampling a chocolate facial, for the cause of brides who read City Limits, undid it all in a matter of seconds.

Before I begin, here are some tips. First off, ye brides young and old, remember to schedule your facials at least 24 hours before the big day, which is when their wonders are said to become most apparent. To be on the safe side, start making rounds of your salon a month or two in advance: Figure n Face in Jangpura Extension offers a complete bridal makeover spread over two months. Second off, don’t be intimidated by the unrelenting scrutiny of people you have entrusted your skin with. Thirdly, and also to counter the effects of this scrutiny, choose things with comforting words like “chocolate” in them.'

(Read the remaining sections, "An Ingénue and a Chocolate Facial" and "Verdict", in CL)
The story has two postscripts. One, I left for Bombay and then Goa soon as I had sent it off to the editor, where my aristocratically-inclined, very sensitive skin peeled.

Two, I went to F&F a couple of days ago (mainly curiosity) and found the printed story framed and hanging from a wall, with my byline prominent.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

There's something about pigeons

In moments when your heart is so blue it can barely hold itself upright, if you see a shadow pigeon walking on the other side of the glazed window, and then a pigeon on each of the three lamp posts you can see through the clear top half of the same window, and then, in the evening sky, flocks of pigeons flying home -- some light, some a darker grey -- I bet you lighten up a jot.

We've all been through a phase of clicking pigeon photographs, or are still there.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Dear blog

Feeling a rush of tenderness and affection for you.

Wince / Review of Water

Because DesiLit Magazine in its 2nd issue has not only reproduced a paragraph thrice of my review of Water, the editing of the original text (see below) also does not satisfy. But, sigh, that is a complaint freelancers the world over have.


A palette of lotus greens and dusk blues lights up the frames of Deepa Mehta’s widely acclaimed Water. There is a town by the river, tranquil and green. The river is the town’s artery and shapes the life of its dwellers. It is revered. A group of widows lives out their lives by the river, in piety, penury and hopelessness. The camera silently captures the dramas and inconsequence of their lives.

The case of Hindu widows and widow remarriage has been taken up time and again in Indian literature since the late 19th century, particularly by Bengali writers influenced by social reform movements. Mehta’s last film in the trilogy with Fire and Earth is not, in that sense, new. It did not deserve the controversy it raked.

What Water does manage to do is to make vivid our knowledge of the world the widows lived in. The set of their house – spare, grey, closed – is a visual masterstroke. It has been used to stunning effect too, especially in the scene where the widows play holi.

The actors are all sincere and competent. With her thick ankled, round dimpled cuteness and a natural aptitude for acting, little Sarala impresses as a seven year old by turns watchful and mischievous, precocious and generous. It is heartbreaking to watch her accept her fate at one point. Still, it does seem as if the script is placing too much burden on Chuyia’s character, to be the symbol of unending goodness and hope in the film. The film would have been richer if it had lingered awhile on the dark heart of Chuyia.

Chuyia’s ally and counterpart in play and goodness, Kalyani, is played by the glowing Lisa Ray. She, along with the other widows, make compelling characters. From the tenaciously devoted and industrious Shakuntala played by Seema Biswas; to the larger than life and villainous Madhumati played by Manorama; to the doddering-at-death’s-door widow who lusts after laddoos, gulabjamuns and rasagullas day and night – each one is an unforgettable role, enhanced by good acting. John Abraham, however, does not ring true as a classically educated idealist who can spout Byron and Meghdoot with equal ease. He doesn’t look 'Gandhian' enough. It’s a pleasure to see Waheeda Rehman, as always, even in her garishly dressed cameo.

Sri Lanka gives us a perfectly acceptable Varanasi circa 1938. We see one section of the society responding ardently to the call of Gandhi and dreaming of freedom, while another is all too happy with the colonial rulers, their punctuality and Shakespeare. This conflict was during this period rippling through many parts of India. In the film, it is represented by Narayan (John Abraham) and his buddy (Vinay Pathak), and its glib treatment makes for its weakest moments. Gandhi is invoked almost as a stock phrase, and expected to stand in for everything that was changing in the socio-political landscape of the country. The script makes him out as an answer to all ills, giving the story that faint fairy tale whiff. The addlebrained-ness of Munnabhai was more credible. The spread of political ideas through a people is a complex process, and should have been handled better since it is such an important subtext of the film.

Water’s rather unnecessary moralistic tail can perhaps be traced to 2000, when hordes from VHP and RSS set fire to the sets of the film in Varanasi. No doubt, Hindu widows continue to be ostracized, thrown out of houses, and discriminated against in places. Many widows still live in Vrindavan and Varanasi in horrific conditions. But quoting, at the end of the film, the number of widows present in India as per the 2001 census seems to be slightly manipulative. This statistic seems to want the audience to draw a slightly misleading parallel between all the widowed women in India in 2001, and the life of the widows depicted in the film. Water tells a simple enough story, and it should have been left alone as that.

The dialogs, translated into Hindi by Anurag Kashyap, are rather stilted. The songs and the background music, scored by A.R. Rahman and Mychael Danna respectively, are lovely and add to the film’s sensuousness. Sukhwinder Singh’s lyrics are as idyllic as they come.

Despite its flaws, Mehta’s film serves as an important reminder of how religion can be misused to perpetuate injustices against the powerless in the guise of devoutness and self sacrifice. Kudos to her for asking questions that are disturbing for many, such as whether to choose religion over moral obligation, or vice versa.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Have been trying to get my picture up on my blogger profile, but whatever URL I type (I've tried posting the image via the blogger image uploader, picasa2, on flickr, on another friend's flickr) I get the message, "Cannot find file at specified URL: link is broken (failed request)". What's going on? Any suggestions?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Speaking and Not Speaking

"One of the first times I felt empowered this way was while walking down a crowded Brigade Road with my parents in 2003. A man pinched me and started walking away. Totally unrehearsed, I turned and grabbed his collar. Just a few minutes later - yes, fair Bangalore has its fair share of roadside romeos who all seem to be on this road - there came along another guy. I communicated some pretty unflattering things to him too. But what I remember most is being drunk on the knowledge, for hours after, that I had done something. The exhilaration heightened since this had happened in front of my parents, who had possibly never before seen - whom I had possibly never before allowed to see - me as a sexual being - being harassed, giving it back."

I’ve been harassed and I’ve protested the harassment several times since Sep 2003, yet this incident stays at the top of my head, perhaps because it was one of the earliest incidents of my being vocal. In fact, come to think of it, most of the incidents since this one are a blur in my head, indistinguishable from each other. I can’t remember distinctly how I was harassed or how I responded, and that is a little scary, because it could mean I’ve begun to normalize the violence in my own head; begun to treat it as a matter of course! (Note to myself: Get outraged about every incident of harassment, “small” or not. Talk about it with friends, lover, mum, brother, fellow writers, fellow activists.)

Then there are the times I haven’t spoken up, times I’ve walked past, pretending to not have heard a sleazy comment thrown my way. Because it takes energy to confront, abuse the bastards, look daggers even; because I think, “It’s not worth it.” Isn’t it? Am I just being pragmatic and getting on with life with no-fuss, or am I selling out? Am I turning into a cynic? Am I letting down my feminist + BNP sisters and brothers? Am I letting down the harassers by taking away an opportunity from them to engage with a reaction? (Note to myself: Talk back.)

Sexual harassment is so pervasive and institutionalized in our societies that we have to make a conscious effort to treat it as a singular incident in our day, to not fall prey to the notion that it’s “normal”, to not brush it aside, to notice it, to commend ourselves when we talk back, to tell stories about both the harassment and our fighting back. Which is why it’s fantastic that the Blank Noise Project is asking women to tell their stories about the times they got their own back. Hurrah, BNP!

And I’ve just remembered the last time it happened to me: Last week, it’s ten pm on a weeknight. I’m in the park next to my house, the same one I’ve bragged is safe to walk in even at three am. A man enters the park from the flyover side through a gap in the fence. He stands in the shadows and mutters something when I pass him. I ignore him for two rounds, but on the third round my blood boils and I yell at him. He says something incomprehensible but menacing, drunk to high heavens. I’m quaking a little when I return to the spot on my fourth round, ready to take flight at the slightest provocation and to call the neighbouring guards. But he’s disappeared. I suspect because I yelled.