If I was a Frenchman…

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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?” 🙂

 

Politics, Religion, and Trolling

Steer Clear!

The reality is, that the friends you socialize with i.e. dine-n-wine with; or the friends you socialize with online — they may have political views that may surprise/or shock you.

Well, will you continue to be friends with them, or will your turn your back on them? Don’t the wise often say, don’t discuss or argue about these matters? Not only could it turn into a no-win battle for either party, but you may well lose a friend.

I just saw a page ad pop up on Facebook. It also displayed which of my friends had ‘liked’ it. Hmm… never mind, I shan’t get swayed.

In Paris… meeting Mohanjeet!

On 12th October, just over two weeks ago, while strolling along Rue Saint-André des Arts, I suddenly saw this storefront that read, “Diwali”. I was delighted. No pun intended. It was still my third day on my first visit to Paris.  😉

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The bigger joy followed just moments later, when I met Mohanjeet! I was admiring the architectural details on the buildings of this delightfully narrow street, when a lady stopped me in my tracks, held my forearm, and asked, “Are you Indian?” I nodded in the affirmative. (Why would I deny a fact that’s written all over my desi face.) 🙂 I said, “Hello” with a broad smile I could not contain. The lady introduced herself, asked if I was in a rush to go somewhere… No, I wasn’t in any tearing hurry to get anywhere. I’d just got to this city a couple of days ago… and had many more to go. She said, “Then come with me, let’s have coffee, but first I have to go to the post office.” I followed her… we walked together to the post office, then to a café not far away – I remember it was Café Brasserie Le Danton at Boulevard Saint Germain. She asked if I would have a glass of wine. I preferred to have café at that hour. Glad I did — it was Lavazza, my everyday favorite. No sooner was l’addition du restaurant placed on the table — along with a bowl of chips, a glass of wine for my host, and a coffee for yours truly, Mohanjeet quickly put the bill in her pocket, saying she had invited me! Hmm… 🙂 Well, I learned some most interesting facets about her while we chatted. She was rather pleased to see I was with camera et al… and that I was traveling all on my own, immersed in the sights and sounds of this French city, which she seemed to have embraced as her home for almost 60 years! When she learned that I was writing a book – a biography – it brought on a smile. Soon I would learn why.

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She cajoled me to eat the chips from her bowl, and when one bowl was empty, she quickly called for another… obviously, a regular patron there. 🙂 It was getting close to 7 p.m. By now we had been together for a good hour or two. She said she owned a store not far from there and invited me to go with her. We walked back to 21 Rue Saint-Sulpice. Voilà, haute couture, that’s what the boutique was… Earthy colors, elegant styles, this was women’s fashion… classy, chic and a cut above much I’d seen in the past 15 years — garments worn by Indians in the US. All of it was her own creation! While she talked to her staff, my eyes took in all the pretty stuff. She said, “Go up, there’s more to look at up there.” I went up the spiral staircase… ooh la la… more beautiful pieces… Shortly after, she closed the shop, I walked her to her bus-stop, and she invited me to see her again, if time permitted. We met again a few days later. I invited her for dinner. We ate at Cafe Comptoir Tournon, a short walking distance from Odéon – Théâtre de l’Europe. It was indeed a unique experience. She shared some stories from her life – personal, and professional. By now – through a Google search – I had also learned that she had played tennis with Elizabeth Taylor, and that Hollywood stars from Jane Fonda to Cameron Diaz had worn her creations. Originally from Lahore, she had survived Partition, but had left India when she was 19. She had rubbed shoulders with the likes of Yves St Laurent, and her creations had splashed across Vogue, Bazaar and such… but what may be of interest to my friends here is that she also had lunch with renowned actors Raj Kapoor and Nargis in 1952, with personal autographs from them. That was in Los Angeles, when she was a student of Political Science and Literature at UCLA. 🙂 This store – since 1968 – the only active one now, was among 11 that she had owned in Paris! Once upon a time, Mohanjeet had even worked for The New York Times. Oh, wow…

There’s much I could write here… but this should suffice… I was very fortunate to meet such an interesting person… serendipity! A memory I will cherish, and which I doubt will fade anytime soon… Mohanjeet, please take care of yourself. 🙂 I look forward to meeting you again someday. When I knew not even a single soul in Paris until a few days ago, from out of nowhere, you held my arm, and spent time with me. Thank you, for reaching out…

You can replay your favorite song, but…

Life moves on, and you can never rewind nor replay it, ever. That is a fact, my friend, even if this song is drawn from fiction.

Aap Ki Kasam
Rajesh Khanna in “Aap ki Kasam” (1974). Background score “Zindagi ke Safar Mein Guzar Jaate Hain Jo Makaam”

 

Over four decades ago, for a film situation, a very special lyricist wrote a song sprinkled with beautiful metaphors. Today is his 86th birth anniversary.

Story Context: A man, blinded by suspicion, throws his wife out from his life. Much later he realizes his folly. Alas it is too late; she is now married to another man. Deeply saddened, forlorn, he wanders around, regretting his rash decision, aching for the love he had recklessly abandoned.

Here is my transliteration of that iconic Hindi song.

Flowers will bloom, but some will fall off in autumn, to never bloom again next spring. Consider this, you meet thousands of people along life’s journey, but although you call out for some over a lifetime, alas, they may never return… you may never again meet those who had parted – disappointed with you – a long time ago some day.

A note of caution. What your eyes see may not be the entire truth. Don’t open your doors to suspicion… it is the darkest foe of friendship. Pay heed, ’cause if you don’t, you will regret it deeply, and all through your lifetime. No matter how often you call out to your friend (read ‘beloved’), your ‘hello’ will meet a deep ‘silence’. Those who have gone, will never return… ever. Refrain from such recklessness.

A new day will dawn, and dusk will bid goodbye, then another day will dawn, and this cycle of night and day will go on. Time moves on, the moment is here, and before you realize it, it’s gone… it won’t ever return. Man barely takes in the scene on screen, but in a flash it’s gone.

In life, the milestones that go past, will never return.

Here’s the song, I’ve just transcribed in Hindi.

ज़िन्दगी के सफ़र में गुज़र जाते हैं जो मक़ाम
वो, फिर नहीं आते, वो, फिर नहीं आते

ज़िन्दगी के सफ़र में गुज़र जाते हैं जो मक़ाम
वो, फिर नहीं आते, वो, फिर नहीं आते

फूल खिलते हैं, लोग मिलते हैं
फूल खिलते हैं, लोग मिलते हैं मगर
पतझड़ में जो फूल मुरझा जाते हैं
वो बहारों के आने से खिलते नहीं
कुछ लोग इक रोज़ जो बिछड़ जाते हैं
वो हज़ारों के आने से मिलते नहीं
उम्र-भर चाहे कोई पुकारा करे उनका नाम
वो, फिर नहीं आते, वो, फिर नहीं आते

आँख धोख़ा है, क्या भरोसा है
आँख धोख़ा है, क्या भरोसा है सुनो
दोस्तों, शक़ दोस्ती का दुश्मन है
अपने दिल में इसे घर बनाने न दो
कल तड़पना पड़े याद में जिनकी
रोक लो रूठ कर उनको जाने न दो
बाद में प्यार के चाहे भेजो हज़ारों सलाम
वो, फिर नहीं आते, वो, फिर नहीं आते

सुबह आती है, रात जाती है
सुबह आती है, रात जाती है यूँही
वक़्त चलता ही रहता है रुकता नहीं
इक पल में ये आगे निकल जाता है
आदमी ठीक से देख पाता नहीं
और परदे पे मंज़र बदल जाता है
इक बार चले जाते हैं जो दिन-रात सुब-ओ-शाम
वो, वो फिर नहीं आते, वो, फिर नहीं आते

ज़िन्दगी के सफ़र में गुज़र जाते हैं जो मक़ाम
वो, फिर नहीं आते, वो, फिर नहीं आते

The melancholy that seeps through Rahul Dev Burman‘s music composition, and Kishore Kumar‘s voice, along with the visual portrayal of Rajesh Khanna‘s helplessness, his forlorn state in the film, especially during the height of his career, has made this song from “Aap ki Kasam” (1974) memorable. These lucid lyrics, the mastery of Anand Bakshi saab’s metaphors in this film’s context are endearing, easy to sing along, soulful.

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.)

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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

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.

 

 

 

 

 

“Won’t you visit India anytime soon!”

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Numerous friends and acquaintances pose this question often – at least more often than I’d care to answer; or even to respond with some plausible explanation – one way or another. “Explanation”, because if my answer is in the affirmative, surely there’s a reason why – an occasion, a wedding, to circuit the golden triangle (or is it quadrilateral?), or just because familiar foods and fashion beckon, (while some forgettable foibles may silently mock). Or if there are no plans in the offing, then why not? Doesn’t one’s matrubhumi and matrubhasha mean anything? Have I turned so ‘firang‘ that des ki yaad hee nahin aati? Veiled under surprise or an understanding nod hides indignation… “How can someone who has lived in India for a lifetime not want to return – if only for a brief 10 days or two weeks!”

If I had not immigrated, still a resident in India, perhaps my thoughts may be a variant of the above. Perhaps… but here’s the fact, I am no longer living in India. For many years now, have been away from what was once home – with its good, bad, ugly… that was home, and I knew no better, nor worse – although I’d traveled abroad a few times before I actually immigrated. When one travels, one’s a tourist… everything you view is just looking at the veneer. No matter how perceptive you are, the time – or rather, shortage of time – gives you zero luxury to scratch beneath the veneer of life outside of India (or your home country). You live in hotels, or park with a friend (or some distant relative) who may obligingly put you up for a couple of days, and on occasion, may even rise to give you beyond bed, bath and breakfast — no no, don’t jump to conclusions… I meant, provide you with dinner and take you on a day’s outing to the closest National Park – which may be a couple of hundred miles away from their own residence.

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So what does this have to do with paying a visit to good ole India? Well, here’s my predicament. The situation has reversed. When I visit India, I’m now a tourist in what used to be my own country. Even before I land up there, I must suffer the rigmarole of procuring a visa… an arduous exercise in itself – if you haven’t yet acquired the PIO or OCI… which, in turn, would be a long-ish process by itself. Once I have the visa that will permit me to visit India as a tourist, I land up in a city that looks way different since when I left it almost a couple of decades ago. Wait, I said, “looks different”. I did not say, “smells different”. So, now there are new systems in place, I hear there’s a new airport that appears more inviting – speaking of Mumbai’s international airport. But say I head to the air-conditioned taxi stand (if there’s one), or if a friend has been kind enough to send a chauffeur-driven car to receive me (Wow… isn’t that cool, I’d almost forgotten about this distinct advantage of being in apna desh), what do I say to the cabbie or to the chauffeur? “Please could you drive me to XYZ Hotel” or pile on to my dear friend for all of the above… bed, bath, breakfast and beyond! Yes… this is where my troubles begin. As we used to say of Mumbai… “Someone may give you roti, but to offer a roof in times of difficulty”- oh, that would be very hard in Mumbai. Friends and family may have been hard up in the past, but they have a big heart… yes, true… no denying that. Today, times have changed. Friends and family “have arrived”. No longer are they hard up, but have hard cash. The burgeoning middle class has brought that. But even those without hard cash get on in life flashing the ubiquitous credit cards. Indeed, for the past twenty odd years, just as in the West, debt is nothing to be ashamed of. Keep your 22 carat jewelry in the safety of your bank’s vault, but many have vaulted into the big league, flashing their gold – credit cards. Well, so you ask, will these friends (or family) be inclined to putting you up in their 500 sq.ft. home – you, who is on vacation – while they head to work? Unlikely… although some may feel obliged to do so, the friend’s spouse and kids may be less enthusiastic about an outsider encroaching on their space for any length of time.

So, the next option — or better still, the first option — is to check into a hotel. “What, a hotel!” you think to yourself… In the city I lived my entire life, I now go and check into a hotel? Hotels are for vacationing spots. Hotels in metros are for the business type visitors… Who checks into a hotel in India unless you’re at a hill-station! Ah… now there. Caught me! But that’s been a trend now for sometime. Even in India, folks don’t go piling onto friends and family for a clean bed, bath and breakfast. For that, there are hotels of all categories. But yes, perhaps if you’re lucky, you’ll receive invitations to dinner or to brunch, or a quick power lunch. Or to a get-together, where one friend takes the initiative to get many friends together, so that one doesn’t need to negotiate through snarling traffic to visit folks in distant suburbs, or even at the end of the road you had once lived on.

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All this sounds crazy, you think… for me it doesn’t. On the two occasions I visited India, in all fairness, a dear friend put me up for days! When I visited other cities, a dear aunt or a dear friend elsewhere put me up. But somehow, it does not feel right. I always feel I’m imposing. Is it my perception or is it just a silly notion in my head… Beyond the first couple of days I know I’m encroaching on their privacy. It’s not like in the days of youth – a sleepover at the friends’ house was fun. Now, a degree of formality has crept in.

We all change. When you live in a place, the change is so subtle you never quite notice it happening in real time. When you visit people after a length of time, those you had known closely in the past, the changes seem stark… you have to learn to be comfortable with the “new” person/s. But you aren’t going to be there visiting long enough to fathom the changes… to like, dislike or accept these changes would follow much later. How does one cope with that in the short term?

My sparse visits to India in fact caused me immense sadness – by the changes I was not quite prepared for. By the same token, those who met me had preconceived ideas about me. The general notions we have about NRIs unless we know them closely. Those I’d known as babies, had grown into adults now fully immersed in families of their own. They didn’t quite know me, and I had to face the fact these were no longer the kids I had loved to indulge with chocolates or ice-cream. The older relatives were now either ailing, or had passed on. The face and skyline of cities I had known had now changed into that of a ‘foreign’ city. India is as foreign to me now as the US, Canada, UK, Europe or the Far East was to me then before I immigrated from India. There’s much in this world I have not visited. Should I opt to visit one of the other nations, in another part of the world, or better still, travel just within the US – there’s plenty to enjoy here – for a week-long or two week vacation?

One final word… matrubhumi and matrubhasha always beckon, but when your mother lives within driving distance — or just a short flight away — to fly fifteen thousand miles with hopes of meeting just a few friends, one thinks again. That’s when Facebook or Facetime seem the more practical way to go.

Remembrance (2011): My Take

Last evening, I watched this foreign film, “Remembrance”.

It is the story about a Jewish woman, Hannah Silberstein, who struggles to break free from the dark memories of her past life in the Auschwitz concentration camp during Poland’s SS occupation.

Young Hannah falls in love with an inmate, Tomasz Limanowski. Together, after they escape from the camp, he returns home, introducing Hannah – his fiancée – to his mother. Instead of warmth and joy, they face Mrs. Limanowski’s wrath. Circumstances compel Tomasz to leave his too-ill-to-travel fiancée in maternal care — for just a couple of days. 30 years later, Hannah catches a glimpse of him on TV. Truly, was this the same Tomasz who had rescued her? Where did he go? Did his mother reconcile? Now, what?

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An interesting story set in the mid-’70s, the film’s narrative moves back and forth spatially and temporally, transposing audiences from Brooklyn, NY, to a tiny village in Eastern Europe. Paced perfectly, you will savor the romance and anticipation, while feeling the pain of separation when two people are in love, the circumstances notwithstanding.

The older Hannah – played by Dagmar Manzel – plays a fine role of an anguished woman battling her demons during her 30 year old marriage to an affluent businessman. Based on the true story of Jerzy Bielecki, a Polish social worker born in the early 1920s, and Cyla Cybulska, a young Polish-Jewish woman, the only one to have survived after her family was murdered. Played poignantly by Alice Dwyer, you will see glimpses of defiance and determination even during her stricken youth. Mateusz Damięcki and Lech Mackiewicz, as the young rebel Limanowski, and as the older Tomash, respectively, both portray the character deftly, and with just the right portions of passion and aggression.

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Director Anna Justice has delivered a fine film, with the entire cast in tune with the story. In 105 minutes of the film’s duration she has unfolded the characters at a pace that holds your attention, while developing every one of them – short, or tall – as a strong presence – whether brief, or long. Hannah’s husband, their adult daughter, Tomasz’s brother and his wife, Janusz – a family friend… every character is memorable.

This German film was released in late 2011, so NetFlix aficionados are fortunate to be able to watch it now… before they pull it off from their drama and foreign film categories. Original title: “Die verlorene Zeit”.

Bollywood fans? Awaara Dream Sequence Interpretation

By sheer accident a few minutes ago, came upon this site… Now what was I searching for? Yeah, Awaara – interpretation of the dream sequence in this film. For a project I’m working on in collaborative mode, I’d considered a very different interpretation for the end of this song… (without having ever watched the iconic classic of the early ’50s; had just read the storyline).
Wondering whether Raj Kapoor calls out Seeta, Seeta Seeta at the end, or is it Rita, Rita, Rita… or as someone suggested – Neeta Neeta Neeta… 🙂 I thought he utters “Seeta Seeta Seeta” – his mother is banished by her husband on grounds of infidelity when she’s abducted by a rogue character. But in fact, the rogue had learned that she’s an expectant mother. So he leaves her untouched. After a few days, he allows her to return to her husband (he’s a judge by profession, and the abduction by Jagga was some vendetta of sorts). But the Judge would not accept his wife on grounds of possible tainted chastity. She’s now a destitute. Her baby grows up into this young man, a role played by Raj Kapoor. Nargis, leading lady in the film, is the daughter of the Judge (well, he had raised her, it seems and she’s a lawyer by profession). For Raj Kapoor’s misdemeanor she stands as his advocate. (He’s obviously smitten by her beauty+brains). As a consequence of the inner conflicts of his mind and heart this dream sequence conjures up in his head. It could also be a nightmare of sorts. Towards the end of the sequence he calls out to Nargis, who’s being pulled by this evil genie like Jagga and she’s fast fading away. Raj Kapoor calls out… now was he all mixed up and calling out to save his mother who’s the virtuous Seeta Maiyaa  type character in the film? Seeta who was abducted  by Ravana in the epic tale Ramayana? On her return to Ayodhya, she’s banished by her husband Rama (who had rescued her from Lanka)  under pressure from the people. She had to prove her chastity! Oh well, so… I viewed RK as calling out to Seeta… Never mind all of the above. 😉
If you’d like to watch the dream sequence here it is:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLCmhNeaYfA
If the storyline I wrote in a mish-mash manner piqued your interest, bookmark this page for further info.
For the plausible interpretation, check this out… http://www.letstalkaboutbollywood.com/article-20545057.html
Now I just found yet another reference to the ‘direct inspiration’ for the dream dance from Uday Shankar’s “Kalpana” (1948). Check this out. http://cinemanrityagharana.blogspot.com/2013/04/simkies-choreography-in-awara-dream.html  This page also has the link to the older film itself. (Am watching it here now). 😉

 

The About Me reads: “I’m a French lover of Indian cinema, but I’m also interested in literature, science, art, and reflection in general. This blog will reflect these tastes more or less!French lover of Indian cinema, but I’m also interested in literature, science, art, and reflection in general. This blog will reflect these tastes more or less!” Wow… kudos to him/her for the interpretation. We may never learn the late actor Raj Kapoor’s true metaphoric intentions.  A bit more about the actor for those who’re interested is an interesting read @ http://southasiainstitute.harvard.edu/website/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Raj_Kapoor_film_comments.pdf