Sunday, July 27, 2014

Breaking Stereotypes - Shikhandi And Other Tales They Don't Tell You!

There could not have been a better time to write this post than now, when feminism is gaining traction in our country and we are talking about breaking stereotypes. We are trying to rise above caste-discrimination, questioning long held beliefs that have made us exclude certain sections of society for long.

There could not have been a better time for Devdutt Pattanaik to write his new book either. I am talking about "Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don't Tell You!" which is DP's latest release, that mentions different tales from Indian Mythology that are around queerness or discovering queerness. This time DP doesn't pick a character or an epic for a retelling, but he targets an entire section of mythology that has been conveniently ignored over generations, reasons debatable.

The book begins with simple definitions of queerness, patriarchy, feminism and even mythology, that are pertinent to DP's writings. He believes in rolling the pitch every time he is about to bowl you over with his writings. While I think queerness is the epicenter of this book, the reason behind writing this book is more about breaking stereotypes of all kinds. Since there couldn't have been a better aspect to start from than queerness as it is lesser known, mostly misinterpreted, highly doubted and largely ignored, DP hits the core when he picks queerness for the same. The best of all, he doesn't just justify it as one would initially expect, he rather celebrates it and recognizes its presence over the ages. The book also mentions various examples of Greek and Biblical mythology that are either tangents to or are direct references to queerness, stories that you are less likely to be aware of unless you are a mythologist or an ardent reader of mythology. 

As always, this post is not to discuss the stories mentioned in the book and spoil the fun of reading. DP narrates them in a far better manner, maintaining the interest and realizing the sensitivity of the matter at the same time. I write his post to express why you may read, or not read this book in the first place.

Why you may not read this book:
  • You haven't read any book by DP and mythology is not your thing. If that's the case, you might not feel motivated to pick "Shikhandi And .....". But honestly, understanding this book will still not be a challenge in case you pick it. But reading one or two of DP's books before reading this will help you understand where he comes from. (If you understand the author's mind even slightly, you enjoy the book heavily). I recommend Jaya, Sita or maybe even Business Sutra. And then reading this book will be icing on the cake.
  • You're too wise. You've realized that it's only you who matters and no one else does. You've realized what your wisdom is THE wisdom and you don't want to learn any further. (I don't know why would you even read this post in the first place).
  • You love to stay within your stereotypes. Enough said!
Why you may read this book:
  • The more you have read, the more incomplete you have felt. You have realized that you know far lesser about things than you actually should. You want to explore more.
  • You are an avid reader of mythology, or an ardent fan of DP, or maybe both. You can't afford not reading it.
  • You have read this post and you have understood it well.
At the end, I will leave you with the beginning statement from the book something that will stir your mind, grab your attention and make you think. DP does it well all the time, sometimes in the blurb, like this, or sometimes in the introductory one-liners, like the one below, and he kicks it again with this one:

Beware of a land where celibate men decide what is good sex.

On the first reading I felt he meant it only in this context. On reading it the next time I find this can apply to every aspect of our society - education, business, politics and what not! Please feel free to leave your comments.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Random Nonsense

No. This post is not about Rakhi Sawant.

A recent category included in the famous Quizup challenge got me thinking about the importance of random nonsense in our lives. Please do not read random nonsense as just another term, it's almost a way of living. Random nonsense is a serious entity and therefore to avoid the fear of taking random nonsense casually, I will write it in capital letters from here. Like this - Random Nonsense. 

If some of you are still wondering what is Random Nonsense all about - Random Nonsense is the art of using your words, verbal or written, in a manner that they just don't make any sense. Any sense being made of out of the words is considered "sense" and mind you, "sense" is just not "Nonsense".

Random Nonsense is an art. Not everyone can do it. Not everyone can understand it. It's something of its own, an institution in itself. Just like marriage. Marriage is actually the closest analogy to Random Nonsense, after Uday Chopra. 

Random Nonsense can normally be read on not so random places. You can hear it in the silent cubicles of busy offices, people put them up on their FB walls, blogs and sometimes even on their resumes. Chetan Bhagat has even written books using it. Abbas-Mustan make movies out of it. This is what Uday Chopra's career has been! Unfortunately, I don't have any examples from the other extreme.

The veterans of Random Nonsense are usually inexperienced youngsters and sometimes over-experienced adults. This is the best thing about Random Nonsense, it exists only in extremities. In the minds of the smart and in the actions of the dumb. On the walls of public washrooms of bus-stands and in the rule-books of multi-million turn-over organizations.

However, our nation still has to accept it in full. Right from the first "R" to the last "e". There is no coaching available for it, no books written on it (of course many books are written using it as I mentioned). It can just be inculcated by rigorous practice and of course by having role-models like CB and UC. But more than that - it's just Practice. Practice. Practice makes nonsense, Random Nonsense. 

Thank you for reading this!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Devdutt Pattanaik's "Sita - A Retelling of the Ramayana"

The chariot stopped far from the city in the middle of the forest. Sita alighted, eager to walk amongst the trees. The charioteer, Lakshman, remained seated. Sensing he had something to say, Sita paused. Lakshman finally spoke, eyes to the ground, your husband, my elder brother, Ram, king of Ayodhya, wants you to know that the streets are full of gossip. Your reputation is in question. The rules are clear on this: a king's wife should be above all doubt. The scion of the Raghu clan therefore has ordered you to stay away from his person and his palace and his city. You are free to go wherever else you please. But you may not reveal to anyone you were once Ram's queen.

Sita watched Lakshman's nostrils flare. She felt his embarrassment and his rage. She wanted to reach out and reassure him, but she restrained herself.

You feel your Ram has abandoned his Sita, dont you? she asked gently. But he has not. He cannot.

He is God; he abandons no one.
And I am Goddess; I cannot be abandoned by anyone.

A mystified Lakshman returned to Ayodhya, while Sita smiled in the forest and unbound her hair.

It will require immense amount of resistance for someone like me who is crazy over mythology to not grab a book with such a blurb. The above text is from Devdutt Pattanaik's Sita - A Retelling of the Ramayana.

Many months before the book released, Devdutt disclosed in interviews that he was working on a retelling of the Ramayana (named Sita) which was based on the similar lines of his retelling of Mahabharata (named Jaya). I had pre-ordered the book on Flipkart (for 33% discount) two months before the release but instead bought it from Delhi airport (at M.R.P.) one day before Flipkart was going to deliver it. Waiting is such a waste of time when it comes to certain things. Isn't it?

This is the second book review on my blog. You can read the first one here. By now, you must have realized that I do not write book reviews regularly and there is hardly any professionalism involved in my writing. This is only for one reason. I do not read many books.

Also, of the few books that I read, there are fewer that I genuinely feel like discussing about. Only when a book succeeds in giving me goosebumps multiple times (or at least once), do I think of writing its review. And "Sita" is one such book.

Anyway, let's move from my story to that of Ram's Sita or Sita's Ram.

When I started reading the book, it was typically Devdutt talking, beginning with a prologue and setting a mood where one of the characters enters into a situation where he is made to narrate the entire tale. In Jaya, it was Vaisampayana and in Sita, it is none other than Hanuman.

The book begins with the story of Sita's birth in the kingdom of Janak. Tales of other characters of the epic like Shanta (Ram's sister), Parshuram and others appear at relevant points adding data and interest to the main tale. However, Sita is quite a bit different from other retellings of Ramayana because here the epicenter is not Ram but Sita.

The life of Sita has been captured in different phases - the lessons in vedas and upanishads with the sages in the court of Janaka, the forests of adjoining cities where Ram and Lakshman were trained by Vishwamitra, the discussions of Sita with her mom-in-laws and sis-in-laws after she gets married to Ram, Sita's life in forest during Ram's exile, her plight in the palace of Ravana marked by her hopes that her husband will come to her rescue, her stay in Ayodhya after she returned from exile and the exile that later came for her as a result of the rumors among the citizens.

For details, kindly read the book. This post is to tell you why you should read it.

In the first place, why I feel this book is different from any other retelling of Ramayana is that Pattanaik has certainly not written this book from a commercial point of view. By this I do not mean that it hasn't been marketed well or is not reader-friendly. It definitely is. Why I say this is that making money through this book was certainly not his objective.

If you have followed Pattanaik's books and articles before, you will realize how passionate he is about certain ideas and how strongly he believes in making the world aware of them. His ideas about beliefs (subjective reality in his words), becoming empathetic, expanding the mind and his notion of Dharma have always made me more inquisitive about the wisdom in our epics making me read and re-read them. When you read Sita, you realize that he is not just trying to generate cash by retelling an epic in his narrative style; he is actually trying to bring forth his ideas and wisdom through the medium of this epic. The conversations between the different characters in the epic are so well crafted and insightful that while they narrate the story of the epic, they also provoke you to think like never before. After almost every paragraph you will be motivated to pause and think, then think a little more and then introspect heavily on your own life, behavior and personality.

And Devdutt does not do it in the conventional manner by focusing the tale on Ram, rather his epicenter is Sita. Indian audience, who has for long seen the devoted Sita as a victim of patriarchy will be amazed to see how she was the Goddess in her own right, a confident and self-dependent woman who even when abandoned by her husband and his subjects led her life with self-respect. One realizes that on abandoning Sita, Ram faces a more difficult time in the palace than Sita faces in the forest.

Note: I challenge you to read the chapter on Sita's second exile where just before leaving for the forest she explains the palace staff on how to take care of her Ram when she's gone. If you have a blood-pumping organ in your body, you'll be overwhelmed and not getting lachrymal would just be impossible.

Sita is worth a serious read and is one such book that uncovers more and more layers on consecutive readings. Devdutt has done something on the lines of what he has done before, yet he has done it so differently that except for the publisher and the text fonts and size, everything else is unique about this book.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Rockstar named Jordan!

Memories are bad. They are not just bad bad, but actually BAD bad. They occupy your mind, your time-table, your entire thought process. They don't let you do what you want to. They don't let you be who you want to. They drag you to your past irrespective of your present. They torment the calm waters of your mind whenever they drop into it.

One such memory that constantly torments my mind is of a rockstar named Jordan, and his inconsequential love story. At the onset of winters, the weather comes with a suspicious smell in the air. While it brings the month of festivities in many parts of India, it surely brings nostalgia in many minds, especially mine. But for the last two years, it has been very intense. It has been ever since the release of the movie Rockstar. To make matters worse, there is usually a visit to Delhi planned for me near this time of the year that floods my mind with the names of Delhi metro stations and the male/female voices warning us against "dandaneeya apraadhs" every 10 seconds. All this has something to do with the movie Rockstar and my memory of it. It was mostly in these metro trains, near this time of the year, near the release of this movie, when I used to play the Rockstar playlist and listen to it repeatedly. The 'icing on the cake' is that most part of the movie Rockstar is itself shot in Delhi and the metro voice recorded system almost appears to be teasing me with names like Pitampura. (Remember Aditi Rao playing a reporter and yelling - Pitampura ka ye wahi makaan hai jahan se Jordan ko dhakke maar kar nikaal diya gaya tha!)

The songs playlist that I had in my phone, showed the most played to least played Rockstar songs in this order:
  • Phir se ud chala
  • Saadda Haq
  • Aur Ho
  • Hawaa Hawaa
  • Sheher Mein
  • Tum Ho
  • Kun Faaya Kun
  • Nadaan Parinde
  • Tum Ko
  • Katiya Karun (i do not even remember the complete lyrics of this song!)
And hence the entire situation - with Rockstar reminding me of Delhi metro and Delhi metro reminding me of Rockstar.


...this post is not to discuss how my memory relates the transportation system of Delhi to an Imtiaz Ali production; it is to mourn on the sad love-story of Jordan and the death of Heer Kaul, now that the second anniversary of the movie is on 11th November.

Janardhan Jakhar (Ranbir Kapoor), who was a whimsical youth of the Delhi University, dreamed of becoming a rockstar, whose music would sway the world beneath his fans' feet. He believed that it could be achieved only by wearing clothes with startling level of color mismatch and yelling "O ya ya ya' in the college campus. He believed that only this could make him a rockstar - the one who could boldly show the middle finger to the audience when they were there to cheer him up. He was, of course, wrong. He did not know that to become a rockstar what is required the most is immense pain (I don't say this. This guy does). A pain that sucks so much from you that there is nothing left in you but the remains of a rockstar.

And it was his confidant, Khatana, who told him that. He made him realize that dude, you are on the wrong path! If you really want to become a rockstar, there is no need to practice or stylize yourself, just suffer some pain and you will be one. But what kind of pain - Janardhan wondered! He had a near perfect life, with both parents alive, no loans, no HIV, no other disease, no police case - nothing! The only thing that was close to discomfort in his life was his lascivious elder sister-in-law. Where could he invite pain from? What could he do to become a rockstar? He wondered.

Came the time when there was a college fest in which Vijay Mallya's favourite Heer Kaul (Narghis Fakhri) was supposed to dance (which genre of dance it was I don't know, and I don't even want to!). Janardhan and his friends went to watch the dance, for all the wrong reasons. Janardhan ended up overhearing two of his mates' conversation, one of whom considered Heer to be a perfect heart-breaking machine, since she was the hottest girl in the campus and already betrothed to someone. (I don't think he actually had the second reason in mind. Pervert. No?)

Our Janardhan was now with a plan - propose to the perfect heart-breaking machine, get refused, suffer pain, and become a rockstar.

If at all it was that easy!

And so he went to Heer and bluntly told her that he loved her. Heer, who saw him for the first time, was flabbergasted at this random display of childish emotions in a public arena. She simply told him to bugger off, which he thought was a reference to a burger and a reason for him to feast over samosas and fight over pudina chutneys. But Khatana bhaiya made him realize that it was not what he meant. That's not how Janardhan could become a rockstar.

Now that he had been stupid enough to confess his non-existential love to Heer, he felt awkward every time he crossed paths with her in the college campus. Heer felt that she had been quite rude to the person who was otherwise good at heart and tried to be nice to him. She had a strange way of doing it though - she revealed to him that she wasn't as 'neat and clean' as Janardhan supposed her to be and that she had a hidden desire to do all the things that are considered taboo for the 'neat and clean' girls of today - which by the way included only drinking alcohol and watching movies like Junglee Jawani in the notorious cinema halls of old Delhi. Please note: sleeping out with guys was not a taboo for her which means either it 'actually' wasn't or that she just simply forgot to mention it. Combined with that, the non-Indian roots of Heer (read Narghis now) didn't allow her to pronounce Janardhan so she renamed him Jordan.

Jordan became Heer's companion in all her fantasies, eventually beginning to like her. But it was too late for anything. She was about to get married in Kashmir and later get settled in Prague,  and Jordan realized that probably there wouldn't be a future for the both of them beyond that. He hugged her off, she got married and he came back to his hometown Delhi to begin his life afresh and concentrate on his music career once again.

He did not realize that a crack had appeared in his heart already and it was going to get bigger with time. He was on his journey to become a rockstar now.

When he returned, his family showed resentment on his sudden disappearance on getting to know that he had been away in Kashmir they threw him out of the house. (Did it even make sense? I don't know.) But the otherwise happy life of Jordan now had painful moments and at the same time a few of his songs hit off well making him a hit among the masses. He figured out that there was a chance for him to go to Prague if he could sign a contract with his producer and in the hope of meeting Heer once more, he signed it. (Who wouldn't?)

He landed in Prague and on meeting Heer, who was now the part of an elite family, he discovered that she had not been keeping well. But it's a Bollywood movie, and the female leads often recuperate faster on seeing the protagonist. Just that, she became too well that the wellness landed her into infidelity.

One night, when Jordan tried to break into Heer's mansion, the security alarm system activated and the entire story got revealed. Jordan was made to return to India after much embarrassment while Heer was sent back to her parents after her husband figured out that she considered someone else as the 'rockstar' of her life. (Only if you know what I mean)

In India, Jordan was approached by Heer's sister who told her that Heer is suffering from a disease which stopped the production of blood cells in her body. Our self-obsessed Jordan thought it was because she was away from him.

Disowned by the family, maligned in the eyes of public and with his lover suffering from a life-threatening disease was good enough pain to bring him closer to rockstar status.

He became one, and the media was so interested in his personal life (I know there is nothing new about that) that they dug heavily into who was the new woman around Jordan. In one of such events, an irritated Jordan ended up relieving his irritation in form of an intimate moment with Heer. What he didn't realize was that his rockstar status had much more to see.

Just before one of the most important shows of his life, he got the news that Heer was pregnant and since she was already suffering from a fatal disease, she landed in comma. Her death was close and so was Jordan's stardom, for he was about to feel the worst pain in life. Coming out of the hospital he lost cool at a reporter who asked too personal questions from him. He was tamed by the policemen and taken away from the eyes of public. While leaving, he got to do what he always wanted to. (See the picture to the right. A picture is worth 1000 words.)

He knew he was a rockstar now.

While Jordan sang the climax of his song on stage, Heer breathed her last. While his stardom reached newer heights, his heart broke into unlimited pieces. Jordan finally became a rockstar. He realized that the acceptance by millions could not make for rejection by family. He realized that the stardom he got was futile if there was no one to share it with. He realized that an HIV could not harm as much as a heart break. The stardom was there but Heer was gone. She was there but in thoughts. And in the picture below.

Rockstar Ranbir Kapoor Nargis FB COVER

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Mahabharat on Star Plus

Sincere thanks to Star Plus for understanding my limitations and fulfilling my dream. Had Star Plus been a woman, I would have married her.  The new Mahabharat is going to start from 16th September and along with many other things, this can resurrect my relation with the idiot box. Reason: Idiot box won't be idiot anymore.

Around a year back or so, while watching Devon ke Dev Mahadev, I had hoped to see a new Mahabharat, with nicer special effects and Saurabh Jain as Krishna, as it had been years since B.R. Chopra's legendary production and the charisma of Nitish's smile. Invariably, both the wishes have been fulfilled! Of course, comparisons will be made, and challenges will be monumental for the newer Mahabharat as well as its actors. Sanjay Khan and Ekta Kapoor have tried in their own ways to play with this epic but the epic played with them instead. But I hope this one breaks through as the biggest T.V. hit of this decade. Special effects look larger than life; and the creative consultant is none other than Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik. Let's keep fingers crossed for the aptness of casting and script. With so much going around in our country, a Mahabharat was required anyway! So men, women, kids, devas, asuras, yakshas, gandharvas, rakshasas and all those who are reading this, please tune in to Star Plus on 16th September at 8:30 p.m.

It's time for my late-night archery practice. So leaving with a few promos of the new Mahabharat.

P.S.: Star Plus did not pay me for this post.