Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Once Replaced

It is not easy to get over the feeling that we had been discarded. 

Flowers will bloom and wither, leaves will fall, and many monsoons will come and go, but the memory would still sting.

As time passes, however, once we have learned to convincingly pretend that we have put the bad times behind us, it becomes easier to let our emotion roam without the fear of anyone connecting it to our past. That's very important - to not let our weakness show, to cloak it in indifference.

We may become old and frail, and have other achievements in the course of life, but this little pang would forever remind us that we were not perfect, we had fought hard battles and not always come out successful. The question 'what could I have done different?' would forever hang over us and torment us. 

Because none of us like to think that we have been replaced.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Road to Liberation: Why can't we?

Another Women's Day has come and gone. All the right words were tossed in the right places - liberation*, equality, feminism, empowerment and such glorious words that generate goosebumps all over the place. All the right questions were asked in the right forums -  including, Will women ever be really free? Wherefore art thou, Romeo? To be or not to be? and such pertinent ones. After the fun was over, everyone left: the people went to have dinner, the chickens went home to roost and the cows went home to probably catch up on their nap. Until the next women's day or the next time liberation is set on fire.

A few days ago, I read a tweet (unfortunately I lost its trace) which said that in Saudi, the laws that restrict women are typically upheld by older, traditional women themselves. Frankly, I don't find that surprising at all. It is not because the older women are jealous of the youngsters (or such rubbish). It is a very simple (and well-known) fact that if we grew up believing something, it is not easy to change it. Allow me to take a few detours.

One day, in the nineties, I was watching TV with a woman as old as my mother. Let's us just say that she had not quite caught up with the developments in the entertainment industry. After watching a song-and-dance sequence from a movie, she asked me if 'they were all really women, or if they were men dressed as women?' I replied that the dancers were really women. She didn't comment, but I believe she was wondering how women could actually wear such clothes and dance, in front of so many people. Today we have gotten used to the idea (and worse). The shock has since worn off. But on that day, I don't think the lady approved of what she saw. I don't think the notions of 'liberty' or 'equality' or 'empowerment' were at the top of her mind; she merely found the sight distasteful. Given a chance, she might have suggested that these dances be banned. Of course, I am speculating now. She had not said a word.

Another scene. There was a cultural program in our college. As the evening wore on and the latest hit songs were being played, boys began dancing in the auditorium and some of the excitement caught on to us girls, too. We don't need booze to get high, we just need the appropriate music and an incessant pounding in our ears. Some of us got up from our seats and began dancing. Needless to say, there were many eyes on us but we did not care. We had to dance. There would never be another chance. Naturally, some people thought we were doing it to attract attention. To their cramped minds, any other possibility does not exist.

The next day, we had an audience with the Principal -  a few of us who were 'responsible' for the rest of the ladies were summoned. He asked us about the previous night and informed us that it was very irresponsible behaviour. He did not know who the 'culprits' were, he said, as he looked at me pointedly. I did not blink. He wasn't harsh or anything (and I now wonder if his mind was completely in it), but warned us of the consequences, should it happen again. Yes, I apologised on behalf of the girls (though I was not one bit sorry for having a little fun), and of course, it never happened again. I wonder if he went and said the same things to the boys too. Maybe a general warning was issued, which, he knew, will never be followed. After all, boys will be boys.

Truth is, there never was another chance and there never will be. I don't think I ever had (or will have) the guts to get up and break into a dance, anywhere else. What would people think? I would rather squash all thoughts of 'having fun'.

Those who have watched The Namesake might not remember a fleeting scene in which Tabu peeks over the crowd to see the first ceremony (probably naming) of her infant son. Her son! And she, the most important person in the baby's life, is standing a few feet away, straining herself to catch what's going on. She does not look sad, she is happy for him, but anyone who could really see through the mother's eyes would know how much she would have liked to be right there, holding her son.

It seems strange that for a long time we never even thought about questioning anything, because that is how things have been. That was tradition. That was how it was done. We get used to the idea.

I grew up hearing that girls had better keep a low profile and dress properly and stay out of sight, for their own safety. And if anyone was a little too 'forward' (however exciting it appeared to me), I saw that she was frowned upon. No, I did not grow up in a 'repressed society' or anything. My generation will know what I am talking about.

Somewhere between then and now, the idea began to seep in: Why can't we? It's our right.

What? We have rights?
You mean, we can actually do what we like? Dress the way we like? Go to places we like, when we like? We can actually dance in an auditorium, without having to explain afterwards? 

It was new and it was huge. It was difficult to believe it; but once we wrapped our minds around it, it became like an addictive book - you can't put it down, and you are hungry for more. But not everyone can get adjusted to the idea. It goes against everything we have been taught and believed since we were born.

Cue, the tweet on Saudi. We blame the older women for wanting to 'uphold values'. But that's what they have been brought up on. It is not easy to suddenly shift from a lesson that has been etched in, for centuries, to a more 'liberal' view. Change is not easy for anybody. It is easier and simpler to cling to what we were taught for generations. We were brought up right; and we were safe. We hid behind the numerous constraints and we did not mind. Why can't you do the same? You make changes, and you are going to regret it.

It's not only about right and wrong. It is about trying to change mindsets that have become as hard as granite. I too find myself occasionally struggling to check the urge to say, "Be careful. Don't do anything that will get you into trouble."

Things will change, but we have to struggle through many more such layers of inertia and resistance, and many more phases of unlearning and re-learning. There are many battles to be endured and many damages to be borne and many barriers to be broken and many mindsets to be changed.

Things will change, for better or for worse, because they must. 

* Is anyone else reminded of Nithya Menon in Kerala Café when they hear the word 'liberation', or is it just me?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Temple of Time

In the days of Doordarshan and DD-2 (for those who remember the era), my sister and I watched a movie which left a huge impression on both our minds. It was an Australian film titled Picnic at Hanging Rock. About ten or twelve years old at the time, I knew precious little English and the accent was beyond us in many ways. My sister explained the story to me, as much as she could follow. The ending was too mysterious and intriguing. We spoke of (and in all likelihood, argued about) nothing else for weeks, perhaps months. We - at least, I - thought our limited grasp of the language was to blame for our confusion.

I never got a chance to see the movie afterwards.

But its impact on me was such that, over twenty years later, it led me to consider writing a short story titled "Temple of Time" where a couple of children vanish inside a mysterious temple in Kerala. Soon I realised that it was not a concept I could shrink into and contain within a short story. It dawned on me for the first time - I had a novel in my hands.

Temple of Time took two years to write. I had to pause writing as life took me through its ups and downs and shifting of priorities. Occasionally I had to give in when short-stories took precedence over the novel. Nevertheless, I came back to it every time, when the plot became much clearer and the characters developed themselves in my mind.

I finished writing Temple of Time in 2011, but it still had a long way to go. I punished a handful of people by making them read the first draft. Their feedback brought me to the unhappy conclusion that a major chunk of the plot had to be removed. Anyone who has rewritten their own work would know how gruelling a task it is.

Finally in 2013, it was ready (sort of). After a year and a half of futile attempts at finding a publisher for the book (as well as doing a million rounds of editing) and hopes rising moon-high several times only to be dashed to the ground, I decided to put it up on Amazon and see how it fares.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome to the world my first novel, Temple of Time.

Abstract of Temple of Time
Abhijeet was ten years old when his elder brother was lost, believed dead, during a college tour in the hills of Northern Kerala. Twelve years later, Abhijeet is knocked out of his dull and mundane life by an eerie dream in which his brother calls out to him.

Soon afterwards, Abhijeet finds to his shock that his brother is still alive, but in a horrifying condition and on the verge of death, at the very same place he was last seen. Abhijeet is left with a curious last message that he tries to decipher, for he feels the answer to his brother's disappearance lies in it.

He embarks on a journey to the past, to piece together the events that led to the fateful day years ago, seeking to discover his brother's footprints and finding himself in the process.
Read Temple of Time.

I know many of us prefer print books (I do too), but as of now, it is beyond my capability to offer Temple of Time in print. I hope you will all download and read the book, and I hope some of you will like it, and I hope you will all let me know about it.

Click here to purchase Temple of Time 


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