The right attitude to weather

The right attitude to weather

[This post has been lying in my drafts folder since April, when summer was at its peak. Today, as I type this foreword, I am sitting in a cafe on a green, green street, taking sips of ginger lemon tea. It’s only July but it looks like winter is here early this year. The air is deliciously cool, heavy with unshed raindrops. In my mind though, the conflicts and the questions are still the same.  I re-read this draft today and felt that the thoughts still resonate though the weather has changed. So here goes.]

One of the most frustrating things in life is to feel that you are not in control, that you have no choice over what is happening. As a freelancer, I don’t have control over the kind of potential clients who approach me or the type of project they offer. Of course, I have the choice to say no to things that do not interest me or which I feel are not worth my time. Motivational posters and pages tell you that you always have a choice. You can choose how to feel, how to respond, how to act, no matter what the situation. But when there are bills to pay, I make certain choices that make me feel I had no choice at all in the first place.

All of last week, the weather reports kept predicting a cyclone in the Bay of Bengal area and we were all expecting Bangalore to cool down. Yesterday had very English weather. The skies were a dull, brooding grey. We kept expecting rain, kept watching for it, even went on a long drive in anticipation of it. But we were cheated. And today is a very hot day. Probably 32 or 33 degrees Celsius. It is so bright outside at 9AM that I cannot stand in my balcony for longer than ten minutes without sweat running down my face and body.

Could I have predicted today’s skies to be this hot, bright white? Absolutely not. But here it is.

And funnily enough, I don’t mind.

The weather is the one thing we have no control over, but which we rarely resent.  We might whinge a little about how hot or wet or cold it is, but we just make adjustments to our day’s plans, our routine, our meals, and our clothing to suit the weather outside. Because we can’t change the weather, we have a favourite summer drink and a favourite winter drink. We have cotton dresses for the summer and woolens for the winter. We have hats and shades, but also sweaters and mufflers. We have umbrellas and rubber-soled slippers, but also sneakers and sandals.

In a nutshell, we don’t question the weather. We just prepare ourselves for it.

What if we applied the same attitude to everything else in life? In my case, the kind of projects I get offered. Sometimes, the work is creative and fun, or easy and pays well. But sometimes, it’s tough, tedious, time-consuming, or a combination of these. Whatever it is, I can just tackle it with the right equipment (attitude, approach) and move on, instead of feeling angry and frustrated.

It’s a thought.

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Mouna Ragam: Silent Rhapsody or Silenced Womanhood?

Mouna Ragam: Silent Rhapsody or Silenced Womanhood?

While walking back home last week, I heard a snatch of Nilave vaa playing off someone’s phone and felt an overwhelming urge to watch Mouna Ragam again. This movie has always found a spot on my list of favorite romances (right after Alai Payuthe). For months after I watched it for the first time, I dreamed of marrying someone like Chandrakumar and living in a bright and airy house like his with its Indian boho-chic decor: low lying beds, glassy walls looking out onto patches of green and potted plants dotting every corner.

Watch it I did, after nearly a decade. But this time, it didn’t leave me misty-eyed and mush-hearted. Divya and CK still have their sizzling chemistry. The house in Delhi is still beautiful. But the scales have fallen from my eyes.

In the movie, it is winter and Delhi looks like a quiet, green haven. But like every other city, it has an ugly side: heat and dust, noise and pollution and traffic jams. Just as the camera skillfully ignored these, my eyes and mind had remained blind to everything that is wrong with this movie.

The biggest loss of all.

Revathi’s Divya is a brilliant character: a twenty-something child-woman barely out of college who has had to deal silently and alone with the horrifying loss of a first love. (Notice how not even her friends in college seem to know about Manohar?) And she copes in the only way she knows: by shutting her heart to another round of loving and hurting. “Engitte ethuvume illai” as she screams at CK (“I have nothing left to give!”)

Mouna Ragam is not a story of how a young girl who has tragically lost her first love and shut her heart to it heals, grows up and finds love again. It is the story of a strong, proud woman coerced into one relationship after another by the very people who claim to love her.

Mouna Ragam is less about the loss of a first love and more about the loss of one woman’s free will.

Do one thing for me.

Mani Ratnam has openly shown how Divya’s family emotionally blackmail her into marrying CK in spite of her vehement protests. Nobody pays attention to her when she says she wants to study and her first reaction is what comes naturally to her: stalk off into the night for a walk to clear her head. She comes back with the look of someone who has made up her mind but we never find out what this is, because her father has just had a heart attack. Her brother cold-shoulders her and even her ten-year-old younger sister looks at her reproachfully, blaming her for their father’s condition.

This is followed by a scene that is not alien to Indian families: a mother emotionally backing her daughter into a corner by playing the ‘this is a matter of life and death’ card.  The following morning, Divya’s father asks her, “Did you do this for me?” but when she kneels down next to him crying, he seems quietly satisfied, not concerned.

But Divya is no stranger to emotional blackmail. In fact, she has surrendered to it once already.

Love me, love me not.

Comments on YouTube, where Mouna Ragam is uploaded, gush over what a truly romantic character Manohar is, one that any girl would swoon over. But is Mano anything more than a charming cad? Take a look at how he wins Divya’s affections: he stalks her; embarrasses her in public; storms into her classroom and gets her out using a blatant (and fairly insensitive) lie; challenges her to ‘prove’ that she has no feelings for him by having coffee with him… For all her fieriness and pride, Divya is swept along, easily manipulated by his bold tactics.

The night that Manohar gives up his activism and shows up outside her house, what he gives her is not so much a proposal as an ultimatum. Marry me tomorrow, he says, brushing aside her protests. Show up outside the registrar’s office tomorrow or it will mean you don’t love me. There’s no conversation, no discussion about their future or what she wants, no consideration for her feelings: just a take-it-or-leave-it proposal. And Divya succumbs.

What ensues is certainly a tragedy, but would not living a life of compromise and manipulation with a man as impulsive and stubborn as Mano been a bigger one?

A woman without a man.

Throughout the film, Divya gets advice from friendly, well-meaning women, all of whom supposedly care about her. “If he is handsome, marry him,” says a friend flippantly when Divya worries about going home to face the marriage party. “I am begging you, let me keep my thaali (don’t drive my husband, your father, to his death)says her mother, when Divya tries to explain her feelings to her.

And her own divorce lawyer—an educated, professionally accomplished woman—tells Divya that a woman cannot live by herself. “I am speaking from my own experience,” she says, as if to add credibility to her words. This female character, who seems strong on the surface, turns out to be another cardboard figure and one has to wonder what the writer and director are really telling us.

Bharadwaj Rangan writes that in a conversation with him, Mani Ratnam said that Divya was originally the protagonist of a short story in which a young girl coerced into a marriage ends up being a victim of marital rape on their wedding night. It is ironic that this dark slice of realism evolved into the patronizing, manipulative beauty that Mouna Ragam is.

Idols with cracks.

Chandrakumar (CK) is the epitome of perfection, a gentleman par excellence whom it is difficult to discredit. He is never more radical or liberal or attractive than in the scene in which he starts clearing up the remnants of the house party himself and tells Divya, “I am sorry. I can only imagine what you must be feeling.” In a world where a man who deigns to wash his own plate is applauded, such empathy and quiet sharing of chores cannot be scoffed at. And remember, this movie was made 32 years ago.

But even gods collapse and CK too falters in the end. Things come to a head when Divya, hurt and angry at his outburst, asks CK why he is still ‘keeping her here’. (Another subtle hint at how she is really a prisoner of circumstances even when she isn’t physically restrained?) She has to ask him to book her tickets even though it is revealed later that she has some housekeeping money saved (which she dutifully returns to him).

The biggest tell is when CK calls up the travel agency—he makes it a point to spell out her name: Divya Chandrakumar. The divorce papers have arrived that morning and they are no longer husband and wife, but his is a name she has to carry with hers like a cross all her life.

Destroyed but not defeated.

Throughout the movie, Divya is repeatedly victimized. Even the audience’s sympathy switches to CK halfway through. But she doesn’t allow herself to be a victim. Her innate boldness and strength of character shine through after every crisis. So you cannot help cheering when at the railway station, she tells CK, “If you didn’t love me, I would have understood. But I know you do. It is your ego that prevents you from admitting it. Fine, I will put my ego aside and admit it. I love you. I am in love with you.”

These lines are so many things: an admission of pride, of mistakes made. An assertion of confidence. A bold and open proposal, something unimaginable coming from a woman all those years ago. In this climax scene, Divya is hurt and scared and lonely, but she shows that she has lost none of her spunk. And that really is the saving grace of this movie. That is what makes her a true heroine.

Prufrock and coffee on a New Year morning

Prufrock and coffee on a New Year morning
As another new year is rung in, I wake up thinking of Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’. An oft-quoted line from the poem says “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.” and I realize that I have done just that.
 
Three hundred and sixty five times, I have lifted my coffee maker and poured out the decoction into my mug. Three hundred and sixty five times, I have added a splash of milk and shaken the mug–never stirred. Even middle-class married women must have their quirks.
 
Some mornings, the decoction is dark and strong and scented and my mood lifts instantly. Ideas roll off my tongue with haughty ease. I ace every meeting, breeze through presentations.
 
On others, it is light and golden and watery. I berate myself for measuring out too little coffee or too much water. I cradle the steaming mug like a lifeline, breathing in the coffee fumes, and will myself to look up and face the day.
 
“The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.” wrote Ella W. Wilcox.
What a fragile thing life is! Balanced on the knife-edge of sanity and fantasy, moods and madness. Sunlight patterns on my balcony can lift the edges of my mind. A mug of coffee has such power over my life.
 
I pour and lift and sip and the years roll by.
 
Wishes dwindle from many to a few. Dreams hover benignly, waiting for me to give them my full attention: there’s no more of the frantic beating of old. My senses are alert and I notice each day, its shape and colours and outline more keenly. My energies, spread over many things over many years, seem to have concentrated themselves into laser pinpoints.
 
Inexplicably, I feel younger and older at the same time.
 
There is not the old excitement for new beginnings, no eager anticipation to see what the year has in store. I simply sit back on my chair, lift my mug to my lips, and take life as it comes.
 
#happynewyear #2019musings #newbeginnings

Short story: A Flower for the Lady by Gowri N Kishore

My short story, published in Kitaab.

kitaab

Gowri Kishore

Karthi was in love.

Whether it was right for him to be in love, being only eight years old, was a different matter.

He thought Mari was the most beautiful thing he had ever set his eyes on. And though he was trying hard to do his maths homework (the terrifying prospect of facing Varadarajan sir with a blank notebook urged him on), he just couldn’t. He had been sitting in the corner of appa’s room with his back against the wall, his books spread out around him, chewing the end of his pencil and trying to focus on the problem at hand.

‘Joseph had three dozen roses. He gave half of them to Alice. How many roses did each of them have?’

Oh, lucky boy Joseph! He had three dozen roses to give away to whoever he liked. Whereas he, Karthi, could not find a way to get hold…

View original post 1,957 more words

Afternoon

Afternoon

I look at my dog sleeping

Sideways on the couch.

His golden belly gently rising.

His paws stretched, sticking out over the side.

His tail tucked under his legs,

His little ears folded back.

 

He whimpers, his paws tremble.

Puppy dreams, I think fondly,

Though he turned three many months ago.

I sit and watch him.

My laptop slack, forgotten.

And suddenly, I can smell bread baking.

A rich, warm, glorious smell

That wafts through the house.

 

Who’s baking on a Monday afternoon, I wonder.

 

I open the door and check outside,

but the other flats lie silent.

The corridor is cold and silent

And smells of cheap phenyl.

 

It is in my house, the smell of bread.

It cannot be otherwise.

Heady, rich, impossible to ignore.

My heart is filled with it.

 

I move from room to room, my dog at my heels.

I sniff the air, my head raised.

He cocks his head. He is puzzled.

What is the human looking for?

 

My windows are latched shut.

The balcony closed.

It is a cold, gloomy day with a nip in the air.

Defeated, I return to my seat.

My dog totters after and curls up at my feet.

 

A few minutes later, the clouds shift.

A stray sunbeam comes in.

His brown fur blazes golden.

And I sit, transfixed.

He yawns, his tongue lolls pink.

He scratches an ear. He licks a paw.

And turns melting brown eyes to me.

“Yes, human?” they seem to ask,

“Do you smell the mysterious smell again?”

 

I bend forward and bury my face in his back.

And it is there again.

That thick, golden, wholesome scent

Choking my heart.

Stinging my eyes.

Almost too rich to bear.

 

‘A certain weariness’ by Pablo Neruda

“I don’t want to be tired alone,

I want you to grow tired along with me.”

I stumbled upon Neruda’s poem ‘A certain weariness’ and caught my breath when I read these opening lines. I read the poem over and over and wanted desperately to do something. Write. Awaken my sleeping husband and read it to him. Run out onto the road and stop people, shake the poem in their faces and ask, “Have you read this? Isn’t it beautiful? Isn’t it the truth we’ve known all along?”

Instead, I did this. Attempted to translate the words and their meanings into Malayalam, my other tongue. Even in my amateur hands, they sound just as beautiful.

ഒരുതരം മടുപ്പ്.

എനിക്ക് ഏകനായി മടുക്കേണ്ട.
നീയും എന്നോടൊപ്പം മടുക്കൂ.
എങ്ങനെ തോന്നാതിരിക്കും മടുപ്പ്?
നഗരങ്ങളെ ശിശിരത്തിൽ വന്നു മൂടുന്ന ഈ ചാരപ്പൊടിയോട്.
മുഴുവനായി എരിയാത്തത്.
കുപ്പായങ്ങളിൽ വന്നടിയുന്നത്.
പതിയെ പതിയെ ഹൃദയത്തെ പൊതിയുന്നത്.
എനിക്ക് മടുപ്പാണ്.
നിർദ്ദയമായ കടലിനെ. നിഗൂഢമായ ഭൂമിയെ.
മടുപ്പാണ് എനിക്ക് കോഴിയെ.
നമുക്കറിയില്ല അവ എന്താണ് ചിന്തിക്കുന്നത് എന്ന്.
ഉണങ്ങിയ കണ്ണുകളോടെ അവ നമ്മെ നോക്കുന്നു,
ആരുമല്ലാത്തവർ ആണെന്ന പോലെ.
ഞാൻ നിന്നെ ക്ഷണിക്കുന്നു.
ഒരു പ്രാവശ്യം ഈ മടുപ്പ് അനുഭവിക്കാൻ.
രുചിയില്ലാത്ത മദ്യത്തോട്. നിലവാരമുള്ള വിദ്യാഭ്യാസത്തോട്.
ഫ്രാൻസിലേക്ക് പോവാൻ സാധിക്കാത്തതിനോട്.
ആഴ്ചയിലെ ഒന്നോ രണ്ടോ ദിവസങ്ങളോട്.
അവയ്ക്കെന്നും ഒരേ പേരാണ്, തീൻ മേശയിലെ വിഭവങ്ങളെ പോലെ.
മടുപ്പ് – രാവിലെ ഉണരുന്നതിനോട്. (അല്ലെങ്കിലും അതെന്തിന് വേണ്ടി?)
മടുപ്പ് – ശ്രേയസ്സില്ലാതെ ജീവിക്കുന്നതിനോട്.
ഒടുവിലിപ്പോൾ നമുക്ക് സത്യം പറയാം –
ഈച്ചയെയോ ഒട്ടകത്തെയോ പോലെയുള്ള
ഈ നാളുകൾ നാം ഒരിക്കലും ആസ്വദിച്ചിരുന്നില്ലെന്ന്.
ചില സ്മാരകങ്ങൾ ഞാൻ കണ്ടിട്ടുണ്ട്.
മഹാന്മാർക്ക് വേണ്ടി പണിതുയർത്തിയത്.
വ്യവസായ കഴുതകൾക്കു വേണ്ടി പണിതുയർത്തിയത്.
അതാ അവർ അവിടെ, നിശ്ചലരായി, കയ്യിൽ വാളുമേന്തി,
മ്ലാനമുഖമുള്ള കുതിരകൾക്കു മുകളിൽ ഇരിക്കുന്നു.
മടുത്തൂ എനിക്കീ ശില്പങ്ങൾ.
മതി, കല്ലുകൊണ്ട് ഉണ്ടാക്കിയതെല്ലാം.
ഈ ലോകം മുഴുവൻ ഇവയെക്കൊണ്ട് നിറച്ചാൽ
ഇവിടെ ജീവനുള്ളവർ എന്തു ചെയ്യും?
ഓർക്കുന്നത് എനിക്ക് മടുത്തു.
പിറന്നു വീണ മനുഷ്യർ, അവർ ശ്വസിക്കട്ടെ
നറുപുഷ്പങ്ങളും, പുതുമണ്ണും, ചുടുതീയും.
മറ്റുള്ളവർ ശ്വസിക്കുന്നത് അവർക്ക് വേണ്ട.
ഈ നവജാതരെ വെറുതെ വിടൂ!
ഇവർക്ക് ജീവിക്കാൻ ഇടം നൽകൂ.
നിങ്ങൾ ഇവർക്കുവേണ്ടി ചിന്തിക്കേണ്ട.
അതെ പുസ്തകങ്ങൾ ഇവരെ കേൾപ്പിക്കേണ്ട.
ഇവർ പുതിയ പുലരികൾ തേടട്ടെ.
ഇവരുടെ ചുംബനങ്ങൾക്കു പേരുകൾ തനിയെ തിരയട്ടെ…
മടുപ്പ്. ഇത് നീ എന്നോടൊപ്പം അനുഭവിക്കൂ.
മടുപ്പ്: നന്നായി ചെയ്തു തീർത്ത പ്രവർത്തികളോട്.
നമ്മളെ ജീർണിപ്പിക്കുന്ന കാര്യങ്ങളോട്.
ഇനിയങ്ങോട്ട് നമ്മളെ കാത്തുനിൽക്കുന്നതിനോട്.
മറ്റുള്ളവരെ മടുപ്പിക്കാൻ.
മടുക്കാം നമുക്ക് കൊല്ലുന്നതിനെ.
മരിക്കാൻ തയാറാകാത്തതിനെ.
I have taken certain liberties with the text. My source for this was itself an English translation of the original Spanish poem, which you can read here.

The dog on the doormat

The dog on the doormat

I spotted this dog while having lunch at a restaurant today. He was sleeping on a red doormat right outside the main entrance of the restaurant.

Every time someone wanted to come in, they had to step over or around him. There were people who were scared of him and who would hesitate, shuffling around for a bit before hunger and common sense took over, and they scurried past him. Each time, the heavy glass door would be pulled open and it would squeak shut behind them.

All in all, it wasn’t a great spot to catch a nap.

Ten minutes later, I looked up and noticed that he had moved to the side, behind a standee. Now he was sleeping on the cold cement floor. Obviously less comfortable than the red doormat. But he was finally fast asleep. Completely at peace, oblivious to the world around him.

And it suddenly struck me how similar the two of us were.

Until four months ago, I had a full-time job with a regular paycheck and an impressive designation. I had a schedule and a holiday list and the comfort of knowing what tomorrow would bring. The doormat I was lying on was indeed soft. But there were disturbances all around: I was chasing other people’s goals. I was jogging on a treadmill that someone else controlled. My time simply wasn’t my own.

So, like this wise little chap, I decided to step aside.

I gave up the spot upfront on the red doormat and found myself a quiet corner behind a standee. The floor is indeed cold, but I am sleeping a lot better.