Elixir – eternal life or transformation

via Daily Prompt: Elixir

The moment I saw the prompt, I was intrigued. I haven’t read this word in a long time and it got me thinking. I looked up the dictionary and saw two meanings. One, that meant turning base metals into gold and the second, more commonly known, eternal life.

The news these days is filled with research trying to find ways for humans to achieve immortality, extend their age, live longer, on different planets, etc. etc. But an elixir to make us transform into better people and a better species? Haven’e seen anyone look for THAT one. Except for the spiritualists.

With war, discrimination, fundamentalism on the rise, an elixir that can promote harmony, peace, look at the environment with compassion and so forth, is what is needed. An elixir to change our hardened, greedy, reckless human race into a empathetic, caring and inclusive one. That changes suffering into joy, pessimism into hope and defeat into victory.

Can research now focus on this? Maybe, we will need a new race or species to be able to do that, before its too late.


Obsession with Youth vs Real Life

It was with some expectation and a lot of excitement that I sat to watch the India Vs West Indies match. I tend to get addicted to cricket some times and India had been playing real well. All of them. Of course Dhoni and Kohli were at their best.

We lost. For once there was no effigy burning and we acknowledged losing to a better team and a good game of cricket. I felt both sides played well. I couldn’t listen to the after match reporting but I got to know about the stunt Dhoni pulled on the Australian journalist.

Hats off. As I listened to the commentary and opinions, I admired Captain Cool’s chutzpah. Another feather in his cap, as far as I am concerned. But I also saw how this question of retirement is indicative of a far worse malaise that seems to be evading our country.

I agree sports can mean “retiring in 30s” cause of maybe health etc, though I am no expert. But fundamentally a 36 year old Nehra brought a lot to the table as well. Our country is obsessed with movies and cricket and age. I mean, never anywhere else, and I have travelled quiet a bit, do I see this obsession. Moment you enter the International airport from an overseas trip you see hoardings of fairly unknown stars or starlets opening new shops etc, or of Bollywood, as if there is nothing else worth in this country. Maybe this is our only big export. And the rampant vouyeristic culture. Who is having an affair with whom, who is divorcing whom. Infact a few of us, mind you only in our 20s and 30s were lamenting, how US radio can have debates and discussions, but India you are subjected to incessant Bollywood and mindless pranks, switch to any channel, except maybe 106.4.

Heroines are over at 35 so are sport stars and so is our society. As humans we are so busy extending our lives but we actually don’t value it. I wonder why are we trying to live long lives then? Isn’t experience important? Can’t someone start an amazing new career at 40. Doesn’t 50 and 60 or 70 bring maturer, wiser and more beautiful people on this planet? Isn’t there more to life than movies? Why can’t Dhoni play on till he is fit and intelligent enough to win the game? He isn’t overshadowing youngsters, actually no one can overshadow talent, both Kohli and Dhoni have proved it.

This may well be an existential post. However, as I spoke to a dear relative in another country, she wisely said, “it’s only in India. Come and move here, atleast 30s is still young and 40 or 50 can be a new career”. As I heard her out, I thought we may be one of the oldest civilisation, but we seem to embrace the shallow and have given away all our wisdom. Or is it that the constant forcing of societal norms of marriage and having kids has confined our lives to 20s and 30s with endless progeny growing up.

We really need to learn to value life and experience. After all this is the land where the Buddha famously set out to resolve the suffering that comes from birth, ageing, sickness and death.

We will all age, we will all die. Science will create miracles, but will we ever learn how to truly live.



Fawad Khan and the Power of Culture

Fawad Khan and Sanam Saeed have done more to bring India and Pakistan together than all the politicians ever could. That is the power of good acting, good storytelling and fan following. I count myself amongst those who can waste a perfectly good Sunday for Fawad Khan. His eyes, his body language and his sexy urdu mixed English can make anyone swoon. And he has the whole sub-continent swooning and rooting for him. It also shows the power of economics and Bollywood, and hats off to all artists/ producers who, irrespective of Right-winger fundamentalists who seem to have no life, hired him and gave us a good good movie.

Maybe this would set off a trend where the border may one day dissolve, just like the wall in Germany did. And we may go back to being one as we always were. Oh, okay, a far-off very distant dream. But hope is a good thing maybe the best of things. (Shawshank Redemption-yes I love movies!)

Zindagi, the channel, when it started airing in India broke a lot of stereotypes. It gave us Indians a break from our own dodgy serials and proved that Pakistani theatre and serials are always a class apart. Something that we used to look forward to as kids. Their music has already made major inroads in India and now come the actors.

I really want Fawad Khan and his likes to be superhit. Yes, we the non-existent fans are helping an industry, and one man, become really rich. But if it ushers in an era of peace and harmony in this region, frankly he can have all our money.

I hope Bollywood also learns a bit from across the border and instead of teaching Fawad Khan to dance, they will learn how to act and the power of good stories.

Pakistan has declared Holi and Diwali a holiday. A welcome move by all means and one that Indian media should advertise.

All this makes me believe all over again, something Dr Daisaku Ikeda always says, there is nothing like culture and education to bring people together. And I firmly believe culture is what will help us rediscover our humanity and our roots, and will reflect the desire and voice of the common man.

Till then Fawad Khan is drop dead hot. No doubt about that.

Winter Chill

I miss the winters. I know spring is round the corner. But winters. . . they just came and went. I was remembering my childhood days. I used to hate winters. October mid, right after the much awaited college and school break, we used to head out in jackets and woollens. Braving the chill. Soon enough the fog would descend and doors and windows would be jammed with old newspapers to prevent the chill from freezing homes.

Those would be the days of charpoys and peanuts. Gur and tea and endless gupshup of moms and fraternity with woollens being knitted.

Cut to 2013 on and even a bit farther back maybe. First October chill shifts to November. Soon its not till 15 December that one can even look at woollens or switch off fans. And finally its just a few weeks in Jan. Holi used to be dreaded cause the chilled water, the norm in the festival would be thrown at you.

Not only that I spent weeks this time looking for hand knitted woollens and barely managed to find them. I was so sad, all were acrylic mixes. It was only the NGOs that come from Uttarakhand or the winter designer festival that I witnessed at the Kisaan Haat that I could find real wool and that also at a steep price. Now I wish I had learnt knitting and may actually plunge in.

It’s February, and woollens are being packed. I look longingly at the lifetime of shopping and knitting that I haven’t used in years. I miss the fog, the chill, the no sun, the rain. I actually love winters now.

Just like life, we seem to realise the value of something when its gone. But some changes are irreversible, like losing people, a weather, a species. Life would be so dull and scary with 12 months of summers. But who is to blame? I never thought I could be so passionate about the environment, but then I never thought that a day would come when I would say: “I love winters and miss them”.


Agra-City of Forts, and Shoes?

It is said whatever you do on the first day of the new year is what you do the rest of the year. Its a defining moment. Fortunately for me, I travelled. With people I love and drove an SUV, thanks to my brother. But I have run ahead.

So to hit off the new year my cousin and his family decided to go to Agra. They had lived there once and would often go for day trips. Since I had spent quite a bit of time there in my childhood years, I decided to tag along. I was intrigued that they felt we could go and return in one day. After all who is able to do that? Especially with the traffic on highway’s being what they are. But my brother was confident.

Smooth Road

1 January 2014 dawned bright and clear and sunny. A perfect omen for a road trip. Despite sleeping late  we were packed and ready to leave by 11. I thought it might be a bit late but turned out to be wrong. The new Yamuna Expressway that connects Greater Noida and beyond, is truly a joy to drive on. We did not take much time in reaching from Gurgaon to Noida, it being a holiday and then hit the Expressway. There are moments on the road when you actually feel that you are driving in another country. The toll plazas are very well maintained and there are roadstops at regular intervals, clean and well maintained.

Within 2 hours we had hit Agra. It was unbelievable. This was truly the power of connectivity. My brother first stopped at Itmat-uda-daullah tomb. Though the city is very dirty, the monument itself was beautiful. I had seen it earlier as a kid and was almost seeing it for the very first time. Sometimes compared to the Taj, it is known as the baby Taj. The beautiful main building is made from white marble from Rajasthan and is set admist what once would have been a beautiful garden. There are pathways and watercourses (now dried up) that criss cross the base as well as connect with some of the outbuildings. The main building itself is beautiful with delicate jali screens which threw light into the interiors. One can also see carvings on the walls where there would once have been semi precious stones. The outbuildings are also well preserved and overlook the river Yamuna. Though now dried up and dirty it would once have been a beautiful sight.

The ASI stone outside gave the history of the place.

It seemed even more intricate and beautiful than the Taj Mahal, but that one is a legend on its own. After spending some time there we finally bade good bye.

The Food

Well there were two other reasons why we had made this trip. The second was the food. We parked our car outside the walls of the imposing Agra Fort. Seeing the glimpse of majestic red walls peeping through the meagre greenry was tempting enough. But that would have to be another trip.

We crossed over across the old Railway Station seeing the Jama Masjid on our way. Living in Delhi all these years it seems strange to find so much history together in one place. After crossing over a flithy side street we were in the old Sadar Baazar. It reminded me of the lanes of Chandni Chowk. A narrow street surrounded by old shops and thelas (hand carts). We stopped at one and tasted the famous Agra Gajak. The season was still on and we had our fill for the latest. After walking around a bit and buying all versions of the same. We turned towards our next stop the Sadar.

On our way we crossed the Taj Mahal. What once used to be a narrow walk towards the gate and then a monument, had now been fortified. All major hotels could be seen walking distance from the monument. Reminded me of “All roads lead to Taj”.

Apart from all the history Agra is also known for shoes and chaat. Yes, the roadside chaat is brilliant as ever, if you can ignore the dirt underneath. After hogging to our hearts content, on a masterchef certified cook’s thela as well, mind you. We headed to our final destination: the shoe shops.

The city is known for its shoe factories and imagine my surprise when I saw branded and other shoes, of good quality leather and boots to boot!

Well, a day well spent and though this is an old post, the year was fabulous with me travelling to many cities in India and going to one of my favourite cities: Tokyo.

It does come true doesn’t it? Here’s to more travel.

The Big Break

A career break. The much dreaded, most wanted phase of one’s life. Or so I feel. I had been wanting to take one for a long time. Just to step back, follow up on all the things I ever wanted to do, and rethink where life was headed.

The first time, the suggestion came to me was from my father when I had just completed my undergrad. He said, “travel the world, and see what you like”. But as a driven, ambitious, “I can’t have a break on my CV”, sort of girl, I didn’t pay heed.

As anyone who has ever worked would know, once you hit the earn your keep, and rat race. Its a tough one to come out of. After that, so many things took over and the time was never right.

I would envy my friends who had the guts to do it. Start something of their own. So I started thinking. I surfed the web, and from dooms day prophecies, to planning the finances, everything seemed like a herculean task. But no matter who I met, who had taken the risk, they were happy they did.

Finally, this year, after hitting a point of no return. I quit. I gave an extended notice period cause I had worked here for 6 years and I am grateful they valued me so much. On a wing and prayer and freelance work. I left.

It took a few months for the panic and fear to subside. Within a two months, my health improved drastically after the long commute was cut, to the point people started complementing on my “glow”. I plunged into things I always wanted to do but hardly got time for. I am learning French, learning to play the Veena. I started painting again, reading and writing again. And most of all, studying again. I am trying to complete the Masters in English Lit that I am so passionate about.

I enjoy my home, the pace of work, the sun filtering in, the silence of 11:00 am. I wonder why breaks are so looked down on? Its been 3 months and I can feel the difference. Someone was telling me in one of the European countries, working part-time is the norm and people are higher on the happiness and contentment index. And I so believe it.

In this age of networking and cloud, work from home, networked offices, they should become the norm and not the exception. Finally, one day people will see how productivity increases. Maybe we should do an experiment in India.




The Case of the Disappearing Road

You can edit that to “lane; turn; sideline. . .”, etc. As you might have guessed, it is another reflective post on the travails of being a Gurgaon-wasi. I was reading P.D. James recently, and was greatly kicked when I read in the foreword how, when she turned her hand to writing novels, crime fiction was the obvious choice.

I was thrilled to bits, atleast if yours truly ever wrote a novel, it would be horror or murder and not the Thomas Hardy classic and its ok to admit it now. So imagine my delight when I turned my car out of my gated community and on taking the usual left found a huge barrier standing in front of me, with no intimation other than “obviously dude your small car now can’t go over this black, yellow thing, HA!” Well, that’s what I thought the stone would say if it could comment on us mortals.

Well, trying to figure out a way to get to my road, I realised that to reach home now I would have to really “find a way home”, cause the closest road had been blocked. Not that it bothered the Auto Mafia or the cyclists who believe in the motto “no obstacle is big enough for my thing”.

It amazes me. Few years back we had this beautiful roundabout on the corner where I live, which has turned from a mound of sand to the main crossing. Complete with flowers et. all. But come one Monday morning and the thing was demolished. Disappeared just like that. I think Gurgaon admin believes in “change is the only constant”. It truly is philosophy in action. And then few years later it turned into a oneway. Now there is a division on this oneway which turns a slight patch on the road to a two-way lane.

However, giving true credence to Gurgaon government, the roadsters are not disciplined either. No matter what you do, they will break rules, not recognise laws, drive their Mercs or autos as they want. Its the survival of the fittest in the true sense.

Recently, it was with great wonder, I watched Kejriwal’s experiment in Delhi. I so wished we could borrow him for our city. But then he will have to grow a forest of flowers to gift to each rule-breaker and that we already know Gurgaon has no place for.

Sigh! If only. . . But atleast this place has great fodder for my crime classic. Excuse me. . . I have to now find the road back.

Why Gurgaon Hates Trees?

No, the title is not a rhetoric or a rant against the unbiased, unfeeling, greedy bureaucracy plus corporate. Oops, maybe my blog should just end here and I can be the queen of nano blogs.

However, much to the chagrin of all those who manage to read what I write, I shall continue. It has been on my mind to tell the whole wide world what it feels like living in the Millennium City. By “whole world”, I imply how blogging can feed narcissism and as if anyone would care. But I have to put pen to paper so to speak and discuss how I feel.

We shifted to Gurgaon few years back. I still remember my horrified aghast expression when the news was broken to me by the adult in my family. I could not imagine moving to the edge of New Delhi. It was almost like falling off a cliff into oblivion. (Yes, I love Neil Gaiman:)). Anyway not that anyone seemed to care how I felt, money makes the world go round and here we were. There were only “fatfatis”, a dug up mound for a road and. . .well you get the picture.

Within a few years, we saw the city transform. Fields of mustard and empty spaces were soon taken over by DLF and the likes and huge glass and concrete buildings, with no parks for anyone to play in. Even the Aravallis soon became a dumping ground and, I am sure every year I see them shrink a bit more.

Gurgaon, for all its hype will soon turn into a desert. No matter what anyone says, it is a poor cousin of New Delhi and even Noida when one looks at the roads and the greenery. Every time we who live here look around in wonder, we do wonder, how many people want to shift here? How many more buildings/ housing societies are going to come up? Can this city not plan itself and recognise we need more trees and that the water table will not sustain this population explosion?

But it is in vain. Sadly there seem to be no rules. Recently the only muddy green patch one could see outside our lane of colonies, is being concretised. It seems any land empty should be turned into concrete. Gurgaon administration can’t seem to think it can even be turned more green or into a park. As I spoke to people around me, everyone seemed to want more trees and look  on with despair at the slowly hardening city.

Old timers don’t like the place anymore and even us newbies can’t understand where are we all headed. They can have all Raahgiris that they want but unless they make a conscious effort to reforest, to sustain and to protect zones like the Aravallis, we are in for a shock.

The awareness about this issue can be neatly summarised by this conversation I had with a friend. Me: “You know the Forest Department of Gurgaon had a poster saying we should not cut trees in the middle of a desolate dry stretch?”; Friend, “Gurgaon has a Forest Department, really?” (and she faints.)

Till next time.


Wagah Border: An Ode to Friendship

An odd combination one would think: Border and Friendship. Borders itself have come to symbolise alienation, territorialism and identity. As if humans were born within borders. We may now, but as origin of species we were but one. The land one big mass. But today we are nothing if not divided, or defined by the borders we live in.

Anyway. This year I have been on a sabbatical. And the various travels posted have been my journeys of a time well spent with new co-travellers: friends and family.

In the middle of December, three of us school friends decided to hit off to Amritsar, famous for its food and phulkari work. However, we also wanted to see the Wagah border retreat which in recent years has become quite popular.

I say recent, cause 15 years back when I had witnessed the same, as a young school girl, there were hardly a bunch of us. But now there is a stadium built to accommodate the bulky crowd, which I think needs a special task force all of its own!

Imagine hordes of people marching towards the Indo-Pak border. The security check was intensive. A large LCD had been set up so that people who could not make it to the stands can watch the proceedings, and there were many of us. The Army officers, polite but firm, were having a hard time controlling the crowd. But it was great to watch them manage the show.

The retreat began accompanied with hoots and cheers from crowds on both the sides. The patriotism, the soldiers, the charged atmosphere, the beats, women soldiers marching smartly, everything was out of this world.

But most exciting was being able to see across. People from another country, just sitting on the steps like we were. Hooting for their country. It was like being in a football match with each side cheering their own. It was fascinating to watch the retreat. We friends were discussing how since they have been doing this for ages together, the soldiers must be friends. And then a thought came to me unbidden, if they are friends, how do they fight each other in war, wouldn’t it be impossible?

Anyway we got an opportunity to go close to the border. The other side was . . . just like us. They didn’t feel foreign. A small girl shouted a big hello and waved. We looked up grinning but both sides kept going  not exchanging any words. As we stood there hearing the history, of how there is a no mans land and the barbed wire. I felt a pang of sadness. We are all one, as a nation we were all one once. My friend asked a soldier if they have become friends now? and he looked at us incredulously saying how can that be? We came back sad. Sad because, as common citizens that small child’s hello, who is the future of that country, expressed the desire to be friends. Sad because, citizens here, us could smile at them across and see human beings just like us. All around you can see greenery and the Pakistan side had a beautiful park.

But an ideal, the politics, and many forces divide us.

The significance of the retreat is that we have ended another day in peace. Even as I go back to that day and I remember that moment and us, all I can think is, hope one day the power of shared humanity will be more than the power of the divisive forces. Today, both countries are about to restart their friendly relation efforts. As citizens I am confident both sides would hope this time we will succeed and that one day India-Pakistan will be known for their friendship, even if today that is a distant dream.



I love the mountains. Not only do I love visiting them but I think I carry them around in my life all the time. Its fascinating. I don’t know why. I guess I get a sense of majesty and strength and calm that I can’t seem to find anywhere else. Just like some people might love the expanse of the sea.

It always reminds me that we as humans are one part of the universe, one of the living beings. However, the damage and control that we seem to have done far exceeds our role as one of the rest.

But this blog was not about that. I had visited Rishikesh a few years ago and loved it. Though it was really hot, the place seems to evolve all the time.

Since it is one of my regular haunts, I did not travel around so much this time. The one place that I always go to is the walkway the government has built near the ghats. It truly is world class and a treat to visit. As the summers had set in, we would go there at 5 am for a walk. On one side of the walkway are the ashrams and hotels and on the other the Ganges with forest and mountains clearly visible on the opposite side. Surprisingly the place is popular with locals but not the visitors and it just serves everyone best. There are no dustbins with signs to keep the place clean. And for a change people actually follow it which is a change for any Indian city. At small places there are steps for people to go into the river and dip. The Ganges was overflowing, and the sound of water, people and the breeze truly gave so much peace to my city-wearied heart. It was like being embraced by the universe and at the same time gave strength to go on no matter what.

The next day we bravely ventured out in the evening to Ramjhula and Laxmanjhula. We managed to find off beat ghats and places to sit, despite the crowds milling in the streets. Of course one has to really be willing to explore all strange looking alleyways to find them. We were not the only adventurers. It was refreshing to see the local residents dipping in free abandon, taking baths and really enjoying themselves in the ice cold waters of the Ganges. I used to think only the tourists ran berserk at these places but the sheer joy on their faces told me otherwise. The confidence that they can anytime just come out of their homes, and dip into the river waters was enviable.

Bunches of people river rafting would break the silence with their shouts and cries of delight; one couldn’t help but imagine and participate in their happiness. It was so palpable.

Recently I heard that the rafting has stopped since the River and the ecosystem is under threat. However, I will go back again, this time in winters, experience the magic again.




The Mists of Fagu

One fine day, two friends, women mind you, decided to do what they had never done before. Go on a road trip. Both were adventurous, willing to risk it on a wing and a prayer, and drive on the hills, something which at least one of them had never done before, and the other had done only once.

So with passion, good wishes and an extremely supportive family, the two of us set off on a never before trip. After much soul searching, looking at blogs of all kinds, surfing the net for lesser known weekend getaways from Delhi, we decided on Fagu. Coming from a family which has a travel bug, it was easy to get feedback for the place. After all both of us preferred less crowded places and were the sort of travellers who like being parked in one place, with a book and coffee, and mountains for company.

And boy, what a journey it turned out to be.


On researching, this is what we found out, Fagu is a small gem of a place 22 kilometres ahead of Shimla. Shimla, a preferred destination once, is now akin to Chandni Chowk of the hills (courtesy a friend). Located on the Hindustan-Tibet road, a tiny hamlet, it offers beautiful views of the valley and mountains around including the Greater Himalayas (as some sites claimed). One can see beautiful apple orchards, and hills all around. It is conveniently located near other sites such as Kufri and Narkanda. The most dominating part of the landscape is the fog, which descends on the hamlet everyday, as we were soon to find out.

The Roadtrip

With a lot of excitement we set off on our journey driving for the very first time, with the Google Maps as our navigator. We made good time and were in Shimla, by afternoon. The journey was uneventful, as we stopped at Macdonalds for breakfast near Chandigarh and then started to ascend the hills. A few wrong turns later we were on the right track. The greenery, the cool air and the roadside small shops were a delight. We couldn’t wait to reach Fagu. After google map sort of gave up in Shimla, we did our usual Indian Google Map service, which was to ask the roadside pedestrians and traffic police. As we turned onto the road to Fagu, the air instantly became chilly. It was the middle of June, but the hills did not disappoint despite the global warming. As we approached Fagu it started to rain, a good omen for us.

The Apple Blossom

Our destination was Apple Blossom, though the websites we checked out before coming really gave a sad picture of it, but people who had stayed there before, had given good reviews. Suddenly, we saw this colonial looking white bungalow seemingly placed on a ledge. As we took the winding road towards Fagu, our gut feeling said this was it. And suddenly on the side of the road appeared the sign welcoming us to Fagu and right across was The Apple Blossom.

To say our stay was dreamy is an understatement. On the first day morning, clear skies welcomed us. But being the only good hotel in the vicinity, it was packed with tourists, screaming children and people stopping over for tea. On top of it one of us fell sick. All this almost threatened to upset all our plans but the weather saved it. From afternoon onwards fog could be seen settling in and chilly winds would start blowing. By night the hotel would take on the look of a setting for a perfect ghost story, and you could only see nothing around you. The trees from the window would take on a fantastic look as if floating in air.

The service of the hotel was not bad, and the food ok, though they tried to feed us dal and chawal mixed as a substitute for kichidi!

We spent two beautiful days, reading and sipping tea, parked in one place, enjoying the views of the hills and white gauze covering the apple trees.

The Return

Soon it was time to return. We packed our bags, checked out, and then the unthinkable happened. Our car did not start! It had choked up in the weather. Well, the two superwomen got into action, and then began  a harrowing tale of drivers and other tourists pushing the car, to trying to reach Volkswagen help service, which happened only to be in Chandigarh. After coordinating for hours with various tow companies, and taxi drivers, by afternoon we were on our way back. We had to stop over one more day in Chandigarh. But even as we headed back admist the rain and fog, we could not help but feel that we would be back.




Zara and the Culottes

I first spotted a Culotte (or I think it was one) in Inglorious Basterds, the classic Quentin Tarantino movie. I love Tarantino, his humour, his vision and his intelligence. So going back to the Culotte and Tarantino: in walks the fearless heroine in grey culottes, black high boots and a grey sweater. And I was floored. No, I didn’t watch this movie yesterday, but in 2009 when it got released and I have never stopped fantasising about it.

I searched stores, kept my eyes open when I travelled abroad and then slowly gave up. Though forgot about it? No. I don’t know if it was the actor who impressed me, by the way she carried it, or the look itself.

Imagine my surprise then, when I walk into the Ambience Mall, Gurgaon, headed towards my all time favourite store, Zara, and see the Culotte hanging on the mannequin. It was a dream come true. In I rushed, happy to finally see “the look” materialise, and bought everything else but that.

I simply forgot. Zara does that to you. I could sound very shallow eulogising a brand. But how I love their styles. If I could, I would marry the store!

And then I saw it on the App that I have on my phone. Yes, I am obsessed.  Being the curious researcher that I am, oh, by the way, I forgot to tell you that by this time I did Continue reading

Haider, Hamlet, War and Common Man

To be or not to be…

Hamlet:  one of my favourite plays. I love the existential angst of the protagonist. The dilemma of a man, caught in a web, not of his making. The price someone, who is sensitive, intelligent, and ahead of his times, can end up paying for being in a role he doesn’t want to play. Trying to fulfil it to the best of his ability though his heart is not in it.

It was with much trepidation and excitement that I looked forward to watching Haider. What I like about classics are their eternal themes. Each successive generation can interpret it in its own way, and still stay true to the story. I love Vishal Bhardwaj’s body of work. The intelligence, creativity and boldness, evident his cinema. However, I was warned that this movie is brutal and violent. So I stayed away when it was released. Till it came on the cable (or whatever its called these days!)  After all I was studying literature, how could I miss it!

And I was not disappointed. I could never imagine how a politically sensitive issue could be handled so brilliantly. How this timeless story could come alive and be relevant even today. As I watched the closing credits, my mind wandered back a few years. It was 2003, my father was insisting on a pilgrimage to Amarnath, and though I am not much for temples and crowds, I couldn’t let him go alone. Thus, we found ourselves packing and preparing for the long trek. The only time I had visited Kashmir was as a toddler. My cousins lived in Srinagar. In later years their stories of brooks near homes and apple orchards, would leave me envious and in awe, that a place could be that beautiful. Over the years Kashmir was destroyed by a war which not only seems unending but makes me wonder if the people fighting it, and making sure it never gets over, even remember why it started!

Going back to 2003, our plane landed in Srinagar. I can never forget my first impression. The clean pristine air, the beautiful mountains, and the slight chill. It all reminded me of nothing less than London! Where I had travelled as a 19 year old. So this was Kashmir, the beauty left me stunned. I remember thinking how can people be turning this heaven into hell? Alternatively, so this is why all the quarrel. I can write a whole story of how the trip went: of the hospitality, the amazing food, the almost orchards, the empty homes, the villages, the half open shops, the weather, the desolation and the security. However, what haunts me the most were the common people. All protecting us, guiding us, telling us, “see our lives are almost over, the livelihood gone. When you go back to Delhi please tell people, we would love to have them visit here. It will be fine. We want tourism to be back. Please tell them it is not so bad.” Yes, that year terrible things did happen. But as I read the rolling credits of Haider and the line, “tourism is back and the crew didn’t face anything”. My mind couldn’t help wander back in time.

This is where I thought lay the beauty of the movie. Yes, there are ideologies, yes war is on, yes there are real challenges. But in the middle of all this who suffers? It is the common people. The mothers who lose sons. The wives who lose husbands. The families that are torn apart. As I look at conflicts across the world. I cannot believe that the story would be any different. I wonder that if the trees and mountains could talk, what would they say? They would speculate “what is with this human race? Why do they do this to each other?” Yes survival of the fittest, but they are an overkill.”

What is the purpose of war: religion? ideology? territory? politics? economics? crime? In the end Haider ended differently than Hamlet. But it proved its point: Revenge begets revenge. And raised a pertinent question: when will this cycle of hatred and subjugation end? Yes there is no ideal world or man (for that matter woman!), but I refuse to believe that the highest potential a human can show is nothing but murder.