Poet, Author, Editor, Creative Writing Consultant

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Based on Plutarch’s paradox of whether a ship whose parts have been changed can be considered to be the same ship as it was before, the film, Ship of Theseus, by Anand Gandhi, explores this issue through three lives and their stories come together in the end for these people have received their new parts through one donor, a hobbyist cave explorer whose film they come to see at a private screening and where they meet each other as separate individuals united by the fact that each of them has a part of one man, now a part of them.

The first story is of a young Egyptian blind photographer, Aliya Kamal, who takes black and white photographs which have a unique unexplained element to them. Her work is gaining popularity. In an interview, she says that she has no set limits or boundaries in what she wants to do, and so on the surface one finds her to be comfortable in her blindness. At the same time she has an argument with her boyfriend where she wishes to destroy anything that happens ‘accidentally’, any photograph over which she has ‘no control’. So she is grappling with the fact that her blindness happened accidentally and she could not control that aspect of her life and this reflects in her behavior.

However, she gets a cornea transplant that restores her eyesight. She is now back in the world of being able to see. The return of her vision makes her lose her photographic vision. She finds that her work has lost that special something which her blindness had gifted her. She is overwhelmed by the sights that surround her.

The second story is of a monk called Maitreya who is an animal rights activist and when threatened with liver cirrhosis, chooses to die slowly rather than take treatment, since the drugs have all been cleared and manufactured after being tested on animals. There are interesting questions posed in this segment through the dialogues between Maitreya and Charvaka ( a young follower and admirer) on life, death, existence, humanity, permanence and impermanence etc. The heaviness of the matter under discussion is lightened by the jokes cracked by Charvaka as they talk. When Maitreya is diagnosed with cirrhosis, despite everyone’s attempts to make him change his mind, he is shown choosing the path of hunger and fasting to death. It is only at the last moment that he changes his mind and asks his attendant monk to call for the doctor. Thus we see that the love for one’s life and mortal flesh puts paid to all idealism and heroic endeavours and the quest for immortality, despite Maitreya trying very hard to adhere to what he stands for.

The last story is of Navin, a stockbroker, who justifies to his grandmother the fact that his interest in making money and what she calls his ‘limited world’, is not to be scoffed at. During his stay at the hospital to take care of his grandmother who has had an accident and broken her leg, he hears a woman wailing and discovers that a common bricklayer’s kidney has been removed while he underwent an appendicitis operation. At first, since he has had a kidney transplant, he believes that he has the bricklayer Shankar’s kidney, but his fears are put to rest.

His investigations lead him to a person in Stockholm who has received Shankar’s ‘stolen’ kidney. The man agrees to arrange for a new kidney for Shankar and take care of everything, but Navin finds that instead of this, the foreigner sends six and a half lakhs as payment to Shankar. Shankar is ecstatic, and refuses to listen to Navin’s attempts to tell him that he can get his kidney back. Navin’s grandmother tells him that it is enough that he has tried to make a difference to someone else’s life. The dismal life that poverty brings is shown without any filters as Navin and his friend climb narrow, slippery, filth covered staircase after another to try and reach the place that Shankar calls home ). The film exposes without deceit the behavior of Indians and the Indian set up, the way the nurses are unhelpful and unavailable even in the best of hospitals, the way Navin’s friend wipes his sweaty face on a cloth hung out for washing. the wiping of Navins hands on his pants after he has washed them; these little touches add to the film’s authenticity.

Though the scenes move slowly and sometimes drag (e.g. the speaking of the Stockholm man in his own language and then the translation by Ajay, the stockbroker Navin’s friend), the film shows how the trafficking in organs is a matter of grave concern today, and also how losing or getting and organ has repercussions both for the giver and the receiver. The photography is often breath-taking. The actors have been well chosen. Naveen Kabi is fantastic in his role. So is Suhel Shah, who plays his role as a young stockbroker with elan. Since the language is often Hinglish, and in the first story and in the last story, some spoken parts are neither English nor Hindi, it is good that the movie is sub- titled.


Monday, August 12, 2013

Rajnigandha and some Lemon Zing

There is a particular fragrance that always brings back memories of my childhood days in Kolkata. My mother was extremely house proud and she would decorate the house with ferns and flowers every day. This was possible in a Kolkata flat because a flower seller climbed all the way up to our floor every morning to bring the flowers to our doorstep. There was no garden of flowers outside the block of flats, just some huge trees in the corners of the plot that provided shade.

My mother had studied Ikebana so several of the arrangements were of the ‘designer’ type. She had spiked iron holders in vases to hold the arrangements. Ferns and plants often curled their tops into loops and other forms to suit the requirements of this demanding style of flower arrangement.

But there was one area where simplicity reigned. In the hallway, there hung an oval mirror with a thick decorative brass frame. Just below this mirror there hung a long, polished wooden ledge. It was held by thick decorative brass chains on either side which were attached to the wall. In the centre of this wooden ledge and aligned with the mirror at the back, my mother placed a huge cut glass vase of Rajnigandhas every day. It reflected in all its beauty in the mirror. But I did not care for how beautiful it looked at that time.

All I cared for was the fragrance that assailed my nostrils when I entered the hallway. I would be hot, sweaty, smelly and tired from my day at school. The cool hallway and the smell of Rajnigandha was all that mattered to me then. The tall white flowers that filled the vase beckoned me. I would run up to the vase and breathe in deeply; and all balance would be restored for the time being.

Then of course, mother would be standing there, a glass of chilled lemonade in her hands. The smell of freshly squeezed lemon and the fragrance of Rajnigandha… that is what I remember with nostalgia. My mother’s hands smelled of lemon too as she placed the glass to my lips.

 When I decorate my home with flowers, I place huge vases of Rajnigandha all over the place, and that works for me.  This is a simple thing for me to do, it requires no art. But it reminds me of those hot afternoons filled with fragrance. All I have to do is make myself some chilled lemonade and stand in front of a vase of these beautiful white flowers. I am transported back to those carefree days when most things revolved around homework, hopscotch and a home filled with food, fun and flowers.

At the times when these real flowers with their particular perfume are not available for me, I wish I could spray the fragrance of Rajnigandha in my home. It would fill me with so much happiness and instant nostalgia.

This post is written for the contest at Indiblogger titled "Smellyto Smiley" for AmbipurIndia www.facebook.com/AmbiPurIndia

Saturday, August 10, 2013

An Indian in London

I have this dream of visiting London with my family. It is not that I have not travelled, but somehow London has, so far, escaped my radar. So this is one place that I really wish to go to for my next holiday.

Why London, one may ask, for isn’t it just another prominent city and just another capital of a country? What does it have to offer that other cities don’t?  It is definitely not off the beaten track, being a city that almost anyone with a vestige of a colonial hangover would want to visit.

Maybe I have that, the colonial hangover, can’t say, but London it has to be. What drives me to wish to go to London now…well, let’s see.

My first English Reader made me read about a Jack instead of a Ram “Run, Jack, run,” it went,  and then, “Can Jack run?” The Nursery Rhymes I learnt went something like this, “ Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water…”

I crossed hands with a friend to go round and round during the lunch break to sing, ”Ringa-ringa roses, a pocket full of posies…” of course, in those days I said something like ‘poses’ instead of posies and never for once wondered what that might mean! It was enough to go round and round with our school skirts flying behind us and sing of roses and poses.

And I sang also of how London Bridge was falling down. There was no song that I sung about the bridge over the River Hooghly, though I stayed in Kolkata at the time.

So of course, the fascination for Jack and Jill, English roses and the London Bridge began very early in my life. I am sure I will look at the people in London on my trip there and perhaps say hello to several Jacks and Jills. I shall look at the London Bridge and feel happy to see that it has not yet fallen despite my loud song about it.

As an afterthought, I also read Jack and the Beanstalk as a fairy tale, so that is yet another Jack to explore in London.

Then what happened in my reading life? I began to read Enid Blyton’s stories, and she was definitely a Londoner. I plan to  visit her home in East Dulwich and revisit my memories of Noddy, the Five Find Outers and Dog, Mallory Towers and so many other books that she filled my childhood days with.

I then progressed to read the Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes. So naturally I would go to the famous address in London, 221b Baker Street. This it seems, is now a museum, the interior having been created from the stories. I will look at Holmes’ hat, magnifying glass, violin, phials and his famous pipe and imagine him standing right there next to me.

P. G. Wodehouse created a fictitious world around the real London of the 1930s. He filled my reading days with charm and laughter. I would love to take the ‘"What Ho Jeeves!" The London of P.G. Wodehouse walk” and relive the days of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves.

It was during my teenage years that I read T.S. Eliot’s poem where the lines on the yellow fog (of London, where else?) have stayed with me:

“The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening…”

―T.S. Eliot , The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Without a doubt, T.S. Eliot, though born an American, considered himself much of an Englishman for he took British citizenship in 1927. So the fascination with all things English is not limited to people like me of the British colonized countries alone.

The Tower of London is also on my list of visits. I saw the movie Anne of a Thousand Days and fell in love with Genevieve Bujold’s portrayal of Anne Boleyn.

I also became fascinated by the history of the Tudors. ‘The ghost of Anne Boleyn, beheaded in 1536 for treason against Henry VIII, allegedly haunts the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, where she is buried, and has been said to walk around the White Tower carrying her head under her arm.’  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_of_London) Wow. Now that’s something.

Then there is Shakespeare. So the Globe Theatre in London warrants a visit. So much to see and do in London.

I am a touristy type of person too, so of course I shall go to the Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey, and admire the Big Ben.

The London Eye is a giant Ferris wheel on the South Bank of the River Thames in London, England. It is something contemporary and excites my interest. So you can be assured that I am not only going on a nostalgic trip here.

And finally, I and my family will enjoy a bracing walk along the River Thames and follow it with  a warm drink in a Riverside pub somewhere along the way.

I remember the bat-winged lizard birds,

The Age of Ice and the mammoth herds,

And the giant tigers that stalked them down

Through Regent’s Park into Camden Town.

Rudyard Kipling, The River’s Tale, 1911, (on the Thames)

I may, with my family, even laze in the sun a while, as is commonly done in Hyde Park.

This holiday would be full of fun, adventure and history, and also bring to life so much I have read and dreamt about. It would be a dream holiday, and my family, which is equally besotted by London and all that it has to offer, will have the time of its life when we holiday there.

I am a writer and a street-side photographer, so I cannot help myself. On my visit, I would write on what I see, click images, and take back memories of a city that I have only read about for a long time now.

 So London, here I come.


 This blogpost is written for the #HappyTravellers Contest  of http://www.yatra.com