Tuesday, March 31

Why Gulaal does not work for me ?

Its a little late to review Gulaal but the amount everyone is raving about the movie, I could not be a bystander anymore. And it is one of those movies that confuses the best of us.

Of course, it is a genre of cinema that has found its audience in people-like-us who would not be caught watchingsaas bhee kabhi bahu thee or reading pulp fiction. An urbane population that's had its fill-of-the-gloss.

Ofcourse, Piyush Mishra's rendition of Dinkar's Rashmirathi ( Dedo kewal paanch gram, rakho apnee dharti tamaam, hum waheen khushi se khyange, parijano par asee na uthayange ) is class. Also, the lyrics are a perfect foliage to this dark broody political saga, but not in an Omkara way, more alive and more political. May be bollywood's alternative music comes of age with Gulaal.

Of course, Gulaal is crafty, very crafty , with extremely real portrayals of a professor stripped and locked in a room or a student leader hung from a royal gateway in broad daylight, it chills your spine.

Of course, the humor of story telling is apt , Mahi Gill as the luscious beauty parlor turned to a nautch girl whose st rinking resemblance with Tabu is accentuated with its leverage in the movie. She suffers from a -you-look-like-Tabu in the movie. So is its lyrical format - the Prithvi Banna & the ennuch with painted body do leave an impact.

Of course, Cinematographer Rajiv Ravi does a brilliant job of the dry & dusty Rajputana in daylight and bears a fire glow in the night.

But Gulaal has its problems

When a movie maker has legacy like Black Friday & DevD to live upto and starts of witth tribute to the grandmaster of Nihilism Gurudutt's- Yeh Duniya Mil bhee jaye to kya hain, you expect better. There are two parallel plots running , one of the student union and the other of Rajputana's assertion as a distinct entity from the contours of Independent India. That's fine but fails in between is their intersection which is convoluted.

Besides, there were too many stories that remained unresolved in Gulaal.Jess Randhwa as the professor, remains peripheral to the cinema.

What distracts me most in Gulaal is the lack of characterisation. Or its superficial quality. None of the characters grow on you. Neither, the Bikaner Boy Dileep, whose journey from the earnest to the nihilist is off the mark or Doki Banna who wants Rajputana over his life but gives in to a capricious Kiran. Roles are very poorly essayed and I feel bad for some of these strong actors. Kiran;s role in the second half as the power-hungry seductress has no inflexion points barring a royal father who disowns her.

I am sorry to veto popular opinion but most of the performances don't make an impact barring a few. Ayesha Mohan is forgettable. Kay Kay Menon repeats himself. I find it difficult to differentiate between Sarkaar's Vishnu, Black Friday's Inspector, Hazaroon Khwaise aisi's Siddhart and Rajputana's Dokee Banna. Raj Singh Choudhary has to be watched more. Among all, Abhimanyu Singh as the estranged son of the king impressed with his earthy charm and Mahi Gill made an impression as a nautch girl. And of course Prithvi Banna, the John Lennon.

If I have to watch this movie again , it will still be for Piyush Mishra.

Saturday, March 28

Women's Day Part 2- Parbhavatiya

To Parbhavitya, who never got a chance or a way out.

Parbhavatiya lived
In the neighborhood
No one knew and
Where she came from
Or for that matter
Where was she headed?

There were these
Small stories
Doing the rounds
About her whereabouts
That we whispered
To each other
During load shedding,
Pitch dark
Ghost story time.

Some said
Came from Far East
Half woman, half beast
Her husband
Sent her away
she stared, too hard
And to his dismay
Sat, howling
dog like
During the

Others said
There were mouths
To be fed
And her mother
Sold her, for boiled rice
And Parbhavatiya
Cheat, crook
Ran, did not
Pay the price

So she went about
In the neighborhood
Never to blend
Drank and smoke
and ran small errands
she jutted out like
“peepal tree”
On a white wall
Hideous, Insouciant
But free.

Left to her senses
She was honest
Trimmed the grass
Cut the logs
Threw the rubbish
And took what was due
It was only on
That you saw
Her animal

When the sweeper
In alcoholic stupor
To marry her
She spat
At this suitor
And he called
Her a witch
a whore

And so we
Calling her
Randi, randi
Till she
Got drunk
Her sari
Like a lungi
Around the waist
Not bothered
to cover her
Midriff, torso
And her breast that
Hung loose
Inside her
What’s left to cover?
When so much
Up for grabs.

She sat
In a deserted house
She wasn’t a randi
And they will
All burn in hell
The men who letched
And the men who
Pretended not to
And women who turned
Their heads in shame
At her sight
Could not get by
Without her
And she drank
Some more
And threw stones
At homes
From the deserted house

For the next few days
She fell out of favor
Till people forgot
Her venom
And spit
And then she came
Looking for odd jobs
The women
Wordlessly obliged
The grass needed trimming
After all.

Friday, March 27

Diet Blues

As a girl
I ate parathas
for breakfast
Triangular shaped
just like sin
Simmering hot,
Off a tawa
Fluffy like cotton
Beige parathas
dark brown
Pimples in between

I ate them
Aloo bhunjiya
Crispy, red
Oil soaked
Now sold as
Potato wedges
By Mac Donald’s
In thin
paper bags

I felt fed
Good, healthy
Ready to work
I never put on
I didn’t gym
Dreamt a lot
Walked some bit
Gorged food all day
Ma’s aloo curry
Home made kadhi badi
Evenings were aloo chops
Or chicken rolls
Bought off a greasy
Smelling of
Sauces and eggs
The 15 bucks
I chomped on
With little guilt

Ma would
Many a times
Take care girl
In those days
I did not know
The ways of world
And how your
own body
betrays you
In the end.

And now
My wafer thin
She is 5 kgs
Good bless her
I am ready
To trade
Fat for fat
And waist
For waist

I am careful.
I don’t buy
Potatoes any more
Calories are counted
Taken and
A hopeless trade
Over a treadmill
To the gym
In between
Or after office

My friends say
Don’t think so hard
You self crazed
Obsessed bitch
You are not going
To walk the
ramp ever?
Then why all this

Its all
About feeling great.
I want to say
With a face so straight.

And then I chide
How can I ?
Think of my diet
When children
Are dying
In Somalia
And my maid
Who doubles up
as my cook
Runs off
To her home
To feed a good for nothing
Husband and waiting kids
After making my veg juice
Also when
IPL moves out of India
Giving space
To elections.

How can I think of myself?
Am I am bimbette?
To be thinking
All this while
About how I look.

I think of running
An opinion poll
On blogger
Or even office
(that’s my idea of radical these days) !!!
Am I very fat?
Say “Yes” or “No”.
But not
“Don’t’ care”.

Sunday, March 22

Women's day - Part 1

( The views represented in this blog are my own and do not represent the views of my firm or owe allegiance to any other firm I worked for.)

I am not into Women's day.

This paper approach to assuage International guilt for the “supposedly second gender” held professional significance for me last year. As diversity head for Lehman’s India office, had to think through economical gifts for 700 odd women.

And then last Friday, I discovered a lone, drying rose on my table, an economical gift by our engagement team to celebrate womanhood at the workplace.

I kept it aside with amusement.

And it set me thinking,

What does it mean to be a woman in an Indian organization? Or a woman at workplace? Or maybe just a woman?

I am not going to be writing any of this as I can never know what is it not to be a woman?

I was designing a training program on “Gender sensitization at workplace” and I met this trainer who brought home the point that our gender roles at home and the society at large would have some likelihood to play at our workplace situations.

This premise, logical hit home real hard.

I remember starting school at a convent in Patna, much ahead of its times. Notre Dame taught me expression. Those expressions however, were too many to be contained in a milieu ridden by small town perversions.

At home, my mom, a teacher of the old world, worked on a strict Rewards and Punishment model for her three kids and gender never figured as a parameter. I or any of my friends didn’t grow up in homes where the chicken leg was preserved for the male child.

So when I went to the good old KV after 6 years in Notre Dame, I lacked on several counts. I didn’t know the first thing about guys and I soon had a reputation in school for being the domineering, too big for her boots, would not get contained girl in the class.

My reputation preceded me when I joined college. That I wrote on “then thinking topics” for the Times as a freelancer made me a very poor representative of my gender stereotype. For no reason, I was at the receiving end of perverse curiosity or plain curiosity in college. Its manifestation came in rude jokes, eve teasing, blank calls, bikes chasing and what nots in college.

I hated my college life. I clutched my bag close to my chest and entered the class after the professor and left it before he (SHE, trust me, women professors had their own battles to fight) left. Our gender ratio of 10 women in the Science section against a 100 boys made it impossible for us to be anything but a neglected minority.

Those of you who saw the movie “Gulaal” and did not relate to the ignominy of the women professor stripped and locked in a room, do take a conducted tour of Allahabad, Patna or any like minded University. The graffiti on the walls (if the universities haven’t had the funds for whitewashing) are a telltale story of stifled expression, college environment and gender ridicule.

A sample (I still go crimson to the roots, when I remember this)

Ek daal per saat kaboootar, satoon maange dana
Jab Jab (so & so) pair pasare sex kare deewana

This for a woman in my class who was among the 100 toppers of the State, whose father would have fought hundred financial battles to see to his daughter’s education, and the daughter who must have fought another thousand battles to live in a hostel. I can’t fathom what pair of eyes would see her like that, for when I saw her, it was a whole generation of women from her family seeking redemption through her degree. They were all at stake If she made it they would all know it was possible. If she failed there hopes would die.

Touché’ but true.

While I love my hometown in ways more than one, memories are bitter sweet. That whole “be pasted on the wall” approach in University egged me to leave its smugness for an environment where one could breathe easy.

A heroine of a professor remains my role model for ever. We were at the most neglected English class at Science College where the male behavior used to get worst. The lady Prof was taking attendance. She called a roll number and a boorish voice boomed “Present sir” and 100 men laughed as though the most intelligent joke had been cracked.

The professor looked up and said in the firmest of voice that could have come about only after decades of being treated like shit. “If he called me sir, because he is not used to being taught by women professors, he should be forgiven because to err is human and to forgive is divine. But if he did that to evoke slapstick humor he should be ignored because that kind of humor is the cheapest and most readily available.”

I knew her incisive putting people in their place may have escaped many people in the class but in my imagination I walked up to her and gave her a tight squeeze.

I am sure this would have played out in my MBA or the entrances tests too. I recall not speaking at the TISS GD till a good 5 minutes had passed by, though the I had almost slept with the anticipated topics several times over.

One cold train ride from Patna to Anand and a hurried trip from Baroda to Bombay changed my life for ever. I was to join TISS.

Honestly it was difficult in the beginning. Expression was the way of life at TISS, experimentation floated in the air. Social stereotypes were jettisoned in favor of alternative lifestyles. Deities were traded for defiance. Even gender ratios were reversed.

It must have taken some time to be able to express myself. I am sure that the effort showed.

At work, I did not or could not find too many gender differences. May be, I was many levels away from the proverbial glass ceiling. (I still am!!!) But I am sure they existed like gender differences exist otherwise why would there be only 7% women representation in board for India Inc. I thought it would be a lot easier if one is in a metro (Delhi?) but I guess that would be simplifying a complicated issue. From Manhattan to Mumbai, the issue remains topical.

I think what misses at the workplace is creating an environment where differences are respected or not considered a taboo to discuss. There is a lack of support group, mentoring, or even plain sensitization to women on their roles in families and how it would or could play out in their career. I represent a miniscule minority of women in this country who derive freedom of expression and sometimes even identity from their career. Despite that I never sat and thought about other roles I was expected to play. Marriage. Motherhood. Taking time off for creative pursuits. Nobody sat me down and chatted with me on these issues at workplace. Organizations wallow in complete gender indifference. Even individuals pretend they are neither from Mars nor Venus.

As the trainer and I chatted about these issues during the design of gender sensitization program for the first time I walked few paces away from myself and took a long hard look at myself. My whole life was led without asking some of these questions. Without making some of these choices. It all fell into place. In another life I knew someone who hated the “M” word. She wanted to fly and thought being pinned down to a man would come in the way of that. Little solace was offered by families and friends who reminded her of biological clock rather rudely. There were very few role models around her, those who were working had either stumbled into careers or were in it for financial pressures like divorce, widowhood, negligent husband etc.

Her marriage broke down. She could not balance the ever increasing emotional demands of her beau with her own ambitions. Fifteen years back she had to choose.

Have things changed today?

Yes and No.

Women still chose both ways. Women still may not have to choose both ways.

Organization citizens are now resources. Life time employment is now stints. Competitive pressures have increased manifold.

Is there bandwidth for allowances?

One may have designed the fanciest of Flexible work arrangements but how do you fight the ignominy of being on one? How do you reassure someone that their career do won’t slow down if they work 4 days instead of 5 amidst menacing colleagues and hyperventilating bosses?

Where is the appetite to train supervisor on remote working? The insecurities that it throws up. How to even have a measure of output for someone who is “officially not working as hard” in a context where sitting late is a celebrated behavior?

Demanding is not competitive

Many women even find it difficult to ask. We are a generation that grew under the scepter of Hindu rate of growth and the scarcity it spawned. Across the board, women would admit in an alcoholic moment of truth that they would find it uncompetitive to find out about crèches at workplace, bus services or even take leaves.

My friends even find it difficult to negotiate compensation when they change jobs. Talk about social context playing out in a work environment, deep down some of them feel guilty of their success or feel its fluke that someone would want to pay them so much.

Superwoman any one?

Many times I have heard even CEOs commenting if women break the glass ceiling in India they are super women. Not an exaggerated thought. But I firmly believe this super woman, super mom image fueled by media is actually a very small minority. Extraordinary women. I think it’s a pressure to live up to an image of a woman who can juggle work with office, success with mother hood, a fab figure with hectic travels, hobbies with cooking, drinking with sobriety. The list goes on.

I have heard guys acerbically complaining so and so is a mom at home, what right she had to waste a seat at TISS or IIM? I mean what right anyone has to assume that women coz they got that seat they deserved should carry it to their funerals. I mean how many times we expect an IIM grad to baby sit at home?

Even women who left work for the family and kids are forever guilty and have a sense of shame. “No yaar, couldn’t manage it with the baby.” as though they almost failed the sisters in Abbey.

Mindsets need to change in early for workforce

I remember shouting at a management trainee batch mate for a sexist remark. I made him apologize to me. It was probably my coming of age from Patna days where expressions were hard to come by. Several years later I subtly pointed out to a business manager about his prejudices during hiring. He was diffident of hiring a woman in his team. I also had to remind a fresher to mind his language when he had refused to play cricket because the team had women players too. These mindsets exist and acknowledgement may be half the battle won. We live in a society where a woman was murdered because she refused somebody a drink. We live in a state where progressive chief ministers make loose remarks like “the woman had an assault coming if she traveled at midnight” and the police commissioner in Mumbai commented “don’t blow it out of proportions, its just eve teasing” on a drunken revelry at a suburban hotel on New Year’s Eve. All these people have kids at home and do not expect these kids to model their behavior at workplace when they join. Work on these mindsets through interventions.

It may be a good beginning.

So this woman’s day

• May organizations commit few interventions towards gender sensitization.

• May recession not affect diversity momentum in firms

• May superwoman go out of fashion.

• May Patna & Allahabad University have a fund for whitewash.

Thursday, March 19

6th March' 07

I am not suicidal.
Nor do I endorse death
Of any kind.
Not the one
That happened in
The ICU.
And left behind
The perfect widow
A dutiful son
And two deviant daughters.
But that death was simple
Also hurried,
Not one for goodbyes,
Not one for niceties
He left, without guidelines
On how to mourn.
So it is confusing
And we do our own thing.
Every time,
Death in the ICU
Haunts us.

We keep the good memories
Like an old pickle bottle
That grows tangy
With familiarity
We unscrew the cap
Take a whiff
Smile, content
And keep it back safe.
To pass on
Children who will be born
Probably, may be.

We remember the laughter
The abandon to ridicule
All things
Mundane and ridiculous
The languid morning tea
The quoted and over quoted editorials
And that heart that throbbed
On all political occasions
Nostrils that flared at
Mandal & kamandal
Indira’s emergency
Rajiv’s infancy

We rejected all that didn’t conform
The whisky nights, the afternoon beers
The untouched food
The constant absenteeism
From life’s major occasion
Nephews and nieces born sans joy
Brothers and cousins who died unwept

It’s the grey memories
That I wonder mostly about
That mute spectator of life
Was it detachment?
A slow unobserved fading away
At loggerheads with his bed
Where he shrunk
And eroded
While the bed grew
Strong and triumphant

How do you remember?
Someone who had withdrawn long ago?
Make the best of food
That may go untouched
For taste didn’t matter
Feed the poor for someone
Who thought poverty was really
About economics and politics
Of nations.
Not about starving kids,
And kids were anyways
Much nuisance.
Or you go to a temple
“Really… that’s insane!
“Temples have bells.
“Never been there much myself”
So how do you remember?
Death in an ICU ?

To resolve,
This million dollar dilemma,
I dreamt of him again.
And forced him to eat my,
Banana walnut B’Day cake.

Cakes have eggs!!!
Shrieked the mother,
Not for a pious occasion,
“His rules, you see”
I shrugged.
“Let him have it in peace
Now that he is gone”
And we laughed,
Over the man,
We hated and loved in turns.
But never really understood.

And what’s wrong with a suicide?
It’s just another way to die.