Monday, May 29, 2006

New Colonies

Swarupa Shah - "I have been working with photographs, text, and thread as a language for almost two years. Thread and embroidery came into my work very naturally".

To check out more on her work, based on motherhood, political unrest and consumerism, check

New Colonies

Saturday, May 27, 2006

those guys back there

Teja called early in the morning, from Rudrapur. He doesn't do that usually, knowing we may be sleeping in late. He was planning to abandon the shoot and come back home. Since he's never taken such an extreme measure in the 12 years of his professional career, and is generally, an easy-going chap, I know he must have been pushed against the wall pretty bad.

His director has been displaying her film-making skills by being rude to all and sundry. Throwing temper tantrums on the set is not an uncommon stress-buster for directors. Of course, it comes at the cost of giving everyone else stress and often, humiliation.
 
Teja dared to tell her not to talk to the camera attendants "like that". Which displeased her. Which led to an exchange of bitter words. Etc, etc.

The light-boys and camera attendants work the hardest on a set, where actually everyone, even actors usually, work very hard. A shoot is physically grueling for all of us, but I cringe with shame when I watch the hardships we put our light-boys and camera attendants to. Their work is as arduous as the construction worker's. And of course, here, in India, they do it all without adequate safety measures, no safety or health insurance, no extra hardship allowances. The only saving grace is they do have strong unions which at least ensure that they get paid on a daily basis, even if they don't always get paid the official minimum rate.

They also begin work 2-3 hours earlier than the rest of the crew, loading and unloading equipment, and similarly pack up 2-3 hours later than everyone else. Since, in India, there's no concept of a minimum 12 hour break between call times on a shooting schedule, they are often blessed with only 3-4 hours of sleep. On location, they have a slightly better time, because at least they don't have to travel huge Mumbai-scale distances, to and from home. But then they are usually, accommodated like cattle in a room, sometimes even 15 people sharing one toilet and sleeping on the floor. And they are flogged to death.

Usually, on a set, a cinematographer is the only person with the power who can stand up for these guys. Assistant directors' hearts may bleed, with sympathy, because they are dogs-bodies as well, but who on earth is going to listen to that pitiable breed?

A lot of my cinematographer friends from the Film & Television Institute, India have got into trouble on set, with directors, producers and production people about ill-treatment of workers. Needless to say, they are not liked, and certainly, not called back for other jobs.

On international documentary shoots in India, usually the camera man and the sound recordist lug their own equipment. The director, and researcher/fixer will pitch in to help. I always try and get a driver who'll be happy to join in. Of course, the crew will never shoot day in and day out. Call times are at 12 hour intervals. There is a break after 5 days of shoot. No one expects them to shoot the day they fly into the country. (Teja and the camera attendants travelled to Delhi on a 4a.m. flight, which meant they'd been awake the whole night, and were shooting by 8 a.m., through the day. After which they travelled for another 6-7 hours to the next location, to begin again the next morning).

And even to come to glorious India, foreign crew gets paid a hardship allowance for the heat and diarrhea they may have to suffer. And there's no way they will take unnecessary risks with their safety. The executive producer will keep them away from even innocuous dangers like the edge of the road, for fear of heavy lawsuits, in case of an accident.


But even foreign-funded projects made now, with a mix of Indian and international crew, get by with treating the Indian crew differently. Since we set examples in rudeness and exploitation, we do get treated accordingly. Of course, with the desperation born out of the need to just survive in this madly competitive world, it's easier to ignore injustice, to not even notice in fact, the people milling around at the back. They are after all, only menial labour. If one of them falls off the catwalk, or gets killed doing a stunt without a safety net, or does not sleep for two days, or wears unwashed clothes because no one's thought of his laundry on a 15 day schedule, what does it matter? There'll always be several other nameless, faceless guys hanging around, waiting for the job.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Of Goddesses and reluctant super-moms

Just one of those days, hot, sticky. My hair constantly flies into my face, irritating me. My old, broken-sequinned shirt pokes me uncomfortably. We’ve waited all day for Aiman’s new cycle to be exchanged. The one that was delivered yesterday had loads of scratches, unacceptable to her. The shop guy was nice about it, but then didn’t send anyone all day with the new bike. Aiman kept annoying me with her repeated sulks about it not coming. Five calls later, in the early evening, only after throwing a tantrum on the phone, I managed to get it delivered to her and get her off my back.

Her old cycle too is being repaired. The cyclewallah has taken his dues before completing the job, and now we must make several trips to him before he deigns to set it right. Why, oh why?

Vivek’s been packing to leave today for a shoot in Garhwal. As usual, I must close cupboard doors after him, pick up discarded bags, nag him about toothbrush and undies. Sometimes, I long to jump off a window – if only I could fly. Make no mistake, I’m no believer in a wife’s only duty being to take care of house and family, or even it being only her duty to take care. But even so, one does land up with more than one’s fair share.

Just one of those days. Meanwhile, read my short story, 'Of Goddesses and reluctant super-moms'


Isn’t it strange that in a land full of goddesses, I don’t know many? Oh, I know of some. Though I haven’t really met them, I would recognize them in a crowd. Though goddesses are not usually to be found wandering in a crowd.

Kali maybe, or Durga as her name may be. With her wild eyes, and wild hair, and her wild tongue, she could be found wandering in a crowd, flaunting her sword. Though I say, what business does she have waving a sword about? Very unwomanly, I would say. A woman’s place is at home, in the kitchen mostly. And then when there is some free time, when the children are at school, and the in-laws fed, and the husband away for hours as yet, then perhaps a little TV does no harm. But to go about like that with open hair! But these days, even ordinary girls do that, that is go around with open hair and wild eyes and loose tongues, though I’ve never seen any with swords. So who’s to stop a goddess?

Lakshmi too walks in and out as she pleases, but then she’s powerful, and routine traffic has to be held back for her, though she comes without a convoy. Special arrangements have to be made, and one has to be most obsequious and welcoming, because she is haughty and quite finicky, as very rich people can be. And there have been so many instances when she has come to the door and then turned away, because she does not like the color of the walls or something. Like Jennifer Lopez, who sulks and shuffles back into her hotel room if she does not like the color of the limo that has come to pick her up. JLo is a goddess; that is what people say. She looks like one, with her curves, which are essential for any Indian goddess.

But my daughter says, I must not believe everything I read in the magazines. She says, did I see JLo going back home because she didn’t like the color of her limo. I say no, but then we haven’t actually seen Lakshmi turning back either because she did not like the rangoli sketched at the door. The attempts were amateurish to say the least, and must have affected her aesthetic sensibility. For all her wealth, she’s also got pretensions to art and culture because she’s a cousin of Saraswati.

Though Saraswati and Lakshmi never go to the same place. They’ve been at a cold war for ages, some family feud going on for generations, maybe about lotuses, because Lakshmi’s one is pink and Saraswati has a white one, maybe about their birds, because Lakshmi has an owl and Saraswati has a swan, and I’m sure Lakshmi must have fought tooth and nail for the swan, and some well-meaning aunt said, Saraswati is always so gentle, let her have her own way for once. And so now, though they smile politely if they do meet, they make sure to ask their hosts and hostesses beforehand if the other is coming to the party. It’s very awkward I must say. But then rich people can behave, as they want, as can goddesses. And people like us must just be polite.

I’ve seen that on television, the way the rich daughters-in-law dressed in expensive georgette saris and diamond jewellery, and made up even when they are sleeping, behave, an ordinary woman like me would be kicked out of the house on the first day, or burnt to death by her in-laws. But it’s good for the young ones, because at least they will learn something, and not be pushed around. I often tell my daughter to watch the daily soaps with me, but she looks at me as if I was mad. She likes to look at me like that, just because she goes to college. She doesn’t know how I have brought her up, what all I have done for her. But then, there is no gratitude for the wife and mother. It’s not as if she was a goddess like Kali, or Lakshmi or Saraswati.

Though Saraswati too does get a raw deal most times. No one really worships her, except a few eccentric artistes. I guess men like their women to be powerful and successful, not their wives of course, but other women. Saraswati is mild and pink; at least in her pictures, and the lotus she sits on looks as if it were a rock. Why would she jump on to a lotus, if she wanted to stand frozen in perpetuity? No, I think she jumped on to a lotus, so she could float away. The lotus must have expected to be toppled when it saw her leap. But then it did not know that goddesses have no weight. Not like us, always fighting cellulite. Especially after babies.

I was so thin when I was young. But after my daughter’s birth, I have a girth. And that’s why it hurts so much, when my daughter looks at me with barely concealed disgust and says, Mom, why don’t you exercise? And I say, it’s easy for you to say. Where is the time? And just wait till you have babies of your own. And she turns away irritated.

But Saraswati is weightless, and happy to lie around in the lotus, strumming her veena, for her swan. Though it must be very boring to be on a river all day, and see only trees and flowers all around. I don’t know why all this nature stuff is exciting for people. When we went to a forest last year with the children for a holiday, I was so bored. There was no television. My husband said, come on, learn to enjoy yourself. Enjoy what, dark, green trees, mosquitoes? I didn’t say anything. I was glad to be home, though I’d missed so many episodes of all my daily soaps. TV is also educating. And enjoyment. I like the movies too, but I like TV best, because I don’t need to tag along with my husband and kids then.

Though when they come back home, they take over the remote control as if I have no rights in this house. There are moments then, when I feel like taking my tongue out like Kali and waving a kitchen knife about, if not a sword. Oh if I had been rich, I could have made some demands, and put up a petition of rights on the kitchen post-it board, like Lakshmi. Or that I had been carefree like Saraswati and could jump onto a lotus any time I wanted. But all that’s for goddesses. Not for me, who only knows of goddesses. But doesn’t know any.
© Batul Mukhtiar

Monday, May 22, 2006

Sugar and tea

Vipin says he'll make his own tea. That's what most people come down to, once they've had a taste of mine. My tea is nothing more than hot water, a dash of milk, and a robust but not overpowering tea leaf (Ah, Taj!)

What most people in India drink ofcourse, is brewed tannic acid. Water, milk, sugar and tea leaves boiling together for atleast ten minutes. Yuck! Well, I grew up on that tea, loved it. Then, Sudeep, the quintessential Bengali converted me to a more sophisticated version, though I still haven't reached his no milk, and green tea leaves nirvana.

The problem is when one is on the roads, there's nothing but the sweet, milky chai available. I must have my four o'clock fix, and yet this chai makes me nauseous now. A high caffeine aerated drink helps out at times.

At Mini's house, her domestic help finally agrees to make me my second cup. She says, it's like the tea the people in her village have. 3 rupees worth of sugar for 8-10 cups. That's around 100 gms. I don't quite believe her, because nowhere in the country, I've seen anybody skimping on sugar, not the poorest people. My own domestic help, who I have to force feed most days, goes through 3 kilos of sugar at home, in a month, and more than 1/2 kilo of sugar at my place. That's one thing I don't have to ask her to consider as her own.

At Mini's place, her help drinks tea loaded with cream and sugar, the sign of affluence. And laughs at me, who chooses to drink the poor villager's version of tea.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Me and not me

I feel as confused as I did when I was eight - confronted by my own self. I walked to school wondering, why am I me? Why do I have this sense of me, and not of anyone else. This confusion always sent me off into imagining myself to be anyone other than me, and yet, there was me, imagining the "not me"s. Hmmm.

The world of blogging gives me a similar sensation. Who is this me, and what do I have to say, and how is my voice different from all the other voices out there? The glimpses into so many other minds, incomplete thought processes that are different from printed articles, or printed books, or made films. They are not much different from my own thought processes, and yet why am I me?

I'm sure the world of psychology has an answer, something to do with the brain, and its chemicals, and the triggers of stimulus, or whatever. But, but, but, there's still me.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Sun, sun, go away

Never thought there'd be a day when I'd be glad to come back to Mumbai. Usually, on arrival from any other city, Mumbai seems dirty, crowded, smelly, sticky. But after 5 days at 40 degrees Centigrade in Baroda, and the depressing stink of yet another communal hullaballoo, Mumbai is pleasantly cool, there's a breeze blowing all day, and it feels good to be back to routine life. It took about 2 days just to recover from the hot sun of Baroda.

I love family visits, let there be no doubt about that. Specially, when all the kids are around. But long to be alone and reading and daydreaming, as usual. There's me, and there's me. Common syndrome.