Monday, 29 July 2013

Blank spaces, White screens

I have committed to writing a book. I have given it a title. Somehow I imagine it will have a yellow cover and I see it sitting in front of the counter on a small mountain of books in the basement Om Book Shop at PVR Saket, greeting people as they walk in.

Yet when I sit to write it a strange thing happens. I check my mail, I scroll through facebook, I start planning my trip to Vietnam and Thailand. Then I have coffee. My mind reminds me I must work. So I saunter back to my computer and read about how to write a book. Should it be written as a memoir? Autobiography? Chick-lit?

Of course I must do extensive research on novel writing software. Which one is the best? Which one is free? Do I need to buy the one that costs $40? Quick Ctrl+T,,389.51 INR. Too much to spend on a tool that will infinitely help me in writing my epic story?

How does one go about publishing a book? Well let's ask all my friends who have published one or work for publishers. So off goes an email, proudly telling them I am writing a book and need advice on publishing. 

In the meanwhile I sit down to write. I have written a couple of paragraphs in the last several weeks. I stare blankly at the white screen and am at a total loss. The words run out of my mind. What is my story? Who are the characters? Fear grips me, squeezes tight. I feel this queasy sensation rise from the pit of my stomach and travel slowly to my throat, choking me. And then I break contact.

I click on the red, green and yellow circle that allows me to escape again into the deep abyss that is the internet. Where I can hear JK Rowling and Steve Jobs talk nonchalantly about their lives and how it all works out if you follow your dreams. Soon my son comes home. My work day has ended.

Another day of blank spaces and white screens. Another day of silences that scream. 

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Movies and Me

When you're little you think one day you'll grow up and be a doctor. Or a lawyer. An engineer maybe. But not me. I had an extraordinary vision. I wanted, more than anything else in the world, to set up a subji ka thela outside Amitabh Bachchan's house. The premise being that some day he will come out to buy his own vegetables and I will meet him.

Roll around 1994 and I abandoned that idea as unlikely, at the tender age of 12. I saw my first Miss India contest. Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai (little did I know at that time that she would marry into the Bachchan family) left me starry-eyed. That was the way into Bollywood. I had to win a beauty pageant. And so began my experiments with short skirts and make-up only to realize very soon that I had neither the height nor the body size to make it to that platform.

You see I was obsessed with movies since I was a child. I would sit through the compulsory hours of Ramayana and Mahabharata required to be allowed to see the movies at night. It's a testament to my love for the movies that I remember not one whit of information from the epics but can recite dialogues from Do Aur Do Paanch. Same age, same time exposure, it's interesting how my brain soaked one thing up like a sponge and filtered out the other. (Of course now I have to tell movie stories to my son at bedtime instead of ingraining a love for mythology!)

The years went by and I figured theatre is a natural progression towards films only to be inflicted with a severe case of stage fright. After several years back-stage I chanced upon a summer film course by an FTII graduate and the deal was sealed. I had found my entry into films.

Like everyone who wants to enter Bollywood I packed my bags (17 steel trunks to be exact) after this one-month course and boarded a train to the city of dreams. And like most everyone who does that, I wandered around for a month, often without a place to stay, trying to figure out how to crack the code. I couldn't. I came back, humiliated, embarrassed at my naivete, dejected but still not defeated.

That's when I started applying to film schools. The day the call came from one in Calcutta I nearly wept with joy. Before anyone could say a word I was off. It was heaven. I thrived on the films, the classes, the people,  the conversations. The idea that one day I would actually make a film. I loved every moment of it, homesickness and all. I traveled to Bombay again, more confident this time, ready to meet actors and directors and tell them I'd like to work with them as soon as my course finished. I was shitting bricks inside but it was the trip of a lifetime.

And then I made the biggest mistake of my life. I met a boy and decided to marry him. No, that's not the mistake I'm referring to. With that decision came one to leave film school. In the throes of what I believed to be love, I made the worst decision of my life.

I once again packed my bags, justified it in my head with the stupidest reasons, and with a heavy heart bid adieu. To friends, to my dreams, to the love of my life. The movies.

I faded away into a life I hadn't wanted. I forgot who I was. Till I had my son. Someone very early on asked me what I wanted my son to be when he grew up. And so naturally the words left my lips, whatever he wants to be, to do what he loves.

The alarm bells rang. I couldn't escape the thoughts I'd often suppressed, wishing I hadn't left film school, wishing I could go back. The dreams were unending. Almost every night I would have clawing, claustrophobic dreams. I am back in the corridors where I had sat and thought about my projects, I was in the canteen, I was in the hostel trying to find my friends. But always, in the dreams, things would look and feel different. Like I was a stranger on the outside, not allowed in anymore. Not a part of it anymore. I would try to convince the dean to let me start again. And I would wake up aching deeply for the loss.

Soon movies I saw started listing friends names in the credits. They started getting awards and recognition. I was so proud of them but it always underlined my own failure. I resigned myself, albeit not completely, to the fact that I would never go back to a film school or to Bombay. Still my eyes would stray every time I saw an ad for a course in film-making.

I have missed out on the one thing I loved from before I even knew what love was. I take responsibility for the decisions that led to this loss. But I haven't given up. I write today, because that is what my circumstances allow me to do right now. But one day I hope that I will re-enter the world I so desperately wanted to be a part of. One day, maybe, I will write something that will be turned into a film, and I will be there, part of it, in a different way than I had dreamt, but there nonetheless.  

Bringing up boy(s)

When I was pregnant my then mother-in-law was convinced I was going to have a boy because of the way I carried my bump. My mother was desperately praying for one, insisting Krishna himself was coming to our house. My ex was ready to start teaching the little one how to trek (or roll joints) while still in my womb. Random strangers, not-so-well-meaning relatives, friends, the verdict was unanimous. It was going to be a boy.

I, on the other hand, was terrified at the idea of popping out a male member of our species. I fervently hoped and prayed that I would have myself a sweet little girl. I said again and again that I don't want a boy. I won't know what to do with one. You see I am the youngest of three sisters. My mother is the eldest of three sisters. All the extended family kids I interacted with were girls. I had no experience with little boys and my experience with big boys (or men as they like to call themselves) hadn't been that great!

And so on that fateful day, when the doctor proudly said "It's a boy", along with tears of joy I also felt my heart sink just a tiny little bit. (It plummeted when I was told I would have to pull back his foreskin and clean his penis while bathing! My head was screaming, I'll have to what???? There is no way I know how to handle little boy wee-wees!!!)

I soon found myself wondering what I wanted from myself as a mother and from my son. I thought of why I feel the way I do about boys. And I decided I want my son to be different.

I want my son to be happy and sad. I want him to cry when he is hurt. I want him to ask for comfort when he needs it and to give it when others need it. I want him to love, deeply. His life, the people in it, his work, everything he does. I want him to admit that he is scared and then face his fears.

I want my son to respect people. Men and women. He needs to know that sex, colour, race, class, none of them are a good reason to discriminate against another. He must respect each person, understand and empathize with their journey.

He has to learn that life is a series of choices and you're responsible for the ones you make. Not your friends, not your parents, not your girlfriend/boyfriend. Just you. Because each person has the knowledge, deep within them, to do what's best for them.

I want my son to grow up.

He will always be my baby. But I want for him one day to stand tall and proud and be a man. To make for himself a beautiful life and know that he did it on his own. To say this is what my mother gave me, the ability and knowledge to be the best person I can be.

And so began my journey. To get out of a hopelessly unhappy marriage. To shed the various illnesses that beleaguered me. To step out into the real world and rebuild my life. To learn to love and respect myself as I learnt to love and respect others. To be happy and to be there for myself. To work, not just for the money, but because it gives me a great sense of achievement. To reconstruct my shattered self-esteem and live my life on my terms with no apologies.

More than anything to be the kind of mother who can bring up a new kind of man. A man who doesn't prescribe to the subtle and not-so-subtle patriarchal norms our society lays down for men. To be a mother and woman he can love and respect. To set an example of how to live your life to the fullest.

In short, to be the best person I can be.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

What's in a number?

Apparently everything. As I bring out my calculator yet again to crunch up what the latest addition to my kitty of random part-time jobs brings to my bank balance, I realize how much our lives revolve around numbers. How much you earn, how much you weigh, how many times you've been on a exciting holiday, how old you are.

For a girl who was never fond of maths or numbers I find myself increasingly agitated by this whirlpool I'm getting sucked into. How much I'm earning, investing, spending, saving. How many hours I work. How many hours I sleep. How many hours I'm away from my son. Has the needle on the weighing scale moved a few digits in the right direction or not. My credit card numbers. My phone number. My account number.

Where have the words gone? What happened to the era where numbers weren't such a big deal? Where phone numbers were hard to come by and credit cards didn't exist? Where you weren't judged by the size of your waistline or the numbers on the scale?

Is it just nostalgia for a mythical era that never existed? Were different numbers doing the rounds then just as much as they are today?

Monday, 8 July 2013

How did it all go so wrong?

So I'm sitting here staring at my computer screen and thinking this is not the life I was supposed to be leading. I was supposed to be rich, married, slim, beautiful, well traveled, famous, many things. And yet I am not. I am broke, divorced, mumble, mumble, haven't traveled in forever, so not famous and haven't even begun writing my Pulitzer winning book!

How did it all go so wrong I wonder? I reach my dark, scripty places and everything seems so futile. My deep, deep belief of unworthiness, of being unloved, of being a failure resurface and threaten to sweep away any real accomplishments I may have achieved.

It doesn't matter if I have a beautiful son who I work hard to raise. In my head I turn so easily into a bad, irresponsible and resentful mother. I don't want to raise a child, I want to be free. To do what I want, when I want. To go places and meet people and not worry about getting home to a cranky child who refuses to sleep.

My jobs, the fact that I have worked my ass off in the last year to get some financial stability all fade into oblivion. I'm the idiot who never figured out what she wants to do. I never understood my talent, potential, my dreams. I didn't pursue them out of sheer laziness and insecurity. Because I believed so strongly that I would never succeed that I made it come true. I am the girl who let the boat sail. So today all me peers are getting awarded and published and holidaying in exotic locales while I struggle to begin my career with little hope of ever making it big.

So what if the ex was an imbecile. When the darkness descends I convince myself that I am responsible for the failed marriage. I wasn't good enough to be loved and treasured. I screwed up. I should have handled things differently. I should have traveled with him so that there was no scope of infidelity. I should have been hotter, slimmer, funner, cooler. I should have made it work. It's my fault.

I planned a trip and bought my tickets. It's a step to being well traveled. But one day on facebook and I am overwhelmed by the number of places I haven't been to, will never be able to go to. I hate people who are studying abroad or living in USA and Europe and Australia and anywhere other than where I am. Because I wanted that so badly and I see no hope of having it. Not now, not in the future. Everywhere on earth seems better than where I am right now. It doesn't help that the ex gets away scot free and is "finding himself" while traveling the world. Fuck you!

My brilliant book ideas stay ideas because I never sit down to start writing. I'll never get published, I have nothing to really write, who'll read it anyway...a million doubts sit heavily between my fingers and the keyboard making it impossible to tap out the words. I write a blog and shrink away partly assuaged because I have written and mostly sick in the stomach because I have once again avoided writing the book.

So how did this happen? Where is my life? The one I had dreamt of, hoped for, prayed for? Is this it? Or is this just the route through hell that I have to take to reach it?

P.S. Read an article which I found interesting. It resonated with me. Attaching a scan.