Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Annual Homecoming

As I try to fight the mosquitoes away, I am reminded of our old ancestral house in a suburbia village in Rajasthan, of the name Raamganj Mandi. A village/town so small that most trains would swish past its rather forlorn and empty station, so cramped that you had to squeeze your way into the by lanes contesting space with motorcycles, cows, goats, and little children fooling around the streets. A visit to this place was part of our customary yearly visit to Kota to where the rest of the family (other than my grandparents of course) had moved to in the name of progress and development. However, none of our trips would be over without getting an attendance check at our grandparents’ abode. Although we loved our grandparents and they doted over us, it is still difficult to convince children from urban metropolis to live in a suburban semi-village-setting for a whole week. My grandfather being strictly old school, we didn’t have a running television, the one that was available would be lying in one corner eating dust as if it were an article from Arabian nights, almost ancient, archaic to say the least. I am not sure if they still own it, but if they do I am sure it would be a collector’s item, like those 19th century Rolls Royce cars adorned in the palaces of Rajasthani princes, much less in worth though. Despite, the protests from our grandfather we would still put it on in his absence. The fact that it even showed the screen covered with a zillion black-white dots, was no less than a wonder. Then we would fiddle the knobs of volume and channel tuner as if rubbing Aladdin’s lamp (yes, the Arabian Night trope continues). Then suddenly the DD channel would show up, with the characters swaying to and fro to perhaps to some inaudible platonic tune of spheres. And for some ill play of fate they’d always be showing The Ramayana, and our grandmother, otherwise pretty dormant and droopy would be instantly alerted, in fact almost inadvertently and much to our displeasure, our tirade and adventure with the tv had to be given up for her to watch the ‘Holy’ show. As if the Lamp had its own will. Not that we were not religious enough or were averse to the bemusing tales from scriptures, but for kids of the age of 8 to 10, religion is fairly in the deep abyss of the immediate conscious.
On some days we would visit the neighbours who had the privilege of a cable connection, which seemed like an oasis in the desert. However, paradoxically we would go to their place to watch tv and end up doing everything else but that. We’d chat with the women of the house, play with children of our age group and make boats and sail them in the open water lanes running outside the house. And we would notice how our grandmother had devised a unique setting where she would socialise with almost everyone from the village sitting on the porch of the house. From the daily vendors to maids to neighbours to relatives, everyone was greeted from the alley of the porch.
Having nothing better to do we would run to the kitchen to see what our mother was doing, which was being invariably busy in her share of household chores. There was no point looking for our father, he had way too many old cronies and relatives to attend to. These trips would always be made in the summers and Rajasthan is sweltering and scorching hot in this time of the year. And with no generator in the house, the coolers were as good as mere blowers. The electricity would come and go as if it were mocking us, making us realise indispensability of luxury items. It is here we learnt that watermelons can be cooled in the kitchen sink and that hand fans are multipurpose, they fan in air and fan out mosquitoes. Since electricity played peek-a-boo now and then, even the tv would be inaccessible every few minutes. Me and my brother would lurk around the house aimlessly, me, with mostly a copy of Tinkle in my hand and my brother busy with a rubber ball or a catapult that he might have picked up at some odd station, trotting along with our father who often got down at stations in order to fetch some munchies to cope with boredom. There was also an old carom board in the house, and we’d always need to hunt for it; for the set of cousins who had visited before us would always hide it before they left, and there was also an old pack of playing cards. Now the ace in the deck of playing cards and the striker in the carom game would be perpetually missing. So we would wait for our father to go for a market trip for groceries and other items so that we could tag along and make arrangements for the frugal means of entertainment at our disposal.
However, the trips wouldn’t be all that bad, we had our share of fun times too. In the afternoons when our mother would get free, she’d play a round of carom or a pack of cards with us. When she we got tired she’d put us to sleep with her stories, stories of rabbits and squirrels living in secret burrows, with lots of munchies like cakes, muffins, ice-creams, chocolates sneaking theirway in and out of their boarding trying to escape tigers and lions. She would create an alternate world and we would always have appetite for more until she’d scold us and forcibly put us to sleep. Also since our grandfather had his own farms we would visit his ‘khet’ on his bicycle and the enthusiasm and alacrity with which he would show us his crop would make us want to leave everything else and become farmers ourselves, there’d be tractors bullocks, cows, buffaloes. Daadi would make makkai and saag for us (all from the ‘khet’), she’d bloat us with milk and butter, and there’d be no dearth of gud and ghee and lots of love poured into all of this.
Then there’d be the excitement of bathing from the huge cemented tanks that were filled up with tube wells, and the several stories that us cousins would pass each other that the tanks had no abyss and we could drown in them if we fell into it. Surprisingly, our trips never coincided with that of our cousins, it would have been much more fun otherwise; in fact I sometimes even wonder if the trips were strategically designed by our parents to avoid the rancour that we might create as a group. Anyway, the trip made us realise the importance of our lives in the cities and the comforts that we usually take for granted, it made us aware of the fact that alternate means of entertainment could be sought when tv wasn’t an option. It exposed our mother’s creative potential to us, her ability to make her own fables and create a world out of her imagination, more beautiful and vivid than any story book with pictures. It showed us that new friendships and affinities could be formed even at the most unknown places and lastly it gave us a home to go back to for us diasporic people who’d have to constantly keep moving by virtue of a transferrable job.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Angoor that didn’t taste sour

I know it’s not convention to write the review of a movie that is about 40 years old, but since i have watched this movie as a part of my paper in class for translational studies in JNU I could not help but pen a word or two about it on my space, my blog. I am talking of this hilarious laugh riot and delightful piece of work called Angoor directed by lyricist/director Gulzaar, who in his impeccable style, and neatness only matched by his own immaculate dressing, has made the bold attempt at adapting the Great Bard himself (commonly known as William Shakespeare to the world). Most obviously neither Gulzaar nor the Grand Master himself, need any introduction. I know most of us have watched this movie at some point or another irrespective of the era we are born into and the kind of cinema that is fad in the contemporary times. In fact it is much rather the simplicity and directorial nuance with which this movie is made that one finds lacking in today’s cinema. For those who are not aware, the movie is a direct adaptation from Shakespeare’s play, Comedy of Errors. Despite the fact that Gulzaar in the very first scene pays his due to the playwright and also acknowledges his source when I told some of my friends that I am taking Angoor as a discussion for translation most of them reacted with surprise. It is perhaps because Gulzaar has adapted the movie so well and in the process made it his own. Nowhere can you see the overbearing presence or the anxiety of doing justice to the playwright. However, the movie is as much appropriated in the Indian socio-cultural context as it is alienated from the times, and the place it is adapted from. It is as much attached to the original as it is free as an independent work of art. All in all it remains to be a 2 hour 10 minute entertainer of splitting laughter and situational humour.
It is quite surprising how a play written in the 16th century and performed for the European audiences in the reign of Queen Elizabeth is so easily adaptable and reproducible in mainstream Indian cinema and not only works well but can be recorded as one of the most successful comedies ever; so much so that it has been loosely copied as late as the 90’s in a very shoddy movie otherwise, viz., ‘Bade Miyan Chhote Miyan’. If you strain yourselves the pair of similar looking men, the instance of mistaken identities, and the confusion resulting from that, followed by a misgiving about a jewellery piece are all picked up from Angoor. While the original shows men in believable circumstances where the mistaken identities can be accorded to a certain logic, David Dhawan’s movie goes berserk with Govinda and Amitabh Bachhan (and sadly so) bobbing around in multi coloured attire that is a sore to the eye and looking nothing short of smug and overconfident buffoons, reattempting the classic, however the director appears only too earnest in his endeavours.  But, then to surpass or even stand shoulder to a man of excellence like gulzaar is quite a task.  No effort has been spent or wasted on any magnificent sets, locations, or even costumes, it wasn’t even found necessary. The introduction of the bhang element makes it characteristically Indian and adds that much required theme of madness that gels perfectly with the events that unfold.
Its heart warming to finally watch a movie, that is successful in making the audience laugh and strike that perfect note without cheesy and corny slapstick dialogues nor any banal or forced attempts at sounding funny (as is the case of most David Dhawan movies). The actors slip into the characters with an ease and grace that makes them a delight to watch. The performances are nuanced and well scripted. All the chief protagonists, viz., Sanjeev Kumar, Deven Verma, Moshumi Chatterjee and Deepti Naval put on a show that didn’t let a single moment be dull in the movie. The scenes that I found particularly funny were the ones with the squeaky crooning of ‘Preetam aan milo’ that wouldn’t escape your mind even as you finish the movie and get on with other things. The fact that the movie is only 2 hours and 10 minutes on screen the scope of being tired and disinterested is tactfully checked. All in all I am glad that I was made to watch the movie for the presentation that was thrust at me last week. But all the more it was an absolute pleasure to watch the movie. While researching on the movie I found out that there are attempts made for its remake. Lets just hope that the new makers don’t make the Bard turn in his revered grave.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Space Wars

As I took a metro ride the other day (now don’t get alarmed this is not in sequel to the previous article, I don’t seem to have the Indian cinema mentality to cash in on the tried and tested over and over again, so coming back) I found myself plugging in my head phones to the exhaustive list of 5 songs I had in my playlist. In a journey over 50 minutes I heard these 5 songs over and over again. The point is that this is no handpicked list of my favourite songs ever, nor am I particularly crazy about any of them, it’s just that my memory card is out of order and there’s no radio on my cell. But again, despite being nauseated with even the most beautiful tracks I kept listening to them, as I fidgeted in my seat with a book of short stories in my hand. So what was I doing exactly? Besides, shutting the world outside I was defining a private space that I didn’t want the others in the metro to impinge. I have observed several men and women (women more than men), especially those who regularly take the metro, doing just about the same. Do you think that all are great music lovers, even if they are I read it more as an exercise in making an invisible bubble around them and marking their space.
If you look around the struggle for space is everywhere around us. In fact the most primary struggle that defines our lives is that of negotiating our spaces. As much as man is a social animal, like any other animal it likes to demarcate its space, its territory, in mannerisms that only differ from the animal kingdom in varying degrees of politeness and sophistication. It’s everywhere around us, when it comes to spaces nobody is kin. Whether you are a sibling, parent, friend, partner, colleague (more so if you are none of these) one needs to categorically define space. One of the most strongly felt, although, also one of the most polite struggles for space is the one where you civilly try to parley the armrest that is common for two chairs. The one who wins in this silent war of dominances enjoys the privilege of that little extra space and establishes his pre-eminence in this short lived conflict. In trains I have seen people literally stretching themselves(pun intended) to the limit of taking part of others' seats so that you don’t impinge on the space allotted to them according to their seat numbers.
It begins right from the earliest days of childhood, the young infant wants to be held by some and not by others, it is s/he who chooses whom to bestow with its grace, it knows its toys from that of others and holds onto them dearer than life. When you are toddlers and go to school for the first time and get your benches, there begins your first ever struggle in the public sphere. Some want to sit inside because they don’t want to be disturbed, some outside so that they don’t feel inhibited. The left handed have to have that extra space to place their hands, some like a particular place in the class and even make an attempt to colonise it with their names. The struggle continues all through school life, the strife in the playfield, the hegemony on the swing and slide, the ‘it’ and ‘non-it’ groups. And then the epic war of spaces between spouses. I wonder if Adam had given Eve her due space and let her be his equal, we’d all not be in this post lapsarian fallen world, fighting our guts out with each other over issues of space. Most relationships see their end for this lack of understanding each other’s space culminating to separation where all they finally acquire is space for themselves and nothing else.
Despite the fact that our ancestries have lived in joint families, with several  other things we have also adopted the liberalist humanist living ideals of the American way of life, where the teenager makes it clear to his/her parents in their characteristic accent, “Mom, I need my space.” As much as we would want to say that to our parents (with or without the accent) we cannot. Even if the mother gives in, there is your brother/sister to tackle and the constant inflow of desired or undesired pack of relatives that have no regard for your strategically acquired privilege. However, to no good avail. The illusion is shattered and we are made akin to the reality that we need to share that space.
We accuse the western nations to be colonialists but to think of it we are all little imperialists ourselves. We want that particular side of the bed, that pan-view chair on the dining table, that window seat in trains, buses and planes, that nicest parking space in the colony parking (our society just finished allotting parking spaces to each flat by marking lines recently). And if you are wondering why I suddenly came to discuss space, it was only after yesterday when my brother physically dislodged me from his side of the bed citing that it is his area no matter what, that I landed upon this issue as a topic for discussion. So while I invite you to my space as a blogger, I am at the same time trying to figure out the way to get around and contrive it from my brother.