Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Men and Manners

Keen observation over several years has taught me one thing about men - machoness or some (distorted) perception of it is inherent in them. And this comes out in several social circumstances. For example, when you're introducing one man to another - let us assume, for the sake of equal justifiable machoness on both sides that both of them are, and have always been, civilians, and are of similar height and build, complete with/without the paunch of the Indian Male variety. There's always a stiffening of the shoulders, a slight pursing of the lips (like you would do when you were acknowledging the winner of a quiz you lost on the tie-breaker), an almost imperceptible tucking in of the stomach, which immediately requires them to pull up their trousers just a bit around the belt, and then a stiff, jerky, supposedly 'firm' handshake. Then, if you've heard their voices before, you'll notice a surprising deepening of the pitch on both as they go, "how're you doing, man?" or, in the case of a more formal situation, "hello, how are you?", or, in the most obnoxious case, "Pleasure".

You now have a choice. You could either gag and embarrass the two of them, or you could excuse yourself and observe as they attempt to make conversation. The first question will be, "so where do you work?" and then this is followed by careful specifications, which clearly avoid designations. For instance, let's say a guy is a copywriter in an ad agency, you'll hear, "I work with *name of the agency*." The other guy goes, "what do you do there?" and the answer will be, "oh, I take care of the copy and other random things. You know how it is." And, of course, this will be followed by a quick nod, an exchange of smiles and shakes of the head. Yes, we know how it is.

Then, the stockmarket. Great if some company's making an IPO. They will discuss it for some time. This is when you need to butt in there. When they're running out of conversation, or out of knowledge, one of them will look at you and go, "look at her staring; she doesn't understand anything!", followed by the other one saying, "yeah, man, women and the stockmarket!" at which there will be a deep, throaty man-to-man laugh. This is when you long to say something like, "Have you seen *the company's IPO*? I'm pretty sure they're going to get right into the Sensex, and not just the Nifty." But then you know that there will be a slight movement by one of the two men so that they're aligned against you, and then they'll ask you, with a cynical smile (the same way they do when you say you follow Formula 1, and they ask, "so who's your favourite?" and if it happened to be Schumacher, they'd shake their heads and go, "yeah, everyone knows him only!" - like you're actually supposed to say "Robert Doornbos" just to prove you follow F1), "haha, what do you know about the Nifty? What's the difference between the Nifty and the Sensex?" So, the more fun option is to watch, or even better, to ask questions. "What should the IPO be for them to get into the Nifty?" or even better, "what is the Nifty?" Chances are that one of them will think it's the top 30 companies and another will think it's the top 50. Then there will be a bit of an awkwardness, because now it's time for the man-to-man competition. This will be followed by, "oops, sorry, top 30...no, no, that's the Sensex, the top 50 is Nifty". "No, you're mistaken; the top 50 is the Sensex." "No, that's the Nifty; the Sensex is the top 30". And you'll be cawing, "Nifty's the top 50, and the Sensex is the top 30" at the top of your voice, but hey, this is man-to-man and therefore you're invisible. Even if you explain why the Sensex is 14,000 and the Nifty's just over 4000.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Shyam Benegal Effect

What do you say about a man who has won all the honours one could win in cinema and says he does not feel successful? A man who says he has not made a single perfect film, and immediately prevents a whimsical metaphysical conversation by readily giving examples of perfect films - An Autumn Afternoon by Ozu and some of Akira Kurasawa's work, which he calls "flawless"? A man who, when invited to the studio, and offered a car, prefers to walk it? A man whose deep baritone has everyone who hears it feeling its chords and who laughs and dismisses his voice as "an okay voice"? A man who answers his mobile phone himself and sits down to dissect the rights and wrongs of Black, and examines how Pedro Almodovar's style has changed since La Mala Educacion? A man who says "I was fairly successful at advertising, and because of that, I was going up and up and up; and that made me unhappier by the minute". A man who speaks of how success can only come when you listen to your calling.

Talking to Mr. Benegal a few days ago made me yearn for the one thing that immediately has my pulse beating. The scratchy sound of pen against paper, the romance of the blue ink drying slowly, the incredible magic of watching one's mind craft itself on paper, of words pouring out of the tip of a fountain pen, of watching characters who will tell their stories through you...the feeling of being a medium. The world of characters, I believe, is a parallel world - a sort of dream world where each writer can only see what s/he is meant to see. Where these characters are roaming around in search of a destiny - an author who will tell their stories. Where the best books come out of authors and characters finding each other and fitting into each other, becoming each other's closest friends and moulding each other's existence. Think, for a minute, of Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment, where Dostoevsky's mind unleashes its darker instincts; where he speaks of the momentary sense of pleasure, however short, but definitely present, in a man's head when he hears of another's death...where Dostoevsky's Christian beliefs force him to make Raskolnikov repent for his crime...and then, all of a sudden, in the last fifty pages, it is as if the pen were grabbed from Dostoevsky by Raskolnikov to tell his story the way he wants to.

The calling to find those characters, that latent journey that needs to be taken, the drive that will make one take the final plunge...should all those be sacrificed for lack of time? That manic feeling that grips you when you write, the sight of words soaking themselves into a page, the sound of the keys on the laptop, the sight of the words forming themselves, appearing out of blank space...it's a fever. And it's a fever one longs for.

I call it the Shyam Benegal effect. Not only did I happen to have my mind burst open by that conversation, to have my instincts take over my pragmatism, but I also happened to speak to two much younger men whose passion for their creativity has only increased the entropy of the cells in my brain. One was Chetan Bhagat, whom I interviewed about his Five Point Someone; he said he wrote the book out of boredom and now makes the time to write down something that will give him the stimulation a job in investment banking cannot. The other is a person whom I interviewed about blogging today. He has one of the best advertising blogs I've ever come across - it's at http://sandeepmakam.blogspot.com, and he told me he posts in it 4-5 times a day, because it's his passion, and he cannot allow anything to get in the way of that.

I suppose it's a combination of those factors that made me write today, and has made me resolve to write something everyday...on paper and on the screen.
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