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The Grammar of Genius

 

We’ve finally made it to St.Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and despite several people having warned me about before I left, it has rendered me speechless. I’m struggling to take in the sheer grandeur of it. Mother, on the other hand has locked eyes with what she’s come here to see all the way. There’s a small horde of people in front of it. Behind them, behind what I’m sure is bulletproof glass sits a haunting marble recreation of Mother Mary holding the naked body of her dead son. Even with my below average understanding of art, I know what I’m seeing pure genius in front of me. I use this adjective very rarely, but if there are a couple of places where one can use it without any regret – The Pieta has to count as one of them.

Mother’s been teaching students about Michelangelo since the past three decades, I’ve watched these lectures turn from notes of paper to floppy disks to CD roms to interactive video essays. In my second year, I’ve had the pleasure of sitting through them personally. Today, she’s seeing the sculpture with her own eyes. So am I, but I haven’t spent three decades studying every contour of it. That sculpture is her career. It’s been responsible for oooohh’s and aaaahhh’s in class, it’s been responsible for students failing semesters, it’s been responsible for doodles and jokes and wikipedia searches and kids getting kicked out of class for not giving a shit about it. It’s three decades worth of teaching sitting in front of her with frightening technical perfection. I mean that word. It’s perfect.

You have to understand what it feels like to finally see it. It physically impacts you. There are people standing in front of it transfixed, there are people who are silently crying, there are people desperately trying to freeze themselves in that moment by clicking a photograph or trying to sketch it. Couples are holding hands, small kids are asking questions, history teachers who have come with groups of kids are imitating a man chiselling away at marble, frat boys who’ve made ape like sounds looking at fig leafs covering dicks are staring open mouthed. The sculpture looms over everyone in its sheer arrogance.

If you’ve done a tour of the Vatican museums, this is the last point you’re going to be left at, which means by then you’ve already had an overdose of more art than you can deal with over a lifetime. You’ve seen Raphael’s School of Athens, you’ve seen Laocoon and his sons, you’ve seen Caravaggio, Apollo Belvedere, tapestries large enough to cover entire homes and maps you had no idea existed till you see them there for the first time. Heck, the token minuscule section of the Vatican Museums that houses contemporary art features Dali, Francis Bacon, Frida Kahlo, Matisse, Roy Lichtenstein, Van Gogh and Marc Chagall. It’s every name you’ve ever heard in every arthouse film, from every pretentious liberal arts friend and every person you’ve known who’s spent a week abroad and come back a seasoned critic. The Vatican museums have corridors leading to corridors which eventually end at the Sistine chapel exhibiting Michelangelo’s other magnum opus: the last Judgement – which looms over the sea of spectators all looking up desperately, trying to make the moment last till they’re booted out.

Yet, the Pieta is different.

It defeats the grandeur of the Basilica it’s in and if I haven’t mentioned already, the Basilica is the grandest, richest, vainest sign of opulence I’ve seen my entire life. It defeats all the art you’ve seen till that point, it erases out at that moment: every colour, texture and contour your mind has stored over the past few hours. It reduces you to silence. You want to shut the fuck up and think of some plausible myriad explanation to how a twenty three year old with a rock and a chisel came up with this. You want to know why you’re so untalented. You now have a benchmark for what ‘really really good is’. If you’ve had that benchmark already, you now know what the best is. You realise you’ve never been good and you never will be that good, no matter what Mrs.Rosy Fernandes said in the first standard, no matter what your Sheela Aunty told you when you drew that travesty of a scenery (seriously, the sun you drew in the middle of the mountains was smiling, it was that bad) on her birthday greeting card, no matter how many art competitions you’ve won. You’ve been below average at your best, and it’s nothing to be ashamed off. That’s just how it is. That phrase – ‘You’d have been great if you had put in effort – It’s a sham’. It’s just  not true. You know what’s worse, he didn’t even do it out of a burst of artistic inspiration. It wasn’t the byproduct of years of trying to find a voice. It was a paid gig. He made what would be known as the greatest masterpiece AD as a fucking freelance job. His brief was ‘To make something no one in Rome could better’ and he did it. Because no one has till now.

I don’t think mother can really take this moment. She’s been really ill over the past three days, and we’ve considered going back. Right now, it’s all forgotten. I ask her if she feels like giving me a personal lecture. She mumbles some random facts about how Michelangelo would mix colours and trails off but honestly, she doesn’t give a shit about me right now. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be her right now. Sixty years old, from a family of artists, to grow up in art school and see some of the brightest talent in the state year after year pale in comparison to to Goliath in front of her right now. I think of that scene in Good Will Hunting, where Robin Williams tells Matt Damon ‘You could peel of every date and fact about Michelangelo, but you don’t know what it feels like to stand inside the Sistine Chapel’

I don’t think I deserve this moment. I think mother deserves to be alone with the entire sculpture to herself for at least a minute, but I don’t think Michelangelo deserves to be left for one person either.

“How many students have you taught in your life?”, I ask her.

“Over thirty years? Ten thousand at least’, she says.

“How many of them were extraordinary, like you knew there was something special about them?”

“About seven – eight”

“Anyone this good?”

“I don’t think even he knew he was that good.”, said mom very seriously. I chuckle. She doesn’t.

We sit in front of the sculpture for twenty minutes. Mother asks if I want to take a selfie in front of it with her. I take a photo of her alone instead. She checks it out and asks if I want to leave. I nod. On our way out, she stops.

“What happened?”, I ask her.

“I wanted to take a last look before I leave. I don’t think I’m ever going to come back”

She’s sixty. I disagree. I assure her she will. I tell her I’ll get her back soon. She smiles and tries her best to look like she’s convinced. We leave. We don’t talk for a while. A melancholic silence rests between us. We feel like every commoner in the midst of genius – defeated.

__________________

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Nanette: The Power of Pain

Hannah Gadsby.jpeg

 

For a lot of us who’ve attempted stand up comedy, there’s a sort of an urgency to hear laughter when you’re up on stage. We’ll do anything for it. We’ll pander, make jokes about ourselves, make jokes about our inability to make decent jokes about ourselves. What we long for at the end of our set is a physical reaction to a joke. Laughter. Lots of it. Nuance, honing our craft, slowly raising the bar of our material are all secondary to our first demand – laughter. They have to laugh. They’ve paid for a reason and there can be no two ways about it.

Over time, the way I’ve learnt to appreciate stand up has changed. I’ve grown to love and understand comics who’ve gotten people to laugh at their pain, or the darkest parts of their life. I’ve adored how Norm Macdonald disregards any form of pandering to his audience whether that means entire minutes of silence or ending in a lull. I’ve treasured Marc Maron’s ‘Too real’, which I found incredibly intimate and introspective. I loved Patton Oswalt’s Annihilation, where you could see how much pain went into writing that special, post his wife passing away. I’ve been awestricken consecutively by Ali Wong through both Baby Cobra and Hard Knock Wife where she channels her indignation and anger into two perfect hours of stand up.

Cut to yesterday, where I finished Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette in basically a crumpled heap of emotions. Her special breaks every single rule of stand up I could think of, but I think Nanette’s crowning achievement is that you’re not meant to laugh through it, except where and when Hannah allows you to. It’s a masterpiece of craft and technique, and it’s impossible to last through it as a straight, male person without feeling a huge sense of guilt how at much privilege we enjoy simply by virtue of our gender and our position in society.

Gadsby confronts her early career that catapulted her to stardom pretty early in her set. She acknowledges how she’s built a career out of self deprecation. She mentions what it was like to grow up as someone who’s gay. She breaks down why we laugh and how comedy works as a unique relationship between creating tension and diffusing it. She explains how her gay identity has been a point of tension her entire life, so diffusing it came naturally to her. The initial moments in her set are light, they show no indication of how painfully real the rest of the hour is going to go. Gadsby reaches a point where she confronts how she’s constantly belittled and put herself through humiliation on stage to make other people laugh, and she doesn’t wish to do it anymore.

I think this point is very important to me, because I see the person behind the act renouncing everything they have done in their career to finally present themselves in a light that they want to be seen in. It’s the recognition that success doesn’t matter if you can’t work on stage on your own terms.

From this point on, Gadsby covers you with the tension which primarily forms the base of every set-up in comedy. She builds on it with every topic she covers. Whether that’s the entitlement of white, male artists (She uses Picasso to build a fantastic case), whether it’s how male comedians have built careers by victim blaming (by talking about Monica Lewinsky) or how she’s paid the price for other people’s homophobia for most of her life. By the end of her set, she declares that she’s angry, and that she realises it’s fine for her to be angry, but she can’t continue to work in comedy anymore, because comedy is a medium where anger is diffused. At this point the crowd (and I assure you, you will consider yourself a part of them) is silent. You want to be relieved. You want her to make you laugh, to say that it was all an act and that you’re allowed to laugh. But it doesn’t come. This is Gadsby at the height of her control, because she refuses to utter the punchline that allows you to walk home in peace. She doesn’t bend. She walks off stage.

“I am not helping you anymore, because this tension is what not-normals carry inside of them all the time, because it is dangerous to be different.”

Every male comic I know (myself included) has at some point given a permutation of advice to a female comic to the tune of – Why are you so angry? Why does it bother you so much? Why can’t you talk about things that aren’t feminist? We do this because as straight, mostly upper caste male comics, we have no visible problems we can talk about at a personal level. It’s easy for us to be woke and cool, because we don’t have any pressure in our day to day lives of living in fear for who we are.  Gadsby’s special changes the very meaning of comedy to me because my eventual goal as a comedian cannot be to merely go up on stage and just make people laugh. It could start that way but it has to eventually be deeper . Comedy must question, it must make people think. More than anything else, if your obvious choice to make fun of someone or something are the threatened, you’re doing this wrong. As she says – Pull your fucking socks up!

Hannah Gadsby is testament that the cost of some of the worlds most memorable punchlines is often an entire life of pain. When a comedian grants us this privilege of a punchline they allow us to share their pain. With Hannah’s absolute refusal to let her audience share her pain, I’m convinced in her case, we don’t deserve to laugh at her genius. I hope she deigns us fit to some day.

I urge you to watch her special. It will question why you laugh at things, it will question what you laugh at and more than anything else, it will leave you with a gigantic question mark about everything you have ever made fun of in the past. It’s a work of art that won’t be replicated for a very long time.

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Ten Lakh Rupee Haircut

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“Liked it? Cost me ten lakhs!” said my grandfather proudly, rubbing his left hand on his shiny bald head. A bowl of what appeared to be a murky dal sat in front of him, waiting to be cussed at. “Pimps!”, he snorted as an afterthought, looking at the television screen, as Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the Indian cricket team captain got caught and bowled by a stunning yorker. “Can’t bat against pace, what are these kids getting paid for these days. You know! Gavaskar used to -”

“Bat without a helmet against the West Indians…they were the best team in the world…had the fastest bowlers….had Michael Holding….he was called whispering death!” I completed. “You’ve mentioned it to me once or twice, I remember over the past twenty years..”

Grandfather chortled which turned into a animal like cough. As he gasped for breath he pushed the bowl of masoor dal away and turned towards me, raising his finger. “I thought I’d get to eat some fat and meat when Sheela left us. This is worse than what they used to serve us in training.”

It had been a week since grandfather’s last chemo. My uncle, one of Pune’s best oncologists had taken me to a corner in the hospital and told me it’s my job to let mother know we probably have a month with him left. He didn’t have the heart to break the news to his own sister despite being her closest confidant. Today was my Sunday on the calendar. Grandfather, an ex-army man had changed completely since we told him he had stage four. It stripped him of his age by decades. He started resembling the man my mother had told me stories about since I was small. The man who was the centre of attention at army parties. The man who would laugh in the face of his biggest trials and the man who had turned into a shadow of his old self over years of battling debt, depression and marital problems.

“He was a really nice father”, my mother would tell me. “It was my mother who was a real witch. She would provoke him into a fight, and he’d lose his temper and oh god, he had a terrible temper.”

The last time I had visited grandfather at home, he had smashed a large wine glass on my grandmother’s face. We had found them sobbing in different rooms, their entire crockery cabinet in pieces in the living room. We had rushed her to the hospital, spent the entire night watching her wince as the nurse tweezed out bits of glass out of her cheek. I had vowed never to visit their house again post (I swallowed my pride after he was diagnosed) My mother, though furious at her father at first surprisingly blamed her… “She must have said something really terrible. She would always say mean things. Stretch him to breaking point” just before I left the hospital at dawn. My grandmother stayed with us for the rest of her days, till she passed away a year back. She was eighty. A week into shifting in our house, I saw our crockery cabinet combust similarly, this time at my mother’s hands. The temper that was so famed in the house had luckily by the grace of genetics not been passed to me. I never saw grandfather apologise for that day, you know. He continued to harp that she deserved it till…well…till the last time we brought it up before he –

“We haven’t played Ludo for so many days. Get the old set out. Let’s play some Ludo.”

“Eh Appu! Not Ludo. You always end up winning at Ludo. I know you cheat somehow.”

“You rascal, you accuse your old grandfather of cheating? I’ll show you today”

“Do you want to play chess? I can make you some tea and we can play till mother gets here.”

I got the old wooden board out from ‘my cupboard’. It was actually a single drawer where my grandparents would store all my toys when I was a kid. Out of habit, the first thing I do when I reach their house is open it to ensure all ‘my things’ are still there. There’s my chessboard, unused for years, an old whistle I had driven the neighbours silly with when I was five, a couple of Secret Seven books I had re-read till I knew them by heart and I have no idea why I’m so attached to it, but an old World Book I used to press leaves in during summer vacation. Press leaves? You know, keep leaves in an old heavy book in the Summer of 1999 and open the book again by winter to see them etched as a skeleton? I would love doing it.

“You want black?” I asked him.

“Nope. But I know you want white. Go on then.”

I moved the pawn in front of the king a couple of steps ahead. “Boring, boring. E4, E5, NF3, NC6. That chess class ruined you. You were doing so well sitting on my knee and playing. I keep telling your mother, you would have been the next Bobby Fischer.”

Grandfather taught me how to play chess when I was six. I used to sit in his lap while he would furiously explain what each piece was capable of doing in Marathi. By the time I turned eight, I actually started beating most of my family. My parents’ Indian sensibilities blazed to life, realising there’s a miniscule but very likely chance for monetary opportunity here. They shoved me into an archaic buddhibal gurukul where I would be forced to train for hours at an end on weekends till my head throbbed. In six months, I started hating the game eventually refusing to play it. Grandfather was furious his protege had become a guinea pig for slaughter. He tried making it fun for me, but something in my head just switched off whenever I saw a chessboard then. I don’t mind playing it now, I still get flashbacks about the musty smell of the cloth chess boards and the all too familiar irritating click of kids banging chess pieces out of the board whenever they were captured.

“I’ll make tea, wait. Do NOT touch the pieces! I remember where they all are!” I warned him.

It triggers memories whenever I wander around my grandparents’ house. It’s in the old part of Pune, where time stands still – almost infuriatingly sometimes. Theirs is almost a century old, largely made of stone. I remember it being cold. Really cold. It smells the exact same even today, of burning camphor and incense sticks. Except you can also smell the effort invested into keeping an old man alive. My grandparents brought a television way before we did. It just had twelve channels, but it did have Cartoon Network. I’d make excuses to come here and watch Tom and Jerry or any of the old Hanna Barbera re-runs, whilst grandmother doused me with variations of deep-fried, unhealthy snacks. I digress. Where was I? Yes, in the kitchen. Making tea. Boiling water and milk separately. Waiting for the tea leaves to settle down. “We aren’t savages, like them” my grandmother would say with a heap of disgust, referring to her neighbours from Delhi. Her years in the capital left her with a heavy aversion for how the north would make tea – mixing water, tea leaves, spices and ginger till they were well and truly butchered by the flames.

I used to find the reluctance of all my relatives to embrace my adulthood infuriating. As the youngest kid in the family, I would be spoken to like a small prize winning dog – worthy of attention, but no seriousness. In my grandfather’s case, it was the exact opposite. He made me feel important. I’d sit at his desk as a kid and stamp his bank documents, feeling like my involvement is his paperwork somehow mattered. He’d ask me for advice, which I’d find very endearing. I’d see most of my other defence kid friends have a strict hierarchical culture in their house, which was nice to see my grandfather not give a hoot about.

Grandfather slurped the tea. “Tastes a lot like Sheela’s…”

“It’s because mother makes the same tea. And I learned from her…”

“You haven’t moved any pieces for twenty minutes. Are you going to bother playing?”

Grandfather was a simple man. Post his army life, which I never thought he really liked too much, he became quiet and reserved. He’d always tell me how he missed death by an inch fighting the Pakistanis in ‘71, though grandmother had on safe authority that he never actually touched a rifle the entire stint. He distanced himself from all his friends in the regiment and sat at home post his retirement, immersing himself in hours of television and B-grade Marathi novels. He used to be a lot of fun, mom would always tell me. Always filled with terrible jokes

“I think she was having an affair.” said my mother.

“You know know, or you suspect?”

“Um. They never told me anything, but I always overheard bits from their fights. There would be this ‘uncle’ who would come up to our door and take her away in a car. She would never introduce him to us, so I kind of always suspected…”

Grandfather, like several of Pune’s tea drinking heavyweights, has an intricate ritual circling every sip he takes. He slurps each time to a crescendo and then follows it up with a low bass ‘Ah’ as if to reassure himself that it was a sip well invested. I had come to forget his little intricacies over the last decade I’ve spent working in Bombay. My home trips to Pune had become less frequent and the time I’d get at home to visit my grandparents, even less so.

“You want to see the garden?” he asked me, about eight moves from defeat.

“Let’s go.”

We sat on the swing. He chattered on about how his gardener is quite obviously a crook, since his fertilizer supplies having slowly been disappearing, always punctuating his sentences with a racking cough. We spoke in depth about how the rose plants were there just to show off, and no real botany connoisseur would want to have a plant as common as a rose in his garden. He even offered to field for the neighbours’ kids playing in the yard opposite his house, much to their horror. There was a time he would have been really mean to them when their ball crossed over to his fence, but this was a changed man in his last month. I think of his transformation like that ‘Selfish Giant’ story…we used to have it in our Radiant Reader by who was it? Yes! By Oscar Wilde.

“I wish I could have taken you to my Father’s factory!”, he said suddenly.

“Yeah, you guys would make glass, wouldn’t you?”

“And what amazing glass it was!” he reminisced. “Green, violet, orange glass. I used to get scraps of the colours for your mother and her sister all the time. They’d make ornaments out of it. It was wonderful.”

“What happened to it?”

“Oh, shut down in time. Once the borders opened, a bunch of all these foreign brands came in. They were better. Cheaper. We had to sell.”

“You must miss your village.”

“Terribly sometimes. I miss the small things. You know, throwing stones at the mango trees to eat kairi. Cycle races all around the fields. You wouldn’t know the simplicity in that life.”

“Ever feel like going back?”

“No. Not really. You miss them. But you move on. I don’t feel like going back to the army either. I hate meeting my old mates from there. Going on and on about the good old days. I’m quite done.”

We rocked on the swing for a little while. The skies turned a steelier shade of grey. It was just April. We call this rain ‘valvacha paus’ in Pune. The first rains. Just a premonition of monsoon.

“I think I was way more ready to pop it in 71’. This is just embarrassing right now. Tell your mother from my side. They’ve covered me with pipes. Throw it all away. I’m pissing out of a tube half the time in the hospital, if you haven’t noticed…”

“You’re NOT ‘popping it’!”

“Don’t lie to me. Even a duffer like me learns a few things by the time he turns eighty. This chemo and radiation nonsense is meant for people who want to live more.”

“I…you realise no one’s going to let you just wither away right?”

Grandfather ignored me. He began rocking his legs like a little child on the swing. At his most vulnerable, he always reminded me of a child. He was a simple man. He had always been one. With no ulterior motives. No ambition. No desires. It kept him happy.

“I hope it rains today. Been so hot this summer. I won’t need to water the plants too.” he said, as a gust of wind set the windchimes in motion, their clangs echoing through the garden.

“Whatever happened to those parrots? I completely forgot about them”, I asked him.

“You mean, the ones you forced me to buy from the cantonment? Those were love-birds. One of them died. And then the other one-”

“Oh right. It died as well?”

“No silly. We let it out.”

We sat for a while as he hummed a song I couldn’t recognise. “Right. I’m sleeping in for a while. Your mother’s coming here to make sure I don’t kill myself taking the wrong medicines. I don’t want to disappoint her.”

“Do you want your stick?”

“Let it be here. I don’t actually need it till I go outside. I wouldn’t mind a cigarette though? This weather is quite something”, his eyes hopeful.

“If you actually think I’ll get a man with lung cancer a cigarette…you have got to-”

“Yes. Yes. A simple no would have sufficed. I’m going to sleep.

He slowly walked into the house, balancing his drip. I sat alone, my attention moving to the the touch-me-nots he had planted right in front of the swing last spring. I touched one of them, just to make sure they still work. It closed.

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@sumedhnatu – Twitter, Instagram

Artwork: Aditya Phadke
Instagram: @artyaditya

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THE RULES THAT ARE OKAY TO BREAK (IF YOUR DADDY’S NET WORTH IS 12.5 BILLION FUCKING DOLLARS)

Ananya Birla (my favourite musician ever wrote a beautiful article about her struggles. I noticed the editors left out a few minor changes in their last round so I did them for her) Her original link is at the bottom.

 

elderly parent

I never really felt like I fitted in at school. That’s mostly because any school available for my education was smaller than my dog Poofy’s Monte-Carlo holiday kennel.  I wrote the words ‘misfit’, and even ‘failure’ in my diary, because I knew they’d come in handy to throw at random at Miss Malini’s salivating PR team once I buy my social media following in the future.  I didn’t comfortably fit into certain boxes or categories, because knowing that my Puhpas’s company’s net worth of forty-five billion dollars in 2015 would usually send any of my commoner friends into a coronary breakdown and because breaking the rules is a luxury I can buy from the change left in my pilates track pants, understanding my privilege and not harping on about how ‘I’ve worked hard’ never really made sense to me.

But as I’ve grown up I found that being a Forbes frequenter have served me well. I always felt compelled to shake things up, to take the road less travelled, you know – because I can reach there in my private Jet giving Ramu Kaka (my personal pilot) a three minute notice. And I believe a lot of entrepreneurs go through the same thing because it’s amazing being  tone deaf and blind; saying absolutely whatever comes to the tip of my mind. 

I would never advocate being reckless, but I think it’s time we acknowledge that there is power and value in strategically swimming against the tide, especially when you understand I AM THE TIDE (Please recite this in the same Leviathanish way Vader does when he says ‘I am your father’) Breaking the “rules” (who wrote those, anyway? lulz conglomerates like daddy’s) is sometimes the most productive thing you can do for manifesting your vision because you will fail magnificently and will need to sell your O+ blood so you can afford instant noodles, whilst I will glide through the air with the same clinical efficiency as a peregrine falcon in a dive bomb) 

Here, I decided to share the rules I broke and why you should think about breaking them too (though this can be summed up with a single ‘Cuz I can afford to, bitch’)

 “Never work with friends or family” – because your family and friends are also poor. 

 What do you want from those who work with you in accomplishing your goals: loyalty, honest communication and shared passions? DO YOU HAVE A BILLION DOLLARS THO? NO?!?!? SHUT THE FUCK UP AND SLAVE AWAY YOU EEKIE COMMONER. Ugh. 

 I’ve found that the candidness, dedication, and the shared passions I have with my closest crew of friends has made them ideal colleagues. I understand that all of them are lying scumbag yes-men because if anyone had heard the travesty of a first song I produced (which I hear they regularly use now in both Guantanamo Bay and ISIS as a persuasive torture technique), they would have threatened me with harakiri before letting me publish it.   They get me, they get what I’m trying to create (lol) – mostly a parody of what would happen if baboons hit random keys on a piano if they’re starved for a week. When one of us succeeds (me) – we all succeed (also me). When it comes to my music, I need to be comfortable enough to expose myself creatively, to be ‘vulnerable’- a term I have heard of in the movie Love Actually and always wanted to experience but was shocked when Harrods said they don’t sell it wholesale.  The trust I have with my friends (and the eight digits that sing a Opera-esque melody when I swipe my black platinum debit card) make them the ideal people to help with my musical career. I forget sometimes that my name brought me to open for Coldplay whilst musicians who have sold their spleens to fund one final trip to Mood Indigo hoping they’d get noticed watched in utter shock, willing to blind themselves with a pitchfork than seeing Devraj Sanyal hiccup his way through calling me a musician online. 

 “Follow the crowd, don’t fight the current trends”

 When I had the idea for Svatantra, the public in India didn’t think very much of the microfinance industry. Microfinance means loaning small amounts of money at fair and affordable rates so rural women with little to spare can grow their businesses. But there were a lot of organisations around going by the name of ‘microfinance‘, who loaned money at extortionate rates. That tainted the industry’s reputationBut I believed in the potential benefits of microfinance – when it’s done RIGHT. Though I am doing fantastic work here, I feel like I forget hundreds of entrepreneurs who have had similar ideas have been asked to brand their backsides with a ‘I will say yes to every clause save sucking dick’ to get a measly round of funding allocated in return for a gigantic chunk of the business and one of horcruxes they had to make to get through it.

 When it comes to any business, you’re playing the long game. I come up with these gems of utterly obvious advice watching Suits and reruns of The Wire in my jacuzzi made from the remains of the Lighthouse of Alexandria (purana wala, haan) Five years on, Svatantra is thriving and so are many of the women who benefited from our approach to microfinance. Our customers speak for themselves, and their success is shifting the way people view microfinance. (TBH, Svatantra is pretty cool and it has helped a ton of women, so credit where it’s due well done AB. I’d never want to belittle her efforts with mental health or micro financing female entrepreneurs . She’s done amazing work there. Let’s move on to stuff I don’t feel bad taking a dig at)

 Don’t dream too big” – Teri aukat thodi hi hai.

I was obsessed with music ever since I was young. But even when I was at college, performing regularly and writing my own material, I was still scared to tell other people that this was what I wanted to do with my life because they would have rightly fallen on their knees and begged me to leave the guitar at Furtados. It’s so important to realise that life is short and in order to be happy we must do what we’re really passionate about, especially when I, unlike y’all can afford to resurrect Jimi Hendrix for a remedial tutorial in how to tune a guitar. My dream is to be the first Indian artist to break into the commercial international music arena. Has it been done before? No. Does that mean it’s impossible to buy? Certainly not! Do you know what is possible in a paltry four million dollars? I’ll tell you. I can host my OWN FUCKING NH7 and NOT RELY ON A COMEDY COLLECTIVE TO LAUNCH FUTURE HEADLINING ACTS VIA YOUTUBE. BTW ON A SIDE NOTE HONESTLY, HOW MANY TIMES WILL RAGHU DIXIT DANCE TO LOKADA KADAJI BEFORE THE PUNE CROWD GETS BORED.

When I decided to set up Svatantra, I was just 17 and people told me I was dreaming., because that’s an age when normal people hallucinate into oblivion looking at the EMI’s on college loans. 

 Only you know if you have the fortitude and inner resources (See how I played this card) to withstand failure or criticism. In my case my AMEX card acts like a ‘protego’ like shield so I have never experienced either. I hear several Muslims went to Haj specially to beg the prophet, peace be upon him to never have me produce a song again.  That’s when I unleashed ‘Meant to Be’ – the song that made the Gallagher brothers unite and Key and Peele split.

Bots are beginning to respond really positively to my work, my last song went platinum in India via the hard work put in by teenagers employed by clickfarms in Tuvalu and we had loads of radio plays and streams from around the world (other farms in Mozambique, Djibouti, Mauritius, etc). 

When you begin writing a song it can be intimidating, just you and a blank page and in my case absolutely not the slightest mirage of talent. But amazing producers across the world stepped forward to work with me (I wonder why sometimes, it baffles me), from Atlanta to Oslo, and now I have four songs coming out early next year that…let me just say if you found my last two songs bad – this lot is going to make those bad boys look like Gimme Shelter and Yellow Submarine.

“Work day and night. Your vision should completely consume you.” 

Now see you guys, I have a brunch reservation waiting for me at the new Noma and Rene Redzepi’s going to personally feed me hand fished molluscs covered with truffle oil. Work hard and all okay? Love you bye xoxo

This guest post was edited for posterity by Sumedh Natu and is an article of satire)

 

Here’s the original – http://www.mscareergirl.com/2018/01/01/the-rules-that-its-okay-to-break/

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The Two Best Episodes of Bojack Horseman

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To me, the most poignant moment in ‘Fish out of Water’, the iconic no dialogue episode in the third season of Bojack Horseman wasn’t the twist ending, which was the highlight for most of the people I discussed it with. It’s the part where Bojack is offered money for returning the seahorse newborn home, and for the first time in the life hasn’t expected a material gain for something he’s gone out his way for. His first act of selflessness has gained him no love, only a chance to make money (that he doesn’t need at all). It’s that look of real hope he casts in the general direction of the seahorse babies, unable to recognise which one was his the entire while, as he gets no validation from the entire family that’s not only heartbreaking but also extremely funny. That to me, in a nutshell is what makes the show one of the best comedies to have ever been created, because it celebrates the humour in failure, in tragedy, and even more – the humour in sympathy where there should be none.

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This season, Bojack presents ‘Time’s Arrow’, another masterclass in visual storytelling. The entire episode is a series of flashbacks from the point of view of Bojack’s dementia ridden mother, as she struggles to recognise her son and most of her past. Even before getting into what the episode is about I think the very fact that they chose to make an episode centered around his mom Beatrice, shown as a constant villain through the series is slightly eerie. Bojack’s recollections of his mother have throughout the series been painful. It’s very evident that Bojack blames a large part of his ability to not love on his parents, particularly his mother. It’s very evident that he was never appreciated as a kid, from which stems his need for constant approval, often through romance. Switching to the perspective of Beatrice this season, de-villainizes her, because for the first time in four seasons, we’re seeing things from her point of view. Bojack’s mother has reached this stage now where she doesn’t recognise her son. It’s even more infuriating for Bojack because from his point of view, this is the only stage of life where he has a crushing upper hand over her. Her refusal to address him by his name, confusing him with the name Henrietta (the name of her old domestic help) is indicative how bad a state she’s in.

Even more than the premise, it’s how Bojack beautifully blends a very unique visual style to enhance the emotional value what makes this episode stand out. Since we’re seeing memories through his mother’s point of view, some people are are hazy, while some the people who she remembers aren’t. Her first memory of trauma, where she is thrown off a long slide by a group of childhood bullies – a goose and two humans (which her father calls a gaggle of bullies lmao) is oddly deformed. The slide is exceptionally long, way longer than any children’s slide could have been. In her head, being bullied off that slide was a particularly painful memory. The slide’s length adds to her despair. Bojack’s mother remembers her own husband, And the actual Henrietta, whose face has been scribbled over in her memories. As the episode progresses, you realise that Bojack has a stepsister, the result of his father’s affair with their maid.

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It amazes me how much Bojack’s writers test their audience.  By cutting out dialogue in ‘Fish out of Water’, the writers were forced to make the visual gags in the episode strong enough that they heightened the emotional leverage of the episode. Without any understanding of English, you could watch that episode with no background of who Bojack is and feel a unexplainable grief by his failure to find love in a world which is alien to him. Almost reminiscent of Sophia Coppola’s Lost In Translation, Bojack’s lack of etiquette in the underwater world and his helplessness to calm his anxiety with his usual coping mechanism of alcohol and smoke, is heartbreaking.

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Cutting out dialogue in a way cripples both us viewers. Someone in the midst of a tragedy, who is unable to voice his frustration is a paragon of grief. It’s his inability to voice his discomfort that makes Bojack in that episode a victim for a change.  Similarly, in ‘Time’s Arrow’, we are crippled this time by visual if not dialogue. Beatrice’s selective memories make us keep wondering how delusional she actually is. Despite what appears to be a very troubled past, there’s no full clarity on what happened to her right until the end of the episode. Beatrice flits between timelines, her memories becoming more painful by the minute, which Bojack has no access to. It’s the last five minutes of ‘Time’s Arrow’ that are really gutting. There is no love lost between Bojack and his mother at this stage. There’s nothing that’s keeping him from locking his mother up in a decrepit old asylum. Yet when his mother finally recognises him, Bojack at her weakest doesn’t remind her that she is going to be lonely for pretty much the rest of his life, that he is done taking care of her. For the first time in the series, he too falls prey to nostalgia and tells her that she is not in an asylum but in their old house, that they’re back in the small part of his memories which bring him happiness (brilliantly revisited in the second episode) He reminds her that they are completely at peace, watching the stars in the sky and relishing a very basic vanilla ice cream. He asks her if she can taste its flavour before the episode cuts to credit. It’s gutting because despite how awful their relationship has been Bojack can’t bring himself to cut loose. There’s a very small part of him that unconditionally loves her and immediately comes forth to let her live her illusions.

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I spent the entire third season of Bojack wanting to believe, like everyone else, that though he seemed like a complete asshole on the outside, somewhere very deep down, Bojack is a nice person at heart. I then concluded that he wasn’t. It’s strange, the morality of Bojack Horseman, because despite your troubled past, you don’t get your slack cut for your misdemeanours in the present. This season of Bojack has followed its trademark mix of humour coupled with bouts of real pain and grief. This season has left me feeling that maybe, just maybe, even at your worst, you do deserve –

 

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Ganesh Chaturthi as an Atheist

Yesterday marked the first time in twenty-five years I missed Ganesh Chaturthi in Pune. Usually, I make it a point to spend the first couple of days in Pune before getting back to work in Mumbai, because those two days mean a lot to me. It’s not because I’m religious, I’m as much of an annoying atheist as anyone can be. It’s been one of the last family traditions I have left I try to follow. Invariably this year, that’s broken as well.

Pune transforms during Ganesh Chaturthi. The sarcastic scowls that adorn everyone’s face in Pune for pretty much the rest of the entire year are replaced by a genuine temporary smile. There’s incredible warmth in the air, which I’d like to believe is simply because of how well fed everyone is. Buying sweets becomes a gladiator like sport; there’s banter moving in very fierce currents between customers and shopkeepers. Kids line up with huge aluminum boxes, with strict  and precise instructions about how many modaks  they’re supposed to come back with. There’s the ever present fear that one’s family might just have to present a meal to the Lord without a decent steamed modak, which I admit is very frightening. All this, combined with Pune’s perfect almost-autumn weather makes this stretch of ten days one of those annual stretches of time you start counting down from the beginning of the year.

I was brought up really religious, but never religious in the crazy ‘you have to do this because the gods will eat you in the afterlife’ way. Father was never god-fearing, he doted on the idols he worshipped. Besides that, he was a huge on science.  Which was insane. Because he wouldn’t ever endorse the superstitious bullshit that usually accompanies religion. He made a strong distinction between his faith and the influence of religion over his day to day morality. Which meant that he made sure he never made me do things for the heck of it. He’d always explain the meaning of whatever I was saying in Sanskrit and it was never an imposition for me to prove my faith. I worshipped the gods because I enjoyed it. It brought me a sense of peace. When I was really small, I had once placed pieces of egg in the ancestral idol of Ganesh in our prayer room. Mother had freaked out when she saw it, and I half expected father to lose it. I had really meant it as prasad. Father had been really pleased. He said it was one of the most sincere forms of a prayer he had seen. From that day we offered meat (basically whatever we cooked) to the gods as prasad. It was a mark of respect, more than an actual offering to them.

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I also grew up obsessed with Indian mythology. When we were in the second or third standard we had one of those typical mid-term assignments where we had to read out a story to the class from our favourite books. I had picked Bheeshma, from the Amar Chitra Kathas.  Now to be fair, he won over Tintin and Timmy the dog from the Famous Five series, but I genuinely saw him as a hero in the same vein as a bunch of my friends saw Batman or Superman. I loved the Mahabharata, and it’s been a wish of mine to adapt it ever since I read it as a comic book series and saw it transform on screen on Zee TV’s Mahabharata (which was just awful in every way possible). I took a special liking to Karna and Bheem and for some strange reason Drona’s son, Ashwatthama, who I always felt was wrongly represented.  Keeping the religion away from them was beautiful, because then they became like any other comic books, and their stories were just fantastic.

Ganesh Chaturthi was in itself, my favourite stretch of ten days in the year. There’s an air of such purity in every house in Pune. It’s a celebration of utter avarice. My mother would clarify for months before the day vowing to ‘keep things simple’ before demolishing her previous years’s spread by adding at least two more items. Our maids ate everyday at our home often making excuses to stay past their work time, which often made me wonder how badly the other households they worked at treated them.  Mother was religious depending on her mood. About a day before Chaturthi, she would declare solemnly that owing to the sudden onset of her periods, she would be unable to pray or partake in the puja. Father and I would laugh this off because neither of us had any problem breaking the old fashioned rules that demand a woman’s withdrawal from publically showing her faith during her menstrual week. I figured that my mother never liked saying that she just didn’t care for the puja directly. She needed an excuse to back it. If that’s what made her comfortable, so be it. She would channel all her energy in cooking and we’d have a feast ready on Chaturthi.

I would always wake up on Chaturthi morning to the smell of sandalwood. My father, who would usually personify sloth would be hard at work muttering his choicest complaints like ‘no one keeps things where they’re supposed to be’ or ‘So! You’ve finally woken up, when are you going to grow up and help around a bit’.  I would rush out to buy durva, the grass the elephant in Ganesh supposedly likes, the singular lotus flower meant to appease him and a collection of sweets for all the guests in the evening. I’d portion the five elixirs made as a basic offering to Ganesh – milk, honey, curd, ghee and jaggery. After the praying was done we’d eat through the seven courses mother had prepared while her eyes flashed at any signs of weakness from us. After the guests who came to pay homage to our idol left, after the evening prayers were done and the kitchen had (finally) been cleared and the refrigerator was groaning under the stress of mother’s amazing cooking we’d have a dreamless sleep. Here’s the thing though, I would sleep in absolute peace.

After father passed away, I stopped praying. There was a part of me that was incredibly pissed off that a man so utterly religious could have died without any warning. It was about the same time that I grew an absolute disdain for religion. Slowly and steadily, the prayer room started catching cobwebs. The gods were cleaned not out of a sense of devotion, but like any other furniture in the house. Ganesh Chaturthi became a day to celebrate nostalgia, more than anything else. My mother and I would have a quiet meal and spend the day like any other.

In my second year of college, I joined three of my juniors (who would later become my work partners) as we shot footage through ten days in the interiors of Pune, in the heart of the city. The sheer exuberance of the celebration there is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. We shot through the late hours of the night scaling the tallest buildings around hoping to get decent footage. It was magical. For the first time I saw Ganesh Chaturthi at its most magnificent. A bunch of my batchmates from college who had badgered their parents into buying them a DSLR were around. It felt nice to belong though, as someone who had been a part of this for two decades. That’s a sense of belonging that I haven’t felt outside of Pune, because the way Chaturthi is celebrated in Pune is a very pure memory in my head.

You know, I’ve had a very weird relationship with religion. I’m as absolute an atheist as I can be right now, but I’ve seen myself transition from someone who was extremely religious, to someone who hated every aspect of religion to someone more accepting now. I feel like if you keep the absolute morality and legislation out of religion, there’s no harm seeking salvation with an idea of a creator.

It’s so weird, but I’ve spent seven years since I haven’t bothered praying. I still haven’t had a day where I’ve felt the absolute sense of peace I’ve felt during my childhood during the festival. I went to Dadar,for a meal last night (a huge part of Mumbai’s Maharashtrian community lives there) to salvage some of the homesickness I had since morning and it felt nice.

I saw a kid carry an idol home on the streets last night. He had such a familiar looking glint in his eye while his father walked alongside, reminding him to be careful where he walked. It felt like home. Simpler times, way more heartfelt.

 

 

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Christopher Nolan’s Magnificent History Lesson About Survival

In the tenth standard, we had an entire chapter dedicated to the Second World War. Amongst the several terribly written paragraphs, there were only three lines about Dunkirk’s famous retreat. Our professor had read them out verbatim to us without elaborating on any of them, without sharing any explanation about why the incident was important and had told us to underline one of the three lines. The line as I remember clearly was – Winston Churchill called the Dunkirk retreat a ‘miracle of deliverance’.  He reminded us it would come as a ‘fill in the blank’ in the exam and that was that. All I knew about Dunkirk’s evacuation was that single fill in the blank.

 

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I walked out of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’ yesterday feeling cheated out of a history lesson in my school days. The movie is an exhausting watch and I recommend you see it as it’s meant to be, not on a digital platform, not on your laptops, but in a cinema hall; preferable IMAX. It’s one of the most haunting, involving films I’ve seen in a while and judging by the number of people who had their hands over their mouths in graphic horror shortly before the unnecessary interval, I wasn’t the only person who felt like an eyewitness to the entire tale.

In many ways, most of great war films are remembered for the human story behind them. Saving Private Ryan, Paths of Glory (my personal favourite), The Bridge on the River Kwai, Even Band of Brothers (which follows Easy Company from England to Germany) concentrate on the personal story of the soldiers behind the larger incident. In Dukirk’s case, I felt strangely detached from the characters. Nolan doesn’t offer you the time to build a connect with any of his ensemble, swiftly intercutting between the air, sea and land in three non-linear timelines to maintain the feeling of constant danger and panic at a high point right from the very beginning. That I feel, is the heart of why the film works so well, what makes it a ‘Nolan’ film, because we’re effectively watching what’s supposed to be an hour in the sky, a week of land survival and roughly a night of sea battle cut with the same degree of importance. Failure during any of these time periods has only one eventuality – certain death.

The film begins with an empty street in Dunkirk, propaganda posters falling silently through the air while British soldiers carefully make their way through. Hans Zimmer’s eerie notes almost preempt the start of violence, a constant pattern through the film, with each segment like a mini-movie within itself. Four of the Brits are gunned down by Germans, leaving Fionn Whitefield the only survivor; as he bolts into French barricades before heading to the ships. Whitefield, Aneurin Barnard and Harry Styles lead the subplot on the ships, as they hopelessly try to survive till aid reaches. Nolan never cuts to the Germans, he never at any point intercuts to who is firing from the ground, or inside their cockpits, or for the matter within the confines of their U-boats. We never see a single German face, or hear the word ‘Nazi’. The only interaction a viewer has with the German army is direct onslaught.  This constant presence of a faceless enemy is disconcerting to watch, because there’s no predictability in their attack. As a viewer you experience it only at the moment the Brits do.

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Nolan’s mastery grasp over technique is indisputable. The film belongs to his crew just as much as it belongs to him. The flight shots, which are some of the most minimalistic and surreal shots I’ve seen in a war film work in complete antithesis to the chaotic mess soldiers on the ground are in.  Hoyte Van Hoytema’s raw camera comes closest to virtual reality; working in tandem with Zimmer’s unique, jarring soundtrack. It works up a crescendo in every sequence slowly, building up a gradual fear arcing to panic. Nolan’s erraticness of action, his decision to actually show how random war is and the absolute uncertainty of who/what will be hit next, who will have an upper hand, who will luck favour in the next five minutes is what keeps you on the edge of your seat

In a scene where a torpedo strikes one of the rescue ships, soldiers have just been fed warm tea and bread and are totally off guard.  The resultant feeling of suffocation, as water bursts into the chamber is so intense, so sudden that you barely get time to adjust to it, to tell yourself that it’s happening on screen. Unlike a lot of directors, Nolan allows these moments of strike to play in wides without cutting to the actual projectile detonating. He makes sure one gets to view the chain reaction of soldiers reacting to a threat, never letting you know where exactly the damage will happen. He emphasises how much luck dictates survival in a war.

 

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Tom Hardy’s entire portion in the air is almost like a reprise of his stellar work in Locke, as he powers through a third of a movie with just his eyes and his voice.  You’d think that as the biggest star in the film, he’d be given more coverage. That it would be logical to show his narrative as the most important. Nolan doesn’t do that. He treats him as an equal to the rest of his characters. His soldiers are kids. They aren’t older men playing younger parts, they’re actually young.

To me the film belongs to Mark Rylance, who plays a British civilian sailor representative of the hordes of non-navy personally called to bail out the troops from the beach. There’s a strange inevitability of having accepted impending doom in his demeanour to try and help his country. Yet, his character is as much of a fighter as any of the troops. His storyline is a constant reminder through the film that its theme isn’t about war, but about survival and to me, that’s what makes Dunkirk unique. None of the soldiers in the film are looking out for the romanticised glory so typical of war films. They want to go home. They can see England from where they are and they’re willing to do anything they can to cross and reach there.

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Above: Mark Rylance playing Mr. Dawson.

Nolan’s the first director whose work I fell in love with in college. He was a posterboy for films we wanted to direct in our first year. There were a countless others like me. We all wanted to make a film where the top continues spinning in the end. We all fell in love with the ambiguity of his endings, the idea that we don’t owe our watchers an explanation to a concrete resolution. We also grew out of it, eventually coming to terms that his films do have flaws, and that aping the style of someone whose intentions you don’t understand isn’t the wisest thing to do. Dunkirk takes me back to the days where I was blown away by the audacity of what he was doing on stage. It’s not the greatest war movie ever made, but it’s certainly a modern masterpiece. Watch it in the theatres please! You’re going to be making a very, very strong long time memory.

 

 

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Uncle bought a Mercedes Benz today.

Half an hour before father’s evening prayers, the house unwillingly tries to adjust its mood to something more sombre. The television shuts down without fail, always disconnected from the main switchboard, never by only the remote. Nanda bai is given her daily reminder to not grind masalas in the kitchen. A dull silence takes over in fifteen minutes, broken only by father’s monotonous singing of selected verses from the Bhagwat Gita while he bathes. Our bathroom door doesn’t close properly, which allows steam to waft through the corridors connecting my room and his. As he reaches the end of the shloka, which I’ve memorised verbatim over years of hearing it again and again, he barks out my name where after I’m expected to fetch turmeric and sandalwood from the kitchen. Father needs the paste to be of a certain consistency. I grind the sandalwood blocks in the kitchen just as I hear the bathroom door open, to make sure it’s fresh and moist enough for prayers. By this time, the entire corridor is flooded with steam and one can barely see the door to the small prayer room at the side.

Our prayer room is the only room in our seventy year old house which hasn’t been touched by renovation. My father and his father before him were very vocal about this. As your cross the boundary of the room, the marble turns to wood, the cream paint that adorns most of my house, save the cracks that land up uninvited till you throw them out during Diwali – slowly vanish to red brick. One’s eyes immediately flash eastwards, towards the main statue of Ganpati kept there in a silver devhara, our only real family heirloom. It’s solid silver, but father refuses to let me clean it with acid because of which it’s become a dull shade of grey. I’ve often asked father how much it’s worth with the antique value of three hundred years backing it, but he refuses to tell me, sometimes even demanding how a son/daughter of his could dare put a price on something so valuable to the family.

Something strange happened today. My father didn’t go straight for a bath and rush to pray after coming home. Instead, he sunk himself in one of the sofas and handed me his wallet. He told me to walk up to the corner and buy a full box of pure ghee pedhas, the ones with powdered sugar on top of them. Years of asking questions and never getting answers from father has conditioned me to simply following instructions. I walked towards the corner where six shops have been standing for a decade without a hint of change to what they sell. The way was littered with Gulmohor pods, just about to flower. I made a mental note to stock these up for school tomorrow. They’re filled with water and make for excellent ammunition to fire mid way through Geography class.

There’s a dwarf that sits on the large stone slab separating Chitale Sweets and Joshi Sweets. He polishes shoes for the entire neighbourhood. I used to be really scared of him when I was small. There hasn’t been a day where I haven’t seen him sitting in his canvas shelter, never bothered by the weather, always flashing a smile to all the regulars. He overhears every conversation that transpires in both the shops, often wincing when people order the wrong things from both the places. He waved cheerily as I entered the lane and asked me if I saw Thursday’s match. I told him I had and added that Ganguli was indeed the star of the game. Pleased at my critical insight, he swore at Sri Lanka, who we had fought, threw a mango toffee at me and picked up the brush and a tub of very brown polish.

The two sweet-shops are almost sacred in Pune’s rigid culinary space. Chitale Sweets is known just as much for its eccentric and rude salesmen as it is for it’s paper thin saffron Jilbis, which people from neighbouring towns have been heard to make entire day trips for. A visit inside is never complete till you’re shown the sweets the servers believe you’re worth. They never greet you, they never smile at you. Over the years, people have warmed up to this show of arrogance. They don’t mind the stabs of humiliation one goes through while one begs and reminds the man behind the counter that a kilogram stands for a thousand grams, not nine hundred and fifty. Only the choicest regulars, the inner circle of buyers who have grown old along with the store get access to the fresh lot of sweets. Still, no one can deny how exquisite the produce from the place is.

Which brings us to Joshi sweets, owned by one of Pune’s oldest families. Every generation that’s owned the outlet has fought bitterly in a very, very public spat worse than the previous one. Every decade a rumour resurfaces where close friends of the family swear by their blood that the shop will shut down any day. It never does. The sweets have not changed in their taste in over a hundred years, a fact verified time and again by their oldest customers. The Joshis are the antithesis of the Chitales. One is welcomed inside with one’s first name. One is asked what one wishes to buy and subsequently taken to every other counter other than the one one wishes to carry out business with. As one is just about to leave the store with the shopping bags heavier and one’s wallet lighter, one is reminded – have you forgotten your so and so? And one has to buy a final item. The portions are always large and the taste is rustic and raw with flavour. There is never any delicate garnish, no sprinkles of dainty gold foil, just eight glass counters and barrels of the choicest food.

I have to admit, I’m loyal to neither. Father never touches anything post the doormat at Joshis, so it’s going to be me facing the Chitales today.

Almost to reaffirm what people whisper saying, the shopkeeper served three people who walked into the store after me reminding me each time – Old people are more important. I sat on a stool, listening to the unbearably monotonous chorus of ‘Sri Ram, Jai Ram, Jai Jai Ram’, which plays there on loop every single minute of the day. Father had once told me that  old man Chitale had been told to chant Lord Ram’s name ten thousand times a day if he wanted a male heir to his empire of sweet shops. Ever since, he’s played the cassette on loop. It never stops. He even has it as his cell phone ring-tone, just in case. After quizzing me with several questions about school, how my preparations for the terminal examinations were going on and how my sister was doing in college, he measured half a kilogram of pedhas, made sure the sum total was four ninety five grams and pushed the packet in my hands.

I thought about school. Today was an eventful day at school. Yellow house defeated green for the first time in six years to win the annual sports day overall championship. There is no way this could have happened without a certain amount of red tape involved, we suspect Anshuman Thombre, who was seen sneaking out of the PT sir’s house last Sunday. Yellow have had a terrible history at excelling in anything, so it was quite the day for anyone unfortunate enough to have been drawn into the house. I cycled home like any self respecting student, extremely indignant that we’d have to deal with all of them gloating for the next year.

Father was already standing in the backyard by the time I reached home. Our old Esteem was dripping water by the time I walked into the driveway. Our watchman Baban, an old wrinkly fellow with an awful amount of hair sprouting out from his ears and who, to be fair would have been removed a long time back if it hadn’t been for the fact he had served us for a while looked at me approaching and declared that my uncle was going to visit. It always bothered me that he was privy to father’s intimate days months before I was. He would share with me the less harmful details of the future he had overheard, just to remind me how important he was.

Father checked the contents of my purchase to verify if I had brought what he asked. He asked me if I got a receipt, followed by the change. He asked if I had counted it. I replied affirmative to all three counts. He pushed an open palm at my watchman, who placed a packet of 555 cigarettes in his hand. Father opened the packet and lit one up. He would smoke either while he was driving, or when he was having a great conversation with someone, or when he was edgy. He didn’t qualify for the first two right now.  I had no idea why father was so nervous about his brother coming over. Kaka used to stay in America, and had just recently shifted back to Pune. He was always fun to hang around, had hilarious stories about what it was like to be an Indian in America. He still spoke perfect Marathi, which I find really funny, because I can’t. Mine seems strange and foreign. He would switch from an American accent in English to a perfect Kokanastha Brahman accent in Marathi right between sentences, which was very disconcerting the the ears.

The first thing he noticed was that the car had wipers on its headlights. That was a huge deal. What an important vehicle this must be, if its lights needed wipers, he thought. He remembered all the scrap books he had made with entire pages filled with cut-outs of the Mercedes-S class, the Mercedes-M class and so on. The star looked exactly like one of those. It was raven black and shiny to the point where one could use it as a mirror if one wanted. As his uncle parked the car, the smell of fresh leather and foam started taking over the wintery smell of Gulmohor and Chapha. He looked at his father, who nodded before his son could ask the question.

He screamed and jumped on his uncle as soon as he got out of the car. Why didn’t you tell me? When did you get it? Why did you get black? Didn’t they have blue? How many people know? Does it have a phone inside like they say it does – were some of the questions he fired without a seconds pause for an answer.

The uncle touched his father’s feet. They hugged. His father reminded the uncle to offer the pedhas as a prasad to Lord Shankar, without whose mercy the father was sure this extravagance would not have been possible. The boy opened the door and sat marvelling at all the knobs and buttons inside. There’s a real phone here, he exclaimed looking at the car’s satellite phone, a device useless in Indian territory. The boy pressed the first button on the dashboard and the car whirred into life, its mirrors slowly coming out. We need to do this by hand, he reminded his father. He pressed a second button and the windows disappeared into the car, all automated. How many hours of his life he had spent wrestling with the rear windows in their Esteem, he remembered. He pressed the horn and the car blared out a sound so unique he was sure all the neighbours along the street would come out to take a look. He was wrong, for his neighbours were already watching. Some from their balcony like Mr Yadav, with a cup of tea and khari ready at the side. Some had walked to the porch almost disappointed to find out that it didn’t belong to a celebrity, perhaps from the television shows. The uncle pulled the boy’s cheeks and reminded him that the car belonged to all of them. The boy demanded they go for a drive. The uncle asked the father if he’d like to drive all of them along. The father insisted his son and the uncle go on their own, he would watch them from the distance.

The boy was anxiously watching through the car windows. He really wanted his school friends to see him. Of course, he would tell them about the drive anyway, but the actual thrill of having their jaw drop without any sort of warning was what he was hoping for. Neither Utkarsh nor JP were playing in their porch. He cursed their timing at being unproductive.

The car cruised through the lanes of Pune, orange with fallen Gulmohor. People craned their necks to look inside the car. The boy made sure he didn’t make eye contact. Other kids on the road excitedly jumped and pointed to their fathers and mothers, who ruffled their hair and told them not to point. At the signal, a college graduate of Pune’s prestigious Fergusson college poked his girlfriend, who assured him that he too would drive such a car one day. The boy decided it was time he showed of his vast knowledge about automobiles, and quizzed his uncle with a volley of questions about the BHP of the car, the torque and so on. He had no idea what any of them meant of course. The uncle knew this but complied. The boy made notes in his head, he knew he’d have to add this when his friends would argue about how powerful the car really is tomorrow in school.

They passed by Law colllege and went past Kanchan Galli, where the foothills of Pune’s hill start from. As they crossed Maggi Point, a spot made famous by its serving of India’s favourite instant noodles, the uncle asked the boy if he’d like to drive. The boy naturally wanted to but was very forthcoming about his lack of maneuverability in controlling the vehicle. The uncle chuckled and asked him to sit on his lap. The boy complied. Now keep one hand here, and keep the other here, instructed the uncle in a voice that resembled his father’s except it didn’t have the pages of safety instructions his father would have mentioned before.

The boy turned the steering slowly, his uncle making sure he didn’t turn to much. The car turned obediently. The boy was thrilled. He couldn’t wait to grow up and stop pedalling for a change. He asked his uncle whether he could put his foot on the accelerator and change the gear, but his uncle said no. A few more years and I’ll teach you he added, as an afterthought.

The father was still waiting downstairs when the drive was over. He invited his brother for dinner but the uncle refused, lying about a prior commitment at the Gymkhana. The father didn’t try to force him into coming. The boy demanded to know when they’d go out together, the uncle laughed and said they’d plan a long trip to Rajgad or any of the many forts scattered around the Maharashtrian countryside. He reminded his nephew to hang from the bar every day and stretch his spine, the boy promised he would.

Father stared at me again, and he pushed the box of pedhas I had brought a little while back at me. I passed it to my uncle. He opened it, finished one in a single bite and gave me the box back. I thanked him for the drive and he pulled my hair. You don’t need to be formal with me, he said. I’m your uncle, not an outsider.

The house was silent and dark when we walked upstairs. The lights in the prayer room, which are usually gleaming bright by now, had been forgotten. Father threw the house keys on the sofa and asked me how my day was at school. He asked me how prepared I was for the terminal exams. I said I had finished reading all my books once. I would finish reading them again by the time the exams started. Father told me he was very proud he had me as his son. He started walking towards his bedroom. I asked him if I should prepare sandalwood for the pooja later. No need, he said.

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Artwork credit: Aditya Phadke
Instagram – Artyaditya

Story by Sumedh Natu

Twitter, Instagram – @sumedhnatu

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ARNAB GOSWAMI’S SILENCE

Hey guys,

A lot of people followed the blog a couple of years back and I haven’t been that regular writing anymore. I’ve been meaning to write to the few of you who’d wait for posts just explaining what I’m doing, but I haven’t and I apologise for that. I’ll be doing that very soon. I have however, taken my articles to video and I’ve been trying to create a Nerdwriter1, Every Frame A Painting, Crashcourse format here in India that’ll benefit our content. This is the pilot of that effort.

I hope you guys like it. Your feedback is ever welcome.

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The Birds of June

This June, a withered pigeon started its quest to build a nest in my house.
It was an exceptionally ugly pigeon, not the kind of a pigeon you’d want building a nest in your house.
Not that I care about how pigeons look, I don’t care much for pigeons at all,
Or birds, or animals,
Or living things for the matter,
My mother, who doesn’t like change looked at the pigeon’s efforts with disapproval
“Throw it out”, she told the maid, not making it clear whether she was talking about the nest or the pigeon.
And the maid would throw the half –made nest out, emotionless, eggs or not.
This happened once. Twice. And then…
The third time it happened, I asked casually –
“What problem do you have with the pigeon,

It’s not bothering you

It’s not stealing

Let the damn thing stay.”

Mother, who hates letting things be gave me the look,

The look that suggested that I was in no place to address her thus…
But for some reason she shrugged – and said –“Hmph”
And thus the pigeon stayed…
In all its grotesqueness,
Every morning it would come back and gather twig after twig.

Throwing them together in a terrible heap all awkward and sloppy.
It was infuriating
How perfect the pigeon was finding its creation.
Mother would stare from the kitchen while she made her tea first thing in the morning,

Saying, “What a dumb bird”
What a dumb bird!

It was true though.
As I observed the absolute mediocrity of the animal
How meaningless could your life be
If your goal for the day is to fetch twigs

 

Weeks passed. The nest had now taken shape.
Well…nest…if you could call it a nest.
I noticed, mother dear had begun to observe the animal.
Almost obsessively every morning
She would coop up next to the window
Staring while the pigeon would go on aimlessly
Sometimes I would catch her poke grains of rice at the pigeon
Almost demanding the bird to accept the offering,
After all – SHE was offering the food.
Who was the pigeon to refuse it!
“What a dumb bird”, she would say.
What a dumb bird, really

Soon enough, a suitable mate was wooed into the nest.
Who would sit in the nest with him
While the male pigeon flew around to get more food for the two of them
She would reject his offerings

And his advances

Guarding with her life the solitary egg
That was the purpose of their existence
Guarding it
To get something new into this world
While mother watched, now utterly fascinated.
She would watch every day, sometimes hours on an end
Marvelling the stupidity of the male bird
How he flew around day in and day out
“What a dumb bird!” she would say
Yet now going out of her way to throw grain hoping that they would eat it

I think it was June
When the egg hatched.
No wait…it was the end of may
Well whatever…the damn thing hatched.
And the foulest thing I’ve ever had the misfortune to see popped an eye out of the shell.

Mother was thrilled!

Delighted that this long wait had born fruit.
Look son, she said –look at how the egg has hatched
I saw a the chick, the scrawny shit that it was
Lying begging for food
The father having abandoned it now
Maybe he left,  maybe he was killed, maybe he died naturally

I’ll never know

The female pigeon would fiercely guard her kid
Mustering this absurd, untold bravery where she would hoot angrily
Whenever someone approached the nest
As the kid grew
Grew feathers
She started taking longer gaps foraging for food for the youngling

 

Two days before  my birthday
When the monsoon threatened to ravage the city
We were out at a friends when the downpour started
We had no choice but to stay the night
It poured and poured and poured
Water everywhere
We went home the next day
And saw the little chick

Lying there cold, pecked to death

Pecked till there were cold puncture wounds all over its body

Pecked to a bloody mess

Killed by the same stupid pigeon who gave him birth

And mother burst into tears
Long uncontrollable tears
For hours and hours…

Till she settled down, slowly

“What a dumb bird” she said, wiping her eyes…

 

 

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