Friday, October 14, 2022

THUG – The Hate You Give

Ever thought about our time in this world. About what our real purpose here is. I mean are we just supposed to work, eat, sleep. Spend our weekdays waiting for weekends and then live it up for those two days until we are back to the grind. Of course, some of us love the work or the lives we lead but the majority I would say still have a very mundane existence. We have no idea how much time we have left in this world, or what kind of struggles we have in store for future. We still never make the most of our time. Never choose peace. Respect fellow humans. And to complicate things we also choose to throw out unnecessary hate out there. In the name of religion, politics, ideologies, sexual preferences and what not. We forget that the person next door or across borders is actually just a human being. Same as us. Limbs, bones, blood, veins, heart, brain – all same stuff. We are not manufactured based on religion. Like I don’t come up with a chip in my brain or a mark on my forehead that marks my allegiances to one particular community or religion.

I already come from a place that’s always been divided on the basis of religion. So much so that my family had to leave and settle elsewhere because of the communal unrest. The place considered to be heaven on earth is bullet and blast ridden for three decades now. There is a strong disconnect and discontent amongst people. Even though there is a strong cultural connect, mutual love for the land but somehow the hate is so strong, it negates everything else.

I have recently moved to a different country and imagine my surprise when after spending just 1 month here, I was rudely acquainted with the very disheartening news of communal tension. In a different country. Amidst people of different nationalities and ethnicities. With all the challenges that come with living in a different country as immigrants. The Hindu and Muslims, the Indians and Pakistanis had somehow managed to retrigger the inbuilt hatred and gone supremely public with it. I just couldn’t believe it that all these bullshits literally followed with across seas and oceans. One would imagine that being in a neutral country away from the communal tension, people would realize that behind the different religion and outlooks we are all just humans. People from different religion do not have horns on their heads. They look just like us. In fact, once you talk to them and get to know them better you realize they are not that different from us. Their culture, food, habits, day to day activities, nuances, family troubles are all the same as us.

As educated, sensible, open-minded, responsible adults I well it is our duty to broaden our mindset. Try and think beyond a cocoon that we have been fed and taught in. Respect each other for respective beliefs and at the same time be open to un-learn some of the toxic though process. Not get riled up by the political narratives. Think and think hard before joining a so-called protest in a temple or a mosque. And please do not be hesitant to be friends or at least civil with the people you think (or have been taught) to think as enemies.

Like I said before I have recently moved to a different country and met a lot of new people. People from different countries including people from across the border. In fact, I have now come to be very close friends with this one girl from a country that was born out of India. No, not the one you are thinking, the other one. And beyond our very apparent differences of religion, country and other stuff – I have come to realize that she, just like me is a girl underneath all that. A girl who loves to talk about silly things, shop, spend money on unnecessary things, eat out a lot, visit pretty cafes and just being an amazing independent smart girl. I have come to really admire her. Not that I was not prejudiced or did not have different biases in my head. But given a chance, I chose to unlearn and move forward (in every sense of the word).

In a world full of hatred, choose peace. For your own good more than anything else.
Make love not war (cliché, I know).

Stay happy people.


Monday, January 24, 2022

The Curious Case of Kashmiri Naalmut

Once a friend of mine from Mumbai was talking about how she is going to visit her mother's house after a really long time. I told her that she would be getting a tight hug from her mother today. She looked at me like I had lost my marbles. We spent the next 15 minutes discussing about the standard code of greetings at everyone's respective homes. We also pulled in a friend from Kerala. Both Mumbai and Kerala friends were non hug-ers and scrunched up their noses at this too-close-for-my-comfort kind of greeting. I kept my kashmiri mouth shut but my mind wandered to this scene where my nani engulfed me in tight hugs multiple times a day, whenever I came out of my room. Moist kisses on hands and forehead as a bonus!

As a kashmiri, hugging is a standard code of conduct. No questions asked. No eyebrows raised. You meet an aunty/uncle for a first time? You hug them, if they are feeling generous - they will plant a kiss on your forehead, a myouth. You go visit someone - you hug them all, while coming and going. Or else they will feel you are aloof and non-loving. You are getting married? Well, best of luck. Sitting on the stage, you will be smothered in hugs and kisses while you sit pretty and pose. Now all was well with our kashmiri hugs or naalmout as we call it, but then covid happened.

Above two pictures are art pieces by a talented kashmiri artist (Instagram handle - @diyminiatures)

In a world where we shrink away from a handshake, good old naalmout is totally out of questions. But years of programing cannot be erased completely now is it? So some of the meetings post corona have been awkward for us kashmiri's, comical even. You meet, approach and take the embrace stance but then realization strikes and now you are in a weird pose of a bird about to take flight. This is now proceeded by uncomfortable tap tap on the shoulder or an even awkward single arm side hug. And then we take seat, all the time contemplating whether you were rude not to hug or inconsiderate to go so near and touch someone in the pandemic times. My naani however is not bothered, when I refuse to present my forehead she takes my hands instead and plants her bountiful kisses on them.     

Apart from this being funny another reason for me to write about this was the fact that deep deep deep down - I do love this whole naalmout deal. A tight hug is sometimes all we need to express how happy we are to meet each other. Longer the squeeze happier the heart. With so many of our rituals and practices slowly going extinct, I guess we should tightly hold onto whatever we can manage to and pass it on to the next generation. It is after-all all these nuances that keep the kashmiri in us irrespective of where we are.                                                  

Talking about myself - I love hugs. Period. Though never been a fan of the forced kisses but kinda missing those wet myouth's on the forehead. Here's to Covid free and full of hugs 2022. Please be kind (and mild!).

Lots of Love:


Friday, December 31, 2021

Marvelous Mrs Maisel

I started watching this series when I was feeling particularly miserable about somethings happening in my life at that point. As I finished watching the first episode I knew I had made a marvelous decision. What I thought to be a comedy-centric show had so much more to offer. Breaking stereotypes, women breaking shackles and society's norms, courage to start over from scratch. All this and hilarious. No not just hilarious HaHa but hilarious laughing my ass off. Thinking and suddenly breaking out laughing hilarious. 

The series in based in the 1950s in New York around this uber cool (and rich) Jewish family. Miriam "Midge" Maisel is a happily married woman with porcelain skin and an enviable wardrobe. She is in shape and perky in-spite of having 3 children.  A girl and a boy. Her life is perfection. However suddenly her stand up comedy enthusiast husband leaves her for a much younger secretary. What could have been devastating comes as a blessing in disguise. In an unsettling state Miriam decides to rant at the club they used to frequent as a couple, invariably giving her first stand up performance and catching the attention of the club manager, a certain Ms Susie Myerson (More about her later).

So, that sets the ball rolling. What follows is a joyous ride of 3 seasons. A lot of stand-up acts, sizzling chemistry, banters (especially the ones between Susie and Miriam) and bonds. The eccentricities for each character is what I liked best about the series. Miriam's parents are this typical rich Jewish family, who do not like to intermingle much. They have a good social presence and an impeccable style of living. Her in-laws on the other hand are loud, brash and money minded. The interactions between these two families create some mind-blowing scenes. But the understated star of the show is Ms Susie Myerson. I have fallen in love with this character. Her attitude, style, dressing sense, sass and demeanor is awe-inspiring and damn hilarious.

The dialogues and especially the dialogue delivery is amazingly executed. The stand-up bits are a riot. Punch lines delivered with a straight face and many a times hitting under the belt. The very idea of women in stand-up comedy is new even in today's time. Now think back to 50's, a woman, oh wait a divorced woman, Jewish, with 2 kids was something unheard off. Her topics which range from family, Jewish stereotypes,  marriage, sexual in tunes often land her and Susie in trouble. But that's the fun and frolic of their relationship. And both of them together make a strong case for feminism and women empowerment which has been subtly covered in the show.

The cinematography is lit, considering its a period drama - makers have ensured to capture the essence of old times. So you see a lot of vintage cars, outfits, decors and slang. The ever vibrant and romantic city of NY and jazz clubs have been beautifully captured. The series also touches upon important historic moments, so in the third season you have the girls performing for WW soldiers. The actors are all cast perfectly to their roles, doing utmost justice. Miriam (Rachel Brosnahan) is a fabulous actress and that pretty face with perfect outfits make her a delight to watch on screen. Joel Maisel (Michael Zegen) the on and off  husband plays the role of spineless husband perfectly having a good moments here and there. Parents though not central to the story or having many scenes are a hoot. But the kind of exposure this series has given to Alex Borstein (actor who plays Susie) is unmatched. You may remember her playing blink-and-you-will-miss roles previously but this series has literally  brought out the best in her. As you might have guessed by now - she is my absolute favorite.

After reading this review, if you are still not convinced to watch this series, then do me a favor please. Go to YouTube and search "Susie Myerson one liners". If that doesn't convince you nothing will! In fact its my go-to watch whenever I feel a little down and out. Watch and be transported back in time, a fabulous time where women are not just pretty little things, but have a voice, are independent and kick some ass when required.

Tits Up (you gotta watch to know this).


Life behind the Veil

A country cries
Its people scream
A cry for help
Falling from the sky
Leaving everything behind
Men have fought for it
Won it, abused it
Bombed it and destroyed
It has tried to rebuilt itself 
Women have emerged
Against the force
To breathe
An unhindered kabul fragnance 
Of ripe pomegranates and juicy grapes
They have made peace with high heels
Nailpainted toes peeking out
Smiling without fear
Kneading dough for naan
While listening to music
A morning they wake up to a news
Which will change their lives again
For worst
Music is stopped
Heels are tucked away
Venturing alone is not allowed
The breaths are hindered again
Back to living behind the blue veil
Gridded vision and lost dreams.
A country cries
Its people scream

The House I Never Saw

There was once a house
Which stood tall on the street 
It was three storyed they say
In the beautiful valley

It had an attic
Which overlooked the entire street
The family loved sitting here in winters
Keeping an eye on the street
While relishing apples with walnuts

Three generations lived here
Aunts and uncles 
Sisters and brothers
Nephews and nieces

There was a sour cherry tree
In the courtyard
Dad climbed the tree and threw them down
My sister stretched her frock to catch them

A tangy chutney used to be made
Which could be eaten with just plain rice
That's what they say
If I close my eyes and concentrate
I can almost taste the tartness

In winters the home diety was revered 
A day specifically to feed the gods
Spicy fish and rice
Gods visit each home and protect it 

Unrest and destruction 
Had found its way into the valley
In the dark of the morning
Occupants of the house fled
Never to return again

My generation never got to see that house
Or catch and taste the sour cherries
We did not grow up with three generations 
But we keep feeding the gods

We carry a piece of valley with us
I have my own image of that house
The one I never saw
I wonder if it still stands tall on the street? 

Monday, November 22, 2021

Stories by Rabindranath Tagore

Do you remember back  when we were in school? During summer vacations we would watch old mythological and other stories with a message to teach. Or sit together with friends or cousins listening intently to your grandparents reciting various stories. That's exactly how I felt watching this extremely well made and beautiful series called Stories by Rabindranath Tagore.

As you might have guessed by the name, the series is based on stories of Rabindranath Tagore ji. While some of them are popular and already been pictured many times - like Chokher Bali, Kabuliwala etc. Many of the others were pretty unknown to me. And I loved each one of them more than the other.

The star cast baring for a few (Radhika Apte, Amrita Puri, Sumeet Vyas) are mostly new faces, which works wonderfully in the favour of the stories. I would say more than the acting and the picturization, it is the very essense of these stories that makes the entire series stand out. Like I mentioned before these are simple stories,  no major suspense or heist or explicit content and yet they bring out varied human emotions and nuances beautifully. And the best part is the strong female characters in almost all of the stories, who not not afraid to strand up for themselves. Considering the fact that the series in based in 1920s, and the stories were written even before that - you will love how progressive the stories are.

The cinematography perfectly matches the old school charm of the series. Everything from the sets, clothes, dialect will take you back in time and share some bits of Bengal. But then its directed by Anurag Basu, can you expect anything else?

On an exceptionally cold foggy sunday, I sat cuddled in my kashmiri pheran and cup of hot coffee in my hand. I was browsing Netflix for a perfect companion and settled on " Stories by Rabindranath Tagore ". Easily the best decision I ever made. I sat glued in my place for next 2 days and devoured and relished the entire series. Do not miss this beauty of a series, which will not only transport you back in time but also teach a few morals on the way. 

Monday, October 11, 2021

The People Who Left Everything Behind

What makes us fear things?
The Future? Our family and children?
Anxiety? A disturbed mind?
Danger to oneself and family?
Fear of stepping out and living peacefully?
Fear of practicing your religion?
Fear of wearing the clothes, jewellery or makeup that highlight your identity?
Sudden blackouts and loudspeakers from mosques blaring, asking you to convert or flee?
Witnessing killings of prominent members from your community?
Threatening posters stuck outside your homes?
Asking you to leave but keep your women behind?
Rapes of women, infants being killed?

Is this enough to instill fear? Or was/is more needed.

What option would a sane person be left with? Stay? Or leave? Maybe come back once things normalize (only its been more than 30 years, and things on the ground level remain the same).

Belonging to a community that has time and again been branded as cowards, who ran away - I have many times thought about possible solutions or workarounds we had as a minority group in Kashmir. The exodus of 90s was not a sudden affair. As I hear from my parents and relatives, the air in Kashmir was very different months from the dark night of Jan 1990. There was something in the atmosphere, you could not exactly pin point to but feel. There was apprehension and fear. Dapan keh chu gasan wol. Everyone came home early, doors were carefully locked, utmost caution was taken but yet no-one in their wildest dream could have envisioned that they are actually spending their last few months as inhabitants of this land they so dearly loved. 

Soon it started, 14 September 1989 Tika Lal Thaploo - a prominent kashmiri pandit was killed.
Soon after Neekanth Ganjoo, a high courst judge was killed.
Early January 1990, local newspapers carried a message which threatened all Hindu's to leave Kashmir.
Almost in every neighborhood posters were stuck, with threats and names of people on the Hit List.
19th January, the black day in history - in the middle of the night loudspeakers from the mosques called for killings of Hindu's. Asking pandit men to go from kashmir but leave their women behind. Chaliv. Raliv ya Galiv for the motto and one of the slogan. Leave, Convert or Die. Like Sophie's Choice for us.

In Feb 1990, Satish Tikoo a social worker was shot dead.
Soon, Lassa Kaul Director of Srinagar Doordarshan was killed.
In April, Sarwanand Kaul Premi, a poet was murdered.
In June, Girija Tickoo, a teacher was raped and tortured. Her abdomen was ripped and using a saw machine her body was cut in two. Can you imagine the situation being reversed and in this time and era - the kind of wrath it would invoke? I can already see film stars holding placards for the photo ops.

The above mentioned killings are just a few prominent ones, there were many many such incidents of killing, looting and rapes. In a time where there were no telephones or means of communications - my parents tell me they had sleepless nights. Praying fervently that all near and dear ones had made it through the night. After a lot of thought and discussions, many families including mine decided to leave. And no, Governor Jag Mohan or "Indian Agencies" did not ask us to leave as is very conveniently put by the people of Kashmir. 

What else were we supposed to do? How do you argue or face a religious maniac with a gun? There can only be one voice - the sound of the bullet killing you. In the late eighties many of the young Kashmiri Muslims had crossed over to Pakistan to receive training and AK-47s. Young, fueled with religious fanaticism, given guns - they were blood thirsty. Kashmir Pandits were their targets. Yasin Malik, Bitta Karate have confessed on record to killing Kashmiri pandits. Even boasted that they never missed their targets. Needless to say, they received a lot of support from the locals. Treated to lunches and dinners. And so as not to offend them and hence have their wrath on them - the locals never openly condemned the killings of Kashmiri Pandits. But I don't need to tell you all this. The entire world saw what happened in Kashmir in 2006 when Burhan Wani was killed.

Even after the mayhem of 1990 some Hindu families stayed back. But they were given timely reminders that Hindu's are not to stay in Kashmir. Wandhama and Nadimarg massacres in year 1998 and 2003 were an example of this. Kashmir Hindu's were lined up and killed. Even little kids and women were not spared. The youngest casualty was a 2 year old boy. Let that sink in.

ML Bindroo, a chemist who had a very popular medical shop in Kashmir was shot while at work on October 5 2021. This was to be the 5th of the total 7 targeted killings across Kashmir. Even teachers (including a woman) were not spared. People working for the majority on ground level for the betterment of people in Kashmir - ironies of all ironies. How is killing a human being still tolerated? Why are educated people silent about it. At this point I am not even talking about religious angle, is a Human life not worth anything if it doesn't benefit one politically?
The selective silence of the very active "Kashmir Bleeds" brigade is deafening. The people who make hue and cry about human rights violation, internet shutdown and the general "azadi" hullabaloo have zipped their lips and pens. I know, because I have been stalking them obsessively. 

The recent killing could not have come at a worst time. I was reeling under a Kashmir hangover. While I was born there, we left when I was 1 year old. I had visited once in 2000 when my father was posted there. But when I went again just last month, it personally felt like a homecoming. I was drowned in the exquisite beauty of untouched places and felt an unexplainable joy of calling this beauty my motherland. I literally felt at home amongst the ethos of the city. The food, the language, the jokes, the idioms everything was a part of me. I clicked thousands of pictures with traditional outfits.
I came back with memories, lot of happiness, resolutions and the sweet sound of Lidder flowing in my ears.

Only to be jostled with the disheartening news. The pictures, smiles, the Pherans - everything looks like a sham now. The once beautiful memories have now left a sour taste in my mouth. The actions have made it very clear that we can enjoy and experience Kashmir as long as we have a return ticket booked.

Can you feel the pain of visiting your motherland - the land of your deities and ancestors as a tourist?