Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Reader

I watched this movie starring Kate Winslet this weekend and I was moved, perhaps after a very long time. It is about a middle aged Nazi guard (Kate) who ends up having a very short affair with a fifteen year old boy. She is square, rough and almost insensitive under normal circumstances and he is romantic and well read. In between the time they spend together, she makes him read to her because she is illiterate. The story unfolds into an unexpected plot (which I am not going to reveal here) and circumstances bring them face to face at a later stage. She is a wasted old woman and he is a tired middle aged man. However even though the story starts with a steamy love affair, it brews itself into a situation that all bibliophiles out there would appreciate with all their heart!
The beauty of this movie is not just in the story but also in the way it is made. Her acting never lets you come to a point where you can label her actions as right or wrong and in her square, illiterate, impatient and insensitive way, she manages to make you admire her even though the story demands the exact opposite from you. She has been rightfully rewarded with an Academy award today. :)
There is a radius of conditioning around all of us. Within that radius, we learn to call something right or wrong. Moral or immoral. Fair and unfair. Laws sometimes take care of all our myopic concerns in great details but they do not necessarily lead to justice all the time. Beyond that radius which varies country to country and culture to culture, there is a vast expanse of individual volition. Where all laws and regulations seem insufficient. This movie takes you to that realm of thought. 
I would really like everyone to watch it! =)
PS: Raj I hope this makes you happy. :)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A world free of status messages. :)

As a kid, I used to be genuinely amused why aai got really angry after my dad's mother made a comment that was in no way related to her. Something like, "Mrs. X is a really good mother. She gave up her job to raise her kids", made my mother cry her eyes out for hours together. As I was growing up, I gradually began to understand this method of indirect communication among human females. It was used a lot on my mother's side too, especially by her aunts and my own grandmother. Although on their side it got a bit more arcane and you had to know a lot of Sanskrit to know that you had just been insulted. In my late teenage years I also found myself deciphering these kind of comments for my mother and complicating our lives for no reason at all. I guess it is a part of honing a woman's instincts so that she gets to control the competition around her. 
These days, just like gossip and love, this kind of communication has made its way to the virtual world. These kind of cryptic messages are posted as status updates on the famous social networking website Facebook. It is a sheer treat reading a Facebook page in between (unsuccessful) experiments and I must thank all the girls for this Ektakapoorization of Facebook (FB). One day as I open my FB account I find the following status message conversation.

Madhuri Dixit  "is angry that some women flirt with other girls' boyfriends"

..half an hour later..

Manisha Koirala "thinks that other girls should know how to keep their boyfriends to themselves"

..two hours later..

Madhuri Dixit  "is shocked that a certain girl defends her actions instead of apologizing for them"

..half an hour later

Manisha Koirala "feels that girls should stop accusing others and accept that they are themselves insecure"

This goes on for ages. Peppered with comments from other girls who have committed similar (but milder) crimes and just check to see if the writer is aiming at them. Once they are sure it is not them they pipe in with their own versions on jealousy and insecurity! 

Back in India we used to have a deluge of cold wars even between best friends. In my group of four best gal-pals, I am pretty sure there have been plenty combinations of back-biting and jealousy under the label of  "right" and "wrong". In fact it is one of the only factorial that I can really work out. I learnt permutations and combinations putting all the women into groups of sister-in-laws Vs daughter-in-laws. It is a lot easier to visualize. 
This time when I went back to India, I went out with one of my core group girls. When she started referring to one year old hazy statements, I decided to destroy all my bastions. Over a cup of hot cappuccino in Cafe Coffee Day, I let out the ultimate truth about female friendships 
( I am sure there was a halo around me just for two minutes). In a group, there ARE no secrets. I told her that I had forgotten who my real ally was and that in the long run it does not matter. All of us have compromised equal amounts of principles and we are even. :)
It worked!  Although I do not know if I should be happy about it. 

I have been jealous myself and found jealousy really stifling. I am sure our common guy friends enjoyed these wars with just as much relish as I enjoy these FB status messages. I am not really sure if I am over it as yet, but I am positive that none of us would ever get so creative as these ardent Facebookies to express our anger. :D
It is a journey after all. There is enough "man" in a woman to be able to slap another one of her kind on the back and go for a beer. There is also enough "woman" in a man sometimes that makes him sit at the bar for hours talking about his boss's steamy affair with his secretary. The challenge is to get it to balance and even that is very dynamic! 

However, I would really like it if the world was without status messages. :)
Any opinions? :)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I was sitting in the lab today waiting for a reaction and I made a caterpillar from magnetic stirrer bars. Took me way back when I was three years old and over at my grandparent's for summer vacations. One morning I woke up with an itchy back. I walked straight out into the kitchen and when my ajji saw it, she diagnosed it as a caterpillar squish. It was the first time in my life I had heard about caterpillars and the fact that in my grandparent's house, these kind of pillars just fall from the thatched roof during summers. 
Then it turned into an obsession. Most of my holidays there after were spent hunting for caterpillars. Green, red,black,brown and even blonde. Sometimes my cousin and I would come back with a matchbox for my grandmother that was full of caterpillars neatly arranged next to each other! Someone also told us that if you feed them mulberry leaves they turn into butterflies. So we tried to set up the butterfly-fication experiment for our poor guinea caterpillars. Each matchbox had our hostage caterpillar and a mulberry leaf. :)
Since we had raspberry vine and mulberry tree growing out in the front yard it was very easy. 
One day went by and there was still no sign of butterfly. With our four and five year old patience glands, it was really difficult to carry on with our experiment beyond five days. There was severe grandparental pressure too, that came from some sort of humanitarian approach. At the end of four days we had a martyr. So we decided to stop the experiment because ajji told us that God would not like it. 
All along that summer, we used to get caterpillar bombs from the roof all the time. I remember waking up after several afternoon naps with caterpillar hair stuck to my neck or my back. Ajji used to rub marigold leaves on it to calm us down. The green ones were the worst. It was like getting stung by a bee. 
On days when the hot summer evening would unfold into something that fermented my thoughts, I used to use the caterpillar sting to get rid of all my four-year-old anxieties. :)
At others, I used to observe my caterpillar-squish-mark with great pride.  

It seems like a really long time now but it feels like it was yesterday. I went to meet my cousin at her in-laws house this time when I went to Kolhapur. She was dressed in a sari with a big "mangalsutra" around her neck. All day she told me how she manages her new house and what her husband likes the best from all her inherited recipes. I was still coming to terms though with not trying to look at her as the girl in our caterpillar experiments. 
I guess the reason why we revisit these kind of memories is because it is boring living in a world where there are very few "first times" left. Nothing I do now matches the joy of looking at a hairy worm and finding out that it is called a caterpillar. Of knowing that it is the raw-material for butterflies!