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.


14 Stories that Inspired Satyajit Ray

I picked up this book on a whim. I am a fan of Satyajit Ray but more than that I believe in the classics. Timeless stories, be they be from anywhere in the world always speak to the heart. And he was one of the most well-known filmmakers: a true storyteller. However, I was a but apprehensive, will the stories be like scripts or too serious or too real. After all fiction should take us away from reality sometimes.

This collection of short stories is priceless. From Rabindranath Tagore to Satyajit Ray’s own stories to Rajshekhar Basu. It’s true: books and stories open up a whole new world. I had heard so much about Goopy Gayne and Bagha Byne. But had not been able to watch this movie and then there was the all favourite Shatranj ke Khiladi, a much loved movie. It was amazing to read the stories in original. And be taken to another world, timeless. To see fiction bring out values and good win in the end. Or simply to enjoy a beautiful story.

Edited and superbly translated by Bhaskar Chattopadhyay, one does not feel the loss in translation. Infact it brings out the best essence of the stories. Published by Harper Perennial.

This is a must read. A priceless jewel filled with timeless classics.

If You Leave

What an interesting thought? Just when I was looking at my life and wondering how I was again at a place where one does not want to be. And this is what I realised. If I leave I would love to leave chasing people in my head. Of not being forced into the game again. Its funny, you think of person A as good, as someone who feels the right one and next thing you know the spoken, unspoken have done their bit and you are at the receiving end. They are now giving the looks, in your face, to someone else. And the first instinct is- I can win this. And then the obsessing begins.

This is when I decided not anymore. I stop. STOP this now, no chasing, no being in the game. Life is not a game so I leave the chase behind. Despite the reality that there is nothing ahead, the prospect of chasing phantoms is worse and losing one’s own self-respect. So walk away.

I leave the attitude that anything goes and welcome my self home. I leave old habits and thinking and raise my head high and say no to this behaviour. Yes, I slip. And stand up again. Wait for that right time and person. Is it scarier? maybe. Is it right? absolutely.

So how about yes to oneself and one’s own life. Like my mentor always says, phantom is a phantom and reality a reality. You are you nothing more or less, being caught up in momentary superficial things and losing sight of the purpose of life will not help. Adopting a bigger purpose, that is more critical.

Makes sense doesn’t it.


Books, Writing and the Weather

Well, maybe it is the weather. Delhi has been enveloped in this fog, is freezing cold, and is slightly windy today. It is very chilly and just the weather for a good book, a cup of coffee and a warm bed. But duty calls.

By sheer chance I came across this uncanny book yesterday, called ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’. I am still trying to figure out how I got there. One thing lead to another and the next thing I know I was reading this book. As often happens on the net, I followed one link and then another and then here I was. I took no time in buying the book and then started reading it. And could not put it down. It is a masterpiece. I had a feeling I had seen the photos before. Maybe I had read about the book when it came out. Anyway the parallel world the author creates and the mix of mediums in a novel is sheer creativity and brilliance. It’s a book which could easily have been a horror novel but its suspense just does not let you down. You are sucked into the madness with Jacob the young hero and intrigued by Miss Peregrine. The plot is taut and the story interesting.

But then I think I started to review it rather than read it. It is really an unputdownable and for the umpteenth time I was intrigued by someone’s creativity. How did he think up of this or write that?

As I reflected on that I remembered a fellow blogger’s post on writing and not giving up. I loved reading it, and started to think, why is it that I write? I was having a tough day yesterday, and after a long time, I just started to write on a topic like law. Because I wanted to. And next thing I knew, all the disturbance, the pain, the anger and frustration were forgotten and I was in my element. Yes, it was a dry subject but as I re-read the words, I was amazed with how I came up with it at all. Where did I think of this or that? I seemed to be flowing. Yes, writing is art, it is life, it makes sense of all that is non-sense and in the end it is therapeutic, It creates worlds, inspires and maybe gives us an identity, we do not know we have.

Frozen in a Bubble



Washington-based artist Angela Kelly, took advantage of the cold temperatures in early December to capture the ice in an interesting form. Using a homemade solution from a recipe that she found on the internet that combined dish soap, karo syrup and water, Kelly with her 7-year-old son, blew bubbles and then she took pictures of them.
Kelly explains to the KOMO News, ‘We watched in awe as each individual bubble froze with their own unique patterns. We noted how they would freeze completely before the sun rose but that once the sun was in view they would defrost along the tops or cease freezing altogether. We also noted how they would begin to deflate and implode in on themselves making them look like alien shapes or in some cases shatter completely leaving them to look like a cracked egg’.

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Kathmandu on a Bike

The Journey

It all started a few weeks back. In the middle of a usual work day I was suddenly asked to go to Nepal. The only catch was that it was in the middle of December. Though I had been to Kathmandu before, my only memory consisted of a winding road connecting India and Nepal and the steep stairs of the famous Buddhist temple in Kathmandu.

With much apprehension and a lot of excitement I found myself preparing for the trip. Travelling from India to Nepal is fairly simple, especially if you are an Indian. You don’t need a visa and there are frequent flights. It was almost like going to another city in India. However, all this I found out in the course of my preparations. Each bit of news surprising as well as a bit of relief. Though a lot of confusion prevailed: INR can be used but only in 100s; Visa is not required but immigration is; it is a domestic flight but baggage allowance is that of an international sector and so on.

The other concern was the weather. Delhi has been mild this winter, and I am not one for chilly weather. Frequent mails with my colleagues in Nepal revealed that it was very cold there and I had to be prepared. Internet search threw up facts like, some hotels have no central heating, fortunately I was booked in a good hotel.

Finally the day of departure came. It was heartening to see a packed flight: something I hadn’t expected, after all it was winters, but we Indians love to travel. And some of my friends were in Nepal at the same time: working! So it wasn’t just me.

The Arrival

I stepped out of the airport and it was like an anti climax. The sun was shining brightly and my dear host who had come to pick me up spoke Hindi. Since I had been tipped off by my friend, who was already there, to buy a local sim. I bought one at exit of the airport itself. These were easily available and not too expensive. After a pleasant car ride, chatting with my host I finally reached the Hotel. The roads were narrow or under-construction, reminding me of the hills in India. In fact the markets, the people, everything was so familiar that I had to remind myself, that technically I was in another country.

The first thing I did on reaching the hotel was to tear off my layers: my first mistake. But that was to come later. At the hotel I was met with my colleague with whom I was to work along with for the next few days. The first question she asked me, after the general introductions was: “are you scared of bikes?” After a heart beat of silence I almost grinned and said “no”. And thus began my 3 day adventure.

It turned out that the fastest way to get around the city was on these two-wheelers, a mix between a bike and a scooter. Most of my women friends that I met there, happily drove these, exuding confidence and with a complete disregard for the cold. It was exhilarating to sit pillion in the winters and travel in the bylanes of Kathmandu. I got to know the city like I never would have otherwise. I also got to know how scary it is to maneuver a steep hill on a bike and what a balancing act it is. The first time round I thought I would be asked to get off and walk, but my friend skillfully adjusted our weights and off we went.

I finally figured why did my huge overcoat have a double zip 😉

The Weather

The people who live there locally told me that though winters can be freezing but its worse if the sun is not out. Thankfully I was treated to warm sunshine all 3 days. But its still a good precaution to wear the layers and not be fooled by the sunlight. There were a lot of power cuts during the day due to which, though the offices had acs, they could become freezing, forcing one to wear the jackets even indoors. Also, the moment the sun set, the chill would just hit you.

The first day, after I made the mistake of being overconfident of facing the cold, I was frozen. So much so that despite layers of blankets and central heating back in the hotel, I had to wear all my woolens and  sleep. The second day I made sure the temperature of the heating was increased and I wore enough and more clothes throughout the day.

The City

I did not have much time to visit the touristy spots, however travelling round the city for work, I got to see quite a bit. Despite all the construction work, I found the city to be neat and clean. Though the weather was cold, I saw a steady stream of visitors and tourists from all over the world, not only in my hotel but in the city. I wanted to try the Nepalese cuisine, but my hotel served continental, throwing my plans awry.

My hotel was in a good area, which had a lot of tourist shops as well as other hotels. The room I stayed in had no kettle or water but ingeniously, right outside the hotel gate were these small shops selling biscuits, water as well as phone recharge coupons. I even saw waiting taxi cabs right outside the gate. However, my hosts mentioned that they are not the safest way to travel unless your travel company has booked one. Even the hotel did not provide any such services.

On my last evening in the city, my hosts took me to the heart of Kathmandu, called a New Road. It was a beautiful place with cobbled streets and a small square surrounded by ancient structures, very well maintained. One was the residence of the living goddess and there were other structures which I was informed were part of the Royal Palace earlier. Now they had been opened to the public. The whole area had narrow bylanes with small shops selling everything from mementos to local sweets and woolens. There were some neat coffee shops. I managed to buy some local Nepalese tea (I am a connoisseur) and boots! Yes, the youngsters in Nepal only wore boots in this weather and my young friends took me to this mall which sold only shoes and cheap! It was pure heaven.

The square was teeming with youngsters. It was one of the most popular hangouts in the city and one could see it. Despite the chill there was a crowd. But not overwhelming. I bought a local sweet called Laakha-Mari  which reminded me of a sweet in India and cheap rudraksha beads which are easily found in Nepal. I even got to eat hot-momos, something that you do not get in India. The spice was truly mind-blowing.

A lot of people were also travelling to neighbouring cities by local planes either to hike or for snow sports.


My Ride!

Durbar Square Lalitpur Nepal

Tea Shop at the Top! But couldn’t get a place

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Parts of the old palace

Parts of the old palace

The End

After a fruitful 3 days it was finally time to go back. The sun was shinning brightly. Precisely at 10:30 am my colleague came to drop me to the airport but my heart was in a pair of boots I hadn’t bought last night. With a smile and in true Bollywood style we zoomed on her bike (my last ride) to the New Road, ran to the shop, and were out with my coveted boots within 1/2 hour. And in the next 1/2 hour were at the airport much to the amusement of everyone.

My India city brain which always calculates 1 hour travel time to anywhere was reeling with joy and shock.

Finally, the airport. After heartfelt goodbyes I was welcomed with a long queue at the immigration. There were people from all over the world. As our time to departure neared, the Indians were separated and sent off fast while others stood in line. After a bit of confusion (the airport is a bit confusing you don’t know which flight is at which gate) we were off.

As I glanced out of my window, or tried to since I had a newly wed couple busy clicking each other’s photos next to me, I could see the Himalayas. They seemed to be the same height as our plane, even taller. Serene, calm, immovable, overlooking all and glistening in the sun. My mind wandered back to my arrival in Kathmandu. I remember glancing out of the window even then and mistaking the mountains for the clouds. Till I looked closer and realised what I was looking at. My trip seemed to have come full circle. They had welcomed me, and now were seeing me off. I bid good-bye to the Kingdom of Nepal.

Himalayas as seen from the plane

Himalayas as seen from the plane

What Goes Around, Comes Around

European bull in thought

European bull in thought (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As someone who deals with ideas all the times, I have been observing a relatively strange phenomena. Someone famously said that there are no new ideas, everything that has been thought of, was already thought of originally. So what are we doing exactly? In my creative writing class, a few years back, I wrote a story. One of my fellow writers commented that he knew where the idea had come from. I was furious and flabbergasted. You see we had been given a theme and I had spent months coming up with that story. To be accused blatantly like that was nerve racking. Out of curiosity, I followed the links that he had sent, and to my surprise came to know that a similar idea had been treated in a film, but very differently. I was stunned and, amused at the same time. Stunned, cause I had never even heard of the movie, and amused, because I seemed to have proved, inadvertently, that great minds think alike.

A few months back, in a Sunday magazine of a newspaper I greatly admire, I came across a piece written by this journalist, discussing the same idea. I was surprised again, since I had been mulling over this thought for a while, and was bemused to see someone actually write on it. It made two things evident, one: I need to act on my ideas, and fast; two: this is a phenomena.

Is it really true that all original ideas seem to have been thought of by someone at least once? I wonder if that is across the centuries, or a generation. It also throws up a new line of thought, how do invention and discoveries come about? Is it true that we humans prove the universal law of “an idea whose time has come”. There may be someone thinking on an idea, while another might be actively pursuing it. Is it a matter of risk taking versus over thinking? Some of us may be victims of the “Hamlet” syndrome, while others, like adventurers, maybe pursuing their smallest whims and fancies.

It could also be that we, as part of a collective consciousness, help each other to bring it about. I know this is truly far-fetched. But so interesting isn’t it.


The Beauty of Simplicity

Back to simplicity: my heart seems to be mulling on this for the past few weeks. I don’t know when it began. This yearning. It was no one moment but a series of events that got me thinking. We really live in a complex world and the new developments don’t seem to make things simpler though definitely easier. But more importantly I get a sense that though we have an overload of information we seem to be becoming more and more complex as human beings.

Does this mean that I yearn for simpler times? I don’t think so. After all I am blogging, a new age phenomena in, and of, itself!

One day, as I sat looking at my room, I felt a heaviness. Like, the room seemed to be bulging. I had never felt this way before. I saw some of my treasured possessions as things that I did not need but had spent a lifetime buying. I saw how connected my life had become and started to resist the idea of being constantly on the call. Its funny but has your smartphone’s battery ever died on you? Do you feel the emptiness that brings? That small square piece, when alive, connects you to the whole world, not just as a phone but through FB, through Twitter, you name it and its there. And finally the fact that my overactive brain was thinking about a zillion things at the same time: the past, present and future all existing at once. In my mind, and life, a plethora of choices and an overload of things are sort of intersecting.

And suddenly I felt this decision rising: back to simplicity. I love the way the world is advancing in so many ways exponentially, but I felt the need to get rooted and be still in the now. The past few weeks had seen me, a shopaholic, think of thrift, of planning to save and spend on things I really love to do, like travel. Of cutting out the incessant need to buy, that may also be because my self-worth is no longer tied to what I own and how I look. Slowly, a rootedness and a question: do I really need this in my life has come in: whether it be possessions, attitudes, or people.  A first. I have even stopped reading the gossip columns of newspapers, changing my daily paper to one I really admire. I no longer dream of owning the biggest or fastest this or that. I have also started to watch theater, a passion I have and spending real-time with people I love. Rediscovering old bonds and myself. Yes, it’s giving a strange kind of peace. Maybe this is what happens when finally you reach an age and time in life when you are forced to reflect and stop rushing through everything. And accept. The mantra of simplicity has given me a freedom deep down that I have started to enjoy. Like really living in my skin and not worrying about being this or that or a version of someone else’s idea of who I should be. And funnily enough, some of the people who I  know and some who I don’t (in the media), and admire, also live by this mantra and seem to enjoy a deeply fulfilling and satisfying life. They may earn a little less than the best and take decisions that no one can understand but their priorities are so clear that it doesn’t matter any more.

The Beauty of Simplicity

Existential Post

The stamp on my right hand side was peeling off. I would wake up everyday and feel the glue drying up on my skin, (the humans call it skin, but is my paper my skin or my whole being?) Sigh! I am such an existential postcard. I arrived from Amsterdam, Europe to New Delhi, India, 6 months back. For the first few days I was the pride of honour in this home. You see I have a Christmas tree printed on my front and the people who selected and mailed me were in Europe for the winters. When I arrived, I was received with squeals of joy by the 8-year-old boy for whom it was meant. His mother instantly displayed me right on top of the TV in the lounge room and there I stayed till the calendar date turned to 31st, the new years night. After that life has been pretty much down hill.

For a long time, since I was sent by people dearly loved by this boy, I still occupied pride of joy right next to the boy’s (by the way his name is Zion) coin box in his tidy room. I thought it was the coin box and I was amazed to see so many coins lying one on top of the other and new ones being sent through this tiny hole right at the top. I could hear wild screams of joy of the new coins as they went zooming down the hole, and the cries of help of the older ones. One day I struck up a conversation with this coin lying on the same table as the box and I and other hundred little things but it was the only thing collecting dust in the otherwise neat room.

“What do you think happens in that box”, I ventured.

“Oh, nothing it is the boy’s savings”, he answered.

“Savings?” I exclaimed. What a novel idea.

So the coin (by the way it was an old 1 Re coin, as he told me) explained, how Zion would collect coins all the year round. Coins found on roads, in forgotten jacket pockets, on the tables and sometimes when he was gifted some money, and then he would put them all in this box. On the 31st of every year he would open the tiny lock, which I had seen hanging outside, with a tiny key and then count them out. The rare ones or ones from another country (like I was) would be saved in another box in the cupboard, while the rest were collected and exchanged for gifts or toffees or money (notes he said) from his parents.

“Wow” I was amazed. What an enterprise.

“So, how come you are still out?” I asked.

“Well,” he answered with a deep sigh.

“I used to be a traveller”, he said in a faraway voice. “My life from one pocket to another was simply amazing. I have seen so much in my minted life. Then one day I came to this boy and was boxed in. Last year on 31st when he was counting his money out, I managed to roll into this corner to escape the boxed life. I was so thrilled. But instead of freedom, I have been collecting dust in this corner. Sometimes I feel, maybe I would have been better off travelling with others or in the box. Did I do the right thing? I will never know.”

As I heard him out, I couldn’t help but relate to him. After all my fate seemed no different from his. Having travelled miles now here I was about to gather dust like him. Suddenly I felt angry at the whole human race. Wasn’t it their responsibility to make sure that once they created something they took care of it for all eternity, not allowing anything to gather dust, or become yellow or like the coin go out of fashion? We should all be eternal. After fuming for sometime, I calmed down. And like the coin, resigned to my fate, settled in to gather dust.