Saturday, July 28, 2012

Welcome to my Rooftop

For the first time in my life, I have access to a rooftop. Having lived in rented premises for most of my life before moving to my own apartment, my visits to the rooftop were dictated by the will and whim of the house owner. That translated into rare visits to the top of the world. And I used to gulp down the new vistas, trying to etch them in my memory. Trying to check if the view had changed from my last visit. Swallowing big mouthfuls of fresh air, that tasted sweetly of freedom. Hoarding the big vast sky and its myriad hues in my heart.

Now, despite having no restrictions, my visits to the rooftop still hold a sense of wonder. The novelty is still fresh and perhaps always be. The hour or the few minutes, as the case may be, that I spend there are my private indulgence. My own.

The rooftop of my apartment building is huge. The building is the tallest in the area currently and since it’s very close to the airport (the planes sometimes cast their blinking red light into my window), taller buildings are unlikely. So, what I am treated to is a view that pans over smaller houses of different hues – bright pink to sky blue to a timorous green – leading to the distant skyline of the posh housing societies in the adjoining neighbourhoods. I can see the electric banners of a swanky mall, that is only 10 minutes drive away.

On quiet Sunday evenings, I like to go up with a book and sit on one of the stone benches that have been installed. I have found a favourite corner towards the back of the rooftop. Most other visitors do not venture towards the back. There are clotheslines criss-crossing this section. But in the evenings, they are bare of their burden and thus give no reason to maids to disturb my haven. Only a lone kite flown by a young boy from a nearby rooftop would flirt with the sky above me, swooping low enough on occasion to startle me out of my book induced reverie.

Sometimes, I play music on my phone when I sit there. Sometimes, I let the wind play its music. I even enjoy the ferocity of her banshee-like voice when she whips up a storm. I spread my arms and dare her to blow me if she can. I think she enjoys it too. And sometimes I sway to my own inner tune, the bound and stretched ropes of the clotheslines like strings of a novel harp.

Then there are times, when the clouds in so many shades of grey, white, blue and black hang low in the sky. Occasionally, the lightning would brighten their dark interiors and sometimes it would streak across the sky playfully. Their roar to me is like that of a proud lion in its prime. Both a little scary and awesome at the same time. The trees also bow their green heads in deference then.

The night sky is a revelation. So bright. So littered with diamonds that I could just reach out and pluck. I try to count the stars sometimes. At the others, I imagine walking up the silver beams to the moon. I feel the texture and the taste of the moonlight. Of freshest springs and of untouched snow.

I follow the aeroplanes that traverse the expanse, trying to imagine where they are going. I wonder if  somebody sketches the trajectory of the planes that I have travelled in , when they are so low in the sky. I keep my eyes on them till they vanish somewhere into the horizon.

The rooftop is tiled in a chequerboard pattern, with red and ochre stone tiles creating an elaborate chessboard. The pattern invites me to play. Takes me back to childhood. I invent games, daring myself to keep to only red tiles, else a curse would befall me. It makes me forget the mundane and the tedious. I view every nook and cranny, trying to think how I could use it if I were to play the childhood games of hide & seek or various ball games that we had devised. I imagine what it would be like to have all my childhood memories of fun and sports enacted here. And I feel free.

It is a magical place. My rooftop. Here’s a view worthy of sharing with you.
View from my rooftop

Until next time. Ciao.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

When the Knight is Dark

So, I saw The Dark Knight Rises yesterday. But this post is not a movie review. There are enough of those out there.

I am more intrigued by Batman than any other superhero. You see, that’s the conundrum. He is not a superhero. Not in the strictest sense of the term.

He does not have any superpowers. Neither does he have any mutant genes. He cannot soar into the sky without planes. He cannot climb buildings without the aid of Mission Impossiblesque gadgets. He cannot morph into other people at will.

But there’s no doubt that he is a hero. A tortured, battered hero, who fights himself more than anyone else. For the right to be happy. For the right to be himself. His inner struggles make him more human than other superheroes.

True, he has loads of money (and Alfred). He uses that money alternately to develop really cool (the coolest, some may say) toys and gadgets and in philanthropy. He wears a mask – both as the vigilante Batman and the feckless playboy, Bruce Wayne. He claims (like in the latest movie) that the mask is to protect those he cares about. Yet, that seems like a half-truth. He wears a mask to protect himself. From being hurt. He is a man who still has the vulnerabilities of a boy, who has seen too much, too early. Don’t they say that those with the most fragile hearts build the toughest walls. Quite like the crab, ain’t he?

Despite his fears, he rises time and again to save a city he calls his own – an ungrateful city that is perpetually under siege by the most demented forms of evil – from the cheerful scariness of Joker to Scarecrow to the Bane of the latest movie. But he is not without humour – not quite as self-deprecating as Spidey but wry nonetheless. It is more sarcastic when he is Bruce the playboy. Because as John Blake tells him in The Dark Knight Rises, the smile is practised smile of someone who has been unable to move on.

He is a hero that all of us need. Not to save us. Not to be our crutch. Not to watch over us. Though he does all that. He is a hero who makes you believe that anyone can be a superhero without superpowers.

To be honest, only with Christian Bale donning the suit, does Batman truly become the hero that he is supposed to be and not the caricatured comic hero. Even George Clooney could not make me take the movie seriously. Chris Nolan has done an incredible job in making Gotham and its often reviled and detested hero seem real. Of course, the trio of movies have their flaws – some more than the other.

Regardless, I shall end this post by saying that Bruce Wayne  would perhaps remain my favourite superhero and Nolan / Bale movies my favourite about him.

Christian Bale as Batman / Bruce Wane

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Vacation Recap

So, my vacation’s almost over. And a sad thing that is too.

What did I do this vacation, one might ask. Well, apart from the fun, fat wedding attendance in the first week, the second week has been dedicated to one of the things I love but don’t get to do as much as I would like. Sleeping.

In fact, it feels like that all the all-nighters that I did last year and all the anticipated ones will be made up in this one week.

However, before you get the impression that that is all that I have done, let me set you right. In between the bouts of sleeping, I have also been reading. Currently I am reading From the Holy Mountain by William Dalrymple, who is fast becoming one of my favourite authors – fiction or otherwise.

This book has Dalrymple tracing the journey of one John Moschos – a monk who travelled the silk route more than fifteen hundred years ago, in the then Byzantine empire. The journey starts from Mount Sinai, through Turkey and Syria and I am currently in a war-ravaged Lebanon in 1994 with Dalrymple.
Cover of From the Holy Mountain
What I find fascinating about Dalrymple’s style is that it is a beautiful and not-at-all simple blend of humour, knowledge, love and insight. So, while he is travelling though borders patrolled by militia, cities being shelled constantly, looking for places of archaeological interest, resurrecting glimpses of life from many centuries ago, he is also telling me, to what extent all the beautiful history is in the danger of being soon forgotten. The book is also supplemented with some heart-rending pictures – of the only survivor of an Oriental Christian faith, of the ruins of temples and shrines that once teemed with devotees and saints – both real and fake. The bazaars that would have been the envy of the richest businessmen today. All gone into the gaping maws of greed and intolerance. The essence of the book is summed up in the words of Pere Abbe Marcel abi-Khalil, a Christian priest that Dalrymple runs into unexpectedly in Chouf, Lebanon: “In this part of the world, for all our difficulties, religion has not just torn people apart. It has often brought them together. It is important to remember that.”

To temper the slightly heavy content of From the Holy Mountain, I am also reading some light-hearted romances in between and Bullfinch’s Age of Fable. The latter is a retelling of Greek myths, both popular and obscure. Reading through both Dalrymple’s book and Bullfinch’s compilation reminds me of how much I loved studying literature and how fascinating history can be.

I also managed to make time for a couple of movies – The Hunger Games (not as good as the book, too slow and tedious in parts) and The Amazing Spiderman. The second movie was good timepass. Andrew Garfield suffused the character of Peter Parker with a nervous, shy energy stirred with an innocent sense of wonder at his new power. And as Spiderman, he was wry, humorous, chivalrous and responsible. He admits to his failures and owns responsibility for them. Emma Stone as Gwen Stacey was adequate and way better than Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane. I just could not stand Dunst.

Am religiously following the new Masterchef season but it’s too early for me to get a sense of the contestants yet. I truly hope that Emma does not turn out to be whiner like Dani in the last season.

So, that brings me almost to the looming end of my vacation. Excuse me, while I observe two minutes' silence for its demise.

Until next time, ciao.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Ordinary Offspring - Prologue & Chapter 1

Here's the beginning of something I attempted to write in college. Am trying to revise and edit it and you, my dear readers, should you choose to be, are going to be my beta audience. Please feel free to share all your thoughts on "The Ordinary Offspring"


The marriage of a reigning beauty queen is generally of some interest in the media. So, it was natural that when Angela Cromwell, Miss Universe, decided to get married immediately after fulfilling her year long contractual obligations, it created quite a stir. The stir turned into a media frenzy when the name of the groom was discovered - Daniel Woods.

A child prodigy, Daniel had performed his first surgery two months shy of his sixteenth birthday. His feats evinced even greater interest when some reporter discovered that his parents never went to college. He was the kind of son who made his parents not just proud but also famous. That he was good looking and photogenic made his courtship to Angela look more and more like a fairytale.

The marriage ceremony managed to remain private despite some very innovative paparazzi.

Angela continued modelling for several years, taking breaks to give birth to her three children. When it became clear that her film career was not likely to ever really take off, she gracefully withdrew from the world of glamour and settled in the small town of Paraliena with Daniel and their children.

The three Woods’ children were born at a gap of almost one year each.

Chris, the oldest, turned out to be the replica of his father and the more he grew, the more striking the resemblance became. He had the same shade of brown hair and a pair of deep brown eyes, same as his father’s. He too turned out to be a child prodigy and by the time he was sixteen, he was working alongside his brilliant father. He had a very good idea of how extraordinary his own achievements were. Impatient with those not equally gifted, Chris quickly earned a reputation of being arrogant and insensitive.

Bertha, the middle child, inherited her mother’s beauty and her father’s prodigious talent – the proverbial ‘beauty with brains’. Her gorgeous blue eyes sparkled with wit and humour, Bertha was an ardent believer in the philosophy of Carpe Diem. Life was an endless party to her. Not irresponsible but not responsible either, Bertha lived only for today and couldn’t care less for what was to come.

Cheryl, the youngest, always saw herself as standing a little apart from the lovely tableau that her parents and siblings presented. Sometimes, she wondered if this was her real family. Not because she was not loved. Not because she saw herself as the ill-treated Cinderella. Simply because she was so different from them. And they were as aware of it as she herself. She was pretty, not glamorously beautiful. She was intelligent but not a student extraordinaire. She was special in a way that everyone is – just not like her family. She was different from them because she was like everyone else. She was ordinary.

By the time Cheryl turned eighteen, Chris had been a practising surgeon for more than three years and the nineteen year old Bertha Woods was already a supermodel. Cheryl’s siblings always had the spotlight trained on them. She never tried to attract attention herself for the fear of being found lacking, but she became an object of interest by default. Her being a Woods was enough. And she hated being dissected in public, being an object of curiosity. Nobody ever said it outright yet it was always implied whenever her siblings were discussed in media. When would Cheryl Woods shows signs of genius or turn into a great beauty or may be both? After all she did have superior genes – the best, some claimed. How could she remain ordinary all her life?

Cheryl grew to despise the intense scrutiny that surrounded her family and the limelight that spilled over to her. She only waited to escape.

Chapter 1

Cheryl was happy – no, not happy – but relieved. The papers were still there. She could feel their outline through the thin material of her handbag. She smiled and walked into her parents’ kitchen. Her parents were having coffee at the kitchen table.

She stopped for a moment and watched her parents. Her mother was relaying the latest wardrobe malfunction that had happened in one of Bertha’s shows. “I keep telling Bertha that modelling should be classy. Clothes slipping off on the catwalk, when they should be on, is definitely not classy. Not even hot. I am just glad it has not happened with Bertha. Yet.”

Daniel listened with a smile. Interested but amused, Cheryl was sure. She walked up to them.

“Hey, Mom. Hi Dad.”

“Hi sweetheart”. Daniel pulled her down for a kiss.

“Where have you been the whole day?” Angela asked.

Cheryl slid into a chair next to her father. “At the university. They have accepted my application.” She smiled. And waited.

“Congratulations, darling. I am happy for you” Angela hugged her daughter.

“Me too”, Daniel said smilingly. “The lab at the university is one of the best in this part of the world.”

Here goes, Cheryl thought. “I am sure. I would not be seeing too much of it, though. Actually not at all.”

“Of course you would”, Daniel assured her, though he was faintly puzzled. “All students with science subjects do.”

“True. But I do not have any science subjects.” Cheryl closed her eyes for a moment before continuing. “I am taking up English Literature as my major with History and Philosophy as my minors.”

“Did we”, Angela responded, “not decide that you would pursue Science with the option of choosing a branch of your interest for specialization later? That is what…”

“That’s right, Mom. That’s what you decided. Not me. I do not want to study Science. I like reading. And I would like to write someday. Be published.” She turned to her father. Desperately hoping that he would understand. That the fleeting expression of disappointment she had seen only a moment ago in his now inscrutable eyes, was not real.

Daniel put a hand over Angela’s. “When do your classes start?” he asked.

“In September. Dad, Mom, I know that you…”

Daniel raised his hand to interrupt. “You do not have to explain yourself, Cher. We only want you to be happy. So, if this is what you choose, then this is what we want for you.” He got up, smiled, kissed her and walked towards the living room.

“There’s one more thing,” Cheryl said. Daniel stopped in his tracks and turned to look at her. “I will be moving to the university hostel.” She rushed on. “I know since it is only an hour’s drive away, you wanted me to stay here with you. But it would suit my schedule to stay there. And it’s time I moved out anyway.”

“Cher. It’s okay. Relax. You are welcome here if you change your mind. Anytime.” Angela opened her arms and hugged her daughter.

Cheryl saw her father slip out of the room. She burrowed her face in her mother’s arms.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Big and Fat Indian Weddings

Having oodles of fun, I have come to realize, is quite draining physically. I wonder why? Regardless, I had a family wedding last week and now that the euphoria has died down, I can barely keep myself from sleeping at the drop of a hat!

Indian weddings are generally believed to be big and fat. They range from the lush opulence seen at the uber-rich households to your neighbourhood marriage. While not all of them spends seemingly endless pots of moolah, ala Karan Joharesque style of movies, they undoubtedly are big and fat, religion, caste and financial status notwithstanding.

Bollywood actor Vivek Oberoi at his big, fat wedding
So, what makes Indian wedding celebrations big and fat. Primarily the fact that they are a celebration – of togetherness, love, promises and commitment. They are meant to be shared with all the loved ones , from the immediate to extended families.

Of course, the bright and new clothes along with the delightful spread of food makes the occasion even more delicious. There are double entendres that you can get away with as they make the bride and even the groom blush. There is endless and silly posing for photos. And then there’s the dancing!

I, for one, love the no holds barred dancing at family weddings. Who cares whether the steps are in sync or not? Who cares that all the careful makeup is coming undone? It is purely about jiving to the beat and screaming yourselves hoarse in sheer abandonment. Last week, at the family wedding, we were so high on the music, that the guests had turned their chairs towards the dance-floor, and watched the madness there rather than the bride and groom!

But like I said at the start, having fun is tiring business. So, this post is going to end here.

Until next time, ciao.