Monday, December 12, 2016

(h)airy head!

when i created a list of my life's purpose and goals about a couple of years ago, it went on to fill a full excel sheet. and i remember a friend asking if i intended to fulfill all of those in this lifetime! he'd be surprised to know that since then, i have added a few more to that list. one of the new additions were donating organs. i have pledged all my organs with mohan foundation. while going through the organs i could donate, i found out about donating hair for cancer patients. and i did have enough hair to donate (minimum requirement being 15" length). and when i checked the ngos that accept hair donation, i came across protect your mom and their facebook page @HairForHopeIndia. decided about eight months ago that i would donate my hair. and then thought of going bald. there was this feeling that i needed to take that journey - experiencing the loss of hair. although i cannot experience the trauma and pain that one who suffers from the illness had to suffer. it was the least i could do. i have also thought of the increasing possibility that i could be afflicted with the same condition, given that my immediate family has had too many women who have suffered. and i still remember my aunt, who suffered from breast cancer initially and had to undergo a series of chemos. she had lost all her hair and used to wear a scarf. at her eldest son's wedding, a joyous occasion, she would shy away from the cameras because of her lack of hair. and i also remember another aunt who survived breast cancer, being more scared of losing her hair to chemo than of the disease itself!
for the last eight months, most of my close relatives-friends have heard me talk about going bald. couldn't do it till now for all the weddings that happened in the family.

this morning, finally, i kept my appointment for the head shave. and i will admit, that the few weeks i spent reaching that decision were scary. for almost as long as i can remember, i have been known for my long hair. although for two years, in my 11th and 12th class, when i fell ill and had to cut my hair short; nobody, including myself remembers it. it's always been - 'the madrasan with those two long plaits' in school, and then 'the madrasan with the long hair'. my hair became my identity. and like i said to a cousin, she was a constant companion and solace and a wall to hide behind from the world. so it was almost like letting go of that identity. in some sense it is also a metaphorical journey, of being comfortable with who i am within and not identifying myself just with the physical persona.

since then there's been calls and messages pouring in. it's been overwhelming. i hadn't honestly imagined the kind of response one picture on social media by the husband has generated. while most of it has been encouraging, there have been a couple of extreme reactions too. and it goes more like - ok, we understand that you are donating. but do you have to go bald? you could have just cut it short. the irony here is that if i had said i had a votive at tirupati, there wouldn't have been another question beyond that. so essentially, it's ok to offer to god, but why give it to fellow human beings.

although i have managed to maintain a polite silence, since this is my space to vent, i would also like to say - how does it matter to anyone besides me what i do with my hair? why is it that people get offended that i do not colour my hair or i have gone bald. why take it personally when it does not affect anyone else besides me? i would rather celebrate life in all it's glory, including growing old or being sick, than hide behind a little bit of dye or give in to the pain.

and as i send my hair off to the ngo, i send it with the prayer that may it bring solace and strength to someone who has already got the challenge of fighting a painful illness.

Friday, September 09, 2016

the business of beauty

it's been a long time since i have watched tv for more than an hour. at home i usually get to 'hear' it - the daily soaps that amma watches or the news and business channels that my husband prefers. last evening i got a chance to watch the tv - alone. flipping through the channels, i watched one episode of house, snippets of some american political drama, some food channels and finally ended up with the old hindi movie, caravan.

throughout the three odd hours that i watched these programmes, i must have spent over an hour on watching ads. specifically ads that sold products that would apparently make one look younger, radiant, fair, beautiful. all those ads got me thinking. and i was appalled to realise that we spend so much of our time, energy, money and efforts in 'looking' and even 'smelling' beautiful! from a horde of soaps, shampoos, toothpaste, face creams, lotions, make up products to perfumes, deos, clothes, shoes, bags... the list is exhaustive.

the economics of the beauty business is also just mind-boggling. i googled it a bit and research reports projects revenues at a whopping $265-300 billion in 2017. and this is just the known brands we are talking about. consider all the home remedies that mothers and grand mothers pass on. it's almost as if our entire lives are taken over by looking, feeling and smelling good.

and that got me thinking - why are we so obsessed with 'looking' beautiful? why not with 'being' beautiful? if beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and in our hearts, then why this obsession with fair and lovely skin? if we spent the same amount of time and efforts to make ourselves beautiful inside, won't this world be a more beautiful place. our entire concept of beauty is so skewed towards just the external aspects that we completely forget that which actually makes a difference - kindness, gentleness, gratitude, love.

all our notions of beauty also means that there's a huge population out there that doesn't fit in with the acceptable norms. and that also deals such a heavy blow on their confidence. imagine, we live in a society that shows a woman or, these days, even a man with darker skin as lacking in confidence to fulfill their dreams. it takes a tube of skin whitener and its application to give them that confidence. does that mean people who are not fair don't get to their goals? how weird is that?

growing up, i remember my friends and their mothers advising on the benefits of applying turmeric and and various other concoction for the face and hair every day. instead why aren't we taught to practice kindness and gratitude every day?

and if practice makes a person perfect, then it's time to look at practicing different set of ideas and principles of beauty.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Movies that leave you hopeful and humming... 'Life, bring it on!'

There's something infinitely fulfilling in watching a well made movie. Like a good book, it wraps you up within its story and makes you a part of the narrative. Sometimes it manages to tug at some long-forgotten memory or remind you of a part of life that otherwise might have lost its charm forever. Some other times it might lend a perspective to life that was probably beyond our immediate sight. Whatever be the case, it never fails to delight, thrill, entertain, enlighten or inspire.

Just as two recently watched Malayalam movies have inspired me to write this. These are Anjali Menon's 'Manjadikuru' (The lucky red seeds) released in 2012; and Alphonse Putharen's 'Premam' (Love) released earlier this year.

Neither of them are a new release but both are movies, I believe, would be true to its form in any age, year or time. Both the movies have done well at the box office; 'Premam' being the biggest Malayalam grosser ever at over Rs. 63 crores. Oh and that also speaks a lot about the maturity and sensibilities of the average Malayalam cine-viewer.

Both the movies are part of the new-wave cinema that's been revolutionising Malayalam cine industry. Neither of the movies have an extra-ordinary tale to tell. Yet, it's in the way the directors have sought to showcase their stories that make them such winners.

'Manjadikuru' is a little over a fortnight long story of 10-year old Vicky living in Dubai, who visits his maternal home at the death of his grandfather in a remote village in Kerala. Set in the early eighties, the film is entirely told from Vicky's point of view. What is charming about the movie is the innocent portrayal of a childhood that we can all identify with. And never throughout the narrative does it lose that child's perspective of a world unfolding before its eyes, whether it is in the tragic state of the child servant 'Roja' and the endearing friendship among the kids, or in the depiction of the love-hate relationships between the adults - the four sisters and the two brothers of the family. Equally challenging for the senior actors like Rahman, Murali, Jagathi Sreekumar, Bindu, Urvashi, Praveena and the others would have been to be able to play just a character in what is essentially a story about a child's world. The movie leaves the viewer with a nostalgia for the innocence of a lost childhood and yet leaves one with a happy feeling about it - for at least having experienced it once.

'Premam' is a light, bubbly, effervescent rom-com that follows George's experience with love through his life. From a pre-degree crush that goes unrequited, to a love in college that ends tragically, to finally a proposal that ends in marriage in his 30s. Like I said, nothing great about the story. But what makes this movie brilliant is the format and the little moments among George and his two best friends as well as all the other characters who grow up with George. This is Alphonse Putharen's second movie and he uses every format available to him as a story teller - the locations, characters, actors, music, and even text on the visuals. One remarkable technique he uses is to show seemingly obscure visuals with important conversations happening in the background that gives us the feeling of eavesdropping into George and his friends' plotting and planning his romantic conquests. Add to this some beautiful music that blends in and out of the dialogues and doesn't let the story stop for the 3-4 minutes that it plays, stellar performances with absolute sense of timing for every witty line and action and you have a winner in hand. In spite of each tragic end that George's romantic forays lead to, we still feel hopeful and optimistic and that is what the movie, I felt, was all about. That in the end it will all turn out well.

These are movies that tell someone else's story but manages to draw us into them and makes it our story!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Life beginning at forty!

at the stroke of midnight tonight, as i step into my 40th year (damn! now i feel middle-aged and to clarify - no, i don't feel so regularly), i am making promises to myself and putting it out into the universe to equip me so that i am able to fulfill them.

1. live and work towards excellence - i will no longer take the 'chalta hai' / 'chala lete hain' attitude. with myself or accept it from anyone else. i demand excellence or the best of what i can do from myself and expect the same from others as far as i am concerned. i deserve it.

2. work hard towards realising these dreams in the next year:

  • set up my business - work on the business plan, get funds / investments, manage resources, start production and make it a profitable, viable, self-sustained venture.
  • go backbacking around europe: make it happen in 2016. ideally celebrate my 40th while on the tour. 
  • a cross-country / cross continent bike ride: negotiate / beg / hitch-hike! the first two with my husband and failing that, the last option ;) 
the first two are non-negotiable. the third could be arranged later or earlier, as it is not entirely in my control. after all i don't see myself learning to ride a bike this year.

3. live like it said in the book of mirdad - 'So think as if your every thought were to be etched in fire upon the sky for all and everything to see. For so, in truth, it is.'  

4. discipline in health and fitness - i will be at my healthiest / fittest ever in my life. considering that i have never been an athlete, this shouldn't be a problem if i work hard at it. don't give in to that jalebi or gulab jamun or the cheesy pizza or the extra mayonnaise burger. eat. walk. run. swim. hike. squat.

please, universe, help me make it happen.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

stories from life

if you look around and pay attention, there is always a story lurking behind every stranger we meet every day. some of these are just short stories with no clear beginning or end - just a slice of life. there may or may not be a lesson to be learnt. but some stories leave you with startlingly clear and striking life lessons.

in the past couple of weeks, i have heard three such amazing stories. told by friends and family. and these stories did not lose their impact even in the retelling. i hope to share them and the lessons i learnt from them.

---- ooo----

the first story was shared by a friend who also happens to be a life coach and facilitator. he spoke of an uncle who is a spiritual leader in his community and is someone who loves to mix nuggets of wisdom among meal-time conversations. now, my friend was at a time in his life when he was not clear of where he was headed. so one day this uncle chats him up on his career and life purpose. when my friend told him that he was not clear about what he wanted to do or that he couldn't see many exciting options, the uncle pointed at the window in the living room and asked, 'what do you see?'. my friend answered, 'i can see the tree and the flats opposite'. uncle asked him to go up to the window. he then asked, 'what do you see now?' my friend could now see the road below, the whole tree, all the flats around and some people down. uncle told him to go down the road and then asks, 'what do you see now?' the answer comes - all the flats on either side of the road, the play ground, the gate of the colony and the road beyond. he then asks my friend to go up to the gates and then to tell him what he could see. and my friend replies, 'i can see the main road, the vehicles and the town beyond.' 'and that', says the uncle, 'is what your vision is. the more you get out into the world, the more you can see, learn and expand your horizons'. 

powerful, that one.


the second story was shared by my husband, p. recently on his way back home from a trip, he took the local train. mid-morning from dadar station, he managed to get into an empty coach. just before the train started, a man in the typical maharashtrian attire of white shirt, pajamas and topi sat down opposite him at the window. a short while into the journey, this man spits out the paan (betel leaves) he was chewing on. p acting like the good citizen tries to stop him from spitting. the man gets affronted and p says that for a moment there he had a choice - to carry on the skirmish which could blow into a full-fledged fight or to let go. he chose to let go. and to leave a disgruntled fellow passenger. about 10 minutes later, this guy starts dozing off. and in his drowsiness moves to keep his arm at the window. p shakes him up and moves him away from the window telling him sweetly, 'sir, you are wearing a white shirt. that would get stained red with the paan spit.' the emotions visible on the man's face varies from shame, gratefulness and a hint of someone caught doing something which he knew was wrong. he would never ever spit out a train window at least.

karma is indeed a bitch! and you just need to bide time.


the third one was good fun to hear but it took me some time to wheedle out the lesson. this one was shared by a friend / mentor / relative / life coach / facilitator. he loves to read and buy books and must have at least 5000 books in his personal library. recently while out shopping at a mall, he dropped in at the crossword store. upon entering, he had to deposit the shopping bags he had with him. now, he is a person i have known to connect with people, irrespective of their social strata. i have learnt from him the habit of asking the courier delivery boys and the postman if they wanted a glass of cold water particularly during a hot day. and i have seen the look of surprised gratitude that offer brings about. 
coming back to the story, just to connect with the doorman at the book store, he offered the shopping bags in both his hands and with a deadpan face, said, 'these bags have bombs in them. please handle with care.' the doorman was a young well-built chap who took the bags with no evidence at all of having heard the dialogue, kept them in the shelf and gave the required token. for a moment there my friend wondered if this fellow was deaf or if he was just resigned to hearing such stupid jokes from visitors or just did not care. after browsing for nearly an hour, he headed to the counter with a book he had purchased. the queue at the counter was long enough for my friend to land up pretty close within the sight of the doorman. and once again he tried to catch the attention of this fellow with no luck. the guy just kept looking straight ahead of him and opening doors, collecting bags when visitors came in. after a while, he gave up trying to evoke any response or recollection from the doorman, paid for his book and came to collect his shopping bags. the doorman collected his token, retrieved the bags and returned them saying, 'these bags have bombs in them. please handle with care.' complete with the deadpan face. my stunned friend just stood there for a second and could not help himself but grab the fellow in for a hug.

assumptions and pre-conceived notions keep us from making connections.