About Me

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Study life, study literature. Eat food. Lots of it.
Also, I use a lot of adjectives- working on that, so bear with me.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Soliloquies with Strangers

First off, yes, I know soliloquies are not dialogues with someone else. I haven't quite forgotten what I studied in college yet. 

As always, it's been a while since my last post, and I feel searing guilt because of that. Something compelled me to write again today. What? A soliloquy with a stranger. 

As a part of my work, I'm currently on a gruelling internship stint with a production house on a daily soap. Those experiences by themselves could fill a book, but it'll be a book that I'm not sure if you or I would like to read. Long story short, I'm sleepwalking through a crazy schedule, because shoots happen 24x7. Yes, Sundays are no longer a thing for me. So the point is, every free moment I get, and there aren't a lot, I cherish. Like a bloody gift. The problem, however, of being on your own in a new city with very few friends is that that you don't quite know what to do with a free minute, if  at all you have the energy to do something. 

One evening like this, while leaving my editing studio, on a whim I asked an auto driver, "Bhaiiya, Prithvi Theatre yahaan se kitna dur hai?"  Turns out, it was 5 kms, 58 rupees away. Now, if you know me, you know that I'm not the kind who can even cross a road on my own. So going to a theatre by myself was alien Plutonian territory. None the less, I reached. The next show (The Glass Menagerie) was four hours away, and I didn't have the luxury of waiting till then. So a trip to the Prithvi cafe would have to do. I'd heard a lot about its Irish Coffee, and I ordered, but I couldn't find an empty table to plonk myself down on. 

I looked around, and in front of me was a table, with three seats, and just one man sitting on it. 
"Do you mind if I sit here?"  

I drank my coffee in peace, feeling the Irish bit of the coffee settling quite smoothly in me.  
Another twenty minutes flew by. 

"If you're here for the invitees only show, it'll start in five minutes", he said. 
I wasn't, I told him. I got a smile in return, followed by "So you're just sitting by yourself?"
And that was the beginning. I spent the next forty-five minutes talking to an actual stranger about life and Bombay and theatre and English grammar. I discovered that he was a producer, and in just as desperate need of time just to himself as I. He assured me that I work at a good company, and that I'm in the right place at the right point in my life, and I'll learn a lot from my struggles. We also spoke about truck drivers and PHDs, and the quickest way to get to Vile Parle Station (which is a 25 minutes walk crossing Amitabh Bacchan's bungalow). 

What fascinates me is that in this entire conversation, the only thing we exchanged were smiles and first names. Nothing more, nothing less. In effect, it was one conversation with a stranger, but it was one large vent. It was my soliloquy, and his answering soliloquy. 

It took nearly two and a half months in this city before I walked into a place and spoke to a stranger who reassured me against so many of my doubts without even knowing any of them, without any ulterior motive. This, and a quick trip to the Prithvi book store, and suddenly, the sun was shining through the clouds as I walked towards Vile Parle, which as it turns out, did take 25 minutes, and Amitabh Bachan's bungalow doesn't shine like gold, in case you expected it as I did, for some reason.) 

That evening, the hour long train journey home wasn't any trouble at all. In fact, I might have scared the woman sitting across from me because I was smiling to myself, staring out of the window humming to the music from my earphones. I might have scared her even more because this filmy display was followed by fifteen minutes of furious typing on my phone- the first half of this post. 

To a whole lot of you who are reading this, my experience will be nothing out of the ordinary. For me, video game boxes are jumping in my head:

Achievement Level- Grown Up; Unlocked. 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

A Deep Breath

 There are times when your feet touch a place and then they don't stop moving till you reach someplace ahead of you. And then there are times when they touch a place and steadfastly refuse to move. I experienced both today; in nearly the same place. Fate took me to Sanchi today. A 6 am car ride to Jabalpur for work seemed pretty bleary. An hour into the drive, the driver says "Arre madamji, Sanchi ke stupa ka naam suna hai? Yeh raha. Jao dekh ke aao." I assumed that we would be back in half an hour. That was at 7:15.  As of this moment that I type this, it's 9:30 and I still haven't moved from here. 

I'm not giving history lessons. There's google and libraries for that. Historical and religious and archeological significance aside, for me the place felt like I'd taken a warm bath after an excruciatingly tired day. Something about the place washed over me, healing. 
I spent a few days in Bhopal before I got here, so this calm wasn't new to me, but it was. It wasn't just the lack of noise, but there is an actual energy of peace. 
The campus around the stupas is vast, and rocky. There are steps to climb, rocks to sit on, inscriptions to marvel and, and I could keep going. All you can see and smell and breathe and taste and feel is green-ness. That isn't a word, but I really couldn't care less. 

Keep walking downwards, and just across from stupa 2 was a very small waterfall. A little while of slipping on rocks, and I could touch the water. Break the flow with my palms. I washed my face, and opened my eyes again. I couldn't really speak for a while. In that moment, a colleague who was with me started humming Luka Chuppi. "Maine jharne se pani Maa, tod ke piya hai."  Suddenly, I knew what Prasoon Joshi felt, what AR Rehman felt. What Madhavan never did. 
Maybe it was just me, maybe it happens  to everyone here, but my feet just wouldn't stop until they'd reached the stupas, and once there, I had to actually push myself after some time because I have somewhere else to get to, sadly. 
Temple walls that overlook small valleys, we sat on these. And couldn't bring ourselves to move after that. 
The best part about this entire experience was that because it was so early, there was no one else around at the entire site except for us, the peacocks and the rains. Of course, we were all just visitors in the land of the stones and the whooshing winds and the little men and women on the sthambs. Probably emperor Ashoka was too, even though he had this built. 

Somehow, I've managed to drag myself to the car. The wind is still hitting my face, but I think I left my sighs of contentment back at Sanchi. 
Madhya Pradesh, it's not only your tourism ads that are brilliant. You've won my soul. 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Maybe, a Goodbye?

When you stay silent for a while, the words pour out like a flood when you do finally manage to speak. This, it seems, is what is happening to me. The amount of thoughts and emotions that are churning inside me, they leave me handicapped; numb somehow.  The only solace, these words. 

In our heads, we have our lives all planned out. School, college, more college, work, probably marriage: a full life. Somewhere in all the planning, our life becomes all about moving from one stage to another, without stopping to give yourself a minute to mourn for what you're leaving behind. Don't worry, I'm not sitting on the edge of a 50-storey building as I type this, about to jump off. You see, I've recently finished college. Not entirely, but I'm now just left with my final exams before I can call myself a graduate. Just another laurel for my CV? Not at all. 

To many, the rest of this post will seem like a gross exaggeration, a sentimental trough of over-emotional garbage, and just basically a lot of drama. To you, I apologize beforehand. You may turn away now. To the rest, keep those tissues handy, you may need them.

I'd seen plenty of Hindi films and TV shows to know that college was going to be an awesome experience. Life-changing, love-inducing, song-producing; not to mention- it needed to include a makeover or two. Did any of these happen? Yes, a few. Did it happen in any form that I thought it would? Absolutely not. When my best friend and I walked into St. Xavier's College, Ahmedabad, we promptly walked back out the minute we could, on our first day. We were not happy. The building was old, the people were way too many and most of them weird strangers, the teachers were only screaming at us. Suddenly, I could hear all those film reels in my head scrunching back into their cases, and all my excitement being wiped off with a wiper like the rain on the windscreen of a car, squeaky sounds included. 

Today, just about three years later, I question whether I settled to now love all those same things, or if I was stupid to not have seen them for how amazing they were. As I struggle today to rummage up one more doubt that I can ask my professors just to keep the discussions going, I feel pretty stupid about my self on the first day of college. In these three years, I have come a long way from being the child that walked into college that day. Somewhere in between those infinite moments spent tanning ourselves on the grass in the lawns and on the football stands, I found friendship. Somewhere during those seemingly never-ending practices and meetings for the Youth Festivals, the Culfests and every other event, I found the ability to speak. Somewhere among the classes that did actually go on forever, I found how to think for myself. I discovered Marlowe and Virginia Woolf, Bakhtin and Showalter, Shaw and the shadow of Shakespeare, but more than that, I began to uncover Farheen Raaj, roll no. 82. 

I have a professor from a whole other continent, another who used hindi films to explain T.S Eliot and how a chair can be used to undo an entire thought process, and another who used fruit salad to talk about Coleridge. I also found a mime instructor who wished me good luck for an exam by reminding me to use actual words in stead of expressions, and an event co-ordinator who plied us with a stream of black coffee when the work kept on piling up.
St. Xavier's for me, thus became, all of these. It became the hours spent at the canteen judging people on their clothes while gorging on chilly chicken and chips, it became Hasmukh, the dog that everyone hates but secretly adores. It is the early morning spent trudging up the staircase for class and still realizing that you might just miss attendance because you're late. For me, college became everything; so much so that when someone asks me to give them directions for an address, I actually use my college as a landmark. "Aapne Xavier's college dekha hai na? Wahaan se right lena hai." 

How I'm expected to leave all this behind, is a little beyond me at this moment. The absence of the every day routine of college will be a gaping hole in my gut, at least to me, if not to others. The idea that there will be no more Youth Festival valedictory functions where I will scream myself hoarse cheering for other Xavierites that I don't even know or having them cheer for me, is a punch to the gut. All the familiar faces- the comforting ones of your friends and classmates, the even more comforting ones of my English professors, and the feeling of the college stage, all gone. Well not technically, I'll be gone, not them. Maybe that's what hurts too, that nothing will change for the college, except for the loss of one batch. My juniors will remain to become seniors, the teachers remain, the benches and the boards remain, Hasmukh remains. As comforting as that is, it is also what hurts. I cannot bring myself to end this post, just like I cannot bring myself to walk away from my college. No quote, no song lyrics suffice to explain this moment. I'll always be a Xavierite, that cannot be taken away from me, even if everything else can. At least, there is the comfort of that.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Voices That Cannot Be Silenced

There are these times when you realise that something that you are trying to do is utterly pointless. And then you come to a realisation above that- which is that that is precisely why they need to be done more, to reinforce the sense of it. I know, not making a lot of sense, am I? Let me explain.

 The NGO I work with organised a theatre workshop recently. As a part of the workshop and another campaign, we came up with a production- a street play on youth and contemporary politics; meant to raise awareness, and not at all affiliated with any political party. Armed with loud voices and vivacious spirits and a brilliant dhol, we dressed ourselves in black kurtas and mostly red duppattas. This already made us feel a little bit like an army. In effect, we went to a lot of places, performed without fear and garnered great feedback. Not only that, but we generated a lot of pretty interesting post performance discussions with the audience. The best part about the play, proudly titled 'Bharat Bhagya Vidhata' is that it contains just the right mix of humour and punches to the gut. We sing songs and we provoke just as much laughter as we do serious thought. All in all, we were pretty proud of what we were doing, since we don't expect any one of our viewers to stand up after the play and say "I shall change the country and I shall become next PM." But the fact that people have come up to us saying we encourage/inspire them is good enough for the moment. Moreover, at every one of our performances, and there have been quite a few, there has been at least one invitation from another institute or organization that wants us to perform there.

However, something happened today that shook our spirit a little. We usually alternate performances between institutes and public places. Today, we went to one of the bigger parks of the city, hoping to catch a regular audience. Let me state here that this is the second time we were going to this place. As usual, before we began, we walked around the park, telling people about the play, inviting them and creating a general atmosphere. It worked well, and we began on a high note. Just about the point when the play hit the halfway mark- at about 7 minutes, this gentleman walks in, all enraged, demanding us to pack up. He said that we were disturbing the walkers and were a nuisance, and I quote, "I called the commissioner and I am very happy I shut this down." Not wanting to create trouble for ourselves as well as those present there, we stopped as we were, apologized to our audience and silenced the dhol. Not that our ego as performers wasn't hurt, but more than that, our shoulders slumped because we realised that our voices, no matter how loud and how necessary, were still silenced. 

What still managed to make us smile was the fact that a lot of people from the audience came and apologised to us because of what happened. Another person who was pretty sorry apologised that we weren't allowed to continue, but in a loud tone stated "these young people are like the roots of a tree. Even if we forcefully uproot them from here, they will find root and grow somewhere else. They cannot be contained." His pride mirrored in our eyes. 

Today, I understood that when your voice is silenced, that's when you need to speak the loudest. After this setback, we walked out a little disheartened, and yet feeling more enthused than ever. Let's just say, stronger, louder voices are waiting just behind the curtains. In the words of one spectator against our agitator, we will find root and grow again.