human

Going Mental(ist) – Errors in Storytelling Today

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One of my guilty pleasures is watching sitcoms on binge. The latest show that I watched on binge and even used Google to end my misery at times was The Mentalist (yes, yes, I am quite late to jump on the bandwagon but, better late than never right?)

While there are many tangents that I can go to in terms of what I loved as well as hated about the show, I will pick up on one broad trend that is a reality for media in most places. Sitcoms even in the Indian industry (can speak for Hindi shows alone since I haven’t watched any other Indian shows in other Indian languages), are the ordinary citizen’s access to a world far away from her daily reality. From TV sets in common rooms to Netflix and the likes on one’s bed, media as entertainment has access to the most private corners of one’s existence. Of course there is the business side to it as well that deems producing things that aren’t just liked but, also accepted by the viewers. It is crazy how the virtual production of the Game of Thrones made ‘winter is coming’ as a mark of cool and awe-inspiring minds.

What I have thought about time and again however, is the need to balance economic orientation behind soaps with creating things that add a new value to the viewers’ minds, makes them question and think. Media and storytelling has that immense power.

With such an orientation however, when one watches an acclaimed show and sees it fall flat on its face, it feels sad. Web series are definitely changing the way things go but, the downside of the trend yet again is the surge of multiple channels owned by a few big business houses that own the TV channels spreading mediocrity.

Why I am ranting about media here is to note one point that has come to mind time and again whether watching an Indian web series or reading a comic or watching The Mentalist. My basic issue is with all of it, especially the series in question, is the reaffirmation of stereotypes that deepen a sense of bias against people. This is a very subtle form of bias that exists in the modern world. One has opinions based on one’s race, class, sex and appearance…the least that storytelling can do, is to break through those typical narratives forcing the viewer to look beyond hearsay. Another classic fallacy in Western storytelling is building everything around one male protagonist (usually white) who is wronged by another man and with the help of a secondary female character who nurses his hurt ego and teaches him vulnerability after he disses her all through the plot, he gets justice and stands taller with his arm around the woman’s waist looking straight ahead. Remember Harvey Specter and Christian Grey? The typical protagonists?

While the entire plot line and appearance of the show is clean, minus heavy words displaying hyper-masculinity and full of humour and love. The characters are all shown to possess their own pasts and like all of us are products of their environments who have evolved a lot with time. All of this is what makes this show very likeable. However, as the series progresses, slowly all the mature writing falls through the cracks. Lisbon then becomes the female cop who was no nonsense and super professional not because she is good at her work and prefers to keep things that way. Rather, she was so because her dark past made her display a tough exterior to protect herself until love comes knocking. The same love that makes her throw away everything that she defined herself by and reduce her existence to anonymity. Jane is a funny, con man turned righteous hero who spends all his energies trying to salvage the murders of his family caused due to his irresponsibility. From the hurt and grief stricken man looking to avenge his loss, he slowly becomes the egoistic narcissist ought to display a sense of superiority especially against the woman he loves, without any care when the same woman loses everything in order to help him. Their story is the typical story, only with a little addition of Lisbon’s past. On the side are 3 more characters – Rigsby (tall, athletic, dumb white male aka jock in the dictionary of stereotypes), Cho (short, pokerface Asian guy with the focus of a horse with blinders because you know, he’s Korean with a gang past) and Van Pelt (red head with the perfect body that is objectified immensely, also a farm girl with the belief in horses, unicorns (not really) and rainbows, she is shown all business unless of course, love grabs her heart).

I would end with just one thought – while adding a background story to the lives of the characters does add a more humane touch giving life to these stereotypes, it still reaffirms every bit of it keeping narratives stale and predictable. Stories, while of course need to be a sort of business to sustain storytellers, are however, more powerful that dumbing down generations by affirmation of stereotypes. They can change the destiny of the world, if only, a little more courage is shown in telling them.

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Wajood

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I realise that as a writer I enjoy poetry the most. It’s simple, variable in the readers’ interpretation and spontaneous. So today’s poem is a Hindi / Urdu one which came to me one morning when I just could not sleep. There were just too many thoughts whirring in my brain and I had to write.

I usually do not like explaining the thought behind a poem because I feel it takes away the possibility of differing opinions and perceptions but, this ones different. This one, is about unrequited love or infatuation. Inspired by a sticky situation that a friend has been in off late and from many stories of unrequited love / feelings (maybe, including mine!), I can safely say that love is indeed a beautiful feeling / emotion, especially romantic love. However, love isn’t forced or that, it does not chain one’s heart. From what I understand now that those Bollywood flicks or old school poems were trying to convey, love is a free emotion and can be felt by anyone for anyone or thing, something that makes you become better – though love for things is greater these days! Won’t kill the read now and will stop here. Read on!


Sketch in black Indian ink on ruled paper

Hindi / Urdu

Kaun tha tu?

Kahan hai tu?

Kaun thi woh, jo padhi tere pyaar mein?

Itni besudh hui tere ishq mein

Ki bhool gayi thi apna wajood main.

Jise ishq samjha tha 

Woh to nadaani samjhi tune.

Ik pal mein mera jahan ban gaya tha tu

Arey haan! Thi to bilkul nadaan hi main.

Par tu to samajhdaar tha? 

Tujhe nahi dikh raha tha?

Kyun behlaya tune mujhe fir?

Kyun nahi apna asli chehra dikhlaya?

Khair, aaj mujhe tujhse nahi hai kuch gila 

Na ki thi tab bhi maine koi shiqayat.

Jis pal tune mere jazbaat ko nakara tha 

Jis pal tune apne banaye sach ko jhutlaya tha

Us pal hi maine apna wajood wapis paaya tha

Shayad us samay tabhi mere muh se sivay hasi ke kuch nahi nikla tha.

Mere mann me chhayi ik ajeeb si shanti thi

Jaise bahut ghane toofan ke beech ek chuppi 

Dabe paon meethe meethe sannate mein mujhe gholi ja rahi ho

Jaise ki wo sab aur kuch nahi has ek sapna tha

Aur ab main jag gayi hun.


English Translation 

Who were you?

Where are you?

Who was she, the one who fell for you?

Was so lost in your love 

That I had lost my self.

What I thought was love

You took it to be silly infatuation.

In a moment, you had become my world.

Oh yes, I was indeed silly.

But, weren’t you wiser?

Could you not see?

Why did you lead me on then?

Why couldn’t you say the truth?

I have nothing against you anyway, now.

Nor did I complain then.


The moment you denied my feelings

The moment you broke the truth that you had built

That moment itself, I found my self again.

Maybe that’s why in that moment, all I could respond with was a smile.


There was a strange sort of peace in my heart

As if in the midst of a terrible storm, a silence had

Creeped up and stirred up sweet silence in my heart, in my being.

As if all of it was a dream

And I am awake now.

Little

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Inktober 2016 day 22’s prompt was little. Like always, an image is formed in the mind and this time it was the pinky finger, the little finger. Why I did not draw that is because not only the time spent on it would be too short but, more importantly, the intention with Inktober is to push the wheels of my brain a little to resonate within the mind, what each prompt would mean.

I started off with the traces of a discussion I had had with a friend of mine. We spoke of how the grandness of nature, Athirapally in particular here, makes one feel so insignificant, so little that all one feels is the power of nature and surrenders to it. The last time I had felt like that was when spending time in the Himalayan mountains. The image that flashed in the head was that of the grandness of the snow clad peaks where everything else seemed too small, too little to think about.

But, it has been some time that I have gone back to those places of wonder and sitting afar in this part of the country all that comes to mind when thinking about it is the LOC, the attacks, terrorism, fear, crisis and war. I had, as a kid, honestly assumed that post the second world war, there would be no war at all. I know that was naive and we can safely say that peace and harmony are far away for a LOT of our “brothers and sisters”. I remember in the innocence of childhood when we would sing the national anthem and read about Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Tagore and Bose, I would be in awe of these figures who contributed to the nationalist movement back in time. But, the reason that I was in awe of them all was not for defending a certain bordered geography against another country. No, that was never it. I respected, honoured and treasured what I read about them, these heroes and heroines, because of their courage to stand up against inhuman treatments meted out to people of this land who were being tortured and made to feel less human owing to their colour and race. These people stood up for their people who were suffering due to racism. If you look at it objectively, like now back then too, the reason for those acts of cruelty were economic and political power and the subsequent tussle.

But, I wonder today, what is this power that still does not seem to let peace prevail in this land. I am an Indian and I see it just as a part of my identity. When I see fellow Indians walking on the streets, I do not think of them as Bengalis or South Indians or Punjabis – honestly, I am pathetic at guessing people’s “native” and also their age – but, I see them just as Indians. So, what is nationalism today? Why is it being looked at as a necessary “Hindu pride” and why is it also being looked at as “something I don’t wish to associate with” on the other hand? Isn’t Indian pride about not being divided based on principles and beliefs and just accepting the differences? When songs of Indian past and pride on it are sung, why do we forget that all nationalist movement happened to defend humanity and not anyone’s ego or greed?

I think I will leave this unfinished at this point and share the poem that I wrote for this doodle:

Little by little

I see it change, this land 

that I call my home.

Little by little,

the snow melts, not into

waters gleaming but, pools of red.

Little by little,

the cracks in doors 

shut in my face as I peer in to say hello.

Little by little,

the cracks in my heart

widen as smiles grow taut.

 

Culture 

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 Lalbaug cha Raja, Mumbai, 2014.

What is religion and what is culture? Our understanding and opinion of the same is changing everyday and will continue to do so as time passes. As I write this today, I am witnessing, for the third time, the phenomenon of Ganapati in Mumbai, India. Anyone who has grown up in the country and watched a little bit of Bollywood would know the importance and charm that the festival of Ganapati’s birth (marked by Ganesh Chaturthi) and eventual immersion holds. Having lived in two other parts and three other cities of the country, I can say that there is no other place in the country that celebrates the festival with such oomph.

Before moving here and watching a Bollywood flick called Agneepath roughly four years back, I remember making a mental note to be in the city during Ganapati at least once in my life. Lo and behold, it has become three but, now during the third time the charm seems to be slowly wearing off. I am trying to retrieve it from the recesses of my heart hoping that it might be hidden somewhere underneath the pressures of daily life but, all I see is a momentary thump and tap on the beats of the drums and songs followed by a swift running away with hands on my ears the very next minute.

“Have I become and intolerant waysider?”, I ask myself, scared of receiving an answer in the affirmative.

But, the answer comes in an elaborate questioning of culture and religion and the precarious religious influence on culture. This time around the pandal of Ganesha statues was right next to the building where I stay. Since I am on the first floor, sight and sound came with full intensity. At the start of the festival, what started off as excitement of the upcoming festival turned into a daily nightmare. When done with the day’s work, I longed to be home but, also resented being home since the productive hours of the evening and night would go into dealing with thumping bass from DJ sets, loud breathless singing of aartis, and then even louder music.

Disclaimer – I have lived near Parel before this, close to the home of Siddhivinayak, so not that I did not expect this but, yes, experienced it at a much closer hand this time since the earlier building was a tall tower where my room was conveniently tucked on a higher floor.

Anyway, cutting on my rant, what I am left with at the end of the festival is a question around boundaries between culture, religion and blind following of rituals. I personally do not believe in praying to some external entity and hoping for things to move but, I also understand and respect when others have belief in a God. I also believe that such festivals are also an integral part of our culture – Mumbai wouldn’t be Mumbai without Ganpati madness and Kolkata wouldn’t be so without the gorgeousness of Pujo. However, my question here is – how do we justify following what a god says and believe that we are truly following his / her belief systems, if we fail to take responsibility for the impact that our actions might create on people and other beings in our surroundings. Question is, when someone points out the unnecessary pollution – both water and noise – that these events create, will we harass and bully the, saying the are eco-friendly idols as well and that the questioner is just another adarsh liberal talking about unIndian ideas; or will we pause, think and rework our celebration activities starting next year? I see the youth handling things for the celebrations in most societies. If the youth cannot believe that they can change things or that the way things have to be done culturally has to be adapted to the changes of times, then we better dread what our future would look like.

Rustom

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I recently watched Rustom, a film loosely based on the KM Nanavati case which changed the Indian legal system with the abolishment of the jury system. For those who might have not heard or read about the case, Nanavati was a naval officer, married to London born Sylvia and based out of Mumbai. Whilst on one of his missions, Sylvia fell in love with their friend, Ahuja and exchanged letters with him which highlighted the socially alleged fact that Ahuja was an unattached man when it came to his relationships and that Sylvia was unsure of his intentions towards her or the seriousness towards relationships. It was after this that Nanavati comes back home and gets to know this from his wife. After hearing this, he decides to take things in his hands and straighten things out with Ahuja. By straightening things out, it meant a conversation between him and Ahuja about the latter marrying Sylvia and also taking in their (Nanavati and Sylvia’s) children post marriage. Ahuja denied having any plans of marriage which enraged the naval officer who ended up shooting Ahuja to death in his own bedroom. When tried at the Sessions Court in Bombay, he was acquitted by the jury by a vote of 8:1 with a major part of the decision and media gimmicks using communitarian politics to get a judgment. The judge of the sessions court was taken aback and the case moved to the HC where Nanavati was convicted, charged guilty of murder and as part of the legal reform, the jury was removed from the Indian legal system. I read somewhere that later on, someone from the officer’s community had appealed to the then PM Nehru to acquit Nanavati since he was a defence officer and had served the nation. As part of a deal between Ahuja’s sister who was fighting the legal battles on his behalf, Nanavati was then let out some years later while the MH government let out another prisoner from Ahuja’s community as part of a sentence and acquittal community barter.

Now, this case has held the country’s imagination for years. Rustom is not the first film to be made based on the case. There are quite a few others which were blockbuster hits. Rustom only has the Sessions court judgment covered in its story with community politics displayed fantastically. Even the city from that time is projected beautifully, making one almost long to have been born then instead of now. However, despite of all these good things in the movie, watching it left me squirming with discomfort at a few things in the film, more so the overtly lengthy court proceedings captured with sheer ridicule. That brought me to question the ordinary citizen’s take on the Indian legal system – for something as simple as wearing a seat belt and paying tolls. Reminds me of the time when entering MPT territory where one cop offered to let me go past after paying 10 out of the 30 bucks charge, with no receipt of course. Hope was risen again when the driver offered the same option to the next cop who refused stating others might do this, he did not.

Before I digress further, my point here is that a majority of the population in our country continues to swear by trends and brands advocated by film stars, across all socio-economic sections. Even crimes committed by some are inspired from Bollywood. With such great impact, I feel it is quite scary the way the semi fictional story is presented here ridiculing the proceedings of law and order, just like another old Akshay Kumar starrer did. Yes, I agree that even dictatorships are systems and laws and a coup overthrowing a dictator is actually doing good in the larger schema of things but, saying that would just be an adarsh public’s excuse to yet again not see the mirror.

Firstly, in showing the film only upto the Sessions court’s verdict where Nanavati walks scot free and more like a hero makes me wonder if we, as a nation, have issues accepting that our ‘hero’ (righteous male, avatar of righteous principled lord from Hindu mythology) can ever be wrong? Can we not accept that each one of us, even those who are otherwise impeccable in being, can commit acts which can be wrong and harmful to one or many? Also, why do we, as a nation of a 102 billion people, need a hero? Why can’t we choose to find that hero(ine) within our own selves?   

The second thought or question that I had swimming in my head after watching the film is the idea of absolute right and wrong, moral black and white and the grey areas of human existence; and the intersection of the same with the legal system in place. While the case highlights the absolutes of right and wrong in terms of fidelity and patriotism versus selling your land for personal gain and favour making the act of murder by the protagonist as an absolute right! But, does this not make the entire case / story / incident grey afterall? You excuse a murderer because he is a loyal country server and husband (how can we forget multiple scenes of him staring at her picture?). And like all Bollywood films that resonate with commercially viable thinking at the writer’s part, this one too falls flat in its face when the hero is yet again made to let go of the love of his life, in order to work towards the greater good, making personal sacrifice the necessity for greater good.

Yes, there are a lot of good things in ther film but, my problem is that it is films like these that resonate the larger Indian mentality and also that films (and TV) have the power of changing things as they have unbridled access to the common (wo)man’s household. I think this film could have been far better at dealing with a lot of more subtle concepts of patriotism, masculinity, honour, integrity. While I like the portrayal of the human strength of being able to do the right thing when life is difficult but, the film just completely misses the point and loses the opportunity of using the most powerful tool in media to leave a better impact. Nanavati’s act of murder signifying honour over respect for human life and dignity was portrayed too casually, especially in politically charged times like these. Quite unfortunate.

The last one

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The most fun as well as amusing part of having an anon tumblog was the interactions with various poets, writers and readers over questions. Some would share their own tumblogs while the others would be anon, just like me. Why I like it more is because that enables observation and experience of a kind of objectivity in one’s expression, which otherwise is tainted by one bias or the other.

During one such interaction, I received a question from a reader which went as follows:

“Who would you write your last poem to? What would it be?”

When I first read it, I figured that this was a question to be mulled over, brewing thoughts and experiences and then answering. However, it did not take me more than two minutes to come up with this response, as if I was waiting to tell someone, lest I never get the chance.

“Hmm. This is the first time anyone’s asked me this. I wonder will there ever be a last? I may die the day I stop writing or I may stop writing the day I die. I would prefer the latter. 

I am not sure if I have the answer yet however, if I were writing the last right now I would write to this character in my head. Here it goes,

Have we met before?
Did we talk?
I remember your face,
Only vaguely so.

Did you say something?
Why can’t I hear you though?

The flush of your cheeks
and that twinkle in the eye
does give away your secrets.
Stories of joy and sorrow,
Tales of love untold.

Smile a little more for me,
smile a little for
this will be my last memory.”

Audience

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This is one of my favourites from the archives. Written after yet another visual on 20th March, 2015.

IMG_3896

I don’t know what strand is it here

I somehow

Don’t feel the familiar sense of loss and foreboding

That I had associated with them before.

Its almost as if

You’re sitting at a distance

While I know you’re around.

You’re watching me, with a curiosity

Which only I have known myself to possess.

Perhaps, I pretend not to know hence?

Its a semi – dark room after all with you

Sitting in the shadows on that winged armchair 

Is that glow from the lantern behind you?

You sit with a smile, perhaps?

Holding your chin in your left hand.

Me? Where am I?

Am I being watched or

I am the audience?

Who could tell.