The Colour Of Nostalgia

“I miss the good old days when portrait painting was the only form of visual reproduction. But of course, you are too young to remember that.”

I read the words in a tiny glass screen in the palm of my hand. Not a muscle moved, not even an eyelash flicker.

You don’t show emotion, reading an SMS. And yet, those stark words behind a scratched window, no bigger than your palm, tie you to another person in another frame, another time. How can you not respond?

I wonder how to say it’s not déjà vu if you remind me of an emotion, not a place. And it’s not who you remind me of or when or even why.

It is that you do
and that connects you
to things
and times
and places
that you never were at,
through me.

It connects you to me.

I didn’t remember what it was like to feel this way and you reminded me. And all those memories that lined up behind the me that you know, of the me that you never did? How young am I if I can remember all that you don’t even see? Time is marked by the trails it left and not by how quickly it passed. And what else is nostalgia, but tracking those trails, with the imagination following them back as far as they go?

And all of that can be said in one look but not an SMS. I put down my cup and type,

“I have memories, alright. Sepia-toned ones.”

And underneath my words, a swirl of cream turns, speckled with tiny spots of coffee.

Tiny Tales: A Birthday Story

I ring the doorbell and it’s opened by my friend Salim, bouncing up with all the energy of his 21-year-old self. It is his birthday and the gift I am carrying is a book I know that he’ll enjoy. Salim and I have been classmates and bonded over a common love of stories. We’re buddies and we spar in the way good friends do. The ace in my sleeve is the two month headstart I have over him, in life. He introduces me to his other guests as the girl who gave him his personal Bible – Mario Puzo’s GODFATHER.

In a little while, his mother arrives, wiping her hands on a towel and we strike up a conversation. Grinning, I tell her that her son promised to marry me the day he turned 21 but that he has jilted me that very morning. She grins back and says,

“Yes, I heard. I told him he’s being a fool and that he won’t get such a great girl again!”

And we laugh together. The birthday boy comes back and starts to tell us a story.

“Irfan was 24 when he left home with Rs.200 in his pocket to make a career in the film industry. Vijaya was studying for her masters in law, living as a paying guest till the day she could return home to Mangalore and follow in the footsteps of a her father, a respected judge. Anybody seeing these two would imagine that they had nothing in common. They did, actually, have something in common – they were both in Mumbai, living in the same building.

They’d smile at each other, then they got to talking. It wasn’t until Vijaya went home for her vacations that Irfan realized how much he missed her. Then she came back and they began a whirlwind romance, movie theatres and beach dates.

Vijaya knew her family would never agree to a love match, with a North-Indian, with a boy who didn’t have an impressive degree and most importantly, a Muslim. And yet, they persisted. The couple endured the backlash, even the death of Vijaya’s father and managed to get married. They say that time heals all breaches after all. And the parents usually come around, once they hear the word ‘grandchild’.

A few blissful months later, Vijaya was pregnant. In the time-honoured tradition of South-Indian mothers-to-be, she left for her own mother’s house to go through the pregnancy. What she was completely unprepared for, was the family’s continued resistance to the union.

“Don’t worry” her mother assured her, “We’ll take care of everything.”

“Abortions are possible.” her sister chimed in, “ And there are still boys lining up to marry you.”

“We can just forget everything and put it all behind us like a bad mistake.” finished her mother.

Vijaya was trapped, a prisoner in the house she had grown up in, the place that she once called home. Frantic, she managed to send off a letter to Irfan, back in Mumbai.

A few days later VIjaya’s mother received a letter. She opened it and something fell out.

“A plane ticket” said Vijaya’s sister, picking it up.

It was from Irfan and was accompanied by a note.

‘My wife is over eighteen years old and a legal adult. She married me of her own free will. I will be waiting to collect her from the airport. If she doesn’t arrive, I’m filing a police complaint for kidnap and unlawful detention of an adult.’

Salim stops his account suddenly and gives me a huge grin.

“And then?!”

I cry, caught up in his story.

His mother comes back into the room with a tray balanced with snacks and juice for all of us. She smoothly flows back into the discussion, weaving in and out of conversations about books, our futures and our jokes. I look at her, deep admiration. She’s a cool lady, the modern mum, a real role model for my generation.

Then uncle comes by to pick up a magazine. Salim introduces me and he turns to me, a slow smile forming on his face as he says in Hindi,

”Yes, beta, I remember. We have spoken on the phone a few times. You are Salim’s friend.”

I smile back at him. He’s the traditional papa, warm but reserved with women, even his kids’ friends. And I wonder just how two people, so different from each other could get along, what they would find to say to each other.

I turn back to Salim, willing him to complete his story. He smiles again and says,

“And that is how I was saved, in the nick of time. That baby was me.”

And I think to myself, there’s no doubt from where he gets his flair for drama.

~O~O~O~O~O~

*Based on a true story

Alumni Meet

If I had to write a book on ‘Things that they never told me about in b-school”, it would run into volumes that no one would read. I suspect that a lot of these things that ‘they never tell us about’ are not meant to be known to us at that time anyway. Some things you realise only with time, some things are experienced and understood only in the context of the right time-frame.

Being a student is something that is a way of life for most people under the Indian education system (only because I don’t know if it is different elsewhere). From our earliest memories, we are used to being the low life in the complex matrix of teachers, assignments, back-benchism (yes, as a noun), bullies, exams, practicals, notes, lessons, grades, degrees etc.

At twenty-something it abruptly comes to an end and you suddenly have to learn to live your life as ‘not a student any more’. Oh, yes I know there are people who go back to school but once you’ve had a taste of this side of things, you are transformed for life. I particularly feel it when I attend an alumni meet. The transition from aspirant to candidate to student to alumnus is not a smooth one. It hits you in sudden doses.

I worked for some time between my graduation and masters so I went back to college with a certain “must keep my eyes open and not miss a single minute of the experience” attitude. I had realised that old adage about ‘the best years’. Even so, the stark differences take some getting used to.

Attitudes change. Drastically. People and times change of course. But I’m talking about universal attitude towards a person when he/she goes through this aspirant-candidate-student-alumnus cycle. Suddenly the higher powers-that-be who couldn’t be bothered with granting you five minutes of their time to discuss your admission/work/placements are queuing up to shake your hand. Of course all of this is dependent on what you’ve done and how you’ve done it since they last left you.

I initially thought of this as akin to the ‘leaving the nest’ syndrome. But family is different. At a professional level, one’s alma mater is the equivalent of family but they aren’t bound to you emotionally in the same way. Hence you get used and abused and when the roles change, its time to return the favour.

Do I sound cynical? Well, it is disconcerting to find that the same people who misplaced your certificates (and ensured endless running around to universities, registrar offices et al for you), graded you badly because they thought you should have been home learning to cook instead and did so many other callous things…are introducing you as ‘someone the students would do well to follow, a fast-track professional, someone with a bright future, a worthy alumnus of this college etc etc’

But that is still bitching about faculty. One of my early mentors told me “You’ll find lots of contacts in college that could lead to jobs, business opportunities and such useful things. But you won’t find friends.” It really hit me at the alumni meet. Six months out of college and very excited about meeting my old classmates again, I arrived at the alumni meet. I’d been on the other side long enough, the organizers, the alumni group, the nameless, faceless students who ensured that the institute had links to all those who had walked through its halls. And now, I was about to sign my name in the Visitors book for the first time. I felt like a moth caught in a chandelier. Someone I didn’t recognize called me to invite me, someone else had a name tag ready for me, disembodied hands stuffed a bag of college paraphrelia into my arms and pushed me into the hall. And inside the hall, there was the same gathering I’d seen in the past years. Except the bunch that used to sport the Volunteer tags now had respectable Visitor passes. And everyone was flashing visiting cards.

I have attended several alumni meets now. And there are patterns that I didn’t catch at first. Patterns that repeat. The person in the centre of a crowd isn’t the one who was the most popular student. It is more likely to be that slimy lizard who stole your reports and who was the first one in the batch to get promoted.

What about your seniors? Ah, this is really interesting. Some of those creeps who bullied you all through the first days and then forgot you when you needed a mentor, suddenly want your email address. Oh and maybe ‘get together sometime for a drink and discuss some business opportunities’. And those great people whom you had fun with, who did give you some tips about your interview seem to be avoiding you. I guess it isn’t easy to deal with the idea that someone you gave a leg up to, zoomed past you.

What of those who fared more or less the same way as you did in college and now too? They are there of course….with uneasy looking smiles they tell you that they want to ‘circulate’ and that they’ll catch up with you later. Which they don’t. You may bump into them over dinner and conversations are guarded. And probing. No friends in this game, rivals it is always.

Of course all conversations revolve around who is doing what, who switched jobs and why. Everyone joins in, even those who haven’t worked since they quit college. Everyone has an opinion. And an agenda. Visiting cards are passed out, phone numbers exchanged. Everyone knows everyone else as well as someone’s boss, colleague, client, supplier. There is this seemingly casual camaradie while they bitch about a common contact. But each one is storing what the other is saying to be circulated back to the subject of common scorn.

I was stripped of my illusions at that one meet that happened the year I took a break from my job. It was close to the time I quit and a lot of people hadn’t heard about it. So I greeted the usual wave of handshakes coming my way and prepared for the charade ahead. Except most of those smiles visibly faded when they realised that there was no job/sale/contact coming their way. A few people actually cut me mid-sentence and walked off ‘to say hello to so-and-so’. The next year of course changed again. A new job, a new visiting card brought a few new handshakes and all the old ones too.

I still attend alumni meets. I guess I’ve become a part of the system too. There really are useful contacts to be made and maintained, even if I can’t stand them at a personal level. I no more get that very juvenile kick out of seeing my teachers faces when they realise I didn’t turn out a wastrel after all. Some things don’t matter with time I guess. I do like meeting the new kids on the block. I particularly enjoy talking to students. Maybe I just like advising people but yes, I do remember that there were a few people whose words changed the course of my life at one time or another. If sharing an experience eases someone’s way, I consider my debts repaid.

After each alumni meet, I like to take a stroll through the old campus. A college always looks weird when it is empty. But it feels even funnier to see strange faces sitting inside classrooms, lounging in hallways and generally belonging to the place that used to feel like second home to me once. The empty building just looks like I stayed back for a late class, after everyone left. I used to do that sometimes. And after I finished up work, I’d relax over a chai and dream about my future. Standing in that future right now, realising that all those dreams came true….is a good feeling. It makes even the alumni meet worth it.

Movie Review: AMEN

What’s better than spending Saturday night with a gorgeous, intelligent, witty and sensitive man? I had the privilege this weekend. Harish Iyer invited me to a private screening of the short film ‘AMEN’ based in part, on his life. My first question was to ask if I should dress up. He said, “No yaar, I’ll be there in my regular jeans and all.” Thank goodness for me then, that I’ve met Harish before and I know what his idea of ‘regular jeans’ is. Never trust a gay man who says he isn’t dressing up!

The movie was screened at Pixion, a luxurious 24-seater in Bandra. The poster shows a part of the famous Michelangelo fresco depicting the Genesis and bears the tagline,

“Life does not let you choose your parents or your sexuality.”

One social message is a heavy charge for a film to bear without getting typecast into the shoddily made, preachy documentary mold. AMEN touched on internet hookups, rape, incest, child abuse, trust issues and love, in addition to homosexuality. It is remarkable that a film could accomplish all of that without sounding like a laundry-list of the ills of society.

From a storyteller’s point of view, it was interesting to see how the team managed to make a powerful commentary about the life of a gay man, fraught as it is with much uncertainty, loneliness, fear, mistrust and anger….all of this through the very intimate portrayal of two characters. The film could have gone two ways – maudlin or sleazy. Instead, it came through as sensitive, realistic, disturbing but also thought-provoking.

AMEN is a 24-minute film with taut storyline and a certain freshness without the glitches of an amateur production. The characters were well-defined and both actors (Karan Mehra and Jitin Gulati) essayed their roles without any of the self-consciousness that one might associate with such a bold project. One of the best compliments of the evening came from Vinta Nanda (director, Tara). When she said,

“Ordinarily when you watch a boy-meets-girl story, the women associate with the heroine and the men with the hero. I am a woman but I was completely immersed in the story of two men.”

Personally I liked the two intertwining threads of story within the film – two characters who’ve come to a situation from different places. Their individual experiences have shaped them differently and as a result, how they come to terms with their lives and their sexuality is different. Everything that we watch and read about love stories involves a certain automatic slotting of characters into their gender roles, a certain, ‘It’s a guy thing’/ ‘That’s so girly’ attitude. But AMEN made me see the characters as two people, each one a unique set of emotions and experiences. It made me empathise with each one separately and isn’t that an artist’s greatest challenge?

One normally expects a certain kind of scene to draw a certain premediated response. The violence and intensity of the starting scenes were disturbing. However it was the subtlety of Harry (Karan Mehra)’s mirror scene that really brought tears to my eyes. The mirror, as a metaphor for self-reflection, for facing one’s fears and the subsequent connection of fingertip to reflection was beautifully done.

I also liked the way the conflict was resolved realistically and not in the conventional ‘happily ever after’ way. The ending completely satisfied me as a viewer and that may be the best thing that can be said about any movie.

The making of AMEN is probably enough material for another movie altogether. A labour of love for both Ranadeep Bhattacharyya & Judhajit Bagchi, the experience had them playing producer, director but also spotboy, technician, teaboy and scriptwriter. The shoot commenced over 3 days in a small bungalow, after which the team hand-packed the sets, bundled into a tempo and delivered back the props borrowed from friends and family. Midway during the production, they found even their tight budgeting would not cover the costs of the film. Then Harish put up a status update on Twitter about this and to their surprise, a stranger offered to help them. Expenses were often cut down but money would continue to make its way to them till they finished. Their online guardian angel, Tina Valentina, actually met the team for the first time only at the preview of the film. AMEN was helped greatly by an excellent background score, a gift from Jonathon Fessenden, Hollywood composer and a professional look/feel thanks to Prasonjit.

In sum, AMEN is a fine movie with a solid story that also carries a number of powerful messages. It will definitely be of interest to the gay community but also to anyone who likes good cinema.

(pictures from the AMEN Facebook Fanpage)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,993 other followers

%d bloggers like this: