Friday, December 22, 2006

mom at her daily best

Mom reads the Koran everyday. In her favourite seat, across the window. Photo by Dhanno

Monday, December 18, 2006

algebra and life

The other day, Dhanno, in Std. VIII, learning Algebra, also learns that while a man earns 90 rupees for a job that takes 8 hours, a woman earns 60 rupees for the same job. Of course, that is reality, but must it be propagated for future generations, for ever and ever?

I protest, Dhanno protests too, but will it make things any better for her, I wonder?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Bashed by the sea

Pictures by Dhanno

The sea at Baga is clean, very clean. You feel cleansed and bleached by the salt and the sea. But the sand falls off the minute you are dry, doesn't stick to you in an oily, annoying way.

The sea batters you, slaps you, throws you, gets into your ears, your eyes, your mouth, but what fun it is! Real, unadulterated fun that we had only when we were kids.

The sparkly glow lasts for a couple of days in Mumbai, like some shimmer left on your cheek bones. But actually, the minute you get back to the city, you are aboard this heaving, shunting, throwing tumultous thing that is Mumbai and adult life in general, and it's not fun.

I prefer being bashed up by the sea.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

sweet and stolen

The road from Sawantwadi to Kolhapur is bad, difficult to believe it's a highway. You can't travel faster than 40 kms a hour, that too, if you are lucky. But the bad road is more than compensated for by the beautiful landscape. Rugged hills, green forests, lush fields of sugarcane.

Though we were running late, with no indication of the end in sight, we stopped to steal some sugarcane. Well, Teja did. I was content to hide behind the car and eat the spoils. Dhanno was scandalized by her parents, and quite doubtful whether she should eat her first stolen fruit.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Lilkee in Beta

Now that I'm ready for the brickbats (and the bouquets), I set up a new blog for "Lilkee". The beta version of Blogger is great fun, really, and I'm hoping that I can convert all my blogs soon to beta. Meanwhile, check out my Lilkee blog. Right now, it's only old wine in a new bottle. But ofcourse, I'll post new stuff.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

the last day of "Lilkee"

For the last couple of months I've been finishing off work on "Lilkee" very reluctantly.

How often I have thought, what is this madness that prompts you to make a film? I'm never going to even want to make a film again.

It's hard, when you are working with very little money, because you have to do most of everything on your own, even all the not-so-fun stuff, like couriering letters, filling up forms, photo-copying scripts and more tedious stuff like that.

But yesterday, when I went to the lab, to make my final payment, waiting outside near the car, for the negatives of the film to be delivered, I felt a rush of nostalgia already for the fun we'd had for the last year.

The truth was it was hardly ever any fun, while we were doing it, we were all working so hard, and exhausted most of the time. But, but... already the stories came back to my mind, and I started saying to Vivek, remember when .. remember when...

And when I came back home, the Mac had behaved impeccably well, and encoded a good DVD (it's harder than it sounds) and so, I felt finally, all's well that ends well.

And by evening, Vivek and I were sitting down and pontificating about how we'd do better the next time we are making a film. And already I'm thinking, what next, what next?

Sunday, September 24, 2006


Reached the airport hours earlier, for one reason and another. Then, the flight was delayed.

An old lady, bright, smiling eyes, tip-top English accent came and sat down beside me. She was going home to meet her 89 year old father.

She'd grown up in Colaba, when the fire brigade workers came every evening to wash down the roads. She said, Mumbai was so dirty now, the Muslims from the Middle East had come, and made everything a mess.

I couldn't quite see the connection. But was too sleepy, and as usual, too polite and tongue-tied to comment. Felt like a fool, for hours afterwards.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The storm

Faced with the fact of Dhanno's growing up, Teja and I panic. Every boy hovering around her becomes a dangerous menace to society. Every girl, giggling and whispering about boys, becomes a bad influence on our precious girl.

But try as we might to cuddle her, and make believe that she is still our baby, nature rages fierce and truthful against our windows. The panes rattle in fright, certain they are to be broken today. Dhanno, still struggling to be sweet for our sakes, hovers uncertain around the house, because she knows not why, the storm outside seems exciting, more exciting than the safety of the house.

Wiser perhaps to open the windows, and let the wind pass through the house, unhindered. The monsoons may be leaving Mumbai for the year, but it is still pouring around our house.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


After weeks of resistance, Vivek, Aiman and I finally succumbed to 'KANK' yesterday. Like all good Indian families, we resort to Hindi films to save us when we are tired, bored, just fed up of our daily routine. Then like rajma-rice, we need a Hindi film - comfort food.

Last evening, exhausted with a fortnight's entertaining, computer vissicitudes, the dreariness of administrative details, Aiman's fatigue, the collapse of our domestic arrangements with Leela's absence, a few minutes of 'Khoon Pasina' on Sony TV was good fun. Sequences after sequences in green, I wondered if the costume director had bought rolls of cloth and cut everyone's suits in the same measure, Vinod Khanna and Amitabh Bacchan in leather jackets, with dashing faux fur collars. Fights, drama, tears. We wanted more.

So, the big screen across the road beckoned us. It will be a laugh, if nothing else, we thought. What can I say?

We gorged ourselves sick with popcorn, we squirmed in our seats with goggle-eyed amazement, we kept pinching each other in our effort to believe it was really happening on screen. Dialogues that would do justice to a C-grade film, sequences seemingly written, not to entertain, but to bore the audience beyond measure, actors who wandered around as dazed as us, not having an iota of a clue as to what they were all about, ugly, ugly close-ups, music and dance mediocre.

Today, I read, KJ may make KANK-2. NRIs loved KANK. It seems. Well!

Monday, August 14, 2006

who wants a girl?

A couple of days ago, more than 50 female foetuses were found outside a hospital in Punjab.

People have different reasons for doing away with unborn babies - a career, money, because they already have enough children, or whatever. Abortion is legal in India, so how can one question the motives of why a couple chooses to abort a baby?

Even if these parents who chose to do away with unwanted girls had been forced to have the baby girls, they would have made the girls' lives miserable. The girl child would grow up cursed everyday for being a burden, neglected, malnourished, poorly educated and married off to the first available male. After that, she would most likely be harrassed for dowry and burnt. Better that she was killed by her parents before birth rather than her life increasing suffering on this earth.

But perhaps, one of the girls would have turned out to be a rebel and changed the society she lived on it on its head, and improved the lot for all other girls like her? Who knows? I've often looked at families and said to myself, "I hope no girl is born in this family."

Girls should be born only into families that deserve them, that will appreciate the gift they have been given through a girl child.

No law can work to protect the girl child, or the female foetus as long as parents don't want girl children. Laws cannot be imposed from the outside, but have to come from within the requirements of our society, and our society doesn't need more women. So be it.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Your room - a short story

And then there was your room. The building was like any of the ghastly buildings that children draw at school, a rectangle with square holes. But no child could have colored the building the way it was, a dirty creamy yellow with streaks and streaks of grey. It was a building amongst many such buildings on a narrow road, a government subsidized block. The buildings had no names, only numbers, and the rooms had numbers like A-2/27/101. The postman who did the rounds there, was certainly increasing his brainpower with all the number crunching he did.

All kinds of people lived in those buildings. Clerks who took the local train from Goregaon to Churchgate everyday, because they worked at the Mantralay, and came back home with chickoos, bought near the bus-stop outside the station, dangling in thin polythene bags. Lawyers who loitered outside Bandra Court, in their faded black coats, smelling of sweat, peering into every rickshaw that stopped, for potential customers worth 100-200 rupees. Salesmen who left every morning, looking important, having pumped themselves up with self-confidence, and came back every evening morose and depressed, calculating for the umpteenth number of time, how much commission they had made that day, and knowing it was not quite enough. And struggling actors, who woke up after the last pressure cooker whistle of the morning had blown in the block, and sauntered to the dairy in their crumpled pajamas for a quarter liter of milk, and meeting one of their kind, stopped to have tea and samosas, before they went back to their rooms to finish their morning ablutions and step out, all bright and energetic and certain they were handsome and talented and going to be successful one day. And there was you.

I had to duck underneath three very low stairwells to reach your building at the end of the block, on the corner of the road, after which there were better buildings and more trees. Your neighbor, a sharp-eyed woman, always on the landing, cleaning rice or wheat, or sweeping out her room’s dust towards the stairs, looked at me with sharp eyes, as I rung the bell. You’d open the door, give her a cursory nod of acknowledgement, and I’d be inside your room.

Your room was quiet, and the lime-green curtains were always drawn, so that you never noticed the peeling paint, and it was cool after the heat of the afternoon in the rickshaw. You had a lamp with a faux leather shade, which was quite swanky, and a couple of easy chairs, which smelt of you. Your bed was narrow, and you had changed the sheet because I was coming, and it was clean and faded, and very soft against our skins. Your landlady had left a withered rose shrub in the ledge outside your window, when she gave the room to you. It had become quite plump and glossy under your care. Once, you had shredded several tight, white buds on the sheet when I came, and I could have laughed, but when the petals were crushed by our warm skins, it was divine, and brought tears to my eyes.

Once my husband came with me to the room. I had called you, with cold desperation, and you were prepared. It was nothing, we were house hunting, but his voice filled up the room, and he opened the bathroom and peered inside, and jumped around from one corner of the small room, to another, while you and me sat quietly, looking at him. The room was filled with little gifts from me, a book, a bottle of shampoo, a small rug, and once or twice, he tossed his head, because his mind was asking him to look at something, that would tell him something, but he tossed his head, and filled up his mind with his voice. I did not look at you too much, in case he saw what he was trying hard not to, but I need not have been afraid.

You were quite calm, and shut the door behind you, walking up to the gate with us. My husband ducked the stairwells as easily as I did, but you had to bend quite a bit, and it was just one of those things that life hits you with in the stomach. Because I did not want to go with my husband then, I wanted to say bye to him, and come back to the room with you. Instead, I sat down meekly behind him on the Kinetic Honda, and listened to his voice going on and on, as he would not say a quick bye to you, and you, too kept encouraging him to talk on. Once, you even touched me, and I trembled, but you pretended it was inadvertent, and I put an arm around my husband’s waist, and we drove off, and I did not even look at you, standing at the gate, looking at us go.

The next time I came to your room, I was afraid it would still be filled up with his voice, but it wasn’t, and there was only us. My husband and I did not find a room in your block, because we were Muslims, and for once, I was not angry with that, but relieved. I did not want to live too close to you, because there were many things about my life and my husband I did not want you to know, and because there were many things in yours which I could not bear to see. Your friends coming and going, and cooking in your house, and all of you watching the football match together, for instance, because I could never be a part of that, and I’d always feel why couldn’t I be? And maybe your other women, because there were, or may have been, I knew, but never asked.

But then, even distance did not remain a guarantee against my wanting to be closer to you. Once, we talked of a woman we both liked, and you asked me whether we should invite her one afternoon. I said yes, but I meant no, because I was jealous, and then, I knew, it would not work. Then, even when you were on top of me, I did not look at you, and even when I was on top of you, I shut my eyes. Instead, we came and came, and the tears just streamed down my cheeks. I did not open my eyes, because I knew that what you saw there would make your eyes cold and frightened, and that would hurt too much. It would wipe out all the afternoons we had spent in your room, and I’d be left with nothing. Better to take those afternoons with me, and so I walked away, as quietly as I had come.

For a few days you called, and once you even tried to talk to me on the phone the secret things we used to say to each other, but I pretended there were other people around me, and I was busy, and you knew or thought you knew that I had moved on. Then, I was desperate for your body, and called you once, but this time, you sounded distant, and I thought I heard a woman’s voice in the back. Maybe, the same woman, we had wanted to invite one day to your room, on one of our afternoons together. Twice or thrice, I walked down that narrow road, crammed with buildings, thinking maybe I’d see you, maybe I’d see you with the woman, and then, at least I’d know. I needed to know. But I only saw the sharp-eyed woman, your neighbor, who gave me a reluctant puckered-up smile. And for days, I tore up that smile into many pieces and put it together again and again, wondering what knowledge it held. And I did not dare to walk down that road again.

It is strange now that I don’t see you so much any more, but I still see your room, quiet, the whitewash peeling, the faux leather lampshade, the two easy chairs, and your narrow bed. Sometimes, when my husband is on top of me with his drunken breath, and making all those noises that he must, I shut my eyes and your room, B-2/38/301, is one of the places I go to, for a little quiet.

© Batul Mukhtiar

Friday, July 28, 2006

the table

My dining table is in a perpetual state of transmogrification, much like the crew on Davie Jone's ship, The Flying Dutchman. Though I clean up every couple of days, within minutes, it's gleaming surface attracts not only dust, but all kinds of odds and ends.

Today, for example, there's
a picture frame which Vivek took off the wall, to put up his half-done painting,
the mini-DV camera,
two Beta tapes, and 20 odd CDs all marked "Lilkee this-that-and-the other",
some coins,
my wallet,
Vivek's wallet,
visiting cards of people I regrettably, am never going to remember or call, just dump in a shoebox, which I must clean up one of these days,
10 books and 3 music CDs from the British Council library,
my cheque book which seems to throw out money from the bank faster than I can put it in,
our all-purpose pink and black patchwork bag which has seen better days and been mended atleast 12 times - much like me,
my new Hidesign handbag - an atrocious expense,
and some grubby bits of bills, which I valiantly collect, in the hope that the accounts of the film will sort themselves out miraculously.

No wonder we never eat at the table.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

there is no honey in the devil's larder

Recently I read Jim Crace's collection of short, short stories, 'The Devil's Larder'. The cover is sensuos, a pair of red lips pouting, overflowing with blueish black berries, a smudge of purply red on the chin, is it the juice of the berries or blood, a stray berry falling from the mouth.

The stories are quirky, philosophical, dark, funny, sweetly sombre, unpredictable as short stories should be. They all revolve around food, and the characters who live in them are as different and strange as the varieties of food available in our world. Utterly, utterly delicious.

One blog I love reading for a collection of similarly enticing stories is

The stories take off from a photo, and it's interesting to see how different people weave their tales around one photo.

Saturday, July 22, 2006


So, it seems I cannot access my blog, "unknown zone" but can post on it. If this post goes through, this is one more strange way of things happening in this strange world.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

say cheese!

The computer crashed, I picked up the pieces, and as we'd had only two more days of work, and now have to work for another eight days, perhaps, plus have lost eight days in trying to sort out, what's wrong, I grit my teeth and smile.

Rahul, who is not a computer engineer, but an editor and a teacher, and knows more about the Mac and Final Cut Pro than anyone in the universe, Ok, actually, anyone in my universe, and certainly more than the official Apple guys in Mumbai, is not in a very fix-it mood, and potters around, gritting his teeth and smiling, because like the Mac, and like all well-designed, logical beings, he's moody.

Judith, his friend from Austria, who's here on holiday, waits for us to sort out all our problems, so she can make use of the first sunny day in Mumbai in a week, and walk outside, away from the computer, for God's sake, but makes conversation with me, and since 99% of my already limited mind is with my Mac, my conversation is inane to say the least, and I start off by asking her inane questions like, "how long you been here?, is it your first time? what you do?", luckily biting my tongue before I blurt out, "do you like it here?"

What is any tourist meant to say to that, "No, I hate it, actually, it stinks, there are rats everywhere, people are shitting on the roads, it's too crowded, my stomach's heaving"?, but no, they can get their back at you, with "I love the people, the colors, the way always everyone is always smiling" and you think, hmm, smiling yes, but pity no one can hear the "chk, chk, chk" grinding of their teeth, above the cacaphony, as they go around with the pieces, wooing Mr.Fix-it.

Friday, July 07, 2006


In Somalia, the Islamists have decided to kill anyone who does not say their prayers five times a day. A new Islamic law has been discovered that says that an individual who does not pray has to be killed.

We grew up believing in an Islam where prayer and fasting were an individual's choice. We were taught that if we prayed because we were forced to, or to please someone else, Allah did not "count our prayers". If we fasted when we were ill or against our wishes, Allah did not "count our fasts".

Our family remained a gathering of individuals with their own degree of religiosity, and remain so to this day. Our parents may have liked us to be stricter in religious observance, but it was always "to each his or her own", as each one of us is supposed to be "accountable for our own deeds" on Judgement Day.

I am not a practicing Muslim. I walk around in jeans, and my mother and sister accompany me in their 'ridas'. I'm a certain candidate for the gallows. But it is this growing fundamentalism everywhere, that makes me want to remember and publish the fact that I am Muslim, and that there are many other Muslims like me. Many, many other Muslims, and perhaps it's time to reclaim Islam from the fundamentalists.

For another view of Islam, read my translation Islam means

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

What I was doing when ....

....... I was not blogging, working on my film, cooking, reading.

And what Dhanno was doing then .......

Saturday, July 01, 2006

my football match

While the football fever is on, I remember the day we had to shoot the football match for "Lilkee". For days, I'd been trying to pass on the responsibility to someone else, Vivek maybe, an assistant director, the kids, and hoping they'd bite. I'd also tried wistful sighing, reminding everyone that on a commercial film set, the match would be looked after by an action choreographer, and I may not even have landed up on the location. We would also have had at least two days to shoot the match, more raw stock, and professional child artistes, who knew how to play football.

But this is a low-budget film, and I have no choice but to land up on location, and face the unit, all men, who look at me knowing I know nothing of football, nor anything about shooting the game. Twenty or more children, from the apartment block we are shooting, are at their morning best, creating a din, which makes it even harder for me to assume or pretend control. They kick around the ball, and go from one end of the garden to the other, and behave as if they've never played football before. The pathetic attempts I've made at a shot breakdown, curl up limply in my sweaty, terrified hands.

We have two hours to finish the shoot. Vivek's getting impatient, we are all yelling at each other to no effect, my assistant director goes off into silence nursing a cold. I go off to the loo, and have a secret cry, sure that everyone finds me ridiculous. I come back on location to find Aiman crying as well, for no real reason except she can feel my desperation.

I wonder why I ever wrote that football match into the script. We bung through the two hours, in a sort of stoic frenzied way. And trust to the editor to cover up the "absence" of the director.

I watch Germany and Argentina play for the World Cup, look at the tight circle of cameras around them, and keep thinking of how I could have handled my own football match better. I'm looking at the TV, but don't see Argentina make a goal.

Sometimes, you are so busy scratching your own backside, you miss the moment.

Friday, June 23, 2006


Just found a new goodie, My Media List. Have added it to my "the world outside my window" blog. Go to

Sunday, June 18, 2006

On being 41

In a few days I'll be 41. The 30s were bad.

You change your color, shape and size. All the clothes you try out in the mall, look absurd on you. Your daughter learns to back answer you, and her idea of being nice to you, is to ask you to exercise. Your husband looks at you as if you were sour curds, which he has to eat nonetheless, because there's nothing else at home. Or he is thinking of how to get a bowl of fresh cream, on the side. When you go for a body wax at the local beauty parlor, your beautician tells you, you need a disaster management plan. Not only little kids, but people with little kids of their own, start calling you "Aunty". Your old friends live in different continents. Your new friends are mostly your daughter's friends' mothers, and they talk mostly of kids and kitchens. You haven't become a film star, or a famous film director, or been nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature, and you haven't even become rich. You are cranky, irritable and weepy most of the time, and hysterical in spare moments.

Then, you hit 40. You decide to like your new color, shape and size. You learn to buy clothes that flatter you, even if they displace your milk-and-eggs budget at home. You put the local beautician in her place, by not tipping her every time she mentions a face-lift or Botox. When the moron next door calls you "Aunty", you reply warmly, "Hello, beta" and promptly forget about him. You dance with your new friends in the middle of the night, while your daughters look on at you amused, and think, what the heck, you are having fun, even if you did spend hours earlier in the evening talking of potatoes. You decide you are above material success and the rat-race. You don't feel guilty any more about your parents, your spouse, your kid, your country, poverty, injustice, etc, etc. You take hormonal replacements, Vitamin D and calcium, and don't swing moods anymore. You learn to ignore and neglect your daughter and husband and spend most of the time blogging.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

trapped in a tin box

The other day, we made the journey from Opera House to Malad fly-over in an hour. As we mounted the fly-over, a familiar dread sunk in. I woke up, from the open-mouthed exhausted slumber I tend to fall into these days, determined to be cheerful, and keep Teja from freezing into cold darkness as he moved the car at 1 km. per hour. We took 56 minutes to reach the Times of India signal, barely a kilometer away. From there to home, again less than a kilometer, took 20 more minutes. My foolish attempts at singing off-key, and playing the clown dribbled away against sheer despair.

Shut up in the tin-box of a car, I try to fight claustrophobia by telling Dhanno stories of a glorious growing up in Pune, where we cycled everywhere, to school, college, across town to friends' houses, to the British Council Library, to rendezvous with boyfriends. She cannot even imagine a city like that, because Pune too, is now chock-a-bloc with cars. My father cycled to work until he was 60-odd years old, and we made him give it up, not really because he was incapable of cycling any more but because we were embarrassed to have our father on a cycle, when mopeds had become the norm.

Mum said, that even when Dad and she were younger, the women in Pune cycled everywhere, in their 'kashtha' saris. Perhaps, that is what gave the 'Puneri' girls their air of freedom, the wind against their face, as they picked up their vehicle and just went wherever it was they had to go. I know that when we were in college, the boys who came from other towns, always went bonkers over the girls zipping around everywhere, on their own.

I feel stripped of this freedom by the car, which I've learnt to drive, but find impossible to do so, in this knee-paralyzing traffic. I look at the stoic faces of everyone else in their cars, and the even more harrowed faces of those in the public buses beside us. At least, we have our air-conditioners on. I feel guilty because I don't have to travel everyday, like the people with regular jobs. I know socially conscious people advocate use of public transport, but Mumbai local trains, were something I never got used to.

Teja and I make a fairly good couple, and are decent parents. We get along well, have good times, share the same values. But cooped up together in the car, we have our worst fights. We look at each other with sullen hatred, wondering why we are together in the first place. Everything, but everything, comes under a shadow of doubt - our career choices, our marriage, the country, the Indian character, life in general. Our existentialist angst is at its highest then, as we sit on the highway, contemplating how many more years of our life we've got to spend here, waiting for the roads and fly-overs to be finally in working condition, for the metros to be working, for there to be footpaths, for there to be enough public toilets, for there to be a negotiable city.

Everywhere around us there are shanty towns, nothing like the beautiful spread of Marine Drive or Oval Maidan, which is the face of Bombay. Every time, I go to South Bombay, the sparkling clean roads, the footpaths bereft of hawkers and illegal extensions, the wide roads, makes me envious, grumpy, cheated. I want to scream at someone, hey, I pay taxes too, will you come and look at my part of the city, please?

Here, everywhere around us the roads are dug up. A lone JCB bulldozer works listlessly. A solitary worker is still digging up the road, clocking in his last few minutes at work. The others have already flagged off, changed into their every day clothes, and are sitting around, gossiping. Rage fills inside us, against them, for shirking off work, even for those few minutes, which could have taken us a little closer to the end of this agony. A traffic policeman, bravely doing his best, waving his hands about, as usual, seems to me to be a part of the larger conspiracy of traffic policemen to create traffic jams. I say, for the umpteenth time, to Teja who grits his teeth, "The jam's because of this guy. He doesn't change the signal fast enough." I know we are both thinking of how we will survive this monsoon.

Friday, June 16, 2006


After 'Fanaa' and yesterday, 'Phir Hera Pheri', all of us vow never to see Hindi films except on PIRATED VCDs. The Hindi film industry deserves to crash.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Rickety racket

Every time I'm bored of life, moaning about what I have or what I don't have, I take a rickshaw ride into the unknown. A rickshaw ride, out here, in the back of beyond, is full of adventure and all kinds of games.

The first game we play, the rickshaw driver and I, is '20 Questions' even though I usually know all the answers.

"Where are you from?"

"U.P., Madam/ Didi/ Aunty"

Depending on whether he's called me Madam or Didi or Aunty, I decide to proceed further. Of course, any rickshaw driver who dares to call me Aunty, can expect no further conversation from me.

As the rickety racket of the rickshaw gets more rackety, I ask, " Why don't you get the rickshaw repaired?"

He laughs, or grunts, or stammers apologetically, as the case may be. But the answer is always the same.

"I am only the driver, Madam/Didi"

"Then why doesn't the owner get it ..." I stop mid-way, already exasperated.

"Oh, there's no time. The rickshaw's always riding, Madam/Didi. 3 shifts, 24 hours. We take turns."

"Is he proud of that, or what?", I think grumpily. As we approach the signal, a new guessing game starts. Will we or won't we stop exactly near the exhaust pipes of a truck? As there are more than enough trucks to go around, and as the height of the rickshaw is just right, I get my fix of carbon monoxide without much grief, actually. The smell of the fumes mix with the smell of my perfume, and the smell of the rexine seat, and make me quite faint, though alas, not with ecstasy.

The signal changes. I shout above the din of wind and rickety racket.

"Do you have a license?"

"Naw!" Shyly, that. Of course not. What was I thinking?

"No, Madam/Didi. Am just learning. That's why I drive in this area. The police don't catch so much here."

I'm honored to be useful, surely, in this young man's pursuit of gainful employment. In the meanwhile, I pluck imaginary petals from imaginary daisies - "Today I'll live, today I'll die, I'll live, die, live, live, die, die", as we hurtle across the highway, up the fly-over, down the fly-over, faster and faster.

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.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Having geeky fun

I've spent two whole days doing geeky stuff to my blog, changing the colors, I know they are particularly virulent now but love orange and yellow.

I've also been adding a statcounter, a tagboard, a who links to me code, but the most fun thing I've added is a Flickr Photo Zeitgeist.

I lap up everything I read about blogs, and try to put it all on mine. But for someone who knows nothing about web design, I'm learning a lot.

If you are so inclined, also try out some new template designs from Blogger Templates. Aman's designs are really good, and he's also very helpful, and patient with ignoramuses like me. Unfortunately, his template script is not working on my browser for some reason.

Here's to geeks who work hard to make stuff user-friendly.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Being alone

Dhanno has gone for a weekend visit to our old neighbors in Goregaon. They looked after her when she was a toddler, and they stand in for our families which do not live in Mumbai.

Teja is shooting. I am virtually alone at home, for three days, and wonder what I should do with my time.

Dhanno goes off somewhere, even for a day or two, I think of how it will be when she finally leaves the nest a few years from now.

It seems like yesterday when I had to carry her around everywhere, and right now, we have to schedule everything according to her school, exams, hobbies, friends. And then, there will be freedom. And what are parents, specially mothers to do with their new-found freedom?

I know I sound like an utter loser, as
Dhanno would say. But just missing her.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Sticky toffee - Notes on Parenting

A long, long time ago, I entered the cool shade of the canteen at St.Joseph's School, Agripada. I waited in the lattice screened porch, for my turn at the counter. When it came, I asked the nun at the counter for a bar of my favourite sticky toffee. The toffee was made in the school kitchen by the nuns, and was nothing but a wedge of cooked jaggery, wrapped in cellophane. But it was delicious. Sometimes it would be soft and crumbly, sometimes brittle and burnt, and sometimes it was just right, sticky enough to stretch between your teeth throughout the recess.

This particular day, I hesitated for a moment and asked for two more toffees. Sister Martha gave them to me with a peculiar look, and then said, "The Principal wants to see you later."

I must have been 11 or 12, and the Principal had never wanted to see me before this. I'd been in that school since I was a baby, and through those years, our Principal was Sister Catherine. She was a skinny woman, the nun's veil looked too big for her tiny face. She had a sharp, nosy face, and big buck teeth, which kept her mouth a little open all the time, and made her dribble a little when she talked. She could have been the butt of jokes if she were not so precise in her running of the school, appearing around corners at the unlikeliest of times, doing the rounds of classrooms as and when she wanted, keeping us all under her clever eyes.

As I dragged my feet to her office, I almost popped a toffee into my mouth, mechanically, but remembered to stop in time. I would have had to throw it out before I went in, and that would have been a huge waste. I went and stood meekly at the door to her office which opened on to the playground. She beckoned me in, without even looking up. I stood at her desk. She said, "Sister Martha says you buy three four toffees everyday. Why?" I looked at her, for a moment, surprised by the unexpected question, relieved too, that I was not in some major trouble, though what that could have been, I did not know.

I said, "Yes, to share with my friends." She said, "You have to stop it. That's not sharing, that's buying for friends. It's not allowed." I was dismissed. There were no kind explanations, no discussion of right and wrong. Just "Not allowed". I came away, feeling outraged that the school could stop me from buying sweets for my friends, also feeling slightly ashamed without understanding why. Of course, those toffees never tasted the same again.

And because I had been only told that "buying for friends was not allowed", I continued as I grew up, to "buy for friends" by doing their homework, or "buying for boyfriends" by giving too much of myself, or "buying for a husband" by turning a blind eye to his infidelities. It took many, many years to understand what Sister Catherine had been telling me, which if she had been kind enough to explain, may have saved me much grief. But then these were the days before school counsellors or over protective parenting.

Yesterday, Dhanno looked at me with solemn eyes, which is her prelude to discussion. "There's a very rich boy in our class, who is always giving everyone treats." I said, "Hmm". Over the years, I've learnt to draw out Dhanno gently. Each move has to be precise, or she will flee into petulance or silence. I must show concern, involvement and yet, be casual enough to make the discussion palatable. Dhanno continued, "I've never taken any treats, but all my friends do." I asked, "Which ones?" She named her whole gang. "He wants to take us all to Cafe Coffee Day, for a treat after the exams. Should I go?"

I don't have an easy answer. All her friends are going, but should she go for such an expensive treat? I suggest going Dutch. It has occurred to her, she has spoken to her friends about it, but the rich boy insists it is his treat, and her friends don't understand what the fuss is about. Hmm. I suggest, "Why don't you go for the treat, but take some chocolates for him?" She looks at me with big, incredulous eyes. "Mom, all my friends will laugh at me." Yes, I can see that. So I suggest, "Well, why don't you take chocolates for everybody?" She's not so sure about it, neither am I. Both of us are wondering whether we are fussing too much about it. But so far, that seems the best solution, if she wants to go, and yet not take a too expensive treat without reason.

Dhanno continued, "Mom, this boy gives treats everyday." "To whom?" "Oh, anyone who's with him. He also gives money. Children just ask him for money, and he gives them 200-300. He doesn't even ask for it back." "So how much money does he carry around in school everyday?", I ask, really curious. "Two three thousand." I take that with a pinch of salt, because Dhanno is still very conservative about money and a few hundreds would seem like thousands to her.

But in the six years we've been living here, I have seen children her age going about with at least a hundred rupees in their pockets every day, even when they go down to play. Several kids have running accounts with the local grocer shop, which their mothers pay at the end of the month. Soft drinks, chips, chocolates, treats to friends, are every day expenditures on open accounts. Sometimes, we've wondered whether we are too strict with Dhanno about money, and other things. But I'd rather she has the ability to question, analyse and form her own opinions, even if it means she's sometimes, "funny" to her friends.

All those decades ago, I had only one rupee at my disposal everyday, which was not a big amount even then. But without loving monitoring, I was not able to deal with the freedom my parents gave me. I dread to think what lies in store for the rich boy with hundreds in his pocket, "buying for friends".

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

What is this bhangad?

"What is this bhangad?", he said, disapprovingly, and looked up at me. He was looking at my passport application papers. The policeman in charge of the papers scrutiny at the local police station was referring to my name 'Banno Zai Muk'.

'Bhangad' in Marathi should roughly translate to "What is this headache-inducing nonsense?" First of all, why did I have this complicated name? Second, why would I not use my husband's name like any decent woman should? (Unsaid and implied questions, ofcourse. Even the policeman has learnt political correctness.)

He looked at me, and said, "Muslim?" I nodded. He looked at my husband's name, and then my husband, and said, "Teja? Hindu?" I nodded again. "Love marriage?" Very disapproving, that. Directed more towards Teja than me. I nodded mutely again.

Ofcourse, I was tempted to say, "No, arranged marriage. Arranged by deranged parents who did not know any better."

But a police station is no place for humor. And anyone who has spent 8 debilitating hours, standing in three different queues, for a passport application, only prays that they are not going to be sent back there for another lifetime. So mutely pray, that the policeman finds nothing objectionable about your name, marriage, profession, living arrangements.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Coffee and me

Shared an instant coffee with Dhanno yesterday evening at 9 pm. Am still wide-awake at 11 am next morning, in a "wish I could go to sleep" way. That's me. Get a caffeine shot with 2 sips, and get drunk when I shampoo my hair with beer.

Meanwhile, a new short story, 'A Perfect Circle'.

Nupur stepped off the sidewalk with a slight leap that took her springing across the road, careless about the traffic, unusual for her. She wondered if Aman could see her from his window, and a small smile hovered on her face. She stood on tiptoes on the road divider, and she felt ridiculously young. She used to love walking on a road divider, pretending to be performing an incredible balancing act. She cringed now at what a show-off she had been. But when you are young and pretty, even the embarrassing things you do, are cute.

The non-existent traffic on this quiet side-lane did not warrant her standing on the divider for long, and she crossed the road with a bouncy walk that she had long forgone. These days, her gait was that of a graceful elephant, according to her husband Prateek. But if Aman were watching her right now, he would think her as agile as he had known her.

She entered the 5-star hotel foyer with a familiar but long-forgotten sense of doing something forbidden. How enjoyable that feeling was! So sweet, and exciting. Only Aman and she had never met in a 5-star hotel before. The receptionist called Aman’s room, and asked Nupur to wait for a few minutes. Aman would come down to the lobby as soon as he finished his meeting with a prospective employee. Nupur sat down, relieved to have these few moments to calm her before Aman came.

Aman had called her this morning; he had wanted her to come over as soon as she could. He thought she could hang around while he conducted the interviews he was down in India for. But Nupur did not want to sacrifice a day of her holiday to her Maa’s house in Bangalore, and hang around Aman the whole day.

Besides, what would she tell Maa? Her mother knew all her friends in Bangalore, and in fact, she had finished meeting all of them in the last few days. If her mother knew she was meeting Aman, she would be very worried, even if Nupur pretended to be cool about it. Even if Nupur told Maa that she had spoken to Prateek about it. In fact, that would worry Maa more.

Finally, she told Maa that she was going to Trupti’s house for her son’s birthday. That had allowed her to doll up a little without Maa wondering what she was up to. Nupur thought she should call Trupti and tell her about the lie, but it seemed too juvenile. She’d just leave it, and if Maa found out her lie, she’d explain. In all these years, that’s one thing Nupur had learned. It was easiest to get away with a lie, if one didn’t set it up too elaborately.

She had spoken to Prateek before she came to Bangalore about this meeting with Aman. Prateek had not paid much attention to her nervousness. She felt a little irritated that he was not more jealous, but then, at a traffic signal, he suddenly said – “You must wear that blue saree of yours. You look lovely in it. You must dazzle that Aman. Let him know what he’s missed.” She looked at her husband with disbelief. He was laughing, and he punched her affectionately on her shoulder, she began laughing too, comforted as always by his good humor. It was moments like this that she felt incredibly lucky to have met Prateek and married him.

Remembering Prateek now, she felt herself again, a happily married woman, who had no reason to feel these butterflies in her stomach, because she was meeting an old boyfriend. Aman had been her first love, but it was she who had broken up with him. Right now, she could not quite remember why. Even back then, her decision had confused her friends and family, and Aman himself. Everyone thought they were the perfect couple. Aman, handsome, laughing; with all the signs of becoming a successful man, a sports champion. Nupur, pretty, shy, but very clever. But Nupur had been bored by Aman, a little, and that had frightened her. Perhaps she was too young for the relationship, who knows?

Today, she had not worn the blue saree Prateek loved her in. She remembered that Aman liked yellow, and she had worn a yellow shirt and her blue jeans. Aman had mailed her his family photograph, and his wife had been wearing a dark purple saree. Nupur did not want to wear a saree like Aman’s wife. Today, Nupur did not want to be the 38-year-old woman she was, but the 16-year-old girl she had been. She wondered what the receptionist must think of her, sitting here, waiting for a man. Did she look the sort of person who usually did that? Nupur laughed to herself, and wondered if she should call Aman again, and tell him she would leave if he kept her waiting any more.

Even when they were in college, Aman kept her waiting for hours on end. Sometimes, they would have arranged to meet at the corner of a road, and Nupur would circle around endlessly on her moped, until she caught sight of him. She would be upset, he would be laughing. And even today, she was waiting. It only increased her anxiety. What would Aman think the first moment he saw her? “Oh thank God, I did not marry her. She is not pretty anymore.” Nupur wished now she had worn the saree. She looked plumper in the jeans. And perhaps he would not like her in this boyish outfit. Why did she have to be so perverse?

When Aman did walk towards her, she felt dazzled by her own emotions. She forgot the jauntiness of her steps a few minutes earlier, and rolled up to him, clumsy and awkward as usual. He was laughing with all his brilliance, and he engulfed her in a hug. She wondered frantically whether she smelled all sweaty. Aman looked down at her from his imposing height and said – “Hey, do you want to go out? Or shall we just sit in my room? It will be cooler there.”

Nupur nodded quietly. It did not even occur to her that she should suggest they sit in the coffee shop. She followed Aman to the lift. She thought the receptionist’s eyes were boring into her. Aman looked at her up and down in the lift and said – “Hmm, you’ve put on a little weight. But so have we all. What?” He looked at his own little paunch and laughed again. For the first time, Nupur noticed that yes, Aman too had put on weight, and he too had strands of grey in his hair, and his hair too had thinned, and he too had signs of a double chin. She sighed deeply; she didn’t feel so bad anymore.

Aman’s room was quite swanky. The TV was on, some music channel. “I love the remixes. I watch this channel all the time when I’m here. I don’t get it back home.” He went and switched off the message tone on his laptop. “Otherwise people will keep beeping me.” Nupur looked around, and tried to remember the days they had spent together, in small inexpensive coffee shops, or better still, on open pasture lands just outside the small town where they grew up. Their moments of intimacy had depended on finding either one of their parents out for a couple of hours. They had been luckier than their friends. Their parents knew they were dating, and they did not have to sneak around too much. But even then, being alone in a room was taboo. And here today, they were alone in this hotel room; expensive room, air-conditioned luxurious room, and they were sitting across a small coffe-table chatting about this and that. Nupur glanced at the big, soft bed behind Aman and then smiled inwardly at her own helter-skelter thoughts.

Mainly, Aman was talking, about his family, his parents, his wife, his children, his work, his success. Nupur listened, and put in another question whenever he seemed to stop talking. Somehow, she was reluctant to talk about Prateek. Reluctant to talk about the last 18 years she had spent growing away from Aman. She hoped he would not come out with the anguished cry he had sent out to her for months after she had broken up with him. “But why did you do this?” She had an aversion to answer him then, and she had no answers even now. Perhaps all her nervousness today, was her desire to avoid this question.

But Aman was too demanding a personality to leave well alone. The next time, she asked him an inane question, he did not answer. He only looked at her, and said, “Why?” She shrugged. This time there was no anguish in his voice, and she wished she could have given him a more honest answer. But she could not tell him that he bored her a little.

Aman said, “You know I never forgot you all these years. I still love you, somewhere deep within my heart.” She looked at him confused. “But you never tried to get in touch with me all these years.” He shrugged. “I figured that you did not want me to. I loved you enough to set you free.” He laughed, “You know, all that romantic idealism.” Nupur said, “You never came across as a romantic. I thought it didn’t matter too much to you.” “But there was never anyone else.” “But you didn’t say it”. “But I didn’t need to.” Both of them laughed sadly.

He hugged her again when they left the room. In the lobby, he booked a taxi to take her home. At the last minute, he jumped in. She held his hand in the taxi, and said, “Maybe we were too young.” “Hmm.” Later, she watched the taxi leave. She wanted to cry, to stop him, surely there was something more, so many things that they had not said or done.

At night, she called Prateek. “Prateek, do you know something funny happened. He said he loved me still.” “Oh probably, he just wants to sleep with you.” Nupur wanted to hit Prateek, “How can you be so mean? You are not romantic at all.” Prateek grunted. “Yeah maybe. All I know is you are my wife. He has his own. That’s the love I believe in.” Nupur put the phone down, huddled up in bed alone. She thought as she always did, “Love, what was love after all?” All these years, and she still couldn’t figure it out, quite.
© Batul Mukhtiar

Sunday, March 19, 2006

A Poem About Me

Don't I feel important?


Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep

Baa Baa Black ... no Brown ... no Yellow ... no Rainbow sheep.

Who ever 's heard of "rainbow sheep".

So am I not to be called brown anymore? My delicious brown color, wheat brown, golden brown, caramel brown, coffee brown, chocolate brown. Am I then to be "Asian Indian"? And who is to say that "Asian Indian" won't become, in time, politically incorrect, like "Muslim" for instance?

So, then am I to be "of a certain minority community, melanin challenged, geographically hurdled, socially impaired, economically deprived"? Because I'm a brown middle-class Indian Muslim who does not figure on Page 3.

Racism has nothing to do with political correctness or the lack of it. In fact, it can simmer quite beautifully under the facade of political correctness.

Racism is of course, believing that people are different because they are differently colored, or belong to different geographical, social, economic backgrounds. Believing that someone is inferior because ... but also believing that someone is superior because ...

I'm happy to be "Brown and Lovely", thank you.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Truly Grossssss

My nostrils quiver all the time with the dust from the quarries. Snot congeals every few minutes, and has to be dug out like the stone for buildings. Except that there is no demand for my snot.

The yellow fungus inside the toilet bowl is growing quite well. I'm pleased. I feel it likes me. I walk out of the bathroom and fall while taking a 90 degree turn. The big thud brings no one running. When I come to, there are only aching bones, and no kind soul around. I realize the yellow fungus cannot be much of a friend.

I shuffle to the computer, and hit my home page "Creepies and Crawlies Unite". We of the CCU believe that men and women are not meant to walk. I post my experience of the morning, riling against walking in general, and 90 degree turns in particular.

I immediately get 23 hits from my chat-mates. Carbohydrate levels are high this morning.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Chicken, Eggs and Shit

So, we e-mail each other, call each other, ask tentatively, are you eating chicken, eggs? In moments of rebellion, we decide to hell with it, and take a few illicit bites. Then, feel awful. Is my daughter sniffling because of ....

I feed her banana milk shake everyday. Ofcourse, the milk is no good, pumped as it is with steroids. And now I know the bananas too are poisoned, to ripen quickly, more likely to cause depression and cancer, than alleviate it. Spinach is out, grown as it is on public lavatory grounds besides railway tracks. Oranges, carrots, tomatoes, pumped with unhealthy red color. Potatoes, rice, wheat, capsicum, grapes, apples, strawberries .... all contaminated. The water too, ofcourse is laced with sewage, is it? Fish is mercury, meat is rotting.

Of course, we could all shift to organic foods, and meats imported from New Zealand or wherever. If domestic budgets permitted.

If I sound grumpy, it's the lack of protein doing me in.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

A Poem I like

A friend, David Raphael Israel, writes well. Here is a poem by him, posted today, which I liked very much.


Mixed Doubles

Finally saw the film, “Mixed Doubles” yesterday, after much should we/shouldn't we. The tickets in the multiplexes are so expensive; the show timings are odd; it’s an adult film, and we have to make for our daughter; there’ve been so many films released this last couple of weeks, and so on.

But ultimately, because so many of our friends have worked on the film, we went to see it out of loyalty. Given our reluctance to go for the film, we were pleasantly surprised. Didn’t get bored for a minute, and came out feeling it was money well spent, which happens rarely these days. But once we are in the car, we MUST analyze, tear apart the fabric of the film, and put it together again. Our daughter’s used to this by now, though it was hard for her initially to accept our hair-splitting discussions on films she had thoroughly enjoyed.

A little mixed up

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

150 Seconds Ago

Any film that you make doesn't go into oblivion. It keeps coming back to you for one reason or another, enquiries, reactions, self-analysis. The moral of the story is you must do your best the first time round. If you are ashamed of your work later, there is no way you can keep it under wraps.

I'm cutting "150 Seconds Ago" to a shorter, more manageable version. Metaphormedia, a company that distributes documentaries to schools, colleges, institutes, NGOs has asked for it, and I'm happy for the film to be seen by as many people as possible.

Synopsis and other details of the film

Of Marriage Registers

Read Mukul's post today on the marriage affidavit. Id and I were married enough by the vows of a qazi, but Idris thought it best that we get our marriage registered. I was 24, but looked 16, we travelled a lot, and had got called up a couple of times by policemen, who thought we were running away from home!! Visiting Id's home in Nainital, we went for an early morning walk, stopped off to have tea and breakfast at a friend's place, where the local magistrate came in with the marriage register, and had us sign. We got a lovely marriage certificate with our photographs attached.

Later, when I was getting a divorce, my lawyers at Majlis wanted to use my marriage certificate to push for similar ones in Maharashtra. The marriage certificates here are nothing but a very insignificant scrap of paper.

When Teja and I decided to marry, Dhanno was six, and adamant that we should not marry. It took a year's gentle persuasion. When she did agree, she had it firmly in her head, with no prompting from our side, that it was to be a marriage between us three, herself included.

At the Bandra court, our lawyer was absconding with all the relevant papers. All of us hung around, sure the marriage was not going to happen that day. The lawyer appeared just before the day was about to pack up at court. A clerk yelled for us to come inside. Unnecessary people were not allowed in. Within 2 minutes, everyone signed. Outside, Dhanno howled because her sign had not been asked for. Ar ran around, and came back with a piece of paper, which he asked her to sign. She grinned, happy, that the formalities were complete.

P-Bapu and Gaz, my witnesses, confessed that they had not got around to registering their marriage in 12 years. Maybe they would get it done soon. All of us knew it was never going to happen.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Family weekend

Mohammed as "Golu, the spoilt brat" in my film.

When my brother Ali and nephew Mohammed descend on us, noise levels increase. Mummy and sis-in-law Farzana are quieter. We play "Life". Aiman cries, jealous of Mohammed and his attention-grabbing ways. Mohammed whirls around oblivious of anyone's likes or dislikes, waking us up rudely from bed, with huge hugs and incessant questions.

My family is completely non-intellectual. When I was growing up, their lack of Apparent Culture embarrassed me. But now, I find it immensely rejuvenating. We talk of films, ofcourse, and politics, and the world in general, but in delightfully naive terms. The absence of any jargon, political or aesthetic brings laughter back to the Pursuit of Art.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Apple v/s Steinbeck

I know my editing friends from FTII will kill me. But I do love editing on a non-linear system, more than I ever did on a Steinbeck. And no, I don't miss the smell or touch of film. Blasphemy!

As a direction student at FTII, my on-hand editing experiences were limited to the 1st year practicals. Getting into the freezing studio after a warm lunch in the warm afternoon, when more exciting things were happening near the Wisdom Tree was bad enough. The heavy metal doors of the editing studio locked out the whole world outside. Then Dalviji handed over the spools to us. I dreaded the moment it was my turn to wind or rewind the film. The congenitally clumsy person I am, the exercise started with the spool dropping from my hands, being retrieved, me cranking too fast so that the film rushed through my hand and snapped at some point, or too slow so that it wound in loose bumps. Dalviji didn't look at me too kindly.

The bins with their bits of film flapping were too disordered for my liking. And the worst was when one decided one needed a bit that one had casually chucked away. Searching in the bin, coming up with lint on one's fingers, peering at pieces of film, and wondering if looking for those two frames was worth all the bother.

And then, ofcourse the splicer. I was always afraid my finger would get chopped off one day. It felt so much like a guillotine. And the perforations that always threatened to tear. And cellotape that never stuck in a neat line for me.

The only thing I loved was the funny old student exercises that we practiced on. Asrani, and Paintal and assorted actors, in their young days. But I don't think I learned a bit about editing. Anyway, we were only foolish Direction students, and Mr. Mehboob Khan didn't condescend to pay us too much attention.

Hmm, so I love my Apple and FCP. I can look out of the window whenever I want, and the noises of the house reassure me.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Sleeping beauties

Noorbhai, the camera attendant has handed over his duties to Raees.

Anjibabu, the make-up man, asleep for the day.

"Rhea", played by my neice Anushka, has finished shooting for the day, but must wait for all of us to pack-up to go back to the hotel.

Looks like we are all working very hard indeed. But what better than a cat-nap to compensate for late nights, and all too early mornings?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

jacks, all of us

Suresh at Rudraprayag, with his head in the continuity book

Manoj at Forest Castle, Pune with his head in the costume trunk

Working on a low budget film, or rather, ultra low budget film has it's own postpartum glamor. On "Lilkee" most of us were working overtime, managing more than 2-3 departments. Manoj not only played seven cameo roles, but also helped me to write the script, rehearse with the children, and take care of their costumes on the shoot. Suresh was not only playing the main lead, but also taking care of continuity and background action. Vipin took care of sound and frayed tempers. Satish did the stills, and helped me with accounts, and production work. I discovered that my sister, Farida and sister-in-law, Farzana were excellent costume directors apart from being caretakers for the children. Vivek had to be the art director along with being the cinematographer. Aiman not only played her role to perfection, amidst conditions of extreme stress, but helped with choreography and make-up. And me, what did I do, amongst all this? It seems to me that my biggest strength has been the people around me, and my ability to pick their brains, their talent, and their hard work.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Rough cut

Vivek and Noorbhai at Rudraprayag, Garhwal.

The crew at Korlai beach, near Alibagh.

Hemanti has finished the rough cut. It's bliss to edit at home. After ages, my MAC behaved perfectly. Found out that all the trouble had been caused by a corrupt hard disc. And so many people had been going around in circles, trying to find the problem, loading and reloading again. Anyway.

After having given the DVDs to CFSI, there is a lull. Oh, these lulls. I hate not working, I really don't enjoy the emptiness of waking up, with nothing to do, the way Vivek seems to. I'd love more than anything else to be tearing around, stressed out, trying to manage a hundred things, and failing miserably. Instead, I have the calm of a not too busy director around me.

Satish has uploaded some photos from our shoot on Yahoo. To see them, go to the link below.

banno at wordpress

I'm moving to wordpress. I'll miss blogger, especially the fab blogroll feature. But my blog has been virtually impossible to open o...