Tag Archives: Story

The Sense Of Stories

Read me a story of touch
when I cannot see

Sing me a song of colour
that reaches through
the white noise

The Masochism Of Writers

Say you’ve got a story
I know it already
I knew it before you wrote it
You ask me what I think; you’re
hanging eagerly onto my answer
I pause and I say, you
should have made me nicer.

Tiny Tales: The Apple Lion

I realised during the Alphabet Sambar meet yesterday that I wrote this story but never put it up. So here it is for your childhood-scented reading pleasure. Don’t forget to play!

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

The Apple Lion

It started with a spelling test. Ma’am had threatened the class with one later in the week.

“If you have all been studying like good children, you will have no problem. All the bad children who think they can learn everything in one day, they will all FAIL!! And they will be made to stand outside Father Philip’s office! And their parents will be called. And they will also have to sit outside Father Philip’s office. When they see their parents sitting outside Father Philip’s office, then they will think…Oh, I should have studied when ma’am told me to. Otherwise my whole family would not be sitting outside the principal’s office!!”

And she swept out of the class with a menacing clack of heels. Anusuya turned to Minnal, worry pushing the corners of her lips down. She looked just like Ronald MacDonald but with his face upside down. Then Rahil shot a paper pellet at her and she turned to him, frown gone. Fahim was picking his nose, so they started teasing him.

Manu watched them all from under his elbows, his head down on the table. He tried to think of all the big words that they had come across, in the chapters so far. He didn’t want Anusuya to fail. He liked her even though she looked like Ronald MacDonald with her curly, short hair. He lifted his head. Immediately Minnal turned in his direction so he looked away and right into his book. A word swum into focus, just as a paper pellet hit him on the back.

APHELION.

Affy-leen. Apay-le-yon.  Appa-lion. He tried the word on his tongue several times. It didn’t work. Then the chemistry sir slippered into class. Manu always thought of it that way, even though his father had told him that there was no such a thing as ‘slippering’. But sir made a terrific sound with his rubber slippers slapping on the floor. Manu had tried it at home but he couldn’t get the same effect, till he went into the bathroom and slapped his feet around on the wet tiles. Maushi had complained to his mother and she had come and yanked him out of the bathroom, telling him to let the maid do her work. Slipper-slipper-slipper, sir’s feet made that sound announcing his arrival. Everyone straightened in their seats and opened their chemistry textbooks.

That evening, Manu walked to tuition class. He tried slippering but it wouldn’t work with his canvas shoes. Then he passed the empty ground next to tuition didi’s house. Somebody had thrown a half-eaten apple into the compound. He kicked it as he passed. It reminded him of that word he had seen earlier in class. What was it?

Apple-lion.

Idea! He sat down on the staircase and took out his dictionary.

Aphelion

  1. the point farthest from the sun in the orbit of a planet or comet.
  2. the point in the orbit of any orbiting body farthest from the body about which it revolves.

There was a diagram below it showing earth and moon. He looked up, hearing a chatter of voices. Minnal, Fahim and Anusuya entered the building. They paused when they saw him, then they continued. Anusuya asked him,

“What are you doing?”

Manu told her,

“I’m making a game.”

“What game?”,

she bent next to him, looking at the open dictionary.

“It’s to help me remember the spellings,”

said Manu, shutting the books and stuffing them back into his bag.

They had an hour of sums to do. Manu was pulled up once for drawing in his workbook.

“What are these??”

tuition didi demanded, looking at the blobs he had scribbled that morning in class.

“Apples”

said Manu. He didn’t want to reveal his game yet.

“And what about these?”

she asked, pointing to three stick figures with squiggly lines on their tops.

“Lions”

Manu replied in a small voice.

Minnal giggled again, while Fahim tried to laugh and pick his nose at the same time.

When the class was over though, Anusuya sidled upto Manu and asked him,

“So what’s the game?”

Manu looked up from putting away his books, smiling.

“Tomorrow”, he told her, “Come for tuition half an hour early tomorrow. But meet me in the ground.”

Then he looked over her shoulder and gestured with his chin.

“Bring them also.”

The next day Manu told his mother that tuition didi had called them early to prepare for the test. As he reached the ground, he realized they had all come, even Rahil, though he was not in their tuition class.

“Well, what’s the game?”

Rahil demanded as Manu approached them.

Manu took out a sheet of paper on which he had written out all the hard words from the chapter. Then he explained the rules.

“This is the Earth”,

he said, drawing a circle around where they stood, in the dust with his shoe. Then he ran backwards, till he reached the compound wall. From there he began drawing a line in the dust around the Earth circle, till he reached the same point again. The kids watched him curiously.

“And this is the road the moon goes on, around the Earth.”

“No, no, the sun goes around the Earth,”

Minnal insisted.

“Stupid, Earth goes around sun,”

Rahil corrected her.

“And moon also goes around Earth.”

Anusuya added.

Minnal looked crestfallen but they all fell silent, turning to him.

“You will all be satellites. I will stand over here,”

said Manu, pointing to the ground, where he stood next to the compound wall.

“I will call out one word. If it is Minnal’s turn, she must spell out the word. Each letter in the word means, she takes one step to the moon road. Like if I say ‘Sun’, she takes a step for S, then U and then N. If you don’t know the spelling of the word, you pass. The next person takes that turn.”

Fahim scratched his nose. Manu rushed on before the finger went into the nose.

“If everyone passes, everybody has to go back to Planet Earth. Then I will spell the word correctly and we will take a new word.”

Minnal screwed up her forehead.

“What happens when we reach the moon road?”

Rahil asked.

Manu hadn’t thought about it but noticing Anusuya’s smile gave him a new idea.

“Then you become a satellite. If Minnal doesn’t know the word I give, then she can ask you for a new word.”

“Minnal doesn’t know any words!”

said Fahim, gravely studying a grey blob on his finger as he spoke.

Minnal opened her mouth but when she saw Fahim’s hand, she shut up.

“How do you spell satelli..”

Anusuya began.

Manu drowned her out speaking as loudly as he could. He didn’t want Fahim to say Anusuya didn’t know any words.

“The satellite people will try to reach me as fast as they can by spelling the words I give. If you make a mistake, the satellite explodes and you fall back onto Planet Earth.”

“Satellites are not explosive, stupid!”

said Minnal.

“In this game, they are. They are bomb-satellites. They have to reach the finish without exploding.”

Fahim had dropped to his knees to tie his sneakers.

“First one to reach where I am standing is the winner. That person takes this list and gets to call out new words for the others.”

“What is this game called?”

Anusuya wanted to know.

“Apple Lion”, Manu replied. “That’s where I’m standing. It’s the apple lion of this game. It means the point furthest on the moon road from Earth.”

They liked the name. They began to play. Surprisingly Minnal won the first game and became the Apple Lion. And the first word she gave Manu was ‘Aphelion’. He pretended he didn’t know its spelling though he had recited it twenty times the previous day. Anusuya was next and she got it right. He wanted her to be the next Apple Lion.

The next day they played it, walking around on tin cans tied under their feet. Everyone got the spelling of ‘Stilts’ right. By Day 3, everyone knew all the answers and they made him promise he’d bring a fresh Apple Lion list from another chapter, the next day.

Manu went home and ate his dinner without complaint. He didn’t even notice that there was tindli in the sabzi. The Apple Lion was going to pass the spelling test with full marks.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —— — — — — — — — — — —

If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

Three Dots

The life of a writer is chaptered in unfinished stories.

Movie: Dhobi Ghat – Mumbai Musings

Movies are a big part of weekend planning. Realistically, what else is there to do in Mumbai? Let’s not go into the notions of what a ‘happening’ city this is. I’ve been active on the cultural circuit for the past year and a half and gone to everything I could find. Poetry slams, Open mics, music gigs, stand-up comedy, workshops, book readings, board game meets…to my utter disgust, all I found was the same frenzied networking, the same desperate need to be cool, the same petty politicking and hard-nosed business dealings, in place of any real interest in the event/field or depth of thought. I’ve struggled with this but had to conclude that Mumbai lets you make a living, not a life.

Dhobi Ghat, Kiran Rao’s directorial debut was this weekend’s big feature. It started on a less-than-pleasant note. Considering that movies are the only standard entertainment available and the skyrocketing multiplex prices, I tend to frequent the second-tier theatres that are still ‘safe’ for a woman to go to alone but cheaper. Moviestar Goregaon was my pick. We entered about ten minutes before the start of the show, when the lights were still on, which is probably why the filthy seats caught our notice. I don’t mean a broken armrest or an undone stitch on the upholstery. I mean filthy, godaloneknows what black, smelly, gunky-goo streaked across all the seats that we could find. The manager was apologetic enough but there were no cleaner seats available and so we had our tickets refunded. While on this, I must add that the theater is now under BIG cinemas which to me, means that service levels can only plummet. My past experiences show that Fame Adlabs, also part of the same group, offers rude staff, smelly (and bedbug-infested) seats and stale food for its high prices. I bid goodbye to another of my budget alternatives. The boy was most appalled at the fact that the other theatergoers streamed in, blindly (and deafly) made their way around us and arranged themselves comfortably in those same filthy seats, even as we pointed them out to the staff. Mumbai, you could redefine the laws of robotics.

We managed to finally catch the movie at 24 Karat, another theatre down the road and I was glad we’d persisted. After the kind of tortures that Bollywood has been visiting on our senses lately (Sheila Kejwani, anyone?), it was a real pleasure to not have to shield my eyes and ears.

A number of things stand out about the movie. Firstly, there isn’t one concrete plot. What there are, are a number of strong, well-etched characters and the little (and big) incidents that constitute their lives. Secondly, the absence of background music is noticeable. Most Bollywood films use music to cue the audience into the mood of the scene, sometimes excessively. Dhobi Ghat, in comparison, is understated, stark and disorienting because it doesn’t offer any such hints, preferring instead to let the audience figure it out for itself. It’s hard to tell whether you’re supposed to laugh at Zohaib’s poker-faced filmdom dreams or empathize with them. It’s tricky to deciding whether Shai’s pursuit of Arun (and parallel ignorance of Zohaib’s attention) is pathetic or natural. You’re not sure whether to dislike Arun or admire him. And thus we respond to the characters just the way we would to people in real life. With confusion, with warmth, with respect and then derision, with conflicting emotions.

It seems counter-intuitive but its not, that when the viewer is given so much to think about, even deeper levels make themselves visible. I liked how Dhobi Ghat effectively portrays that Mumbaikers blur the social order but don’t quite erase it. Economic classes, gender barriers, cultural divides are bridged and broken in mysterious ways. Most of us flit in and out of the periphery with a comfort that sometimes baffles outsiders. Interactions happen in that twilight zone as so relationships – odd, indefinable and yet deeply intimate ones like those of fellow train-passengers, bais & dhobis & house madams and people who occupy the same flat at different times.

Prateek Babbar (underutilized in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na) steals the show with a poker face arranged around brooding-animated-wry-resigned-intense-pragmatic eyes. A hundred emotions flit across his face in a single look over a brun maska. And most impressively, his very silhouette seems to evolve over the course of the movie, starting with an awkward, blurred  look to a more resolute, defined profile at the end of the movie. I don’t know if that’s good acting or good cinematography; I’m willing to bet on both.

Kriti Malhotra comes in second in terms of her performance as the anonymous face in a series of video-letters. She’s spontaneous, realistic and her voice washes over you with as much familiarity as the neighbor’s.

I was the least impressed with Monica Dogra. Considering the footage she has in the movie, (the promos say it’s four people’s stories but she seems to be around the most), she doesn’t stand out much, except as a moderately pretty face. Interestingly, her act is what made me think that Dhobi Ghat may have made a good movie but it would be a great book. The characters are wonderfully created and the script is taut. Beyond that, it falls to the people who don the roles to bring them to life and I’m afraid Monica as Shai, just didn’t do it for me.

As always, I checked what Meetu had to say before watching the movie. This time, I don’t quite agree with her, when she says that the movie could have very well been set in New York or London or even Pune. Dhobi Ghat doesn’t just pay lip service to standard Mumbai iconography like trains and movies. It snaps up an accurate slice of Mumbai life, from its crowded chaos jostling with glitzy glamour to the near schizophrenic behavior that these contrasts seem to bring out in the city’s occupants.

I started this post talking about the robotic behaviour of Mumbaikers but I also speak for the tangible, prideful emotion that we carry collectively. A city is no more than a group of human beings, after all. And I’d like to think that the unique situations that this group finds itself in, day in and day out, makes us uniquely who we are. Dhobi Ghat seems to agree.

If you love Mumbai, this is definitely for you. If you’re appalled by it and there’s still room for an explanation, maybe this movie will give you one.

Reverb 10.10: Waiting For Wisdom

Another somewhat uninspiring Reverb 10 prompt but that may just be because I write so much about this already in my blog. So here goes:

December 10 – Wisdom Wisdom

What was the wisest decision you made this year, and how did it play out?

(Author: Susannah Conway)

This has been a year (and a little more) of reflections and insights. I had a windfall of wisdom due to me, after the decade I spent chasing all manner of unwise things. I don’t know if I’ve collected all but I’m still making sense of much of them. Wisdom seems to me like the juice of ripe fruits. The orchard spans acres and acres and I haven’t even finished on the first tree. The feasting has begun but there’s much wisdom juice to still be sucked out. Let me just instead, list some of the wisdom-rich experiences of the past year.

I’m not counting the experience of turning thirty and quitting my job and starting my book. Yes, all of that is slightly stereotyped early mid-life crisis like, isn’t it? Those experiences are already being chronicled in The Thirty Diaries.

Last year, I participated in an online study that examined the trend of people quitting their regular jobs to pursue other lines for various reasons. My participation required me to write an essay type answer each day, to various soul-searching, thought-provoking questions that the group posed to me. The questions explored my notions of success and motivation as also my life lessons and my future plans. What I discovered for myself, was that I had spent a decade and more aspiring to (and with reasonable success, living up to) a common perception of success, as it was held by my family and friends. The big change in my life at thirty was less about quitting one track and more about deciding to figure out success for myself – what it is, how to measure it and how to get going on it.

The novel was begun last year but that was more of a task. It really became a soul exercise only this year when it hit me that fiction or otherwise, this was something I was creating from myself. The emotions, the ideologies, the characters and their stories, these were all things I shaped from the raw material of my own life experiences. While my novel is not autobiographical and none of my characters are based on me, their world and them is built from the clay and bricks of my own dreams and feelings and relationships. Writing about them is quite literally like building. For that, I have to go into the storehouse of my own emotion every single time. And what I find there, is not always to my expectation, let alone liking. There are wells over wells of forgotten feelings and repressed emotions that emerge with every soul-digging enterprise. When I write about a fifteen-year-old’s struggle to fit, it irrevocably takes me back to my own awkward adolescence and forces me to face what I thought and felt and believed, back then. The mind is storehouse of every single thing you’ve said and done and felt and in so many ways, you are better off not going there. Writing is signing away the safety valve of forgetfulness that life gives us. My madness is let loose. And yet, I wouldn’t stop it, if I could. Maybe there will be some wisdom in this unabashed tidal wave.

And finally there is the relationship. I’ve been writing about dating and the opposite sex and relationships for a long time now. But actually living it is a whole new experience. What’s more, the last time I was in a real relationship, I was a different person. The very act of being with someone is stepping over into a different world and being a different person. You are never quite the same again, even after the relationship ends. Building something with another person, just adjusting to another person’s world is causing the foundations of my own careful, precise, cleanly-ordered world to crack and crumble. It’s not comfortable, in the least. But this time, I can feel me growing, quite literally. Wisdom, I await you with humble arms, wide open.

Chronology

Where does a story actually begin?

You can start to tell it from the middle,
race to the end,
stop just before the last chapter,
then retrace your steps back to the start
…and then go again.

Stories are nice that way.

And so are people and conversations.

~O~O~O~O~O~

A good time may come,
And then a bad time,
And another one…or not…
And who can tell which one it’ll be?

But we’ll keep walking
And we’ll keep talking
So long as the feet on the road
Belong to both you and me.

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

Movie: Ravanan-Skip & Read Amar Chitra Katha Instead

If you haven’t seen Ravan (or Ravanan) already, I’d suggest you not bother. If you’re the only person in this country who doesn’t know the story, pick up an Amar Chitra Katha rendition of Ramayana. It has the basic plot, the facts as most of us have heard them and the visuals are nice enough. It’ll be cheaper on the pocket too.

I would have given the movie a definite skip if it had been called Rama or Ramayan. I mean, I was weaned on the Ramanand Sagar classic and the aforementioned Amar Chitra Katha culture. I even saw the various renditions on television, movies and pop culture, edifying the perfect man, his perfect wife and the exact opposite embodiment of evil with all the paraphernalia of Hanuman, Vibhishan, Lakshman and Surpanaka.

If by some chance, I found I’d forgotten a tiny point, I could retrieve my copy of the original or I could turn around and ask just about anybody and expect the right answer. Why then, would anyone in their right minds, want to spend time and money to hear the same story in a theatre?

I was intrigued by the title Ravanan. While I’ve seen the old story in the old setting and in new settings, I haven’t heard it from the other point of view, the darker side. I’m sorry to say, it was a sad trick to lure the audiences into the theatres. As a vision, the idea of telling the Ramayan from Ravan’s point of view is interesting but it didn’t carry through in execution.

*spoiler alert*

A movie that set out with such lofty ideas didn’t even explore the complexity of some of the other characters. Hanuman, for instance, is depicted by a washed-up actor portraying a jungle officer given to silly dancing and pesky monkey-like behaviour. Vibhishan is no more than a nondescript younger brother who has exactly one dialogue and gets shot dead soon after. Lakshman is a lackey cop who is unconscious/dead for most of his screen time. Each of these depictions comes across as a parody in poor taste.

The idea of a tribal leader on the wrong side of the law is intriguing and the tough forest terrain would well explain his personality and behaviour. But it wouldn’t explain spending an entire hour showing what looked like rejected National Geographic clips. I kid you not, I was surprised when the interval came and my watch showed only an hour had gone by. And the Vicco Vajradanti ads in the interval were far more entertaining than what I had been subjected to, before that.

The second half picks up (though not before a forced back-to-back two songs) but by then the damage has been done. Too much, too late. There just isn’t enough time to think about the character conflicts, the depth of each of their emotions. Mostly by then, you just want the movie to get over and be done with it.

I’ve never liked Aishwarya Rai as an actress and with this movie, I add the rest of the cast to this list too. Vikram does an Ajay Devgan with grunts and a perpetual scowl to depict menace. I’m sorry to say that Mani Ratnam and A.R.Rahman fall in my ratings too. This is just lazy creativity – poor storytelling and rehashed tunes.

The bigger question is why are we so stuck on the two great epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata? Granted, they were great stories (and that’s why they’re called epics). But have centuries worth of storytellers not been able to come up with new fare? Have we become pathological remixers?

Last week’s fiasco Rajneeti was a foul remix of Mahabharata and The Godfather. It grated on my nerves for how the characters seemed to be forced into the roles of their Mahabharata counterparts to the point of ridiculous serendipity (Ajay Devgan being the driver’s boy a.k.a charioteer’s son, Ranbir Kapoor as the sharpshooting Casanova a.k.a. Arjun). Ravanan didn’t even get that far. With the caricature of Hanuman in the first few minutes of the movie, they had already lost me.

My tweets on this have been getting a few replies to the effect of human emotions being finite and there being only so many stories to express them. I disagree. The art of storytelling is universal and timeless. It is an art because it moves, it flows, it engages and it grows. It’s what made Omkara wonderful even as it was a retelling of Othello. Vishal Bharadwaj managed to find his Iago in a rustic local goon called Langda Tyaagi. His version, in an English script could have been called Iago and not Othello. That’s what a different story is all about, even though it’s the same plot.

With a movie, there are several components that can drive the story forward – an original script, great casting and acting and good screenplay. Ravanan, I regret to say, enjoys none of these.

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