Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Match Point

In 1947, India and Pakistan became two separate nations. A country which had once been united had now dissolved in two, with each part becoming a sworn enemy of the other. Neighbors became enemies, lives were lost, people displaced and the memory of the ghastly events lived on in people's lives.

Even today, the animosity lives on, and it spreads throughout the nation like the prevailing summer heat during the Cricket World Cup.

Australia won the World Cup three times in a row. Last week, India beat Australia to move into the semi-finals. I wouldn't say that nobody cared. Instead, it would be more appropriate to say that Indians were less excited about India beating the three-time world champion team and more to see India being pitched against Pakistan in the next round.

The match is today, but the madness started way before the match at Mohali even began. A ticket to watch the match costs an average of Rs. 20,000, which could be respectable man's monthly income. Pakistani's have come to India to watch, but their trip is proving to be fruitless because they can't get tickets for themselves. Hotels are overflowing at Mohali and people have to accomodate spectators at their homes. Everyone wants to watch the match at the stadium. They want to be close to their heros when they embrace glorious victory or face unfortunate defeat. The fact that satellite television now allows them to watch every over in at least five different angles, with a good view of players' every action.

The cricket madness has slipped into my world too, which is strange because I'm not really interested in cricket. My father works for a company that doesn't believe in holidays, even on big festivals. But today, he has a day off because all the employees with probably wage a war against the employer or maybe even sue him if they are made to work on the day of the Indo-Pak match. Whenever the World Cup matches coincide with the Board Exams, the average marks go down from 80% to 76%. If you look out the window, you would think it was after a curfew or something, because the streets are empty. Even public transport is almost unavailable on today.

In school, I am currently rehearsing for my rols as a housekeeper in My Fair Lady. Today, Eliza Doolittle's crudeness and Higgins' dismissal of her were put in the backburner since today was THE day. As soon as the match began, cell phones were pulled out of pockets and score updates were searched for. Higgins and Pickerin made it a point to debate India's chances of winning every two minutes. When rehearsal ended and school got over, people spilled out of their classrooms, sibling urging eacxh other to rush so they could be back in time to catch a good portion of the match. People who usually didn't talk to each other dutifully relied updates to one another. Yes, cricket really is a unifying force.

But I have one question- years after the Partition, why is a cricket match between India and Pakistan more than just a match? Why is it treated like a war? Isn't it time we enjoyed the game just because it was between two great teams, not because it's between two warring nations? It's time to move on, people. It's time to enjoy the spirit of the game, irrespective our political relations with the country we're playing against.

Friday, March 18, 2011

If you could go back to the past, which period would you go to?

I sometimes think that I relate more to my parents than I do to my friends. I listen to music from the 70s, I know the qualities and flaws of all actors from that time, I would gladly accept an Ambassador for a car. Somehow, it is the simplicity of some movies from that time and not the flower-power, retro style that draws me in. The differences between the rich and poor were less because luxuries (like big cars and air-conditioners) didn't set them apart, or at least they didn't in India. It is unbelievable today, but my grandparents were neighbors to some of the biggest movie stars of their time. It was the time when religious conversions and social cults were emerging everywhere. In some places, war was tearing everything apart (Vietnam). In some places, people were losing lives to fight against the war (America). The Beatles and Rolling Stones were showing the world what music meant. In India, Rishikesh Mukherjee created cinematic magic which can never be recreated because the society he created is now gone forever, replaced by a more materialistic one.

I really believe I would have loved to go back to the 60s and 70s. The movies were great, the music even better. I mean, I could have seen The Graduate in a theatre. I would have witnessed the period of counter-culture right in front of my eyes. In fact, I sometimes believe I would have been a better fit in the past than I am in the present. My friends called me old-fashioned, but I like that I know more about a bygone era than they do, even pride myself for it.

So, if you could go back to a time in the past, what would it be? Would you like to fight a historic war? Would you like to be prime minister to a king? Would you want to gain independence for your country? Or would you just want to be with the hippies and atheists?

Tell me in the comments.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Homecoming- A Short Story

It didn't make sense. A place I had spent eighteen years at couldn't have turned into this ruin in a matter of hours. All my memories couldn't have gone up in flames this way.

I kicked away some rubble, my eyes aching at the sight. It was day, but I saw darkness all around me. The houses had collapsed. Soot covered the dirt roads. In place of the trees were their black remains. There wasn't a soul in sight. The fire had destroyed everything. There was no hope for me. My family was dead.

Tears didn't come from my eyes. For the last ten years, I had found it very easy to stay cut off from this village. Coming back didn't seem like a good idea. I didn't want to be one of the people who got dragged into the forests by the militants and never came back. Going to college was my way out of here, my only chance, and I didn't blame myself for taking it. Even now, when the darkness of the jungles had turned into a big, burnt void and its dark interiors no longer intimidated, I still looked back several times, afraid that people with guns would come and grab me by my collar. I would scream, some people would see me, but they would have to keep quiet because they didn't want to be next.

I shook off the thought from my head. The past didn't seem so frightening no, but that was because the future was empty. I was walking down a street I remembered from my childhood. We would play ball here. Once a month, the ice-cream man would come and we would coax our mothers to give us some money. That would never happen now.

I came to the road that led out of the village. Ten years ago, I had walked away from there, my family waving, my brothers helping me get my bags into the jeep. At the time, I hadn't planned on never returning, but over the years, the outside world became my safe haven. It felt good not to be afraid all the time, to have a walk at night, to actually eat ice-cream twice a week. I didn't have to fear for my life. Somehow, the fact that I had left a lot of people behind didn't seem to bother me. I couldn't imagine my family out of the village. They had lived here all their life. The city would be hard to adjust to. Or at least that's what I had told myself.

Maybe God wanted me to see what I had done. What was it, if not God, that had convinced me to come here with my wife after so many years? We had come to the town nearby, because there was no way we could adjust to village life anymore. I had sent a latter to my family because there were no computers here and absolutely zero people who knew how to use one. But if what I had heard was right, the post office had been shut down before the cross-fire began, which meant that my letter had never reached them. They must all have died thinking I was a traitor who had left his home never to return. When the militants set the village on fire, it killed all hope of me ever seeing them again.

I came across the post office, the one that had held back my message. I somehow felt...lifeless, as if my mind and body ere separated, as if I wasn't the one walking but someone who was watching myself walk. I climbed up the gravel steps and entered through the door that almost touched my head. The office didn't seem to be in such a bad condition. Papers and letter were strewn about everywhere, besides some damage to the walls and a thin layer of soot on some of the furniture, everything else was unharmed. I went to the first table and tilted it to make the letters fall on the floor. I sat down and picked up the first envelope.

The handwriting wasn't familiar but the name at the end was. It was written by somebody called Jhulki. She had once been my friend, before her parents had pulled her out of school at the age of ten.

Dear brother, Everything is fine. Both mother and daughter are okay. The midwife said it would be hard but it wasn't. We hope you will come here to name the child. Jhulki.

Someone had given birth to a child. How? Was it somebody I knew? How did it matter? The fire must have killed the child? Or had they managed to escape?

One by one, I opened the letters. There were letters asking for money. My family hand never asked for any money but I had always sent some, hoping it would make it to them. Then there was a letter about the division of family property. My family was still together, sans property feuds. Upon reaching the last letter, I finally began crying, or rather wailing, but my cried seemed rather distant. The sorrow ran way too deep inside to be let out by crying. I wildly tore apart the letters strewn on the floor, trying to give vent to my...what? There wasn't a word to describe it.

There was just one letter that managed to remain unaffected by my outburst. I sat there for hours, staring at the ceiling and it was only when my hand fell on it that I realized I hadn't opened the envelope again. I savagely tore it open, as if it was my last connection to the village.

Dear Rajen, You have forgotten all about us, and it is understandable. But now we need your help. Relations between the brothers has worsened and we all need our own space now. Our wives feel unsafe here and we all want to move to the city and live separately. We need somebody who will divide our assets, or the lack of it, amongst us equally. We hope to remain there for each other, just not physically in the same house. We will need some money to start our new lives and hope you will help us. We will arrive at Patna on 15th December of this year. Please be there to pick us up. Your older brother, Ratan.

My name was Rajen. My older brother was Ratan. They had reached on 15th December, the same day we had set out on our journey here. That was two days before the fire. The village had died, but my family had not.

(based on the short story 'The Tribute')

Amazing Book Characters

Charles Darnay
Here are my top 5 favorite book characters in no particular order:

1. Sydney Carton (A Tale of Two Cities): He is one of the few, is not the only, well rounded characters in created by Dickens who usually creates one-note characters who are either overtly virtuous or bordering or inhumane. Sydney Carton is a good man with vices. His leal accumen helps in the progress made in his client Charles Darnay's case but his colleague gets away with all the credit. He is a depressive alcoholic, but his greatness is proven when he sacrifices his life for the woman he loves.

2. Hori and Dhania (Godan): These characters make Godan a classic. Their sole dream is to own a cow, which Hori gets, but he has to pay for it with his life. All those who hold power in society then try to take away the cow from his wife. But the poor peasant family maintain dignity till the end. My request to everyone (including my American followers): please read Godan once, if you can get your hands on the translation.

Bridget Vreeland

3. Bridget Vreeland (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants): She lost her mentally unstable mother as a kid but her memory still haunts. Every characteristic of hers is a reminder of her mother. She is alone in her house and only has her friends, but even her friends have to one day lave her and go their separate ways. But it's not the tragedy that makes her interesting, it's the defense mechanism that works in her head. Despite everything that happens to her, she is still a glamour jock in school, impulsive and eager to try new things. She is a perfect mix of vulnerability and strength. She is played by Blake Lively in the movie versions.

4. Hannah Baker (Thirteen Reasons Why): A nice girl moves into town but her reputation is hampered in the slightest of ways till she is left all olone with nobosy to turn to. Small incidents accumulate and ruin her life, and she eventually kills herself. Even though suicide is a cowardly thing to do, Hannah Baker shows how a little innocent girl can be driven to do it. A movie version will be out soon, with Selena Gomez attached to play Hannah.

5. Calder and Petra (Chasing Vermeer): Two kids who love a good mystery and have enough brains to solve them. They use mathematics to solve mysteries, what could be more interesting than that?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

To Be Or Not To Be Popular

What does a teenager have to do to be popular?

In my school, I see many cliques, but if I had to make a broad division, I would be left with just too- the 'cool kids' and the 'losers'. Now, don't make any presumptions. I probably belong to the latter. I am somewhat an academic overachiever (for somebody who came in the bottom two-thirds of the class three years ago, scoring a  95.8% in boards and being neck to neck with those who have been toppers for years is a big deal), I have taken part in almost every extra-curricular activity possible (with some marvelous and some disastrous results), was a school prefect for one year and get published in newspapers. But I am still a loser. Why is that?

There are certain girls who deserve to be popular. They're not my friends; I don't like them particularly, but I have to admit that they are talented and make almost no social mistakes. They keep their cool even with people they don't like, and also come across as vulnerable whenever required (you have no idea how far big brown eyes and a few tears can go). If they're popular, I totally understand.

Then they're another set of girls who're known for all the wrong things. They don't mind standing like trophies behind a group of guys and giggling whenever a popular guy walk by. They really need to work harder on their scores and probably grow a brain. But no matter their lack of credentials, they don't mind dissing the girls who 'don't get much attention'.

Then comes the third group, that's us. All the girls keep to themselves and are never intentionally mean. No matter what they do, they never look down on others' For them, nobody is beneath them. I admit (shamefacedly) that the only one who pays attention to the social categories is me, ad that too because I am aware of the category I am slotted into and don't think I deserve to be. Some of the girls here are beautiful, but they're not the ones everyone wants to be with because somehow, they're invisible.

Now, let's talk about the guys. The good thing about boys is that they get along better than girls do. They do have small friend circles, but they aren't really divided into categories. But still, there are a few popular guys girls flirt with. I know two of them, and trust me, I have seen guys far more interesting. But I have to give them this- they are charming, but that's at the cost of the 'fun factor', so what's the point? I sometimes think guys get away with more than girls do. They get to be stupid and silly, but not girls. If girls do the same things that guys do, she'll probably be boycotted socially. If she speaks up in class, fights for what is right and cracks the same lame (not dirty jokes as boys, the response would be a little different.

I have always been an outcast. In my old school, their was a bunch of girls who never let me stand close to them, saying I was filthy. Imagine what that would have felt like. People commented on the way I looked and that felt bad because I couldn't change the way I looked, no matter what I did. I tried to fight them but a part of me always believed them. I always felt ugly. My 'friend' was always sweet to my face but supported them behind my back. She was getting more popular every week because of this 'divide and rule' policy, and getting better at studies too. I have to admit I was a little jealous. I thought I deserved at least as much as her. When I scored way more than her in my Boards, I felt victorious, not because I had proved myself academically but because I had earned this. But that's pathetic, because I left that school years ago and I should have forgotten about that girl's tortures by now.

Over the years,. I have gotten stronger (except for occasional fights with my father who thinks I'm trying to prove I as good as any guy), but still, old nightmares creep up sometimes. It has benefited me by giving my a drive- I always try to be good at everything. But I shouldn't be so affective. There are people fighting nightmares more frightening than mine, so why do I crack sometimes while they don't? To be a cool kid, I have to learn to be like them. And I think I am going to start by somehow getting those snobbish, flirtatious girls to shut up! Yes, that's the thing I should do that?

Any suggestions on how I can do that?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

To Be Or Not To Be An Authoritative Figure

There was a time when children went to school during the day and spent all evening playing in gardens. The world was simple and a child didn’t have to boast of being from a rich family or having a father who owns ten cars to appear cool. There was no cable television with shows from all over the world showing varied lifestyle, some more appealing than the rest. There was no need to fight for the 0.1% marks by which they missed the position of class topper. IIT and AIIMS were phrases they learnt when they were well into their teens.
That time has passed. Things are different now. While days are still occupied by school, evenings may be devoted to trying to reach the next level of GameBoy. In school, there is a constant need to be cool. You have to be either rich, beautiful, extremely talented or academically excellent, and if you are none of the above and just an average school kid, going through school consists of a mix of being invisible to other kids and being taunted and whispered about. You have to be like Hannah Montana or Alex Russo (the current it girls for the tween set) and if you are a rock music illiterate (even though you are an Indian folk music fan), you may immediately branded as a ‘loser’. On hitting fourteen, three hours of coaching classes have to be crammed in so that one can ultimately get into a good college and the competition in the entrances is so intense that most aspirants have to face disappointment.
But there are certain things which haven’t changed over the years. A child is still a child. His needs are still the same. Only the things that the world demands from him/ her have changed. Accordingly, the way parents their children also have to change. Back in the day, when parents treated their kids harshly, sometimes even resorting to hitting and beating, it wasn’t that big a problem because children had a simpler life. Considering the social and environmental changes that have come about over the years, it is only practical that as things are getting harsher, more competitive and more cut-throat in the outside world, things should get easier at home. If children are treated the same way today as they were years ago, it would only add to the pressures they are already facing, and if the pressures exceed a certain yield point, they will suffer from a nervous breakdown.
In certain cultures, such as in China, tough parenting is the norm.  A child’s talent is refined and tweaked to perfection in order to help them survive in a competitive environment, but at times, the treatment can be too harsh for the child’s benefit. Some incidents mentioned in Amy Chua’s book, Tiger Brother, for example, a mother rejecting a daughter’s card as she would only accept a card into which some thought and effort had been put. The expression of love was rejected and a better artistic endeavor was demanded. The parent may be thinking that she motivated her child to work harder as an artist, but the impact may be such that this memory may linger in the child’s mind way into adulthood, and make him/her abhor art forever.
On the other hand, in certain cultures, such parenting may be considered outrageous. But the good news is that even in such countries, children grow up to become successful individuals. However, this does not imply that one can allow their children to spend hours with the TV or computer in the name of giving them ‘freedom’ and then expect that their child will grow up to get foreign degrees and at least two Nobel Prizes. The fact that the world out there is extremely demanding must not be forgotten by parents in their quest to provide an easygoing environment for their children at home.
Keeping in view the needs of a child or teenager as well as the brutal competition prevailing in today’s world, the most balanced form of parenting is what is termed as ‘authoritative parenting’. In this form of parenting, a parent is an authority in the child’s life, a good role model who helps his or her child to set goals and strive to achieve them. But at the same time, a child’s needs and interests is placed above everything else and never does motivation turn into coercion and doesn’t drive a child too hard. It is only through balanced parenting that we can give rise to a well-balanced future generation.