The passion Tamasha

The movie Tamasha has been hailed for the theme of finding oneself and following that elusive thing called passion. Interestingly, films and other forms of popular culture always equate passion with a creative field. Equating passion with say, what happened in Pursuit of Happyness is a rare thing. It is tough to make a story about a stock broker, staring into his computer for hours before making a kill at the market. Or a movie about the endless powerpoint presentations MBAs have to make (which has been ridiculed a lot in Tamasha). A movie on number crunching on excel sheets, no thank you. And where is the dramatic arc in the story of the guy who sits at the ticket counter punching out train tickets for you? And yet, are these lives not important?

In the recent years, there is this over emphasis, if you will, on following one’s passion. If you look at who talks the most about passion, then it is self help and start up bloggers, who, hello, are trying to make a living selling that idea (or a book/product) to you. That might sound too cynical, but there is a small grain of truth in it. And almost all of them will ask you to quit your job right this minute. Now lets not get this wrong, passion is a good thing to have. But the way it is being presented as panacea these days is bordering on toxic.

What a lot of the passion stories fail to talk about is the hours of plain old hard work and putting your nose to the grind that comes before the proverbial success. The stories in popular mass media end with the first book/music concert/acting gig, a bit like how famous romances of yore always ended in both the protagonists dead. No tallying bills, looking after snotty kids for Romeo and Juliet please. And similarly no bills again for our fictional heroes and heroines who followed their passion, they just do their thing and walk into the sunset.

Anyone who followed their passion successfully or otherwise would tell you it didn’t solve everything. That there were days when they didn’t jump out of their bed excited about work. That there were days when they worried if they would make pay day. That there were days when they were just bored. That there were days when they were so swamped that they wondered if they did the right thing by jumping into it. Some may never regret it, some may regret and even quit and it doesn’t matter.

What this lopsided representation does is create a lot of people who shall suffer from expectation hangover (a fine term coined by Christine Hassler). It creates this expectation that if it is your passion, you shouldn’t have to struggle, thereby making it all the more harder for those who do venture out. You see talent is not scarce. A lot of those who venture out actually have that level of talent. But when it comes to daily survival, a lot depends on your financial backup, the network you were born with or managed to build and your own emotional capability to go in for the long haul.

Quitting traditional fields and striking out on your own is in itself emotionally draining. Suddenly you find yourself alone, even if your deviation is just about not joining the family business. It takes great amount of courage to start and that is in itself commendable. But then so is just sticking to your job. In fact, life, whether you chose the well worn road or the one less travelled is never easy. But being told that passion means joy every day, every minute is only going to create more space for terrible disappointment.

The follow your passion or start your own company bogey also ties in nicely with the current economic scenario. If everyone who gets laid off or is unable to find their footing in the work place, can somehow be convinced that it is all upto them to now find something for themselves, then corporations and countries can be let off the hook somewhat. Empathy can take a walk. In fact, there is enough blame-y literature telling people they are not worthy human beings if they didn’t do something about their passion. If one tries to infuse a bit of practicality into the argument, one is likely to be chastised for not having faith.

The trouble though is that culture really hasn’t evolved enough despite all this to let people be. Earlier the dominant narrative was that of getting a job, keeping it and eventually retiring; only now it has been replaced by the passion narrative. Now the ones who stick to 9-5 jobs for whatever reason are the ones facing stigma, which was earlier reserved for the ones who broke the norm. It is merely replacing one norm with the other.

What is important perhaps to remember more than anything is that every life counts. That guy who delivers your newspaper, he may not have some grand passion, he just works day after day to take care of himself and his loved ones. That superstar you all envy, he may have all the fame, may travel to the best of places, but at the end of the day, he too does what he does to take care of himself and family. One must strive to have a better life for sure, but also take pleasure in the seemingly small achievements that add up to build one’s own life. What is important is to know that every life on this planet counts whether they live it examined or unexamined.

Life under the flyover revisited

Back in 2009, I wrote a romanticised take on the Life under the flyovers in Mumbai. I wasn’t in the mood of making any social point then and was just curiously observing an aspect of the life in this city. But a few events in the recent past made me revisit this story.

Two separate incidents of brutal attacks on young girls occurred towards the end of August-beginning of September. The first child a 5 year old was brutally sexually assaulted and left for the dead. She belonged to a family of pavement dwellers in Kandivali and had been picked up from her mother’s side in the dead of the night and brutalised in a chawl nearby. The second was another 5 year old girl whose family lived under the flyover overlooking the Borivali national park. This child too was picked up from her sleeping mother’s side and brutally attacked. Her body was discovered nearby the next morning. There was speculation that these brutal attacks, spaced within 10 days of each other could be relate and so we went to check this Borivali case out.

The national park flyover is a long one. On the city end of the flyover there is a traffic police thana. The cops pointed out to us that the said family lived at the fag end of the flyover, towards Dahisar, around 300-500 mtrs away from this thana. As we walked below the flyover, we saw many jobless men loitering around. We asked some if they knew about the incident, most said they had come there only that day. Then there were families who seemed to have just landed in the city, their bags by their side, sitting under the flyover to escape the weather.

As we proceeded towards the Dahisar end of the flyover, the landscape started changing. The soil was more damp, with the leakage from the dripping flyover or because of frequent urination we couldn’t tell. There were bundles of clothes stacked up everywhere. At some places clothes were put up on a clothesline to dry. A few children were playing about and one man pointed at an old woman, lying on a bed while minding the porridge boiling on a chulha nearby. This woman he said was the child’s grandmother. The grandmother was in a bad condition, her throat was all choked up and she couldn’t speak much, only informing us that the rest of the family was at the police station. Neighbours, also living under the flyover, told us that such a thing had never happened before. They hadn’t yet thought of tying their children to themselves, but hugged them tight while sleeping.

Since the grandmother was unable to speak much and seemed to have smeared some white powder all across her throat, we shot the locality and headed to the police station. There we met the girl’s parents. They seemed to be in their late 30s, early 40s. They had 6 other children who along with a few older ladies of the community were all waiting at the police station to hear about the investigation. Their oldest was about 15 and the youngest was still an infant. The girl’s mother had the same problem, she was unable to talk much and when she did it sounded like a squeal. She also had white powder on her throat. When asked she responded that she and her mother had cried two days straight and now could barely talk; they had applied chuna or limestone to their throats to ease them.

The father held his composure for a long while, telling us about how he and the eldest had been to their native village in Rajasthan the night of the incident. They were labourers who came to Mumbai in the months there was no work in the villages. Rest of the time they stayed back in Rajasthan. For years, their community would come to the same area and stay under flyovers or on pavements as they didn’t know anyone in the city and short term accommodation wasn’t possible on their budget.  The wife had discovered the child missing the next morning and after a search they found her body dumped close by. The mother claims to have been sound asleep and says she’d have killed the accused if she had seen him snatching the child. The father breaks down only while describing the child’s condition, her face he wails was completely disfigured. He fails to understand who could do such a thing to a child.

Among the cries of woe also comes the problem of bureaucratic procedure. For 2 days now, they have been at the police station they say and they haven’t eaten since morning, it is around 2 pm. The DCP had walked in for a briefing and the station officers see us and a few local journalists poking around. The family then gets a fresh batch of wada pav.  The family tells us their children are being questioned if their mother was having an affair with some rickshaw driver or other frequent visitors of such areas.  The husband vouches for his wife’s loyalty. This is the second case I have encountered where the police investigation focuses on the conduct of the women in the family as necessary for investigation. The first one was the death of a Dalit activist in Gondia, where the police arrested the wife and a neighbour saying they burnt the man alive. The man in his dying declaration from a hospital bed named some upper caste members of the village. Investigation is still going on in the Gondia case.

The DCP says that the two cases seem unrelated and that they have some definite leads already in the Kandivali case thanks to CCTV evidence, no such luck though in Borivali. The father keeps asking us and the police to do something soon to find the killer.

A few days after this, the police arrested a suspect in the Kandivali case, showing that both cases are unrelated. The Borivali case is unsolved so far. The child is lost and we haven’t been able to visit the parents again. Most likely, they’ll be under the same flyover, going about their daily jobs, with little time to mourn a life. Maybe days from now, the child will be a distant memory, one they give in to only in the dark of the night, when the roof above their head, the flyover has fallen silent. Maybe, they’ll never return to Mumbai the next season.

In the annals of the Mumbai police, flyovers are known as gambling and drug dens. There is not much policing done though in these dark, damp places because in some ways it is logistically impossible. During the day, the families living beneath it, conduct a very public life. Loud spousal spats, drunken antics, parents physically abusing their children, all this is for everyone to see. At night, these eerie places fall silent. Famished men and women seek succour beneath the flyover in a city where there is no space for anyone anymore. One could say that the solution is to evacuate all these people from under the flyover, hand it over to some corporate who’ll perhaps develop small gardens or other recreation there. But what happens then to these people? Where do they stay? No one seems to have an answer to that. Crime and basic family life co-exist in an uneasy equilibrium under these flyovers. And sometimes, some family, like that of this child get unlucky. As their neighbour put it, “Pehle kabhi aisa kuch bhi yahaan nahin hua hai, par ab kya karein, jo ho gaya, so ho gaya”. (Nothing like this has ever happened here before, but what to do, what’s happened, has happened).

(P. S. The 2011 census says there are 57,416 homeless people in Mumbai, but with the floating population, this number is sure to be much higher).


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? 😛 ) 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.

Life lessons in ambition : Revolutionary Road and Marley and Me

A little late in the day, but managed to catch both Revolutionary Road and Marley and Me the last week. Both are realistic movies about life. While one deals with ambition and the discontent it causes, the other talks of readjusting goals according to the reality.

The couple in Revolutionary Road, Frank and April Wheeler would remind you of how you were in your teens and early twenties. Its about having this feeling that life suddenly happened to you and that you are not living to your full potential. True as that may be, Revolutionary Road talks about the incendiary nature of unfulfilled dreams and delusions of potential. At one point in the movie April says : “If being crazy means living life as if it matters, then I don’t care if I am completely insane.” But the same April, when confronted with the reality of life, says, “For years I thought we’ve shared this secret that we would be wonderful in the world. I don’t know exactly how, but just the possibility kept me hoping. How pathetic is that? So stupid. To put all your hopes in a promise that was never made. Frank knows what he wants, he found his place, he’s just fine. Married, two kids, it should be enough. It is for him. And he’s right; we were never special or destined for anything at all.” Perhaps the premise of the movie is best explained by the dialogue by a certified insane neighbour of the Wheelers who says about their view of suburban life “Plenty of people are on to the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness…”

The Wheelers are torn by their own ambitions and April especially finds it difficult that life is generally not what its cooked up to be. It is not all about achieving your potential and the dreams, but about drab details like bills, cooking and kids. She sums up the general angst faced by young couples best when she says that they have been punishing each other for their unfulfilled dreams that they believe were interrupted by the kids – an attitude that leads her to try the tragic try-at-home abortion of their child. Frank on the other hand, wants to make it big, but it is not for the sake of ambition, its more because he equates big with the good life, more respect, better standing in the society.

The Wheelers are not liked in the neighbourhood much, they are admired for their odd ball thoughts, but not liked, because looking at the Wheelers reminds the neighbours of the drabness of their existence. It is like the Wheelers show them a mirror and mock them with their plans of quitting it all and moving to Paris. The neighbours want to be like the Wheelers, but at the same time think the Wheelers are delusional. The Wheelers however are just you and me, with an exaggerated sense of dissatisfaction, people who believe life should matter and that there should be a reason for everything. But perhaps life isnt that logical. At one point, April screams in frustration, “Who made these rules anyways?” But it is more about their inability to make their own rules, rather than about following the herd. Reviewer Mick LaSalle talks about the brilliant use of extra marital sex in the movie. To quote him, “As is so often the case in life, it’s the only creative outlet left to people who have given up hope. It’s an expression of deep despair.” With the Wheelers this is true.

While the Wheelers end up as a dysfunctional, confused couple who feel betrayed by life, the Grogans in Marley and Me come across as the few who have made peace with life. Like the Wheelers there is a time in the life of the Grogans when the stress of handling daily family details, takes its toll on the marriage. Jenny hates the fact that she has had to quit her job and play suburban wife while her equally talented husband is still earning. She is edgy, depressed and picks up fights and John Grogan doesn’t quite know how to salvage the situation. But the Grogans are more real, they have no illusions of being ‘special’. The mature way in which the Grogans talk their problems out and the way they discuss everything together in the movie, is in complete contrast to the Wheelers, who heap their own inefficiencies on to the other. While Jenny slowly comes to accept her new responsibilities, April openly loathes the constraints of family and kids and Frank claims to be special but has no clue in what. The mutual frustration of the couple and the way they punish each other for their problems leads a neighbour to say that he is glad he wont be the Wheelers’ child.

John Grogan too has had to let go of his dream of being an investigative reporter and has to instead be a columnist to run the house, but he makes peace with this change in life. John is shown to sometimes yearn for and maybe even secretly grudge the life of his single friend, a fellow journalist, who can travel to exotic locations, write great stories, flirt around to his heart’s content. John however does get a chance to see for himself if the grass is greener on the other side. Like it often happens in life, much after he has forgotten about his reporting career he gets an opportunity at a different city. The Grogans make the big move but John discovers that he truly is a better columnist than a reporter and all the angst is suddenly gone, however by now, John is also around 40 and has learnt to make peace with life as it is. A significant moment that shows his change of attitude is when he meets the same high flying friend again after years and sees that while his friend is still the single flirt, still asking out girls on the road, looking for the One girl who would be right, Grogan himself has a fulfilled life. Like they say, in the end, it all works out and Grogan’s is a true story. Frank on the other hand, remains clueless about what he wants till the end. His desire for something more is born more out of the need to appear special, than really be special, whereas April wants to achieve being special at any cost. It is this fundamental difference that plays itself out leading April to view Frank as man of all fluff and no substance while he views her as unrealistic.

While both these movies might never be mentioned in the same breath by cinema purists, what I find to be a learning experience in both of them is how your attitude to ambition can make or break your own life. The Wheelers are forever looking for that extra something and in the process hating every minute of the present. The Grogans on the other hand make adjustments based on the circumstances and because they make those adjustments, life gives them an opportunity later on to even try what they perceived as great once.

A lot of people in their twenties like me are still struggling with that fine balance of what is ambition and what could end up as delusion. Just out of college, we have our ideas of what the world should be like, how we would contribute to it and what we want to do in it. But life is hardly perfect and probably even life, if it were an entity, doesn’t know what the next moment is going to be like. When our ideas of what life ought to be like, clash with reality, most of us have those ‘Is there any point?’ moments. But what I am slowly learning to accept is that perhaps life wasn’t meant to be this star studded event of cosmic brilliance, life was meant to be about days that turned into months and years. If life really were supposed to be one adrenaline rush, maybe there wouldn’t be so much routine in nature. Maybe because life is also about routine and ordinary stability just like the mighty sun rises everyday in the same way. If it were meant to be different each day, maybe the sun would rise differently each day too, maybe it would end up shuttling between Mercury and Pluto whenever it pleases. I do not mean to say that one shouldn’t aspire to be more, do more, but one should also accept that sometimes life is not all its cracked up to be. Maybe there really isn’t much beyond the horizon, or maybe there is and like John Grogan found out, you are better off with what you have.
Its ok to go slow in life, its ok to be ordinary, because like someone said any idiot can handle a crisis, it’s handling the daily living that is tough. Or like Frank Wheeler himself puts it. “Knowing what you’ve got, knowing what you need, knowing what you can do without – That’s inventory control.” Knowing it all surely isn’t life. Maybe its wise to stop asking, “Is there a point?” when the question has remained unanswered throughout recorded history Life really isn’t perfect and not all of it is in our control, the key is to change what we own and leave the rest to sort itself out, a lesson that I hope to fully assimilate someday.

Being twenty something

A friend recently sent me a forward on maturing in life…Sharing part of it…

As I mature…

I’ve learnt that you cannot make someone love you. All you can do is stalk them and hope they panic and give in.

I’ve learned that no matter how much I care, some people are just assholes.

I’ve learned that it takes years to build up trust and it only takes suspicion, not proof, to destroy it.

I’ve learned that you shouldn’t compare yourself to others, they are more screwed up than you think.

I’ve learned that we are responsible for what we do, unless we are celebrities.

It was a forward that touched a chord (unlike the hundreds that irritate you). If you thought only teenage is a difficult time, then wait till you get into your twenties. That is the time when all your notions of right and wrong, all your beliefs of happily ever afters and picture perfect bonds get shaken up. Suddenly you wake up to a world of new realities, which are far different from the idealistic picture education gives you of the world.

I have spent most of my twenties away from home studying and working. And having to juggle changes within and around you all on your own is something all my friends would agree has been the greatest challenge. You want to succeed at everything you do and nothing seems to happen as fast as you want it to. Some of your dreams get fulfilled, some become nightmares and some are broken irreversibly. You want to be serious and you also want to have fun with your new found freedom. You want lasting relationships and you want material success. It’s a decade when you are left wanting and trying and you look at people who have crossed that age and wonder if you will ever get to be as self assured as they seem to be right now (but like the forward says, they could be screwed up too).

It’s a time when you could start to make your own decisions and not believe that parents always know better (and sometimes they don’t). And when you do make your own decisions for the first time, chances are you might make many mistakes and as you are no longer a child there comes the responsibility that all of us non-celebrities have to take. Its probably the first time in your own life that you really, truly get out of the crowd and get to know yourself and your mettle. And you could either like yourself or hate yourself.

Well you might ask what is the point of all this. Just that as I sat back and looked at the last five years, I realised, I am no longer the dreaming school girl from Rajkot. My friends have changed, my likes and dislikes are different, my bond with my parents is different, my take on love and commitment is different (read no more Mills and Boon anymore :-P) I have done things I never thought I would do both good and bad and at the end of it all, I know I have learnt a lot. I still am not the kind of self assured that some of the people I know are, but I know I am on the way to it. And I just wanted to tell all my friends in their twenties that some day we shall all sit back and laugh at these crazy times and look at them fondly like our parents right now look at the era of 60’s and 70’s. We shall all get together someday and toast to these days that showed us how much shit we could take and yet give back our best. Happy 20’s all you guys out there. We, the freaks, shall inherit the earth J (SIMC 07 tagline).

(These were my feelings after I realised the enormity of 26/11…when death comes so suddenly you realise the meaning of the philosophy that life is just a mirage.)

Passing through the streets

Looking at people and things

But seeing nothing

Like a numb zombie

Days and nights pass

And you can never see

Whether you are living

Or is it worth dying

You wait for something

You crave just anything

That would make you

Feel again

And it takes death

To realise that you live

Standing as a witness

Unmoving, immobile

As the specter hangs

In the night air

You see how little

Do things really matter

Those trivial fights

Those trivial tears

Fade with the blow

Of the fatal hand

How small and delicate

How inconsequential

In the cycle of times

One life and its troubles are