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On the Discipline of Writing

As a kid, I knew no one personally who was a writer (now that sentence sounds so convoluted, did you think so as well? Hmmm.). So I always thought that being a writer was some kind of a divine calling. Like you are a person who shuts himself in your room for hours on end, and then emerges out with a book or a chapter, or something. Writing takes discipline. One some lucky days, the entire piece of writing emerges (I don't like using the same word in two successive sentences but my writing is rusty, and I am thinking as I am writing... obviously!) complete, perfect. On some other days, it is chasing inspiration, and that takes discipline. I don't think 'chasing' is the correct term - it is more like 'dancing' with inspiration, following its lead, going where it takes you. Even when the steps are difficult, even you begin panting, out of energy and all exhausted. And then comes a point where you decide that a break would be a good thing. And so on, the cycle repeats, day after day.

Tomorrow is P's birthday, a good day as any other to get back into the discipline of writing. I am doing no one a favor except myself.

Thoughts that Meander

As I was finishing up my evening meditation, a whole series of thoughts entered my mind. They were familiar meanderings but this time around, they were clearer, more compact and cogent. I have often tried to evince an interest in Indian politics but each time I venture closer to the subject, I am reminded why it makes me want to run away and hide. Because it leaves me feeling disempowered, helpless, powerless, hopeless. (A minute ago, I had decided that I wouldn't write this post. Why write something that is inherently dismal and depressing? But it looks like the post is writing itself.)

I think that the collective Indian ego must be feeling so bashed up, so completely cheated. Its faith has been robbed, its innocence destroyed. By who? By decades of leaders, many (or most?) of who have been small-minded, petty, corrupt and absolutely unworthy of being even called 'leaders.' And what happens when one's faith is violated? She becomes angry, cynical, pessimistic. She loses faith in herself and in the world. Most Indians today will probably naturally assume that their governance is corrupt. We have not an iota of trust in any of the people who are in power. This makes life challenging for everyone including the few rare leaders who are probably trying their level best to actually do their job.

Lack of faith in oneself causes diffidence and loss of self-confidence. And as the ego diminishes, it vainly tries to assert itself in the most petty of ways. This leads to silly quarrels, weak shows of aggression, belittling others and so on. Haven't we seen that playing out in India as well? Then there are so many villains lurking in the sidelines who are simply waiting for this kind of a situation to take advantage of.

Sigh... a long and heavy sigh.

What is the way out, if there is one? There is one, yes, there is. I guess it involves Indians to remind themselves that the past is gone and that we need to support the folks today who are honestly giving their best to making things work. We need to have cautious faith in public servants, politicians and leaders. We need to regard ourselves fairly, as citizens of a democracy. We have to dump the cynicism and pettiness.

A weak ego always needs the other to feel superior, to sustain itself. A strong ego needs no one; it is strong enough to stand by itself. We need to convert the weak, diffident collective Indian ego to a strong, self-confident one.

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An Unlikely Feminist, A Proud Daughter

In the good old days, when 'Kaun Banega Crorepati,' India's version of 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire?' began beaming into our homes, it was a common question that the host Amitabh Bachchan posed to all contestants. He asked each one of them, " What will you do if you win a crore?" Many men responded readily, "Go on a date with Aishwarya Rai!" Those were the days before Ms. Rai became Mrs. Rai Bachchan, FYI. Amitabh Bachchan would laugh lightly, ask another sundry question or two, and continue on with the game. The Aishwarya Rai answer became so common that I never gave it a second thought. Everyone was half-jesting, of course.

Then one day, my Dad remarked (after hearing yet another contestant say the same thing), "Is Aishwarya Rai a prostitute that she will go with anyone who is rich?" He said it without any kind of anger or annoyance. It was a simple question, rhetorical one, of course. But it made me stop and think. I had also bought into the "commodification" of Aishwarya Rai with my complicity in the universal joke about a game show winner going out with Ms. World.

If you think I am a feminist, you now know where that comes from.

My 70-year-old Dad, born and raised in a traditional family in Kerala, went to school in his home state, moved to Bombay for work in the 1960s. It is not an uncommon story for many men from that generation. Yet to me, it is special because it tells me that neither education nor upbringing are sufficient factors when it comes to having a broadminded and progressive attitude. I know that there will be many who will refute this argument of mine but I continue to believe in it. I have seen examples of so-called educated men and women having awfully regressive attitudes. And the opposite is true as well.

Maybe my sister and I imbibed some of those truly cool values! I say that because both of us have (deliberately or not) chosen life partners who live the same values that my Dad practises... without a murmur or any kind of fanfare.

Performance Jitters and Complete Joy

I wonder if any of my friends would believe me if I told them that I was Shatrughna one time. And Dusshaasana too. Both male roles, all bravado and swagger, no feminine graces or smiles. As Shatrughna, I was destined to be defeated at the hands of my young nephews. But I gave that fight my all, ultimately getting routed by the two youngsters who chased me away. As Dusshaasana, I was the bigmouth, shouting insults at decent folks, strutting around the stage, intimidating people with my sheer size and big walk. Of course, at the end of the show, I was downed by Bhima (played by Chitra, a fellow dancer), mad with rage. I put up a tough fight. We went on for a long time, circling each other, mocking each other... taking out our clubs, finally using our bare knuckles and going all out. But I was killed, nay slaughtered. Had my guts ripped out, blood and gore pouring forth... Bhima was happy.

The magic of Kathakali is irresistible. A classical dance form of such finesse and refinement... to the uninitiated, it appears like an incomprehensible mix of intricate hand gestures, deft eye/hand movements, strong footwork, massively resounding drums, cymbals and conches, huge performers wearing elaborate costumes and makeup and more. However, to the crazy and devout few, Kathakali is absolute beauty, unfolding on stage with grace, power, strength and style! It is only love for this classical art that makes fans sit through nights and nights of performances, braving the heat and humidity, battling the relentless mosquitoes, fighting sleep. Only to rise in the morning, go home, catch a few hours of sleep, and then head back the following evening for the next performance.

Kathakali performers (male characters) are larger than life, literally. As Dusshaasana, I was a virtual giant on stage. My crown was a majestic white-red affair, towering over my head in sheer splendor. Every other character cowered before my bravado. Who'd think that underneath the starched cloths, velvet shirt, fearsome red face paint and long silver nails was a meek college-going girl?

I have had such a good time learning and performing Kathakali.... I could never express completely how much I love this dance form. After learning for a few years, I thought that I must learn a more feminine style of dance, so I began to learn Mohiniattam. Now this is an utterly feminine dance, almost the polar opposite of the masculine strength that Kathakali embodies. I realized soon after, that I liked the masculine grace of Kathakali a whole lot more than the feminine sweetness of Mohiniattam!

Fun times, such fun times. Getting to the venue early in the day, lying supine on the floor getting my face painted and make up done, having countless starched cotton cloth bits tied to my waist (praying all the time that I wouldn't need to pee... for the next 5-6 hours!), donning the velvet shirt, burnished gold ornaments, long silver nails... and then finally wearing the giant crown, the one that established my character... A nice guy on the side of justice, a villain disrobing women or anyone else. Then walking to the stage, touching the musical instruments in obeisance, praying for stamina, courage and grace so I could pay my respects to the stage and my art in the best way possible.

Oh such fun I have had... Wonder if I will have the fortune of inhabiting those characters ever again.

Krishna, Purappadu
Kathakali

Tripping on Gratitude

Daddy told me a little story about Albert Einstein. A reporter asked Einstein, "What is the one thing that, in your opinion, mankind lacks today?" or something to that effect. Einstein replied, "Gratitude."

Going online to learn more about Einstein and gratitude, I chanced on a bunch of quotes, attributed to the master physicist himself. Not bothering to authenticate if he actually said these words... These are pure beauty in themselves.

"A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order give in same measure as I have received and am still receiving."

"Your fervent wishes can only find fulfillment if you succeed in attaining love and understanding of men, and animals and plants and stars so that every joy becomes your joy and every pain your pain."

"More and more I come to value charity and love of one’s fellow being above everything else."

Shy Lover

Yes, the one who blushes furiously, who wears her emotions on her face. Whose lips are constantly curving upward. The one who is so open about her feelings, yet can hardly say a word about them. Whose eyes drop downward as they come close. Who cannot meet the beloved's eyes without going red.

There is something oddly sweet, hopelessly endearing about a shy lover. It is the sincerity, the eternal earnestness and compelling naivete, the utter vulnerability of it all. And it makes her so helluva attractive.

 

I know Waheeda Rahman isn't exactly shy here, saying out her feelings in that song as clearly as she does. Although, she isn't the one singing the song, technically speaking. "Aaj sajan mohe ang lagaa lo, janam safal ho jaaye, hriday ki peeda, deh ki agni, sab sheetal ho jaaye... Beloved, embrace me today so my life may be complete, the pain in my heart and the fire in my body, may it all be cooled." 

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Always, Everywhere

Being part of the Art of Living Foundation for some years now, it is common to hear - "Oh, when did you meet Guruji? Wow, that's amazing, you lucky guy! You met Guruji in the 90s? Wow! It must have been so amazing those days, right? So few devotees... and now wherever Guruji travels, hundreds of people show up! Wow, you met Guruji when you were 16? That's wonderful!" and so on.

It is a familiar script. Hearing stories about young Guruji, his Satsangs and knowledge sessions, all the fun times, and early courses, the mind starts its litany - I wish I met Guruji earlier! These people are so lucky, blah blah blah.

I am guilty of this too. Up until this moment. Now I look back and realize - Oh, I have been with Guruji all my life! He has been a presence in my life as long back as I can remember. I waited 26 years to meet him in person but he's been around since forever... :) Duh.

GP_3

Been waiting for you all my life, Darling

One of the earliest films I remember watching in this young life of mine... :)

Nokkethadhoorathu Kannum Nattu is a movie starring the lovely Padmini, Nadia Moidu, Mohanlal and a bunch of others. The film is funny-sad-hilarious in parts. An old woman lives a solitary existence, waiting for someone to come ring her doorbell. Where is her family? Who is the cheeky young woman who lands at her doorstep one night? What secret does she hide? Who is the man who arrives from Delhi? All these questions make for a sweetly sentimental film replete with emotion, laughs, pranks and mushy moments.

A song I adore is "Aayiram Kannumaayi" featuring Padmini and Nadia Moidu. The grandmother has finally met her grandchild. Years of pent up love and adoration spill forth as the two women try to make up for lost time. How hard we try to express our love, what a futile attempt.



The lyrics are heartbreakingly lovely. Here's my rough attempt at translation.

I waited for you, with a thousand eyes,
Little bird who flew away from me, darling little bird.

Didn't realize the dew had fallen, didn't realize that the sunshine had arrived and left,
Dearest, I simply counted the days until you would arrive,
You came, you stayed, my life's completion you are...

Did the breeze kiss you? Did the bee play the violin?
Did the peacock inside open its blue fan of feathers?
You are the flower that eternally bloomed in my memory, 
The soul of my existence that left me and went afar...

I waited for you, with a thousand eyes,
Little bird who flew away from me, darling little bird.


Occurred to me, as I heard this song today (and before), that these words are perfect for the soul calling the Divine. Or maybe the other way around? How long I have been waiting for You, so long. And now that You are here, I am complete. And I realize that You were never gone. You were right here.

Brokeback Mountain

What can I say about Brokeback Mountain that hasn't been said already? That it is a love story, sweet and tender? That it is heartbreakingly sad yet beautiful? That it is a must-watch?

I saw the movie, couldn't get it out of my head. Finally got my hand on Proulx's story, read it twice one night. The movie is as sparsely laid out as the book, very little by way of dialog or lines. Long silences, meaning hidden in the small gestures, words and sighs.

What can be more romantic than tucking one's shirt inside the beloved's? What can be sweeter than swaying to sleep, gently standing?

Wanted to write more but the words dried up. Come to think of it, this post does a good job as it is.

The Help and The Help

Finally watched The Help, a couple of months after reading The Help.

What can I say? I know the old argument about how a film can never, within its constrained length, hope to describe what an author has unlimited pages to do. By the same token, the cinematic medium can bring the dullest images to brilliant realization on screen. So there, neither medium is better than the other in telling a story - it's simply a good film or bad film. Actually, let's make it even more fundamental, such that it cannot be reduced any further. It depends on the viewer, period.

As always, I have vastly digressed from the purpose of this post. This is what happens when words flow fast and easy from my mind to my fingers to the keyboard to the screen. Been a while since I have experienced such freedom, such fluidity... so I take complete advantage. Again I digress. Must be so annoying to you, my patient reader.

I liked The Help, the book. It has a rich assortment of characters, each one grappling with a unique set of circumstances. There is no savior, no messiah in the book. I saw The Help as a lovely collaboration of lives, each one supporting the other, through time and difficulties, only to experience a brief moment of sweetness, cohesion, love. Skeeter had her own set of issues, so did Minny, Aibileen. Skeeter didn't save anyone any more than Minny or Aibileen saved her. See what I mean? It was the coming together of different energies, intentions, faiths... Unfortunately, the film The Help is very different. Our heroine Skeeter is spunky, talks back to her mother, appears to be supremely self-confident and independent. She is pretty much the "white savior" in the film. Sad turn of the story, I think.

There is so much the book expresses by way of setting and atmosphere. The terrible heat in Jackson, the nerve-wracking three weeks as the deadline looms large, the intense fear experienced by everyone in question... Skeeter's own apprehensions and nervousness. The film skips almost all of the above, instead focussing on the little arguments and disharmonies, and the last moment of triumph.

If I recall right, there is a part in the book towards the end, when everyone in the church signs a copy of the book to present to Skeeter. I loved that portion. I think it got totally shortchanged in the film.

Anyway, enough about The Help. One movie that stayed true to the book? Brokeback Mountain is one of my favorite films. Finally read the short story by Annie Proulx and adored it. Each one (the book, the movie) is a masterpiece. Sparse, elegant, lovely and hopeless... Deserves another post. And soon.

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Grace and Gorgeousness
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Lakshmi

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