Friday, November 11, 2016

Bas ik jhijhak - to Papa on his birthday

Since my father passed away in 2005, I’ve tried on his birthday to write something for him, to remember him in. I haven’t always managed to do it here – of late it has been small things on Facebook I guess. Today too, it is almost the end of the day when I have the opportunity to write this, a fact that as usual would have made him tsk tsk about my misplaced priorities, my lack of real discipline.

There were many things about my father, which, as time has gone by, and as I too am older, with a head and heart more weathered than before, I see now, were truly special things. One of these was his love of poetry, especially Urdu poetry. As a child in Lahore and even after moving to Delhi during Partition, he had studied only Urdu and English. I am not sure where his great love for Urdu poetry came from actually – whether it was part of the cultural milieu or whether he had acquired it from some friends. But I knew it was always there. Ghalib was his favourite poet. I did not understand most of what was being said, but I used to enjoy always, the relish with which my father would quote an apt verse when an incident or utterance warranted it.

I loved that relish in my Dad. He wasn’t as such a flamboyant personality. But he had a lightness and an appreciation for beauty which translated into a kind of simple, everyday stylishness, not flashy at all. I think perhaps it was not uncommon in men of his generation, of a certain type. His relish when reciting a couplet would be for so many things – sometimes he would quote one and say, bada hi khoobsurat sher hai. Yeh lafz bahut khoobsurat hai. It could be the words, the meanings, the cleverness of the craft or the delight of having remembered the poem. This would happen often especially when he and my mum were playing cards with their friends and people were laughing and bantering. Sometimes my mum would reply with an answering couplet as is the norm in the remembering of Urdu poetry. If they were getting along well he would laugh – this laugh, in the picture below and say “Wah! Kya baat hai” and repeat a bit of it.



But even if they weren’t getting along at the time, or had perhaps argued earlier or something, he would usually smile and appreciate the beauty of the verse.

I think now how lucky I was that I grew up with this playfulness and pleasure and  urbanity around me in such an everyday way. There was no affectation there, only affection really. Poetry was not made esoteric, but meant to be part of life. Poetry illuminated life. Poetry made enjoyment happen. Poetry could make you close your eyes in pleasure and let it self be felt on your skin. It was not given special status, but simply showed me how each moment could be special, how life could always give you a chance to make your eyes sparkle, how putting a sparkle of enjoyment in someone else’s eyes was such a normal, easygoing thing to do.

He was the same about clothes and food and conversation. It was never a mark of sophistication. It was simply a way to live life tasting its pleasures and pains with a certain warmth and gentleness I think.

I miss that about Papa. I miss the lightness of his love. I miss the smile in his eye – I miss his gentle sense of fun. I look for it everywhere I guess. I try to be that way – though I don’t know if I succeed very much. Sometimes I am rude and impatient in so many ways, in a way he would never ever have been because that was not ‘the way.’

I think what my father taught me through all these things, was that it was possible to sample life’s pleasures, even perhaps submit to them, and still be very decent to others. The two almost were a part of each other – though I am not explaining that well. There was none of that moralism about decadence in his aspect – or in my home and in things I saw my parents do. He was always game to make another person’s party work, to take the trouble to dress up in costume with my mum for a fancy dress or theme night (though my mum was the one who came up with these exciting schemes usually)– as in this Shaam-e-Avadh party below.


In his ability to be convivial, what I saw in my father was respectful behavior with other people, even if he did not like them, the ability to be courteous to people he might even have been prejudiced against (and he had his share). This to me was a poetic quality, it is the humane and measured quality poetry creates in us.

My father loved Begum Akhtar and would sing her ghazals often. He would tell us stories about how, when he was posted in Jodhpur, he and his roommate, “Chuha” Pathak (nicknames being a bit Air Force thing) would listen to her ghazals on Radio Pakistan, from across the border. “Chuha Pathak would fill a glass with rum” he’d tell us. “Then he’d stand looking at the sun, going slowly, slowly down. As soon as it set he would start drinking. That fellow I tell you. We’d have our evening drink and listen to Begum Akhtar or Iqbal Bano.”

My father’s favourite ghazal was one that went “Bas ik jhijhak hai yahi, haal-e-dil sunane mein.” He would sing it sometimes at parties or to us aise hi. I never heard a recording of it but it never occurred to me to look even when I grew up and began to like Begum Akhtar myself.

I did ask around for it sometimes – did anyone have a recording – because my dad would’ve loved to listen to it, but never did find one.

When my father fell sick, we spent many days in hospital chatting in a leisurely way, during his chemotherapy. These were strange days, especially as it became undeniable that he would not live. Strange because I have never quite felt love as a size, you know. We think of love as intensity usually. But in those days, trying to care for him, always seeming to fall short, for pain, physical and emotional seemed unpreventable, I felt love like a large box in my heart, heavy with pain, but also heavy with purity. It sat in me leaving no place for anything else – for nothing else was needed but to feel this love for my father, complete with the pain of confronting loss. What was the choice after all. What would be the point of preventing your heart from the last chance to love the one you love the most? Even for me, who fears hurt and pain and guards myself with such masks of casual transparency.

One of those days of his illness, I asked my father to teach me the ghazal. I wrote down the words, I practiced it line by line. There was a lightness and heaviness about the moment. It was nice to distract ourselves from his pain, his fever. And yet it was underlined by the knowledge that I was trying to hold on to things that I was now going to lose forever. But we sang that song, I learned it well.

I eventually found the song on the internet some time after my father passed away. This 11th November, it’s the 11th birthday without him.  I had wanted today to record myself singing the song for Papa today.

But I find grief is strange – it changes, losing some of its clingy sense of being on your skin all day all night all year, over time. I now have the sweetness of being able to speak about my father without feeling wretched, without that piercing emotion of loss, And yet it is always there, just like that love, the poetry of that love for Papa is always there in me. So though I have I find I cannot sing it without crying – therefore it is not here. Bas ik jhijhak hai yahi, that I cannot sing it without crying, today, though of course many times I can. 

Surely Ravi Karan Vohra, like a perfect dad would have said, beta, very nice if I’d sung it, for sabka dil rakhna, that was him. But without a doubt, he’d have liked Begum Akhtar better.
So here she is - and Happy Birthday Papu, wherever you are.




And here is the beautiful ghazal by Kaifi Azmi - 



Monday, November 2, 2015

Because Love is Sex and Sex is Love and Shahrukh Khan




This is part of a story that I wrote for a collection of erotica edited by Ruchir Joshi.

It's a fantasy - about time travel, about loving sex between strangers, about the feeling that every encounter is an intense piece of travel, equal parts intimate and unknown, unknowable. As are places, so are people.

And yes its a thinly disguised Shahrukh - or a character made up of Shahrukh's emanation of sex-love-love-sex, no dhoka.

So, for Pragya Tiwari, who asked for this story on SRK's 50th birthday, here's an excerpt :)

The whole story is in this book.

(Side comment - writing a blog post feels oddly like time travel in its own way! And so, a little bit sexy to.)

TOURISTS - AN EXCERPT

Sartaj squeezed me tight. He had beautiful forearms. I could feel the thickness of his hair on the back of my neck. ‘It’s going to be a mess getting up. And we don’t have other clothes, so better not put these on,’ he said.

We tiptoed naked past the sweeping woman, clutching our clothes, and tumbled laughing into the bathroom with its warm trickling water and squeaky brass taps. The creepers outside the windows filled it with a soft green light, now that the sun was high. Our bodies were covered in arabesques from the shadows. I bent my bottom under the tap and Sartaj washed my back clean for me. I squatted under the tap and washed my hair with the piss coloured shampoo. I felt like a child and it was comforting to be here, sitting on the stone floor, next to these old fashioned whitewashed walls. I grinned up at him with the water streaming down the sides of my face. Water had collected on his eyelashes and it was golden in the window’s sidelight like a row of raindrops on a monsoon window grill. He looked mysterious and beautiful in this shadowy jewelled light. In all the years of his being a famous 
movie star, where his image had dogged my every ordinary step most of my life, how had I never noticed this beauty?

I got up and drank the water off his eyes. ‘Careful’ he said, ‘it’s not filtered.’ ‘Thirst is everything.’ I drank the water off his shoulders, his pinpoint nipples, his mouth with its challenging pout, sucking the water off his spongy lips, so full they suggested they be bitten in little testing bites before being completely eaten up. He ran his hands up and down my body and I sighed and came closer for more. He stroked the insides of my thighs, the crook of my arms, my stomach, my breasts, my shoulders, filling me with a slowly expanding pleasure.
‘You’re nothing but nerve endings. Is there any part of you that doesn’t like to be touched?’
I thought about it. ‘I suppose not. Though you’re welcome to find out.’
There were voices outside. A little more confident now that no one could see us, I went up to the door to see what was going on, naked and dripping water on the freshly swabbed floor. The maid was giving two men water from the fast frosting bottle. They laconically discussed something in a language I didn’t know and then went off and started cutting the overgrown creepers around the porch and the windows.


I went back into the bathroom where Sartaj stood examining his stubble and chest hair in the mirror with extreme interest. ‘I think someone’s coming to stay in the house. They’re clearing up outside.’
‘Okay.’

‘What okay? We need to get a little serious about finding a way out of here.’ ‘Well, I don’t have any ideas. Do you?’

I chewed my lip, feeling that frustrated feeling when you don’t know which road to walk down, when there isn’t even a hint about the meaning of things.
‘I have a theory though,’ he said, pulling me closer to him and looking at us both in the mirror, smoothing my hair back and knotting it to wring out the water. ‘I think if you just let it be, it will be fine. Don’t think ahead so much. Some cosmic chance brought us here. The same thing will take us back.’
‘But we have to think ahead Sartaj. We can’t just keep drifting in time like this.’
‘Why? Don’t be so anxious.’



‘I don’t want to be stuck here like this forever.’
‘Really? Excuse my ego, but there are a few women out there —’ he pointed to the window, ‘—although they are still babies I accept, who would kill to be in your place, if they could go forward in time and see what awaits.’
‘Well, I’m one of those babies and I have seen what awaits and I’m not killing to be in my place, if you know what I mean.’


There was a rueful look in his eye as he smiled at me in the mirror, nodding. ‘Hmmm. You do have a point. You’re the kind of girl who is disdainful of movie stars because you aren’t stupid. No?’


I looked away. ‘It’s not that. I am sure one of the reasons I am feeling so turned on by you is that you’re a movie star ... in our time. And well, even now. Your body is made up of some sort of special material that’s created from lots of people wanting you and you knowing that. I mean, it must be amazing to feel that. If it were me, I’d be flitting around joyfully like a butterfly.’
‘Instead of stinging like a bee all the time,’ he laughed. ‘You’re always fighting, like a girl who doesn’t want to admit she likes the boy who shares her desk.’ He kissed my shoulder, his eyes watching us in the mirror, ‘I love looking at you in the mirror,’ he said, kissing my neck again. There was something to the way in which he could do that, it was like that nerve Mr Spock knew how to find that would instantly make people collapse. His half open mouth just there, where my neck began, seemed to infuse some drug into my blood. I could feel heat coming out of my ears.


‘Why do you like it?’ I asked.


‘Because I get to look at someone while they look at me. Normally, other people are the only ones who get to look. Although I have no complaints about that, but I repeat, I like this very much.’

--

And the rest between the covers of the book :)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

NEW YORK SCREENINGS OF "PARTNERS IN CRIME"




SUNDAY OCTOBER 27, 7.30 PM
@UNIONDOCS 
322 Union Ave  Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 395-7902

Brooklyn

http://www.uniondocs.org/2013-10-27-partners-in-crime/

WEDNESDAY OCT 30, 2013, 4 PM

@NYU
Kriser Screening Room, Department of Anthropology. 
25 Waverly Place, NYU Campus.

http://eccmedialab.wordpress.com/2013/10/17/film-screening-on-the-music-industry-and-copyright/
 



ABOUT THE FILM

Partners in Crime

(94 min. HDV. Documentary. Hindi and English, 2011, India)

DIRECTOR Paromita Vohra PRODUCER: Magic Lantern Foundation EXECUTIVE PRODUCER Devi Pictures CAMERA Shanti Bhushan, Bakul Sharma EDITOR Rikhav Desai SOUND Asheesh Pandya, Chris Burchell, Gissy Michael MUSIC Akshay Rajpurohit & Kuber Sharma

Who owns a song – the person who made it or the person who paid for it? Is piracy organized crime or class struggle? Are alternative artists who want to hold rights over their art and go it alone in the market, visionaries or nutcases? Is the fine line between plagiarism and inspiration a cop-out or a whole other way of looking at the fluid nature of authorship? When more than three fourths of those with an internet connection download all sorts of material for free, are they living out a brand new cultural freedom – or are they criminals?

Full of wicked irony, great music and thorny questions Partners in Crime explores the grey horizons of copyright and culture in times when technology is changing the contours of the market.

Metal heads who market their own music, folklorists who turn tribal aphorisms into short stories, music archivists who hoard and share everything they can get their hands on, anti-piracy fanatics who think piracy funds terrorism, a smooth talking DVD street salesman who outlines the efficiency of the illegal market, media moguls, lobbyists, “monetizers”, downloaders, uploaders, the biggest hit song of 2010 and the small time nautanki singer whose song it was inspired by – these places and people throng the world’s bazaar in which the film is set. Partners in Crime takes you through a story about art, crime, love and money to check if the times, they may be a-changing after all.

FEATURING: Vijaydan Detha, Thermal and a Quarter, Lawrence Liang, Demonic Resurrection, Pete Lockett, itwofs.com, Scribe, Rampat Harami & Rani Bala, Ram Sampath, Juma Khan, Irfan of Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya, FM Gold, CDrack.in and many others.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Screenings of Partners in Crime in the US, October 2013




NEW YORK

@Uniondocs, Brooklyn
Sunday, October 27, 7.30 pm
@NYU
Wednesday, Oct. 30th, 4 pm

Kriser Screening Room, Department of Anthropology, 25 Waverly Place, NYU Campus. 



http://eccmedialab.wordpress.com/2013/10/17/film-screening-on-the-music-industry-and-copyright/
ABOUT THE FILM
TRAILER - 

Partners in Crime
(94 min. HDV. Documentary. Hindi and English, 2011, India)

DIRECTOR Paromita Vohra PRODUCER: Magic Lantern Foundation EXECUTIVE PRODUCER Devi Pictures CAMERA Shanti Bhushan, Bakul Sharma EDITOR Rikhav Desai SOUND Asheesh Pandya, Chris Burchell, Gissy Michael MUSIC Akshay Rajpurohit & Kuber Sharma

Who owns a song – the person who made it or the person who paid for it? Is piracy organized crime or class struggle? Are alternative artists who want to hold rights over their art and go it alone in the market, visionaries or nutcases? Is the fine line between plagiarism and inspiration a cop-out or a whole other way of looking at the fluid nature of authorship? When more than three fourths of those with an internet connection download all sorts of material for free, are they living out a brand new cultural freedom – or are they criminals?

Full of wicked irony, great music and thorny questions Partners in Crime explores the grey horizons of copyright and culture in times when technology is changing the contours of the market.

Metal heads who market their own music, folklorists who turn tribal aphorisms into short stories, music archivists who hoard and share everything they can get their hands on, anti-piracy fanatics who think piracy funds terrorism, a smooth talking DVD street salesman who outlines the efficiency of the illegal market, media moguls, lobbyists, “monetizers”, downloaders, uploaders, the biggest hit song of 2010 and the small time nautanki singer whose song it was inspired by – these places and people throng the world’s bazaar in which the film is set. Partners in Crime takes you through a story about art, crime, love and money to check if the times, they may be a-changing after all.

FEATURING: Vijaydan Detha, Thermal and a Quarter, Lawrence Liang, Demonic Resurrection, Pete Lockett, itwofs.com, Scribe, Rampat Harami & Rani Bala, Ram Sampath, Juma Khan, Irfan of Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya, FM Gold, CDrack.in and many others.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Sitting on the Offence: Sunday Mid-day column Nov. 25


Outrage might not have been an inappropriate response to the discovery that a Class VI CBSE text book published by S.Chand and Sons and titled New Healthway: Health, Hygiene, Physiology, Safety, Sex Education, Games and Exercises says that non-vegetarians "easily cheat, tell lies, they forget promises, they are dishonest and tell bad words, steal, fight and turn to violence and commit sex crimes."

But perhaps we should be more concerned that while the book has been in circulation, no one thought it fit to point out its problematic content, which also included pronouncements like “to get married without earning a bad name is every girl’s dream.”

Did no one point it out because these prejudices more or less synced with the average school teacher’s world view or because no one is actually reading any text books in schools? Who cares?

Not the educational establishment apparently. On TV, one school principal declared they would discontinue the book because “This book has definitely offended some community.” This was echoed by the HRD Minister Pallam Raju’s response when he said that "sensitivities of communities have to be kept in mind.”

Let us not even get into what community these gentlemen mean. Like anyone else they are entitled to their stereotypes and preconceptions as long as they don’t act on them.
The real issue is not whether they are prejudiced but that prejudice is not the same as fact.  The central issue is not whether or not a community will be offended but that school books are not supposed to include nonsensical, non-verifiable prejudices parading as facts. It’s not about causing offence, but merely about what is accurate and arguable.

But moral flailing on left and right has become an all-pervasive disease and to see it so embedded in the educational machinery’s mindset at least partly explains the dire improverishment and stupidity of our public conversation and television programs which are petulant schoolyard fights rather than a provocative debate of ideas.

Community sensitivity has been elevated to such a level that it allows us to give gold stars to Shiv Sainiks for not rioting when bereaved. t allows people to feel justified in perceiving every question as an insult and then responding to this with venom and violence rather than considered argument or even intelligent satire

In this context is it at all surprising that the police think it is reasonable to arrest two young women in Palghar for posting a facebook status questioning the unofficial bandh on the day of Bal Thackeray’s funeral, because it apparently has or might offend a community, in this case Shiv Sainiks? After all to offend a community is apparently the central offence in our culture now and a mitigating explanation for violence. Which is why, the destruction of the girl’s uncle’s clinic, resulting in a 20 lakh rupee loss to him does not seem to warrant instant police response. In fact, yet again, only outrage, managed to get the police to respond, not an understanding of legality or fairness.

This is not to say that community offence does not or cannot exist. But by sacralising it in this fashion we have become incapable of responding to anything without the baggage of identity politics.
Education reform in our country needs to keep this in the centre of their vision – to equip citizens with the tools to weave the strands of fact and opinion together without confusing one with the other. That might take us further than the value education kits, semesterisation and privatization that are being offered up by the HRD ministry as the winds of change.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Old (boys) Skool

This week's Mid-day column.




By the time this appears, Karan Johar’s new film, Student of the Year will be out and probably have been declared a box office hit, endorsing Ram Gopal Varma’s remark, made with his customary affection for KJo that it will out-hit "3 Idiots."

I don’t plan on watching this film. That’s not because it is KJo’s first without Shah Rukh to whom love has tied me for life, despite recent misdemeanours and meltdowns. I think the film will be quite ok with me not watching it, because we both know, I was not one of the people the marketing people were counting on as audience. Yaniki, it is not made for people like me. Which is supposed to be part of the film’s merit. Yaniki, it’s not for the arty farts but the ‘general public’, implying they are the majority, hence this is like democracy, right? Wrong. The multiplex going audience does not constitute a majority of the country, just the majority of a certain elite, but theek hai, to each their own.

Another, more obvious reason the movie is not made for people like me is because, I’m, well, old enough that I don’t properly remember school anymore. But I am not so old that I don’t know what young looks like.

And that’s one of the reasons I am not going to see the movie. Because I’m finding it very hard to believe in the youth of those hulking main leads of the film. If they are still in school, then they must have been flunking for several years or had two triple demotions. This is my main takeaway from the promos, other than the fact that Mallory Towers has been replaced by Hogwarts in the Indian boarding school fantasy. That must explain all that snow and two boys and a girl, just like Harry, Ron and Hermione, except more grown-up and dressed in their parents old clothes.
I’m not one of those who thinks that youth equals rebellion. It may be so for a certain section, but there’s loads of young people who wish to be just like their mummy daddies, except richer, thinner and more American. Still, the very least you expect from a ‘new generation’ is a little newness, some cool new clothes on ye olde formula.  Frankly, it’s not only the people in the film who look old, know what I mean?

The other reason I won’t be watching the film is because I’ve already seen the viral video which nails the feeling of the film with a perfect mixture of timepass, madness and incisiveness.

This video, which many will have seen by now, is called Gana Wala Song. Fresh vocals have been laid on the video of Ishq Wala Love with lyrics like Sharhrukh wala template leke, vahi pose hai karaya – Sad wala Dukh.

It’s funniest and most accurate line, comes when KJo deploys his time tested (and time-failed) trick for dressing the hero-heroine in co-ordinated colours: Jinke parents hain director, voh penhenge same colour. It’s a line that tells you that this not so much about school as the old boys from the school. A film by, for and of the children of filmi elites, happily preserving the status quo.

I laughed so hard when I saw this video, it was my entertainment for the week. So, there are other types of young people who don’t wear turtle necks in teenage, who make these funny, irreverent, unfettered pieces of work. I will wait for them to make a film that reminds me what it is to be young and go see that.