Friday, October 11, 2013

An Allegory

I stand.
With green arms outstretched,
Straining, forever straining,
To that blue sky, reach.
It pulled me out of slumber cozy,
When I in brown earth dwelt.
My mother's snug womb,
I left,
Drawn by the sky's sirensong:
Notes of pure air
And the chorus of dusk and dawn.
The lyrics of a day bright and
The symphony of moonlight.
I surged out of the earth pliant,
A vulnerable shoot green,
Yet determined and so sure, 
Oh so sure, to reach the sky,
My lover. My home.
So, I grow. And grow.
And forever strain,
With arms weighed
 By  leaves millions
And the bounty - 
Of fruits luscious and
Flowers tender - 
My gift to you, my sky.
Yet, ne'er do you bend,
To touch and caress, 
Except when your displeasure is a bolt,
Through my heart.
But enough!
No more shall I yearn.
And one day, proud sky,
You shall fall,
In million shards blue, 
Around me.
Yet, i will stand tall,
Untouched, unmoved.
Triumphant. Finally.


Poster of Hugo (Courtesy:

Hugo is charming. It is almost like a Dickens’ novel comes to life at a Paris railway station. A David Copperfield with just a dash of The Little Princess in her attic and a Javertesque Inspector.

Hugo Cabret is a nine year old fascinated with and with a felicity for machines, especially broken ones. A young boy with simple dreams and simpler ambitions. His world comes crashing around his ears when his father – a cameo by Jude Law – dies in a fire at the museum, where he worked. Hugo inherits from him, a love for mechanics and an automaton that was languishing in the museum storeroom, before father and son duo started to lovingly restore it.

Orphaned, Hugo has to become an apprentice to his uncle, who keeps and maintains clocks around the railway station for a living. When the drunkard uncle disappears, Hugo takes his place clandestinely and evading the strict and sharp eyes of the Station Inspector with a wooden leg and a mean dog. The Inspector’s mission in life seems to be to find orphans and consign them to their rightful place – an orphanage. The only thing that makes him humane is the secret crush he has on the flower girl at the station.

All this while, Hugo continues working on the automaton, trying to find the missing piece of the puzzle, in the hope that his father would have left him a message through the automaton. His life changes once more when George Melies, the toyshop owner at the railway station catches him, trying to steal some machine parts.

To say more is to give up the delightful secrets that the movie hides. I just got to know that the movie is based a book called The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznik. I hope that the book is even more delightful.

The movie, meanwhile, is simple but scattered with gems that surprise you. The sneaking about of Hugo and Georges’ god-daughter, Isabelle, around the station and their sheer delight in watching the pictures move at a cinema hall. The gentle training that the middle aged French lady gives to the smitten Station Inspector on how to woo the flower girl. The lady’s own blooming romance with the portly gentleman, who is unfortunately not equally liked by her beloved pet. The day-to-day scenes at the station, through the eyes of a clock.

You smile, you cry with this simple tale of loss, victory, perseverance and miracles. The miracle of finding yourself and your dreams in unexpected ways. Of not giving up hope. Believing that there is a purpose in everything, like Hugo tells Isabelle, against the stunning backdrop of Paris in twilight. Great words from the mouth of a babe, yet they never seem strained, rehearsed because this child has seen more, lived more than lot of us.

The actors are all very good – from the seasoned Ben Kingsley as Georges Melies to Asa Butterfield who plays Hugo – but I think it is the triumph of the story and Scorsese’s consummate skill that everyone shines equally in this lovely, lovely movie.

I watched the movie on a long distance flight and I think it would be one of my most cherished memories from the trip.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

And the Mountains Echoed: A Review

As someone who had loved Hosseini's past two books, I expected certain things from his latest. Not so much formulaic but I was expecting a story from that beleaguered country of Afganistan, that talked of relationships torn asunder and sustained by indomitable human hope.

"And the Mountains Echoed", the back cover tells you, is the story of Abdullah and his little sister, Pari. He is more than a brother to her - he is the father (their own is too careworn to be fully there) and the mother who died while giving birth to her. The book opens with a fable that their father, Saboor,  tells them about another father who makes some difficult choices for the love of his son. The first part of the book portrays the obvious devotion that nine year old Abdullah has for the three year old Pari. Saboor is a man, old before his time, working so hard to provide for his family that all the softness seems to be leached out of him. He is not harsh, just not openly affectionate. His love finds expression in the imaginative bedtime stories that he occasionally weaves for his young children. It is a clear evidence of Hosseini's maturity as a story-teller that he does not have to say these things - he shows them subtly.

Their lives change when the three of them undertake a journey to Kabul in early 1950s - when the country was still relatively peaceful, though the sheen of prosperity could be seen only in the capital. They go to meet the Wahdatis, employers of Nabi, Abdullah's step uncle and the older brother of Saboor's second wife, Parwana.

But just as you think that Hosseini would now trace lives of the brother and sister as they grow up, he throws you acurve ball. He goes back and forth in time, telling the respective stories of different characters - Parwana, Nabi, Nila Wahdati and even the Greek surgeon who stays in the Wahdati mansion in 21st century. All of them are loosely tied, with the common thread of their connection - often distant and sometimes close - with Abdullah and Pari. The overall impression is that the book is less a cohesive novel but more a collection of short stories, with common characters popping up here and there. And the end, when it comes, is not quite a full circle but then life rarely is.

Hosseini's writing style has matured from the heartfelt and simple to sophisticated and articulate, in the style of modern classics. I admire that - his growth and his penchant for learning. The characters are all individuals, with their flaws and perfections, their hopes and dreams charted across a canvas stretching from the fictional Afgan village of Shadbagh to Kabul to Paris to Greece and finally US. This book is probably more daring in its narrative style than The Kite Runner or The Thousand Splendid Suns but yet there is something lacking. It has heart but not the emotions that made the other two so much more. Throughout the book, I kept waiting for that tug at the heart, the emotional wringer (not sappy mush) which is Hosseini trademark but it never came.

Oh, there are lovely scenes galore - Abdullah trading his only shoes  for a rare peacock feather because his sister loves them. Or, Parwana's one-sided love for Saboor, even as he is enchanted by her beautiful twin sister. Saboor as a child telling the twins how the big tree in the village has the power to grant wishes - ten exact leaves on your head a benediction. But, it just needed, perhaps, a little less sophistry.

It is probably unfair - an author's work biggest criticism being his growth and the high benchmark of his own books - but that is just how things are.

Final recommendation: read it. It is better than lot of other books out there - it only falls short of Hosseini's own standards. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013


Once upon a time, there was a girl, barely ten years old, with delusions of grandeur. She thought that she could be a superwoman. She could decide how old she would stay all her life. She could win not one but several Nobel prizes. She could be a CEO, a celebrated author, a, acclaimed scientist – everybody rolled into one. And of course, she would be super-rich and all the people she loved would always be around and never, ever die.

As the girl grew older, her delusions began to fall aside, but slowly. Oh, so slowly. First went the ability to decide her age. Then, the gleaming Nobels. One by one, all of them left her, until just one remained.

But now the time has come to decide if it truly is a delusion or something real that could turn into a regret.

So, I have some decisions to take – not very difficult but not so easy either. That explains in part my absence, though not all of it. Work has been the usual culprit. I hope, however, that things would ease up a bit and I would have the time to choose the right path, even if it is less travelled by.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Colours of Escape

As a child, I had little talent but a lot of enthusiasm for colouring and painting. Then I grew up, got a career and the colours – the sketch pens, the water colours, the oil paints, the crayons – all dried up, grew stained and were finally abandoned.

But I have discovered an iphone app that lets me play around with colours like I have not done in ages. It is my newest addiction. And you are about to be assaulted with some of my “artistic” escapes. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you J
I am a shooting star

Dance in the Moonlight

Let me be


Spring is here

Wild, wild tangle

River through the woods

Silhouette of a Dream




Fly Away

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Red Ball

The ball was almost as big as the two year old trying to tame it. It was red, with Mickey and friends painted on its shiny surface.

A few paces away, the child’s grandmother kept a watchful eye. The dusk was growing deeper. The sea was a safe distance away but could not be ignored. Her charge was precious and the fickle waves had to be continuously watched.

Suddenly, the child kicked the ball hard and it went tumbling towards the quietly murmuring sea. The child rushed after it but the grandmother caught him before he had taken a few steps.

“Let it go”, she murmured soothingly. “I will get you another one.”

The duo turned away from the sea and walked back towards home.

The sea seemed to look after them beseechingly, as slow rumbles churned in its belly.


The next evening, there was no child and no grandmother watching over him on that shore. The sky was serene and awash with the colours of the sunset. But the sea still roared threateningly, though the temper was now simmering.

Had the ball, that shiny red globe, come back, it would not have ever found its playmate. The sea and the earth in a devastating show of strength, anger and plain whimsy, had wiped the life from the small hamlet, leaving behind the wrecked fossils of those who had once lived.


The fisherman waited patiently. He had not yet given up hope, though he was more than aware of the slowly undulating sea. He had heard from the village headman how the earth had moved under the sea, causing really big killer waves that had destroyed entire villages and a few towns. It was only a few weeks ago. This had happened in a land across the sea but that was the reason why his own hut had also trembled.

The sun was slowly sinking. Now his own hopes began to dim. His was really a hand-to-mouth existence. He had only two children and a wife to support, unlike his father who had eleven kids and three wives. Still, he was struggling to make ends meet. He had not touched his wife in a long time, afraid of another mouth to feed.

He began to draw up his woefully light net. No point staying any longer. He had spent all his life on the sea or near it. He thought he had seen the worst storms but now he was more afraid of it than ever and did not like to stay out here, alone.

He steered his boat homewards. Something red flashed by him. He wanted to ignore it but he did not. Who knew, maybe it was a mysterious good luck charm. It happened often enough in the fairytales his wife told their children.

He had to change the course of his boat only a little for the object to come plainly in view. It was round, shiny and red. It winked like a beacon in the orange light of the evening.

He flung his net. On the third attempt, he managed to snag it. He pulled it closer and hauled it in.

It was a ball.


The fisherman’s children were asleep by the time he reached home. His astute wife knew that when her husband was late, the catch, if any, would be meagre. No point waiting for a filling meal, then. She had served watery gruel to the children and convinced them to sleep before their barely filled stomachs complained of hunger again.

The fisherman showed the ball to his wife. She cast the happy animal figures on its surface a tired look. “Maybe the children will not feel so hungry now that they have a ball to play with”, she mused. Her children
Picture Source:
were wise enough to know that they could not afford the toys which some children in the village played with. 
Yet, envy was hard to keep at bay. This would, at least, give them some joy.

The fisherman’s son was delighted with the ball though the daughter was not so impressed. The red ball was the boy’s favourite thing in the world.

The happiness lasted for a whole week before his parents decided to exchange it for food. The food lasted them for three days.


A month after the fisherman had found the ball, some people from the city visited his village. The village headman took them around to show how the fishing folk in this part of the world lived.

The visitors were so moved by the plight of the villagers that they decided to do something about it. They offered to support the education of ten children from the village. Since the village had no school, the children were to be taken to a big city, where they would study and live. The fisherman’s children were also chosen.

The bus in which the children were to go was white and so clean that the children could see their faces reflected in its sides.

The fisherman’s seven year old son, however, stood a little apart from the excited children. The kind lady from the city noticed him and asked him though the village headsman, “What are you looking at, son?”

The boy pointed to the red ball, his favourite thing in the world, which sat on the old, wooden table of the grocer.

The lady smiled.


The bus left with ten excited, nervous children. And among them was a happy boy with a red ball.


Many years later, the fisherman’s son, who was now all grown up and successful, came to live in a country across the sea from his father’s village. His new house was not very big but it was pretty and comfortable.

It had glass cupboards in the drawing room to show all the medals and trophies that he had won. And along with those, there was a slightly grimy, old red ball with faded cartoon characters. The cheerful shininess still shone through when the light caught it at certain angles, like the gleam of happy memories in tired eyes of grandparents.

His neighbour was an elderly lady, who waved at him, every time he saw her – on the road, in the garden, at a store.

One day, she knocked on his door and very humbly asked in her broken English for that customary loan – sugar.

He let her inside and requested her to wait in his drawing room.

When he returned with the bowl, he found her standing entranced in front of his trophy case. He called her. She turned and he found her crying.

He was alarmed. He tried asking what was the matter but she brushed him off and slowly took the bowl of sugar and left. A defeated, sad old woman.

Next day, she came to his house again. Wary, he invited her in. He requested her to sit down but she didn’t.

It was then that he noticed that she was clutching something in her hand. She offered it to him.

It was a crumpled old photo. It showed an old woman, older than his neighbour but similar looking. Perhaps, a relative. With the woman was a child, about one and half to two years of age. They were smiling into the camera with a tranquil sea in the background.

But the fisherman’s son’s attention was fixed upon what the child was trying to contain in his chubby arms. A shiny, red ball with Mickey and friends painted on its surface.

Monday, March 11, 2013


A sheet blank,
Waiting on the precipice,
Edgy, anxious,
Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats:
A blank sheet beautifully inscribed
To be inscribed.
She worries.
What lines would mar,
Her pristine emptiness?
What tattoos of words,
Tap out the thoughts?
What ink will drape,
Her form, so shy, so open?
Will it be the mundane, the common?
The serviceable blue, black or red?
Or more enchanting rainbows,
Would dreams draw?
A chronicle – dashing and brave.
Or humdrum lists of lives daily?
A picture, delicate and strong,
Or, moody verses rage?
So, she stands waiting,
Hoping, dreaming praying.
But when a wind blows her away,
She upon herself looks,
And lo! She finds herself,

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Being Human Is Not Enough

Picture courtesy:

You have to be an Indian, an American, a Pakistani, a German.
You have to be a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian, a Jain, a Sikh, a Buddhist.
You have to be a Bengali, a Punjabi, a Marathi, a Bihari, a Kashmiri, a Malyali.
You have to be a brahmin, a jat , a shia, a sunni
You have to be general caste or scheduled caste.
You have to be upper class, middle class, lower class.
You have to know Hindi, English, Tamil, Singhalese, Urdu, Gujarati, Marathi.
You have to be married, single or committed.
It is not enough to be human. It is not enough to be you. Because that may offend the beliefs of anyone who is more than human.
If you are just human, you are less. If you are only you and not defined by your nationality, your faith, your caste, your language, your status – you are incomplete. Or worse, a cipher.
To be someone, you have to be more than human.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

When Pride & Prejudice lead to Love

I realized yesterday that I haven’t talked of books on this blog for quite some time. And that surprised me, considering how much time I spend with books, in books and around books.

So, I have decided to make this post about books. Or specifically, one book, which perhaps has spawned an entire industry by itself – of spin-offs, fan fiction, movies, cartoons, merchandise and even pilgrimage, as it celebrates its 200th publication anniversary tomorrow.

It has to be Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen.

I had first read this book – an abridged version – as a part of our syllabus in Class VII. It was after I finished reading the book that I realized that I had seen this story on TV before. On our own Doordarshan, as a Hindi adaptation called Trishna. I don’t know how many of you have heard it or even seen it, but it was pretty popular in 90s afternoon TV. I tried to locate it on youtube but it’s nowhere to be found. I saw the BBC adaptation with Colin Firth much later – I think in college.

But, I get ahead of myself. Back to Class VII.

Even as a 12 year old, I was fascinated by this romance, quite unconventional going by Hindi movie standards, to which I was used to. Yet at the same time, I could see the Bennets’ dilemma of marrying five daughters playing out in various ways around me all the time. After all, match-making mamas are found dime a dozen in India – trust me, I know.

I was indignant at Darcy and quite in agreement with Elizabeth’s view that he was an arrogant, unpleasant man but by the end of the novel, he had won me over. The man is just painfully shy. Otherwise he is perfect – rich, handsome, caring and willing to learn from his mistakes.

In the abridged version also, I could see the fine nuances that Austen had lent to each character.  Jane was Ms. Perfect but too naive. Bingley was charming but easily led. Wickham is a wicked charmer. Mrs. Bennet and her nerves are grating het her worry is not totally unjustified in those days. Mr. Bennet is a scholar and a tad too detached. Elizabeth is intelligent, vivacious yet stubborn, opinionated and therefore susceptible to prejudice. Darcy was proud – easiest to slot but also easiest to misinterpret.

I remember seventh-grade teacher asking us at the end of the novel: Who was proud and who was prejudiced in the novel? I remember being so sure that Darcy was proud and Elizabeth, prejudiced. So, imagine my surprise when she explained how pride was not just Darcy’s flaw. It was quite equally Elizabeth’s too. After all, it was her pride which was stung by Darcy’s infamous remark, which she had inadvertently overheard: She is not handsome enough to tempt me. And hell of course, hath no fury like a woman scorned!

There have been so many interpretations, sequels, prequels, homage to this book. The most successful ones, to my mind, are those which capture Austen’s humour and wit along with that amazing grasp of human psychology and emotions. But I will not bore you with a critique / appreciation of this classic and its versions – I am sure all of you have a very definite opinion on that, quite like our vivacious Ms. Lizzie Bennet.

Whenever I read this book (and I have read it many, many times – the unabridged version, now), I can almost visualize Austen narrating this story in the family parlour in an amused voice to enthralled guests, after a lively dinner. And after she ends, she turns to her husband and says, “Now isn’t that how it played out with us, dear?”

Of course, that is just a fantasy, since we know that Jane Austen never married and died quite young. I think she might have been surprised by the amount of fame and success that her first novel about first impressions (that incidentally was the original title) garnered after her death.

Anyway, I shall close this post with a list of my favourite and not so favourite Pride & Prejudice things:

·       Favourite scene: Elizabeth and Darcy dancing after she hears Wickham’s account. Or, their unexpected meeting at Pemberly, after her feelings have begun to change. And oh, I must mention the second proposal. Gosh! it’s difficult to choose.

·         Favourite character: Duh. Darcy, of course.

·     Least favourite character: Close three way contest between Wickham, Lade de Bourgh and Mr. Collins

·      Favourite adaptation: BBC with Colin Firth, though the Lizzie Bennet Diaries have me hooked, big time (if you are a fan of the book, you must watch this 21st century, youtube vlog adaptation, set in the US. Each vlog is about 5 minutes in duration). Here’s the link:

·        Least favourite adaptation: Bride & Prejudice, starring Aishwarya Rai. Atrocious and a travesty.

Do tell me what are the things that you love / hate about Pride & Prejudice because it is a truth universally acknowledged that no discussion on this mother of all romances is ever enough. (Sorry, couldn’t resist pilfering that line :-)).


Saturday, January 5, 2013


An anguished wail, lost
Into a night silent.
And we laugh,
Unknowing, ignorant, unconcerned.

A bright flame, flickers,
Falters and fails.
And life goes on,
Sturdy, resilient, pragmatic.

A shy smile, pure is mocked,
Stifled and scarred.
And platitudes dutiful,
Drown, dissociate, disown.

An anger brave, into streets
Pours, ready to tear, maim, demand.
And we at a distance, sigh,
Secure, safe, cocooned.