Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Happy Fiftieth To You

It’s your birthday today, the first one that you won’t be celebrating with the rest of us. Its funny how, as a child, I never considered the possibility that parents have birthdays too. I selfishly assumed that being born and being celebrated for one’s birth is a privilege accorded only to children. Parents were too old and worldly wise to need, or even to appreciate, such trivial things as birthdays. But today I feel the need to wish you a happy birthday, to celebrate your life, your love, all that you gave to me that I cannot even begin to understand. Its crazy how most of the time I don’t even realize how much I miss you. But sometimes that part of my mind that stays quiet most of the time catches up with me to remind me of the things that are important and the people who matter. The last two nights I dreamed of you, not as you were for the last two years, but as you used to be when I was a child. You always did have an unbelievable amount of energy and life in you, and such incredible bluster that the rest of the world never got to know how fearful you always were, of just about everything. It was only as I grew older that I saw your vulnerability and appreciated your grace. You taught me integrity, the importance of detail, the meaning of multitasking long before it became jargon, how to cook, how to love new clothes, how to be obsessive about cleanliness. You also passed on to me a complete disregard about what other people thought. It was quite an experience being your child, you know.

Then you became my child. I hated it, completely. I wasn’t prepared, and I didn’t have the capability to slip into the new role gracefully. I protested, rather ungratefully, and I know it hurt you. Kids are selfish, you know? They aren’t really programmed to think about anything apart from themselves. Sometimes I wonder how things would’ve been if I’d been a little older, a lot wiser.

Anyway, some time has passed, and the recriminations inside my head have mostly stopped. I think I’ve realized that thinking that I could’ve changed everything had I done something differently is being too presumptuous about my role in the larger scheme of things, that life and death are so much bigger than you and I and what we do or fail to do. When you were around I hardly told you how much I love you, but now I’ve gained perspective enough to say it. Last night in my dream you told me that you miss me too. I honestly hope that you meant it, I think I’m quite miss-able, don’t you think? Don’t worry about us, you’ve trained us well. We’ll manage to survive, and then some. You’ll see. I hope there is cake wherever you are, and lots of it. And now, something I think I want to dedicate to you. Its been preying on my mind these last couple of weeks, and till just now I didn’t realize why. It’s for you.

See the stone set in your eyes,
See the thorn twist in your side,
I wait for you.

Sleight of hand and twist of fate,
On a bed of nails she makes me wait,
And I wait without you.
With or without you.

Through the storm we reach the shore,
You give it all but I want more,
And I’m waiting for you.
With or without you.
I can’t live, with or without you.

And you give yourself away,
And you give, and you give,
And you give yourself away….

Happy 50th birthday, Ma.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Pak Conversations - VIII

I first heard about Taxila in a serial that used to air long ago on Doordarshan, called 'Chanakya'. I guess I don't need to appraise you about its subject matter. There I first heard about this wondrous place called Takshashila, where the mighty Mauryan empire reigned supreme, and I don't know why I assumed that it was golden in colour. The whole city. Just golden. Never mind. I also assumed that it was in North India, as the other place I heard mentioned quite a lot was Magadha, which was another way of saying Bihar, and I reasoned that one couldn't travel very far on horses anyway (I was EIGHT, okay?), so T'shila had to be close to Magadha. It was quite a moment of bewilderment for me when I found out it was in Pakistan, although by that time I had already reconciled myself with it not being gloriously golden.

Anyway, this trip realised Taxila for me too. Let me give you a little background information. It was a centre of religious and economic activity in this part of the world, and was therefore dotted with monasteries which functioned as both banks and religious centres. It was a day trip from Islamabad, so we left early (hehe....relatively) in the day, armed with egg sandwiches, potato chips, multinational cola products and chocolate cake. The egg sandwiches had black pepper powder on them. Inconsequential detail, but its one a.m. at night and I'm hungry. Getting on with the tale, we went to the Taxila Museum, which was again a quaint ivy covered British wooden building with extensive grounds littered with likely looking benches which would've been filled with furtive couples if it were in India. This NRP(Brit) woman took a picture of us in front of the museum, and shook at the camera at the opportune moment so that the picture came out looking like we all had halos around us. This post isn't a description of the contents of the museum. If you're interested, get a brochure. Suffice to say that it was marvellous, especially how some things never change, and by that I mean junk jewellery. Across the centuries, it has been strings and beads. So it was, so it is, and so it shall be.

We visited Dharmarajika Stupa, where the guide tried to convince us that the small pond-like structure was actually Emperor Ashoka's private swimming pool, and then saw nothing incongruous in telling us that the small concrete chambers next to the 'swimming pool' were jail cells housing hardened criminals. We bought a couple of fake Buddha head antiques there, as we did at EVERY stop that we made after that.

The next stop was Jaulian, perched atop a slope that necessitated us climbing over two hundred steps. The view from the top was breathtaking, mountains, highways, canals....browns, greens, blues, reds. It was like being at the beginning of time, with nothingness all around. I don't need to tell you that the stupas were magnificent, with beautiful detail and immense scale, but I suppose I just did. There was an appropriate looking beggar too, requisite with incomprehensible mutterings and wrinkled, weather beaten skin.

We then went to Mohra Moradu, where the stupas started getting familiar, and our visit was livened up by children who were impossibly perched over a very tricky looking slope, and who decided to welcome us by throwing stones at us. Charming? Not really. And I was getting rather testy by this time, for reasons that I shall disclose soon. The final stop was Sirkap, which was a well planned urban settlement, and rather attractively windswept and time scarred. If you notice a tone of impatience, it is because I really was in no position to enjoy the remnants of an antiquarian empire anymore. Thankfully, my very pressing problem found a solution at Sirkap.

You see, right from the start of the trip, nature had been issuing its summons to me with ever greater urgency. And the United Nations, while taking on the very praiseworthy task of preserving these monuments, regrettably neglected the task of providing facilities where the baser tasks of human existence could be attended to, and the Government of Pakistan had failed me too. Okay, in simple terms, my bladder had been at bursting level right from Jaulian, there were simply NO toilets to be found. And have you ever noticed how, when you're desperate to finish the whole thing and get home before you get incontinent and embarrass yourself and everybody else, your travel companions decide to walk as slowly as possible, buy as many Buddha heads as possible (which all look the same to you, but then you're in a haze anyway, with the pressure of trying to stay within the norms of civilized behaviour), and generally make it very hard for you not to explode into profanity? And then, at the very last stop, which could've been the first stop if you'd turned right instead of driving straight on, you find a toilet, and you thank the merciful heavens, and spout benedictions for the rest of humanity.

In the final analysis, if you want to enjoy Taxila, take a whole day's time, don't listen to the guide, empty your bladder before you set out, stay away from the cola and just let the feel of a different world sink in, without getting disturbed by the vagaries of nature.

P.S.: - When you're finances are in a state of crisis, do not fool yourself into thinking that a visit to the nearby bookshop will be harmless, because you're of such a prudent nature. Doesn't work, children, never does.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Pak Conversations - VII & Other Sundry Things

This post is specially dedicated to my one loyal reader who was sweet enough to ask for the next part of the series, therefore shaking me out of my recent blankness. So, Raghu, enjoy.

The next part of our trip was basically spent in Islamabad, with us making day trips to Taxila, Murree and Chakwal. More about the day trips later. It was time for indulgence, Islamabad style. So, we slept, and ate, and slept, and ate some more. P gave us shining demonstrations of her culinary skills and conjured up almost a tubful of delicious pasta in white sauce. We pretty much depleted around one-third of the larder. And then there was cake, and apple crumble pie, and every other thing that we wanted to stuff our faces with. It made me wonder how on earth she ever persuaded herself to eat the incessant nothingness that passes for food in the hostel mess. To keep ourselves entertained while eating, we also watched endless seasons of FRIENDS, and drooled over Colin Firth in 'Pride & Prejudice', the greatest Mills And Boon novel ever written. It was quite interesting to watch P trying to convince us that the lead actress opposite the hero of the fluttering female hearts was "so fat, its a wonder she hasn't burst yet". Ah, jealousy. Its so nice and warm, almost reassuring. We've still not given up on Darcy, inspite of having realised years ago that the best men exist only in the fertile imaginations of women.

In the evenings we set out to explore the local markets in Islamabad, which is probably the only city in Pakistan where 'local market' equals 'supermarket'. Anyway, they have these plush music stores and video stores dealing ONLY in pirated stuff. Its funny to watch our notions of piracy get inverted from shady little shops in Palika Bazaar to brightly lit, very propah establishments in downtown Islamabad (I love that word, 'downtown'). So, we shopped, and then some. And then, there were French fries. Potatoes cut in spiky shapes, spiced up and fried...heaven in ten bucks. McDonalds could take some lessons. And everybody who's had overpriced shawarmas in any of the Delhi establishments, YOU'VE BEEN GYPPED! The ones we had in Jinnah Super were succulent, delicious and huge, to boot. I do like to brag, don't I?
The only disappointment was that Covered Market, which is basically heaven for people who like junk jewellery, remained resolutely shut the whole time we were there. I guess the One Above realised that there is such a thing as too much happiness, and He/She didn't want to blight our young lives with it.

Now moving back to recent events, my curiosity was piqued by the publicity around 'Nishabd' recently. S and R were also interested, so we watched it, my going being especially traumatic after the recent fiasco involving a cellphone and another movie theatre. Anyway, getting back to the movie, it was a curious mix. It almost put me to sleep in the beginning, there were bits that were irritating in their stupidity (oh my god, that horrendous poem), and there were moments when I was gripped. So, yes, it wasn't good cinema, it was....interesting cinema. The only thing that comes for unqualified praise is the mindboggling cinematography. It was like a character in itself, and the most interesting of the lot.

One thing that killed the movie irreparably was the overabundance of stereotypes. The most obvious one was the Other Woman, of course. She just had to be dusky, leggy, accented (therefore not completely 'Indian', thus explaining the lack of our 'values'), and so....blah. She had to come from a broken family and have an absentee father, so as to make her actively seek out a father figure and then confusedly fall in love with him. The only saving grace was that she wasn't called Maya, thank heavens. I mean, for once, I'd like to see characters who don't have the crutch of non-normal lives take a risk and contravene social norms. I'd want to watch a movie where a girl who belongs to a 'happy family' (adorable parents, siblings, dog etc.) go beyond norms and act on her attraction to an older man. Why is it so necessary to give explanations for illogical behaviour? Isn't that what love is supposed to be all about anyway? Also, this movie is so spectacularly sanitised that it was a bit of a travesty to call it an adaptation of 'Lolita', that particular work giving new meaning to the word 'explicit'. Inspite of its taboo theme, Nishabd disappointingly stayed well within the lines drawn by the moral police, the censor board and any other social group that has the power to wantonly destroy furniture in cinema halls screening movies that 'go against our culture'. Sad. Or maybe my expectations were too unreasonable for a mainstream Bollywood movie. In conclusion, I didn't actually dislike the movie, but I could've liked it a lot better if it'd shown greater evidence of thought.

P.S.: - Writer's block is finally over! Jubilations!

P.P.S.: - On a less optimistic note, if you're wondering whether I'm annoyed with you, and you're unsure, I probably am. Good luck. :)