Let’s celebrate the journey of love with all its dust and dirt!

“What happens when people open their hearts?”
“They get better.”

– Haruki Murakami

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Such is with love indeed, it only makes you better. But did someone ask, what is the way towards this ‘getting better’? Well, the road is tough my friend, it’s a steep ride up there, with myriads of falls that would leave you with rash bruises, make you weaker at times too, you may also feel desolate, dismayed and disillusioned with life, but once you are through this journey, you will have learnt so much. You would never be the same person who had walked into this game of love, You’ll become Better!

 

Sometimes, I feel that love and romance in our mainstream form of expressions are a bit overrated. How else can one explain the fairy tale love dramas we grew up watching being far removed from our real lives? The ones who have crossed their teens and are moving on from their tempestuous twenties into the balmy thirties, would agree with me.

You have fallen in love alright. What next? How do you sustain it? How many times can you keep falling after all? Alas, love isn’t the red roses and the balloons that some stupid Bollywood films show it is, it’s way more than that.

All of us as couples have had our share of fights (something that we do not wish to display on facebook, that space is only for highlighting our ‘too good to be true’ relationships). These fights, more often than not, happen all over the house, in the dining table, on the bed, in the kitchen, over the sofa.

In between these fights over who is not taking more responsibility in the chores, who’s to be blamed for arriving late in office, who’s more sensitive, who’s more understanding and who’s more patient, we all grow. This Growth is the result of the journey known as ‘love’. This ride has its periods of extreme lull, yet has moments that would warm the cockles in the heart. It’s bumpy, yet exciting. We grow apart, yet we learn how to fall back on each other and grow together once again. This Valentine’s day, let’s celebrate the journey of love with all its dust and dirt, a journey that has the power of changing us forever and for the Better.

 

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

–  Haruki Murakami

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The Root

readomania

Manorama checked the test kit one more time. It clearly showed two distinct pink lines. This is it, she thought. This can’t be wrong anymore. A sense of immense happiness was shooting up her stomach, going past her throat and now almost touching her ears. She felt out of this world, she felt euphoric!

What happens when too much of happiness gets into your head? Doesn’t it make one a little numb for sometime? Manorama is feeling that numbness somewhere deep inside. A sense of calm is descending upon her.

It is 8 am in the morning and the city of Mumbai is already buzzing with the days’ chores. Manorama has taken an off today, while Dilip, her husband has already left for work. She wasn’t feeling that great this morning and travelling all the way to Lower Parel from her Navi Mumbai residence would have only made her doubly tired. With the pregnancy test kit still in her hands, her mind is wheezing with so many thoughts that she doesn’t know which one to pay attention to. She wants to sit for some more time, trying to let things sink in.

It would be wrong to say that Manorama never felt happiness in her life up until now, she did. Marrying Dilip, whom she met during her engineering days in Pune was a great high in her life, but apart from that, true happiness had mostly eluded her. She had never felt a sense of belonging to anything in her life. She never knew what it is to have siblings, what it is to be nurtured by the infinite love of a mother or protected by the ever generous affection of a father. What it is to have a family of one’s own, to visit one’s native place, grandparents, their tales and falling asleep to those wondrous stories? She had little idea. Manorama was an orphan. She had never had a ‘home’ of her own.

All her growing up years, she had lived in space crunched, morose orphanages, first in Chennai, then in Mumbai, with children who just like her, longed to have a family that they could call their own. For several years, she had thought to herself may be this is the way it is with everyone. But when she grew a little older, life threw enough instances at her face to make her realize that there is a big world outside her orphanage, that while other children had a home, she did not, while they had mothers and fathers who would love them to pieces, she did not.

Well, the almighty was not all that harsh to her though. Amidst all the pain and insufferable childhood memories of growing up in an orphanage, there was a piece of blessing in her life too, the one who showered her with all the love and compassion at a time when her own parents had left her in the lurch, her biological mother’s friend – Srinath Srinivasan.

Manorama did not know much about her biological parents all throughout her childhood, barring few details like she was given away to an orphanage in Adyar, Chennai by two people who didn’t wish to have this baby in their lives. Who were these people, she didn’t wish to know. Life taught her many things much earlier. At a very young age, she realized that if two people can leave her when she was a little baby, they would care two hoots about her now that she was a grown up. It was much later that she learnt about them.

She had been a very good student throughout her school and after getting admission to a top Engineering college in Pune, when it was finally time for her to leave the orphanage in Mumbai, her Srinath uncle had come to meet her and had told her about her biological parents for the first time. He had taken her to the nearby coffee shop to tell few things which he thought she must know. Deprived that she was of a normal life, that day after knowing about her real story, she had felt an excruciating pain within. “How unthinking and ruthless can human beings be!” She had thought to herself. She hated her parents even more from that day on.

Her Srinath uncle told her that her father was a Sinhalese who had come to study in Chennai from Srilanka under some cultural exchange program that was being carried out between Srilanka and the state of Tamil Nadu. Her mother was a Tamil Christian who was a student of the same university. Theirs’ was a whirlwind affair and that things were going fine until one day when her mother realized that she was carrying a baby. To get rid of this hurdle that came their way, they tried all means but unfortunately, the baby couldn’t get aborted as it was quite late by then. As a result of which Manorama was born.

“What good is this story to me uncle?” She had protested. “Why do you need to tell me these things now? Nobody wanted me, I was..I was a hurdle for them. If they had their way they would have thrown me in some garbage can.” She felt a lump in her throat; unable to speak she stood there sobbing tears of anger and misery.

Srinath said, “kanna (dear one), I had to tell you this. I know it’s of no consequence to you, but it was my duty to let you know.

“Mano, at that time, your parents were also very young when you were born. Your father was just 22.” Srinath tried to reason. “Your mother was 20. During their year-long university course, they had considered marriage, but with both families vehemently disapproving it, they thought it fit to leave it at that and focus rather on their studies, as they were very young, and none of them earned. Soon your father had to leave for his country.”

“And my mother thought it fit to throw me at some god forsaken orphanage and went along chasing her own dreams of making it big in life.” She fumed in disgust.

“Kanna, it’s not like what you are thinking today. We were all very young back then; we did not know what to do with a small little baby. Your mother was like sister to me. We lived in the same neighborhood. She requested me to help her out of that tough situation.” Srinath tried to placate her.

“And so you helped that heartless creature”, seethed Manorama.

“My child, whatever it is, she is your mother, she had given birth to you.” Srinath thought he would extricate some pity from her by saying this, but he had none.

“So what? Should I be grateful to her for giving birth to me and not killing me in her womb?” cried Manorama.

“Mano, I understand your rage. Your mother was a nice woman. I knew her too well. It is your father who couldn’t fulfill his commitment to her. What could a young girl do in such a situation? Society wasn’t so advanced then the way it is now. Anyway, what I wished to tell you was..” Srinath had paused for sometime, looked at Manorama as if seeking some sort of approval.

Manorama asked “What?”

“Your mother connected with me last week, she wants to meet you.” Srinath said it in one breath.

Mano lowered her face in deep thought, then looking at Srinath with a determined glance said “if she ever calls you again, please tell her, I don’t wish to see her face in this lifetime.” Saying this she walked out of the room.

Manorama is seated in her sofa. It’s been few minutes now. She felt as if her throat is drying up. She took the water bottle placed next to her and drank some water from it. The coolness of the water went down her throat and made her feel calmer by some degree. Her phone vibrated. She opened it to see the days’ WhatsApp messages all piled up together. One amongst them was from Srinath uncle. It was a ‘Goodmorning’ message. She quickly replied to it and kept the phone beside her.

She thought to herself, what she would have done without this man in her life. With both parents gone in their own pursuit, it was this man who had held her in his arms and gave meaning to her life.

That day, while speaking about her parents, Srinath uncle had told her that the day she was born, it was raining heavily like cats and dogs. “The night you were born it was pouring heavily. All shops were closed down that night. It was a tough night that your mother endured. I was tensed, what if I need to quickly go and bring something, where will I go? The whole city had come to a standstill due to the heavy downpour. I was really worried for you and your mother. But by god’s grace, it all went well that night, the storm was really off our heads and you were born a healthy child.”

He had told how upon holding her, he saw what a beauty she was! He had named her “Manorama” – the beautiful one. Manorama’s eyes welled up with tears thinking of him. How different can people be from each other, when she was abandoned by her own parents, who didn’t even look at her properly, this man had held her close to his bosom.

Manorama was handed over to Srinath Srinivasan, a young and promising social worker with a fresh MSW degree who had just started working for an orphanage back then. She had taken to him like a fish to water, or rather like a daughter to her father and he bestowed her with all the love that he could. But as destiny would have it, her days in Chennai came to a close after few years. The orphanage in Adyar, where she was growing up faced financial crunch. Staying there would have mean’t sacrifice on her studies and lower standards of living. So Srinath uncle came one day and with a heavy heart said that she has to shift to a Mumbai orphanage where he has a close friend who would take care of her. She had never wished to leave him and her familiar surroundings, but for the sake of good quality education and a decent environment, Manorama during her eighth grade left her dear Adyar Orphanage. She had cried that entire journey from Chennai to Mumbai in the train.

It was here that she had faced the most difficult days of her life. Coming from Chennai, initially she couldn’t understand or speak in Hindi, neither could she befriend anyone. She looked and behaved differently from other kids. Her long oily hair was mocked at, so was her inability to understand Hindi. She missed her Adyar orphanage a lot. Those familiar faces, the familiar banter with her friends, her morning coffee and pongal for breakfast, evening tea and appam in the canteen, her midnight cuppa, those fond Sundays when Srinath uncle took his orphanage children to Marina Beach, were all missing.

She would think of her life at Adyar and shed copious tears. Young that she was, she would curse her life like anything. Why does it happen to her every time? She had thought to herself. Before she could have a family, it was taken away from her, Srinath uncle came into her life like an angel but he too was snatched away, few friends that she had made were now far away from her. God, if there is one, had something special with her, she felt, for he had stored all the miseries in life solely for her.

But as they say, there’s no teacher better than life. Manorama slowly learnt the ropes. She had studied hard as that was the only way she could get away from every other misery that life threw upon her. She had scored very well in her Engineering entrance exam and got herself admitted to a renowned college in Pune.

Just when she had learnt to live life on her own terms, triumph over all kinds of vulnerability, live alone, starkly alone, an unprecedented turn of events led her life topsy-turvy. She became friends with Dilip in the second year of her college. Dilip was the first guy who she felt understood her from the core. They were friends initially, but later on, she realized that the long chats she was having was more than just friendship. She would long for those chats and on days when she missed them, she would feel terrible. Years passed, they got their engineering degrees and started working as well. Work life caught up big time with them but nothing could deter the strong bond that these two had developed. She needed Dilip in her life, there was no doubt about it, but how? His parents, conventional Maharastrian Brahmins would definitely not accept an orphan as their daughter-in-law. She knew this and therefore, she never broached the topic of marriage with him.

Manorama had faced a lot of upheavals in her life by now. But perhaps losing Dilip was unthinkable for her, at the same time, marriage was also a complex territory that she feared to tread. They would meet every day, spend the evening together and leave for their respective places, he to his home and she to her rented apartment. One day Dilip said “Mano, enough of going to each other’s place, when we are literally together all the time, I mean, C’mon, we are always in each other’s minds, I don’t see any reason why we should go to two different places.” Manorama kept staring at him. Dilip announced with a determined voice. “I have decided. We are getting married this month itself, in fact how about coming Sunday?”

That was it. They had married on the following Sunday. Dilip’s family was against this match, as expected, but they had to relent to his persistent requests and had come for the wedding that the two had organized. It was a modest lunch with friends and family at a restaurant post a court marriage at the Bandra High Court in Mumbai. From Manorama’s side, uncle Srinath had come from Chennai to give his blessings.

On her special day, Srinath had held her close and with utmost affection had said, “kanna, in the end, only three things matter in life, how much you loved, how gently you lived and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you. So don’t think about anything, just be happy. Kavalai Padathe (don’t worry).” Listening to these words from uncle Srinath, Manorama had felt small droplets of tears form around her eyes.

After coming back from their dreamy honeymoon in Bali, Manorama soon realized that misery is yet not over for her, she had more in store. A few days of living with her in-laws were enough for her to understand this. Her mother-in-law, apparently a sophisticated lady, would by some mean or the other, tell her how her son has brought a “rootless creature” to the house, someone who had no ‘jaat’ (lineage), nor any knowledge of her father. The latter pierced her insides more much than a knife possibly could.

These constant jibes took a toll on her mental health with each passing day. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Dilip decided one fine day that they shift to a building away from their present location, to stay away from daily bickering. So they did, much to the dismay of Dilip’s mother, who kept telling their neighbors how a ‘rootless’ girl separated her son from her. “How will she know what it is to stay together in a family?” she had screamed. Now that they were living separately, and met for weekly dinners, Manorama was never left at peace.

The taunts of her mother-in-law were so incisive that it left a deep impression in her mind, making her more resentful at her fate.

One night, she dragged Dilip out of his sleep and asked, “Dilip, you had told me that your mother is a very educated and a liberal lady. Why is it that she never loses any opportunity in reminding me that I am an orphan?” Her voice was choked with emotion.

“What happened Mano? Did she again say something to you?” Dilip said groggily.

“No, she didn’t say anything today, but she always has it in her mind. She wants to. I know.”

“She didn’t say anything right? Forget it.”

“Rootless, that’s what she called me ‘Rootless’. And you are saying that I forget it? How can I?”

“She didn’t mean it like that, I mean…”

Manorama interrupted him in between and asked “Do you also think that I am rootless? Tell me Dilip, I want to know.”

Dilip looked at her face, her eyes were raging, her lips quivered. Some deep agony was seething within her which she couldn’t express, but her face was tell-tale of the emotion flowing within. He dragged her close to himself and caressed her. “It doesn’t matter what I think or what anybody thinks Mano. Yes, but what you think does matter. What you think that is the question here. Now stop being so difficult and try to sleep”. Tears rolled down her cheeks, soaking his T-shirt.

Manorama lifted herself from the sofa of her living room, went towards the kitchen to make herself a cup of coffee. She took the coffee mug and walked towards her balcony.

From the balcony was visible the busy life outside. This city has always made her aware of her reality, even after marriage, she wasn’t spared the sympathetic look by a fellow neighbour or a distant relative of her husband. It wasn’t so in the Chennai of her childhood. Will Chennai now treat her the way Mumbai does? She ponders.

Manorama has been forever searching for some footing that she could call her ‘own’. She was abandoned as a child, but she always wished to have a baby of her own. Her search for her ‘own’ seems to have come to a close now. She sipped the coffee and felt a strange calm within. Her life will not be the same anymore, positive and only positive things will follow from now. These two pink lines in the pregnancy test are proof of it. She has found her a new foothold, a stronger one.

This child would be her ‘root’ that she was so badly searching for all her life. Not Dilip, neither his family, her root is inside her, growing everyday, bit by bit. She never had her parents, but her child will have her by its side always, through thick and thin, resolutely, unwaveringly. The mother in her will never fail the child. She could never be a part of anything, she was always the ‘outsider’, the ‘odd one out’. But now, this child is a part of her body, her soul, her existence. Will the child ever know how much she “belonged” to it?

A girl made tough by the cruelties of life, Manorama suddenly saw tears rolling down her cheeks. She doesn’t remember the last time she actually cried like this. She felt liberated, a girl who has been struggling to find her identity has realized it finally. She has found her Root now, a heart that’s throbbing within her, a soul that she is one with.

This story was originally published on Readomania.

KOI NO YOKAN

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Meera seated herself comfortably in the meeting room and saw Avinash for the first time sitting across the table. She had anticipated this situation many times in her mind while preparing for this interview, after all this was her first interview!

Avinash asked her to the first question, ‘So Meera, tell me something about yourself, your family etc. and also run me through your resume, if you can”. No sooner did he say that, Meera started speaking profusely, as if she was on a mission to seize that job, anyhow. Mission it was for her; after all, she had bagged this interview with ‘Digitos Media’, a renowned Media firm, for an intern’s position after many trials. This was her chance to prove her mettle, her way to impress and bedazzle. For every question, she shot back with double the energy and vigour.

He observed the zealous flapping of her eyelids, the vehement waving of her hands and an uninhibited spirit that wouldn’t rest a bit. Well, this was not the first time that Avinash Kumar was interviewing a girl, he had done that many times before. Being the Manager of the Marketing Department of Digits Media, infact he had seen and recruited many female candidates. Many of them had been well groomed by him too. But today was different from all other days, it felt special. Watching this girl and her nonchalant attitude, something inside him melted a bit. She was speaking much more than asked for and was also blabbering unnecessarily. On other occasions, Avinash might have felt annoyed and brought an end to the interview abruptly, but why was he not doing it today? This girl sitting infront of him, speaking in innocent frenzy, he thought to himself, ‘how simple she is, how very unassuming.’

Meera was speaking with confidence trying to convince the much tenured man sitting across her, a project that she must not fail in. Avinash that day had watched in amazement the sprouting energy of this girl, a breath of fresh air, he couldn’t manage to ignore.

That day itself, Meera was told by the HR that she has been selected, her joy knew no bounds.  She was appointed as an Intern for 6 months, reporting to Avinash.

That’s how they had met for the first time.

What magnet drew the two towards each other, they knew not. What followed were restless days and sleepless nights.

For Meera to fall for a dynamic person like Avinash, wasn’t a surprise. She was in awe of him and admired him deeply. She was told by her colleagues that she is extremely lucky to have got him as a Boss. When she asked why is it so, they would say, “why not, you get to spend so much time with him. He is such a charm! Girls swoon over Avinash Sir but he doesn’t talk to many girls, not much beyond work’.

Due to the fear of gossip mongers in office, their relationship remained clandestine to a large extend. But on weekends, the love birds knew no restrains, they would happily meet and spend the whole day together. On one such day, Avinash, curling Meera in his arms said,

“Have you heard of the phrase – Koi No Yokan?”

“What?” said Meera

“It’s a Japanese word”, said he

“Koi No…what?  What does it mean?” Meera saw Avinash turning a little thoughtful

“It means, a feeling that a person has upon seeing someone for the first time, you know, a sort of sense that he might fall for that person in the future.”

“Ok, love at first sight”, quipped Meera

“No sweetheart, that’s different. Koi No Yokan doesn’t mean ‘love at first sight’, it’s quite different from that, as it does not imply that the feeling of love exists, only the knowledge that a future love is inevitable.”

Meera nodded, looking at Avinash.

“The first time I saw you, I sensed there might be something to us. Did you not feel it?” asked Avinash

“Yeah, may be, I don’t remember exactly, I was too caught up with the whole tension of clearing my interview, koi no..Whatever that is, it was the last thing in my mind.”

Avinash laughed at this and looked at her with his eyes filled with love and affection. He kissed her on her forehead and felt an inner peace.

“What did I say for you to laugh?” said Meera.

“Well, you could have said that you fell in love instantly, but you being the beautiful soul that you are, didn’t do that to please me, you rather said the truth and this is what I like the most about you.”

“So basically, it’s me who felt the love not you. Hmmmmm. Now I get it!” chuckling within, Avinash was at his playful best.

Meera felt embarrassed and curled up in his arms again, vehemently denying his charges against her.

The sun was setting outside casting a crimson red hue across the sky. The trailing beam of the setting sun entered the room through the large window, where the two lovers away from the humdrum of life were exchanging sweet nothings. That day when they had met for the first time, did Avinash sense a prelude to an ensuing chapter yet to unfold? Can love really have a forewarning to itself or is it just a stroke of serendipity? Well, it is for the lovers to decide. As the room filled with their gay laughter, the ancient Japanese word almost echoed all around. Koi No Yokan – The premonition of Love.

This story was previously published in Juggernaut Books

Excellence of Ajanta & Ellora Caves

Ruins for me are the beginning. With the debris, you can construct new ideas. They are symbols of a beginning.”

-Anselm Kiefer

A visit to the world heritage site “Ajanta & Ellora caves” at Aurangabad, Maharashtra was truly a beginning for me. A beginning to a search that led to a lot of other interesting findings/thought processes, leaving me more inquisitive than ever.

History

Consisting of 30 rock cut caves, Ajanta was built over a period of 900 years (2 B.C to 6 A.D). Mammoth excavations were turned to fine carvings of exceptional Buddhist sculptures and what the Archaeological Survey of India states “the finest surviving examples of Indian art, particularly painting”. It is believed that Buddhism flourished at the time Ajanta caves were built and hence the caves built during the reign of different Buddhist rulers showcase various stories of the ‘enlightened one’ and selected portions of Jataka tales. The unique paintings on the cave walls, some of which has the modern day “3D” effect, makes one ponder in utter amazement at the vast knowledge of craftsmanship and artistry that their creators possessed thousands of years ago.

Ajanta - Buddha is Dhyana Mudra.jpg

 

Dazzling in its glory on having depicted marvelous sculptures from three different religions viz. the Buddhism, the Hinduism and the Jainism, the Ellora caves too is a spectacular piece of art.

Ellora - row of elephants

 

These sculptures also bring forth a lot of facets from the bygone era which are a real treasure and evoke lot of quest around them. For instance, the sculpture that shows Ravana, the king of Srilanka whisking away Sita in the so called “Puskpak Vimana”. Now this ‘pushpak vimana’ looks exactly like the present day ‘jetpack‘ in its features, size, etc. Did Ravana have a jet pack in those times and did he use the same which people back then knew about and we don’t? Well, I was so intrigued by this that I thoroughly searched the net and here’s what I found:

 

All the dexterously sculpted pieces of art had story in them. Did the artists of these caves know the real stories behind several myths, worn out versions of which are left for us today?

With so many small little pathways within the caves having dead ends and spots of ventilation (big holes on the ground) all across, could there have been an underground habitation also?

This was also something that caught my deep attention.

It’s said that many Muslim rulers including Aurangzeb had sent huge number of soldiers to destroy the sculptures of Ellora caves, trying as hard as they could, they could do little harm to certain structures, unable to make a dent on the rest.

If humans couldn’t destroy even half of what was built, were these structures created by humans at all? If yes, one can only imagine what would have been their built and stamina.

For so many years, Indians as well as foreigners have been exploring the caves in search of answers. Many of them keep coming to these caves repeatedly, each time discovering something new.

For me, I had sneaked out of the ‘maximum city’ with the desire to visit these exceptional creations, to bask in the glory of the past and unravel some historical stories. I did that and much more.

As one stands in awe at one of the ancient hallmarks of artistic excellence, under the clear blue sky of Aurangabad, few questions remain unanswered. Now I know why so many travellers visit this National heritage site multiple times. I wish to go back again soon to find out more.

 

This post was originally published Here

Smita Patil – An actress who lived through her role and how!

Smita Patil and her cinematic genius in Mahesh Bhatt’s Arth (1982)

Touted as one of the finest actresses of the film industry, the two-time National Award winner and recipient of the Padma Shri, Smita Patil would have been 62 today, had she been alive.

Though she has given life to many characters (of a courtesan, wife of a peasant, working middle-class woman, so on and so forth), it wont be too wrong to say that her portrayal of the fiery yet emotionally volatile and extremely vulnerable Kavita Sanyal in Mahesh Bhatt’s Arth is the most riveting of all.

Only when an actor is completely self-assured of the depth of her craft, does she take on the dreaded role of ‘the other woman’, the home-breaker. Smita took on the challenge—and how!

In a society where extra-marital affairs are social scars and considered lowly and decadent, playing a role that would only garner public hatred must have been tough for her, more so when the role was unapologetically autobiographic in nature.

(Arth was the real life story of Mahesh Bhatt’s tumultuous affair with the schizophrenic Parveen Babi.)

Mahesh Bhatt claims: “She was always my original choice. There was never any hesitation in casting for the film the way it was originally conceived. There was a kind of electricity that was hardwired in her. It made her ideal to play that part which required a psychotic woman on the edge. The references could not be rooted from other movies, but it was from my own life. I had lived with a woman like this and Smita came close to a woman on the edge. Living a life of uncertainty, probing, but not finding answers, or enduring love. Immersed in the business of entertainment, of appearances, the dichotomy between appearance and reality, it was the defining aspect of her personality that was visible. It was there in Smita’s appearance that flaunted her achievements in the seminars attended by the who’s who. In private, she was the same woman who mined the uncertainties that many women face – that being the essence of Arth. This was what made her so right for the role.”

For all the tremendous helplessness depicted by Shabana as the wronged and betrayed wife, rooting for immense public empathy, Smita’s Kavita Sanyal takes her audience to a complete roller coaster ride of complex emotions.

She is furious at the inability to possess Inder entirely (Kulbhushan Kharbanda); she is mollified the next moment with the guilt of separating him from his wife, vulnerable yet tough at the face (a disguise hiding the anxiety within). She is this moment happy and that moment in grips of fear of losing Inder to his wife. This woman, the audience loathes for being the home breaker, and also pities her for being the miserable loser.

How did she depict the anxiety, vulnerability and recklessness (a characteristic of the tormented mind) of the ‘other woman’ so impeccably on screen?  Was it possibly because she too was going through the drudgery and turmoil, that’s so much a part of being the “other woman” in her personal life?

 

Bhatt summarizes: “Why she became so extraordinary in Arth was because she was living that life simultaneously. She would come looking tired in the morning and sort of relive the aftershocks of private misery… then she would get into the cinematic space and exhale the essence of what was captured in those scenes. You could not leave an impact like that without being there. She was in that space.”
This post was previously published Here

 

Padmaavat: A movie that could have well been named “Khilji”

Ok, first things first!
Did Padmaavat disgrace Rajputs or belittle their valour? No. In fact, the movie overdid their valorization. Did the film show any dream sequence between Padmavati and Alauddin Khilji?
No way, they do not have any scene together. Was the film worth all this hype and hoopla? Absolutely not.

 

The movie starts with a great deal of disclaimers, almost carefully putting across the fact that the film in no way wishes to go through any further hurdles, now that it has finally made its way to its audience. We are taken to 13th century Afghanistan where Jalaluddin khilji (Raza Murad), Alauddin Khilji’s uncle is the king who wishes to conquer the Delhi “Takqt” (throne). This sort of sets the tone as the audience now anticipates the entry of Alauddin Khilji who would attack and seize the ‘Takqt’ ultimately.
Being a Sanjay Leela Bhansali epic drama, all the main characters in the film are given dramatic entries. We get to see the young Alauddin enter with a chained Ostrich to impress his uncle who had asked for a mere feather of the bird. These early idiosyncrasies develop the character in the film which goes on to thrive gradually over the span of the film and completely overshadow the two other leads – Deepika Padukone (Rani Padmini) and Shahid Kapoor (Raja Rawal Ratan Singh).
Actors have played villains in the past, this isn’t the first time; however the ravenous appetite with which Ranveer Singh demonstrates Alauddin Khilji is totally unmatchable. Early in the film, Khilji declares “har nayab cheez par Allauddin ka haq hai.” His character thereafter draws from this very basic instinct of owning everything which is ‘nayab’ (exquisite) which eventually includes Rani Padmini also. Bhansali, as is expected of him, crafts each frame beautifully. Everything in the film barring few awkward computer graphics is ‘nayab’.
The rest of the story we all know. A distressed priest cum soothsayer from Chittor after being banished by Ratan Singh (at the behest of Rani Padmini) for his misconduct, comes to Khilji and tells him that he must possess Rani Padmavati as she is one of the most exquisite ‘thing’ to have and that his own fortunes will turn for the best once he acquires her. Khilji then starts his journey towards Chittor, wrongfully captures the king. This is followed by Rani Padmini bringing the king back with the aid of valiant Rajput warriors who enter the Delhi palace disguised as Padmini’s maids.
Deepika Padukone as Rani Padmavati in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat
Alauddin again wages war and wrongfully gets Ratan Singh killed. I don’t know how much has been deleted, reworked or over-improvised after the whole Karni Sena threats and other polarizations, but the film, on its own seems very drab. With no twists and turns (as we more or less know the story), it was the treatment that could have revived the rather known plot. And the treatment is very disappointing. The film talks too much about Rajput valour, ‘usool’, and their ‘aan baan shaan’. Dialogues like ‘even after being beheaded he who continues to fight is a Rajput’ mouthed by Ratan Singh reiterates the same thing again and again. Same for Deepika’s character, ‘Dar ka gehna Padmavati ne kabhi pehena hi nahi’ or ‘Rajputi kangan me utneehi shakti hai jitni ki Rajputi talwaar me” doesn’t create much effect. Added to this is the fact that other than the song “ghoomar” whose online release created quite a rage, all the others are totally forgettable. This is a total put off as usually a Bhansali film is also known for its music.
Deepika is resplendent as the beautiful Padmavati and looks like a painting in every single frame. Shahid Kapoor plays his part well, with elan and composure, as is wont in a Rajput king. But beyond this there wasn’t much for these two characters to offer. The one who towers all along is Ranveer Singh. He seizes every scene with ghastly might and breathes life into Alauddin Khilji. Much like his character onscreen who wants to be to be mentioned prominently in history (in one scene Khilji is shown tearing away papers of written history where his name isn’t mentioned), Ranveer Singh too is the only actor who one shines through. Perhaps this is also a character that has multiple shades, Khilji is manipulative (he emotionally manipulates his army men when their morale hits a low due to a prolonged non- combative period), he is bisexual and has a loyal partner in his slave Malik kafur (Gora singh, the Senapati of Ratan singh while introducing Kafur says, ‘unki biwi hi samjhiye’); he is definitely eccentric in multiple ways, he is wild, fearless but also careful when needed (exchanges plates with the Raja when offered food, in the fear that his plate might have poison in it).
Shahid Kapoor as Rawal Ratan Singh in Padmaavat
Aditi Rao Hydari as Khilji’s wife Mehrunnisa plays her part well, so does Raza Murad as his uncle. Also the act of Jauhar in the end is shot really well and does create some emotional appeal after a long drab film. One gets to see the whole trajectory of Padmavati from being a Singhal princess to becoming a godlike figure for her ultimate sacrifice. However, with Khilji being the best written character, others had little charm.
For me, this was an out-an-out Ranveer Singh game and full marks to him for saving the film from being a very boring one. This film might have well been named ‘Khilji’.
This post was originally published Here.

THE LAST PROMISE

last promise

 

The Lahiri house at Ashok Nagar Road is all decked up. With lighting arrangements all around the big three storied house, the building is a sight to behold for passersby today. The Lahiris’ are two brothers who live in the same house and have been in the transport business since many generations. Day by day this city of Kolkata is slowly losing out on such Joint family system of living. The elder brother has a daughter Sumona and the younger brother has a son Shoumik. A well known family in the area, they are also the highest contributor monetary wise for the local Sarvojanik Durga Puja. It is the wedding of their only daughter Sumona today. With the who’s who in the invitation list, the wedding is quite a big affair.

Sumona, the only daughter of Shushobhan Lahiri is clad in a rich red Banarasi saree adorned with gold and diamond jewellery from top to bottom. Her childhood friend Snigdha, Rinku for all, is doing all her chores. The parlour lady, Rakhi aunty as she is better known has readied Sumona for her big day, right from the make-up to the draping of the Saree to her hair-do, she did it all. After 3 long hours of arduous styling of the bride, she just left a while back for her place to freshen up, she will come back again an hour later. Before leaving she kindly held Sumona’s chin and said “I have decorated so many brides so far but today I am the happiest with my own work. You look so resplendent Sumona. Our Jamai (son-in-law) Ajit is very lucky indeed. Isn’t it Rinku? She gave a jestful laugh and left the room.

Sumona gave a dry smile to it, Rinku nodded to Rakhi aunty, she was too busy putting everything together. The hair pins that were lying over the bed, the safety pins, so many of them that weren’t used, few beads of artificial pearl lying here and there and also the petals of Rajani gandha flower that was used for her hair-do, the bed looked like one that has been robbed of all the essentials, leaving mere shreds of the robbed behind.

“What a mess this bed has become, Rakhi aunty did her job and vanished. Now who will clean this? Kakima (aunt) told me to be with you and do the chores for you, as you are the maharani today, otherwise I would have never done this heck of a cleaning job. Uff, this gold ring over here. Are you wearing it or not?” Rinku held the large ring in front of Sumona’s face and asked.

“Oh Yes, give me that. I should wear it.” Said Sumona.

“Is it not your engagement ring Sumon? This is the ring you got from Ajit da’s family right? And you forgot to wear it?”

Sumona was unapologetic. She took the ring from Rinku’s hand and placed it on her fingers. Her eyes went back to a seeming blankness.

“Maharani, don’t forget such things from now on. Our Ajit da’s heart will be broken otherwise. Where will he go with his broken heart then?” Sumona laughed and went back to doing her chores.

The guests had started coming by now. It’s 7.30 pm. From the bedroom window Sumona could only see their open veranda where the ‘puja mandap’ had been created for the wedding rituals.

Leelabati, her mother rushed into the room.

“Sumon, maa, are you ready? The Bor Jaatri (groom’s family) will arrive anytime now. They just informed that they have crossed the Bypass road. Rinku, take care of Sumon. I will come again. She rushed out of the room the way she had rushed in”.

The clock said 8 pm now. Sumona was becoming a little anxious. She looked at Rinku and said softly “Rinku, O Rinku, come near me, come a little closer.”

Rinku looked at her with a mischievous smile and said “Don’t say all that to me now. Reserve it for Ajit da ” and went back to her work.

“Rinku, I am not joking, please come closer, I can’t shout. Please Rinku.” She pleaded this time with a strange urge in her voice.

Rinku came closer to Sumona, who was seated on a sofa and said “Yes Maharani, tell me.”

Sumona pulled her down by her hands, seated her on the sofa and with vulnerable eyes asked her “Did he come?”

“Girl, if he comes, all of us will get to know. It is the Bor Jaatri, not some mere guest, what question are you asking? Ok, you cannot wait even these few minutes now. It happens my lady. Wait, he will come soon.” She smiled and hugged Sumona.

When Rinku looked up at Sumona’s face, it was all welled up.

“What happened Sumon? these tears, I mean..what happened?”

Sumona held onto Rinku and asked again.

“Tell me Rinku, did he come, please go and see. Please Rinku.”

Rinku understood now. She is this one friend who has known Sumona since her childhood and has always been a source of comfort and support for her.

Rinku softened her voice, held her dearest friend close to herself and said “You silly girl, which man ever comes to see his girlfriend getting married to someone else? He has not come. Pratap da will not come.”

Sumona burst into tears now. “How can you say that? Since the past 3 hours you are here. I had texted him last night and asked him to come today. I had requested him and he had replied saying he will come. Please go and check Rinku”. Sumona swiped her iPhone and showed her the message that Pratap had written to her. There were just two words in response to a long emotional rant sent by Sumona. The two words were. “I will.”

“Sumon, he never kept any promise so far and you believe that he will keep this one? To come and see you on this day? Ajit da and his family will reach anytime now. Is this the time to speak about all this? You will enter a new phase of your life today. Why can’t you just forget that chapter Sumon. It’s over, it’s past.”

“It’s not over, I requested him to come today, my heart says he will come. If he ever loved me, he will, and..and if he never loved me, then..”

She couldn’t speak anymore, her voice was choked with pent up emotions of all these months.

One a fine Sunday morning Ajit Adhikary had come to their house with his family and over tea and samosas, her wedding was fixed. Ajit and Sumona are not strangers altogether, they are friends in Facebook and are connected in WhatsApp, so one can say that they know each other.

Rinku quickly rubbed the tears from her face with face wiper and started putting the make up in patches below her eyes.

She put the kajal properly again over her large dreamy eyes, as it had gotten a little smudged and muttered, “Kaku (uncle) and Kakima (aunt) somehow pulled you out of that rogue of a guy, made this wonderful match for you, the groom is almost at the doorstep and all you can think of is that guy who didn’t even turn up infront of your father when he was asked to meet him. Someone who blissfully left you, you are shedding tears for him? A coward.”

“Rinku, you dare not speak about him like that. Pratap couldn’t come that day as he couldn’t fulfill Baba’s wishes. Baba wanted a well salaried person for his daughter or a match with a wealthy business family. In this aristocratic Lahiri family, nobody has ever asked what their daughters’ want.”

“So? to rebel against this Lahiri family, which gave you everything, right from your privileged upbringing to your identity; you were planning amateurishly to elope with him? Thank God Harish Kaka saw you both at the bus stand. And where would you have gone after eloping, did you even think about that? Look Sumon, I have no problem with you going away, but whom did you chose? A person who couldn’t stand up to the responsibility of marriage? Oh come on Sumon, I bet, if you had ultimately married him, you would have come back to this same house that you are loathing today in one month’s time. That which seems enticing, isn’t necessarily exciting.

Rinku stressed on the last sentence while trying to drill into her brains that what she is upto is a fool’s game.

“Don’t behave crazy Sumon. Not every girl get parents like you have. Despite everything, they asked Pratap da to come and meet them. Which he didn’t. Am sorry, for the first time, I feel Kaku Kakima has done a great job at finding someone like Ajit da for you. He is a very nice person. Seems to be besotted by you. Writes such romantic texts to you. Does all that mean nothing to you?”

“I have no interest in who writes me what text. I will not allow that man to touch me even one bit.”

Rinku was about to retort when Sudha Pishi, Sumona’s paternal aunt barged in with a ear to ear smile. She clasped Sumona by her shoulders and gushed “Bor eshe geche!! (The groom has arrived). Sumon, come come, everyone is asking for you.” She looked at Sumona with admiration for a moment and said, “No wonder Rakhi took so much time, you are looking a million bucks today!”

Rinku said “Oh is it? Our Maharani has been waiting forever for this moment. Finally he has arrived. You go Pishi, I will bring her just now.”

The wedding took place quite graciously. All guests were happy with the food and return gifts that they received from the family.

The following day morning, Sumona left her father’s house for her in-laws place. Her mother Leelabati cried a lot, so did her aunts, her father and uncle shed a tear or two as well, but Sumona had a stoic face all through. Neither did she cry, not did she smile. With Rinku for company, she left with Ajit and his friend Mrinal in their BMW.

“So Snigdha, your friend isn’t talking to me much. What should I do to make her talk to me? Any tips from the bestie?” Ajit tried to break open a conversation with Sumona.

“Are Ajit da, don’t worry, she is a little nervous now. She has been thinking about you throughout the last couple of days, now that she is suddenly with you, she can’t handle it all”. Isn’t it Sumon?” Rinku smiled at Ajit and nudged Sumona with her ankle. Sumona was quiet as usual and gave a wry smile to her.

The car moved with greater speed now, it was crossing a highway. Few more minutes of uncomfortable silence followed. Ajit’s friend Mrinal seated on the front spoke, trying to begin a conversation again. He turned back at Sumona and said, “Sumona Boudi (sister-in-law), I don’t know about Snigdha, but my dear friend has not spoken to me about anything other than you since the past 5 months now. Whichever girl he is seeing on the road, he is feeling as if it’s you. I am having a tough time you see, controlling him.” Saying this Mrinal laughed out loud.

“You rascal, that’s clear exaggeration. It’s nothing like that.” Ajit was thoroughly embarrassed.

Rinku quipped “Is it Ajit da? Then it’s really dangerous that way. Imagine you seeing a girl and feeling it’s our Sumon. Hahaha, what would happen then to that girl?” Mrinal and Rinku laughed out loud. Sumona was her quiet self. Ajit the one being bullied right now was red with shame. He gave a nasty look at his friend, which furthered their laughter.

They reached their destination, Ajit’s house at Rath tala lane, Basanti Nagar. The modest four storied house was bubbling with relatives and festive frenzy now. All the ladies of the house came out with their thalis with sweets and sindoor for “Badhu Baran” ceremony. Children of the house came rushing to the main gate as soon as the car arrived. Everybody came there to get a glimpse of the “new bride”.

The bride was taken inside and seated on a mandap that was made for this ceremony. Making way for herself and three other women, Ajit’s mother, Sumona’s now mother-in-law, Kalpana Adhikary welcomed the new bride. Kalpana took two betel leaves in each hand and did the customary ritual of encircling the bride’s face with the leaf a couple of times to ward off the evil eyes, thereby auguring good times ahead. What followed post that was an elaborate interactive session with all the aunts and uncles happily introducing themselves to the new bride.

The new bride then was taken to “her room”. Rinku accompanied her and so did all other relatives. Kalpana came in after sometime and asked the little children to leave the room, to let their Boudi (sister-in-law) rest a bit. She came closer to Sumona and said, “Sumona, this is your room, your and Ajit’s room. This is your house from today, never feel that you have left your parents. We are also your parents from now maa, you are our daughter. Take a little rest now as there are some rituals in the evening. In the night, your friend and you would be sleeping in this room, Ajit will go over to his friends house. You know na, today is “kaal Ratri”, if the bride and groom meet each other tonight, it’s doesn’t augur well for them. Snigdha, take care of her. She is not just your friend now, she is also our daughter”. She put her hand lovingly over Sumona’s shoulders and looked at her affectionately. Saying so, she left the room.

The room was emptied of relatives now. Ajit came in and asked if Sumona is comfortable to which she nodded. He kept standing in the room fishing for words, in the hope of Sumona saying something more, but once again Rinku came to the rescue. She promptly said, “Ajit da, I understand your dilemma, but you have to wait this one more day. Today is kaal Raatri. Come tomorrow, there will be no one between both of you, not even me, Sumona will be all yours.” Ajit felt embarrassed and was trying to say something when Sumona announced, “Rinku, I want to take some rest now, am very tired.”

An awkward silence fell upon them. Ajit quickly said something and left.

An awkward silence fell upon them. Ajit quickly said something and left.

Rinku turned at Sumona, her eyes raging now, “Ms. Sumona Lahiri, what do you think you just did now?”

Sumona turned her face away from Rinku and started moving towards the bed. Rinku quickly grabbed her arms and continued.

“You didn’t speak a word in the car. I had to manage it all, it was such an uncouth behaviour to begin with. He is your husband now for God’s sake. Such a nice guy, poor thing, he likes you so much, can’t you see any of it?”

Sumona was getting annoyed by her friend now. Rinku continued “That Pratap, never kept even one promise, tell me if he did. He promised that he will get a job. He left that job within two months. He promised that he would take you to meet his mother, never did that either. Now that he has moved out of your life himself, why are you still stuck with him Sumon? Why are you inflicting this pain on yourself?”

Sumona had already started shedding her pitiful tears by now. Rinku seated her on the bed, hugged her tight and said, “I am sorry I shouted at you Sumon, I mean I really didn’t mean to. The way you are behaving with Ajit da, it’s really unacceptable. I know you are missing Pratap but…”

“You don’t know Rinku, you will never know. Only we know how much we loved each other. It is my fate that I didn’t get him in this life. I will always love him; all my life I will love him and only him. I cannot love anyone else Rinku.” Sumona spoke between her copious tears.

“Sweetheart, life is too long and nothing is permanent. You don’t have to stop loving him but slowly, you will learn to love Ajit da too. The new love will replace the old one and gradually will leave no place for the older one anymore. Mark my words. The love you have for someone today, you will get it back someday, it might not be from that same person, but you will get it back for sure. Love doesn’t go in waste!

 

Next day morning was the “bou-bhat” (bride’s rice cooking ceremony). Sumona diligently offered in each family member’s plate rice, fries, fish curry, mixed vegetable, dal and chutney. The first meal by the new bride of the house was lapped up by everyone.

It was evening time now, everybody got busy in readying themselves. Today is the reception from the guy’s family. Women of the house were simultaneously indulging in all kinds of gold jewellery and flashy Benarasi silks, everyone wanted to look their best. The lady from the parlour was here to make Sumona, the daughter-in-law of the house, ready for her reception evening.

Ajit was busy with his friends when his father called him up and said that there had been a miscalculation regarding the number of sweets and now they have a deficit. Ajit was worried. From where would they get so many sweets now and that too at such a short notice? His father said that a young man has volunteered to get the delivery of the extra sweets. “He is a friend of Haradhon, our sweet dealer. He just called and said that he will come and deliver the rest of the sweets. Nothing to worry, I just wanted to inform you.” said Mr. Adhikary.

“Is Bou-maa (daughter-in-law) feeling comfortable in our house?” He asked Ajit.

“Yes baba. She seems to be ok so far and anyway, she has just left her parents home, must be missing them. It’s our responsibility to make her feel at home and feel loved in this house.” Said Ajit.

“Absolutely Ajit. You just said what I was thinking about”. Said his father.

The parlour lady left few minutes back. Things are moving so fast for Sumona, it felt like dejavu. Was it not a few hours ago that she wore another such Benarasi saree and was all decked up for another event? In her head, it’s all a mist, nothing is clear. What is happening, what is not, she doesn’t know, doesn’t even wish to know”.

Rinku came near her and said, “Sumon, I will have to leave today. Your parents are coming here in the evening, I am leaving with them.” Her voice choked up. This was the friend with whom she was always there like a shadow right from her childhood. And now she has to leave a piece of her heart, her dearest friend all alone in her in-laws’ house.

“But don’t worry” she quipped, “it’s just about 2 more days my dear. Day after tomorrow is Sunday, I will come to meet you. So cheer up! I don’t want those tears anymore”. She struggled a smile through her emotions while wiping tears off Sumona’s face.

Guests had started coming in by now. Sumona’s family members came. Her parents were delighted to see her, specially her father Sushobhan Lahiri. Looking at the way his daughter was being treated, he was assured that he made a good decision of selecting Ajit for her.

Sumona and Ajit were now seated on the main podium where guests kept coming with big gifts in their hands. Who are these people who Ajit is so lively chatting with? She had no idea. All were unknown faces for Sumona.

Rinku was standing beside Sumona’s chair, collecting gifts when her eyes fell upon someone familiar coming from far. She clasped Sumona’s arm immediately. Sumona twitched in pain and shrieked.

Sumona stood up as this man kept approaching the podium. She held her breath firmly till he reached the podium. Ajit shook hands with the guy and introducing him said, “Sumona, meet Pratap, he has been really helpful for us today. Had it not been for him, we would have been in deep trouble. He volunteered to get the deficit sweets from our sweet dealer Haradhon.” Looking at Pratap he said, “Pratap my friend, please don’t go without eating tonight. You have been a real help.”

Ajit stepped down from the podium to welcome his some of his friends. The stage was suddenly empty with only three people, Sumona, Pratap & Rinku.

Pratap handed over a gift that he was carrying to Rinku. “This isn’t something very expensive, still I thought I should not go empty-handed to your wedding reception. I hope you will like it. I could not keep any of my promises Sumon, but I had to keep this one, the last promise that I had made to you. Stay happy.”

Pratap left the stage with such a suddenness that the effect of it could be felt only minutes later. Sumona kept staring at this known figure slowly drifting away from her vision. He kept the last promise that he had made to her. She felt strangely happy now.

 

This story was previously published in Juggernaut Books.