Monday, September 17, 2012

Barfi...a fail-proof recipe for a sweet indulgence that can only be good for you

Ingredients

  • Fine, perfectly nuanced performances by the two leading ladies; Ileana D’Cruz in her Bollywood debut leaves a lasting impression and Priyanka Chopra in a subtly delivered, unconventional role

  • A liberal mix of able performances by the supporting cast, notably Saurabh Shukla as the hapless cop who unsuccessfully pursues Barfi as the two create several slapstick Chaplinesque cinematic moments; Rupa Ganguly as Ileana’s mother, wary of letting her daughter make an unwise choice at a crossroads she herself encountered in the past; Haradhan Bandopadhyay as the ‘other man’ who values and loves Priyanka for who she is

  • Superlative direction by Anurag Basu, who makes this one of the finest films to have emerged from Bollywood in recent times, with brilliant camera work, evocative use of expressions and emotions to convey meaning without the aid of dialogues and drawing out of fine performances from his cast

  • Fabulous cinematography by Ravi Varman; bringing alive Darjeeling and Kolkata in each frame

  • Last but not the least, a stellar performance by Ranbir Kapoor who brings alive the character of Barfi in a knock-your-socks-off performance

Preparation

Take a beautifully woven bitter-sweet story of the relationship between a deaf-mute guy Murphy aka Barfi (Ranbir Kapoor), who although lacking the senses of speech and hearing, is vibrantly blessed with the ability to live life with a free spirit and a, as he puts it more eloquently than words can in the film, ‘first class’ heart, and two girls who touch his life in different ways. One is the delicately pretty Shruti (Ileana D’Souza) whom he falls in love with at first sight and woos relentlessly till she eventually gives in to his charms, and the other is his autistic childhood friend Jhilmil(Priyanka Chopra) whom he initially pursues when driven to the edge by fate and circumstances.   

Add a liberal dose of the sweetly innocent romance between the poor but resourceful Barfi; usually on the run from the long arm of the law for his petty misdemeanors, and Shruti, which sadly caves in to Shruti’s inability to follow her heart, as she gives in to the ‘safe’ option instead and opts for a more ‘eligible’ suitor. Stir in gently the unfolding of the complex relationship between Jhilmil who sees the world with a unique sensitivity and recognizes Barfi’s spirit and soul in the way other, ‘normal’ people are unable to, and Barfi’s ability to connect with Jhilmil and win her trust and affection.

Roast a non linear narrative in some suspense, creating a plot that keeps you guessing till the very end and throw in an unexpected twist that adds a mysterious, whodunit element as the paths of Barfi, Jhilmil and Shruti dramatically converge.
Prepare a multi-string syrup of accompanying, sometimes quirky; sometimes heart stirring music right from the ‘picture shuru’ ditty that gets you in the mood from the word go, to the title track ‘Ala Barfi’ and add to the mix. Garnish liberally with breathtaking cinematography that lovingly brings alive the lush landscapes of Darjeeling and the vibrant chaos of Kolkata.

Savour fresh and warm, this lovely Barfi that offers a tribute to the uncomplicated nature of true, lasting love if only we would let it take its own path instead of cluttering it with logic and reason. Toss in the fact that the disabilities of the characters in the film are portrayed in an almost matter of fact way, never once attempting to elicit pity or sympathy; on the contrary Barfi’s uniqueness lies in his ability to deal with the trials life throws up with a cheery doff of the hat and a ready smile.

You will especially enjoy some slices of this dish such as when Barfi expresses his deep hurt at being rejected by Shruti through a soundless, wordless, and power packed expression of his anguish. Or the gradual building up of the relationship between Barfi and Jhilmil against the changing backdrops of Barfi’s rickety Darjeeling home, a tumultuous journey laced with green fields and rushing rivers to finally culminate in the noisy, bustling Kolkata which embraces them in its midst. Not to mention the subtle interplay of emotions when Shruti and Jhilmil meet each other, their perceptions of the other’s role in Barfi’s life and Shruti’s eventual realization of what could have been hers. Then there are other little nuggets like the test Barfi puts all his friends through; to lay his insecurity of being abandoned at rest, and the way he rushes to Jhilmil’s defense when a leery lout is giving her the once over, which will leave you with a sweet taste.

Dig into this delectable Barfi while it is still being served fresh; it will leave you with a happy rush like no other, and one that will stay with you long after you’ve polished off this unforgettable treat!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Creativity in a bento box



Peach coloured skies with purple clouds. Crimson grass. Orange elephants and magenta seals. Nikki goes through a sheaf of A4 size sheets of paper, filling them up with a plethora of vibrant colours. We are at an art workshop for kids and I’m accompanying Nikki as she experiments with finger paint (so squishy!) and painting on different mediums (can I start painting your bed after we go home?). There’s another little boy seated next to us who seems concerned about Nikki’s artwork.

“The sky is not that colour” he whispers to his mother in obvious anguish. “The grass is not red.”

The mother hisses something back at him and he subsides temporarily.
The workshop facilitator hands out fresh sheets of paper; this time with line drawings on them, and jars filled with fat crayons which Nikki grabs with glee. It’s a picture of a house with a fence and a garden. Nikki deliberates between the finger paint and the crayons, makes up her paint and smears paint liberally across the picture. Strokes of paint fill up the house and the garden; an indigo roof, green walls, yellow grass. The little boy cannot contain himself anymore. He abandons his own drawing and is at our side in a trice.

“No, not like that!" he chides Nikki “You have to draw inside the lines! You will get a red mark. Sky is blue, grass is green!”

His mother pulls him away before I can reply and rebukes him thoroughly for not concentrating on his work.

She turns to me with a tight smile “She cannot colour inside the lines?” pointing at Nikki.

“I’ve never asked her to” I smile back.

I did give Nikki a colouring book once; she had been gifted a Winnie the Pooh one for her birthday and given that Pooh threatened to overtake our theme for home d├ęcor during those days I thought she might like it. She didn’t. She never actually took to colouring within the lines, preferring instead to fill up reams of blank paper with her artwork instead. And fill them up she did, astonishing me sometimes with the creativity and imagination only children possess.
She draws the rain and butterflies, families of fish and music. One side of our fridge is filled with renditions of tea parties in the clouds and the moon taking care of her baby. We don’t really miss colouring within the lines much.
I know that Nikki is asked to colour within the lines sometimes at the preschool she goes to, and from the activity sheets I am taken through at PTMs I know she can do it perfectly well if she wants to. But I also know that she does not enjoy it, preferring the freedom a blank sheet of paper offers instead.

We are lucky to have found a preschool that encourages creativity among its children. There are no red marks for drawing. Purple skies are encouraged, as are pink elephants and geese with polka dots. But I know there are a lot of parents who don’t like this approach, preferring instead the more traditional one of teaching kids that the grass can only be green and colour is best used within boundaries and not splayed all over the paper. Just last week I overheard a mother complaining about how sand play needs to be structured with kids being given specific instructions on what to do with their spades and buckets rather than just being left loose in the sand pit; and another parent of a boy in the nursery class lamenting how his child is not being taught how to write yet. I listened to them talk and felt a little worried. And then I read the morning papers, all about artist Aseem Trivedi being arrested for displaying ‘too much creativity’ and felt positively scared. Aside from the misuse of a colonial era law or the growing intolerance in the political and social environment, what is equally alarming is the judgement that is so carelessly thrown on an individual’s creative expression. Who decides what is too creative? Or too little? Are there measures defined to judge how much is 'too creative' or lines and boxes that it can be fitted into? Are we looking at a future where our preschoolers go for sandpit class, learning precise co-ordination of spade with bucket and move on to postgraduate in fine arts which clearly specifies what is too creative and what is not? The curbs on our creativity grow deep roots. Our educational system has traditionally been one based on rote and memorization rather than independent thought or creativity. There are firm boundaries that are drawn when we are very young and we grow up learning to live within them. And when some of us think or speak differently, it can create a lot of discomfort.

Nikki in the meantime has moved on to caricatures and is busy sketching portraits. A gargoyle-ish figure with pointy hair is me, I am told. One vaguely resembling Suppandi is our cook. Her father is a dignified looking turnip.

“We will put these up on the fridge” I tell her.

“Okay but not this one. This one is too nice and this one is horrible. Put this, it is just right.”

Creativity really is that simple, and it doesn’t take a three year to show us that. Let the artists define their own boundaries.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Travails of a work-from-home mom


The art of conducting an involved conversation with a toddler from behind a closed door. Work related phone calls to the tune of background screeching and whining. Super quick bathroom breaks, before your toddler who’s convinced that mommy has vanished into dark oblivion, breaks the door down. Even quicker showers that leave you feeling that emerging from a whirlwind might be more relaxing. Protecting your laptop as you try and work, from pint sized elements who think tapping away at laptop keys is an exciting form of recreation. Coffee breaks with the Teletubbies.

Sounds familiar? If it doesn’t, welcome to the world of a ‘Work from Home Mom’.

When I first became a mother, along with the joys of endless nappy changes and sleepless nights, I was also introduced to the complex terminology used to classify different types of mothers. There were SAHMs or stay-at- home moms and WOHMs or working-out-of-the- home moms. And somewhere in between were the WFHMs, or the work-from- home moms, whose category I soon joined.

Initially, I was smugly satisfied about the whole work-from-home concept. After several years of killer commutes, long hours peering at a computer screen in fluorescent light and suffering the tasteless dishwater most office vending machines serve up in the name of coffee, working from home felt a little like having your cake and eating it too. With an extra cherry and frosted icing thrown in for good measure. I would get to spend time with my daughter without giving up on work I loved doing. Plus, with office being a hop and a skip away (quite literally), there would be no commuting woes; I could work in my pajamas if I so wanted from the comforts of my home and have easy access to freshly brewed coffee.

Working from home would be a breeze, I thought.

I was in for a rude shock.

While working from home has its unparalleled benefits especially when you’re a mother, it is certainly no cakewalk.For one, there is the small matter of getting afore mentioned pint sized elements to behave while you try and get some work done. Given that the PSE’s are prone to unreasonable tantrums and sudden urges to go potty, especially when you’re in the middle of an important call, the whole work from home jig can become quite challenging. Of course you can hire help to look after your kids, but that often throws up a whole new set of challenges in uncharted territory. Finding good help, for one. And then training said help to care for your kids while you work.

I remember emerging from a seven second shower (the norm, when you’re any kind of mom, unless you’re really lucky) once, eager to get some work done, only to nearly step on my daughter and her nanny who were both camping on the bathmat outside.
“We were waiting for you to come out and tell us what to do” said the nanny matter-of-factly when I demanded to know why my daughter was getting intimate with the bathmat instead of doing something constructive with her time.  “After all you are at home only, no?”

Being ‘at home only, no’ can be far more difficult than getting away to an office where you can neatly compartmentalize your home and work life. Not so much at home, where even if you are lucky to have a somewhat secluded space to do your work in, people always manage to find you. I made the mistake of having a dining table office in the first couple of weeks when I started working from home. Apart from having to share work space with the breakfast dishes, this also put me in the precarious position of being within easy reach of my open plan kitchen from where my rather chatty cook would feel free to strike up a conversation about the latest skirmish in the neighbor’s house or her son’s school report, whenever the fancy struck her.
Besides, when you are at home, you have increased visibility of the things that you could have happily ignored had you been away at an office. Like the dust bunnies lurking in the corners or the pile of growing laundry. Even if, like me, you are adept at ignoring these little housekeeping niggles, it can be tough to ignore the attitude of assorted people who will drop in announced just because ‘you are at home’ or call you whenever the fancy strikes them to give you elaborate updates on their dog’s gastric condition, completely ignoring the fact that you may be trying to get some work done.

Or people who give you the ‘yeah, right’ look when you tell them you work from home. As in “yeah, right, and I’m Santa’s little helper.”
“Its okay didi, I know” my cook whispered to me conspiratorially last week, when I reminded her for the umpteenth time to get on with her work and let me get on with mine, instead of giving me the latest scoop on building gossip.
“You know what?” I asked, slightly confused.
“I know what you really do. The lady on the 9th floor in whose house I work said that there is no such thing as ‘work from home’. She said you must be just doing some time pass on the internet.”

Yes, so being a work-from-home mom is not for the faint-hearted. And I’m not even getting started on the bad days when schools are shut, or the children fall ill or the help mysteriously disappear to their gaons for vague, unexplained reasons. So the next time, someone you know tells you she’s a work-from-home mom, give her an encouraging pat on the back. Even better, take her out for coffee or offer to watch her kids while she takes a luxurious ten minute shower. Trust me, she deserves it.

Originally written for 'The Punekar'

Monday, June 18, 2012

The thirty year old toddlers

A few years ago I was on a road trip with friends when the bus we were travelling in stopped at a rickety roadside joint for what was ostensibly a comfort break. As we clambered off the bus, the lady seated in front of us turned to her daughter and asked in a voice loud enough for the entire parking lot to hear “Susu karna hai beta?”

Now this would have been fine if the daughter in question had been a little girl or a toddler fresh out of diapers. Except that she was a grown woman, probably in her mid twenties. As she turned a scintillating shade of red, the rest of us could almost feel her mortification!

A cousin recently narrated a similar experience when she visited family friends with her parents. Now a manager in a leading MNC, heading a team of 20 odd people, to her parents she’s still their little girl. During their visit, her mother first asked her on reaching their host’s house if she needed to use the bathroom. Then her father asked her to join the host’s young children, rather than conversing with the adults.
“It was humiliating!” my cousin recounted “There I was, telling people about the work I do and suddenly my parents make me feel like a 5 year old again!”

Many of us have probably been in similar situations, when our parents refuse to treat us like adults even when we have graying hair and children in high school. Parents don’t mean it, of course. It can be difficult to accept that the dependent little bundle you doted on is a grown, confident adult with a mind and life of his or her own, and needs to be treated as such. It’s not so much fun for the now grown up kids though, when their parents insist on treating them like the children they once were.

Considering that the thought of my daughter going unsupervised for parties and sleepovers in future is capable of giving me panic attacks now, I see a clear and present danger that I will eventually metamorphose into one of those parents who refuse to let their kids grow up. So I thought I’d set out some guidelines for myself, for when my daughter grows older:
1.      In deference to the unfortunate recipients of the comfort break query mentioned above, I promise never to ask you if you need to ‘do susu’, once you’ve crossed the age of 4 and are in full control of your bowel movements. I might whisper it occasionally till you’re 10 though. But never in full public hearing, and definitely not when we have company. I may know for a fact that you haven’t taken a pee break in hours, but no matter how strong the urge (pun unintended); I resolve to not pop the question. 
2.      I will not call you every evening and ask you what you ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner accompanied by a detailed lecture on the nutritive value, or lack thereof, of the same. Not unless you are grossly obese and these are the doctor’s express orders or you’re training for the Olympics and need help with diet planning. After all, if I still need to obsess over every morsel that goes into your mouth thirty years from now, one of us will definitely need therapy.
3.      I promise not to bring up embarrassing incidents from your childhood with others, especially in large public gatherings. I’ve been the recipient of one too many ‘remember the time she had a sip of whisky when she was five and went berserk, bwahahaha!’ to do that. No embarrassing videos or photos on open display either. (I hope you’re reading this, Dad.  Yes, you can put away those cheesy videos of me at 11 years reeling off travelogue in a sing song voice.)
4.      I will not tell you what to do. Once of course, you reach an age where you realize that switching off my laptop when I’m working on it is nobody’s idea of fun and mud baths are okay for the spa and not the park. I mean this within reasonable limits so don’t think I’ll stand by without saying a word if you decide to flush your life down the drain. And I may make an exception if it’s one of those rare situations where you are desperate for direction, or when you can clearly benefit from my experience or….Sigh. Right. I will not tell you what to do.
5.      I will refrain from criticizing your appearance and telling you what to wear. If ripped jeans and faded tees are your idea of high fashion, so be it. I’m sure your grandmother will say this is poetic justice, given that I had taken to donning the grunge look for weddings in my teens. Given your current affinity for wearing matching-matching clothes, replete with accessories and moisturizing your hands with pink cream every few minutes, I may just end up taking some pointers from you in this area.
6.      I will not try and influence or criticize your choice of friends. With your father turning a delicate shade of green even now, every time you get too friendly with a member of the opposite sex, I’m sure I can leave the worrying to him for once. On a serious note, as an independent young adult nothing can be more important to you than having the freedom to choose the individuals whose company you’d like to keep. The last thing you’d want is an interfering parent telling you she doesn’t approve of so-and-so. This means I may have to give up my plans of stalking you on dates when you’re older though. Ah well.
7.      When you have kids of your own, I will restrain myself from giving you unending advice about ‘how we did things in our time’. There can be nothing more irritating than being treated like a 3 year old in front of your own 3 year old, so you’ll get none of that from me.  
8.      I will treat you like the grown up that you are and not lapse into sepia tinged nostalgia from when you were a mere suckling. I will also try and avoid getting overtly sentimental about your babyhood even though I can give no guarantees on this given that I was nearly in tears when you came on stage during your annual concert, causing the lady next to me to move away a few seats. Oh, and I will also not haunt you on social networking websites.
9.      I will trust you to take adequate care of your dental health and will stop eating your chocolates because they are terrible for your teeth and will make you emotionally dependent on cocoa. Yes, I ate the chocolate you were gifted at school today but it’s only because I care about your teeth. And, I may be slightly emotionally dependent on cocoa myself. But none of that once you are older; your chocolates will be safe with me. Although I’m sure you won’t mind sharing, will you? Maybe just the occasional nibble, then. 
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Originally written for 'The Punekar'

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

When I nearly got run over by the school run

The alarm that didn't go off when it was supposed to. That delicious extra half an hour of sleep that seems even sweeter because it is unexpected. The slow realization coming with reluctant wakefulness that it is a school day and we are now running late! The nightmarish frenzy to get things together in time. The dropping of all the usual efforts for a relaxed morning routine as we run around like headless chickens (the husband and I naturally, not Nikki who seems quite removed from such mundane things as school runs) shoveling breakfast down our throats, gulping tea while furiously multitasking and setting new records for the seven second shower.

In the middle of all the madness sometimes I forget the little things.

"Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up!" I screech at my child as she meditates over the exact way to butter her toast.

"Hurry, hurry, hurry!" I squawk as she goes about the business of washing her hands with a quiet industriousness.

"We're getting late!" I work myself up into a lather as she gently blows bubbles with her own.

Forgetting that I am screeching at her for my own tardiness. Forgetting that one of the most unpleasant things about going to school can be crazy, screechy early mornings with manic parents rushing to bundle you off to school and telling you to 'hurry up' and 'rush, rush rush' and 'not be slow' and 'we're getting late because of you!' Forgetting that I was only just setting myself up for a major guilt trip later on in the day, when I could have been relaxing over a cuppa instead.

Till she reminded me. Giving me that look she sometimes does. Of infinite wisdom. And infinite patience.

"There's only so much I can do Mama. Please be happy."

And so I did. I grinned. Sang a silly song. Sat down beside her and made up a story about putting on your shoes on your own. Drove to school with the windows down and the breeze in our hair and 'mein to tuk tuk tortoise hoon' playing in the background.

And we made it to school well in time.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

“Everybody wants a boy”




My sister and I were often partners in crime during our growing up years and back then I often thought that if I ever had kids of my own I would want two girls, just like my sister and me. It was a girlish notion, long before motherhood brought with it the realization that bringing a child into this world is nothing short of a miracle and it truly doesn’t matter whether it is a girl or a boy, but I happened to mention this childhood fancy to a colleague during a chance conversation many years later when the topic veered around to that of raising children.
“Two girls?” my colleague asked, raising a sardonic eyebrow “You must mean two boys right?”
I politely assured her that I had indeed meant two girls and she gave me a wondering look, the kind one normally reserves for a particularly slow-on-the-uptake, half-wit and shook her head.
A few weeks ago I was attending a function when I was subjected to the same look, this time by someone I know. At most functions I attend these days people consider it perfectly normal to come up to me and ask when I am planning to “have the second one” in a rather proprietorial fashion. By this naturally they mean to ask when I plan to have a second child since my first born, my daughter, is now considered old enough to have a sibling and something must be seriously wrong with me if I am not contemplating having a second child. Not so long ago this question used to irk me enough to either retort in a rather rude fashion or display my sometimes unfortunate sense of humour depending on my mood. These days though it doesn’t bother me as much as it once did (I like to think it’s the maturity that comes with motherhood) and I waver between mumbling something vague into my glass, if I have one handy, or just smiling in a benign fashion, which usually gets rid of the person asking the question.
I was not so lucky at this particular function though, because the question was followed with the fervent wish that hopefully I would have a boy the second time so that my family would be ‘complete’.
“What’s the problem if it’s a girl instead” I asked politely, secretly marveling at the maturity that comes with motherhood which had ensured that my glass was still in my hand rather than having its contents dumped on the head of the pestilential question- asker.
That was when I received The Look again.
“What a silly question” the pestilential QA, let’s call her X, sneered “Everyone wants a boy.” The motley group of women that happened to be hanging around as this conversation happened looked on in silence, some nodded knowingly, almost as a sign of tacit approval. What I found most disappointing was the fact that X was of my own generation and profile; an educated, financially independent woman with children of her own and enough opportunity and resources to broaden her thinking. And yet she believed that a woman cannot be truly happy unless she has given birth to a boy. The sad part is that she is not alone. There are many women out there who believe that a family is incomplete unless there is a male ‘heir’ in it and will go to great lengths to ensure that they get one, from consulting the Chinese calendar which offers pre-conception advice guaranteed to produce a male child to the infamous sex selection clinics in Thailand.
I come from a family of fierce feminists, where nobody bats an eyelid when a girl rides a horse while her brother bakes a cake, and to that extent I was fairly sheltered from the followers of the Chinese calendar when I was growing up, so it came as a bit of a culture shock when I first encountered them. And encounter them I did, in hordes. Women, who think only a boy can carry the name of the family forward, financially support his ageing parents, and for whom they will not have to shell out a substantial dowry when time comes to get him married, only to send him away to live with strangers. Women who dolefully shake their heads when informed that I have only one sister and no brother and who assure me that they will pray that there is a boy in the family soon.
These women I speak of are not from the economically weaker sections of society. They are women from financially affluent homes, educated and superficially broad minded. Women from my generation; born in the late seventies, or early eighties. You politely point out to them that girls from our generation are increasingly keeping their maiden names post marriage, thereby debunking the ‘ghar ka chirag’ myth, are financially independent and perfectly capable of looking after their families, often chose their partners themselves, who like them do not subscribe to the concept of dowry and are supportive of their partners’ decision to continue being financially independent and supporting their families if need be.
Yes all that is true, is the response you get, accompanied by more doleful head shaking, but a girl’s life is so tough. Girls are always unsafe, subject to the prying eyes of men, girls have to leave their homes and go to another family, girls have to go through the physical trauma of giving birth and then they have to give up these careers you speak of to raise their children. Girls are cursed from the day they are born so naturally, everyone wants a boy.
At this point if you have the tenacity to continue the conversation, you could ask these women, that given that we have arrived at the morbid conclusion that girls indeed are cursed, what could we possibly do about it? Can we ensure that our daughters are equipped to protect themselves by educating them about safety, self preservation and perhaps teaching them some form of self defense? Should we not talk to them (and their brothers) about sex education from an early age, keep clear and open lines of communication with them as they grow up so that they are equipped to make the right choices in future? Can we give them the best possible resources so that they in turn can realize their full potential?
At this point I usually realize that I am engaged in a rather futile rant because these women are just doing the doleful head shake all over again and muttering that all this is too much trouble. Why not just consult the Chinese calendar instead? And if all else fails there is always that trip to Thailand.
Further probing often reveals that they find it too embarrassing to discuss the ‘S-Word’ with their kids, leaving that instead to the vast knowledge they will surely gain from their peer group, and are inordinately proud of having had normal, epidural free childbirths, because you are not really a woman until you have lived through that kind of pain. And of course if you have to endure that kind of pain you may as well have given birth to a boy, because at the end of the day everyone….you know the drill.
This is the point where I end the conversation abruptly because it is usually the precursor to the gory birth story, and also because I have a raging headache by then.
I did the same with X after she mournfully informed me that she and her husband had both been very disappointed when my daughter was born and they would continue hoping that I would someday be blessed with a son. She then went on to add that whenever someone in their social circle is expecting a child, they always hope that it is a boy because there should always be one boy in the family, and after that having a girl is not so bad, because they are like add-ons (!).
I found myself wondering what would have happened if X had herself had no sons. Would she have continued consulting the Chinese calendar or pinning her hopes on the Thai clinic with the latest technology in the senseless quest for a boy? Would she have brought up her daughters resenting them, always longing for a boy? Would she have kept reminding them how they had been a disappointment to their parents by coming into the world? I can’t help feeling a little glad that X doesn’t have any daughters.

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Originally written for 'The Punekar' (March '12)


Selected for BlogAdda's Spicy Saturday Picks! Thank you BlogAdda!

 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Book review: Urban Shots

I discovered the wonderful book review program run by the people over at Blog Adda some time back and when I'd finally gotten over the fact that there were people out there willing to send you books you might be interested in to review, I promptly signed up and began applying for books with a zeal worthy of the gold diggers of ancient Australia. Much hopeful application and wistful trawling through e-mail later, I finally got a congratulatory e-mail a few days ago and soon after a copy of 'Urban Shots' was delivered to our doorstep. In terms of timing, this couldn't have happened at a more opportune moment for two reasons: 1)This blog is in urgent need of resuscitation and the requirement to do a book review will hopefully act as a much needed kick on the posterior in that direction, 2) Intensive practice for the child's annual concert (thought playschool was a hoot did you? *insert sound of hysterical laughter here*) was happening around the time I got the book and it made for a light, breezy read between rounds of concert drop offs and pick ups and watching Nikki do her banana-in-pajamas act on stage (more on that later).



And so, it was with a sense of general contentment and bonhomie(well at least as much as you can squeeze in while a bunch of preschoolers run amok in the vicinity) that I settled in with my copy of Urban Shots. The Urban Shots that I read was the first publication in the series (they have since come up with a few more titles) and is an anthology of short stories contributed by writers with varied backgrounds from all over the country. The book makes for an interesting bouquet of tales reflecting relationships, love and longing in their myriad forms against a backdrop of urban India. The collection starts off with 'Hope comes in small packages', a touching account of a young woman's struggle to come to terms with devastating bereavement and how she finds hope in the unlikeliest of places. Getting off to a promising start, the stories then span the lives and relationships of a multitude of characters, from the intuitively perceptive Chamundi in Malathi Jaikumar's 'Liberation' who learns to free herself from the man she is bonded to for life in her own unique way, to the liberated Kajal in Ahmed Faiyaz's 'It's a small world' who finds herself facing the prospect of a gilded prison of an altogether different kind. I quite enjoyed the frothy, perky 'Apple Pies and a Grey Sweater' by Prateek Gupta and Kunal Dhabalia's 'Love-All'. The sepia tinged 'Dialects of Silence' by Vrinda Baliga left a lasting impact with its strikingly simple and yet stirring narrative and is a story that I know is going to stay with me.

Many of the stories are easily relatable, these are situations we have been in, people we know, sometimes even people we could have been ourselves. The book has been edited by Paritosh Uttam, author of 'Dreams in Prussian Blue', launched under the Penguin 'Metro Reads' series and he has contributed several stories to the anthology as well, stories which take familiar, well worn situations and subtly introduce an element of disruption that jolts you out of your comfort zone to reach a startling revelation. Young, restless, often unreasonable love is brought out beautifully in 'A mood for love' when the protagonist Ruchi hankers for an elusive soul mate as she thinks 'I could love you. I could love anybody now...'

Many of the stories are layered and offer themselves up for a slower re-exploration. Some however do disappoint, they are either too flat or too uni-dimensional to really strike a chord but these are few and far between. Overall, Urban Shots makes for an interesting read, and offers a unique perspective into the young and the restless, the bold and the beautiful as conjured up by some of young, urban India's finest minds.

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