Monday, May 26, 2008

I Contemplated Making this Title an Amalgam of All the Languages I know Words in, but Decided Against it Coz I Know People Who Know Those Languages

I grew up with Tagore, grew into Marquez and lost myself in Rumi. I've always wanted to read them in the languages they thought, but the only one for whom I've gone the extra mile for so far has been Marquez. Jo hablo un poco espanol, pero muy poco.

Having lived about 90% of my life in Madras, the languages I am perfectly fluent in have remained English and Tamil, possibly in that order. After three miserable years of first-standard-level Hindi which only taught me how to read and write in Hindi, it was only in the past four years or so that I found myself exposed to the language...thanks to theatre group colleagues who would start speaking in Hindi when they wanted to shut me up, an Afghan and a Pakistani roommate who would constantly talk in Urdu, and a move to Delhi.

But it dawned on me suddenly that languages I didn't understand could wring emotions in me I didn't know existed. Gitanjali was one of the works that made me realise my own religious leanings. I read it, of course, in English, but for the past few months, I've been listening almost everyday to Tomar Binai Gaan Chilo, and Pankaj Mullick's rendering of Ami Tomari Sange brings me to tears every single time, although I still haven't figured out which of the songs in Gitanjali's English version it corresponds to.

The same goes for the song Baghdad by Kazem Al Saher. I know about ten Arabic words, and yet the song makes me yearn for Baghdad in the old days, before 2003, as if it were my own hometown. When Russian operas throw you into Moscow, Italian operas turn you into a Sicilian, Bengali songs stir the chords in you that turn your thoughts to God, Spanish songs have you pillion riding with Che Guevara through Argentina, Arabic songs make you Iraqi and Persian poetry has you running from Shiraz to Tehran, I wonder what quality music has that transcends all language barriers.

Sometimes, I wonder whether the phrase "language barrier" should even exist. When you think how often it happens that you break into your native language with someone you're close to, without it occurring to you that they don't speak it, maybe the phrase should not exist. One of my best friends is Iranian, and I remember our struggling to film a sequence outside a bar. People would walk right across the camera just when the sequence was almost over. She turned to me and screamed, "oye baba, ajab adamiyaha!!!" And I understood she was saying, "dear God, what weird people!!!" A few days later, I broke into "illa, Mahsa, idhai ippadi pidi!", which she understood to mean, "no, Mahsa, hold the camera this way."

It also makes you think about what the language of thought is. You struggle to express things you feel at times, and none of the languages you know seem to convey quite enough. I like to think there is a layer to the cosmos where thoughts can be transmitted without requiring a medium...where the past, present and future melt into a universal consciousness, and people don't need language to communicate either amongst each other or within themselves. They are scattered moments in time, but each one of them is precious.

Curls the Clumsy

My day officially began when I tried removing a scented candle from a shelf I could not reach to blow it out, and ended up spilling hot wax on my (incidentally, freshly waxed) arms, and most importantly, on the sofa I take great pride in owning.

Having had the unique experience of falling out of an auto in Delhi, after banging my head against the meter and my knees against the base of the meter, I know David Fincher should give me a call if he ever decides to make a Fight Club II, this time starring a woman. I would give Edward Norton a run for his money without even trying.

I've dropped three phones several storeys down, and all of them decided to give me a second chance. I've also dropped my brothers a couple of times when they were babies, I think...which
, now that I come to think of it, explains a lot.

There are very few parts of me that I haven't scarred by falling down stairs or sliding down walls. I've also managed to run into a Sumo on my bike, and got away with a broken toenail. I ran into a bike once, and got thrown across the road, and got away with a dented earring and a slightly disorientated mind...which, sometimes thankfully I think, has stayed that way since. I think God keeps me alive to amuse himself...or out of mercy for those people looking to start an afterlife without a criminal record.

So my superpower is a Supreme Ability to Hurt Myself and Put Myself in Danger...or simply, Clumsiness. Given that I don't quite have the figure of a superheroine as yet, I'm planning to call myself Curls the Clumsy.

And I think I might have found a sidekick in a close friend who banged her head and nose against a cupboard the day before yesterday. Like I told her, the way I see it, it's better to be clumsy than have a stutter. D-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-do y-y-y-y-y-y-y-y-y-y-you ag-ag-ag-ag-ag-ag-ag-ag-agree?

You might like to know: My costume also has a retractable device that occasionally pulls my foot out of my mouth.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Double D is Not Always a Good Thing

(And now that I have your attention, read on...)

(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, dated 5th December 2007)

In a city which has so much to offer couples, from concerts to cosy, deserted streets, from couple seats in theatres to long walks by the seashore, single women are quite obviously tempted on occasion to break out of their singledom, and experiment with the D-word. Unfortunately, the decision most often results in DDs (Disastrous Dates), but the good thing about DDs is that they’re a great laugh when one sits down with the other SFFs (Single Female Friends). And the great thing about DDs is that technology has spawned a fresh breed of them. The penetration of Orkut into every system connected to the internet has breathed new life into the hitherto “bleaaaahhhh.....zzzzzzzzzzzzzz” world of DDs. Where you used to die of boredom while some swaggering Mr. Desperate who hasn’t been on a date in five years tried to convince you he’s had 15 girlfriends, and dumped the last one because she was way too clingy, and jealous because four other women were hitting on him, now you get entertained by someone who has read your Orkut profile the previous evening, believes everything it says and is out to subtly bring out that no two people have ever had more in common. What follows is the story of one such DD.

So I walk into Bike and Barrel to see this person (who’s asked me to a drink at a get-together at a friend’s friend’s friend’s place) pretending not to have noticed me yet, while he examines a couple of CDs he has just taken out of a Landmark bag.

“Oh! Hi!” he says, looking surprised, “so you’re right on time! Most girls are usually late...I hate it when people are not punctual.”

“I hate it when people generalise.”

“Really??? Me too! Hey, check out these CDs I bought. Have you heard of Blue Oyster Cult?”

“Yeah, they’re one of my favourites!” I’m beginning to get pretty excited – this is going to be a great story for the girls. “My favourite song is Oedipus’ Last Breath.” (To date, I don’t know if such a song exists).

“You’re kidding me, right? No way! That’s my favourite too!”

Over the course of the evening, I discover that we both like the same drink, the same football team, the same movies, the same actors, the same writers, and guess what! Our favourite book is One Hundred Years of Solitude by Salman Rushdie! To top that off, we’ve both missed trains in Bombay (that’s what tends to happen when your Orkut page has a link to your blog), and both of us were infuriated when David Beckham left Arsenal for Barcelona. But what clinched it was this – both of us were gloating inside about being the messer, while the other was the messee.

The only thing we did not share was our mobile numbers, but my date suggested that with so much in common, maybe one day we would share the same landline. That innovative flirtation was the icing on the DD cake, and I was all geared up for the final cherry – the emasculation of the DD-Perpretator by insisting on paying the bill.

And then, quite unexpectedly, came the chocolate flakes and praline – “I really like independent women. But I’m paying next time, okay?”

So he thought there was going to be a next time. Well, finally! – something we didn’t have in common!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

"Oh my God, What's WRONG with You???????!!!!!"

(Published in Zetigeist, The New Indian Express, dated 17th May, 2008)

I remember, as a child, I used to wonder why the working women in my family asked each other, anxiously, "does this saree go okay with the blouse? Do my slippers match my handbag? Does the side-parting look better?" It wasn't like they were setting off to a party. It was work! Who cares?! But decades later, I can relate to the same sense of dread every time I step into my office.

It is a genetic curse, somehow cyclical in nature, that women feel a compulsion to comment on at least one other woman's appearance the moment they see her. Sometimes, you're met with a barrage of concerned questions, which will temporarily wipe out every ounce of self-confidence you have. "God! Why do you look so horrible? Didn't you sleep well? Your eyes are all puffy!" or "You seem to have black patches around your eyes! You should use cucumber and potato slices on them" (yes, these useful tips are also usually worked into the conversation) or "Your hair looks really weird! What happened? Did you get wet while coming to work?" or "Are your eyebrows crooked?" or even, "Your floaters make your feet look really broad! Why don't you wear those tapering slippers?"

The worst part of it, though, is even the compliments are couched in something offensive, as if to keep away the Evil Eye. When they're not telling you your eyebrows and upper lip need threading, or you need to get yourself a wax, or there are white patches on your skin, or blackheads on your nose, or your arms are so dry they look like old leather, they're always asking what you've had done. "Hey! Your face looks really nice today! Did you go to the salon?" and before you can even say "thank you", they're out with, "those suntanned patches are gone, and your open pores are less obvious".

"Nice skirt!" someone will call out, and then wrinkle her nose, "but why're you wearing it with this top???"

"Where did you buy those earrings? You should wear them with a necklace…your neck looks very bare without accessories!"

"Your hair looks really good! Makes your face look less chubby."

"That lipstick is just the right colour for you! And it hides the blueness on your lips so well!"

"You can really carry off sarees beautifully! But have you put on weight?"

The speed with which the salvo comes is one of those miracles of existence. I think men envy us, sometimes. One male friend whined, after watching an exchange of this breed wide-eyed, "how do you guys do it?! I would never be able to tell my boss 'Hey, nice shoes…did you buy them with your bonus? On the subject, when's my appraisal?' He would think I was hitting on him!" Yes, it is quite remarkable how the wrong halves of these sentences linger in our minds. While fuming in a blur of backhanded-complimenteedom, I completely forgot this woman had said, "You've got such perfect teeth!" before asking me why I did not use lipstick to brighten up my face a little bit.

What most women do not seem to factor in, though, is the discomfiture they put their male colleagues through when they conduct an analysis of this sort. I was once witness to this scene where this girl walked up to another and said, "hey, your face looks very different today. You've done something?"


"No, ya, why?"

"Okay…let me be a little politically incorrect." A giggle. "You look less hairy."

I don't think the now-non-hairy woman was as embarrassed as the two men who were standing with her. With blanched faces, they stood still for a few seconds. Then, in a moment of panic, one of them turned to the other and coughed out, "uh…you want to…uh…outside…smoke?" and the other was too overwrought to do anything more than nod with relief.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Awww! He's So Cute...Can I Hold Him for Just a While?

(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, 19th April 2008)

I have come to accept that I must have signed a deal with God when I was in some sort of limbo; a family sitting near me will always bring a crying baby along on every flight, train and bus that I board. But, as a borderline neurotic fan of movies, to the extent I will never allow anyone to quote lines from a movie I haven't seen, God could not have forced me to say, under duress of drugs, hypnosis or even torture, that crying babies will haunt every theatre I go to!

The word, I believe, is paedophobe. I might have invented it. As the person who shrugged when her friends screamed out that there was a rat running up her trousers, the person who said "awwww!!!!" when her mother squealed that a monkey was searching her pockets for munchies, and the person who picks up cockroaches and releases them into the wild while the rest of her family is shivering in fear and disgust, I came to realise quite early on that the only organisms I have a mortal fear of are children.

Fortunately, at some point in their lifespan, they morph into something you can come to terms with as part of your species. But unfortunately, as a woman, you're supposed to find them most adorable before they reach the butterfly stage – and it is not politically correct to use the words "larvae" or "caterpillar". You're quite hard put, though, to keep smiling when someone dumps a baby on to your lap on a crowded bus. You have two options – (a) force yourself not to recall Omen as the hostile gaze meets yours and …uh…shall we call them (out of concern for those people Freud would surmise have been toilet-trained too early) 'the after-effects of a tearful tantrum on its nose and mouth'….threaten to land on your clothes (b) get up and offer your seat to the mother of the child. I usually resort to the latter, having too weak a stomach for Option (a).

But when you're watching a movie, you're pretty much stuck. You could either try being polite and request the parents to quieten the child (which, of course, will get you a withering glare – and more importantly, make you miss part of the movie), or get argumentative and scream at the parents saying they should know better than to bring a kid to a night show, well past its bedtime (which will get you sworn at, labelled hysterical, vilified by every other parent in the theatre, despised by every other movie aficionado in the theatre – and more importantly than all of those put together, make you miss more of the movie.) One way out I am yet to try – and, most probably, will only wistfully think of – might be saying "awww! So cute! Can I hold him (or her) for a while?" and while pretending to pinch its chin and cheeks, quickly slip a sedative into its mouth.

The temptation was strongest when I, having scrimped and scrounged on a student's budget, went to watch the stage performance of The Lion King, at London's West End. I was to realise, while watching the audience filter out, that the only human beings under the age of ten in that enormous auditorium, had been seated in the row before me.

I bent over, as three of the children screamed and whooped, to whisper to their mother, in my most understanding voice, "hi, I know it's really hard to keep the kids quiet, but I've missed out quite a chunk of the dialogue, so could you please get them to talk softly?"

"Wha' you say, sees-ta?" came a rather forbidding voice.

"I said, can you get your children to be less excited?"

"Las' time I checked, you're too old for the play. It's Disney, remem-bah? You know whom Disney is for?"

I had to hand it to her – there was no comeback to logic of that variety. For a long time, I have dreamt of making a public service advertisement. In my head, the camera would focus on a steamy scene on screen, and then pan to an open-mouthed five-year-old, and then to the child's horrified parents. And then, a voice would boom out as bold red letters appeared on screen, "PREVENT TEENAGE PREGNANCY. DO NOT TAKE CHILDREN TO MOVIES."

Huff, Puff and He Blew the Smoke Up!

(Published in Zeitgesit, The New Indian Express, dated 12th April 2008)

It was a near-panic situation in the newsroom, when a colleague who was working furiously with me on a breaking story said urgently, "okay, there's something I
have to do. Can you just handle this? I'll be right back." Looking at the contortions working their way through his face, I decided the poor man was in a hurry to get to the restroom, and assured him the story would be taken care of. About five minutes later, he came and sat down beside me again, with one difference - he smelt of tobacco.

"So the thing you had to do was smoke???"

He smiled sheepishly and then tried to look professional again, "so, has the story gone on air?"

My mind was filled with dramatic, slow-motion images of a radio show host I worked with wringing his hands and asking me if I could put an extra song in so he could go out for a smoke before he had to do the traffic update, a friend of mine begging me to walk a few steps ahead of her so she could smoke without worrying about my allergies, another friend of mine from Singapore who used to carry a carton with her so she could ask the shopkeeper to transfer the cigarettes into it and spare herself the sight of the devastating pictures of cancerous growths that decorated cigarette cases…

Smokers never want to smoke. They need to or have to. I mean, you'll go crazy if you don't go out for a smoke right now. And you know, you have to because your boss does, and since you're pathetic at office politics anyway, you can't afford not to smoke. You know of people who've been smoking fifty years and outlived other people who never so much as touched a cigarette. And, by the way, an internet article pasted on someone's blog said an American university was doing a bit of research into the benefits of cigarette smoking. Let's be practical, if a little bit of wine is good for health, a little bit of smoking has to be, right?

But of all smokers, the most interesting category comprises the ones who "are quitting". Come on, they're serious about it, their 7:00 p.m. cigarette is always their first of the day. What makes them so interesting, though, is the procedure they follow and the ramifications it has. First up, they stop buying cigarettes. This assures them, of course, that they are quitting. Then, they incur the wrath of all their smoker friends by "bumming" cigarettes of them. So, in the course of a few days, all these smoker friends are not feeling quite so generous anymore, but unwilling to antagonise a member of their cult, they don't refuse smokes; instead, they pretend they aren't carrying any.

"Sorry, dude, I'm completely out."

At which point, the in-the-process-of-quitting-er will turn to a third smoker and ask, "dude, you carrying any?"

One course of events is for an indefinite cycle of people being "out" and bumming cigarettes off their friends to be set off. It's a survival-of-the-fittest application.

Alternately, the in-the-process-of-quitting-er, who is usually the most determined to smoke that first-cigarette-of-the-day, will turn to one of the non-smokers and ask for money to buy cigarettes. (By the way, it's also quite interesting how everyone who's out of cigarettes is also usually broke.)

Yet another is for the dramatic confrontation to take place. One of the being-bummed-off smokers will yell, "dude, you're supposed to be quitting, and you bum fags off me all the time!" at which point the in-the-process-of-quitting-er will throw his or her hands up in the air and say, "dude, it's impossible! You can't quit this overnight. I'm not trying anymore."

And all is well with the world again.

So far, though, my most memorable encounter with a smoker has been:

"Nandini, got a light?"

"No, I don't smoke."



"Nothing, yaar, I thought you were normal."

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Mop of Wisdom

The Funniest People in the World have Curly Hair

- The Truth, by Nandini Krishnan

I was born with curly hair, and at some random point in my life, probably weighed down by its length, it turned more or less best, wavy. Then, I got it cut, and the curls came to life again. I recently discovered these were the source of all my powers.

A recent, rather fortunate series of events required me to straighten my hair, temporarily, for less than twenty four hours, as it turned out, and as I sit here now, with the curly mop floating around my head, I thank God for its rebirth. My straight hair did not just make me more-or-less unrecognisable, and give me the appearance of someone who would say, "oh, no, yaar, I've put on this micro-inch around my waist, I'm not going to eat lunch now...oh, Hrithik Roshan is sooooo hooottttttt...oh, Dhoni is soooooo cuuuuuuuuuttttttttte....oh, Orlando Bloom is sooooo sweeettttt", but also wiped away my sense of humour.

Having dinner in office, I realised the people at my table were smiling politely at attempted witticisms, and then my eyes clouded over as a series of events played out in slow motion in my head as, under the influence of decades of dedicated movie-watching, they always do when I'm having an epiphany.

I saw Jerry Seinfeld do a routine in slow-motion, and then, with a cross-fade transition, in came Stephen Colbert, and then some of my best friends and wittiest colleagues...and every mental camera I had panned over to the curly mop atop their heads.

It's true. My curls are the source of my wit and wisdom, and I am lost without them.

It's true. All this never occurred to me when my hair was straight on that unfortunate day.

It's true. Even if I am required to straighten my hair everyday, I will go back home and wash it so my curls come home to sleep.

It's true. The funniest people in the world have curly hair.

Rowan Atkinson is the exception that proves the rule.
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