Airplane Mode – Part 2

March 31st, 2016, Doha

She chucked the idea of going back to the book store to buy herself a book to divert her mind; instead, she decided to feed her obsession of figuring out who the girl in the pretty black dress was.

She carefully began to observe the girl.

‘Observation makes no sense to me at all, because what exactly are you trying to deduce, I have no clue. You are trying to confirm if a certain person is actually the person whom you’ve never met before, and whose Facebook profile you obsessed with about 3 years ago? Isn’t that plain pathetic?’ her mind made a feeble attempt to persuade her to sway away from the path she was going down. A path that was capable of bringing her more gloom than gain.

She rolled her eyes and looked at Rush Me Not who hadn’t looked up even once while her own brain had just swum through the past nine years of her own life in nine long seconds. Through the first two years where she had been in a wonderful relationship with him, the next three years where she had been in an off and on long distance relationship, followed by the last four years where she felt that she hadn’t ever gotten over him in the truest sense.

‘What on earth is she doing on her phone? People aren’t even able to connect to the wireless internet at this stupid airport. And why would anyone undertake a 27 hour journey dressed like that. You know, in a pretty black dress with tiny pink roses teamed with plain, black stockings and finished with black high heels. They are not even travel friendly clothes. I wonder whom she’s going to meet when she lands in Bangalore that she had to be this dressed up,’ she smirked in spite.

She buried the memory that was starting to sprout in her head; the one where she recalled how he liked his girl to always be dressed up and pretty, the time when he had expected her to wear her black kurta and striped pink patiala pants when he took her to the temple, or the time when he chided her for wearing an old t-shirt when he took her to Xtreme Sports Bar. And mechanically, she looked down at her navy blue sweat shirt that said OK, BUT FIRST COFFEE, and her extremely comfortable pair of old travel jeans and tennis shoes.

‘Or Rush Me Not must have just gotten off from work and directly boarded the plane. You know, had no time to change in comfortable clothing,’ optimism tried to talk to her pessimism, and she chose to ignore the brighter perspective instantly.

Boarding had now begun. She watched Rush Me Not hastily put her phone away and get in the line and she waited for this girl she was starting to loathe to disappear through the gate and wished she never saw her again, because, if that were to happen, she would never have to nourish her desire to find out if Rush Me Not was the enemy or not.

She looked down at her boarding pass, Seat 15E. She went inside, wished the air hostess a good evening, waited for someone tall to help her 5 feet 1 inch-self place her backpack in the unreachable overhead cabin. 15E was a middle seat in the middle row but a for a four hour flight journey that wasn’t bad at all. She looked to her left and it was empty. To her right side was seated an older middle aged man in a red and blue striped polo shirt. She made herself comfortable and buried her head into the magazine that was available.

It wasn’t until a good 30 minutes later that she noticed the person seated diagonally to her right, in the row in front of hers, in Seat 14G, reading a book. She tried to casually catch the name of the book but instead saw tiny pink flowers as the girl set the book on her lap.

‘Oh no! Not again. I am done with this chapter. I just wanted a quiet three hours to myself before I get home and now, you send this menacing riddle again. You put her in my face where I can clearly see her so I can entangle my thoughts all over again,’ sleep screeched grudgingly.

She wished, that very second, that she was traveling by train with Rush Me Not instead of in an airplane. It would have been so much easier. She could have just gone and checked her name on the list of passengers pasted on the compartment door.

Her distressed and pitiable conscience watched Rush Me Not reading ‘A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin’ and screamed from within, ‘You are supposed to be stupid. The kind of person who couldn’t tell the difference between moment and movement. How on earth are you reading one of the bestselling series in the world especially when even avid book readers have actually taken to watching the series on HBO owing to the fact that reading these books is a herculean task since it involves extensive dedication of valuable time.’

‘Or this is just some random person and not the Rush Me Not like you expect her to be. And even if it is her, why does it matter to you, after all these years. It could be a fateful coincidence that you are traveling together, I would just ask you to thank your stars that he isn’t traveling with her which would be even worse, watching them together for four full hours,’ her haughtiness tried to drill sense into her pathetic, judging self.

She was now starting to get hungry. The entire travel had messed up her food and sleep timings. Besides, she needed food as a distraction from this nonsense that was churning in her head. Soon she was served breakfast or dinner, she wasn’t sure, but she decided to let other standard types of entertainment interrupt her. She turned her TV screen ON and decided to watch something. She wasn’t really in the mood to watch a movie, so she selected an episode from Modern Family and began to watch it and eat her meal. About 20 minutes later, she involuntarily glanced at her rival seated in Seat 14G. Rush Me Not had closed her book and was preparing to eat her meal, but before she did that, she switched on her TV too and began to browse the list of movies. She scoffed in contempt and thought, ‘Yeah, come on, select one of your saccharine infused Bollywood crap like Maine Pyaar Kiya or Hum Aapke Hain Kaun. After all, they are the kind of movies you like.’

Rush Me Not began to dig into her meal while selecting the very episode from Modern Family that she was watching. ‘No, this is absolutely preposterous. It cannot be happening. Aren’t you supposed to be this stupid and immature woman who does not even speak fluent English and watches the kinds of movies that require you to leave your brain outside the theater? What is happening? Okay, adding most of it up, it seems like this person I have been giving a lot of attention to might actually be Rush Me Not, in the technical sense,’ her lunatic heart chirped erratically.

‘Or you are trying to match a person’s face and personality with a name. First things first, you were not even provided with this person’s full name four years ago. So for all you know, you could have been ambushing the wrong profile when you checked it out. Two, people are not what they seem on social networking sites. So even if you found the right girl on Facebook, all you did after that was grasped pieces of hay and straw with words like moment and movement and her love for Bollywood and chalked out her personality in your head. Three, even if she was all those things you imagined her to be, four years ago, she could be a totally different person now. People change, situations change, your personality is a direct outcome of your circumstantial subjugation,’ lectured her gray matter, in a serious tone.

Forty Five minutes later, the captain announced that he was preparing to descend in another fifteen minutes. She began to get restless. Not knowing who the stranger in Seat 14G would haunt her for a long time. But she decided to let it go. Come to terms with it. Find peace in the choice she had made four years ago. It shouldn’t matter to her anymore.

******

April 1st, 2016, Bangalore

The plane landed in Kempe Gowda International Airport and continued to taxi towards the gate. Meanwhile, most of the passengers had started to get up from their seats and open the overhead bins and remove their bags as they prepared to hop off the plane. She stood up. She had been traveling for the past 27 hours and her feet were swollen from the continuous sitting. She tried to edge herself completely out of her seat and pick up her backpack but the man in the red and blue polo shirt wouldn’t budge and let her out. She looked around, bored. She tried her best to avoid looking at the woman in the pretty black dress still seated in 14G.

‘Just give it one last shot. One more time. Maybe you will catch a glimpse of her boarding pass or her phone? Hey, she is definitely the cheesy-romantic types of women, the kind who would use a couple picture as the wallpaper on her phone, you know?’ her fragile and scarred heart echoed with vulnerability.

‘Are you serious? Everything you have predicted, designed and played in that absurd playground of your brain has been proven to be wrong. Can we just move on, finish immigration, collect our bags, stretch ourselves and go home?’ her self-esteem thundered in anger. It had had enough of this futile rubbish served to it over the past several hours and was extremely exhausted, mentally and physically.

Her phone was still useless to her since she didn’t have international roaming. So she plugged in her headphones and began to listen to some music as she got her backpack and was ready to get off the plane.

She was standing and at a good viewing distance and could easily look into the sitting Rush Me Not’s phone. She didn’t intend to peep but when she did look, it was right about when Rush Me Not was in her phone Settings and went to turn the Airplane Mode OFF. She watched as the woman seated in 14G quickly texted someone, and then hit the back button making visible to the standing her, the phone’s wallpaper.

She stared. It was HIM, sporting his ordinary smile, in an orange polo shirt, with his one arm around the woman seated in 14G. The girl was wearing a pretty black dress with tiny, pink roses printed on it.

It was as if her world had frozen right there, and could perhaps never be thawed back to normalcy ever again. The plane full of people getting ready to disembark, noisy children pushing their way to the exit door, the man in the red and blue polo shirt, her backpack, the bright lights that lit up the international airport at dawn, the loud and shrill neighboring airplanes that were either screeching to a halt or racing on the runway for takeoff, the captain announcing the local time in Bangalore, some people, readjusting their watches to Indian Standard Time, some people making phone calls notifying their friends or family that the flight had landed, a woman trying to wade her way backwards to get to the restroom at the last minute, everything came to a standstill, like a hazy paradigm. She couldn’t see, hear, or feel anything anymore.

And then, she realized it was because her eyes had become blurry with tears, and in her ears, A.R. Rahman had burst into a passionate New York nagaram urangum neram thanimai adarnthathu, and in her head, very slowly, Rush Me Not had distinctly turned into Rashmi.

******

The End 

Airplane Mode – Part 1

March, 2016, Doha

It was only 5:20 in the evening when she got to Gate B6 at the Hamad International Airport. This meant she had two full hours to kill. She was already tired from the 13 hour flight to Doha and all she wanted by then was to get home and sleep for 12 hours straight. You would have usually seen her with her head buried in a book but this time she had already finished reading the one she was carrying on her. So she began to mentally lecture herself with an ‘I told you to put both your travel books in your backpack should you finish reading the first one’. She took her phone out and tried to connect to the airport’s free wifi so she could Facebook for a while. After a good 15 minutes, she wearily gave up her attempt to connect to the feeble wifi. She then went into her phone Settings and turned the Airplane Mode ON. The phone was practically useless without any cellular network and internet access in a foreign country.

And she reluctantly decided to do what people usually did under circumstances such as these. People-Watching. She wasn’t particularly fond of people-watching and never understood why some people made such a big deal out of it. ‘Airports are such fun places and people-watching, it is my favorite thing. I love those hundred different kinds of emotions you see at airports,’ she had heard people say. She began by looking at people seated in her zone, Zone 4.

There was a young couple with a kid. The wife was asking the husband to give some cookies to the baby boy and silence him while she went to the bathroom to change from her jeans into a salwar so she could be prepared and presentable to meet her in laws at the airport when they landed. There were two girls, probably about 10 years old, watching something on a shared iPad. A young man just brought his mother a hot beverage and was asking her if she needed more sugar in it. Another man in his mid-forties was staring at the TV trying to grasp bits and pieces from the Arabic news channel on the casualties that had occurred during the collapse of an unfinished flyover in Kolkata.

Then she saw a woman in a black dress with pink roses printed on it. It was such a pretty dress. It looked somewhat like the one she had desperately wanted to buy for her graduation but couldn’t afford a whopping $150 dress when unemployed, except that the one she had wanted to buy had the pink roses embroidered on the black instead of printed on it like this girl in the airport’s dress. She looked up at the woman’s face and almost immediately looked away, in shock. She could feel rapid pounding inside her chest and her mind was racing. No, it cannot be who she was thinking it could be. Absolutely not! She quickly and hastily looked around for the other familiar face she was anticipating to find.

There was no possible way on this planet that of all the existing days in her lifetime, Rashmi was going to travel with her on the same day, taking the exact flight she was going to take from Doha to Bangalore. The probability of this happening had to be zero in a lifetime. She looked back closely at the girl in the black dress that was busy typing away on her phone.

‘Oh my god! The resemblance is striking. It has to be Rashmi,’ her insanity screamed at her jetlagged sanity.

‘Or may be it is not. And there is no way you can know with confidence because you haven’t ever met Rashmi, face to face, ever!’ her sanity yawned back.

‘Okay, how about this. It may be Rashmi or it may not be Rashmi. So let’s just call her Rashmi Not, like Touch me not, or Rush-me-not, since you hate the name Rashmi, until I figure this out for you,’ her ridiculousness continued to her rationale and kicked the tiredness right out of her travel-sick body.

******

March, 2012, Somewhere in the United States

It was a busy day at work and she had about 45 minutes to grab a bite. She logged into her Gmail account to check her e-mails since she was eating by herself.

Inbox (1)

She looked at the sender’s name and her mind stuttered. He had contacted her after two long years. Should she open it? ‘Of course, you have to open it,’ her curiosity unchained itself and nudged hard at her calm indifference.

“Actually, I wanted to call you but I wasn’t sure if you would accept my call so I am writing this e-mail. I hope you haven’t blocked me and I sincerely wish that you get this e-mail. I really am not sure how or where to begin, but perhaps I could by first saying sorry for everything that I have done to you. We always wanted things to work out between us and both of us made promises that neither have kept as we started to grow apart.

When you left me two years ago, I believed life had come to a standstill. I felt severely incapable of even a simple thing such as a genuine smile. I have been alive and kicking all this time, not doubt, but I have lived in your memories and I was more than happy with them. I swore that I would always be there for you, at any point in your life, and that I would wait for you to come back to me. But, here I am, guilty again for breaking yet another promise to you. I am sure you will feel less guilty, or actually I am not even sure why I am writing this to you, but I wanted to apologize and let you know that I am moving on in life. You have been such an important part of my life, you cannot even comprehend, and I can never forget you. What I had and have for you always has been nothing but love.”

She calculatedly read every single word in the e-mail at least five times. Her heart and her mind were creating a ruckus at the same time. She couldn’t hear either of them even if she paid close attention. She closed her eyes to analyze how she felt about him today, after these two years, and all she felt was nothing. No pain, no anger, no hatred, and perhaps, no love.

‘Well, you have to reply. You need to know what he means by moving on,’ her ignorance fell to its feet and begged her common sense. And thus, her twitching fingers picked up a glass of water, chugged it down in haste, and hit the reply button and began to type out a rather controlled response.

“There is absolutely no need to apologize. I would like to believe that I have matured enough to understand that we were young and silly when we first fell in love, and that our relation would require so much work given our contrasting personalities, which is why I decided to call it quits two years ago. I have just stayed aloof and out of touch so far because I am really not the kind of person who has it in her to remain friends with an ex.

I was always aware that time would heal you, take that pain away, and that eventually you would move on. I understand that you moving on in life means that either you have found someone you love or that you have decided to marry the woman your parents have chosen for you. Whichever one it is, I am happy for you. I do not hate you today nor have I harbored any hatred for you in the past. I wish you luck.”

By the time she had gotten to the end of this self-restrained crap she had typed out, she plainly wished she deleted everything and just wrote back, ‘I still LOVE YOU, in his favorite Comic Sans font. But she did no such thing. Her fingers voluntarily hit the send button while her eyes involuntarily brimmed with salty tears and her heart; it sank into the deepest torrents of randomness.

Almost immediately, Inbox (1)

“Thank you!”

She couldn’t contain herself and didn’t think she needed to either. This could lead to something, maybe, what that leading entailed, she had no clue.

“So, are you getting married?”

Every single cell in her body had prayed frantically for him to answer, no. ‘Why on earth does it even matter to you now? You chose to leave him for good in the first place. There is no peace in learning more from the other side. If anything, this one question will lead to five more. Just let it be,’ her strength hissed at her weakness.

“Not yet, I am in love. And we are planning to get engaged in May.”

Her heart sank from randomness into the deepest, darkest grave within her soul, a part she never knew existed inside of her. She tried to gather herself up, and get back to work, to working on her research proposal but the next second she found herself typing:

“Is it Vandana?”

“No, Vandu got married last December.”

She rolled her eyes as her ego took the response bitterly. What is the need to call that woman by a pet name? It wasn’t like her name was super long. And it isn’t like he was a Senator who was saving a few seconds by typing a shorter version of her first name.

“How are you? How have things been going on for you? Where do you work?”

She ignored his attempt to make small talk. She wasn’t interested in answering those mundane questions. Besides, why does he care where she worked anymore?  He was ‘moving on in life’.

“What is her name?” She typed and pondered whether hit send.

‘Please!! Stop this ridiculous obsession, for heaven’s sake. You really don’t want to know her name. What good will it do to you now? What comes next? Will you ask him for a picture of her? Will you ask him for an invitation to his wedding? Will you beat your brain into pulp trying to find her on social networking sites and obsess on figuring out if she looks better than you. This stupidity has to stop right now,’ even as her pride was yelling at her, her vulnerability pressed the send button.

“Rashmi,” pat came his response and he continued, ““How are you? How have things been going on for you? Where do you work?”

Pain and anger, in that precise order, struggled with the indifferent front she had been putting up this entire time. But her brain finally cleared its way out; first, locked up tons of emotions her heart was feeling and second, mustered all the courage it could gather and typed out one final nonchalant and curt e-mail, completely under pretense.

“All the very best. Everything is alright. I guess this is it, then. Goodbye.”

“All the best to you. Bye.” he replied, and that had been the final communication she had with him. It had taken her truckloads of self-restrain to not respond any further.

She went home that evening, cooked and ate and tried to get the conversation out of her head. It had been two whole years. She had chosen correctly, she reminded herself. Her new self could digest this bitter news. Tomorrow was going to be a brand new day. Everything is going to be alright. Even as she sat on her bed and mentally talked to herself, she picked up her laptop and decided to get a peek at this female who had created ripples in her head and turned her absolutely normal day completely upside down. But he hadn’t given her Rashmi’s last name. So she opened Google and carefully typed out his first and last name along with Rashmi.

She popped up on the first search result. He had commented on Rashmi’s photo on Facebook. She quickly rampaged thought Rashmi’s profile pictures, her About me and her timeline.

‘Blah. Totally judging. Of course, I despise her. She looks like a man. How can people not do their upper lip, for lord’s sake. I wonder how he even fell for her after dating someone so darn cute and adorable such as me. She seems so silly listing her favorite movies as Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, Dil To Pagal Hain, Kuch Kuch Hota Hain and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. I mean, seriously, who even likes those SRK-KJo’s diabetes inducing and cringe worthy cheesy romantic films these days. And she could swear across her heart that he wasn’t into that kind of saccharine overloaded three hour torture. See, they are so different, they will never be half of what we were,’ her vanity comforted her arrested heart, like it were some consolation.

And then she saw it on her timeline. Rashmi couldn’t tell the difference between moment and movement. Her status said, ‘Thank you all for the birthday wishes. This year was spent with special people and had special movements.’

She jumped up and down hysterically. She was having her own Carrie Bradshaw moment. The one where Carrie realizes what an idiot Natasha (who’s married to Mr. Big) is since Natasha can’t tell the difference between ‘there’ and ‘their’.

‘There you go! She is an idiot,’ her wounded heart slowly nursed its wounds and rubbed her hands in glee.

******

March, 2016, Doha

‘Okay, she’s sitting with you in Zone 4. Maybe you can take a quick glance at her boarding pass and catch her name to figure out if she is Rashmi or Rush Me Not,’ her impractical and unreasonable-self suggested to her clear sense of reasoning.

‘Or you could just walk back to that book store you saw on the way to Gate B6 and buy a book and drown yourself in it rather than investigate and feed on this totally irrational and insane theory you have going on here,’ reasoning offered stubbornly.

To be continued…

An Unrelinquished Emotion

Every evening, as far as the eye can see,
It appears that the sky unifies with the sea.
The vast skies relentlessly let the magnificent sun slip into the enormous waters,
Momentarily making you feel that to this inseparable love couple nothing else matters.
Perhaps simply, the sun is the heart, that is unabashedly transferred from one lover to another,
A supremely bold representation of infatuation, the couple flaunted like no other.

The world that sees the both of them, seldom do they comprehend,
That to this love story, every dusk is a practiced but unaccomplished end.
Humongous egos, they both share, as each earnestly waits for the other to care,
One thunders in dark gloom, while the other washes off sand castles built by those who dare.
The sun is but a mute spectator to their delusional love,
A one that will never possibly materialize and is neatly tucked away with a hasty shove.

And yet, every evening it appears, the glorious lovers start the same struggle all over again,
For, love, though self-mutilating from within, fervently always brings hope as a bargain.
As the brightest star makes his rehearsed descent, he wonders which one of the lovers will make the first attempt,
And desperately yearns that when such a passionate foot is put forward by one, the other doesn’t scoff in contempt.
For the blue sky and blue waters, clear reflections of each other’s souls, and where they figuratively meet,
Millions of human hearts have hopelessly hugged, kissed and skipped many a beat.

And if these two were meant to be, just as every soul already assumed them to be, when will their happy ending be?

The Math Problem

I turned 30 last year.

And before I did, I remember making a hue and cry about it. I spoke about having set certain ‘before 30 goals” for myself and my failure to achieve most of them. Of course, most of the said set goals might sound really random, quite crazy but a lot of passionate thinking went into them. Like the ones below.

Finish reading Gone with the Wind and War and Peace. But I hadn’t even started reading these books yet.

Download all the Hindi and Telugu songs sung by Udit Narayan on my iPod. I hadn’t finished collecting Udit’s songs while very depressingly, his son, Aditya, that Potla from Pardes, was already all grown up and composing music himself.

Start a society that worked towards helping Indian couples in love aspiring to get married but could not due to problems at home based on baseless differences such as caste, religion, age etc. Not a society that helps couples elope but the kind that sits both families down and makes them see reason. The kind that would explain to parents that if two people are majors and are in love and want to get married, they have every right to do so. Most of my friends, who were my inspiration to start this society for lovers, had given up on their love and were married to whom their parents chose for them.

Donate my hair to a place that made wigs for kids battling cancer. My hair would not meet the minimum length requirement with any hair donation organization.

Learn to speak and understand the language, Tamil, fluently, and do a Mani Rathnam movie marathon without requiring subtitles. I still could neither understand Tamil completely nor speak fluently.

The craziest one of the lot however is, Meet Mahesh Babu, Prakash Raj, Raghuvaran and Trivikram at some point before I turned 30. Well, I did meet Prakash Raj and he turned out to be an extremely unemotional and arrogant man I sincerely felt like punching straight in the face two seconds into the two minute conversation I had with him. Raghuvaran is dead and I really don’t know if I want to meet Mahesh Babu anymore. Trivikram, my love, my sweetheart, is continents away from where I currently am.

While dealing with all of this, I had to pull a 19 hour work shift on my 30th birthday and I slept for the remaining five hours. I remember not taking any phone calls or replying to texts on my birthday. I mean, the whole thing sucks. Who on earth likes to get all old and wrinkly. Besides, with increasing age, the ability to take risks decreases. You cannot make decisions based on chance. Everything needs to be done calculatedly because you mature enough to understand that one decision of yours may have several different implications. And I love taking risks but felt like I was running out of time or something. It was all way too depressing and painful for me.

Until weeks later. My manager told me, ‘Stop being such a baby about turning 30. It isn’t such a big deal and trust me; it is way better than turning 53. Do yourself a favor. Pick up your business cards and write every little thing that you have accomplished over the past 30 years and then, it wouldn’t seem so bad after all. When you look back at these cards when you are 40, take my word for it, you are going to be pleased’

I didn’t trust her at all. How was that going to make me feel better, I wondered. But I decided to give it a shot anyway.

The first card said, ‘Got a Bachelor’s degree’

‘Followed it with a Master’s degree’, the second card continued.

Have three and a half true friends for life. The kind of friends who will stand by me, no matter what, no judgments whatsoever.

Dropped work and took a trip to a place I always wanted to visit, California. With my mom.

Not having known how to even ride a bicycle for almost 27 years of my life, I finally got my driver’s license.

Fallen truly in love, lost and never learnt from it. Willing to do it all over again.

Made it to two of my best friend’s weddings.

Visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Maintain a not-so-active blog of my own.

And so on.

I really do not know if that made me feel any better. I can only probably tell nine years later, perhaps, when I turn 40.

I turn 31 this year. I finally went to the store and got myself a copy of Gone with the Wind and War and Peace. I plan to read them soon. I still listen to Udit on YouTube, no downloads yet, but I hope to get to it someday. I am pitching my society for Indian lovers idea with a bunch of people with very little luck. I donated 12 inches of my hair to place that makes wigs for kids with hair disorders yesterday. I have been using an app on my phone that teaches me Tamil and I believe I am becoming fluent. The movie marathon is right around the corner. And, I often cross my fingers hoping I bump into Trivikram, sometime, someday and profess my love to him.

Turning 31 doesn’t hurt anymore. I guess I have reached the acceptance stage of my grief. And I have realized that I should live by the minute and brooding over not being able to finish reading a book by a certain time period is not going to get me anywhere. But, I am not going to lie. On certain days, the number reality hits. And hits quite hard and on such days, there are friends and there always is alcohol.

So it is okay to crib about the number. It is a big deal, at least until you learn to come to terms with it.

Cheers!

-A happily, unmarried woman who’s 30, or as one of my friends would say, ‘who’s technically running 31.’

When the Girl Cried Wolf

Several years ago, when Meher Ramesh’s Kantri came out, there were a bunch of people who took to the streets saying that the film portrayed people who belonged to the scheduled caste and scheduled tribes cheaply. The film had the hero, Jr. NTR, live in a slum while his profession was a street goon who did anything for money. The ‘offensive part’ came in because his slum had a Dr. B.R. Ambedkar statue in it. So the people who were rallying for taking this scene out said that:

  1. It was an insult to Dr. Amedkar, and
  2. The director was generalizing that people who belonged to ‘lower castes’ (whatever that means) would be uneducated rowdies who did cheap and illegal work for money.

Frankly, I am crazy about cinema and its every tiny detail but if it wasn’t for this retaliation all over the news, I wouldn’t even have noticed the Dr. Ambedkar statue in the slums while I watched the film in the theater. It was that inconspicuous and irrelevant.

*****

Now I see a lot of people writing articles and uploading videos where they mention their disgust over the Rape of Avantika in Rajamouli’s latest venture, Baahubali. When I did watch this particular scene where Shivudu applies black khol and red lipstick on Avantika and disrobes her dull and earth colored clothes to cloth her in bright red ones, I exclaimed to my friend, “Why is he raping the poor woman. He’s probably taken true inspiration from his Guru, Raghavendra Rao, to portray his sense of romance,” and continued to watch the rest of the film.

The point I am trying to make is, yes, no doubt, this scene is offensive to women. And no, I am not going to use ‘Well, most Indian or Telugu films have always been like this, so why crib about it now or you calling it sexist is not going to make a difference to film making.’

What I am trying to say is; you are educated, you have it in your power to make a choice. A choice to have an opinion or a choice to decide what you want to watch or read for entertainment.

If you really found Baahubali, or the Avantika scene in particular very sexist, if you felt that she was being raped, why did you sit through and watch that scene and the rest of the movie? Why didn’t you leave the theater then and there, when you were disgusted? If you did that, then I would see your point and applaud you for your principles, and if you didn’t and continued to watch the rape only to walk out of the theater and make a video or blog about it, I’m going to call you a hypocrite. Because, you see, in my opinion, you are not a feminist; you are just nit-picking. And let me also say, I completely understand your anguish, but it clearly lacks sincerity.

Allow me to nit-pick as well. Why were only the lead men with great bodies in Baahubali shown half naked? Is it because they were sporting the 6-pack? Are men who do not have a sexy and muscular body not worth seeing half naked at all? Is this why we didn’t get to see a shirtless or armor-less Kattappa? Why was Bijjaladeva’s upper body always covered in a silk shawl? Was it because of his handicap? Why are we cheaply discriminating between men who do not have toned bodies or are handicapped? Why are we being six-packists?

You see what I’m trying to say? I’m in no way saying that the way women are portrayed in our movies is justified. Time and again, women have been objectified in every film industry. And that is not right. But things are changing for us and we should acknowledge that. Stop the spite. For an Avantika that was shown, there was a Shivagami too. And to me and most women who watched this film, Shivagami is who we chose to carry out in our head when we walked out after watching the film.  The director’s intent when he made Baahubali was not to educate uncouth, illiterates on how to de-robe a female soldier. Do not expect every movie you watch to have a message that benefits society. That’s not why most people make movies, because if that was their goal, they would be philanthropists instead. If all you want is a message oriented thing, go and sit in a Human Values lecture.

Irrespective of whether women are shown in a certain way or not, crimes against women continue to happen. Such acts are essentially not happening because someone saw a film somewhere and is inspired by it. People always, always, and ALWAYS have a choice in what they do. The kind of films they watch, the kind of books they read. When I was a teenager, I read Sidney Sheldon’s Bloodline and this book disturbed me for a few weeks. There is this particular shady character in the book that takes women, and strips them completely naked and ties a red ribbon around their neck, rapes them, videotapes the episode and then kills the women. After I had completed this book, I looked at every male stranger with suspicion and tried to peep into their pocket to see if they had a red ribbon hidden somewhere. Of course, I grew up and realized not all men are serial killers, and that if I come across a book that disgusting, I must stop reading it. I hope people who are writing such spiteful blogs or making such videos while donning fake feminism realize that they have this option. It is in your hands whether you want to encourage a certain film or not, you are not being dragged and tied up to a chair to watch something.

*****

This issue isn’t just about Baahubali for that matter. Telugu film industry, just like any other film industry in the country, is and will continue to be regressive towards women, as long as we allow them to be.

Samantha will continue to tweet about a regressive poster from Nenokkadine, where the heroine is crawling behind the hero like his watchdog while she continues to allow a Naga Chaitanya to kiss her feet in Ye Maaya Chesave. Because, for her the former is male chauvinism while the latter is Gautham Menon’s tasteful romance, but to me, it is about equality of both genders and her’s is plain hypocrisy. So if you are displeased with this kind of misogyny, go watch a Malayalam film with a good storyline. From what I have seen in them, Nazariya playing a bride in Bangalore Days is dressed more elegantly and realistically than the way Samantha is skimpily dressed while she is not only being held captive but is simply the bride, Nithya Menon’s aide in the song ‘Super Machi’ from S/O Sathyamurthy.

I was recently watching this Telugu talk show, Open Heart with RK. Normally, I do not watch such crappy shows, but I was on a ‘Telugu film directors’ high and was watching RK interview Rajamouli. Here’s how it went.

RK: So are you sleeping with anyone other than your wife. Like any heroines?

Rajamouli: (smiles) No, I am very loyal to my wife.

RK couldn’t shut up after that

RK: 100% sure, no affairs?

Rajamouli: (still smiling) Yes, 100%

RK the dork: Haha, really, ok… (gives a disgusting smirk that amounts to, yeah, right, you think I believe you, to which Rajamouli says nothing)

Personally, I found the way RK put forth his question very indecent. One, Rajamouli is not going to tell you on national TV if he’s sleeping around with someone other than his wife, and two, you do not smirk so cheaply while asking such a question. I turned the TV off because I couldn’t watch any further.

When my mom was visiting me last year, I had to buy the Indian channels package so she could watch her daily serials and shows she religiously followed on TV. There was this particular channel; I believe Maa TV, that continuously had scrolls about a new talk show by the Telugu comedian, Ali, called Ali Talkies. Now I like Ali as a comedian and was a little excited to watch this show hoping for some good comedy. This show called actors and actresses promoting their upcoming films and Ali, unabashedly, made vulgar jokes about a lot of things. About his co-anchor’s clothes. About how she looked sexier in western clothes as opposed to when she wore a saree. He made more crass comments about the actress who was on the show to promote her film by asking her if the reason behind her steamy chemistry with JD Chakravarthy in the film was because she had “lap-chik” with him off screen. I turned the TV off and never watched that show again.

Some people do not care to play an Avantika on-screen. Let them be. Another actress, Rambha, said to a Telugu director who is known was throwing fruits and flowers on a woman’s midriff and calling it romance, “Gurugaru, you did not throw any fruits on me in this film.” She said this on national TV, when she came on a show called Soundarya Lahari, with a really sad face and pouty lips. Let these people be. We are the ones who have the choice to watch this kind of shit or boycott it.

While there are these people, there are also actresses like Kangana Ranaut who declined a 2 crore offer to star in a fairness ad commercial because of her principles. Let us look at the brighter side of the story.

When a woman in our country is raped and is lying naked on the street, some people choose not to help her while some people choose come forward and rush her to the nearest hospital. When a bunch of vagabonds are eve teasing a girl walking on the street, they are not doing it solely because they watched Kundan Shankar torment Zoya to accept his love in Raanjhanaa. And if a guy does go forward and help the girl who is being teased, he didn’t do it solely because he watched Balu punch to pulp, a bunch of eve teasers who were troubling Bujji in Tholiprema.

When I recently watched the trailer of the upcoming Telugu movie, Rudramadevi, I decided that I’m not going to watch it. For me, Rudramadevi has been one of the bravest warriors from South India. But if Gunaskehar decides to portray such a bold and fearless woman as someone who wears a diamond studded bra and silk pajamas while she’s dancing to a melody, under a waterfall and romancing her lover by letting him adorn her with jungle flowers, I’m not going to watch it. Because the essence of her commendable biography that deserves respect has been taken away by a lousy director. I’m not going to be one of those people who go to the theater, watch it and crib about how insulting it is to warrior princesses and to women, in general. And keep in mind, if thousands of people did that, a film won’t do well, collect all the money it does, break all box office records, and the director would be forced to look into his crappy screenplay.

*****

Our country is changing. Our mindset is changing. It is going to take decades to bring about the change we would love to see, but it has already begun. But first things first, not all of our men are stupid enough to be influenced by what they see on TV, watch at the theater or read at home. Let us give them that credit. They deserve it. Let us stop hiding under the mask of fake-feminism. Let us learn to take offense rightly. Let us stop taking pretentious offense, irrespective of whether something is important and trivial under the garb of sisterhood.

Let us stop crying Wolf every now and then, ever so often, at fiction or reel life because when the Wolf really comes in real life, nobody would be willing to believe us or hear us out.

Baahubali – The Enigma

“India does not need a 250 crore budget movie at this time.”

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This is how I have felt every time I caught a glimpse of any news related to Baahubali over the last couple of years. I have incessantly argued with people who have told me that I must consider entertainment as entertainment and nothing beyond that. But in my opinion, Baahubali – the biggest movie ever made in the history of our country, is not what our country needs right now. If someone had 250 crores, why would they invest the money in something as frivolous as an epic war film. Think about all the progression that could have taken place had this massive budget been put to good use. Progress! That’s what the country needs right now. We have so many other pressing problems. Besides isn’t more than half of the money invested in the film black money? It is being said that the lead actor, Prabhas, will take home about 20 crores for this film. Will Prabhas ever pay all the right kinds of taxes on his earnings?

Apparently, the movie hired a few thousand people over the past two years. That means, as many as 2000 – 5000 thousand junior artists and technicians earned their daily bread and butter because they were on the Baahubali team. That’s pretty close to having a private job, similar to the MNC kind, without the benefits of course.

It is believed that around 20 acres of land in the Ramoji Film City was employed for the sole purpose of growing corn. And what was this massive corn crop grown for? To shoot a few scenes in a movie. There are hundreds of thousands of farmers with or without their own land, with or without water resources to water their land, with or without the means to work and manage their cultivation activities, and here, is this crazy team using extensive plots of land for aesthetic movie scenes. What happens to the entire crop after the shoot? If there is such fertile land, capable of growing tons of corn, is show casing the crop in a movie its best use?  

The movie is made by a common man who is only 9 films old. A man who started his career by directing mindless daily serials that had oodles of family drama in them and went on to dare and put Indian cinema out there on the world podium. A man passionate about cinema, a man who dared to dream big. A man who had the guts to show to the fanatic Telugu audience that the director is the true hero in any film.

The movie is directed by a man who hasn’t made one thing that is not a revenge story. Big protagonists, bigger and ugly antagonists. His heroines almost always have no role in the movie expect when they wear skimpy clothes and run around ancient forts begging their heroes to do ‘censor board approved’ stuff to them. It is said that the man is stunted when it comes to having an original vision and oftentimes plagiarizes from the West. Be it from Game of Thrones, The Lord of the Rings, Our Hospitality or Cockroach. The man always chooses his cousin to deliver the music for his films and the cousin composes the kind of music that makes your hair stand on its end, well, at least until you realize that the tune was lifted from some German album. Also the hero or the villain is eternally and intentionally better clad when compared to the heroine; even when she is a princess and he is a mere soldier because the true sense of power obviously lies in the men. Which is why the tons of money and time are spent on how the men look, and in designing a new and ghastly weapon for them to hold in order to make them look like demi-gods. 

They said that the movie ticket would cost us $20. That, to me, is ridiculous. Telugu movie tickets are overpriced to begin with, especially when you compare them to tickets for a Hollywood or Bollywood movie. The tickets are priced based on the lead actor so you could pay anywhere between $12 to 16$ to watch a Telugu movie. But $20, huh!?! Well, at least Thank God, that’s what I am going to have to pay. The tickets are $25 in some cities in California and $28 in some places in Virginia. Of course, they are going to charge that much. What would be a better way to recover all those crores they invested into this film?

I went and watched Baahubali – The Beginning on Saturday, last week. I woke up on Sunday morning with a movie hangover and so, I watched another epic war film, 300, to get over this one.

India does not need a 250 crore budget movie right now. If I ever had 250 crores to spend, I wouldn’t invest the money in a movie.

This morning, I went online and spent another $20 and got myself a ticket for the evening show. I guess I haven’t gotten enough of Shivagami and Kattappa.

And S.S. Rajamouli, of course!

The Waist Band or the Waste Band?

We have all been born, raised and live in a fancy world. The one where we love to show off. Everything needs to be done with a lot of hungama and of course, fanfare. Come on, we all know that it is cheaper to send Mangalyaan into Mars’ orbit than it is to produce a Shankar’s Ai or a Rajamouli’s Baahubali. Our priorities man, they are always kick-ass.

Of course, I am generalizing. But that’s what happens in general. And that is why I go back to my most favorite and controversial topic. Our weddings. Whether a father has a house to claim as his own after working for nearly 50 years and as he is nearing his retirement does not matter. He simply has to marry away his children with a lot of wealth. One of my room-mates once told me that most dads in her state go to the bank and take a personal loan to get their daughters married because the in-laws expect the bride to bring in a lot of gold. And that’s what her dad did for her sister’s wedding and that he would take another personal loan for her as well, when the time came.

Well, the fanfare, wealth, food, jewelry and all that is fine, but at least when we are spending lacs and lacs of rupees on all this unnecessary crap, why are we supposed to buy jewelry that looks like absolute shit. Take the waist band or the waist belt, for example. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it is the ugliest piece of gold I have come across my entire life. I think it’s more of a South Indian tradition, but I could be completely wrong, maybe it is only an Andhra Pradesh thing (yeah! Mr. KCR, that includes the new state too), I don’t know. But basically, a gold waist band is a really thick, ugly looking piece of gold that’s worn on a saree, obviously around the waist. It always reminds me of one of those belt bombs, that’s how big most of them are. Now, I am not completely against them, I like the really, really thin ones and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the thin, sexy ones are not much appreciated in the market. edit 2 You see what I’m talking about? I mean, why, why, on earth do we have to buy a gold belt that looks like it was created only to strangle your self esteem. And to make you feel like a decorated cow at the farmer’s market. Now there are different kinds of people who will tell you different things and try to enlighten you on the absolute necessity of wearing or owning something as ridiculous as this.

The Financial Advisers: This is the group of people who self appoint themselves as your nearest kin and well wishers. It will seem like they have all graduated with an MBA in Finance from the IIMs and are therefore, the best advisers on how and where you invest your money in. ‘You don’t like the waist band? What are you even saying. It is gold, amma, gold always means investment. Whatever happens, gold is like property, it will fetch you loans, and blah ‘ they say. Okay, I get it. We are growing old even if we don’t want to and it is good to have some savings and investments, but why on earth does only buying a waist band amount to investment. First of all, I don’t care for that amount of gold, I would have to live on the streets wearing a gold waist band if I purchased it. And second of all, why can’t I get myself a dozen gold bracelets and really thin gold hoops in different sizes instead of this stupid thing. At least those I will wear without feeling embarrassed in public. Okay so I will get myself one and wear it on my wedding day, where am I going to be able wear it to without looking like a fool afterwards.

Or actually, why can’t I buy myself some really nice platinum bracelets. That’s what I like and I am sure that counts as investment too.

The Pretentious Gold Diggers: There is this one friend of mine who is on the heavier side, she weighed about 70 – 80 kilos at that time and her parents, after an extensive search, finally found a guy for her to get married to. We were quite surprised when the groom’s family approached my friend’s family and told them that they were not expecting dowry of any sorts. I have a bucket load of opinions on dowry and am very against it, but let’s not get into that right now. Anyhow I was very happy for my friend until the groom’s parents came back and said, ‘well, we don’t want any dowry but just get a gold waist band made for your daughter.’ Seriously, what the hell. And they were asking for one of those really thick ugly looking ones and they knew for a fact that, the regular ones available in the stores wouldn’t fit my friend owing to her heavy personality and her parents were forced to spend tons of money in the name of ‘no dowry’. How cheap! I mean, what if someone cannot afford that disgusting piece of gold! To these people, I just want to say, well how about this cute little buffalo for your daughter in-law, hey we promise, she comes with a gold waist band.

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The Thunder Stealers: Now this is a very weird category. The kind of relatives and/or friends who want to steal the bride’s thunder. The bride would want to be simple with no additional extravagance and when she is not wearing the waist band on her wedding day, these people will put on theirs and parade in the wedding halls. How self engrossed can you be? It’s the bride’s day, one of the most important days in her life and you are out there just to use this as an excuse to show off your collection of gold. Who do you think seriously cares? I know this one stupid family who got introduced to one of my friends just one week before her wedding, and they pretended to take up a lot of the wedding responsibilities, that is fine, but on the wedding day, the bride had clearly demanded a simple wedding, and they put on their stupid belt flashers that glow like stadium lights and started walking around. The worst part is, one of the aunts asked the bride if she wanted to wear her daughter’s waist band. How ridiculous. It wasn’t that my friend couldn’t get one for herself, she despised the very idea of a gold waist band. Why is that so hard for you to understand. And more importantly, why can’t that be considered normal?

Usually, I wouldn’t even notice whether the bride was or wasn’t wearing one and the people around her have one on or not, but you want to be in all the pictures with the bride you barely know and are constantly on the stage and your stupid band is shining like a million suns and blinding me and over shadowing the bride when I am trying to take decent pictures of her.

The Wedding Jury: Yes, you got it right. This is the group that will sit and judge the bride and her family. The bride for what she’s wearing and what she is not and her family for not being able to provide for her on her wedding day. They are the ones who can write in blood and give you a guarantee that your married life will be a happily ever after if you wear the right amount of gold. After all, that’s the factor that determines how happy and successful someone’s married life is, right? ‘Oh, she looks so dull without the waist band, at least her parents should have gotten her a plain and simple one with no fancy design. And why is she wearing such small earrings, I wonder if they are gold.’ they will say. Can someone please explain to me how all the gold I wear on my wedding day will help me constrain my anger and not yell at my husband when he forgets to wash his plate after dinner.

And that brings me back to, I will never want to own one of those big, fat, bright yellow bands. Not before my wedding, not on or after my wedding.

So eventually when I do give in to all the family blackmail, and sit down in the podium on my wedding day without the waist band, and you are there, please do not judge me. If I personally invited you, you’d fall into the category that doesn’t judge, but there will be a bunch of people who get invited automatically and I will have no say in it (that’s how it works for us). I will personally be distributing a printout of this post, so you can save yourself the trouble of trying to decipher why I’m not wearing the waist band. But if you see me wearing the really sleek and sexy one, again, you will have a copy of this and will understand that I am not completely against the idea of the waist band, I just hate the really thick and expensive ones that shine like the sun because personally, I feel embarrassed to wear it.

And finally, if you do turn up at my wedding and see me with a gold waist band that looks like a belt bomb, please call the cops, because if someone managed to slip that around my waist, they probably are also forcing the groom on me, so please come and save me!