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The Woman in Red

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In 1999, I was in the city of Indore, trying to be a graduate. It was a quiet little city in the heartland of Central India. It was “small town India” – it did not have a significant urban population.

During those days, there were no cinema halls in Indore where we could watch English movies. The best and closest we could experience Hollywood was at a movie hall called Neelkamal cinema – located in the old part of the city, near Malwa Mill. The movie hall, the building and the interiors were badly maintained and in shambles but it was the only movie theatre that played Hollywood movies, dubbed in Hindi.

We clung on to what we got because these were little joys that life had to offer. Watching a movie, in those days, used to be a long, delightful affair. Long, because we used to live outside the town and it was a long excursion to the city and the excitement that used to build up was hard to contain. Then, only the best movies used to make their way to the ragged old screen at Neelkamal.

One such movie was “The Matrix”.

Now, I won’t go into the whys and hows of how amazing a movie The Matrix was – I watched it about 4 times later and it had a cult following in years to come. The movie was such that I know people, myself included, who remember exact scenes of that movie, to this day. One such scene in that movie was the woman in the red dress – she comes out of nowhere when a bewildered Neo (Keanu Reeves –
he always has that expression, doesn’t he) is getting a guided tour of The Matrix. She smiles at Neo as she crosses him and as Neo looks back, the lady is transformed into an Agent who has his gun trained on Neo. You can read more about that scene and the woman here.

As the scene happens, the music playing in the background is Rob Dougan’s Clubbed to Death, an instrumental composition that is my favourite track from the movie. Together, with this music and the scene, this was (is) my favourite part of the movie. I used to watch that scene again and again, on dvd.

You may be wondering where I am going with all these long descriptions – of a small town movie theatre and a specific scene of a movie that I saw 18 years ago. Bear with me, please.

A few days ago I realized that the premise of that scene – my favourite scene of The Matrix, was merely a few meters behind my office in Sydney. I can tell you this – my world turned upside down. With joy, of course.

Such was my happiness that I went there, not once but twice, that day. I kept telling about it to everyone I met. While returning home from work, I went there with my earphones on, playing, what else, but “Clubbed to Death”. I walked that path, acting bewildered; acting, oh, so Neo.

I was then left with a sense of wonder that lingers on, even now. Back in 1999, in awe of that movie scene while trying to find the little joys of life, could I, 18 years old, ever imagine that one day I’ll be standing at the very place where Neo met the Woman in Red?

I promise you – not in my wildest dreams.

Life can take you far.

Written by aditya kumar

January 5th, 2018 at 7:36 pm

Posted in Cinema,Personal,Sydney

Cusps of Life

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Last year we moved to Sydney. It was a move that me and my wife had been planning for more than 3 years. The idea was to move to Australia and get a job. 

I wouldn’t go into the details, as much has happened over the last year and a half: job, setting up a home and our daughter started going to pre-school. Suffice to say that we feel settled.

The one thing I often wonder about is how I don’t find myself missing Bangalore. I lived in Bangalore for close to 12 years and it is the longest I have ever been in one place. I do miss “things” of Bangalore, the coffee, the darshinis, the food, the vibe of MG Road but that’s about it. 

You generally don’t miss a “city”. You can’t. It’s as if, if I were to be there, in Bangalore, at this moment, will I derive the satisfaction that I used to derive, say, in 2008? So what I am missing now isn’t the city, it is the time I spent back in 2008 and it won’t come back. Nostalgia aside, cities, like people, like you and me, change (often for the worst). You can either love them, live them or you leave them. 

Being in love with your surroundings, at any given time, is when your “level” of evolution is at a point that matches of everything around you. So my time in Bangalore and the things they were during that time were at a cusp and that, sort of, defines my time there. Such is the case with different phases of our lives, our times and our surroundings. I like to think of the external surroundings and factors that affect our lives as “arcs” and our own life as one big arc – that of a circle with a much bigger diameter. The smaller arcs touch the bigger arc at various points, forming many cusps. Where those cusps are formed are the most important, if not critical, times of our lives. Those three years in Bangalore, between 2007 and 2010 were such years for me.

How big a cusp will form, with our lives here in Sydney, only time will tell.

Written by aditya kumar

November 19th, 2017 at 2:50 pm

Arundhati Roy’s Ministry of Utmost Happiness – my review

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Somewhere towards the end of Arundhati Roy’s latest book, there is a paragraph about a cat that is found in a houseboat in Kashmir that is being raided by the Indian Army. The soldier grabs her and then throws it away in the dark waters below.

“She flew through the air, yowling, with her fangs bared and her little claws extended, ready to take on the entire Indian Army all by herself. She sank without a sound. That was the end of yet another bewakoof who did not know how to live in a mintree occupation.”

This para, for me, illustrates Roy’s anger and frustration with the Indian state, on display throughout the book, at its peak. That Roy does believe that an event like this – when an Indian soldier is heartless enough to throw a kitten into the depths of a lake, is plausible, sums everything that she feels about the Indian Army and the overall Indian state per-se.

Here in Australia I can see Roy is popular and her latest book has been given royal treatment by the few bookshops that remain here – by placing mountains of the hardbound at the entrances. If you have followed Roy’s non-fiction works and the state of India affairs over the past 10 years or so you will find this book to be predictable.

There is Godhra, there are the Gujarat riots, there is more than one reference to our current PM (“Gujarat ka Lalla”), the jantar mantar anti-corruption movement, Hazare, the list could go on.

I am not going to go into the characters of the story. To me, each character is eventually an extension of Roy’s own personality – I am not complaining, but maybe I am. The problem with this book is that since all the characters borrow the same narrative there is no one to defend Roy’s accusations. There is no “other side”. If you ask Roy, maybe she will say exactly that – there is no other side in our country. You are silenced if you have a viewpoint other than what the state wants you to have. It is an exaggerated point of view but to be fair to Roy, there is truth in that.

Throughout the book, there is so much anger and rage, you wonder where did Arundhati Roy get this from. As the book goes on, with every chapter, with every page, the rage reaches new heights and the hopelessness you feel as a reader, plunges to lower depths. It is like Roy has created a lake of anger and you are asked to drown in it.

But through its unrelenting narrative, Roy gives an insight into the life of Kashmir – a place mostly rendered opaque because of the single one-sided narrative of the media and the Government (depending on which country you are from). The words are powerful, the prose is rich as you’d expect from a writer of Roy’s prowess but well, it gets tiring.

There are always two sides to a story and I kept missing that other side here. I can imagine Roy asking me to read the newspapers and the mainstream media to get the other side — the “mainstream” view. But to me, that absence – that inability of the author to go outside her comfort zone and to try and be in someone else’s skin, to portray and to think like a character from the “mainstream” view is the undoing of this book. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that this is Arundhati Roy — The activist, writing the book.

Written by aditya kumar

August 20th, 2017 at 7:31 pm

Posted in Books

Quick Post

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…to affirm that I am blogging again :-)

Written by aditya kumar

October 2nd, 2016 at 6:38 pm

Posted in Personal

Boys in a hurry

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I found this piece of writing in my inbox – something that I had done last year. It never made it to any publication because it was rejected for reasons best known to numerous editors. I honestly do not know what to make of it, so here it is.

***

Back in 1999, I spent about 3 years looking for the slightest excuse to travel from Indore to my home at Goa. I was doing my graduation, away from family.

When deciding on the best route home, my friend Deepak, who hailed for a small town in Bihar, told me that the nearest rail-head where we could catch trains (Bhagalpur express and Mangala express), to our respective homes in Purnia and Madgaon, was a place called Khandwa, a small town roughly 150 Kms south of Indore. The road to Khandwa lay in tatters but there was a meter gauge railway track that connected the two cities. During our first of those journeys, we realized that traveling in a meter gauge train was an experience we weren’t really prepared for. I was usually equipped with a John Grisham novel, a walkman, a few tapes and a set of batteries that barely lasted the journey.

At Mhow, an army cantonment town just out of Indore, we ate stale kachoris sold by a man outside the railway platform, while our train had a scheduled stop of 45 minutes. To us, fickle-minded and hurried boys, a 45 minute stop at a station that had virtually nothing to offer while the unrelenting sun baked the steel coach, made no sense. Then, a few hours later, a village unimaginatively named “Kalakund” where they sold only one thing – a sweet by the same name (“Kalakand”), cut into imperfect squares and served on thin newspaper sheets (now oily but a closer look revealed on them stories of places we had never heard of). The train then chugged to a station called “Omkareshwar Road”. Omkareshwar, we were told, was a place of legends, stories and of worship, alongside the Narmada river; The railway station itself almost appeared in trance – with sadhus and pilgrims scattered everywhere. A notice on the station asked us to “get down here for the Omkareshwar pilgrimage”. But what were we to make of it? We just wanted to go home and this thing stopped everywhere. An hour or so before Khandwa, it was usual for a group of villagers to stop the train (“a wave of the hand usually works“, someone once remarked), attach an array of milk cans and logs of wood by the hook, to the windows. I vividly remember, once our coach smelled of fresh coriander.

The first time we reached Khandwa, that place whose once famous resident was one Kishore Kumar, our train, despite all the time it had in the world, managed to delay itself by 45 minutes. Deepak was worried because his connecting train was to depart around that time. Later, we realized that his fears were unwarranted – his onward journey was further delayed because the connecting train coming from Bombay was running late. When inquired around, two men, idly playing cards on the platform with a steel trunk by their side, laughed at us. We were told that the Dadar-Bhagalpur express that was supposed to come the day before, had not yet reached Khandwa — what were we doing here looking around for the train that was merely a couple of hours late? My friend was stunned. To his relief, he boarded his Bhagalpur express eventually, 3 hours after we had reached Khandwa.

The year after that, on the same voyage, Deepak reached Khandwa, this time, 30 minutes late — quietly assured that his onward train to Bhagalpur must be, as always, running late. This time though, he changed the platform hurriedly (he was still in a hurry though it was the “unworried” kind of hurrying), crossing from the medium gauge platform to the broad gauge platforms. On the over-bridge between platforms, as he stepped on the stairs to come down, he saw what he believed was the back of the train that he intended to board, slowly slide by. Slowly — but fast enough for him to catch the red light, constantly blinking at the back of the tail coach as it rain into the distance. A woefully tired and breathless Deepak then asked, in sheer hopelessness, a fruit vendor on the platform – “Oh bhaiya, yeh Bhagalpur express kahan hai?” (“so, where is this Bhagalpur express”).

Meanwhile, keeping up with the overall set mood, my onward journeys to Madgaon were a mix of uncertainty and adventure. The train arrived usually at midnight. Hours were spent at Khandwa, learning patience on a railway platform. Strange city, this place, I used to think. What to make of a city whose most important landmark is its railway station itself? At least, that was what we knew of it then. As my patience grew thin and the journey took its toll in the form of tiredness, it was between 11:30 pm and 12:00 midnight that Mangala express arrived. In fact, sometimes not one, but two. Yes – going in opposite directions. One towards Ernakulam and the other towards New Delhi. You could pick which one to board and you did not want to be wrong then.

So the first time on the Mangala express, a railway snack vendor, Selva, became a friend. My cash starved wallet could always afford his banana bajjis – the Kerala snack. Then, another time, with an unconfirmed ticket, I stood at the door of the coach. As the train entered Maharashtra in the thick of the night, an elderly man offered me half of his seat. Tired as I was, I could not refuse the offer. Then God arrived — in the form of a ticket examiner who searched the manifest and allocated me a berth for the night. During the day, as we entered the Konkan route after Panvel, I was delighted to meet Selva again. Quite sure that he remembered me, this time I spent a few hours in the pantry car, wide-eyed and amused at the fluency of how Selva and his friends reduced a sack of onions to salad.

Those wanderings – where you thought you were alone. Maybe not.

With the sun setting along the Konkan, the train arrived at Ratnagiri – a stop I eagerly awaited. By then starved and exhausted, it almost became a custom to treat myself with vada-pavs and a bottle of coke. It occurred to me years later — I passed through Ratnagiri for those three years, an ignorant being oblivious to this town of great historical significance. Instead what did I associate it with? Nothing more than a stale bun and a potato patty. But little did I know then, that years down the line, inspired by Amitav Ghosh’s “The Glass Palace”, I would set forth on a trip to this town again, at the heart of Konkan, to visit a dead Burmese king’s palace. Maybe it came as a singular act of atonement, but I am glad it happened. This is what good books make you do – look back in wonder and try and make you travel.

Meanwhile, eating my vada-pavs, I used to think about Deepak and take a guess that by now, he would have reached Bhagalpur, waiting for the bus to his town – that last leg of his journey. He used to later tell me that his train ran late, inevitably. He reached the morning after.

Back then, we were boys in a hurry. But we learnt to wait.

Written by aditya kumar

August 1st, 2015 at 12:34 am

Being Indian

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The latest Prime Minister’s comments that evoked a strong reaction on the social media were said in not one, but two countries – China and South Korea.

This cannot be impromptu talk. These are well thought of comments and the politician that he is, our PM must have analyzed the impact these words would make before stepping on the podium. Anyway, that is beside the point.

Writer friend Dilip D tweeted my exact thoughts, which went like, Mr PM, please speak for yourself, not me. Then I tweeted about it – that I am supposed to be feeling ashamed of being born an Indian, as per our PM and now, for the last one year since he has assumed office, I am supposed to be proud of it. To which my friend M asked me my “final feeling” about it all (It was amusing, I admit, that phrase, “Final feeling”). A barrage of thoughts later I realized that I had no idea on what to answer her.

My first thought was, there’s no black and white here. There is vagueness, a bit of confusion. I thought I wasn’t ashamed of it – of being an Indian but was there pride? If yes, about what? History? Of what we have achieved in the past 20 odd years that I have witnessed and remember of? I did not know an answer to that. I asked her back the same thing and she told me a similar sentiment.

So I thought, lets think about pride and what it means to most of us.

Wanting to give this a fresh thought again, I realized eventually that to have an answer to this confusion, one needs to decide on what is actually meant when one says “Indian” (or “Being Indian”). My conclusion about it was that we confuse ethnicity Indian with citizen Indian (which eventually leads to our idea of nationalism that leads to patriotism and what not). Ethnicity adds a new dimension. With ethnicity, there is suddenly a few thousand years old history and culture. Are we all proud of that? Aren’t we all taught to be proud of that?

I spoke about this, the same evening with my friend A, who is a Malay (and a Malaysian). I asked her the same question but from her point of view. Her reaction was: why should one be proud of one’s history/culture? Who gives you that right? I am just born here, something I had no control on, in this ethnicity which has such and such culture so why should I take credit for it? Why should one be proud of what one’s ancestors did? One can be impressed by it, be in awe of it but we should not confuse that with pride.

Let me explain as my friend did: If a friend I know does something really cool, you say, “I’m proud of you”. It does not mean that hey, you did this, I wish I’d done the same and SO I’m proud of you. It probably has something to do with your decision of befriending this person, which is rather justified by something that s/he has done. You have to DO something (in this case, make a decision and befriend someone) to be able to take pride in something. With your ethnicity/culture, you haven’t done anything – unless you are someone who changed the course of your race. You were just born there, which as much as you’d hate to say it aloud, was a matter of chance and nothing more. You have no right to be proud of it.

That was the gist of our discussion. And to me, it completely made sense.

Later that evening (Long evening, I know) I spoke about this with another friend who I went to college with and his thoughts about pride and shame were exactly the same as the other friends I had spoken to. This is by no means a sample size enough for a survey but these people, what they think, it matters to me.

So, as far as being Indian as a race, ethnicity, culture and what-not is concerned, no, rationally, you can’t be proud of it. That leaves us with Indian – the citizen. You can take a call on that. But remember, the Government is not the country. Yes, it generally is a clear reflection of the people of the country and the people get the Government they deserve but overall, it is NOT the country. Then who is? People?

Last but not the least – one of the gems that came out of this discussion was an article written by the great Khushwant Singh that answers EXACTLY the question. In his usual candid way, our dear writer makes it look so easy. Here.

Written by aditya kumar

May 21st, 2015 at 1:04 am

Unjustifiable Extreme

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The kind of an evening when a car hits your car and runs away and you can’t do a thing.

So we were at HSR Layout. At Parangipalaya to be precise. There, the road goes thin. It is a single lane, if you can call it that, with lots of pedestrians and a hawker market on both sides. There are a couple of temples at one end of the road. Mostly, there is chaos there. OK, a different kind of chaos. Parangipalya is an area with mostly a high density of everything – people, traffic and everything else.

I don’t really know why I chose to take that road. I think it had something to do with where I was headed to. I was headed towards a neighbourhood which has an approach road similar to Parangipalya’s. I think that was what I thought – you avoid one, you hit another one of those anyway. And who’s to say that the main road had less traffic? All in all it did not demand that much thinking — to put things in perspective, this was merely 500 metre in length.

So anyway – as we were in the middle of this road, a black Ford Ikon came to my right, from behind. The man behind the wheel was fast, I barely saw him in the rear view mirror. He zipped by my A-Star (which was not more than 20-25 Kmph), and then as he overtook my car, from the wrong lane, he perhaps saw the traffic coming from the other side. In a hurry to come back to the right lane (in order to avoid a front-on collision) his car’s behind hit my car’s right edge of the front bumper and the body. Our car shook. The whole thing lasted less than 10 seconds.

The next moment I saw this car slowing down and moving towards the left side. My first thought was that he seemed to be slowing down. I then realized that it took a little time for him to register that he had hit a car (from the behind) and then I saw him speeding up. I went on a chase, trying to confront him. Meanwhile, my wife was pleading me to stop and trying to talk some sense. I sped up, drove rash and I could later hear my wife screaming and the baby panicky. I went on a chase, for the next 5 minutes or so, with this car in front of me all the while. I realized we were going around the same roads. Finally, sanity prevailed and I stopped my car on the side. I examined the damage done and eventually drove towards our planned destination.

In hindsight, it was a stupid thing to do from my part, I completely get that. I have never really been in a similar situation before and I did not know how to react. I snapped. But the fact that I drove rash, putting all our lives, those of my family and those outside, in danger (small or big risk – I do not know, it does not matter) was inexplicable.

I thought about it a lot and the thing that I am still wondering is this: What would I have done, had I finally nabbed this guy? I certainly did not want any money. I think what angered me more than the fact that he hit my car was that he ran away after hitting us. Maybe all I wanted was for him to accept that he was wrong and say sorry and move on.

But seeking that, I went to another extreme, which, without a doubt, was not justified at all.

ps: I am trying to come back to blogging so if you’re reading this, drop in a comment. I’d love to know if people still read blogs!

Written by aditya kumar

April 19th, 2015 at 12:24 am

Posted in Personal