Friday, December 31, 2010

Book Review 2010

While 2010 was momentous in many respects, reading-wise it was terrible. I don’t want to give myself an excuse by saying that it was inevitable while trying to balance all the other things I started doing. I know it’s bad to be so set in one’s habits but I am making a very conscious decision to be tied down to a habit when I say – this just won’t do.

Anyhow, here’s what I thought of the books I read this year, a lot of them being plays. I’ll skip the books I read until March since the reviews are available here and here.

Dance Like A Man
Mahesh Dattani

This is a play I decided to pick up since I had never read Mahesh Dattani’s plays before. And I really liked this one in terms of the way it showcases the conflicts that pursuit of the arts can bring about when it comes to the bare act of routine, marriage and daily life. This will need some effort when it comes to staging due to the heavy production requirements but a nice read for those who like a good intense play about human relationships and their dynamics.

Black Comedy
Peter Shaffer

Again, a play that is very interestingly devised. The play is largely set during a power failure and hence all the scenes, though enacted on a brightly lit stage, are really happening when there is no power and a blackout signifies that power is back. Quite a challenge for anyone who wishes to perform this play but a good comedy about a man trying to impress his father-in-law and a rich man using the antiques from his neighbour’s house and the confusion caused by the neighbour returning unexpectedly.

Marjane Satrapi

I had seen Persepolis in PVR when it came out but reading the book was long overdue. I got my hands on the book this year and found it to be a good insight into Iran’s political history seen from the eyes of a child growing up in that time. And yet, I enjoyed the movie more. The autobiographical book talks about how it was to grow up in Iran after the Shah fell and all sorts of control was brought in place. You couldn’t stay and yet when you left the country in pursuit of a better education, you couldn’t belong. The policies in Iran seem outrageous and it hurts to see so many people being executed just for believing they deserve a better life. And when one gets that better life in Austria, it becomes impossible to enjoy the frivolous joys that make teenage fun because one has seen people dying for bigger causes…it just seems juvenile. The narrator seems to constantly be engaged in a tug-of-war between rebellion and allegiance to one’s state. But somehow the book does not necessarily bring out her character in positive light. I didn’t like the feeling I was left with after finishing it. 

And yet, a highly recommended read. It provides a human, more so a child’s, angle to a political turmoil and is a valuable read in that sense.

My Friend Sancho
Amit Verma

Ok, frankly, I picked up this book simply because my friend had entered the cover design contest that Amit Verma had run for this book. On a totally objective note (and you can trust me on that since I am Libran – a fair judge), I liked my friend’s design better than the one that went to press. I haven’t seen all entries but then Amit Verma’s book, Amit Verma’s choice. I am sure I will find myself in a similar situation tomorrow if I were to come out with a book and ran a contest for the cover design. So complete respect for the design that won too.

Anyhow, I found this one to be an average read. I have to confess there are many bits of the protagonist Abir Ganaguly that I closely identify with, which is the other reason I picked up this book upon reading an excerpt. The read remains engaging for most part but seems to lose the plot somewhere towards the end. But it isn’t too difficult to get to the end. What I really like is certain moments where the matter comes down to an interaction between two human beings, nothing else, and how the story uses those fundamental things to build on. For instance, the point where Abir talks to Sancho, whose father has been shot by mistake by the police in an encounter, and asks her to talk about her memories of her father. The story has quite a few such nice moments and I would probably read it again just to experience those moments again. But otherwise, not one of my best reads.

Malcolm Gladwell

I like Malcolm Gladwell’s books. Even if the whole book may or may not have a string I can hold on to and summarize the book on the basis of, I have always learnt a lot through his books. And Outliers continues that learning for me.

Outliers analyzes success. It looks at the pre-requisites of success, and reiterates that merely talent has never gotten anyone anywhere. It looks at everything else but talent, sometimes that too, but more importantly other things including the cut-off birth dates for a soccer team in any year, proximity to a university with the right infrastructure (as in the case of Bill Gates) and the words we use for numbers in any language (analysing why Asians are better at Math). I think Gladwell tries really hard to keep the term luck out of the picture but for me that is exactly what he is trying to paraphrase. For me, the right combination of opportunities, infrastructure, hard work, when it supplements talent, becomes luck. Anyway, he doesn’t say this. Just like in Tipping Point, I really don’t know what he is saying in this book. But I loved loved this book! It taught me so much in isolated portions. I think I am going to look at his books in parts henceforth and concentrate on learning rather than reading as a complete work. It works much better that way!


Moonlight and The Birthday Party
Harold Pinter

Two abstract plays by Harold Pinter that I really liked. Not for those who don’t like abstract plays but quite nice otherwise. I liked Pinter’s use of repetition as a device and also how he brings out the dynamics of human relationships. Nice!

Eat Pray Love 
Elizabeth Gilbert

This book has a lot of me in it. Aside from that, this is a good book about finding yourself. It’s the journey of a woman in through three countries in search of herself. It’s about making peace with yourself and then watching the pieces fall into place once that happens. It is an inspirational story of faith. And I immensely enjoyed reading it. Recommended with a big smile on my face : )

Lights Out - Manjula Padmanabhan
Party - Mahesh Elkunchwar
Avinash - Shanta Gokhale

These three came as a set of City Plays, grouped together by the common use of an absent character who is key to the plot of the play. Brilliant plays, all of them, but I liked Lights Out the most. In brief here’s what each play deals with:

Lights Out – a couple is troubled by the beseeching cries of a woman every night as heard from the building under construction right opposite theirs. They speculate and debate at length over whether it is harassment and whether they should intervene but don’t end up doing anything. This is based on a real incident that happened in Mumbai where no one came to the aid of a woman who was tortured for days on end in the middle of a residential area.

Party – This play highlights the dynamics, politics and hypocrisy among members of the art fraternity. They all seem to be perturbed by this person who has left the clan to do some real work for grass root level in a remote village. 

Avinash – A family is torn apart by the condition of their once-brilliant and now-alcoholic elder son. He is getting difficult to deal with by the day and they face conflict in terms of what is duty and what is indulgence. 

How Starbucks Saved My Life
Michael Gates Gill

A top boss at JWT who thought he had everything and was waiting to hang up his boots in style gets the pink slip due to a management decision. At 60 and with a tumour that needs to be operated on, he finds himself desperately looking for a job and finds one as a Starbucks barista. This is a real story of Michael Gates Gill who learnt life’s lessons after 60 and the hard way but grew to realize how much he enjoyed this new life for such fundamental reasons. A frank admission to conceit and a candid account of his feelings while getting used to this new job makes this book an endearing read. The book also gives you a good insight into how Starbucks works. And the life lessons Gill learnt are ones we can always do with. Recommended.

Dreams In Prussian Blue
Paritosh Uttam

This is a good intense urban read. Michael and Naina are studying at the same arts college and they fall in love. Michael is a painter and Naina falls for all that he is and can be. So when Michael proposes that they drop out of college and live in so they can start earning and start fulfilling their dreams rightaway, she readily agrees. Soon she realizes that Michael might just be using her to fulfil his dream of being a full time painter. Fate then enters the picture and the story takes a tragic twist with Michael becoming blind in an accident. What happens to the two thereafter and how Naina resorts to an unexpected form of deceit forms the rest of the story. A really good plot and an intense story…definitely worth a read. Plus, I love the title…I mean the moment I saw it I was like, woah! Now that’s the kind of title one should write a book with! It’s so dreamy…so beautiful and filled with such anticipation! I give it to Uttam and recommend this book for that sole reason.

With that the list for 2010 looks like this:

  1. On Seeing The 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning - Haruki Murakami
  2. The Kidney-Shaped Stone That Moves Every Day - Haruki Murakami
  3. 2 States - Chetan Bhagat
  4. Kari - Amruta Patil
  5. Stilettos In The Newsroom - Rashmi Kumar
  6. Welcome To Advertising, Now Get Lost - Omkar Sane
  7. In Xanadu - William Dalrymple
  8. Dance Like A Man - Mahesh Dattani
  9. Black Comedy - Peter Shaffer
  10. Persepolis - Marjane Satrapi
  11. My Friend Sancho - Amit Varma
  12. Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell
  13. Moonlight - Harold Pinter
  14. Eat Pray Love - Elizabeth Gilbert
  15. The Birthday Party - Harold Pinter
  16. Lights Out - Manjula Padmanabhan
  17. Party - Mahesh Elkunchwar
  18. Avinash - Shanta Gokhale
  19. How Starbucks Saved My Life - Michael Gates Gill
  20. Dreams In Prussian Blue - Paritosh Uttam

And to correct the anomaly of reading too little in 2010, I am creating a list for 2011 as a guide. More names will, of course, get added to this list but these I definitely intend to read this year. More recommendations are most welcome!

  1. The Consolatiosn of Philosophy – Alain de Botton (halfway through)
  2. Mind Watching – Hans and Michael Eysenck (because it must be returned in Feb)
  3. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society – Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows (because it must be returned)
  4. The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera
  5. All and Nothing – Raksha Bharadia
  6. Truly Madly Deeply – Faraaz Kazi
  7. Tough Choices – Carly Fiorina (halfway through)
  8. The HP Way – David Packard
  9. Train to Pakistan – Khushwant Singh
  10. Kim – Rudyard Kipling
  11. The Book of Nature – Ruskin Bond
  12. The Story of Philosophy – Will Durant
  13. The Last Mughal – William Dalrymple
  14. Gora – Rabindranath Tagore
  15. Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
  16. Autobiography of a Yogi – Paramahansa Swami Yogananda
  17. Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  18. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat – Oliver Sacks
  19. My Invented Country – Isabelle Allende
  20. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
  21. House of the Winds – Mia Yun
  22. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
  23. The Argumentative Indian – Amartya Sen
  24. The Great Indian Novel – Shashi Tharoor
  25. The Whole Malgudi Anthology
  26. Either Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand

Anybody who realizes how extremely random that list is should know that except for four, all of those are the unread books on my shelf and if I don’t finish them this year, the guilt will give me ulcers or something…all those beautiful works just lined up there and waiting for their turn to enlighten me! So that’s what it’s going to be this year…read what’s unread and give them their due.

Hope my thoughts on the books I read help. Have a great year of reading ahead all you bookworms. Everyone else, have a great year in general : )

Another Decade Of Existence

It’s the last day of the year. More than that, it’s the last day of the decade. If not the first, the latter fact makes me feel like there must be some significance attached to this day. Ok maybe it’s not the turn of a century or even a millennium like 10 years ago, but then it’s not just the turn of another year either. So let’s give it it’s due, shall we?

What is passing today is what will become a significant decade for me when I look back on it in the future, I am sure. Ok I did not get married and have a child in this decade so that leaves space for another decade to contest but let’s face it…this was the decade in which I crossed three educational milestones – school, junior college and college. A master’s degree could have been squeezed in there but let’s leave something for the coming decade? I got the first visa stamped onto my passport, crossed international borders. I moved out of the city I had called home for 21 years and built a new life in a city that I have truly grown to love ever since I encountered it the first time. They say home is where the heart is and in that sense, home is here now. And that in itself is quite a change that this decade has to its credit.

I faced a few personal crises, some irreparable losses, and grew through each of them. I definitely changed as a person in the process. It’s hard to admit there is a slight degree of scepticism that has crept in, much to my chagrin. Mistrust and doubt have found a place in my head. I am still not a great judge of people, but at least I try now, unlike before. All in a failed attempt to protect myself from hurt. But all contributing to a successful series of life experiences. But largely, my heart remains the sole controller of where I go and I am grateful for that.

I set free the traveller in me this decade. The writer in me grew like never before. I found new passions and avenues including photography and theatre. I met a whole bunch of beautiful people who are etched in fond memories. And somewhere in all that, I met myself…a yet undiscovered part, an aspect I hadn’t known before, a capability I was unaware of. It has been a valuable decade.

This year by itself was important too. I acted in a play for the first time. Ok it was a cameo but still. I acquired a DSLR and am better equipped to capture the world around, the only limitation being my vision. I wrote my first play, my first work of fiction that went public, and got decent validation for it as well. And I met more people; some of them tested my sensibilities, some tested my sensitivity and some became sanctuaries. Somewhere in the middle of all that was happening, I turned 26 too. But more than in years, I grew as a person…some more.

I think it’s been a phenomenal decade in terms of existence, not just personally but also in terms of the world around and how it’s changed. I know I am going to look back on this time in my mellow years and realize what a good time it was to be alive and independent. I know it already and I know the value that these ten years have added to me as a person. It does mean lagging behind in terms of traditional milestones and how the world evaluates your net worth if I were running their race - 26, single, just a graduate, one promotion and two pay hikes in 4.5 years at the same company…nothing else matters. But then I set my own pace and I run my own race and I enter the New Year and the new decade not with a checklist of growth milestones but with dreams. I may not have achieved that Masters degree, the wedding knot, a car/house/whatever yet but I have lived a good life that I regret no part of. I have a lot to look forward to and that makes the times ahead exciting. What more can one ask of existence?

Wish you all a decade full of fulfilled dreams and more good things. And a memorable year ahead too.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Other Side Of Rock

So I am unwell and at home hoping to recover before the new year arrives. And the route that I have taken to recovery includes among other things drinking lots of tea, listening to John Mayer and reading old letters from my friends. And while I do that, here is a piece I came across in an old letter, about the other side of rock. A big hug and thanks going out to my dear friend Vinni for sending me this all those years ago, back in the year 2000:

The Other Side of ROCK…
From Reflections Oct ’00 – the magazine of Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology

“Rock stars live on drugs. The music defies noise pollution barriers. Doesn’t have a melody or rhythm. I can’t understand people banging their heads for this noise trying to force their brain out of their skulls. Breaking guitars on stage, et cetera et cetera…” – for all those who agree, read on…

Look at your young men fighting
Look at your women crying
Look at your young men dying
The way they've always done before

And the wars go on with brainwashed pride
For the love of God and our human rights
And all these things are swept aside
By bloody hands time can't deny
And are washed away by your genocide
And history hides the lies of our civil wars

D'you wear a black armband
When they shot the man
Who said "Peace could last forever"
And in my first memories
They shot Kennedy
I went numb when I learned to see
So I never fell for Vietnam
We got the wall of D.C. to remind us all
That you can't trust freedom
When it's not in your hands
When everybody's fightin'
For their promised land

I don't need your civil war
It feeds the rich while it buries the poor
Your power hungry sellin' soldiers
In a human grocery store
Ain't that fresh
I don't need your civil war

Look at the shoes your filling
Look at the blood we're spilling
Look at the world we're killing
The way we've always done before
Look in the doubt we've wallowed
Look at the leaders we've followed
Look at the lies we've swallowed
And I don't want to hear no more

My hands are tied
For all I've seen has changed my mind
But still the wars go on as the years go by
With no love of God or human rights
'Cause all these dreams are swept aside
By bloody hands of the hypnotized
Who carry the cross of homicide
And history bears the scars of our civil wars

I don't need one more war
What’s so civil 'bout war anyway

That’s ROCK, very sensible…right? Contrary to what you thought we believe. Most people out here are under the impression that ROCK advocates violence, drugs and extreme behaviour. What made you jump to that conclusion?

Friday, December 03, 2010

The Homecoming

The Mother looked out 
As the time for them to return came near.
She worried
That her bosom wasn’t as warm.
She waited
With open arms.

She saw them in the distance
And grew a little alarmed;
They ran,
Their feet bare,
In a tearing hurry
Without a care.

She knew it would hurt
If they fell down.
She watched
With anxiety,
They ran
With gaiety.

As the first few stumbled
And fell while they ran,
She hurried
To pick them up,
Pacified them,
Wrapped them in a hug.

And then she extended her arms
So all of them she could hold.
It was winter,
The night cold as hell;
Mother Earth welcomed her long gone children,
More snowflakes fell.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Kandan, The Chennai Auto Driver

I was thinking about Kandan today.

And it’s funny I should remember him today. Because it was about this time of the year last year when I encountered him! I was in Chennai to meet a friend and had to catch the onward bus to Pondicherry to meet another friend. And that’s when I got into an auto to get to the Egmore Private Bus Stand. Except that’s not where I reached.

A little after leaving the hotel and getting into this auto, the auto-driver and another man who had accompanied him asked me which Travel Agency my bus was with. I said I didn’t have a reservation yet and had to find a bus. They suggested that in that case I should go to Thiruvanmiyur so that I can get to Pondicherry for 40 bucks flat in the Government bus. I asked them if the bus would be safe and they reassured me. So I redirected the auto to Thiruvanmiyur and older man got out after giving some instructions to the younger one. 

I did realize at that point that I would end up paying the private bus fare to this auto driver anyway (I had paid 70 bucks to get to Spencer’s on Mount Road from less than 2 Km away) but I’d rather be in an auto than a bus. So I carried on. 

The auto driver started talking to me soon. He told me his name was Kandan and then we spoke about our best friends, about the city, why I was there, why I was going to Pondicherry etc. He told me it wasn’t safe to go to Pondicherry at that time and I should stay back till the morning. I told him I would call my friend if I faced a problem. He also told me I should call him if I or my friends were visiting again and he could take them on a tour of the city. At some point he also said that I was a good person since I was talking to him without any inhibitions; most people don’t like talking to auto drivers he said. I felt a little sorry at that point about the world we had created because frankly I had such a nice conversation on that journey and felt taken care of because this man was genuinely concerned about me and my safety. What’s more, he was talking in Hindi, albeit broken! What a complete deviation from the stereotype of Chennai auto drivers that we’ve created!

So Kandan got me to Thiruvanmiyur and then made me sit in the auto till he had found a bus with an empty seat for me. He also told me to let him know when I landed safely in Pondicherry. And I did that, the least I could do for all the concern he had shown.

Outside of all that is shown to us in films and on TV screens, outside of all that we hear from others about this world and how unsafe it, outside of the comfort zones of our homes and 10 PM deadlines (which make us believe that we will be safe forever if we stick to them), there is magic, there is beauty and there are angels waiting for you. If you are willing to place your trust on this world, it will come back to you manifold. It always does for me.

I could tell you enough stories to convince you it is more than just coincidence. I could tell you of the time when I was stranded in Frankfurt and was taken care of by a father figure in the form of Himanshu Sir; it was the first time I was panicky and scared and he came along to make sure I had no trouble getting by. 

I could talk about the lady in Pottery Town who invited us into her house just so we could click pictures of her beautifully painted pots, asking nothing in return. She even gave me five small pots as gifts so I could paint them and decorate my house with them. When I refused to take them without paying money she argued whether I wouldn’t have taken it if my grandmother had given them to me!

Then there was Madhushree aunty who passed me on like a baton to Nagarathna aunty while I was on my unplanned trip last year. It was like travelling with foster mothers all through.

Then of course there was this Hungarian man who actually told me that he was my angel…plain and blunt. God knows I will never forget that encounter…ever!

More recently there was Mr. Sudhir who came by on a random Sunday afternoon to tell me that the world is a beautiful place and that there are beautiful people around to remind us that all will be well…at a time when I most needed to hear that. And for some reason I believed him. In my gut it felt right to believe what this person was telling me without even knowing me. And I have to admit that it’s true.

This world is full of miracles that are waiting to happen around every turn. It is filled with people who can develop genuine affection for you and take care of you in a way that can only be termed as miraculous and angelic. It is a beautiful place filled with beautiful people. 

I’ll tell you how I was sent a sign to reaffirm even this faith. It was on Sunday that I had a disagreement about my approach to the dynamics of two characters in my play. I begged to differ on the treatment because it is a story I strongly believe in. On Monday morning I got a call from a panel member of the audition where the play was staged that the story was being considered for the next level. And the same afternoon I got a mail inviting write-ups for Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul Book of Miracles. It was as if God were telling me to recollect all these instances and reaffirm my faith in the wake of the previous day’s discussion. Beauty exists right here in this world and I would have to acknowledge that in writing. 

And I’d be happy to do that. In today’s world where people are being driven to believe in such a negative image of everything, it is only faith in love and beauty, it is trust in another human being that will take us through. ABBA phrased it already for me – I believe in angels, something good in everything I see. And I do hope this becomes everyone’s song very soon!

Monday, October 11, 2010

On Writing Fiction

‘Well, we’re all writers aren’t we? He is a writer who hasn’t been published, and I am a writer who hasn’t written anything yet!’
- Freddy, the bartender, in Picasso At The Lapin Agile

I have been writing ever since I can remember. And no I don’t mean in school notebooks and then notes in college (yes, I used to take notes in college. Get over it already). I mean writing to express oneself.

(I just had a revelation/realization/epiphany even as I write. This post was about my tryst with writing fiction and I just realized I wrote at least three works of fiction way back when I was 9 or 10 years old! This is going to be fun).

In view of the above realization, the whole post changes. I had intended to write about growing to be able to write fiction and now this will be about going back to writing fiction!

So I have been ever since I can remember. My earliest memory I have of writing is owning a 200-page notebook with a picture of Bambi on the cover and pouring out my angst onto the pages. Trust me I had angst way back then and I clearly remember this interaction where I had upset my mother with something I had written. 

And around the same time, I used to write what I suddenly remembered a few minutes ago – fictitious stories, even series. There were at least three of them. One was a single story about a girl who likes to collect nuts and bolts (this was inspired by my best friend who actually liked collecting nuts and bolts that would have fallen on the road). 

Another was a series called ‘Adventure Andromeda’ and I started from scratch by inventing planet-names, characters and then building a world and stories around them. 

The third was a series of stories based underground…in a world that you entered through the trunk of this massive tree. This series was accompanied by detailed drawings, almost blueprints, of houses and streets in that world. I had a separate diary where I used to design houses, which became a hobby in itself later. 

I still remember the names of some of the characters I wrote – Nutty, Catty, Grondor, Spidella (I was ten ok. Cut me some slack here). I used to spend a lot of time building these worlds and writing about them. And I used to dream about these stories being published someday.

It is hard to say when I buried that imagination (‘buried’ being used in light of the realization. I was going start writing as if I had never explored fiction before). I moved to writing human stories. When I think about it now, it could have been after reading Chicken Soup for the Soul stories and participating in too many debates (I love love that as well…I’m just saying). And I found myself writing memoirs, stories based on experience.

And soon I convinced myself that I couldn’t write fiction at all (which sounds stupid now considering that’s where I started). And that’s where one understands how easy it is to lose onself by doing the same thing over and over. By writing too much of one thing, I convinced myself that it was impossible to write anything else. By doing too much of one thing in life, I am certain I can convince myself that any other life is impossible!

I made few attempts at fiction and failed. Is that a surprise given that I had failed in my head already? I had told myself I could never write this and that’s exactly what happened. 

Mental Blocks. They’re such a pain. 

And somewhere in the last exact one month life changed. A door opened in my head and words just flowed. And I returned to where I had started. I completed a full length work of fiction this evening and I dare say I am even satisfied with the product. I had started this post with a sense of immense achievement, a win over the demons in my head that held me back. But after that realization in the second paragraph, I finish the post with a sense of going home. It feels familiar now. Writing fiction. And now there are no limitations, no limits. Only a feeling of amusement.

It is so easy to lose oneself. 
Who we were. 
The things that once gave us joy and occupied our time and imagination. 
Ourselves into thinking we are and have always been who we woke up as today morning.
Just in notion at something that was second nature to us once.

But it’s equally easy to recover.
Our energies and ideas.
New ideas…that are, in fact, old.
Ourselves again into thinking this is transformation.
To realize that it is, in fact, return.

I go back in time to go forward and broaden my horizons. It is from my childhood that my future takes the lead. Life, that way, has come the proverbial full circle. 

Hello my new old life! I have missed you so : )

P.S.: Thought in the head 2 minutes after publishing the is so ironic that a post titled 'On Writing Fiction' is a memoir : )

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Finding God's Grace During A Late Lunch

Sometimes grace is handed over to you at 3 PM on a Wednesday afternoon during late lunch. Gratitude fills your heart and overflows through your eyes. The feeling that you get when you realize that your biggest adversary in life was in fact rooting for you all through is more overwhelming than most. All that is left is to fall to your knees and cry with relief and joy…that everything is going to be alright…always.

It was while reading the story of this son of privilege who learns to live like everyone else through a series of events, that I had my epiphany. The passage that flipped my perspective read as follows:

He had been born in Nice, fled the Nazis, and his family barely made it out of Europe alive. But he seemed to view that horrific past as a great adventure. What a gift, I thought as I made my way back down those iron stairs, to be able to take all that happened to you with such a lighthearted spirit, a genuine sense of humour about a mixed-up world. At Yale he didn’t even consider the fact that anyone could ‘fail’ at life. Life was life – with all its bizarre twists and turns.

I realized I had spent most of my life trying not to fail. Trying to meet my parent’s high expectations. Terrified of letting my family down. It had all been, I felt now, a terrible burden for me. And so stupid of me!

And in that moment I realized something. My ongoing tiff with God was no different from a teenager’s rebellion against his parents. I wasn’t being tested at any point in life. I wasn’t being handed down the tough life while others were born to privilege. I was in fact chosen for God’s tough love. I was the one born to real privilege.

I have always believed that whatever happens in life, even the most trivial of events like a button falling off the cuff, happens for a reason and for the better. Everything is part of a bigger plan. Optimism is my breakfast and eternal hope is more stimulating than caffeine to me.

But there were certainly points when life felt like a stress test and I started believing that God was being unfair to me. Yeah I know there are those who have lives that are much worse off but frankly relativity is overrated. So I complained. And I developed an ego of sorts that I could take whatever it was that He intended me to face, I was proud of being so strong. 

I started believing that He was beginning to desert me or play games with me…that I was God’s entertainment. It had been more than a year that I had met an angel; that was in a better time, of stronger faith. And I saw no sign from Him that He was even listening to what I was saying now. I felt abandoned. 

Last week, it must have all gotten to Him. Like an exasperated parent who has to prove his love to their offspring, He sent me an angel again. On a very regular Sunday afternoon when I thought the day would end on the usual desolate note, He sent a complete stranger with a message. It was everything I needed to hear. When I was scarred silly inside somewhere and tottering to heal my damaged creative self, this person paid me a genuine and elegant compliment. But more than that, he stated God’s message verbatim…that there is always happiness and it’s a beautiful world…and beautiful people…who will remind you all is well. It made me cry to read that coming from someone who didn’t even know me. It hurt somewhere deep inside, the beauty of that message.

I still struggled with my belief and sulked at God…because I couldn’t take it any longer and he wasn’t done with his test. Until today.

In a few moments of an epiphany I realized that the real test had never been dealing with death or potentially terminal illness or being hurt so bad that you believed you would die just from the overwhelming emotion. The real test all along had been to trust God with my life. That is the only test.

For most part of my teenage life and later, I have had to look out for myself. Make my own mistakes. Learn. And move on. I have never handed my well-being over to an adult and closed my eyes trusting that they would take care of everything. And hence, it is no surprise that I found it hard to trust God as well.

I also realized how and why I had become so paranoid about my people, the ones who matter. I convinced myself that anyone who comes along and starts to matter will eventually leave because maybe that’s God’s way of hurting me. And from a na├»ve trusting person I became someone who had the ability to doubt…that people would stay. I was horrified and appalled at the realization. I was fighting for them all along…with Him and hence with myself. Until today.

Today I realized that God was bestowing the gift of experience on me and honing me. For what, I don’t know yet. Whatever I have faced in life I have come out stronger or wiser and with a renewed understanding of the human spirit. It has made me sensitive. Maybe over-sensitive. But I hope I am more capable of compassion, if nothing else, because of my past. And I hope today is the beginning of my journey to grace.

Today I realized the need to let go. The idea seemed downright repulsive to this control-freak, organized, paranoid self of mine, it was way outside my comfort zone, but I realized I had to give up fighting for my life. I had to accept that God had a better plan and the only thing coming in the way was ME. 

So as much as it felt like a freefall, I let go. I stopped analyzing, I stopped rationalizing, I stopped obsessing about the minute things I had killed myself over in the last one week…and I just released control. The day had dawned pretty well anyway and frankly post lunch I have been slightly delirious. Because it took literally a few hours for things to start turning around. I stopped fighting and God took over. I am still dizzy from how light my head feels after giving up the constant struggle in my head. And I am humbler.

For, whatever it is that comes my way now – the good, the bad and the ugly – I will know that it is part of God’s plan for me. I know I have angels watching over me to save me from getting to badly hurt. I have to agree that things could have been a whole lot worse in life. I could have got hurt at points from where there was no recovery for the soul, not an easy one anyway. But they all pulled me back. It hurt and I suffered pain for days and weeks together. But it wasn’t off the edge.

Life is beautiful right now and it keeps getting better by the day. I know that for a fact and yet I have the audacity to complain. I know I am being watched over with love. And I know I have angels waiting around the corners.

And that is all I need to know right now. And always. 


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Song Remains The Same

In my usual wonderful perceptible and insightful way (takes a grand bow) I have figured out one more thing about the world (prepare for a dose of what I think is a discovery but what psychologists would have documented in my 4th birth before this, I am guessing…but then I am in a mood to feel like Columbus and so I shall)…when people are low or figuring things out, they regress to old patterns. Old patterns of food, behaviour and old patterns of people too. People are like habits. Old ones die hard. New ones feel painful until one gets comfortable with them and they become part of the routine. My analysis anyway.

But this post is not about my people…old or new. This is about music. The songs I regress to. The songs I grew up with. And the ones I identified with first. The ones that still ring a bell the loudest. The ones that remind me of a time when I had a face full of acne, red and swollen, but I felt good and I felt like I was at the top of the world. Because I was. I didn’t need to be pretty because I was cooler than that. I knew my place in the world…in my world at least. I had only myself to work on, define my identity, listen to my own songs, watch my own films, read my own books and become the person I was born to be. It was my time.

Today I can’t handle one zit that has been bothering me for the last few days because frankly I am not used to it anymore. I am part of a crowd and walking on the edge of oblivion. Every day is a fight for a place on a memory map. Today I regress to my own memories and my music.

I was born with a song. As also with a movie. I was named after a movie. And the day I was born my father bought the gramophone record of Dil Ek Mandir for the song Juhi Ki Kali Meri Ladli. He put the date on the record and signed on it. I would like to think I was an answered prayer…and that will remain my lifelong consolation…to have been at least one person’s fulfilled wish. A daughter to call Anupama.

We had a lot of old Hindi film music and ghazals playing at home all the while but what I also heard from the very beginning was the sound of ABBA, Boney M and Duran Duran. My father loved playing Brown Girl In The Ring and I would prance around to it. I still love that song. As also ABBA’s Dancing Queen and Chiquitita and many others. And a lot of other ABBA as well.

Brown Girl in the Ring by Boney M. on Grooveshark

From there on I graduated to the Backstreet Boys and bought their first album way back then. I still think More Than That is a good love song, among other songs of theirs. I don’t listen to them anymore but I really like some of their music, including songs from the album Incomplete.

14 More Than That by Backstreet Boys on Grooveshark

BSB was followed by Westlife and that remains one of my favourite bands to date. In fact Westlife is my true comfort music. I like a whole host of their songs so I won’t list them all out. But Westlife is where I go most often when I need to go home to something.

I Lay My Love on You by Westlife on Grooveshark

There was Bryan Adams too. I have since grown over his music and can’t stand most of it simply because I just had too much of it but Cloud No. 9 still makes me feel the same way every time I hear it. 

Post that I was introduced to rock and metal and that started a period of discovering music that continues to this day. But those initial years of music are the ones that feel like home, like a warm blanket on cold nights, or a hug for tough times or my own mattress to go foetal on while the songs take me back in time and tell me everything is alright. I would never disown them.

A fitting close to this post, a favourite – ABBA’s Thank You For The Music. How I love music!!