If I was a Frenchman…


My name could have been L’eon, or Anant if I was a South Asian guy. But on moving to Texas,  that would surely have shortened to Andy the brown immigrant turned Texan cowboy. But hey, I’m neither French nor a guy, garcon, hombre, l’homme… Je suis une femme, a woman, une fille, dama, a desi nari… so don’t get me wrong, I am not ‘nar‘ the desi man, my emphasis lies on ‘not’ and equally on ‘man’! Oui, I am quite the opposite, definitely a woman, the emphasis now on ‘definitely’ and ‘woman’.

Okay, so that issue being quite settled, I should think, here’s a commonly asked question among my desi brethren — bhaaiyon aur behnon, i.e. brother, sisters — and fellow countrymen (and women). “Are you settled?”

In my view thus far, isn’t this a loaded question? Yeah, yeah, in Texas, folks may walk around with loaded guns, but to be honest, I’m not afraid of those. However, I am leery of the missile I’ve had to dodge for as long as I can remember.

To give you a little background: well, I recently moved — no, no, not from India, but locally. In fact, ‘shifting’ from Mumbai to North America happened almost two decades ago. A.k.a. immigrating (or, ‘back home’ where it is commonly referred to as ‘migrating’ – perhaps because we take flight from our ‘matrubhumi‘ – motherland, across the seven seas… ‘saat samundar paar‘, on a transatlantic, or ‘transpacific’ flight; and when your friends don’t follow you peechhey peechhey, (hence you may make facebook friends and make feeble attempts at building an online following); and just for the records, I didn’t follow anyone either. For the sake of simplicity, let’s say, I’d moved, simply on a whim… (and did not change my mind on a dime). This dame was strong, and soon ‘settled’… or so she’d thought, until…

She moved down south – again, not just on a whim, but with purpose. As the years went by, my moves were frequent, and each time I often faced this loaded question, “Are you settled?” Believe me, the question rattled me, in fact it was most unsettling. Never could I  fathom, ‘why’.  One could argue that with the moves as frequent as 12 on last count, I should be quite adept at the process, right? Oops, I daresay, ‘wrong’!

You can, and may move as often as you can cope with it, but until and unless you make that shift inside your head, you’re still rooted in your motherland. As a consequence, your career can take a beating, your social life comes to a standstill, your bags, books and boxes will move with you… but your mind has remained in a faraway land, which also morphed while you were away, and is really no longer your home. Your heart too beats in a rhythm that is completely out of sync with the sounds that surround you here. Do you hear them? Are you even listening? You may as well be tone deaf. If so, then how would you communicate with those around you? You’re now in neither-land… yeah, you may as well be in Netherlands, with folks speaking Dutch, and you feeling out of your depth, secretly praying that they’d dumb-down their language. Bingo… that’s the secret sauce… learn their language (easier said, but not entirely impossible).

But remember, you’re not in Netherlands. You are in a nation that speaks the language you do speak… so it should be easy. All you have to do is change your thought process… remember the old adage, “When in Rome be like the Romans”, and all that? Well, if you wish to feel ‘settled’, embrace the culture that surrounds you…  you don’t have to shun what’s encoded in your DNA, but if you’re smart, you can adapt to your new environment… that’s key to survival… that’s fundamental Darwinism… that’s key to your inherent strength… even back in motherland the maxim was to adapt, to survive… or get trampled over, or worse, left far behind.

You can be French, Spanish, Japanese, German, English… American or American Desi, or Desi American… or cook up whatever name or ethnicity or race you wish to embrace. If you wish to feel ‘settled’ sooner rather than later, alongside the geographic change, the change must take place within you. The peace and the purpose within will follow, I have no doubt. In case you wondered about L’eon or Anant… well, my true name has its origins in ancient Sanskrit vocabulary… it means infinity… or a long epoch of time… eon — in other words, timeless… and that is a constant. So what else is constant… but of course, ‘change’… and that applies to every aspect of life. No matter your name, or your nationality, or ethnicity, race, color… learn to embrace ‘change’. Rest assured, your inner peace will follow. At least I plan to do just that, going forward. Better now, than never.

No matter where life takes me, the next time someone shoots that missile, I will smile and say, “Yes, I’m settled.” In fact, better still, I will not view that dreaded question as a missile… after all, why should I look for a deeper meaning to a polite, simple question, filled with some concern for my well-being? Just view it as misri — ‘sweet’. At least someone cared enough about my well-being to sweetly ask.  So now, I ask of you, “Are you settled?” 🙂


The “Flying Rani”!

Gujarati? Catch the “Flying Rani” going Mumbai to Surat!

બાળપણ નું સુસ્મરણ

હોતું હશે!

(ભઈ તમે માનો કે ના માનો આ વાત હકીકત છે.)

After reaching Navsari (pix above: Juna Thana), Surat is just minutes away… you get set to alight… with all your bags! 😉

મમ્મી: ઓ કે, હું taxi વાળા ને પૈસા ચૂકવું છું, તું કૂલી ને શોધ (ચિંતા નહિ કરતી, તું શોધે એ પેહલા એ તને શોધી કાઢશે)
હું : એ એ એ… આણે તો bag ઊંચકી એ લીધી!
મમ્મી: ઓ એની સાથે ભાવ પેહલા થી નક્કી કરજે, ભૂલતી નહિ … ઠીક છે, કંઈ નહિ.

મમ્મી (કૂલી ને): ઓ, કેટલા? કિતના લેગા?
કૂલી : ફિકર નહિ, આપ સે જ્યાદા નહિ લેગા … બસ, બીસ રૂપિયા.
મમ્મી: હેં!……. કેટલા રૂપિયા??
(કૂલી ને): તુમ કો ક્યા લગતા હૈ – હમ નયે હૈ ઇસ શેહેર મેં ! દસ રૂપિયે સે ઝ્યાદા નહિ દૂંગી
કૂલી: સત્રા
મમ્મી: નહિ, નહિ, ચલો, બારા બરાબર હૈ
ફૂલી: અરે ક્યા મેમસાબ તુમ ભી… અચ્છા પન્દ્રા
મમ્મી : ચલો છોડો — જાને દો. હમારી bag રક્ખો, તુમ દૂસરા ઘરાક શોધો

મમ્મી (અમને, બચ્ચા પાર્ટી ને): ચાલો, ચાલો, જલ્દી જલ્દી એક એક bag ઉઠાવો – નાની, મોટી, જે ઉંચકાય તે લો.
હું : મમ્મી, જલ્દી, પછી સીટ નહિ મળે!
મમ્મી (કૂલી ને): અલ્યા ચાલ, ચૌદ રૂપિયા નક્કી, ચાર bag ઉઠાવ – આખી berth પકડ, બારી સાથે!
કૂલી: ફિકર નકો કરા મેમસાબ
મમ્મી: છોકરાઓ, જલ્દી કરો, નહિ તો આ ભીડ માં કૂલી ગુમ ના થયી જાય!
હું : મમ્મી, કૂલી તો બહુ ફાસ્ટ જાય છે!

થોડેક આગળ ગયા, થોડી વાર પછી, થોભ્યા:

ફૂલી: મેમસાબ, ઇધર રુકો, bag કે પાસ, અભી સીટ પકડ કે આતા હું!
હું : ઓ…, કહાં જાતે હો? Train કહાં હૈ? Platform પર હજી આવી નથી ને!
ફૂલી: બેબી, અભી આતી હૈ train.
હું : તુમ કો કૈસે find કરેંગે?
કૂલી : એક રૂમાલ દો, ચાદર હૈ?
(મમ્મી પર્સ માંથી કાઢી, એમનો સ્કાર્ફ આપે છે કૂલી ને.) કૂલી સ્કાર્ફ લઇ ને ભીડ માં ફરી થી અલુપ્ત થયી ગયો!

મમ્મી : તમને બંને ને કહ્યું’તું જલ્દી તૈયાર થયી જાઓ, નહીતર આ ભીડ માં ભીંસાવું પડશે પણ સાંભળે કોણ! કેટલો Rush છે, હવે જઈશું ઉભા ઉભા ઠેઠ સુધી!

મમ્મી (અકળાઈ ને) એક બીજા યાત્રી ને: ઓઓઓ, વગાડી દીધી મેટલ ની bag. કચડી નાખ્યો મારો પગ! જોઈ ને તો ચાલ!

હું: આવતી vacation માં મારે train માં ક્યાંય જવું નથી! I don’t want to go on the train anywhere! What a nightmare!
મમ્મી : ઓ, ચાલો, ચાલો જલ્દી જલ્દી, ગાડી આવી ગઈ!
હું: ઓ, પણ bags નું ધ્યાન કોણ રાખશે
મમ્મી : ચલ એક જણ અહીંયા ઉભા રહો, તું ઉભી રેહ… ઓ લે, જો, ફૂલી એ હાથ દેખાડ્યો… જગા મળી ગયી લાગે છે.
મમ્મી (કૂલી ને બૂમ પાઈ ને કેહ છે): ચલ, આવી ને bag ઉઠાવ!
કૂલી: Bag આપ લાઓ, નહી તો seat ગેલી!
મમ્મી : અલ્યા અડધું કામ અમે જાતે કરી લઈએ તો ચૌદ રૂપિયા તને શું કરવા આપીએ!
કૂલી (હસતાં હસતાં): મેમસાબ, બગા તુમી, seat મસ્ત હૈ… પાંચ રૂપિયા ઔર દેના બક્ષીશ!
મમ્મી: ઘ્યા હે ચૌદ રૂપિયા, નહિ તો એ પણ નહિ આપું!
હું : મમ્મી, જલ્દી, આપી દો એને જે જોઈએ એ, ચાલો, let’s settle in, please!
હજી તો બેઠાં નથી, અને કોઈક બીજા યાત્રી આવ્યા:
યાત્રી : Excuse me, પણ તમે મારી seat પર બેઠાં છો! હું ફક્ત પાણી ની bottle ભરવા નીચે ઊતર્યો હતો.
મમ્મી (જરા અકળાઈ ને): ઓ હો, શૂ વાત કરો છો! હમણાં જ મેં પેલા કૂલી ને પૈસા ચૂકવ્યા seat માટે!
અચ્છા ઠીક છે, બધા જરા જરા ખસો, થોડું “adjustment” કરીએ… આ છે તો એક unreserved compartment ને! ફક્ત સાઢા ચાર કલ્લાક ની જ journey – મુંબઈ થી સૂરત સુધી ની!
યાત્રી (અડધું મનમાં બબડતા): ક્યા થી આવી જાય છે આ લોકો!
મમ્મી: મને કૈંક કહ્યું તમે?

સીટી વાગી, લીલો ઝંડો ફર્કાયો, ગાડી ની છુક-છુક શરુ થયી. ધીમે થી વેગ વધવા માંડી… પળ માં જ platform પર થી ગાડી બાહર ખુલા માં જતી રેહવાની…
મમ્મી (અકળાયલા સાદે): જો, હજુ તારા પપ્પા આવ્યા નહિ દુકાને થી… આવજો કેહવા અને મળવા!
(દૂર, પપ્પા દોડતા આવતા દેખાયા – બારી માંથી અમે આવજો કર્યું, એમના હાથ માં થી નાસ્તા નું packet જલ્દી થી લઇ લીધું! અમને, ખાસ કરી ને
મમ્મી ને હાશ થયી… મને મન માં થયું, “કદાચ પપ્પા ને પણ હાશ થયી! એમનું vacation પણ શરું થયું “) 😉
બીજા યાત્રીઓ ને પણ હાશ થયી…

યાત્રી (મમ્મી ને): ક્યાં સુધી જવાના, ક્યાં ઉતરવાના?
મમ્મી: last station… સૂરત! અને… તમે?
યાત્રી : હું પણ
મમ્મી: ચાલો, સરસ, થોડી company રેહશે 🙂

અર્ધ-સ્મિત સમેટ યાત્રી અને મમ્મી ની અકળામણ સેહજ વિલીન થયી.

મમ્મી (મારા નાજુક, baby ears માં ધીમે થી બોલ્યાં): સરખી tight બેસજે, જો, કોઈ ધક્કો મારી તને ખસેડી ના દે!
હું (મન માં વિચારતા): હાશ, જગ્યા મળી એટલું જ બસ છે… પાંચ મિનીટ પેહલા જ તો seat ના ફાંફા હતાં, અને station પણ હાંફળા-ફાંફળા પોન્હ્ચા’તા!
મમ્મી: હાશ, હવે જરા નિરાંતે શ્વાસ લેવાશે!
થોડીક જ પળો થયી હશે, ત્યાં તો, bag માંથી Pear કાઢી, purse માં થી ચપ્પુ ખેંચી, મોઢાં પર સ્મિત વેરી ને બાજુ માં બેઠેલા નૌપરિચિત યાત્રી ને મમ્મી એ પૂછ્યું, “Care to Share?”

Trotting on your high horse?

Headed to Buckingham Palace? Chances are you’re more than likely not going anywhere near there. Then why this compulsion to speak the Queen’s English, eh?  Here’s what I think the issue is…

It’s an instant giveaway that although you’re a product of independent India, you haven’t quite broken away those shackles of your colonial past – even if you were born two generations later. See this invisible long chain… your parents’ thinking influenced your childhood. They in turn were a product of parents amid an entire generation who believed that speaking English with the appropriate vocabulary, specific diction, pronunciation – ‘a command of the language’ would get them in high places. What does ‘high places’ really translate into? It meant a better paid job, access to an ‘elite’ inner circle, a membership into a club reserved for those not just with the means, i.e. wealthy, but also with a certain ‘polished’ look and feel about them. In other words, knowing which spoon to ‘not slurp’ that mulligatawny soup with, which fork to jab the paper thin phulka roti, or dosa with… and which knife to stab the steak with. No… you can’t pretend to be shocked! This was hurtful… because it’s true…

Well, in a desperate effort to give their kids a head-start parents work even harder in urban metros, I hear, paying an arm and a leg to see their kids sail through an International Baccalaureate program offered by a school that may even be tens of kilometers away from their residence — which is hard on young kids. Ostensibly, there’s the  ultimate payoff i.e. easier access to an Ivy League School, or at least better chances of admission to a good university in the US; or even to Cambridge, Manchester, Stirling, Oxford in the UK; or even down under in Australia! Isn’t that true? On the other hand millions of kids and youth strive, struggle and must elbow their way to come out ahead through education at poorly-funded municipal schools (not ‘Public Schools’ since those in India are the elite schools), or ordinary primary, middle school and high schools that are  close to home. In rural areas, they have to walk miles and overcome challenges to get anywhere near a school.  And that’s another story. I’ve digressed.

What crossed my mind is the following. Remember Bharat Ratna Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam? 11th President of India? Ever listened to him speak, whether he addressed the nation, or in an interview on Knowledge at Wharton? He spoke in English, but with an accent that is construed as ‘thick’, not just in the western world, but among his own people – the ones from elite schools. Listen to him, and say you don’t think so… but wait, pay attention to the content and his line of thinking? Amazing…

The point is, with the spread of languages we are exposed to routinely, we are at such a huge advantage (as compared to those who speak only one language — English)! Even the Eastern Bloc folks learn English, but foremost each one speaks their own language, may be even a different dialect. We know that the Japanese, Chinese, in the Philippines, natives of numerous African nations, the French, Spanish, Greeks, Hungarians, Scandinavians, Portuguese… they all are proud of their respective languages. As Indians, to express ourself, if we don’t find an appropriate word in English, there’s always another language we can borrow from… I often do. Just dip into your ‘mother tongue’ – no, chances are English is not your mother tongue, even if your entire family speaks in English! The joy of sprinkling your everyday parlance with your native lingo is immense… it’s so satisfying. It’s like having a complete meal – tangy, salty, spicy, sweet, and oh, with even with some bitterness in the mix! It’s all made so very flavorful…

When I hear Indians say with a hint of pride, “Oh, I only speak English, and am unable to read or write in any other language”, it makes me sad. What if one day, our human race turns into a homogeneous society where everyone speaks and thinks in just one language… how boring will it get! Science, math, technology is all boiling down to zero and one (0,1, 0, 1, 0, 1…) If all the languages of this world are reduced to just one, society, I’m afraid may be reduced to zero. They world may feel, “Know thy English“, but all I would like to say is, “No, to thy English.” “Ride, no?” 😉
QE On Horse_archive_hourseandhound_CO_UK

On 11th June 2016, Happy Birthday to Queen Elizabeth II… Her Majesty turns 90! 🙂
Photo Courtesy: Horse and Hound

Watch your kite soar!

In Indian cinema, poets and lyricists have expressed the joys and sorrows of people, through songs using the humble kite as a metaphor. Watching your kite soar, caressing the skies on a clear day is a simple delight.

Across the oceans to the west, or bending far over in the orient’s east, you see kites in exotic shapes and sizes but with staggering prices. Father and son leaving the neighborhood park after an hour of structured fun, is a far cry from kite-flying around “Sankranti” – celebrated annually on 14th January, unfailingly. Restless kids practice to perfection their skills, honing them in anticipation of the battles that are waged on ‘The’-Day. 🙂 Onward of December, sales of colorful ‘patang‘ (kite) and reels of “maanja” (string) begin to soar.

I remember from my childhood days – a ‘fast’ friend of my maternal uncles. “Kanu” maama, was a seasonal ‘stockist’, but an immensely gentle soul who loved kids. During the summer season, just before the onset of monsoons, he stocked umbrellas and raincoats of all shapes and sizes. We always stopped by his Station Road store to say hello to him during our vacation in the summer holidays. Again, almost towards the end of a month-long Christmas vacation spent at my grandparents’ home, a visit to his store was a given. This time around it was more exciting for us kids.

What fun, all the way to the top were arrays of kites, neatly stacked. Hanging from the ceiling, in the store’s narrow, tunnel-like space were all these colored kites and reels of string that beckoned us! In awe, we wanted as many as Maa could handle carrying these fragile paper kites back to Mumbai on a crowded train. Without doubt, boarding a train headed back to Mumbai at the end of Xmas season would be a nightmare, but this shopping was a must! It did not matter – two kids in tow, a couple of carry-on (sans wheels) bags, a few pishvis packed with food – goodies that were a specialty of Surat — think Mazda bakery’s butter biscuits, naan khatai, surti papdi (for Maa to make undhiyoo), ghee-coated pistachio ghaari, and paunk (fresh soft grain from the fields) to be savored with a bunch of other delightful, sweet-n-savory items… and the firki-patang!  A stockpile of kites is a must.

Who wants to run out on kites when you could be running across the streets, or from the top, on your building’s terrace to match kite-flying skills, with that of your opponent’s — usually that guy across on the neighboring building! Slashing his maanja requires tact and skill, when that kite sails downward, you cry out – not unlike a war-cry “Kai-po-chhe“! Yes, those strings that you tie the papyrus thin kite with, in strategic knots, is actually coated with fine glass… you’d say that’s not child’s play… but oh well, politically correct or not… I haven’t heard of anyone being sued for flying kites this way in India. That said, for the urban lot — ‘occasional’ kite-fliers like us, maanja without the glass coating was mandatory. Kanu maama had ensured that.

The soaring kite, a hard feat to achieve, that comes with practice may be used as a figure of speech for dreams unlimited — masculine; while the fallen kite — “kati patang” may be a depiction of a crestfallen maiden.  The fun and fury of flying kites surpasses the delight of flying drones or remote-controlled airplanes… any day! So… here are some songs to last you week-long… hum along! 🙂

Here is a medley of moods, music, situations.

Film: Bhabhi (1957). Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan. Composer: Chitragupt. Singers: Lata Mangeshkar & Mohommad Rafi. Actors: Nanda & Jagdeep


Film: Zameen ke Taare (1960). Lyrics: Anand Bakshi. Composer: S. Mohinder. Singers: Sudha Malhotra & Asha Bhosle. Child Actors: Daisy & Honey Irani


Film: Raagini (1958). Lyrics: Jan Nisar Akhtar. Composer: O P Nayyar. Singers: Asha Bhosle & Kishore Kumar. Actors: Kishore Kumar & ?

No kite flying visible in this song… and yet…

Film: Nagin(1954). Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan. Composer: Hemant Kumar. Singers: Lata Mangeshkar & Hemant Kumar. Actors: Vyjantimala & Pradeep Kumar

Again, this is depicted as a dance ballet on stage. Lyrics speak of patang & maanjaa.


Film: Patang (1960). Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan. Composer: Chitragupt. Singers: Mohommad Rafi. Actors: Om Prakash

A hard fact of life…

Film: Kati Patang (1971). Lyrics: Anand Bakshi. Composer: Rahul Dev Burman. Singers: Lata Mangeshkar. Actors: Asha Parekh

This post would be incomplete without this one… the crestfallen maiden!


This is colorful — Gujarati flavors and colors. Sanjay Leela Bhansali, a Gujarati, whose opulent Marathi-flavored Bajirao-Mastani is playing to packed houses currently, was writer-producer-director of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999). Ismail Darbar, the music composer debuted with this film. He is a Surti. Now, Surat, Gujarati and kite flying are virtually synonymous. Ask anyone… oh well, just enjoy this song! 😉

Film: Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999). Lyrics: Mehboob Kotwal. Composer: Ismail Darbar. Singers: K.K., Shankar Mahadevan, Jyotsna Hardikar, Dominique Cerejo.





Hima Kala Kendra

We knew her as Ms Hima Devi.

I always remember her as a lady with immense attitude, a cigarette between her fingers, puffing smoke in our middle school classroom. After a while our Victorian “ha, hoo” shocked by her stance, simply stopped.

Hima was just Hima… cool. No, we did not use that term then. But in my mind, I always remember Hima as an angry woman. Upset with the world outside, while the insides of her brain were immersed in drama – Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, Shakespeare… and continually pacing in the classroom, her feet were perhaps eager to dance in Manipuri while her fiery eyes matched the exaggerated movements in a Kathakali.

She once picked on me in class announcing rather dramatically that I would be the first to go behind the ghunghat (a long veil drawn over my face) — symbolic of a newly-wed bride (in another era)… 😉 Would she chuckle, I wonder, if she knew that I almost missed that opportunity of wearing the coveted veil… or would she roll her eyes in disbelief!

I wonder if anyone remembers how we were summoned to pay an immediate visit to Strand Book Stall – no, not New York’s Strand that claims to hold miles of books in its single store in Manhattan, but the one off Pherozeshah Mehta Road, and a stone’s throw from the Reserve Bank of India building in Mumbai. Alas, Mr. T.N. Shanbag has also passed on. The book, I remember, that was imperative for us to get – in middle school, again, within walking distance of this ‘bookstall’ (a book lover’s delight)  – was the late 17th century literary work of John Bunyan… The Pilgrim’s Progress!

There’s very little I actually knew then about this doyenne, a grand dame if you will… every now and again I run a search to find so little. While updating my previous post that I wrote five years ago, in the comments I added some articles others have referenced her in. But here are some visuals… piece these together to learn a little bit more… note how far back these will take you…

Hima 10Hima 8Hima 7Hima 6Hima 5Hima 4Hima 3Hima 2


Although there are few references available, there’s little doubt in my mind that hundreds and thousands of students who were under her tutelage, however briefly, would always have at least an atom sized space about Hima, in their memory. We loved you, admired you. Few can emulate your grace, sharp wit, your elegance, your style, your sense of timing, your voice, the words, the tone, the pitch, diction, the drama… you will stay with us.






What lies around the bend… we know not!

During its journey, meandering through three states, the Colorado River, cuts through Marble Canyon. Driving over Navajo Bridge, you see this mighty river from way above — almost 142 meters (616 feet) above — the water level. Looking far yonder, one wonders what lies around that bend… but few can tell, just as in life, it’s hard to foretell what the next bend has in store for us.

The Colorado River cuts through Marble Canyon, Arizona. We never quite know what lies around the bend, do we?
The Colorado River cuts through Marble Canyon, Arizona. One rarely knows what lies around the bend.

Today, once again, my thoughts are veering west… towards what was home for some time. Maestro Ennio Morricone’s haunting ‘Harmonica’ reverberates in my ears. Memories of majestic California Condors flying high above Vermillion cliffs, and around Marble Canyon in Navajo country over the Colorado River, sweep across.

Majestic California Condors flying high above Vermillion Cliffs and Marble Canyon, Arizona.
Majestic California Condors flying high above Vermillion Cliffs and Marble Canyon, Arizona.

But minutes before approaching the site above near Navajo Reservation area, we were driving along US Route 89 (perhaps just before it turned into 89A). I recall my first glimpse of Vermillion Cliffs… simply out of this world. But these don’t appear pink as I remembered them from my first trip there in April 2000. Nevertheless, it’s also a function of time of the year, time of the day, weather, so on and so forth… but the long winding roads, free of city traffic, are a refreshing change at any time especially in late spring — May 22, 2010 — still make for the perfect time to visit. (No, I take that back — not during AZ summers!) There was snow I remember, as we reached higher altitudes… but Arizona is dotted with mesas that stretch for miles and miles… it’s also a great time to listen to Robert Miles. For us, “Children” is often set to auto play…

Approaching the Canyons and the Cliffs, along US Route 89 & 89A
Approaching the Canyons and the Cliffs, along US Route 89 & 89A

Many travelers visit the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, but with time on hand, and our personal inclination to see the grander view, we’ve driven to the North Rim on a couple of occasions, enjoying every moment of the arduous journey through snow et al… (Can’t say our guests were equally delighted to sit through the extra three hours for an additional 123 miles). As the crow flies, the distance from South Rim to the North Rim is merely 11 miles… but if people were crows, can you imagine the cawing (not to mention the clawing)! 😉

Standing by the Navajo Bridge, I was transposed into another era.
Standing by the Navajo Bridge, I was transposed into another era.

Just past 6 p.m. on May 22, 2010, standing by the Navajo Bridge, I was transposed into another era.

PostScript: I often share my posts from here on Facebook. Today, I first wrote separate snippets on my timeline and then compiled it together, making it a mini travelogue. (Thanks to a comment from a kind soul.) 😉

Seeking fame. What’s your name?

Isn’t that quite like seeking the elusive dame?

Here’s an easy route: Love yourself. The world will clamor to clutch you with their greedy grips. Ouch!

But what’s the alternative to getting famous? Duh… getting infamous. So, titillate

If you’re wondering why this inane post, I’ll share my agony. Nothing to do with whether or not I’m seeking fame. I just posted the following on The Wall…  oh no, it has nothing to do with Pink Floyd. If anything it’s the complete opposite. Well, coming to think of it, may be it is because of it that Facebook has called it their Wall. You know, the isolation that folks in today’s world experience, across the board. Aren’t we all “just another brick in the wall”?

So, the post on my Facebook Wall reads:

“Why not just use the neuter gender?

Two recent incidents bring on a sardonic smile, making me wonder… The first at a small party recently when I met someone, had just introduced myself, when the lady said to me right away, “Don’t mind my saying so, but your name is very common.”  Okayyy… 🙂 My mind flashed: “Should I change my name so as to sound more uncommon? I already have – onscreen – in my virtual world (which she doesn’t know)!”

Then again, a couple of days ago online here on fB someone remarked, “Oh, with a name like yours, it looks like you’re not even from this world!” Since we were in a pleasant conversation, I introduced myself in a private message. Pronto followed another response, “Oh, don’t tell me you’re a ben.” Arrey bhai (or ben)… did I ever climb up Big Ben claiming to be anyone other than who I am? Besides, for those who know me only as one among their thousands of virtual friends, what difference does it make anyway? So of course, my thoughts went all over the brain-map with synapses crisscrossing. (“Random thoughts reined in”, says my WordPress slug-line) 😉

Consider this recent trend of political correctness where actors-actresses prefer to use the term ‘actor’ (I wonder why)… What are we afraid of? Should we just remove the feminine gender altogether? Why not just use the neuter gender? (Hence the two videos above. I’m now watching these videos in a new light, seriously!) Who am I to judge those women actors who’re dancing, or point fingers at the makers of the movie, or critique ‘such’ songwriters, or the choreographers, or even the audiences who went bananas over these numbers. I’m not the world’s policeman, policewoman… oh, darn!

No, so the post did not end there. Here’s more…

That also reminds me of many who want to befriend me here on Facebook. Then some even ask “Are you a man or a woman?”. Seriously! So, some dear friends here have piped in, coming to my rescue, while I’m oblivious to the query – snoozing in some other time zone. (Perhaps such curious minds are in some twilight zone, I’m wondering. Light rays must penetrate through one’s lens to hit the retina, right? Only so much of a physics lesson, ok!) Then again, if folks can have names like “Babloo”, “Paploo”, “Simple”, “Dimple”, “Munni”, “Sheila” … you get the drift… why not, “What’s my name”…

What’s in a name… and all that jazz… Despite the inanity of this post, I will reward my dear friends here who read through it all, empathized with my agony. This song brings sukoon… Essence of the song: “Time”, “change”, “the name will be lost” “this face will morph over time” “whether or not we meet again” “The voice will sound the same”.

Film: Kinara (1976); Playback Singers: Bhupinder Singh, Lata Mangeshkar; Music Composer: Rahul Dev Burman aka Pancham da; Lyricist: Gulzar

Perhaps my thoughts will continue to flow just as randomly. Peace.

A sassy lassie asked her sexy chum, “Umm, so what’s hidden behind the choli?”

Coyly her chum replied, “That’s my heart behind the choli”… Sassy lassie, saucy again, asks, “Pray, what’s behind the chunari?” Sexy lady shot back, “That’s my heart behind the chunari”. As these two rustic young girls danced away on screen over two decades ago, off screen, given a chance, some Indians still scream, “Blasphemy! Anand Bakshi, Bollywood’s lyricist stooped so low – depicting such disrespect towards our nation’s cultural heritage!” Now if that isn’t an attempt at cultural hegemony, what is! These sanctimonious critics never fail to condemn the songwriter who penned over 3500 songs in almost 650 Hindi films over 45 years since the late 1950s until the onset of the 21st century.

A few weeks ago, I touched upon a similar issue. Now didn’t songs penned by other acclaimed lyricists too have double entendre skillfully interlaced in their verses too? Somehow I believe that because those names were heavyweights of Hindi films in the ’50s-’60s-’70s-’80s, e.g. Sahir Ludhianvi stood his own ground, undeterred by critics or politics; or songwriter-poet Hasrat Jaipuri, intrinsic to the quartet team along with renowned lyricist Shailendra and composers Shankar-Jaikishan – each one of them most talented, but together whose careers took off in films largely promoted by actor-director-producer Raj Kapoor of RK Films. Critics may have been cautious and wary about voicing their concerns over their artistic presentations. We never witnessed such attacks when overtly sexual references were clearly visible in most of Raj Kapoor’s films… at that time it all passed under the guise of ‘art’ and brushed aside with one brilliant stroke that is coined as “showmanship”. Brilliant Public Relations, I say. It always amazes me that in the early ’60s — 30 years before ‘the choli song’ —  neither did the Indian janta raise their eyebrows, nor did the Censor Board clamp up at this depiction – a middle-aged man playing tricks with a bathing beauty à la Krishna… oh no, who could possibly dare to frown upon, or cause a furor over this!

Ironically, the following ‘evergreen’ ‘devotional’ song is from a film produced under the RK Banner in 1978; and the lyrics are penned by the same songwriter — Anand Bakshi. I doubt if critics ever pointed a finger to fault either the lyrics writer, or the film’s producer- director-editor… 😉

Don’t get me wrong… showman Raj Kapoor was ‘great’ more because he was astute. He had the finger on the Indian janta’s pulse. He knew what worked, and what made them tick. Behind their saintly facades weren’t these holier-than-thou types — in reality — virile men eager to ogle, just pretending to look askance? Given every chance each of them would certainly crave for more than one glance!

Here’s yet another iconic song – nothing obscene about the song nor its depiction. It was written by another heavyweight lyricist, Majrooh Sultanpuri. Picturized on a much-revered actress, Meena Kumari, I doubt if most listeners have ever given a second thought to the deep implications of the lyrics… with a smile on her face, dancing amidst debauched men, the courtesan narrates the sad tale of how her modesty was compromised, and how her state came to be.

Many a film has been made with ‘mujra’ dance songs that either tell a sad tale (Umrao Jaan, Baazar, etc) or forever wooing the degenerate male for money money money. Sometimes even filmmakers like Yash Raj Films have brought in top-rated stars in special appearances to perform an “item-number” – any fingers pointing at these “first families” of Indian films? Dekho dekho… a stark scenario — resplendent with dark kohl, kajra, and plenty of oomph. Censors, critics, the young and old – they all danced to ‘their’ tune, “chunari” was cast away… the question of “chunari ke peechey kya hai” just did not arise… was it the free-fall of lyrics, the descent of decency, or is it… “Hey, to each his own; get a life!”

Yesterday I had the opportunity to watch a show, “100 Years of Bollywood 1913-2013”, an interesting production, a retrospective montage – a representation, a depiction of Hindi cinema through the decades — all the way from its nascent, silent avatar to its current day melée between dance, drama, music, action — each of the elements jostling for attention.

I was thoroughly enjoying the music – both, the very old music from my grand-parents’ era continuing through my parents’ youth, to my childhood, youth and adulthood; but one thing struck me as odd, even as I was watching the audio-visuals,  listening to the live music, tapping my toes and clapping my hands in sync with the rhythm of songs that are almost a part of me now — credits were given to the music composers, to the actors and filmmakers but what about the lyricists? What about those who had penned the words that we uttered, and sang? Why no mention or credit to the film poets? Even as this thought quietly rankled, suddenly I felt some harsh brakes that caused a jolt and hurt like whiplash! 

A slide in the presentation had singled out Anand Bakshi and mocked himcondemned him thus — A lyricist who was renowned for writing good lyrics, had stooped so low in the ’90s with these lyrics — “Choli ke peechhey kya hai, chunari ke neechey kya hai”. Translated literally the song wold read: “What lies beneath the blouse?” “What lies beneath the veil?” But as in poetry, in film lyrics too one goes beyond the literal. Obviously, in this case, this director/writer of the staged show preferred to interpret the lines literally. For a moment I wasn’t sure whether this was a backhanded compliment to Anand Bakshi, or if it was a deliberate attempt at singling him out to deride the man who has been long gone, but not before he had contributed much to Hindi Films over his lifetime; and one who reached great heights — all on his own strength, merit, determination and steam. He rode his own horse. His written words spoke for him and surpassed any “showman” in Bollywood.

Shouldn’t those who presented this show at a fundraiser for Ekal Vidyalaya in the US yesterday, have displayed better judgment than to pass judgment on a contentious issue such as this? To a packed house of 1100 people — young, middle-aged, as well as senior Indians — surely this could have been left for the audience to gauge the rise or demise of aesthetics in Indian cinema. After all, Indians or not, this was US soil the show was presented on… both national anthems were recited – The Star Spangled Banner, as well as Jana Gana Mana… did they not factor in the sentiments of all who were present? Finally, I’m sorry to say, as far as I’m concerned, this single instance was the show’s undoing. What could have ended on a fun note… ended with a jarring sound.

Sorry, some folks – twenty years ago, or twenty years hence can’t pull away from ‘choli’… perhaps that is why they do not remember this song in the same film, penned by the same lyricist. He wrote a heart-wrenching song – an ode to all mothers. Even Anand Bakshi ji himself had asked his critics the same question – why were they hung up on the choli song? Did they even notice the poignant words — Every mother loves her child – be he the devil incarnate, or God himself. “Apney bachchey tujhko pyarey, Raavan ho ya Ram”.

Think deep… whether a newborn infant, or an aging adult, isn’t it hard to break away from Mom?

Now I wouldn’t like to disappoint the few who may be interested in this other song… I mean the ‘mother’ song. So here it is, in its entirety.

“Robyn Davidson” quotes I love… but who is Robyn?

“And there are new kinds of nomads, not people who are at home everywhere, but who are at home nowhere. I was one of them ”
― Robyn Davidson, Desert Places

This quote caught my attention right away. I knew I had to watch the film until the very end… no falling asleep like I often do when we begin a film as late as when it’s time for most folks to call it a day, especially on week nights. Robyn is a nomad first, a writer later — that’s how I view her. This is an opinion I’ve formed last night after watching just this single film, “Tracks”, based on her own book, “Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback”.

It was not as much the cinematography, nor some fantasy depicted on celluloid… it was this young girl’s arduous journey that was utterly fascinating. No one urged Robyn to embark upon this long trek… an idea that was preposterous in itself. Was it the turmoil within her that spurred her into seeking camels, training them to accompany her across the desert — miles and miles and miles of land that would eventually lead her to the Indian Ocean. Yes, she had chalked out her route, and with a compass that her father – an explorer (or gold digger) – gifted her before she left Alice Springs, a town located in the geographic heart of the continent, Down Under, she set afoot on her journey.

Referred to as “The Camel Lady” by those who saw her walking with Diggity, her best friend – her dog, (you guessed right) and a train of four camels lugging all she would need along the way, she went on and on relentless… Dookie, Bub, Zeleika, and Goliath followed her. Somewhere along the line her trek was sponsored by The National Geographic Magazine – no less. She disliked the idea – intensely – but finally relented, accepting their assistance, and Rick Smolan’s attention — albeit, sparingly. She wanted to be alone. Period. She did not set off on this journey for money, and nor did she seek fame. But those who seek not, shall receive.

Robyn Davidson — I looked her up this morning – and voilà, what do I find? An accomplished author in her own right, for some time she was in a relationship with Salman Rushdie… really! My guess is it must have been during the time he was writing The Satanic Verses, but before his book was published in 1988. Just my wild guess… no doubt, Robyn’s trek across the wilderness of the outback had been long completed in the late 1970s – in fact, during the most part of 1977 – nine months in all. She had been there, done that, and then some… shot wild camel bulls, traversed through land of the indigenous Australians (but respecting their ‘secret’ rites and rituals) – but not without ‘Eddie’, her Warakurna guide and companion for many hundred miles.

“FOR THE NEXT TWO DAYS Eddie and I walked together, we played charades trying to communicate and fell into fits of hysteria at each other’s antics. We stalked rabbits and missed, picked bush foods and generally had a good time. He was sheer pleasure to be with, exuding all those qualities typical of old Aboriginal people — strength, warmth, self-possession, wit, and a kind of rootedness, a substantiality that immediately commanded respect.”
― Robyn Davidson, Tracks: One Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1,700 Miles of Australian Outback

People, if there’s even a little of the Bohemian in you, a dash of daring, or the armchair curiosity to see the grit and gumption of this ‘dynamo’, here’s a film you must watch. Mia Wasikowska, who plays the lead role of the adult Robyn will keep you glued to the edge of your seat, while she gazes at the stars above, laying on her sleeping gear in the wilderness of Australia.

Yes, “Tracks” (2013)  brings drama, adventure and the zest to tread into the unknown… all at once, in your living room.

“I could not get used to the idea of there being classes of people inherently inferior to oneself, to whom one could be as odiously condescending or downright brutal as one likes, yet with whom one lived as intimately as family.”
― Robyn Davidson, Desert Places

“… It is better to proceed with one’s duty in the service of others than wallow in the pain attachments bring”
― Robyn Davidson, Desert Places

“To be free one needs constant and unrelenting vigilance over one’s weaknesses. A vigilance which requires a moral energy most of us are incapable of manufacturing. We relax back into the moulds of habit. They are secure, they bind us and keep us contained at the expense of freedom. To break the moulds, to be heedless of the seductions of security is an impossible struggle, but one of the few that count. To be free is to learn, to test yourself constantly, to gamble. It is not safe. I had learnt to use my fears as stepping stones rather than stumbling blocks, and best of all I had learnt to laugh.”
― Robyn Davidson, Tracks: One Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1,700 Miles of Australian Outback

“Because if you are fragmented and uncertain it is terrifying to find the boundaries of yourself melt. Survival in a desert, then, requires that you lose this fragmentation, and fast. It is not a mystical experience, or rather, it is dangerous to attach these sorts of words to it.”
― Robyn Davidson, Tracks: One Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1,700 Miles of Australian Outback


A social commentary… hypocrisy, or hurtful reality?

Vaah, vaah, wow… what a song… your exultant parents, others of their generation, and today even we shower superlatives on songs such as this one:

Or then again, this one…

There’s yet another song that crosses my mind, as do a zillion others…

I wonder… was it Raj Kapoor’s charisma that camouflaged the nuances of the lyrics; or did Manna Dey’s outstanding classical singing sway audiences to such an extent that we all overlooked the subtle — but not quite latent — nuances of Hasrat Jaipuri’s “Kahin daag na Lag Jaaye“, or even Sahir Ludhianvi’s blatant lyrics for “Laaga Chunari Mein Daag“!  Asha Bhosle is renowned for her playback for the ‘vamps’ performing cabarets or mujra – both, memorable and mesmerizing. Mukesh is renowned for pathos and ‘virah‘ in his songs but “Kahin daag” is something else. 😉 Shankar Jaikishan, Roshan, and Naushad — all of them outstanding music composers. So, did their creative talents mesmerize us all, or did  Madhubala’s beauty blind us collectively while she courted Prince Salim defiantly, challenging even Emperor Akbar of the Mughal era. Lata Mangeshkar’s rendition of Shakeel Badayuni’s classic & classical “Pyar kiya toh darna kya” continues to haunt us (although it may not feature among her ‘haunting melodies’), especially when young couples flaunt their ‘love’ with similar defiance in the face of all adversities – from parents, and society.

So, what’s my point? Well, that’s precisely it. Here’s the raison d’être for this post. Why do parents resist what is inevitable. This is especially the case in the Indian context. We attempt to closely guard our ‘sanskriti‘, our eastern ‘values’ regarding ‘virginity’, ‘chastity’, ‘purity’, and selective ‘love’.

Perhaps even as adults we don’t quite get it. On the one hand we expose our kids to films that depict ‘love’ as pure, although sexual connotations are loud, clear and obvious for all to see. On the other hand, films, lyricists, writers, singers or the creative team can hardly be blamed for what is rampant in society – not just today, even in a past era – we like to refer to it as a ‘golden’ era… be it related to films, poetry and music of the late ’40s through early ’70s, or literature from the era of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaya – who lived between 1876 through 1938! He wrote “Devdas” in 1901 though it was published only as late as 1917 – almost a 100 years ago! At least three films have been made based upon this novel, a story about unrequited love — in fact, love that does not culminate between marriage between that couple. In fact, society, parents must be held responsible for their sad parting, and eventually a tragic ending. A story of betrayal, unrequited love, parental pressure, society’s hypocrisy… but all of this is reality, even to this day. 100 years can hardly change the status quo. Men and women, young girls and guys will fall in love… why, even guys are now allowed to woo other guys, and girls marry girls… so, shouldn’t we all move on?

Ismail Darbar’s compositon, Shreya Ghoshal, Jaspinder Narula sing; for Sameer’s lyrics — Shah Rukh Khan & Aishwarya Rai in a sensuous scene, an exultant mother rejoices, while society scoffs a virtuous ‘milan’ thanks to a cultural divide.

Finally… I agree, this divide must not be crossed… no matter how attractive, or endearing the terrorist may seem – within borders, or across borders… must not be blinded by their charm.  🙂 😉

Prasoon Joshi’s lyrics; Shaan & Kailash Kher sing to Jatin-Lalit’s music; Aamir Khan & Kajol charm us in Fanaa (2006).