My HP Story

Everybody has a Harry Potter story.

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Mine started sometime in 2001. One of my friends who sat in the chair behind me during the Language classes in my 11th grade was a die-hard fan of the HP series. She read the first four books that had been released up to that point during every English and Sanskrit class. And then read them again. And again. And again. I once asked her why a magical world of witches and wizards fascinated a 16 year old such as her, because at that time, in my opinion, a book on magic is probably something that a 10 year old must read.

Instead of explaining the whys and whats, she simply handed me the first HP book, the Philosopher’s Stone. Her handing the book to me at that time was a huge, huge deal because there was a long line of girls who had ‘caught’ places to read the books and I luckily got in the middle. It meant business. Like a challenge. ‘Read this one and tell me you don’t want to read the second book.’ That’s what it meant.

Well, the rest is history!

My Most Favorite Book: Whenever someone has asked me which one of the seven books is my favorite, my answer has always been, ‘The second one: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.’ Now, first things first about this book. While I was half way through this one, I was in the dorm one day, drying out my clothes on the strings. Two of my friends were in the dorm too, having a silly fight. It went on for a good ten minutes and one of them was really angry and yelled at the other, ‘Well, so that’s how you are going to piss me off? I’ll tell you this, Ginny Weasley opened the chamber of secrets.’

And there, just like that she ruined the book for me. I was so annoyed, you have no clue. But the chamber of secrets, although I knew who opened it, is by far my most favorite book majorly because of the reading experience this book left me with. We lived in a huge dorm with about 80 girls in it and had seven common bathrooms. The dorm lights were switched off every night at about 10 pm and this meant no chit chatting or studying after this time. If any teacher caught you doing anything but sleeping, the consequences were pretty bad. But I couldn’t stop myself from reading the book, I just couldn’t go to bed. So every night after my class teacher switched off the lights after night prayers, I would tiptoe into the bathrooms. The common bathrooms always had their lights on. So I read a major portion of the chamber of secrets sitting on an overturned plastic bucket in the bathroom. The bathroom was creepy as hell and except for the fact that it wasn’t a first floor girls bathroom, every inch of this bathroom reminded me of Moaning Myrtle. I basically read the entire book with two freakish fears. One, I was afraid Moaning Myrtle would suddenly show up from behind and drag me into the chamber of secrets; two, a teacher may walk into the bathroom and punish me for staying up late. So there, that’s the most enjoyable read I’ve possibly ever had my entire life.

The Drool over Sirius Black: As the other books came out one by one, I found myself drooling over Sirius Black. I was highly attracted to this man for a really long time. Sirius Black, to me, was a really handsome and valorous knight. Like a prince. I don’t know why I felt that way about him.  He was my password to a number of accounts for years. The password to my Gmail, Yahoo, Orkut and Facebook accounts. (Well, don’t try to hack into my account now, I obviously changed the password!) So I had high hopes on the guy who would play Sirius in the HP movies. But Gary Oldman completely disappointed me. I mean, you should have seen the Sirius in my mind.  In my teenage mind, he was the hottest imaginary hero that could possibly exist. And that is why while I was in the middle of reading the Order of the Phoenix and someone told me that Bellatrix kills Sirius in the fifth book, I didn’t get angry with them. Because if I had to figure it out on my own, his death, I wouldn’t have been able to handle it. It would have been too shattering to mourn his death all by myself. My knowing that he was going to die even before I completed the book gave me time to grieve and accept his death when it actually happened.

The Deathly Hallows Drama: That brings me to the release of the seventh and the final book, The Deathly Hallows, in 2007. This was the last book in the series and this was the only time I had been up to date with all the previous set of books. I was now ready for the release. If you are a HP fan, you should remember all those rumors about Harry may or may not die in the last book. The ones about where J.K. Rowling could be a bitter bitch and kill Harry because for Lord Voldemort to die, Harry had to die too. And this time, I wasn’t prepared learn what happens at the end from someone else. I wanted to read the book and devour the secrets all by myself. So here was my plan for the release of the seventh book. Being a girl from a small town where the book wouldn’t release on the D-day, I decided to go to Hyderabad. I wanted to be there. I wanted to stand outside the book store at midnight and be one of the first ones to rush into the book store when it opened that morning at 6. I wanted to push and pull and put up a fight and get into the store and grab my first ever and last owned HP book.

My mom and dad weren’t really happy with this idea. Mostly because this was an unnecessary expense according to my dad. And of course, he wasn’t entirely wrong. According to my dad, who is a voracious reader himself, HP was a book that was pure magical bullshit that did not contribute to even a pigeon shit size of common sense to growing kids. But when I asked my parents for Rs 2,500 (which was a lot back in 2007) so I could travel to Hyd, stay there for two days and buy a book worth Rs 1,200, they didn’t say no to me. So there I was, happy as a colorful butterfly that just ran into a bottle of honey. But….

My boyfriend at that time was a big tall asshole. Of the highest order. Two weeks before the release of the Deathly Hallows, he acted all jerk’ish and decided to pick a huge fight with me. I was already working real hard on our long distance relationship at that time and to prevent the situation getting worse, I spent my HP earned Rs. 2,500 to travel up to meet him, patch up with him and pacify him with an expensive gift. I never got to live my ‘buy my HP book’ dream. Of course, he sent me an e-copy of the book 3 days after its release and I spent 11 hours reading the book on my stupid P3 desktop. Seriously, if I had known at that time that it wasn’t going to work out with this guy, I would have totally dumped him for the HP experience. I mean, think of it, I would at least have a great story to tell. About how I punched someone in the line, jumped through hoops and broke a glass window at the book store and stole the Deathly Hallows at midnight, got arrested by the police for it, and finally read the stolen book in jail. Sexy, right?

The Popcorn Incident: Thank God for Universal, the HP experience did not end with the books. My first HP movie in the theater was the Order of the Phoenix. I remember watching this at Prasads IMAX. Now this was a time when the HP merchandise wasn’t really popular or out there in India. So when I saw that Prasads was serving popcorn in paper cones that had Harry, Ron and Hermione printed on them, I went crazy with joy. The popcorn was Rs. 20, that in my opinion was very expensive for popcorn. The guy who sold the popcorn to me clearly figured out I had problems because I was jumping up and down after seeing the HP printed popcorn cone. I remember telling myself that I would never throw away the printed paper cone and would keep it with me forever.

But after the movie, in the dark, and in the midst of crying over Sirius Black’s death, I lost the paper cone. I went to the popcorn fellow and begged him ‘Please, anna, can you give me a paper cone, I lost mine. I don’t need any popcorn, just the paper cone. I just purchased popcorn a while back; you do remember me, right?’ The asshole goes, ‘Give me Rs. 20, ma’am.’ I looked at him, flabbergasted. Seriously, come one dude, I just bought your popcorn, and I just watched Sirius get sucked into limbo forever, have some mercy.

But he wouldn’t budge. I finally gave him the 20 rs and took a new paper cone from him. ‘Take your popcorn again, ma’am,’ he said. ‘Fuck you,’ I thought, snatched the paper cone from him and walked away. Little did I know on that day that I would actually get a HP t-shirt for myself five years later and also wear it to the Deathly Hallows – Part 2. Yay, me!

The Orlando Universal Studios Saga: I went to visit the twin entertainment parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in Orlando, FL in early, early 2009 while I was getting my Master’s degree. The parks were fantastic but they left me highly disappointed with “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Revealed in 2010” signs all over in the park. ‘Damn it, if only I had come to the parks next year.’ I had thought.

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Luckily or unluckily for me, I lived in Gainesville for about 3 months after I graduated and was looking for a job. So when a friend of mine who was visiting the United States decided to come and meet me in Orlando, I was super excited. Maybe this was a chance to finally get on to the Harry Potter ride in the Islands of Adventure. But since I was broke and was looking for a job and had zero savings at that time, all I could afford was a ticket to one of the two parks, and I left my visiting friend to pick a park of her choice. My friend wanted to go to the Universal Studios, the one that did not have the HP ride. I went along with her. It tore my heart to go to Universal Studios that day, to have the HP ride in the neighboring park, a few feet away from me and yet not be able to hop onto it. But I told myself, anything for friends. Because if there is anything the Harry Potter books taught me, it’s that you always have to be there for your friends, in the wizarding world and in the muggle world, and respect their choices.

So basically, I had been to Orlando twice, spent $300 on park tickets by this time and still hadn’t experienced the HP ride. Everyone knew my Orlando story. My friends, my co-workers, random HP fans, heck, even my hair stylist. All of them have asked me why I never went back to Orlando again. I have always told them that it just didn’t make sense anymore. To spend about $300 on flight tickets to Orlando, and an additional $200 on the park tickets. I mean, I love Harry Potter and all that, but since I’ve been to all the other rides at the parks, twice, spending $500 only to go see HP felt like real bullshit to me. Not worth it.

I have been cribbing and crying that I probably am the only specimen who has been to Orlando twice and has never been on the HP ride, until someone told me to suck it up. And that’s when I decided to give it a shot. Spend the money. Enjoy the Harry Potter ride. Know how the world of wizardry actually feels. They have a new ride in the Universal Studios too now. Apparently, it has the Diagon Alley too. A whole new experience. And so here I am, finally sucking it up and doing it. As I am sitting in the Atlanta airport waiting to catch my connecting flight to Orlando, and eating my really gross hummus flatbread (I hate airport food), I can only begin to imagine what I have in store for me this weekend. I am super, super, super excited!!!

I almost silently, secretly and very desperately hope that when I walk into Diagon Alley this Saturday wearing my Harry Potter t-shirt, I see the dark figure standing tall in his deep black cloak buttoned up to his neck, his long wavy hair parted in the middle and running down to his shoulders, with his expressionless face whispering out to me, ‘After all this time?’

And I can say unabashedly, ‘Always.’

‘Always, Snape, and forever. You are to me, my fictional knight in a dark shining armor. You were, are and will always be my best fictional love, (after Mr. Darcy, of course). Be it when you were mean to Harry in the books, be it when you befriended Lord Voldemort as a death eater, be it when you killed Dumbledore, be it when I realized that you were the half-blood prince and began calling myself the half-blood princess, be it when you simply walked into a dim classroom, made it dimmer by shutting the windows with a ‘Turn to Page 394’ but remained the most brilliant personality in the room, or be it when you were just being Severus Snape. Because for me, Harry Potter wasn’t about Harry, Ron and Hermione or Voldemort, I didn’t care for the sorting hat, the thunder bolt scar, or for the invisibility cloak, or for quidditch or Hagrid and those unicorns, or for the deathly hallows. I really didn’t care for Harry and Ginny together or for the romance between Ron and Hermione . For me, Harry Potter was always about you. I love you, Severus.’

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Everybody has a Harry Potter Story. What is yours?

Have you really broken-up?

‘One Tall Americano, please,’ she said to the guy at the Starbucks counter, and looked around while she waited for her coffee to find a good spot to seat herself for the next two hours until her boarding time . When the Americano was ready, she picked it up, walked over to the sugar and cream counter and added half a spoon of raw sugar and did a weird swish-swoosh with the flat, wooden stir stick for a good 20 times to ensure the raw sugar had completely dissolved in the coffee. She would have continued the stirring if she hadn’t realized that the person waiting behind her was looking close to being angry.

The only empty table was the one near the sugar and cream counter and although she would have preferred a better table, she decided to take it. It was way better than not having a table to sit at all in a busy Starbucks at Terminal B in the Newark Liberty International Airport.

She hated this airport. But her work forced her to travel to Paris once every three months and the company she worked for always flew her through Air France with an inevitable connecting at the Newark Airport. And it always had been from Terminal B. For seven long years now. Today was no better than the first time or the 21 other times she had stopped at EWR. It had never been easier. The Starbucks, the escalator, the little Mexican restaurant that had really bad food, nothing had changed since then. Except, probably her heart. Oh and of course! Now she had also learnt how to drag her cabin bag along with her on the escalator without awkwardly tripping over the bag.

She looked at the table that she had been seated at with him on that fateful windy day in March, seven years ago. She tried to gulp down the painful knot she felt in her throat. It wasn’t easy. It never had been.

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‘Break-ups are never easy, Siriya,’ she heard her friend say. ‘You cannot expect to meet each other in the morning, have lunch at noon, catch a romantic movie, walk together in the park that evening and then, joyfully say goodbye to each other and call it quits.If break ups were going to be that pain free, two people in a relationship would never see a reason to break up in the first place.’

Siriya looked up, both angry and sad. ‘Don’t call me Siriya. It’s such an odd name. Could you not just stick with Siri for once?’

‘Okay, Siri,’ her friend continued, ‘if you have decided to break up and if you are choosing to do it in person because you need closure, whatever that means, then suck it up and go through with it but it’s not going to be painless.’

‘I know,’ Siriya said, biting the nails on her left hand and frantically tapping the finger from her right on the table. She was clearly confused, you could tell. Whether she was doing the right thing, you had no clue.

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She waved to him when she saw him at the airport. She had a five hour layover at EWR while she was flying to Phoenix and had decided it was the perfect duration. Not too long, not too short to go through with it.

He hadn’t changed a bit. He stood tall and had a plain face, like he always did. If you looked at him, you could never tell whether in his head he was singing a romantic song to you, or if he was so angry with you that a volcano was erupting right inside him. So this windy day in March, when he had come to meet her at the airport to break up in person with her, she couldn’t tell if he was upset or angry or both.

‘Let’s go upstairs and sit. There is a little Mexican place there. Maybe we could grab a bite?’ she said. She walked towards the escalator and he followed behind her. He was peculiarly more silent than normal. Of course, he had a reason to be.

She tried to put her cabin suitcase and her foot on the escalator at the same time and nearly tripped over the suitcase. Embarrassed, she turned towards him. Now usually, if she did something this silly he would mockingly laugh at her like she’s an idiot, but today, he just smiled and told her, ‘You need to put you feet on there first and then drag the bag along with you onto the next step, not onto the same step.’

They went up, got lunch and sat down. He stared at her without touching his food. She could feel his stare right through her. She could always tell when he was staring at her and when he was not. When he didn’t move his gaze for a long while, she looked up from her food and said, ‘Eat your food. It’s not that great but…’

“I’m not hungry,’ he interjected, even before she could complete her sentence.

‘See, I’m wearing my Harry Potter shirt. I know it looks too big on me but this was the only size they had,’ she smiled weakly, trying to lighten up the mood.

‘I know what is on your mind, Siriya, just say it. The ordeal is not going to turn into something happy just because you prolong it with small talk.’

This was him being curt. This was him being his usual self. But when he called her out by her full first name, she realized that although he hadn’t said it, he was hurting inside. If she peeped into his head, she would have found him curled up in a corner crying profusely.

‘I don’t think it is working anymore. I really love you but I have come to see that we are very different people now. We probably were different to begin with, but everything is falling into a realistic perspective nowadays. We both have always been emotionally very attached to each other but somehow we seemed to have been travelling the same path at different emotional levels at different points of time. When I was crazy about you, very needy and clingy in the beginning, you were balanced. And now, when I seem to feel emotionally stable, you have turned into me. The long distance, the time zone difference, convincing our parents, these are what we are always fighting about. We are trying to concentrate so much on having one good phone conversation without having a fight, and that makes me wonder, if we are trying too hard to stay in this relationship and failing at it, is it possibly cause we may not be in love with each other anymore? You have mentioned that your friends think we are not right for each other, so have mine, may be they have a point?’

‘If this is what you perceive, then I think you should reconsider. I am willing to cross certain boundaries I have laid down for myself if that means having to be with you. Why are you even doing this to me? Don’t you want to give us a chance?’ He was very composed even as he said that.

He had never spoken that way. It was his way of saying, I love you. I truly do. We both have our egos but we can work this out. I cannot imagine a life without you. I may not be as expressive as you would like me to be but no way on earth does that mean that I love you any lesser. I am impatient, yes. But that is me, just like you are immature. Give us one chance, just one chance is all I ask from you. You know that I haven’t loved and will never be able to love anyone the way I love you. You are the reason I smile from my heart. Without you, I will be miserable and shattered.

But he never did utter those words. She waited to see if he would say them at least today. But he never did. And she tried to understand him for that, but she really could not. She needed a man of many words and in his opinion, certain things were best left when unsaid and rather felt.

Those five hours were going to be longest hours of her life. She felt foolish for thinking that she had timed her break up and assumed that meeting him for one last time would bring her closure. He continued to stare at her, taking his eyes off her face only when he blinked.

‘Let’s go downstairs and get some coffee. I saw a Starbucks downstairs,’ she said, standing up and trying to break the silence.  He nodded. When they walked towards the escalator, the drama repeated again, and very oddly, he smiled weakly again, gave a detailed explanation of how you mount yourself and your bag.

He was being rather nice to her today. Why was she breaking up with him, again, she wondered. She tried not to confuse herself. She had thought about this for weeks now, her friends agreed with her, she was making the right choice.

‘One tall Americano, please, the name is Siri,’ she said, as they reached Starbucks. She turned and looked at him with raised eyebrows asking him what he wanted to drink.

‘I don’t like coffee here. Their beans are over roasted,’ he said.

‘No, try my order. I’ll make it the right way for you’ she smiled meekly hoping he would smile back. They picked up the Americanos and walked to the counter to the side. She picked up half a spoon of raw sugar, put it in his coffee and stirred it for two whole minutes, saying, ‘You need to add raw sugar and stir it until it completes dissolves in the hot coffee. Or else the raw sugar settles down at the bottom and even if you try to blend it in later, it tastes weird.’

He said nothing. He took the coffee, sipped it and she couldn’t tell if he liked it or not. Just like she couldn’t tell if he loved or hated any of the gifts she had bought for him. His face was expressionless.

They walked around the airport for a little longer and he suggested they walk into a gift store. She saw him buy something. For a second, she wondered if it was for her. Immediately, she shrugged her shoulders and laughed at herself. He never buys gifts for people. He isn’t that kind of a person.

Here and there, in their conversation, he indirectly asked her if she was sure about what she wanted from this relationship. It was almost like he was begging her to reconsider. They talked about when they had initially started dating and about how both of them skipped dinner every day just so that they could save some money to call each other on the phone. Cellphone calls were expensive those days. She remembered telling him that here AT&T allowed unlimited talk time and they could talk all night if they wanted to without having to go to bed on an empty stomach. She thought about how technology brought them closer while their hearts distanced themselves from each other.

She stood at the Gate as the boarding started. She looked into his eyes for the first time that day. They looked hollow and sad, very, very sad, like there was no life in them. She immediately hugged him, tight. He did not hug her back. He simply stood there, as if he was electrocuted. After a few seconds, he moved his right hand forward, as if to wrap his arm around her, but instead, put a small bag in her left hand.

 She was angry that he wouldn’t even hug her back. She knew he hated PDAs. But for god-sake, this was probably the last time she was going to see him. She clutched the small bag he put in her hand tightly and walked into the gate before turning back and waving a goodbye to him. He stood there like a rock.

She sat in her seat and hastily opened the bag. It was a magnet. It said, ‘Someone who loves me very much went to New York and got me this magnet.’ She started to sob uncontrollably and kissed the magnet.

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It had been seven years. Over the first three years after the break up, she had dated two guys. Both the guys had been great, but she somehow never felt as passionate about them as she had felt about him. It wasn’t them. It was her. It took her two years of wasteful dating and another additional year to realize that she will never feel the same about anyone else in her life. And that she was still in love with him. She was in love only with him. For her, it wasn’t about moving on, she just didn’t want to be with anybody else. It took her a really long time realize that when she broke up with him, that day, in this very airport, a part of her had broken too. So broken that it rendered her heart impossible to be crazily in love with another person. But when that realization had hit her, it had been too late. She learnt that he had moved on.

She missed him, terribly. It hurt her because she couldn’t go back to him. She missed his expressionless face, his wide palms with really long fingers, the smell of his silky hair and his large, deep eyes that always looked like they wanted to say something to her but never did. She missed the way he….

She shook herself to reality. She washed down the painful knot in her throat with a large gulp of coffee, wiped her moist eyes and looked into her handbag. She didn’t have to look keenly or for a long time to find it, the magnet. She took it out, caressed it fondly and planted a kiss on it. Whether he still lived in New York, she did not know. Whether he still loved her, very much, she had never had the courage to find out.

She then suddenly became aware of her surroundings because she thought she heard her name being called out at Starbucks counter where you collect your drinks. That’s odd, she thought. Nobody has her name. It was such an odd name, Siriya. Like her parents wanted to name her after a country and misspelled her name instead. She liked being called Siri until the stupid iPhones stole that joy too. She now preferred Siriya. So when she heard the lady at the counter scream, Siriya – Hot Chocolate and Pat – One Tall Americano, she was curious to see the co-owner of her name.

She watched in awe as a little girl, clearly at least 5 years old, ran forward and picked up both the glasses and walk towards the sugar counter right next to her table.

‘Daddy, one half spoon of raw sugar, stir until it completely dissolves, while it’s hot, right?’ she screamed loudly.

‘Yes, darling. Now hurry up or else we will miss the flight.’ she heard a familiar deep voice. The one that she frequently heard in her dreams every now and then.

She turned and looked at him. He stood tall and had a plain face. He was busy looking at his tickets. The little girl ran up to him proud of her coffee achievement, he took the coffee from her into his left hand, held her with his right and walked hurriedly towards the escalator.

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How color blind are you?

It was a beautiful evening during the summer holidays. That time of the day when the sun’s heat is just wearing off and the cool breeze wants to push its way in. Summer was always her favorite time of the year because she got to spend time in her grandparent’s village. The countryside, its lush green fields, her darling grandmother and most importantly, her cousins who played silly, childish games with her, all this made her summers beautiful. She was like any regular 5 year old. She played running and catching and house-house, lazied around the wooden swing in her backyard. She usually never carried her toys to the village. So this warm evening, she and her cousins decided to play house-house while all the elders went to the temple except for one of her aunts who stayed back to baby sit the kids.

House-house was a game that had a teeny tiny kitchen set. The kitchen set had all the utensils right from a cooking stove to spoons and ladles. She and her cousin sisters would pose to cook food, tiny amounts of rice, daal and chai and pretend to eat a sumptuously satisfying meal. But the game only started when the roles of mom, dad, and two children were assigned. She and her three cousin sisters played a random version of rock-paper-scissors and she was chosen to play the mom. She was excited because playing the mom was always the most important part. It was like the role Chiranjeevi played in the movie, Gang Leader, extremely important. She set her tiny pots and pans in a row, ready to start her cooking ordeal when her aunt who wasn’t paying attention until then suddenly intervened.

“Oh! wait. Are you playing the mother?”, her aunt asked looking surprised.

“Yes”, she chirped happily.

“No. Wait, you cannot. Switch places with Kavya. You play the father.”

“Why? I just don’t want to bring the groceries. I want to play the main role.”, she said, her eyes almost brimming with tears.

“You are dark skinned. You cannot play the wife or the mother. You should play the father. Girls who are fair skinned are always beautiful, so let Kavya take your place.” She heard her aunt say.

She looked at her olive skinned hands and wondered why she was that way. When her mother came back from the temple, she ran to her, and asked, “Why did you give me this dark color. Did you not like me? I want to be fair skinned too.”

Her mother, rather surprised, said, “What nonsense! Who is feeding such crap into your head. You are beautiful and you are important. Don’t let your skin color, caste or religion ever be something that defines your personality.”

She wasn’t convinced. She felt that it was her fault she was born dark skinned. She wanted a lighter skin tone and was willing to do anything for it.

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Every year, the 11th grade students would throw a farewell party to both, the 10th and 12th grade students. It was a painstakingly huge yet  a rewarding affair. It was a month of fun that included outdoor spot inspections, speaking with caterers, figuring out a theme for the party, arranging a student fashion show, some dance performances and a skit.  All preparations were done during regular class hours. This meant she could officially bunk classes and not be punished for it. She had always been good at organizing and at writing plays. She scripted the play and pretty much had everything organized, and her team voted for her to compere for the event. She was excited and glad to be the show host. She and her team practiced hard. Two days before the event, as they were rehearsing, her Class Teacher walked in. The teacher silently watched the entire show and called the team together afterward to give her input.

“Everything looks good.”, she said, “Great work. One suggestion though, if you want my frank opinion.”

The team continued to listen eagerly.

“I think your current event host isn’t doing a great job. I would recommend Preeti to host the show.”

She was upset. Nobody had told her to this day that she was a bad host. She had compered at several occasions and knew she always did a fantastic job. She went into the nearest washroom, locked herself up in the toilet and started to cry.

About 10 minutes later, she heard voices in the washroom and it took her an instant to recognize it was her Class Teacher and Preeti. She wiped her tears and moved up closer to the door to eavesdrop.

Preeti said, “Ma’am, are you sure about me hosting the event. I’ve never done it before, and I’m not very confident about it. I think she was doing a fine job. Besides, she has the experience. Why did you have to replace her with me?”

“You will be fine, don’t worry. I agree she was doing an okay job but you know what? You are more appealing. More presentable, you know what I mean! The audience always likes a pretty and fair-skinned face. And come on, nobody will even pay attention to what you are saying if you throw out your flashing smile when you are on stage. So fear, not. You’ll do great.”

She cried a little more and came out of the toilet after she was sure Preeti and her Class Teacher had left.

She went home really, really upset. Her Class Teacher reminded her of her aunt. This was just so unfair, literally. Thinking thus, she turned on the T.V and flopped herself onto the couch. That was when she truly paid attention to the fairness cream ad for the very first time. The ones where a dark skinned woman with the aspiration to make it big in the professional world is always rejected. And how eventually she would get her dream job after she applied tons of fairness cream and became light skinned.

She was in 11th grade. She thanked God that there was still time and hope for her to change. For the better.

The next day, she purchased her very first tube of Fair & Lovely. She rushed home to try it out on her face. The ad said it would take her just 7 days to loose her olive colored skin to a wonderful, wheatish complexion. Her mother was at home that evening, watching this famous movie, Krantiveer. She stood for a second next to her mother before she went to her room to apply the cream.

The scene in the film showed Nana Patekar slitting the wrists of a Muslim and a Hindu, hastily mixing the blood from either of them and saying, “This is Muslim’s blood and this is Hindu’s blood. Can you tell me the difference in both?”

Her mother turned to her and said, “What a beautiful way to say that all human beings are the same and that there should be no differentiating factor amongst us. Anyway, why are you back so late. Go and get ready fast, we need to go to Sheela Aunty’s baby shower.”

She walked into her room dazed. She looked at the tube in her hand and threw it into the bin with disgust. What was she even doing, she wondered. She had to love herself for what she is. She wasn’t defective as people pointed out to her. Everyone has red blood flowing beneath their skin, irrespective of what color the skin is.

 

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Adarsh had said he would meet her at the regular place at 7 pm. She drove to Mylapore and parked her Scooty at the Karukudi complex. She looked up and the restaurant’s sign, The Dhaba. She took a deep breath and walked in. The waiter smiled and came forward, “The usual table, Ma’am?”, he asked.

She nodded and walked towards the table on the extreme left. That had been their favorite table for four years now. Adarsh and she had agreed that it was the perfect table for two. It wasn’t too close to the kitchen or the washroom or the front door. And, the Zanjeer poster was visible to both of them. She sat down and looked at Amitabh Bachchan on the poster. She smiled to herself, nervously, and thought, “Four long years.”

She had first met Adarsh when she was pursuing her Bachelors in Biology. Adarsh was her senior and from the Electronics and Communications Engineering department. They met on the college bus, became fast friends and fell in love almost immediately. The Dhaba in Mylapore was their favorite in Chennai since they believed it was the only restaurant that carried authentic Punjabi food. This restaurant and Mr. Bachchan on its wall had seen them through a lot over the last four years. Right from the days when they lived on limited pocket money from their parents and shared one Rumali roti to when they got their own jobs and could afford a full fledged three course meal that started with Babycorn Munchurain, followed by Rumali roti with Paneer Butter Masala, and ended with Rasmalai.

Today was an important day for her and Adarsh. She had met his parents for the first time that afternoon and Adarsh was going to meet her at The Dhaba to tell her what his parents thought of their prospective daughter-in-law. She saw him walk into the restaurant and her heart skipped a beat as she waved him to their table.

“They love you. Dad absolutely thinks you are a darling. I would have never imagined that Amma and Appa will be so cool about accepting a non-Tamilian girl for a daughter-in-law. I am so happy, baby. This is it”,  Adarsh said, all under one breath.

“Wow! That’s great news and a relief. So, what else did they say after I was gone. I though my kurti was extremely bright colored. I should’ve worn a lighter shade, maybe? Did they think I should have worn a saree instead of jeans?”

Adarsh scoffed. “Not a word about that. You were simply awesome.”

She persistently asked, “Give me more details. What else did you talk about after I left? Anything that I should be aware of?”

“Well”, Adarsh began, “Amma did mention that she is concerned our relatives might say that you are on the darker skin tone. Not that she would hold you responsible for it and not to mention, it isn’t bothering her in any way. But she said it may bother the relatives.  She said she would feel relived if she threw it out in the open lest one of my aunt says it to your face.”

She became very, very quiet and said after a long pause, “What did you have to say to that?”

“Nothing. I just brushed it off. I told Amma that although you are dark, you have a charming face. You know, what people call kala. You are beautiful cause you have striking features and are a wonderful human being and it’s difficult for people not to like you.”

“So, you think so too?”

“Think what, baby”, Adarsh asked distractedly looking for the waiter.

“Think that I am dark skinned.”

He looked at her lovingly, took her hand in his, “But you a have really, really charming face”, he repeated.

She did not speak another word during dinner. When she got home, she called Adarsh and told him that she didn’t want to marry him anymore. She explained that it wasn’t because she failed to acknowledge that she was dark but that she was ashamed that her skin color had to become a topic of discussion in the first place.  She said that it made her feel that he thought of her like a defective shirt you would buy at an outlet store. A shirt that had a few threads hanging loose but was intact anyway. A defective shirt that you would buy at an outlet store only because it was on sale. She told him that she wasn’t defective to begin with. Being dark skinned was normal.

“You do not tell a really fair looking person that they are fair, do you? Why then, is my complexion a topic of discussion and you tell me that you backed me up with the “kala” argument. That is the worst justification ever! If you were a true gentleman, you would’ve argued that my complexion doesn’t concern you. I am afraid, Adarsh. I shudder to think that I have to spend the rest of my life with you, with someone who may look at our child in the future, and if he or she is dark skinned too, you may not blame me directly, but you sure may have it in the back of your head that I am responsible for it. Like being dark is horrifying or like it is leprosy.”

He tried to convince her but she wasn’t willing to hear him out. She lay in bed thinking why women had to face the trauma of worrying about their skin. It wasn’t fair. Men could be dark and that was normal.

“Are you asleep?”, her mom knocked on her door and asked.  She quickly switched on the T.V to pretend like nothing had happened and said, “No, come on in.”

“Adarsh just called me. Is this really happening? Have you made up your mind? I’m asking because I sincerely know how you have always felt about the issue.”, her mom said supportively.

Ding! Her phone notified that she had an e-mail from Adarsh. She opened it. It consisted of three lines.

Hello…. What the fuck are you thinking? This is hurting me. Good luck with all the rejection you will get when you go the arranged marriage route, you know why, because you are dark and you look like a servant maid.

She moved and lay her head on her mom’s lap as tears flowed down her eyes and said, “Yes, mom. I have made up my mind. It is not a hasty decision I have taken. I think this is what I want. I also think I want to get a Masters’ degree. I will leave Chennai for a while to think about what I want to do.”

“Sure, darling. You should get some rest now. You have had a long day. Good night”, her mother kissed her on her forehead, “Do you want me to turn off the T.V.”

“Leave it on.” She said, and sat up on her bed to watch something. Then, she saw Shah Rukh Khan mumble random horseshit about a new fairness cream for men.

What the hell is wrong with the world. Why does everything revolve around the freaking skin color, she thought and stuck  her head into the pillow and let out a muffled yet very frustrated aaarrrgghhhh before she calmed down and went to bed.

*********

Jake was probably one of the laziest and uninterested interns she had seen in the Cancer Biology lab at Cleveland Clinic. He was just different. She had been working at the Cancer Biology department as a Senior Research Associate for five years now, and somehow all the interns or co-ops she had worked with during that time were extremely passionate to learn. Jake was totally something else. That is why when she excitedly walked into the lab that morning with the ‘Blood Donation and Organ Donation Event at Cleveland Clinic’ brochure, and Jake was the only person in the lab, she did not want to discuss the event with him.

An hour later, when she realized that none of her associates had turned up to work due to the freezing rain, she decided to make small talk with Jake.

“So Jake, have you seen this brochure? Cleveland Clinic is teaming up with some Tissue Bank to organize an educative program on blood and organ donation. It should be interesting, don’t you think?”, she started.

Jake looked up from his petri-dishes with his sleepy eyes and said, “Yes, I did see it. Are you going to attend it?”

“Yes, Have you ever donated your blood, if you don’t mind me asking.”

Yeah, two to three times.”

“Oh! Lucky you. I would love to do it too. Although I cannot donate blood at this time. You know, because as per the rules, people who have gotten a tattoo in the last 12 months are not eligible to donate blood.”, she said, biting her tongue almost immediately for giving away more information than required.

“Oh, wait! Are you like allowed to donate blood here?”

“Yes, why do you ask?”

“You know, ’cause you are like an Indian.”

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“Jake Phil Baker, I am shocked that you can say such a thing. That is outrageous. Are you even seriously pursuing a degree in Biology? Do you even have common sense? Go and look up the blood donation guidelines in your country. The factors that go into deciding if you can be a blood donor is your weight, heme level, age, etc. There is no rule that blood donation is based on ethnicity. Of course, if you have traveled to a country that has its population prone to Malaria, which India is, you will have to wait for 12 months before you can donate. And you very well know that I have been here for four freaking years now. You asked me the other day. Also for your kind information, before you interject with a stupid argument about organ donation, I understand that the nearest of kin and/or people of the same ethnicity are a better match, that is because it is a completely different issue which is gene dependent. Blood and organs work differently in terms of donation and I won’t get into that, although people from different cultures and countries can be a match, sometimes. Like I said, I won’t get into that. What a nut head! Why am I even explaining all this to you. You should already know this stuff. You have been a donor yourself and your textbooks should’ve taught you this stuff.  I wish you all the very best in trying to complete your undergrad in Biology with that pea-sized brain and the Goliath sized ignorance of yours.”

She stormed out of the lab.

*********

The next week, she did attend the event and was very inspired. She decided she would be an donor and got hold of the form to be filled out.

Heart – She checked Yes

Liver – She checked Yes

Kidneys – She checked Yes

Lungs – She checked Yes

Eyes – She checked Yes

Bone – She checked Yes

SKIN – She checked YES!

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1

I never really thought very highly of Sukumar as a director. To me, he was just a messed up faker. And that’s probably because when he came out with his first Telugu film, Aarya, I was in a deep state of some sort of a one sided crush with this really cute guy who was in turn behind another girl. I concretely believed that this girl was prettier than me and my crush would never look back to find me following him around on campus.

That was precisely when I watched Aarya. Sukumar threw a new perception towards one-side lovers. He made it seem like the one who didn’t have the girl he loved can continue to be happy with simply the satisfaction of being in love from a great distance without ever having the person to yourself. And that according to me, is bullshit. I think it is stupid to be in love with someone who is already with somebody else. I’m not saying I wouldn’t do it, I’m just saying it is plain stupid. One side love hurts. More than Sukumar could have ever imagined. But of course, Aarya was a huge commercial success followed by a similar result with Aarya 2. Now Aarya 2 was when I noticed that Sukumar has an inclination to men with psychological disorders. Because the guy who plays Aarya beats up the goons and then stitches up their wounds.

I had three reasons not to watch his latest venture 1: Nenokkadine.

One, it is basically something Sukumar would spit out for the class audience with a mass heart. Item songs, unnecessary fights, illogical story-line, great music, tall heroines, and not to forget, nutcase heroes.

Two, the promos were absolutely boring. Watching a film trailer is like a mother overseeing her teenage daughter. You can always tell the fate of the film. Just like a mother knows when her daughter has had her first love, and first heart break. No, you don’t have to say a single word, your mother can just look into your eyes and know it all.

Three, the regressive poster controversy. Being an outright feminist, I completely supported Samantha’s tweet on the movie poster, the one that had the hero walking on the beach with the heroine crawling behind him like his watchdog or slave or something. It was out rightly demeaning. And I was starting to get a little bored with Mahesh, the hero, having the women in all his films running behind him because of his good looks. It is getting too cliche.

Fourth. Yeah, I know I said I had only three reasons, but the fourth one came up much later. The movie ticket was sold at a gouging price of $18. Come one, I paid $7 for Dhoom 3 last week and was cribbing that the trashy film wasn’t worth my seven bucks. 

But I found myself in the nearest theater to watch 1 last night. The magnetism of Mahesh Babu was something my mind had unconsciously succumbed to.

*************

Nenokkadine is a very different film. Although Tollywood has churned out only a few psychological thrillers in the past 20-30 years, Nenokkadine is definitely a differently gripping film. Something that stands out. The film revolves around Gautham, a Rockstar musician, who has a grey yet very blurry past. He is in search for his true identity and therefore is looking for his parents’ murderers. Circumstances confuse him all the more and he is consumed in a vortex that makes it impossible for him to tell the difference between what is real and imaginary. The lead lady, Sameera, who is a journalist, makes the situation only worse by playing with his disability until Gautham falls in love with her. The film then spins into a chilling pre-interval sequence

The second half of the film is about Gautham realizing that his parents’ killers are not imaginary and are actually his Harry Potter Pensieve-type of memories and he goes out to get both, his revenge, and also what is really important to him, Who is he. The second half starts great, drags on for a while and concludes with a 20 minute emotional climax.

Sukumar has completely surprised me with this film. He doesn’t waste any time to get into the story. Within the first 5 minutes after the introduction song, you realize you have to pay attention to understand the rest of the film. The director seems to be very clear on what his film is about. If you weren’t paying attention for a minute or took popcorn breaks, you sure are going to be confused. He has truly brought meaning to the genre, Telugu-Psychological Thrillers.  He did not feel the need to put irrelevant or cheap comedy side-tracks. Of course, he could have avoided the current length of the film, and that would’ve reduced the drag created by the Goa scenes in the first half. Although the story offers many interesting twists and turns, the editing takes care of not missing out on even tiny yet detailed aspects of the plot. The flow in which one scene led to another and wove the story into a neatly crocheted warm rug is worth a mention. I completely liked how Sukumar penned some one liners that make you giggle for a second or two. Now that is a thriller. You shouldn’t laugh for more than a second. If you have watched Jagadam and liked R.Rathnavelu’s cinematography, you will completely fall in love with his work when you watch this film. It is simply outstanding. This dude is a precious charm for Tollywood.

Mahesh-Babu

Given some obvious loopholes in what seems like a confusing story line, Mahesh has delivered brilliant performance. Be it the action packed scenes, the confused yet confident and disabled Rockstar, or the emotional lover boy digging into his dark past and searching for his parents. The entire film has conveniently been placed in his tattooed arms and he carries it with exceptional ease. I’m glad he chose to do a film that not only has him do his banal stuff like running, fighting, having the heroine run to him, hug him and express her love, dancing for the item number, but also gave him the opportunity to show his emotional acting side. His acting when he questions the actual antagonist who his parents are and is torn between keeping him alive to learn the truth and killing him because he is evil is probably the best act in his career so far. When you see in hug his childhood photo album and cry like a child, you almost want to go and wipe his tears and tell him that it will be okay. Like during his confrontation scene when he kneels down in front of Nasser in Athadu after the wedding. Psst. For all the girls, and guys who are not insecure about their looks: Mahesh looked hot! Be it while he was running, or wearing those thick black rimmed glasses, or dancing in maroon colored cargo pants.

Kirti Sanon was predominantly there because our films require a heroine. You could have gotten away with just having a male friend play her role as well. But she looked good and unlike other top hero films, she shares good screen space. Although her role wasn’t entirely written to be performance oriented, she did well. The scene where she pretends to talk to an imaginary Gautham since he refuses to take her with him to London was particularly cute. All the other artists performed mediocre to good but they were all just sprinkled around here and there. I also have trouble understanding why directors choose to have Kelly Dorji play antagonist roles. He doesn’t look like a powerful one to begin with, and for gods-sake, the 10 Telugu-film old guy still mouths dialogues in Hindi that you can clearly tell if you are a lip reader. Gautham Krishna playing the role of the Rockstar as a kid is just about average, given perhaps, the fact that it is his first film.  But that sadly makes me think that this is the beginning of yet another Star Hero son’s career in Tollywood and frankly, I hate the trend (including Mahesh) that an actor’s son automatically gets his right to become an actor with so little struggle. That is a completely different topic altogether, but sincerely, the little boy from Tulasi would have done a better job though. DSP’s songs not so great but what saves the film is his vividly engrossing background score. The background is bound to linger in your head for at least an hour or two after you walk out of the theater. It’s like DSP knows when exactly to hit the suspense cord, the thrill cord and the emotional cord. You probably may come back home and listen to a song or two but that’s about the songs. Oops! I also thought that the ‘Johnny Johnny’ song had pretty funny lyrics.

Like I said, Nenokkadine is a different film. Now if you are a regular Telugu film watcher without taste, the one who feels the need to leave your brains outside the theater and laughs at silly slapstick comedy or enjoys lame scenes by Brahmi or Venu Madhav, or thinks highly of films that have Tata Sumos flying in the air while heroes clad in crisp white lungis are walking with sickles in their mouths, or like films that have two heroines running around the hero with at least 6-7 songs where aerobics are being performed, this film is not for you. Also, if you are a Hollywood absorbent who thinks Telugu films are dumb and that directors and actors will never change their commercial elements (and blah!) and got dragged along with a friend to watch this film, this one is not for you either. Both of you will not enjoy it.

Now if you are someone who is nonchalant about the commercial success of films and the crores it garners, watches Telugu/Hindi/English films and never makes it a point to compare Tollywood to Hollywood and pin point the stupidity in Telugu films, and enjoys a film for what it is, this film is for you. You will like it. This film is not going to do well at the box office, no doubt about that, but this film is what will encourage directors to come up with experimental films, push actors and convince them to accept such roles, and therefore, will be a treat to people who love and care about good Telugu cinema. Also, this film is not about changing the commercial formula of Telugu films but it is merely the introduction of a new genre into Tollywood. A genre that gives the Telugu audience something non-cliche to watch.