Salaam-e-Ishq

Saw it with BikerGirl yesterday. Matinee on a holiday; I thought the theatre would be full, but it wasn’t.  We got our tickets, plonked ourselves confortably on our seats and sat and watched a more-than-three-hour-long movie.

I had fun; lots of fun. There were bits where I smiled with the characters, almost cried with them, there were bits where I drooled over John Abraham and bits where I drooled over Vidya Balan. I laughed out loud at the jokes, and tapped my feet to some of the songs. So, good fun.

It also tries out a new-ish format, weaving different stories together. But it’s not entirely successful at that. One of the stories is ham-handedly tacked on like the comedy track in a bad Telugu movie, and even among the other five, sometimes the movement from one to the other is very jerky and disorienting. As for the format itself, though fashionable, it seems to have worked well only in Crash and Love Actually. And this movie is no Love Actually, though I’ve heard hints to that effect. (All it aspires for, even, is to be a Romance Actually.)

As BikerGirl said, one lovable thing about the movie is its tongue-in-cheekiness, and an ability to laugh at itself. The filmi cliches are used in the ‘serious’ stories, and parallelly laughed at in the non-serious ones. Like the groom’s girlfriend bursting in on a wedding with a “Yeh shaadi nahin ho sakti“, and immediately after that’s sorted out, the bride’s boyfriend bursting in and looking sheepish, not knowing what to say, till he’s handed his line: “Yeh shaadi nahin ho sakti“!

The movie also pays it subtle homages to Love Actually: part of the story is set in London, and the airport is a favourite theme – the sliding doors through with ‘dream girl’ walks into Govinda’s life, John and Vidya saying goodbye in the lounge and bumping into Akshaye Khanna, and of course, the last, mad, only-in-a-Hindi-movie scene between Anil Kapoor and Juhi Chawla.

The single best thing about the movie, however, is the John-Vidya story. Two really good looking people, an amazing chemistry – bubbly sugary romance as well as the smouldering passionate setting-the-screen-on-fire, a wonderful plot, and characters that the actors slip into like hands into a well-worn glove. Well worth a whole movie of its own.

In all, three and a half hours well spent!

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Birds, again

As is usual at this time of the year, I’m watching birds build their nests. Two sparrows, building nests in the same tree. Hopping over once in a while to tweet at one another. Showing each other bits of grass and fallen feathers, contemplating them with all the seriousness of people looking over upholstery in an expensive shop.

Here comes one of them, young, happy in its first nest ever, holding a bright yellow stalk of grass in its beak. These are rare now, for autumn is long past and winter almost over. Most of the grass on the ground is green, with feathery white heads waving in the breeze. But somewhere this little bird has found itself a beautiful stalk of grass, glowing in its colour and brightness: red at the root, orange-brown and yellow-tipped.

Having placed the stalk in its nest, fussed over it, moved it here and there, this little bird calls out to the older bird, who comes, cocks its head and inspects the nest in silence. The excited little one is chirping and hopping about on the branch, while the older one hops about close to the nest, looking it up and down, looking at the bright little stalk of grass, and tweeting back once in a while. It looks like it’s thinking of last year, when I saw it equally excited over a shiny piece of foil that it had found, and which the wind had blown away before the nest was built.

Finally the older one goes back to its own nest, and the younger one continues to build. It finds leaves and twigs, pieces of cotton, warm bits of fluff to line the nest, to make it comfortable. It flies over to the older one’s nest, chirps excitedly, and seems to wonder why the older one’s not excited too. It flies back to it nest and picks up the stalk of grass, as bright and beautiful as ever, but no longer the pride of the nest, and takes it to the older one. It lays it there, among the neat disorder of twigs, and chirps as if to say, “Take it”.

Watching them, I get the feeling that the older one would smile, if birds could smile. That it would show affection if it could, and that the gesture means much to it, though it doesn’t want the stalk. It picks up the stalk, and the birds rise together, with the stalk between them, in a movement that is exquisitely graceful in that split second. As I watch them, they fly away, and I can no longer see which has the beautiful stalk of grass.

“Civilised debate”

Kalpana Sharma writes in the Hindu of how “the vicious anger of a group of men who feel women have wronged them seems to be out of proportion with the reality“, and of how it’s important to have a civilised debate if you want to maintain perspective.

A day or two before I read that, I had a conversation with a friend on the LYV about professional ethics and personal eithics and whether they can ever be divorced from one another.

And, spread over this same period of two-three days, I’ve been bombarded with emails advising me to abandon my feminist crusade because ‘the way things are’ is a product of natural selection. By someone who would be proud of never having read Darwin before expressing that opinion.

The connection? Well, the dichotomy of personal and professional ethics is a false one to me, because my politics inform my life and my work. I’m fortunate, in that sense, because I have a job in which this isn’t impossible. In fact, the freedom to think and believe is the single most important factor in success for the kind of work I do. Which means I can crusade quite passionately for my political choices, in this case, feminism. In fact, the work I have to do for my crusade feeds into and upon the work I have to do to keep my job. That’s as cushy as it gets, isn’t it? Except that when I am so immersed in what I am so passionate about (we’re still talking about feminism, in case you’re lost), I wonder if I lose perspective. Is it possible to have a civilised debate on feminism with someone who believes she is feminist but advocates dressing conservatively to avoid getting groped on a bus? Or with someone who thinks that the fact that my feminism is personal to me is a reflection of negativity?

Kalpana Sharma has an answer of sorts, when she draws the distinction between the debate on climate change and that on domestic violence.

When the first alarm bells were rung by thousands of scientists who suspected that human actions were resulting in a rise in the earth’s temperature that could have devastating consequences, the media tended to pit this large body of scientific evidence against individual scientists who expressed doubts about global warming. The two were given equal weightage in an effort at “balanced” reporting. How wrong such equivalence was is now evident as global warming becomes a reality that cannot be ignored.

The issue of violence against women is similar in some ways. Women of all ages, races, classes, religions around the world experience violence …

But even as there are exceptions to any rule, the overwhelming evidence indicates that by far the largest number of victims of gender-related violence is women.

Against this background, the vicious anger of a group of men who feel women have wronged them seems to be out of proportion with the reality. It also appears to be part of a larger campaign aimed to bring about changes in Indian society.

So, when you have an opinion based on information and knowledge, you take a side by making an informed choice, not as a matter of chance, a reaction that is “out of proportion with reality” is likely to be part of a “larger campaign“.

I wonder if there’s a larger campaign to stop me blogging.

Greer, Pratchett, and what science ignores

I wrote earlier today of how science ignores women and their reality, in the context of discovering what I have may be catamenial epilepsy. And then, on the bus home, I was thinking of Germaine Greer’s comments on menstruation*

It is assumed that nature is a triumph of design, and that none of her processes is wasteful or in need of reversal, especially when it only inconveniences women, and therefore it is thought extremely unlikely that there is any ‘real’ pain associated with menstruation. In fact no little girl who finds herself bleeding from an organ she didn’t know she had until it began to incommode her feels that nature is a triumph of design…the fact is that nature is not a triumph of design, and every battle against illness is an interference with her design…

There’s more, of course. But I love the way she draws the easy parallel between menstruation and illness, it reminds something I once wrote about. Feminism challenges, again and again, the notion that certain roles are ‘natural’, Greer extends that challenge to nature itself. To extend what she says, the notion of what is ‘natural’ is a constructed one.

If the notion of ‘natural’ is itself constructed, the world can really be what you wish it to be; your world can be real. The world is the mollusc of your choice.

*Yeah, there’s more than just the famous one about imagining tasting menstrual blood 

Gendering Science

There’s a doc I consulted in Delhi – this fantastic older woman who, post-retirement at the top of her field in India, is an active researcher and clinician. She’d seen me first when I was in college and she was the Head of Neurology at NIMHANS, then when I was in Delhi and she moved there to consult at Sir Gangaram’s, and again now, when I went there in the hols. She put me on Clobazam for three days a month in addition to my regular medication because she suspected a link between the onset of menstruation and seizures, and today I decided to see what I could find online about that.

First, there’s a name for it: catamenial epilepsy. And it’s a well-documented, well-known link in the case of temporal lobe epilepsy. The diagnosis of temporal lobe epilepsy was made, in my case, six years ago. But no one even thought of relating my episodes with my periods. And even my fantastic doctor in Delhi, only mentioned the possibility on my second visit to her.

Ask any woman and she’ll tell you that periods are stressful. Not just the famed hormonal fluctuations that cause PMS, but physically stressful, because they involve a loss of blood and bodily tissue. And all my doctors, every single one, identified stress as the most probable reason for seizures. But not one thought to connect a regular stressor like menstruation to the seizures.

I remember an article in the Hindu some time ago – on how gendered science is. It had an interesting anecdote on how the painkillers used during childbirth were tested on healthy young men for side effects. And while I know this doesn’t seem to be the same, in a rather weird way, it is.

Compassion

BikerGirl and I (me?) were having a heart-to-heart, and began to wonder about writing that evokes empathy, and writers who are good at doing it. Or speakers, for that matter. There are books, articles, essays that create that strange feeling, an identity with what is being written about. Situations, people far from our own realities, but these black-on-white words make them part of what we live.

When I lived in that little-town-half-way-across-the-world, my friends used to tease me about living in books. Not literally, but I wanted a taste of what I’d read about – from watercress to walking by the river. It was a longing to do in reality what I had already done when I read Enid Blyton and William Blake, and I indulged it.

Today, I read Sacred Games or Backlash, and sometimes, I have already lived what I am reading about. But it still has the power to merge my life with what I am reading about, to make me think as they think, share joy and sorrow, anger and frustration, exuberance and incredulity.

I wonder about people who can write like that. Do they feel it more intensely that I do? I am only a reader, after all. Or is it because they distance themselves that they can write like that? I wonder about their everyday lives. Do they participate in the lives of every person they meet, they know or know of, so that I may vicariously take part in the lives of a million others? Or is it because their lives centre only around themselves that they can create a million characters for me to empathise with?

Body (or, What could be)

Her back hurt from all the contractions. The muscles in her thighs felt like she’d been climbing flight after flight after flight of stairs. Tomorrow, the cramps would begin.

She sat before the screen, refusing to pay attention to the pain. It was easy when she had people to talk to, conversations she had to pay attention to. Something else to focus on. Uploading stuff, downloading, searching. Organising. They all took her mind off things, but conversations were the best. They needed real focus, because they had a way of jumping from one topic to the other. They occupied all of her mind. Writing was next best, but it was self-propelled, so the temptation to stop and feel was too strong for comfort.

More and more, these days, she was tempted to stop. Just stop. And give in to her brain. To the luxury of letting it play with time. To let her memory compress it, make hours seem like much less, sometimes so much less that they ceased to exist. Prolong it, and make a second’s meeting of eyes seem like a long friendship.

Would the pain stop if she let that happen, she wondered. The sharp shooting pain up her neck into her skull, the nerves bunched up and stretched taut, and suddenly relaxing, making her wonder whether she had imagined it. If she gave in to her brain, would she be able to sleep and wake up rested? Without a headache?

She knew the pills helped. Helped her bear the pain in her back, in her legs, and tomorrow, the cramps. And then the other pills made sure the pain didn’t stress out her brain. Didn’t make the headache worse. Or Worse. Pills kept her in control, didn’t let her brain take over.

Kept her mind safe from her body.