Thursday, September 15, 2011

Of school time dreams and achievements

I just realised that its been 6 years now that I started living on my own, away from home. 2 years in college and then 4 years in big, bad Mumbai. Seemed like a good time to trace the journey till here. I also happened to read some college discussion forum on and it just reminded me of all the studying, choosing colleges and all the madness.

I remember Joe Pinto sir writing a similar nostalgic piece, partly this is inspired by that and also a need to remember all that has gone by. So there I was, a little girl in a small city in Gujarat called Rajkot. My favourite stories about my birth year are the fact that it was the year colour TV became popular in India and the year India first won the world cup in cricket. Perhaps, it is fitting then that I am now a TV professional. But how did I come till here?

I used to be a very methodical student, a geek according to all my friends. Back in my school days, I used to have a personal time table for things. If I had say 6 subjects and 12 days, I would give each subject 2 days, that kind of a rigid time table. Though I did allow myself Chitrahaar breaks. And then, even when I studied topics, I would give them a particular number of minutes before finishing them. It may sound funny now to think back on all that, yet, it helped me all through my studies. But that didn't mean I was only into school books. I read a lot of other stuff, I always knew all the latest Bollywood numbers, life was interesting.

Growing up in a small town has its own benefits. I have seen in a city like Mumbai, people are pretty much set about what they want to achieve, after all everything is here. But in a place like Rajkot, there was always something to aspire to. Little wonder that most of the reality shows today have more people from small towns. I remember the conversations we used to have in our college. Most of us wanted to do something big, out of the box, maybe become the next Ambani, the eternal Indian middle class dream.

During the time we were graduating, the MBA madness had just begun (umm did I reveal too much about my age here? :-P ) Most people in Rajkot did a B. Com. then did a CA or went to Pappa ni dukan. But some of us used to look at Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai, the popular celebrity show on NDTV, and tell each other stories of how one day we would be there and who all we would call as our friends then. Strangely, almost 12 years down the line, these people are still in touch and the dream continues though the show is long over.

So this aspirational crowd of ours, we wanted to get out of Rajkot, do either an MBA in Finance or in my case something to do with communication. So my options were either MICA or Symbiosis. I was what some would call a news addict back then, switching every 15 minutes to some Sabse Tez or Breaking news. Wasn't much of a newspaper person, but read a lot of magazines, so journalism was a huge interest area.

The whole preparation for CAT and the Symbi Admission test was another thing that took hard work and discipline. Again, I had a time table, for the year that I took a drop after graduation. I enrolled with a CAT training institute that was famous for its Mock Tests and for 8 weeks, just before CAT, I travelled all the way from Rajkot to Ahmedabad, 5 hours away, to give a test that would start at 9 : 30 in the morning. Looking back, I don't know how I did that. I also remember how my dad would travel with me each time, never complaining. It was just a hunger to do something other than the usual MA, M.Com, everyone I knew was doing. Finally I got through to Symbiosis.

The two years there taught me about people and also about how to handle some of them. The best times there were according to me the various trips we took. I also got to learn a lot about my second biggest passion - Cinema. I met some wonderful people who still are my sounding boards. Nimisha Srivastava, Megha Singh, this goes out to you :-) And yes, Nimisha, this post is in response to our recent chat.

As I went through those forums today, I remembered all that we had been through, the whole selection procedure for the college, the worry about placements, the rush of the first few weeks on campus, the one year of doing a quasi MBA while learning advertising and PR, the hours of watching movies, analysing them at NCC canteen, the vigorous debates on TOI and Indian Express news coverage, the first byline, the first college newsletter English and Hindi, all sorts of memories. And who could forget the Greenday song that was almost a class anthem.

Finally placement time and the first interaction with the real industry guys. Some of us bullshitted and were caught, some of us weren't caught, others just breezed through, some cried, some had to have more than one attempt and finally that coveted job. Sometimes when I look back it seems nothing short of a miracle to have come from a city where people barely manage a proper sentence in English to working in an English news channel, but at other times I know it took a lot of my parents' and my hard work and maybe a whole lot of God's blessings. Yes, all those hours our moms spend praying don't go waste.

The last 4 and half years now I have been working and living on my own. This was another lesson. I have made mistakes in assessing people, I have cried, I have sometimes ranted, I have lost faith in things, but I know that if I were to die tomorrow, I might not have many regrets. I have tried things, learnt things, pushed myself, but yes, there is still a lot more I want to learn. Still a lot more I want to do, both for myself and my parents.

Its good to dream and sometimes remind yourself of dreams you fulfilled. Its important at times to see where you were, where you are and where you can go.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Who moved my eggs?

Ever since I read These are not my eggs written by a very good friend, I have been wanting to write a rejoinder. Just that something or the other always prevented me from getting down to it. What Arpita has written reminds me a lot of my own life. Maybe the fact that both of us grew up in somewhat similar backgrounds also is a factor. It is imperative to read the link, so that you would understand the post that follows.

So which were the eggs I experimented with? Handwriting was one. I used to change it every year too. It was cursive 90 degrees for two years, then cursive 45 degrees for two years. Finally, I modelled my handwriting on that of one of my favourite teachers, who had a slightly childish veering to printed words handwriting. Mine I am told only looks childish, not the eggs I wanted, but never really complained about it.

But like Arpita says acceptance is a major thing. What do you do when you don't like your eggs? Back when I was a teenager, I used to just shut it out. Ok I don't like these eggs, so I will pretend they don't exist. Maybe I would also have one of those fantasy escape day dreams that we generally have as kids, somehow getting rid of the eggs to my satisfaction. Aah the number of innovative ideas that have come to us in our teenage revenge fantasies could make up an alternative universe or atleast a great script for Tom and Jerry.

As I grew older it was more about resisting. Ok I don't like this egg, what do I do now? Sometimes it came to constructive dialogue, finding solutions. But more often than not, it turned into the unhealthy feeling of not having the power. Feeling powerless acts itself out in various ways. Some people take refuge in sadism. Children and anyone perceived weaker is an easier target. You target them to feel powerful.

Another common reaction to feeling powerless is feeling victimised. You cry, rave and rant to yourself or anyone who would listen how the world is unfair to you. Victimhood has a way of making you feel entitled. You place an unrealistic expectation on the world to give you much more than it would because you argue, oh well, haven't I gone through so much already. How dare the world not give me what I want? Karpman, the man who invented the concept of the victim triangle always says that the victim often ends up becoming the persecutor after years and years of pent up frustration. There is also a demand of perfectionism from those around you.

A fallout of victim mentality is the loss of faith and the subsequent readiness to place faith in just about anything. This I believe is one of the major causes for blind faith and superstitions. You don't like your eggs and you have tried all the rational methods of throwing them away or getting new ones, but you failed, so you turn to Voodoo. Ok, not that drastic, but you get the drift.

But at some point something snaps within (well not for everyone). You realise that your eggs are different and that different and bad are not the same. This happens sometimes when you get a closer look at the eggs you think you wanted or sometimes when you have tried every trick in the book and you see that no one has been as loyal to you as these old eggs that you hate. It could also happen because well, you just woke up to reality. However it happens, at some point, you realise that different is not so bad. You can live with different. Infact, different makes you, you. But that doesn't mean you dont eye the other eggs again. I guess, a part of human condition is to always look at what's ahead or on the other end. Sometimes, it leads to self betterment and sometimes you just go vegetarian.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Chronic dissatisfaction

At the outset I would like to mention, if you are looking for something you didn't know, you may not find it here. There are no solutions here, there are no startling insights. Just an observation of things happening around and within me.

So as usual been talking to a lot of friends and fellow journalists about a lot of things and the constant theme of late has been disenchantment. Someone is dissatisfied with their job, someone with their spouse or lack of one, someone with their finances. Everyone seems to be struggling somewhere, even if on the surface, it looks like an enviable life. Mind you, none of these people are unhappy or too depressed to move, but there is this vague sense of not being fulfilled somehow, a feeling I understand too well. Some have changed jobs, cities, significant others etc all in the pursuit of something, just anything that would make them feel more alive, stimulated.

The dissatisfaction seems more generational because if you mention it to my parents' generation, they say we are dissatisfied even when the going is good. And being a true blue internet generation kid, what I did was google it up, yes, google 'Chronic dissatisfaction'. The first thing that comes up is of course Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona and how Penelope Cruz accuses another character of having this disease called 'Chronic dissatisfaction'.

So what are the characteristics of people who have this 'disease' (personally I would call it a condition)
* They have been bright students, have generally excelled in life and till date achieved what they had set out to do in childhood.
* Its been at least a couple of years since they landed that dream job, that dream partner or dream whatever, they may not be at the peak of things, but they are not down in the dumps either.
* When compared with the soceity's definition of normal, their life is as good as it gets and this is what confounds them, if it is so good, why don't they feel it?
* Yes, there may be skeletons in the past, but that is not the cause of their current vague discomfort.
* There is a constant sense of what next, is this all there is and yet they don't know if there ever was supposed to be anything more than this.

Most of my observations come from conversations with current and former media professionals. I do not know what is the situation in other fields. There are also various theories about why some of us feel this. Some say we are an entitled generation, we think just because we exist, we deserve better. Others say we are just immature and will get over it. Some others say we are zombies in any case, uninspired people who have been spoon fed everything and expect that to continue. The religious say it is just a crisis of faith and using the magical name of God/Universe will solve all these problems. Yet others say very simply but emphatically - this is growing up and this is life.

The reactions to this 'something is missing' feeling are diverse. Some try to push away the feeling, dig in their heels deeper in whatever they are doing and hope the problem will vanish. One friend changed jobs. Another started a new venture with like minded people. A few others just quit it all and are taking a break, thinking of traveling or spiritual exploration. Unlike in the past, the 'quitters' of today are met with awe and respect for their brave decision, about time. Yet others have taken time off and gone back to school or started volunteering. Some other formerly 'career minded' friends have started families and used that as a distraction. There have also been friends who seemed stimulated by the 'change' they chose but a couple of years later, they are again back to the state of dissatisfaction. And some of us are still observing from the sidelines, trying to make up our minds. Very few have taken up destructive habits.

The ancient wise men and women tell me that dissatisfaction is a source of creativity. It is only if you feel uncomfortable do you start doing something about it and what you do about it is your decision. At the same time, they also tell me doing nothing about it is also ok. It just means you are not ready, or in the extreme case, it just means this is my 'destiny' and I have to live with it.

But there is one thing the wise tell me, which if any of my friends or I could do, perhaps we would achieve Nirvana. They describe a Catch 22 situation where one is content with where one is in life, but at the same time striving to a better state. An ideal state of being they say it is.

But wasn't human existence all about being imperfect? And if it was, the only solution that comes to mind is the magic mantra of 'living in the moment'. To stop looking back at the ideal and enchanted childhood, to also stop looking at the uncertain future and live as if this day, this moment is all that counts. Darn, that Ghajini dude was sure lucky.

And because very few of us have it in us to be so zen, the dissatisfaction continues. My current dissatisfaction is that I cannot provide some erudite conclusion or some magical solution at the end of this piece. Aah, maybe its time to watch 'Bruce Almighty' once again!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Approach to post Independence India - Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt

While travelling in a car, I heard an almost forgotten 'Dil ka haal sune dilwala' playing on the FM. The simple lyrics of the song and the eternal image of the very own Indian tramp/vagabond Raj Kapoor make the song immortal. While I was listening to the words carefully, I suddenly realised we don't anymore have songs that laugh about our troubles.

This song actually talks about an encounter that the protagonist had with the police. The last two paragraphs of the song, talk alternatively about hope for the future and precautions the poor have to take to stay out of trouble in a country like ours. What struck me was that nowadays we just don't see a song that sounds so happy but actually talks about the degeneration of the society. The song is all about laughing at and along with your troubles, but telling it like it is - seedhi si baat na mirchi masala...

Kapoor's tramp was besieged with problems but always hoped for a better tomorrow. He complained about the system, but believed 'Woh subah kabhi toh aayegi'. The fifties were a time of optimism in the new republic of India. And so despite the poverty, the problems, people felt the end of the British era would surely bring some positive change. Raj Kapoor's protagonist knew he could do better, but he didn't resent where he was in the moment. It was not resignation, but a kind of calm acceptance - Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai. His movies showed an imperfect world which was still ideal and in the end, all was well.

Contrast that to Kapoor's contemporary Guru Dutt, who also told it like it is, but offered no hope. He was a realist, almost to the point of pessimism. His view of independent India is best described in the song from Pyaasa, Jinhen naaz hai hind pe woh kahaan hai... A scathing report of the actual state of the country which everyone had thought would once again become the golden bird after independence. The song is bitter and harsh. The picturisation equally grim.

Dutt's look at the whole situation was one of cold observation and his films also reflected the all or nothing perfectionism of his life. His most famous protagonists were always struggling to come to terms with lost hopes and dreams while facing an indifferent world. What is striking about a song like Jinhen Naaz or Ye Mahalo ye takhton is the loss of innocence. No other film maker of his times would have let these immortal words by the lyricist Sahir be part of a film. Even the happy go-lucky songs like Ae dil hai mushkil jeena yahaan sing of the isolation capitalism brings in. While Dutt's earlier movies show the urban India in the 50's crime, romance et all, his later movies, considered to be classics are the ones that show the eventual decline in human relationships, the effects of capitalism and the impact of a loss of idealism.

While Raj Kapoor's protagonist though aware of the flaws of the system, is more concerned about how he can progress despite them and maintain a personal optimism. Guru Dutt on the other hand is the idealist who doesn't see the point of optimism if things are not the way they should be. But thanks to the two of them, we can see a fair enough portrayal of the whole spectrum of nationalism of a young nation.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Judge not and ye shall not be judged?

IHM asked a question on her blog Why do women judge other women. To me this is interesting psychologically, because the kind of judges I am going to describe are peculiar. These are the 'been there done that' ones. Somewhat like abuse victims turning abusers.

So if you have had an abusive mother in law, instead of being kind towards your daughter in law, you will treat her badly too. And you will use excuses like this is how the traditions are to be passed on, there was a reason I was 'tamed' by my mother in law and so I will 'tame' my daughter in law too.

Sometimes the judgement isn't as simple however. Sometimes they try to be sympathetic and tell you how things should be. You hear statements like, you know one should 'adjust' (and I hear this more from women). You know these children today, they have too many expectations. These are people who have been 'victimised' but have rationalised it somehow and integrated it into their lives. So the very fact that you are not taking shit and are actually thinking of getting out of it becomes a mirror to them, a reflection that they can't stand. If you have noticed 'un'happily married women seem to make the loudest noise when someone else gets a divorce. These women then go on about how that girl was too modern to ever last in a family or give the famous line about how there are always going to be fights and that is no reason to end a marriage.

This type of judgement is not just restricted to women and family life. You find it in the work world too. Somehow anyone who does something different from the 'established' norm is wrong, too rebellious, immature etc etc. The ultimate argument always given is that the world is unfair and everyone has to live with that. To me when that comes from people who have the power to do something only shows their own selfishness, it is because the unfairness of the world is skewed in their favour that they do not want to change or that they are not willing to take responsibility for shaking up things.

Most of these 'victims' get a perverse, sadistic pleasure in seeing that someone else is going through the same shit. It indirectly validates their experience and every effort is made to stop the new person from breaking free, because once the new person breaks free, they have no justification for why they didn't do anything. Agreed, getting out of abuse is not easy, there are many considerations for victims sometimes. But if someone else is sticking their neck out, why pull the rug below their feet? Why not rejoice that atleast another person is not going to be in the same predicament as you? Why not wish them well? Maybe they can get out and you still can't but who said that it makes you wrong? Why not just accept that someone else's life is at the end of the day, someone else's life.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

RIP Uncle Pai

Just a short note to the guy who taught me some of my first science lessons. Anant Pai or Uncle Pai as readers of Tinkle know him was the creator of fantastic characters like Shikari Shambhu, Suppandi and Tantri the Mantri. He also had these short pieces in every issue where he explained simple science that one could test at home. I had long wished he was asked to design our school text books, we could have learnt stuff that was more practical and also in a fun manner. Uncle Pai is also why I can almost fluently read Tamil and Malayalam. Having lived outside South India, it was reading Amar chitra katha in Tamil and Malayalam that helped me pick up the languages. It seems like an era has ended. Truly how wonderful a person you have to be to have influenced close to two generations. May you rest in peace uncle.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A childhood in gardens

Reading My Family and Other Animals was quite like a trip to my own childhood. While I was not that interested in insects as Gerry was, plants were always a source of wonder and joy. The earliest recollection I have of feeling this sort of wonder was when my cousins used to make a 'watch' for me with the long leaves of a coconut tree. At that time, we used to live in a small house with no space for a garden. So my exposure to plants was restricted to annual vacations to Kerala and the school garden.

Another source of wonder during my Kerala visits was this tree that had leaves of an odd maple kind of shape if I remember correctly. When you pluck the leaf from the tree, you would see this gum like thing oozing out. My father showed me this trick. After you pluck the leaf, try to separate the leaf from the stem right at the point that it meets the leaf, however take care not to distend it completely, just about enough for you to see that gum like substance. Then just blow and voila, bubbles emanate from the leaf. I kid you not, I have seen this, done this. How I wish I knew what that tree is called, I dont even remember the exact shape of the leaves to identify the tree anymore! Kerala also meant to me the land of touch me nots. A favourite pastime used to be going to the backyard of my grandmother's place, where there was long bed of touch me nots. Start from the beginning and keep on walking on all of them till all the leaves folded and by the time I reached the end, some of the leaves in the beginning would have opened again. The other joys in Kerala were plucking tropical fruits like Love apples, Arinellikai (a type of very small amla, very khatta, you get them at Mumbai bus stops too), mangoes, collecting the coconuts that would fall off at the seed stage itself, green and small. Every vacation was about new discoveries till the fireflies heralded the dark.

Back at school there was this tall eucalyptus tree. Now the eucalyptus sheds something that looks like a mini fool's cap. All of us students used to fill our pencil boxes and empty nashta boxes with these 'topis' and we would take them home. Some of my friends had used these topis as decorative items for craft projects. Some of us just collected them and made imaginary castles and barricades with them. One of the things I used to do was collect the topis and the sticky upper part of ladies finger and try various permutations and combinations of arrangements. Sounds silly now, but was quite entertaining then. Another plant in school had these peculiar seeds which were a source of great amusement to all of us. If soon after plucking the slightly dried brown seeds, you put them in a bowl of water, the seeds would explode like mini crackers. All this experimentation continued till the school authorities changed and students were asked not to touch any plants on campus. Quite the spoilsport our principal was we thought!

By now we had moved to our new home. Here we had ample space. My mother loves gardening and soon we had 5 colours of roses, many shades of sevanti, sunflowers whose seeds parrots would come and pick, mogras and many other flowers. The land was very fertile and I have seen tomatoes, water melons, passion fruit, brinjals, chillies, mangoes, pomegranates and even wheat shoots grow at home. These are experiences that I wouldnt trade for anything. Here in Mumbai, there isnt much of an opportunity to experience all that. The closest one can get is to go to agro-tourism spots like Saguna Farms in Neral, to see for yourself how things take root and grow. I may be wrong, but somehow I feel that one needs to experience such things as a child, thats the time when you still are capable of feeling wonderment at the things nature has to offer. Everyone I believe should have their own version of Malgudi days, what say?