Sexuality, Gender, Being Indian and ‘Water’

Set in 1938, Water by Deepa Mehta is a brutal portrayal of the realities of that time, with the frame of reference being the plight of widows in India. The story begins with a newly-widowed 7 year old girl called Chuhiya, who is left at a ‘widhwa-ashram’ (literally meaning, widow-home) to stay with other widows, facing social ostracization.  Confused and scared, Chuhiya is unable to bring herself to accept this change in her life. That she has a hot temper, and a ever questioning mind does not help either.

The entire film delves deeper into the prevalent social issues at that time, the prevalent power structure where there was the supremacy of the male over the female, and the other big power structure in India- casteism, existing at the same time. Being Indian has always been considered to be traditional, to be respectful of the culture that has been passed down through generations,ever since Manu was born. This film showcases the crossroads that India as a country was facing, going from British rule towards Independence. At the same time, the wave of Indian reformers like Raja Ram Mohun Roy, who were challenging the regressive customs of Indian society, was getting stronger.

Being Indian has also meant being respectful of power structures in the society. While some of them explicit, some of them have been drilled into us with such dexterity that we no longer acknowledge their existence or feel them. Water looks at the trauma a widow in those times. While Chuhiya is more or less the change agent in the film, her questions and acts triggering actions both desirable and undesirable. She is a representation of the generation trying to break free from the shackles of ancient India. On the other hand, Shakuntala, who fills in the gap that Chuhiya’s mother would have done otherwise, represents a generation resigned to the customs and functioning of society. A generation who was born in the British Rule, had to keep up with economic developments and changes, while sticking to their ‘Indian’ philosophy of life, never challenging the status quo.

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It is a beautiful portrayal of a society so bound by its scriptures, its ancient texts that it is losing the ability to progress with the times, affording upliftment and success of only those classes of society that were doing well anyways. The representation of sexuality is also very interesting. A mirror to a society which at that time, thought of women as second rate citizens, whose lives were bound to the men in their lives. First the father, whose house she would live and grow in, and then her husband, who would give her his name and when he would die, her identity was more or less lost in the process. A woman, who was a widow, was no more than a burden to her husband’s family, one more mouth to feed. People of the upper classes exploited widows for sex, but at the same time, the emotions of a widow meant nothing – her sexual desires were supposed to be non-existent, her desires of getting appreciated, or appreciating the good things in life like fine food, clothes and jewelry were also considered appalling and she was denied all this.

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The soon-to-be lawyer, Narayana who eventually turns out to be a savior for Chuhiya and in a way, Shakuntala, represents the intellectual class of the society at that time and in a sense, even now. As the Indian society still struggles to address gender issues and mistreatment of widows, Water remains a deeply relevant film.

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Looking Back On Term 2.

Looking back on term 2

(Photo credits : Abhijeet Singh, MICA)

This post comes midway in term # 3 at Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad (MICA) when it suddenly hit me that I hadn’t done a follow-up post to my earlier one.

Term 2 taught me :

1) No matter who handles Chota (the canteen), the cold coffee *must* remain as good as it was. Otherwise, the handover has been a failure.

2) Going to watch a movie costs more than the movie, emotionally and financially.

3) Unfulfilled plans are like unfulfilled study plans – they get made often, and often go unrealised.

4) Rajneesh Krishna Sir is awesome *yes, he is!*

5) Time runs past you like Usain Bolt on steroids. It’s been 7 months to this place already and not a lot of us acknowledge it. Make the most of the time left.

6) Getting through to round 2 of any competition deserves to be celebrated. For real.

7) Culture just got real.

8) Ek Diu/Goa/Jaipur trip to banta hai. PLAN it.

9) Students at IIM may deserve more salary for just the fact that they can make a good financial plan for B-school competitions.

10) Thakur Chacha is a rockstar.

11) Summer placements make MICA the campus it isn’t. I am glad that phase is temporary.

12) Taking down notes does not really help. Lose some sleep over those assignments. Keep an open mind.

13) The newspapers can become your saviours.

14) Know what you want to do. But more importantly, know what you don’t want to do.

15) Being cynical is the easiest thing to do. Think beyond the stereotypes, appreciate.

Term 3 is half-done. Everything is a blur. But the second term will remain special in a lot of ways. Account planning, brand management, media planning, market research : everything beckons. Gear shift time, NOW.

Cheers to the almost-PGP2! 😀

Patriarchy, the status quo.

There was a certain question that has stuck with me ever since I first came across it almost a decade ago. A piece in a prominent magazine asked why citizens of India did not have the choice to give their mother’s name instead of their father’s name on an official form or on any form that needed consent of a parent. The author of the piece went on to ask what a widowed woman’s status were to be in such a case. It was a very pertinent question, and remains so.

Even today, official government forms usually do not have the option to give mother’s name as the middle name or as the parent’s name. The mother must be then named as the guardian instead of a parent. Personally, I find this extremely demeaning to the relationship of a woman with her child. A citizen of India should have the right to choose between using his father or his mother’s name interchangeably either as his/her middle name or his/her parent’s name. While this may seem trivial, this is actually a representation of a far bigger status quo of our society. The big giant called patriarchy, which has loomed over us for centuries and which poses a lot of societal problems when it goes on overlooked and when gender dynamics get so skewed that they cross the line of no return.

Patriarchy is expressed in multiple ways. In the ways that household activities are divided between a man and woman with minimal expectations from a man to fill in for a role that he could perform with ease at home. On the other hand, a woman is not only expected to contribute to the family income and give her husband a helping hand, but also expected to be the subservient domestic doormat who does all the household chores by her own and keeps a perfect balance between work and household activities. The same balance, however, is not sought from men in our society. I have seen examples of this in my own society, in my own city. It disturbs me immensely because the seeds of this behavior are sown when the children are young.  I have a problem with how gender roles are pre-ordained in our society. It can be something as simple as a parent telling his/her 10-year-old daughter, ”You must pay attention to household stuff. After all, you are the one who has to take care of the household.”

Why should the onus of learning the household chores and the way things are done at home be thrust only upon the daughter of the family? The same things can be taught to the girl and boy of the family with it being an inclusive process, instead of making the female feel that she has been singled out and is being made to do something which she may not want to. The feminist in me would try and delve deeper into this issue and maybe try to figure out how and why the concept of patriarchy came to exist in the first place. There have been a lot of studies on this subject but the theory I believe in is that patriarchy came into being when the human race acknowledged that the physical power of the male species ought to be given more importance than the nurturing and child-bearing aspect of the female species. As the former was more conducive to survival of a tribe, it is very probable that this moment in history lead to the elevation in status of man in society, and in the process, subjugation of a woman.

 

These are just my random thoughts about the state of the society I live in, things that bother me immensely. As a child, I had lofty dreams of the world in which I was growing up. I would proudly tell my parents that I was sure things would completely change when I grew up and that when I was getting married, women and men would be treated equal. I dreamt of situations where the man would leave his house and come to live in mine when married me.

Alas, that is not happening.

Patriarchy is the way it’s going to be for a few more generations, it seems. Unless that lofty dream is revived. And I think it is up to my generation to do that. I hope we do our bit.

Finding direction..

Sometimes life seems like one big game of tug of war, and worst, in all directions. There are just so many things happening, all at the same time. Somehow, your life will rearrange itself in perfect tradeoff situations where you can enjoy one only if you completely let go of the other. This is, I think, life’s gentle way of telling you not to be greedy and also reminding you that prioritising helps in the long run.

There are so many tightropes to walk. From seemingly simple ones like keeping up with academics v/s keeping abreast with all the happenings of the world and priding yourself as the trivia master you were always known as, to the bigger battles like giving time to things that really matter.

It’s all a mess,
Suddenly everything matters,
You try jotting things down,
You look like a mad-hatter,
Tug and pull, life says tug and pull,
But let go, my child, let go..
Oh life, unravel!

This all seems so random, even as I write this down. But these are the things that currently matter. I think the trick is going with the flow and keeping your A-game intact. Life, here I come.. as I seek to solve at least one of  your grand puzzles.

 

 

Havelock Ellis – “All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.”

Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana : Aroma of life :)

As two mega films hit the screens of all theaters in my city today (from as early as 6:00 am), I consider myself lucky that I got to watch this delightful piece of cinema called Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana. Based on the life of Omi Khurana (Kunal Kapoor) who returns to his home in Punjab after getting into trouble with a loan shark in UK, LSTCK traces the journey of a man who loses and rediscovers family, love and food in one crazy yet magical journey back to his roots.

Omi Khurana comes back to Punjab, back to the once famous Chiken Khurana dhaaba that his grandfather used to run to realize things are not the way he had left them. He has a lot of money to return to the loan shark and realizes that his grandfather’s famous chicken recipe is the only thing that might save him and let him return.  But how can the story be so simple? Once back, he has to deal with the girl he had abandoned years back, and his dysfunctional family, full of wonderfully eccentric characters.

Like a good dish that has all the ingredients in just the right measure, left to mingle with each other and simmer on their own, first time director Sameer Sharma has let some unique characters in some unique situations – making for really enjoyable cinema. Some of the characters are the pot-smoking godwoman, played by a effortless Dolly Ahluwalia and a man who pretends to be mad just to freeload on his sister, played by the very talented Rajesh Sharma. Another refreshing thing about the movie is the complete departure from the usual way Punjabi families are portrayed in Hindi cinema. Sameer Sharma’s take on Punjab is much more realistic and eccentric, not sticking to the done-to-death stereotypes that everyone is quick to adopt.

The film is an indulgent piece of work, with even flashback scenes shot in beautiful shadow frames. This means that the movie goes on at a leisurely pace, but because of the great performances, you are least likely to mind it. While the first half of the movie goes into establishing the premise and the relationship between Omi and his childhood sweetheart Harman, played by the stunning Huma Qureshi, the second half sees all the action and twists, all leading to the hilarious climax. The highlight of the movie is the level of performance put in by all the actors, with a special mention to Rajesh Sharma, who stands out with his act as the whacky Tito.

Adding to the enjoyability of the film is Amit Trivedi’s music. Both the songs and the background score evoke the required emotions from the viewers, with a very distinct Punjabi rustic feel. Watch out for the ‘Luni Hasi’ song that keeps playing in the background.. the singers impress with a soothing rendition. Amit Trivedi shows us once again why he’s a force to reckon with.

All in all, LSTCK reminds one of the Hrishikesh Mukherjee brand of cinema that focused on emotions and treated stories with immense simplicity and deep attention. The movie will move you, make you laugh, cry.. it will make you fall in love with food and the beauty of how it connects a family together. LSTCK works because it is so simple, proving that a focus on the essentials is more than enough for good cinema. Go watch LSTCK, for this little gem has its heart at the right place.

It’s all about English Vinglish!

Don’t let the title surprise you. As a song from the movie with the same title goes, this post is going to be all about the film, and yes it’s called English Vinglish. The just-released Sridevi-starrer hit screens last Friday with huge expectations as it was a comeback of sorts for Sridevi who had been away from the silver screen for more than a decade.

A simple story of a mother of two who faces hurdles because of her inability to talk in English and how she overcomes those odds to realise what really matters and sort it from the rest, English Vinglish is everything a good film is, and more. Tugging at your heartstrings, English Vinglish brings Sridevi back to the big screen in what may be her best performance till date. A very realistic portrayal, seemingly effortless, Sridevi is back and how!

The film takes us through various events in the life of Shashi (Sridevi) set in India and the USA. The story beings, and we see a Shashi who is unhappy with the constant ridiculing by her husband and daughter for not knowing English. Though they may not realize it, they end up looking down at Shashi and have a feeling of embarrassment when she is expected to speak in English publicly. Things get worse after Shashi has to fill in for her ‘fluent in english’ parents-teacher meet at her daughter’s school and serves as a turning point in the film, giving Shashi’s character a strong urge to do something about the situation. The rest of the story deals with how Shashi answers some important questions and proves a thing or two, to herself and the world.

Through this film, director Gauri Shinde does the impressive job of bringing a mainstream female-centric movie to the fore after almost a year. The film also raises good questions about a woman’s self-respect and her identity issues when something like being fluent in a foreign language is expected of her. Kudos to Gauri Shinde for attempting  to write on such a brave topic.She keeps things simple and that works for the film. The film is made of moments instead of scenes, moments that stay with you for a long time after the last scene has faded from the screen. The twinkle in Shashi’s eyes after her achievement, the scenes with the family, the feeling of relating wholly with the character.. everything just falls in place. Full marks to the beautiful cinematography by Laxman Utekar for composing each frame so beautifully.

Also, the review would be incomplete without special credit to Amit Trivedi’s soul stirring music. Gems like ‘Dhak Dhuk’ and ‘Navrai’ fit in beautifully with the storyline, adding a special depth to the situation and making it memorable. Also, the ensemble cast of English Vinglish must be commended for putting up a great performance, with special mention to Adil Hussain who plays Shashi’s husband, and Mehdi Nebbou, who plays a French chef smitten by Shashi.

English Vinglish is a beautiful film and if you have ever ridiculed a person for not being comfortable with or fluent in English, this film will remind you and make you realize that it takes a lot to embrace a new language, and that people ARE trying.

 

 

The quintessential retrospection of the first term break.

And just like that, my first term at MICA (Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad) has come to an end. As I write this from my laptop at home, enjoying my term break, I cannot help but wonder at the enormous speed with which the last two and a half months have passed me by. The first day in a new city, as my parents helped me set up my hostel room, as my younger brother yelped with excitement over the good food at campus and as the sweat on my forehead lulled me to sleep – everything is so clear, like it happened yesterday.

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(Photo courtesy – Pratap Kaul, PGP-18, MICA)

Yet, I must acknowledge, sixty days and more have passed between that day and this, and they have been quite something.

MICA has taught me a lot, a lot in the days gone by.. in this post I will try and summarize everything in the shortest manner possible, because these memories and learnings have to find an outlet.

MICA has taught me – 

  • No one said life is fair. So stop wallowing in self-pity and value your background and achievements.
  • Change something if you can’t live with it. No one else will do it for you.
  • A confrontational attitude may not always work. Use your spidey sense.
  • Time is not golden, its platinum. One term down before you can even register things. Gee up!
  • Always write your name on your umbrella handle, and never keep it out of sight for long.
  • Its alright to cut it fine (for your first lecture) but a good breakfast is really important
  • Cold coffee is the ultimate drug
  • Don’t be too happy about your cool slogan t-shirt. Three more people in MICA probably have the same.
  • People with the same taste in music are a blessing.
  • Having time to spare does not mean you’re managing it well.
  • The mess serving karela on Sundays is just another way to make you appreciate the food on the other days.
  • Rajneesh Krishna Sir is awesome.
  • There will be more competitions than mosquitoes in your room and you’ll not be able to participate.
  • People have so many layers to them, the social penetration theory really works.
  • Don’t give up hope. You will find Havaban Harde lovers everywhere.
  • The best friends are found in the most unexpected places. So keep your mind open to possibilities.
  • Unlearn before you learn. It really helps.
  • FDI in retail is good, for me.
  • Hostel bathrooms are a classic example of Tragedy of the Commons
  • There’s no bigger accomplishment than a clean and tidy study table.
  • Everyone’s crazily talented over here , so don’t think too much of yourself.
  • You have a right to be irrationally exuberant.
  • Reading newspapers is a luxury.
  • Finance is not as difficult as it looks.
  • There’s no better feeling than to know you belong to the crazy.
  • This time’s never coming back, so make the most of it.

Here’s to the crazy ones! 

To My Teachers.

It’s teachers’ day today and my first teachers’ day at a place where I’ve always wanted to learn.. At Mudra Institute of Communications Ahmedabad.. My teachers have undoubtedly been the biggest influences on me. Starting from my parents and going on to those who taught me at my school to those who ended up teaching me the important things in life, the soul stuff, the stuff you need for life.. Today, I pay an ode to all of them.

From my teacher in kindergarten who taught me the importance of sharing to my postgraduate level teacher who has taught me the importance of continuously
challenging myself, pushing my limits, my life has been an enriched one and I thank God for all my teachers.
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At the end of the post, I wish teachers get the respect they deserve. They are the makers of our nation.. Makers of doctors, engineers and artists. Teachers are one of the most overworked people. I hope teachers get their due and students value them as they should be. Because the good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.

Happy Teachers’ Day.

The Great Indian Dream

For years, putting up a good show at the biggest sporting event in the world has been a dream for my country. Yes, the Olympics. India, a country with more than a billion people, has always dreamed in technicolor when it came to the Olympics.

This great dream started in 1928 when the indomitable Indian hockey team won its first Gold medal at the Olympics. What followed was a 6 gold medals in a row, the Indian team was undefeated until 1956! In doing so, the Indian team became the nation to win the most Golds for Hockey at the Olympics. A feat unparalleled. No team has ever come close to the dream that was the Indian Hockey team of the yesteryears. Dhyan Chand and his boys reserved a place for themselves on the golden pages of the sport.

Another phenomenal achievement happened during the Beijing 2008 Olympics. Abhinav Bindra won the Gold for the 10m Air Rifle shooting event, giving India its first individual Gold at the Olympics. What a moment that was! A billion dreams came true at the same time. India could now proudly boast of an individual achievement at the Olympics.

abhinav bindra

While Abhinav Bindra’s win was amazing, something heartbreaking had happened at the same Olympics. It was the first time since 1928 that the Indian hockey team had failed to qualify for the Olympics. It was a terrible, disheartening moment for people associated with the sport, who had seen India virtually destroy any and every competition that it ever had. Scarred with politics and shoddy management, the players were let down horribly.

But this year, the Hockey team is back with a bang. After an amazing performance at the London Olympics qualifiers, where they stood first, and a good performance at the Azlan Shah Cup, the Indian team is going from strength. Lead by a new coach Michael Nobbs, the team has never looked better. Nobbs has blended the European style of hockey well with the crafty hockey that our players play. This year, Michael Nobbs and many many Indians expect a podium finish from the Hockey team because of the simple fact that it is possible 🙂

The Indian hockey team holds aloft their trophy at the victory podium after winning the men's field hockey match between India and France for the final position of the FIH London 2012 Olympic Hockey qualifying tournament at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium in New Delhi on February 26, 2012.

(The Indian Hockey team after winning the London Olympic Qualifiers)

The other sport that has everyone excited is Women’s Boxing. This is the first time that this sport has been included in the Olympics lineup and what makes it even more exciting is the presence of one name on that final qualifying list, MC Mary Kom. Considered by many to be one of the finest female boxers in the world, Mary Kom is all set to win the first Olympic Gold for the 51-kg Female Boxing event.

India's boxer MC Mary Kom punches a bag during a training session at Balewadi Stadium in Pune, about 190 km (118 miles) from Mumbai, March 12, 2012. Mary Kom was the face of the campaign to get women's boxing into the Olympics and the Indian mother of two will be competing at the world championships in China in May aiming to book her spot at the London Games in the 51kg category. Picture taken March 12, 2012.

(MC Mary Kom trains for the Olympics)

The woman power at the Olympics this time is being upped seriously by the participation and qualification of Saina Nehwal, India’s top ranked female badminton player and currently ranked World No.5. After a quarterfinal defeat in her debut Olympics at Beijing last year, Saina is raring for a comeback and fulfil her dream of an Olympic medal. She faces a tough draw at the Olympics but she has trained hard and won two major titles in the last couple of months, displaying excellent form.

Saina Nehwal practices during a training session for the badminton competition of the 2012 Summer Olympics, on July 25, 2012, in London.
(Saina Nehwal practices during a training session of the London Olympics)
Apart from these three personal favorites,
there are many wonderful athletes representing India, I wish them all the best!

World Champ!

There are not many days when Indians can go ga-ga over a sportsman reaching the ultimate level of excellence in a sport other than cricket. That’s what makes this day special. The 12 match tussle for the Chess World Championship ended today. 

India's Vishwanathan Anand plays during a tie-break of FIDE World chess championship match against Israel's Boris Gelfand in State Tretyakovsky Gallery in Moscow on May 30, 2012.

World Chess champion Viswanathan Anand from India, contemplates his next move during a match against Boris Gelfand of Israel at the FIDE World Chess Championship tie break match at Moscow's Tretyakovsky State Gallery, Russia, Wednesday, May 30, 2012.

And it ended with a tie-breaker. Playing against Israel’s Boris Gelfand at the Tretyakovsky gallery in Moscow, viewers waited with bated breath : from the viewing gallery, on online forums, and all throughout India, a country which is embracing Chess and other individual sports like never before. 

World Chess champion Viswanathan Anand from India, left, and his Israeli challenger Boris Gelfand, play a FIDE World Chess Championship tie break match at Moscow's Tretyakovsky State Gallery in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, May 30, 2012.

Vishwanathan Anand inspires me each and every time.This is his fifth World Championship title after 2000,2007,2008 and 2010 before. He is one of only six players in the history of the game to break the 2800 mark in the FIDE rating. Following a slow but steady rise through the ranks, Vishy became world no.1 in the April 2007. 

India's Vishwanathan Anand plays during a tie-break of FIDE World chess championship match against Israel's Boris Gelfand in State Tretyakovsky Gallery in Moscow on May 30, 2012.

India’s first grandmaster and an inspiration to everyone who’s become a grandmaster from India since, you make me and every Indian really proud of you Vishy! Hope the crown stays with you for years to come. The king of 64 squares.