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Monday, July 29, 2013

Fiction - The Game

                                             The  Game

Rimi   smiled happily. The pancakes were looking super good.  As good as Shyama   had  promised they would.  Shyama  – childhood friend.  On an impulse she dialled the familiar number. “What happened? Is everything all right? Why are you calling me up so early?”-the questions  came fast and furious.  “ Relax.  Just  wanted to tell you that the pancakes have come out brilliantly well.  Mohit  will love them.” “Good .Today is  Mohit’s special day. Nothing should go wrong.” “ Nothing  will”, Rimi promised and kept the phone.  She checked the breakfast  table .  Yes, the chocolate and maple syrups for the pancakes were there; and so was the cereal bowl and milk jug. “ Ummm, I think the daisies will look better on the side table near the window.   Mohit is so fond of  that  window-  he can spend hours sitting in that corner, looking out at the pool. He will notice the daisies when he goes to the window .”

Rimi   remembered  how earlier  she would get irritated with Mohit’s  seeming fascination  for  the pool. “ How  can you spend so much time just looking out ?”, she would ask petulantly. Mohit   would turn to her and say, “ the water is so inviting and fresh .I envy the people in the pool. They can swim off Delhi’s humidity .”  “Well in that case why don’t you join them?” “ You know I  can’t do that because I have hydrophobia- a fear of water. I have told you so many times before”. “  Mohit , you can get your phobia
treated.  I read somewhere  that hypnotism is a very good way of making a person lose  his fear of something “. But by then Mohit would have turned back to the window and Rimi   would  flounce off from the room.

Rimi  laughed aloud at how immature she had been .  Mohit was right . She had just not understood anything. Poor  Mohit.  No wonder he had been so snappy with her of late. Just wanting to be left alone; spending more time at the office….. “I have been so foolish. I must make amends for my foolishness”. “ Something smells good here. What’s cooking?” Heavens !  Mohit   had come down for breakfast and here she was –lost in her thoughts.  ” Many  Many  happy returns of the day”. Rimi flung her arms around him , almost knocking him down. “ Whoa- steady there . And thanks”. He dropped a light kiss on her cheek and sat at the table.

They had almost finished breakfast when the doorbell rang. “ I’ll get it”  she  said and half ran to the door. “Who is  it?” asked Mohit.  “ Santa Claus”, she said teasingly and handed him the envelope in her hand . “ He has arranged a weekend getaway to Mussourie for us. And since today is Friday it means we  leave today”. She hid a smile at his attempt to look pleased. “ Rimi,  I have an important meeting in the evening . Why didn’t you ask me before making the booking?” “ Because ,Rajan , your boss,  himself told me that you  need a break  and that  you have been very distracted of late . O.K, Birthday  Boy. Let’s go.  Everything is neatly tied up. We are booked for two nights and two days at a lovely, old hotel near Woodstock school.   I  have  informed  the milkman and the newspaper man  and told  Meenabai  to take two days off . I have also  done  the  packing”, she finished triumphantly.  “ Well,  it seems I have no choice”. “ None  at all,”she chortled.

The hotel was as lovely as the agent had promised it would be. It was surrounded by tall deodar and pine trees and from somewhere close the sound of water falling could be heard.  A visibly more relaxed   Mohit turned to her and said “ good work, Rimi”.  She smiled and took his arm as they walked into the foyer. “ Good afternoon. We have a booking for Mohit and Rimi  Kumar”. ‘ Certainly,  Sir.  Welcome , Mrs Kumar. The bell boy will take your bags .  Your room is on the first floor.” 

Mohit tipped the bell boy and closed the door. “So. Here we are”.
 “Yes. Here we are”, she echoed. Mohit looked at the bed and then at her.  Rimi could feel her knees turning weak.  Oh God ! Why did you make him so handsome. She cleared her throat. “ Let’s go for a walk before it gets dark .I want to stretch my legs after the long drive”.  “I have got a better plan , baby. Let’s stay in the room .I will teach you some new ways of stretching”. Rimi laughed and said, “Later. Right now we go for a walk”. 

The trail was deserted .  The only sound was of Rimi’s animated chatter .  Mohit   gave her a side glance. She was certainly looking very happy today. Full of energy  and purpose. In Delhi she had been so quiet recently. Absorbed in  herself. He thought of the night and took her hand. She seemed to stiffen and then relaxed and continued her chatter.
 They had been walking for about ten minutes when the sound of water falling  grew  louder . The next minute they were in a clearing and in front of them was a waterfall.
“How   beautiful.  Can you feel the spray from the waterfall ? Let’s go a little bit closer and sit on that rock. Come on, Mohit.  You can’t be a scaredy cat. It’s absolutely safe .”
“Rimi,  you know I am  scared of water.”  “Silly, we are yards away from the  water. That’s like a good boy. Mohit, let’s play the game we used to play on our honeymoon. You know the one in which we would look into each others eyes without blinking and the first one to blink would  have to  dance “. Mohit laughed “ Yes . That was fun .Invariably it was I who would blink “. “ And you would try to imitate John Travolta”. They both were silent for some time, each lost in a private world.  Rimi was the first to come out of it. “ Let us start.” They were both sitting close  and were looking into each others eyes. “ “She has such lovely eyes .I used to drown in them . She is looking right inside me. Can she guess my thoughts?”  “Mohit , look at me. I am putting you to sleep. You will sleep with your eyes open.  Mohit, keep looking at me.” The soft voice coming from somewhere deep inside Rimi  had hypnotized Mohit.  “ Mohit, you will answer all my questions truthfully.  Who is the girl you are having an affair with?”. “She is a swimming instructor in our complex.  Her name is Naina. “When did  the affair start ?” It started an year back “. “ Do you love Naina?” “ Yes. I want to be with her all the time”.
“ Why don’t you  leave Rimi ?” “ I need Rimi’s money. I plan to kill her and then I can be with Naina”.

“Mohit, your sleep is over. Wake up  Mohit.”  Mohit blinked and rubbed his eyes. He heard Rimi  laughing  mischieviously. “ There. Again you were the first to blink. Now you have to dance “. Mohit stood up and started dancing. “ No, not so slow. You have to be faster. And you can’t stand in one place and dance. Move around. Yes, that’s better. Take one more turn. One more.  Just  one last turn”. 

The last thing Mohit saw when he started falling into the water was Rimi’s face. Or what looked like Rimi’s face. She was laughing so much that he could hardly recognize her.

The next day’s newspaper’s carried a front page interview of the world famous hypnotizer, Shyama  Patel.  No , I don’t have any disciples. I don’t coach anyone. Her voice softened and she whispered something. It sounded like, “except for one ” to the interviewer.

The fourth page of the newspaper reported the tragic death of a young man in Mussourie . He had fallen by accident in the waterfall near a famous hotel  the previous afternoon. His beautiful, young wife was reported to be distraught with grief.

The same page  also carried the news of a suicide  in Delhi. The girl, Naina, committed suicide in the evening by jumping from the thirteenth floor of her apartment building.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Here is why I absolutely adore Arnab Goswami

I am in a constant state of denial when ribbed by husband and  kids about a time when I  thought Arnab G was just tooo loud , too over the top and too affected to be heard or seen. ' Really ?'  I ask . ' That's just not possible . I have heard and liked to hear Arnab for the longest time ever". Muffled snorts and disbelieving looks greet my statement but I am by now looking at Arnab himself and in that state of Nirvana - nothing impacts, certainly not a snort here and a disbelieving look there.

It's the News Hour and He is there- in person , sitting as always sideways. I just sooo like the way he sits- you know  ( I hope you know ) all hunched up-  which is vastly different from what his critics say- that he sits all bunched up , glancing sideways , at God alone knows whom ( hope not Navika  K ) .The way he sits shows how involved he is in the whole News business.  I mean there have been times when he has got so involved and leaned so far forwards that I have almost held out my hands to support him lest he falls off his pedestal, sorry stool/chair or whatever has been provided for him to sit on.

I adore the way his eyes glint through his spectacles. I had read aplenty   about the glint in the eyes of the hero in the Mills and Boons novels I devoured  as a giddy teenager but , alas, never really had the fortune to have anyone glint at me. Here is Arnab, every night at nine sharp, glinting ever so dangerously , with just the lens of his spectacles separating him from his legions of swooning female fans. Delicious.

Check out his rasping tone. You want to know what is a rasping tone ? Well ,  it is a mix of  Rhett Butler on a bad day  and Brad Pitt on a good day. Believe me its  an  amazing mix. Yes, I know that the Arnab Goswami Detractors Club ( henceforth AGDC ) say that he has a tone which grates on ones nerves and that he needs to gargle in the morning , gargle in the  afternoon and at night - well they say he needs to gargle nonstop at night , especially at 9 p.m. Tch tch.

I am mesmerized by the way he annihilates the guests on his show. He so fearlessly breaks all moribund debating rules of listening courteously to each speaker.Nah- that's not his style. He barks a question to his first guest, who is already reduced to a cowering mess ( because of the way He sits- sideways- and His glint and the rasping tone ) . The cowering mess squeaks some idiocity which enrages, rightfully so, Arnab and after that Arnab lets loose a volley of  verbal canons that leaves the guest  bleating , 'Arnab, listen to me, please do listen to me'. Ofcourse, the AGDC says that the verbal canons are not canons- that they are  a severe form of verbal diarrhoea - but you and I know better than to pay heed to a  green eyed monster called jealousy.

I love Arnab's patriotism . I can just visualize him as an earnest school  boy, gustily singing the national anthem under the approving gaze of the Principal, the vice principal, the maths teacher, the language teacher, the social studies teacher , the ...  Tell me , which other news anchor thunders every night, ' the nation demands ...'.  I look  at my husband  and son meaningfully. My look says clearly- why can't you be more like him. They look at me equally meaningfully. Their look says - we thought you thought loud was just so crass. The AGDC says, also meaningfully, that  he is a  megalomaniac and a  jingoist . This is so  terribly distressful for all of us ( Arnabs legions of female fan followers ). We are seriously contemplating forming a club - an 'Arnab is the best' or maybe a youthful 'Arnab Rocks' club. The bottom line for us is that a priceless object is a priceless object.
And we all agree that Arnab is priceless !

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Defining a Savvy Woman

Mid morning is a lovely time. The chores all done , husband and kids out of sight , the maid taking her hour long bath ( ! ). It is difficult to decide what is the best part : the fresh coffee or the day's fix of newspapers and magazines . I settle myself comfortably in my favourite corner and open the newspapers .  All seems to be quiet on the western front , the eastern front and all other fronts. Modi is not hogging the headlines, Rahul G is quiet ,  Kate and William have been blessed with a boy - and all of England seems to be celebrating by downing huge amounts of ale/ beer and whatever.

I now pick up the magazine lying on top of the pile : Savvy. Zarina Wahab  graces the cover. O.K- have always had a soft spot for the lady because of  two reasons : firstly because of  Chit Chor , Gharoanda  and other movies moulded  in the same  gently caressing  langour of the late 70's and early 80's, and secondly because of the cad of a fellow  she had got married to. The fact that she never left Aditya Pancholi did baffle - specially when one read of the Kangana Ranauts, the  Pooja Bedis and  the  many others   one didn't have time to read about.

I  finish reading the article 'I believe ' . It leaves me feeling zapped . Zapped ?  Yes . Confused, ashamed , sad , angry. Ashamed and sad because of ,, and for, Zarina. The Savvy woman of the month has this to say :

" People talk about his ( Aditya Pancholi ) violent temper and that he beats me you think I would stand being battered ....yes, he does have a bad temper and does shout at me at times...."

" Aditya is a very good looking man and I have seen girls throw themselves at him with my own eyes. Yes , he has had affairs. But so what ? Let him have them!  Infact , I have told him , " you do anything you want outside, but inside my house I want my husband".

" Believe me I have never reacted to his affairs....infact he tells me that because I don't react or say anything , there is no fun in doing things"

A Savvy woman ? A woman who says it is par for the course for a husband to be a cad, a wife beater and hounder , a philanderer . And this is the reason for the anger. An established magazine like Savvy, whose lietmotif is : a magazine for the woman with style and substance  .... a magazine that has been instrumental in making women all over India aware of not just their rights, but their potential too in all spheres of life.  Why is it so important for magazines like Savvy to have celebrities on their cover and as their cover stories. Why do they dread to walk the talk ? If a magazine says it wants women to be aware of their rights in all fields why don't they do so? Are they  not , in a way, socially  sanctioning adultery by putting a celebrity on the cover who says blithely that oh yes she is happy when  her husband strays and she is  also happy that her husband is there to pay the bills.

Come on Savvy- live up to your name . Bite the bullet the next time. Next month have on your cover a woman who has told her two timing husband - 'I am not going to take this nonsense. I am walking out . I am a savvy woman'.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Some gaffes and controversial statements by the famous



The enfant terrible of Indian politics,  the darling of a  million Gujaratis,  the bete noire of L.K. Advani and  Rahul Gandhi , the man Who will not be Named  by  muslims  pan India, the collective hope of an educated, frustrated, beleagured middle class, Narendra  Modi , the man ,not the enigma, is no stranger to controversy. Some say he creates controversy whilst his admirers, a growing legion , say he meets controversy  headlong.  The amused fence sitters,  not many in Modi’s case , say he is only following what a President in United States of America, ironically a country that he is denied access to, said many years back: If an individual wants to be a leader and isn’t controversial ,that means he never stood for anything.  This from an unrepentant Nixon , himself  no stranger to controversy, who  had piously intoned at the outbreak of the Watergate Scandal,” I am no crook”, prompting many to do  a rethink on the definition of that five letter word. Modi, however, has been spared the blushes at being called a crook. Used to much harsher and damming invectives he ripostes a,  “someone is driving a car and we’re sitting behind, even if a puppy comes under the wheels, will it be painful or not? Of course it will. Chief minister or not, I’m a human being. If something bad happens anywhere, it is natural to be sad.”

What made Modi talk about hapless puppies ? Was it an off the cuff remark or an  oblique reference to India’s minority community? Well, only he, and maybe Amit Shah, can tell but what comes out clearly is that Modi has the propensity of most of the famous, and some not so famous to shoot their mouth off, or , as some put it rather indelicately, to put their foot in their mouth.  The latter syndrome attached itself like a limpet to a forever bemused   Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. His state visit to China in 1986 became memorably famous for the uproar his comment to British students studying in China caused. An unrepentant Prince Philip defended his remark,   'If you stay here much longer you will all be slitty-eyed', with the  indefensible , ‘The Chinese didn’t mind it, so why should anyone else”.  Nursing a hangover of the Raj , in another incident more than 13 years later, showing that royal consorts grow older but no wiser, he told an  Indian businessman,  Atul Patel: 'There's a lot of your family in tonight,'  The ‘ tonight ‘ was  a 400-strong Buckingham Palace reception for British Indians in October 2009.

In India, our  very  own   First Family has made  sincere efforts to keep the junta entertained and cartoonists employed. So , if we have a memorable "hum haarein ya loose-ein" and an even better, albeit belligerent, "nani yaad dila denge” from Rajiv Gandhi , we also have  equally charming howlers from the dimpled prince. From chidingly calling the U.P bhaiyyas in amchi Maharashtra  ‘ beggars’ to diagnosing confidently that 7 out of 10 youth in Punjab are on drugs, to  confessing with disarming  candour  that it is  “very difficult to prevent every terror attack" Rahul  Gandhi has left no stone unturned in ensuring that the country  knows  exactly  what it is in  for, come 2014.
Advani  however, did not anticipate what was in store for him when,  in a burst of  misguided  inspiration  ,  he called    Jinnah  a   secular leader. This,  coming from  the  leader of a party which had always positioned itself for a hindutva which stood against the partition of India and which blamed Jinnah for his role in  the partition , naturally raised a storm which refused to die down and only subsided when a suitably chastised Advani  became  party to a one-page resolution  blaming  Jinnah for the Partition and the violence that followed.

 Gaffes are not  the sole property  of politicians alone.  One of the most controversial statements  John Lennon ever made was in 1966 when he said ,”Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue with that; I'm right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first — rock and roll or Christianity”. His remarks  sparked  protests across  America. Beatles records were burned en masse but  the band members took this in their stride  , pointing  out that first the people had to buy the albums in order to burn them !                                  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Book Review : Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg

When was the last time you read a novel you didn’t want to put down? A novel that combines all the ingredients of a block buster: love, murder, racialism, a woman trying to come to terms with her  menopause and weight, fear of aging , death, food and a lesbian relationship ? Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg  is a novel  that has all these and more, ensuring that the book was also made into a movie.  It is a story of two women in the 1980s:  gray-headed Mrs. Threadgoode telling her life story to  middle aged Evelyn. It is also, infact more so, the  story   of two women in the 1930’s--of the  daredevilish tomboy Idgie and her beautiful friend Ruth--who  run a Cafe in Whistle Stop, Alabama. The café  offers good barbecue , good coffee, hot food to anyone passing by and all kinds of love and laughter. It also dishes out a barbecued , headless, body  to the detectives investigating the murder of above. The detectives find it lip smacking enough to ask the cook the recipe ! The past unfolds through the story teller,Ninny Threadgoode  and ensures that the present--for Evelyn , and for the reader,will never be quite the same again.

The novel weaves in and out  of  the past and the present through the growing  friendship between Evelyn Couch and Ninny , an elderly woman who lives in a nursing home. Evelyn’s mother-in-law is in the same nursing home . Every week Evelyn comes to  visit her but gradually starts spending the time with Ninny, who tells her stories about  her youth in Whistle Stop, Alabama where her sister-in-law Idgie and Idgie's friend Ruth ran a café. Throughout the novel the narrator and time period  changes. Some of the  funniest lines  come  from  the  fictional newspaper in Whistle Stop, Alabama called "The Weems Weekly". The Weekly also acts as a narrator- taking the story forward. . As the novel advances, Ninny and Evelyn develop a lasting friendship.  At  Ninny’s  gentle  prodding Evelyn gets a job with Mary Kay Cosmetics and  begins to  take hormones for menopause. Evelyn is   happier than she ever has been. She  goes to The Lodge  in order to lose weight. Here she receives a letter from Mrs. Hartman, Mrs. Threadgoode's neighbor, that Mrs. Threadgoode is  dead. The story ends with Evelyn’s visit to whistle Stop .Here she comes to know that Ninny Threadgood has left her book of recipes for Evelyn.

The book acts as a comforter – warm and cosy. And ,  just as a comforter does, makes us  want to carry on being with it.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Book Review of ' The Help ' by Kathryn Stockett

Just finished reading a well written , gripping book The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  Set   in the 1960s, in Jackson, Mississippi , it is a story revolving around  Aibileen,  Milly and Miss  Skeeter.  Aibileen  is a black maid at Elizabeth  Leefolt’s  house. When  Elizabeth has a daughter, Mae Mobley.  she  takes on the task of caring for her. Mae Mobley is a sweet child  and Aibileen  dotes on her. Aibileen is the soul of the book , especially in scenes that have her raising Mae Mobley.  Having endured the pain of losing her only son in a freak accident she showers her love on the white child  in her care.

Miss Skeeter is a young white woman,  raised  and loved by her  black maid, Constantine. When Miss  Skeeter  goes away to school  she stays in touch with Constantine through letters. But then  the letters suddenly stop. When she comes back home  she finds that the maid is no longer with the family. All attempts to find Constantine’s whereabouts draw a blank. Little does she know at that time, she will never see her black maid again.

 Minny,   Aibileen’s  friend,  is a sassy character, who loves cooking and cannot keep her mouth shut.  She rubs  Miss Hilly the wrong way and pays for it by being dubbed a thief by   Miss Hilly. The latter is the  villain of the story. She campaigns to have the white households install extra toilets so that colored help will not have to use the  bathrooms  of the white families. She raises funds  for the sake of “the Poor Starving Children of Africa” while treating the  blacks of Jackson as if they were not human.

Elizabeth  Leefolt’s  Hilly Holbrook and  Skeeter  have  grown up together and are friends. When Skeeter returns  they maintain that relationship. But Skeeter begins to see a different world from  the one she remembers. She begins to pay attention to the interaction of the maids and the families they work for. She tries  to get the maids to tell their stories but finds no one is willing to speak openly.

 Skeeter  finds a job with the Jackson Journal. She is to  write the Miss Myrna column, a column that supplies answers to domestic questions. Her friend , Elizabeth,  allows her to ask Abilieen  for answers. The two women form a fragile and uneasy  bond .This bond is to later  shake the very foundations of the  lives  of the whites and the blacks living in Jackson, Missisippi.

 Stockett’s characters are strong, well etched and believable. The  humor ,many a times, evokes a smile.  The pain and anguish, of both the domestic black servants working in white households and of the white ‘Missus’ ,  can be felt sharply .The pain pulls one into the story as much as the humor does. 

The story hurtles towards its climax when  Skeeter comes across a copy of Jim Crow laws and   begins dating the son of an intolerant local politician and  as  both Aibileen and Minny become increasingly privy to the secrets of their employers’ households.
If you haven’t read the book yet you simply must.