Saturday, April 15, 2017
All for the love of Biryani...
Disclaimer- This is a work of fiction (science fiction) and no characters resemble living or ruling persons. That said, it’s the unpleasant task of a writer to highlight things before it happens, as it happens and after it happens. Before it happens- as a warning. As it happens- as a chronicle. After it happens- as a memory. Some of the best writers perished in the fascist concentration camps and the communist gulags, because they did not write before it happened or even as it happened- all around them, to others and themselves. A few survivors wrote after the events- by then it was too late to save the millions who perished because of the pusillanimity of the intellectuals who should have been at the forefront of the resistance. Or that’s what history teaches us as it judges events (and persons) dispassionately.
That morning he woke up at his usual early morning hour without the assistance of the electro-assist alarm thus saving a few volts of electricity and more importantly avoiding the painful early morning electric shock which usually woke him up daily. Once up, he wasted no time in heading to the bathroom to have the regulated two minute shower and then dressed quickly in a white dhoti and long sleeved white shirt, his usual office attire, before heading to the insta-coffee maker to grab his early morning cuppa of fresh chicory brew, his only breakfast on working mornings. As he gulped down the hot and bitter brew he waxed nostalgic on the genuine coffee, from fresh roasted beans, he had enjoyed in his younger days. But those days of luxurious life on earth were long past, the unsustainable population explosion had put paid to luxuries like coffee long ago and only the uber rich were thought to be able to sample such genuine luxuries nowadays. He sighed and put down the mud pot in the recycler and picking up his jute bag, plastics having been banned ages ago, he went off to the station to catch his pod to work.
From his suburban house in the foothills off the chamundi hills to the pod station at Mysore central was a 20 minute commute by uber and a vehicle was automatically re-routed to pick him up by the action of locking his door electronically using his Aadhar key-card. As he hung the card back on his neck using the lanyard he reflected how his apartment was all safe now from unauthorized access as the only two who could open the door without that key were him and the government both with access to his fingerprints and iris prints. In locking his door behind securely he was often considered an anachronism and was made much fun of in the beginning but old habits die hard and despite the government propaganda labelling those who locked their doors as anti-national and paper money hoarders and colleagues questioning his patriotism as “if you have nothing to hide in there then why do you lock the door when you leave the house?” he still preferred to lock the doors in his absence.
This was due to, thought he wouldn’t admit it, a fear that his ex-wife would move back into the empty house in his absence if he left it unlocked. If she, god forbid did that, he would have no recourse legally except to share the apartment again with that treacherous woman who had made him the laughing stock of the Hyderabad office by co-habiting with her supervisor openly and who he could not divorce like in the old/bad times because according to the new constitution, circa 2019, a man and his wife were supposed to stay married for seven lifetimes with no option of divorce even after death and anyone who complained his wife was cheating on him was labelled an anti-national and told to follow the example of the soldiers on the border who lived a life of celibacy. That was the prime reason he had shifted work to Chennai even though he hated to visit the new Chennai, what was left over of the city post the 2020 mega-tsunami.
When he finally reached the pod station at Mysore junction, he was lucky to find a pod just ready to leave for Chennai and so he crawled into it and strapped himself in tightly for the twenty minute commute to Chennai sriperumbudur hyper loop station. The pod whizzed away on its breakneck speed and he felt a slight tinge of nostalgia for all the sights he was missing outside the vacuum tube on which the hyper loop train ran. But then again he remembered that it was all mostly an ugly industrial sprawl – a continuous slum, right from Bangalore to Chennai and that’s why he had moved to live near the chamundi hills rather than stay in some urban coop inside Bangalore city. The extra twenty minutes of commute was worth it in his view. After he got out of his pod at Chennai sriperumbudar station, he hopped into the company van which was waiting to transport a few others like him who commuted daily form Bangalore and soon he was working at his desk in his office.
Hunched over his computer console he checked again the work which had accumulated in his absence- but thankfully it had been a quiet night and the overnight alerts were few. Not many people had made fun of or criticized the government last night so he didn’t need to alert the special riot squad of the cbi to raid their homes and taser them with a 1000 volts charge – to fry their brains and memories- before transporting such anti-national culprits to the Andaman jail for life. He felt dirty doing such work and remembered a time long back when he had done work as a cyber-security consultant who hunted people for releasing torrents of new film releases. But that was before the new constitution which made watching unsanctioned films a crime worthy of being sent to jail for ten years without bail. As most films, make that 90% of the films, didn’t get censor sanction for one reason or the other and no one in their right mind wanted to risk watching a film, any film and then go to jail for ten years the once thriving film industry had gradually died down and been replaced by documentaries on nature which easily passed the censors. Now all cyber security experts worked on government contracts trying to trace anti-nationals who criticized the legitimate government and the supreme leader.
As he was sitting there mulling over the changes in society over the past decade, his co-worker from the next terminal leant over and said “happy birthday sirji, just now saw the alert for your birthday on social media platforms, how come you kept it so quiet?”. He smiled outwards at that greeting but inwardly cringing he said “aww, shucks, we are not kids are we? to be celebrating birthdays?”. His colleague was persistent if anything and said “but sirji you can’t escape so easily, you have to give us all a party next pay day” before turning back to his terminal to continue working. He was suddenly captivated by the word party and started reminiscing on past birthdays, how they had been filled with friends, booze and biryani. Ever since the supreme leader and the party of the pure had come to power he had forgotten the pleasures of both, like all the rest of the citizens and had turned into model subjects- vegetarian and teetotalers. But the reminder of biryani suddenly triggered long dormant memories and cravings inside him.
He thought over his life in those days and compared it with now- a meaningless, routine existence where the government ruled over everything you did, including what you ate and suddenly felt within himself a small spark of defiance. It had been ages since he had eaten biryani, so why not try today? His work as a cyber-security consultant had its advantages, occasionally he came across online posts on contraband availability. He had recently seen one such post on biryani being available at a nearby city called Ambur, clandestinely. The thought of tasting biryani after ten years made him light headed reckless and strangely rebellious. He decided to head out to Ambur in his lunch break and see if it was authentic biriyani made of non-vegetarian mutton.
Once he had made up his mind, he surreptitiously opened up the old post he had flagged with the number of the biryani shop and noting it down walked down to the rest room and made the call. A voice on the other end gave him his instructions to take a cab and be in ambur central by 30 mins. So he went back to his cubicle to wind down his work and filled out the form for his lunch break and forwarded it to his superior who Okayed it and allowed him to go out and eat. Once outside his workplace he flagged down a cab for the ten minute ride to ambur. Once there he stood looking around for five minutes till a shady looking character sidled up to him and said “are you the one who called for the biryani?” when he affirmed that it was indeed him, the shady guy asked “do you have any identification to show you are not from the anti-non veg squad ”? when he had shown the man his aadhar card and had assured him that he was indeed a legitimate customer if a bit kinky who just craved meat suddenly, the tout invited him into a vehicle and said “we will go in this vehicle to the actual place, it’s just a few minutes away in vaniyambadi nearby, we don’t advertise the actual locations for obvious reasons”. Fine, he said and went along with him till they reached what looked like a prosperous little eatery advertising “pure-veg food prepared exclusively by Brahmin hands” as he hesitated on the steps, his contact smiled and said “don’t worry saar, we have a special section upstairs” and hustled him into the eatery and up a small flight of stairs to a dingy little hall upstairs where a small group of people were looking around furtively as they ate the banned biriyani.
As the smell of well-made ambur mutton biryani wafted through his nostrils he leant back his head and sniffed it to his heart’s content. And then a plate of it was placed before him and he rolled up a morsel and popped it into his mouth. It was just the right taste, hot, spicy and a little bit tangy as a proper biryani should be. The accompanying side dish- again a banned item- chicken 65 – was crispy and fresh and he took the time to savour a piece chewing it softly. It was while he was in the midst of satisfying his long suppressed desires and on the way to achieving food-nirvana that the police raided the small hotel and burst into the hitherto secret room upstairs serving non veg food. A few patrons tried to escape but they found that an entire platoon from the anti-non veg squad had surrounded the place with orders to shoot on sight those trying to escape after committing this heinous crime of eating non-vegetarian food in swaach bharat country. The next day all those arrested for the crime of eating meat, a hundred or so daily, were produced before a fast track court especially set up to deal with such capital crimes and were summarily sentenced to death.
As he was strapped to the latest model koodankulam mark-4 type electric chair and the electrodes placed on his chest to transmit the 10, 000 plus volts needed to fry his heart to death instantaneously , he looked up and out at the cameras live telecasting his death to the cowed millions watching the daily death show of anti-nationals who defy the dictates of the supreme leader (and his storm troopers) and smilingly said “tyranny comes in many forms and it’s not easy to recognize it in its initial avatar. I should have protested when they banned rupee notes, I should have protested when they made identity card carrying compulsory, I should have protested when they banned my local language, I should have protested when they made me, an individual, responsible for everything the government should do. But I didn’t, not even when they told me what to do, what to speak, how to live and even what to think. Well, it ends today, one way or the other for me. For, it’s a far far better place I go to, a place where no one will dictate what we should eat and as I go there with the still lingering taste of biryani in my memory, i think my death is worth it” as the lever was pulled and he was fried to death for desiring a biryani.
P.S. if you think this is a bit far-fetched, wait till the election results of the 2019 general elections. A fair warning to all of you- please voluntarily convert yourselves to pure vegetarians by then.
Thursday, March 30, 2017
Validating Love And Other Misconceptions.
Ever since the concept of Valentine’s Day, a day dedicated solely to love, started gaining prominence in our conservative society there has been a lot of hue and cry made over love. There have been anti-love groups, the so called Romeo squads roaming around the cities trying to catch people who are making love to each other in public spaces and in quid pro quo, the mushrooming pro-love groups who have been trying to reclaim the public spaces for private acts, in this case kissing in public to cock-a-snook at the guardians of public morality who feel threatened by these lewd acts in public to which children might get accidentally exposed and heaven forbid, grow up believing that snogging in public is not anathema in our day to day life. Much as I sympathize with those who have no immediate access to a private space to conduct private business (I wouldn’t call the marina beach entirely private, although it does offer some space) I am forced to agree with the guardians of our morality and say “get a room guys” for some things are just too icky to be done in public- wet slobbering kisses hidden under dupattas for instance.
Which brings me to the primary point of this post- who was the bright spark who decided that love has to be celebrated with kissing? I would understand if valentine’s day was a day declared as a kissing day and then people celebrated it by kissing each other (and random strangers, if permitted) in public like they supposedly do in Central Park, New York (disclaimer: the farthest I have been to is Nanganallur, so I don’t actually have any evidence they do this in New York, just hearsay from click bait news sites). But for a day dedicated to celebrating love, why do you have to validate love by making kissing as a proof of concept? This and other misconceptions on love are what I am going to discuss in my next few thousand words, so if you are already feeling bored, go take a nap and come back for the climax.
In my humble opinion (there- I said it, even though I believe that my opinion is anything but humble) the crux of this entire problem lies in equating love with marriage. With marriage and its attendant burdens like chastity, fidelity, honesty etc. Love, independent love, is fettered with chains by insisting on it being directed solely with the purpose of gaining or retaining a mate. No longer does our society permit us to love inanimate things (say a Bugatti Veyron) or cross-species love (your favorite pet dog) or even love for nature- when you are captivated by a beautiful sunset and just can’t turn away from the glorious sight of the sun sinking slowly into the sea. But no, those are not claimed as love nowadays, love means solely between man and woman geared towards marriage or sex.
So let me reiterate my point again –love is different, marriage is different and sex is different. There is absolutely no natural link between these three- each can exist quite well independently. Unfortunately our brains have been so brain washed by society that pure love should end in a wedding that the very definition of love has been split into “pure love” and “impure love”. The one which ends up in shackling two people together in lifelong matrimony is exclusively called pure love while others are termed illegal love. You are supposed to fall in love only once in your lifetime. You are supposed to end up marrying the person you fell in love with. And once when you are in love with someone, you are forbidden to fall in or out of love with anyone else, even accidentally. All these restrictions and rules have been framed to make sure that “love stays pure”. Any deviation from these set rules is immediately classified as crime against society.
All this constant moral harassment by society has made large swathes of our population believe that this is indeed love. Love means writing love letters, sending smiley’s on instant messengers, talking nonsense for hours together, hugging each other, kissing each other, having sex with each other and finally marrying each other. That’s the be-all and end-all of love. And this design includes a happy ending- a love marriage. All the above related activities- hugging, kissing, sex are considered the perks of love and hence more and more people believe that this is what love is all about. And that’s why they frown on any deviation from the set template –like loving more than one person at the same time or loving one person while having sex with another person etc. all of which are labeled as not pure love. Those who believe in such drivel -that kissing or sex is equal to love will never ever realize what love is all about.
True love, false love, pure love, impure love, legal love, illegal love- so many labels for what is just a simple emotion- an expression of happiness that someone else brings into our lives. In fact, you don’t even need the presence of anyone else to experience love- just your thoughts and memories will suffice- a smile on your face when you can recall that beautiful stranger you bumped into yesterday at the supermarket is also love if you broaden the definition of love. Its love when your dog rushes up to lick your face when you come home at the end of the day. Its love even when you express your love to someone else and they turn you down flat- that single second of suspense when your heart soars high in anticipation- that too is love. Love is just that- an emotion. Don’t make it into something it is not. Don’t hang too many things on it. Don’t make it mandatory to end up in a wedding for it to be love. Just let it be as it is and leave it to two people to decide how they want it to be.
Finally I would ask you to look up into the sky and tell me what you see- some will see the long dark night sky with its infinite darkness. Some will see the stars twinkling bright- scattered here and there. And some will see the full moon – dominating the dark. Love is like that- for some it’s the darkness, for someone else it’s the stars and for the lucky few it’s the bright silvery moon. Judge not what each person sees- it’s their space so just leave them be. Thanks for a patient reading- that’s if you got up to this point.
Saturday, March 25, 2017
When Opinions Are Like________ And Everyone Has One
A few years ago, when social media was not yet as ripe as it is today, whenever I finished a book or a movie I liked I couldn’t wait to head to school/college the next day and discuss it with my friends. Sometimes the discussion would be with my area friends and I would head out to their house, call them out, mostly by ringing their door bell and informing their dad/mom whoever happened to open the door that a gang of us friends were waiting in the street for their son and rushing back out to the street before they could stop us and ask us about our marks in the latest exam.
And after such hectic efforts to collect a minimum quorum necessary to argue incessantly we would all adjourn to the nearby tea shop or potti kadai (pavement shop) or even the street corner- preferably a brightly lighted on underneath a street lamp –to make out facial expressions when arguing and then finally I would lay out my opinions regarding that book or movie which made me walk all the way up to their homes and then my friends would proceed to offer their candid comments on my taste of movies or books and lay threadbare my other foibles just to pass their time. After such a refreshing talk with alternate viewpoint’s we would all disperse to our respective streets/homes after promising to meet again soon under the same street lamp. And those were simpler times and not that long ago too- and definitely not from the Jurassic or Triassic era if that’s what you are thinking.
Now switch over to the current scenario. Suppose I read a book or saw a movie I liked- say a new author I have recently discovered or a classic film I just happened to download and watch on a boring day. I just have to post that information online on my Facebook and Twitter feed (or instagram a picture while actually doing it) and voila, the opinions fly in even without asking, even before I have finished posting. Friends, strangers, friends turned strangers and strangers turned friends are all actively commenting on my choice of the book/movie, offering me critical analysis of the novelist/director, recommending other unheard works from his/her oeuvre and generally being too helpful in educating me. And that’s just on facebook.
On twitter the situation is even more drastic. Critics and trolls will crawl out of the woodwork where they would have been long in hiding (just following my tweets silently) and treat my posting my opinion on the book/movie as an open invitation to offer their opinion of me, my behavior in my personal life, my opinon of narendra modi and my lifestyle choices. The open forum of twitter where you don’t have the option of “accepting friends” aka facebook makes it even easier to get trolled by anonymous (and some not so anonymous) trolls. The only option would be to either block them (and miss out on all the fun of being called an imperialist/british loving/macaulayputra running dog for preferring English over Hindi as a national language for united India) or in shifting to a protected tweets only mode which is simply like hollering alone in a locked room while the dogs bark outside. Neither of which appeals to my sense of humour. But sadly despite all that vim and vitriol real opinion on real issues never seem to happen on twitter. Everyone seems desperate to show off and impress others with their felicity over the 140-character format. Brevity in words is unfortunately taken to mean paucity of thoughts, original thoughts I mean.
And when all this pseudo-intellectual shit gets heavy on me, I post my opinions on Insta, where people (from world-over) instantly grant me likes and heart me- even if their ‘net connections are so poor that they can’t even see my post which has not yet loaded on their mobile apps and still take the time to comment “good”, “great”, “wonderful”, “fill in any other generic compliment you can think of” just so I would remember and repeat the compliments the next time they post something. An intellectual conversation is never on the cards on insta- unless it’s a post on feminists when you are sure to get more comments than likes as everyone and their aunt have an opinion on feminism.
Anyway the point of this post is that unlike the simpler older times when the discussion was instant (give or take 24 hours) and mostly on topic, the use of social media to solicit opinions on our recent reads/watches mostly leads us off to unexpected areas where we are forced to either update our knowledge after accepting our ignorance of the topic we first posted upon (say on the comparative acting talents of Humphrey Bogart/Grace Kelley/Sidney Poitier) or we are forced to defend our opinions incessantly (like why we like chetan bhagats books despite the man being a mountebank).
This ceaseless arguing, for weeks on together (whenever any idiotic stalker goes and likes our old post’s to bring it back up on the TL for further comments and discussions again and again) saps all the thrill and excitement of discovering something new and trying to share it with everyone or at least with our own close circle of like-minded friends. So much so, that nowadays I desist from announcing my excitement at my discoveries online. I prefer to hoard the emotions, gloat over them in private and if filled to overflowing I try to turn down the excitement a notch by writing a blogpost on it, of course with comments disabled for my peace of mind. So, far from social media being a great tool to harness contrary opinions and diverse views, the reality is that it’s the same shit all over again. And this way you don’t even have the pleasure of punching someone in the face when they disagree with you.
So tell me dear readers, do you like to post your opinions on social media when something new excites you? Or do you just want to pick up a phone, call a friend and talk it out with them? Which is your choice of poison?
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
My Top -5 – Underrated Tamil Films On The Theme Of Love Failure.
Inspired by blogger Sylvianism’s post on top romance films of Tamil cinema, I wanted to write my own list. Here are a few gems which might not have made the mainstream blockbuster lists but still work in an understated way.
1) Paneer Pushpangal- this being the season of paneer, how could I resist starting off this post without paneer? Released in 1981 this was P.Vasu’s first directorial- much before china thambi and chandramukhi. The title paneer pusphangal refers to lotus flowers but the hidden meaning of the title is the early morning dew on the lotus flowers which evaporates with the full dawn as a metaphor for first love which disappears with the onslaught of reality. The story which deals with the budding of love in school kids of a boarding school in Ooty and is full of hilarious takes on hostel life in boarding schools and still resonates with those who have spent some part of their lives away from home eating terrible hostel food and pining for attention/affection even when surrounded all around by friends. The romance is such a natural expression of kids in that terrible teen years when your heart yearns for affection and gets a crush on whoever shows even the tiniest bit of affection. The lead actor suresh and his group of friends capture the slice of life of teen years in a poignant way. Not to forget the sketch of the wise and understanding teacher played, rather underplayed by pratap pothen in his trademark style. And true to style the movie ends in love failure as so often happens in real life. The songs are especial highlights of the movie- who can forget kodaikala katraey? Definitely this is one movie for the discerning types.
2) Ninaivellam Nithya – again, an 80’s era film with love as the main theme and all the characters revolving around it. This again ends in a tragedy but is all the more sweeter for it as the entire movie seems geared up to play out the almost impossible happy ending when it comes to a pairing between two widely divergent individuals status wise. The hero is a rich kid, the heroine is a tribal and not only do they have the temerity to fall in love but they end up eloping and dying in the climax. A very young karthick and viji a debutante would have lived the roles of the star crossed lovers. Every casting choice was perfect and natural and the highlight of the movie are the songs which still make one get goosebumps. You can even consider this the breakout movie of singer SPB as the songs Pannivilum malarvanam and neethane endhan pon vasandham (yes, the original of the movie with the same title by Gautham menon) are still being played in many impromptu jam sessions and karaoke nights.
3) Kadhal Kondein- I am partial to selvaraghhavan romances- I have no hesitation in accepting it. I thought long and hard about 7-g rainbow colony- another doomed romance with haunting songs before picking this one simply because with 7-g selva had perfected his craft and knew all the ways to tug at heartstrings but this one was raw romance with nary a thought of the box office acceptability. Danush burst on to the scene with this movie and gave us a glimpse of what he could do if left unfettered and in proper hands but sadly the image trap has consumed the actor in danush in recent times. The theme of unrequited love might be the same but the way that selva builds up danush’s character as the innocent friend who is used as a go-between of two lovers who naturally gets tempted and falls in love himself and the way that the heroine is the most matured character of all and handles the inappropriate love with parts compassion and parts exasperation makes beautiful watching. You can’t beat selvaraghavan when it comes to showing love from a feminine point of view.
4) Parthiban Kanavu – this is a little gem for those who missed out when it was first released. The lead actor srikanth is in love with a woman but marries her lookalike who is totally opposite to his expectations. Rather than being disappointed, depressed or ending up in divorce the hero starts appreciating the new woman in his life. For a movie about post marital love it’s surprisingly subtle about the way in which the wife’s character starts growing up in her husband’s affection and ends up gaining his love even after he meets his original lover. Sneha literally owns this film in a dual role with both women affecting the hero in different ways. The movie which starts off with the love failure ends up showing marital success as the hero is mature enough to realize that what you lose on the swings you gain on the roundabouts.
5) Ullam Ketkumey – a movie about a group of friends all of whom have love failures? I see you shaking your head and saying no way José. But this movie is not just about love, it’s about friendship, it’s about ambition, it’s about making clear headed choices in life and about redemption after love failure. There are a lot of romances in the movie- arya’s, poojas, shyams, laila’s- everyone ends up falling for one another as so often happens in close knit college buddies groups. But the movie doesn’t stop with the usual romance scenes or love failure songs. It shows life beyond love failure when people have the guts to pick themselves up and go onto succeed in other spheres of life even when romance has failed them. The scene where pooja walks into aryas room on the eve of his wedding and the scene where shyam at last realizes Laila’s love after being oblivious to it throughout the entire movie are quite heart tugging. The songs are just so and so, but the story more than makes up for the music.
The Other contenders -
Although there were many other contenders for the top 5 love failure movies, I didn’t want to go with the usual suspects like vinnaiy thandi varuvaya and premam which you would be hard pressed to find anyone in tamilnadu who has not watched or has an opinion on. Rather I wanted to showcase a few which no one would have seen or heard off before as my recommendations to watch. I give thanks to my friend sylvian Patrick for the blog prompt for this post and also to raj tv channel which by repeated telecast of all these movies has made me appreciate and become a fan of these little know gems. There is life after love and there is always another love failure movie to watch on Raj TV. Happy Valentine ’s Day folks.