Friday, March 20, 2015

quirks of the mind- Next (2007)

That's it! I have decided - I am not a  sophisticated movie connoisseur. And I am never going to be one. But clearly, I am an incurable romantic - even now! (bah! humbug!) The other day I saw the 2007 movie Next -- starring Nicolas Cage and Jessica Biel, Julianne Moore etc. To put it simply, I liked it. I am no Nicolas Cage fan, but somehow I liked him in this one. I liked the story, I liked the main characters, I liked the setting - I liked it all once I accepted the basic kind of superpower that Cage's character possesses. Apparently, he can see two minutes - just 2 minutes - into the future. Except in the case of this girl who keeps cropping up in his visions. The romantic in me loved that age old concept of true love, the existence of the  one person that you are meant to be with. Add to that, a man,  a hero with the power to be aware of this preordained special person, and is sure of what he wants, and is not afraid to go for it! The result, "And they lived happily ever after", as we romantics hope for, even though at this point in my life, "forever" seems kind of daunting, as in YIKES!

However this is the same movie that I have heard being called crummy. I find that Cage and Biel were nominated for worst actor, worst actress  awards. And I liked their acting! I did not expect to, actually I did not think I would watch the whole movie, but I did. Can someone feel all warm and cozy just by looking at people wearing warm and cozy earth tones? Or seeing them against the backdrop of sun-kissed mountains? I have to think that that happened in my case. I loved the amber tones of the people and the places. The golden honey highlights in Jessica Biel's hair, on her simple burnt sienna cotton dress, on her glowing skin, on Nicolas Cage's tan/mustard yellow jacket, and on the gold and caramel and copper-hued rock formations at once alive with all that rich glorious light and redolent of many an ancient story. I am sure all that, including that soothing rain that danced around, enveloped the pair, and the intermittent cool blues that broke the pattern of the golden rust colors, played a part in stopping me from switching channels.

I know many would see the special power of the hero as a  simple crude mind gimmick of altering reality. But again, I did not mind it at all! :) Not surprising. I usually like such ways of defeating time,  and space, however simplistic. I even like that twist to the tale in the end. The movie is loosely - very loosely, I hear -- based on a science fiction piece of the fifties. That story of mutants has been humanized here, I guess. And if the fact that I like the result makes me a pleb, so be it. Let me hasten to add that the same goes for my liking of that Jennifer Lopez-Ralph Fiennes movie, Maid in Manhattan. I have heard many criticize the story, Lopez's acting - but I loved it! I think she was good in it. ( I do like all of her movies, by the way). And Ralph Fiennes! He can do no wrong in movies, as far as I am concerned. But then, that's me! What do I know?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

my Vetaal

King Vikramaditya and the Vethaal

They say everyone has their own baggage that they carry around. Most of the time, like any baggage, it weighs you down, will even leave you paralyzed. Still, there must be some good kind of baggage too. There are some kinds that never gets lost, or that we can never totally get rid of. We may put it down for a while, but soon like long lost friends or unwanted guests show up at inopportune times. Or worse, like that wily devil or vampire or ghost, Vetaal/Bethal/Vethaalam of the Vikramaditya stories, climb onto our shoulders and refuse to let go. A dead weight that  manages to drag one down, fill us with dread and despair. A point comes when we just want to get rid of the burden. Out with the bad, and whatever outdated, or spoiled stuff is  in there, which may have been good once, for that time. The only way out then is to listen to that Bethal and answer its questions, which may or may not help me in the end.

Mine is a peculiar kind of baggage. Nothing special, but then I guess everyone's baggage must be special to them. When people talk of baggage, I always hear of doing the wrong things in the past, doing a lot of wrong things, having a racy youth, having lost a lot of valuable things, say, in the area of relationships. When I say "wrong" I do not mean to say that they were all wrong in the moral sense. They may have been or not, but I think that those become baggage when the individual looks back with regret and considers them to have been the wrong choice, the wrong path to take.

In any case,the peculiarity of  my baggage is that it is empty. My Vetaal is unreal. When I look into it, there is nothing in there! My past and present are ruled by inaction. No racy past - to sum it up. No  addictions to recover from, or to not recover from,  not even one shade of grey to feel guilty or proud of, or to cherish - - nothing that I can thrash around and about. Painfully shy, and  submitting to the Nazrani conditioning, rebelliously at times, I avoided all excitement. Except for the grand speeches and  funny gestures made within that safe circle of family and friends. I did manage to get that reputation of willfulness, stubbornness, and sheer muleheadedness from most of them, though. But many did not care about the extent to which I succumbed to tradition in the end. My perfectionism (quite personal) and that other personal code of honor-  of duty, responsibility and loyalty took care of that. So now this empty bag of mine weighs a ton. And it has been asking me these questions.

Did I make the wrong choices? Take the wrong path? Still no clear answer. But the answer that comes up right now is that maybe not. At those points in time, those were the only ones to take. Should I be happy about that? Not necessarily, and not necessarily should I be unhappy either. Things are as they are. Hope that Vetaal is satisfied, at least for now.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

India's Daughter

Village Belle by Raja Ravi Varma 

I watched the documentary, India's Daughter today. I couldn't bear to listen to most of the men in there, including. and especially, the literate lawyers -hard  to watch the whole documentary. For a while, I was at a loss for words. Disturbing, heartwrenching, and terribly real. The mindset of the majority of citizens of a democratic nation, that prides itself on its culture! I was lamenting about a few hate mails I received after a story of mine was published a long time ago. Why am I even surprised? I just saw and listened to a few representatives of the educated males in our capital city of New Delhi, in modern day India. But watching this should be mandatory in India.By the way, to the lawyers- even a girl going out with her own father or brother is not left alone by anti-social elements like these.  But then I am sure people like these lawyers and many religious persons still would not get the message. That girls shouldn't walk outside their homes at all,  would be the lesson that  they would want us to take away from this. Better, let them all kill themselves! Which they do do to the unborn female child.
Even elderly nuns in convents are not safe, when it comes to insecure men wanting to reinforce their sense of power. News - Elderly Indian nun raped . I cannot forget what those misguided, cruel, pathetic, stupid  men did to Jyoti. I cannot forget her dreams, her hopes. Her mother's eyes. And this will and should haunt us forever.  I am so ashamed of my country, of its so-called "tradition" and "culture". 

It was hard to see even the hope of the protesters, for change, for a better tomorrow. . This is one time when I value the merits of a brutal, long drawn out war that will affect the whole of India, but which took the men out of India, into other countries.  That is the one long term change that came out of the world wars, in the West.  Women had to take over. They came into their own, in spite of the loss of lives. The sacrifice had an unforeseen effect of women's liberation.  Of course I do not want needless deaths of men.  or women, which is what is happening now. If we could learn something from history, without bloodshed and killings, that is it. Education is the answer. How - that is the question. How to educate? What modes to use? Through travel, and exposure to other cultures? Through classes? Movies? TV? As it is, las I mentioned before.  even if many of them saw this movie, I know what many Indians -men and women - would say , shaking their heads - the girl shouldn't have gone out at night. They just wouldn't get the message, or pretend not to get it. And when  they do that, they are denying the humanity of their daughters and sons. Forgetting the real meaning of civilization.

But why am I racking my brains as to how to stop men from behaving inhumanly? Strict enforcement of a just law is all that is needed. Where the responsibility to not to commit evil deeds is on the individual. For instance, disbar and dismiss those lawyers, politicians, policemen etc  who nurture such inhuman notions about women. If they still do not understand, throw them in the jail with the other rapists. After all, we did manage to eradicate caste system, at least in certain parts of India. According to that old tradition, the lower caste women were considered untouchable, but at the same time, playthings for the high caste. Much like the other tradition of slavery, and the feudal system. Strict enforcement of the law did help with those. But then gender inequality is of benefit to all men - regardless of class or race. So the number of people who will feel cheated out of their "rights" is higher. And they won't let go off their "rights" that easily. So the struggle becomes harder.

For Catholics, in the Ten Commandments - thou shalt not kill does not put the onus on the victim, but on the perpetrator. But in the case of rape, the law in India seem to think that the victim is the culprit. Once that attitude changes, things will fall in place rather nicely. The eleventh commandment should be "thou shalt not rape". 

I found this on the internet. Seemed very helpful.

11. When you see a woman walking with a man, do not rape her.
12. When you see a woman walking with a child, do not rape her.
13. When you see a woman walking with another woman, do not rape her.

14. If you feel you are a thorn, and the woman is a flower, hit your head, repeatedly, on a stone or brick wall, whatever is convenient, and knock yourself out.
15.Use the buddy system here too if you fail to remember the above. Ask a trusted friend to bring a rock or brick to knock you out.

Still, I am hopeful for India's men and women. Looking at the thousands of girls and women protesting in the streets. Their courage, their hope, and their strength. I see the change right there. This would not be seen thirty years ago. These are the women of my generation, and their daughters. I can only bow my head before them. I am so proud of them, of how far we have come. I am ashamed of myself because I ran away from my country. It was escapist. 
The struggle has just begun, and it should include all humane beings - women and men. Because just like that assumption that women are basically "sex" (as in the words of that lawyer) and so need to be controlled, while in the same breath he said that women are "flowers" to be protected - that is what we have to face. Who on earth can live according to that contradictory idea? And the other assumption that all men are savage beings who are less than human who have no control over their own minds, and no intelligence to take responsibilty for their own actions,  or do not have the least bit of sensitivity to think of a girl or woman as a human being. That is degrading our own fathers, brothers, and sons. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

1986 : an old story - translated.

In 1986, when I was a college student, I participated in a short story competition, "a story for a movie", organized by a leading Malayalam film magazine. The selected stories would be published in their weekly. The stories had to fit a page. It was a time when some fiery thoughts were searing through my brain. I had just passed my B.A. in flying colors, and my parents who had promised me that I would be allowed to go out of state for higher studies, backtracked. They cited many reasons, the main one being, I had to be married off pretty soon, and my going away like that won't help with that. Needless to say I was heartbroken, and angry at the injustice. My rebellion stopped at chopping off my hair, and starving myself. Nothing like the heroine in the story.

But it made me think as to the why's. And I wanted to share my thoughts with people. I wanted to change attitudes, the old stupid ways of thinking. A story was born out of that. As far as the plot went, it was nothing, even by my standard. But then it was a story of ideas, a story for social change, all of which I knew even then. I sent mine in, never expecting to be selected.  But still, every week I would run to get that weekly to see if it was in there.  And one morning, I opened the magazine, and my story was in there! The delight! the pride! But I could  not share that happiness with anyone. When I sent it in, maybe they thought it would not see the light of day - my parents just watched me indulgently.  But now that it was out there, they were not happy. What will people say! They would think everything in there, that I had written in order to shock people out of their complacency,  was true. That I was a "bad girl". No man from a respectable family will want to marry me. What I wrote there, say, about marriage or religion, would not faze a westerner or a westernized Indian. But back then, in India, in Kerala, in Thrissur, things were different. I am sure, even now, it would shock at least a few. Even the outfit of the heroine must have disturbed them.

The thing is they had published my address with that story.  Two movie companies wrote to me asking to meet for a discussion. Another one for a tv program. I was not allowed to write back, as all men were bad. Because meanwhile other things happened. Hate mail. For daring to think and talk about freedom for women, one letter writer threatened that  he would gather up a group of men and come and rape me. They seemed to, or wanted to assume that my silly little plot, which was just a vehicle for my status quo-shattering ideas, was true. Actually they just did not like the idea of women being free. And of course, I had to be punished. I was intimidated. My parents felt I let them down by bringing such shame on myself and the family! I was guilty without committing any sin, except write. In fact at first my parents did not show me these letters - don't know why they did after a few days, maybe to prevent me from doing it again. Anyway, it worked. I stopped writing. I felt so guilty at hurting my parents, and ashamed at myself, that I pretended it did not happen. I did not talk about it even to my University friends, a year later. In fact it was only last year that I gathered up the courage to read it again. Looking back,  I did not know how to deal with publicity, the little I got - it was a time when there was no internet, and when TV was still new, with less than a handful of channels. I was too naive, lead too sheltered a life, had no supporter, let alone, a mentor. The nuns in my college weren't too pleased either. Except for one teacher who wondered what went on in my mind. However, even though there were a few letters that congratulated me, I foolishly, or pragmatically, overlooked those. And focused on the negative comments, not knowing that those comments arose out of fear and spite. That fear and sense of guilt lingered on for so long that my attitude to the whole concept of publicity was confusing, to say the least. On the one hand I wanted people to read my writings, actually a lot of people, and I wanted to change the way they saw things. But at the same time, I did not want anyone to! I dreaded it. I hoped no one would read it! Again, when they did not, I felt disappointed! I am sure there are others who are in the same boat as me. That is  one thing I have learned so far - that I am not particularly unique or special in any way, unlike my heroine.

Here's a translation of my story -- I do admit that some of it is cringeworthy. My heroine, Ribelle (Oh my God! the name , for Rebel! haha.) now reads like an arrogant little show off.  Still, she is mine. :) Funny thing is I wrote it first in English back then, and then translated it into Malayalam. Maybe, unconsciously I felt that writing my ideas down in English  made it less dangerous somehow, than in my own language! I lost the original, or maybe I destroyed it.  Sadly, I do have a tendency to delete or tear up old letters, writings, emails etc. I know I will be sorely tempted to modify when I am translating now. But I will resist, and be true to the original. But remember, Rebel's ideas may be mine, but not her experiences. When I wrote this, I was still a student in an all-girls' college run by nuns. I did not have any male teachers.  Later on, I did go to a University for Research, but then I was so loyal to my family's Puritanic codes that I avoided any kind of romantic/sexual relationships. In fact I quite successfully rationalized it all so well that I fooled myself into thinking that I was an evolved rational being who was above mere emotions and needs. So I ended up being a truly celibate and chaste Christian even though I wasn't religious!  ah, youth! (look at me! I am  still doing  it -- justifying, defending, explaining -- trying to be the 'good" girl - I am never going to change, I guess. sad. )And the subject for research that Rebel chooses is amusing, to say the least.And obviously she did not know the difference between an atheist and an agnostic. Please do not laugh too much when you read this. Boy, was I brave, and stupid! ;))

You can find the Malayalam version here: ഗുരുവിനെത്തേടി - Guruvinethedi

Translation follows (with some editorializing in italics)
In search of a Guru

A pair of faded blue jeans, a loose-fitting yellow shirt,  steel-framed glasses, a reserved look on her face, and eyes that searched for someone - that is Rebel. (probably needed new glasses). No one would notice that girl who walks by fast, her fingers running through her short, cropped hair. You would wonder if this  is the same girl who scribbles in her diary in the bag thrown over her shoulder  as the one who acts the clown in her home.

At home, she is everyone's apple of the eye. The girl who makes everyone laugh out loud, at times stating small philosophical theories, the girl who pouts, has to try hard to stop herself from crying at a little scolding. She is not especially close with anyone.

She is here for research. The goal is to get a doctorate in English Literature. The subject is "The Problem Plays of Shakespeare". At times, she wondered as to the necessity of researching such a subject.  Rebel is a repository of the old and the new. In her mind, it is a constant struggle between the two. Although she is a total non-believer, she believes that an unknown power rules the world. However she thinks that that power is a cruel one. Or else why is there so much suffering in this world?

Once, while she was sitting with a classmate in her hostel room, Rebel looked outside the window, at the trees bathed in moonlight, and said, "When a time comes when any girl can walk by herself, even in the middle of the night, unmolested,  I would agree that women are free".(This seemed to enrage the males more than anything - apparently I wanted sex!) At another time, she said, " I do not have a great belief in marriage.  We are ready to lose that valuable treasure called chastity, (she means virginity), which we guarded so closely till then, the moment a  man puts a string around our necks. I can never understand that. Why is there a double standard for the man and the woman in our society?" Dowry , or property for women, is necessary. But, in Rebel's opinion, the brides who are sacrificed for it, suffer more than the son of man who was crucified, but who  got to rise from the dead on the third day.(god, she is insufferable!)

There was someone who noticed this girl who spent most of her time in the library. Professor Philip. Professor Philip is married. With one child. He is the friend of Rebel's Research Supervisor. At first, when he talked to her, Rebel barely answered him, and went her way. But they got closer during a send off party for someone. One day he invited Rebel over to his house. On another day, while Rebel was walking around town with her dad, they met the Professor and his wife. The Professor's wife was beautiful. It looked like she too liked this serious looking girl. (hahaha -sorry,  couldn't help it!)

College Day came around. Rebel was slowly falling in love with the Professor. As expected, she did not talk of this to anyone. (Thank God!haha) . This was something that a student should not feel for a teacher, that too, a married one. When he made fun of her usual blue jeans, Rebel felt bad. Whenever the thought of a family life, she chased it away.  Why should she marry? After all, we all have to die. (aha - so I always talked of death) Why be a slave to someone else, till then? As it is, Rebel was always against rules.

The Professor was surprised when Rebel appeared in a black silk saree. She proudly strutted away.  Was it her theories, or her seriousness, or her clownishness - the Professor did not know what attracted him to her ( or in other words, the Professor didn't know what hit him!hehe) They had more chances to meet.

In one moment of weakness (or sleaziness ) Rebel gave herself to Philip. (yikes!) The next day she told the Professor who was suffocating with his sense of guilt, (ya, right!), (now begins the speech!), "Let us end this here. I am saying good bye.( :) good byes are my old friends, obviously) I am not asking you to marry me or anything. I do not like that either. The mistake is mine too, anyway. (aah - the eagerness to accept responsibility!) I feel guilty when I think of your wife. (how nice!) If we meet everyday, this will only lead to sadness. You are not going to love me like this always. Not just you, no man can ( I am a know-it-all!) What I need now is a guru. (hmm) I feel I have to do a lot in this world. I am not playing an intellectual. May be I will go to some forest and live there by myself. Of course, I am not going to turn to God.I do not like to see human beings. (uh -oh) May be some would brand me as a crazy woman. But there is one thing - The mad men in this world are the fortunate ones. May be they are the real human beings."

That unusual girl went her way - in search of a guru.

The End.

(hahaha - lucky Professor. )
well, this obnoxious girl and the equally obnoxious professor managed to make people mad! Which is kind of what I wanted - not mad, but to think differently. And, like I said, the girl and the man are mine, no matter how irritating they are. :)

I said I stopped writing, but I never stopped thinking or reading. My abilities, for what they are worth, were directed into my studies and my dissertation. Years later, in another country, I wrote a novel. Imagine what they would say if they read  that!

how to die : the read - dead confusion

After reading another news item about mad men murdering a writer for speaking certain facts, I have to admit I got a little bit scared. But then the thought that I do not have many readers, actually less than 20, should have given me some comfort. It did not. And when I read this passionate essay calling upon people to stop writing, (in desperation),and by extension, making movies, music, and art in general, that sounded pragmatic. Sensible. Burning the existing troves of creative and philosophical works would be the next step. Lest people should be tempted to do it all again.

Still, as in the case of those lovely full body scanners in airports that slowly invade our bodies, for our own good, as they tell us, let us look at the positive side of this whole business of attacking freedom of expression. Isn't that what we, as enlightened beings, are supposed to do these days? So, let us not be so depressed at the whole situation that we lose sight of the silver lining. First of all, is there anyone, even a handful of people who  could benefit from this state of affairs? Forget the murderers - the benefit that they imagine they get out of all this, is just that - imagined. They die too at some point. What about the rest of us? I am talking about some of those creative beings, or  the ones who pretend to be,  say, myself. Before that, we have to define "writer", or "singer", or any "artist". What makes one a writer? Am I a writer, if  no one reads what I write? Or if what I write are stupidities, inanities? I think that some of these  may prefer death to that kind of anonymity and mediocrity, or something less than that. So this set could actually benefit from these attacks. However, they will be the last to be done away with, since no one reads them! Vicious circle.

Second, I agree that not all of  these same set of writers would benefit. Unless we are really disappointed in our situations, in our pathetic little lives, or they just want to be in control of how it all ends.  Especially, the older we are. After all, we do have to die, and isn't it better to die, than live as if  we are already dead?  Face it, no matter what you see or read, old age is no picnic. Then this kind of ending might be welcome. On the other hand, the older we get, the more we  tend to cling on to life. And the more we read, we tend to not commit murder, hopefully. In other words, be well-read, or be well-dead.

To sum up, looking at the positives, for those who want to put an end to their life, when they have had enough, here are some options:

1. take a trip to, say, the south side of, and/or all sides of, certain cities, after having been read by many or not
2. be homeless in another, is the same as
3. walking around waving a toy gun in  yet another
3. just be the wrong color or the wrong sex
4. wear the wrong head dress (or not wear ) in a particular place at a certain time.
5. scribble something (even  if it's in the safety of your ivory tower, like me) about how certain factors tend to incite violence using religion.
6. And pray hard that you'll be read, sorry, dead.

In any case, the culprits or the warmongers would have to change their mode of doing away with those elements that they do not like. After all, they are all tech savvy, the way they use the internet proves that. Machetes and guns and bombs are too primitive, in any kind of war, in any kind of violent endeavor - imperialist, or religious. If they want to show their advanced level of thinking, they should find other means. Or the more advanced set should give them the means to do it with empathy, with a sense of humor. More or less like in assisted suicides, under the care of doctors. More humane on the whole. I hear some of us can talk people to death! Words can kill. I have tried to look at the positive side of it all - but regrettably, still fail to see the need for killing another human being, for any reason, imagined or otherwise. It just breeds more killings. Now, if you start talking ... .
So, why do we need to kill each other with writings, with machetes, with guns, with drugs? We all die anyway.

Can't we just talk? Please? :)