Sunday, May 29, 2011

Good Books Are Every Teenager's Birthright

Remember that post I did about how Indian kids don't get to watch any good Indian TV shows (  Well, as it turns out, they don't get to read any good books either.  I walk into Crosswords and head over to the Yong Adult Fiction section and all I see is American paranormal which mostly have something to do with vampires. I don't understand one thing- why is it that there is a separate section for Indian authors? It's almost as if Indian writers are being marginalized in their own country. It should be the other way round. There should be a separate section for foreign literature. The shelves are divided in such a way that children and tenagers would never gravitate towards books written by Indian authors. But that's not the only problem. I don't really see too much of Indian YA novels on the shelves anyways. Anything which gets close to this genre are stories about people who go to IIT. I understand why these work- they capture the dreams and efforts of mle class India and are quite relatable- but don't you think that if writers keep reflecting the country in the same way, as if there is only one viable path, we shall soon have a country full of clones.

In Indian YA, we ned innovation. We need stories which have nothing to do with IIT. We need better teacher jokes. We need better descriptions of the roadside paanipuri wala. We need more female protagonists. We need to read about girls who want to live interesting lives and even though the mischief displayed by boys oesn't appeal to them, their mind works in the funniest, sassiest and sometimes angriest of ways. We need less chick-lit. Unless we come up with something as good as The Devil Wears Prada (And that's not even YA), there's really no point talking of the perfect handbag and the perfect guy. We don't need any more modern interpretations of traditional tales but we don't need vampires either.

Sometimes I wonder- are we teenagers not interesting enough to be written about? Why doesn't anyone dig eeper into our thoughts, come up with new stories about us? I never get any answers and that just makes me sad.

When I grow up, I want to write for and about children. I want kids to read about their own country, about people who were just like them but did amazing things. Maybe then, kids in India will be able to read something nice.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Are You Afraid Of the Dark? Don't Be.

Remember when we were kids and frightened by the dark? I guess none of us really remember at what age we started turning on the lights by ourselves but it came to us naturally. Since then, looking at darkness has made us want to light up the room. But that's the hard part- you have to look at the darkness.

I always encourage people to be honest with themselves. Frankly, I hate dishonesty. Being honest includes embracing our dark side. It includes looking into everything carefully and seeing everything for what it really is. Believe me, true happiness can be achieved only when we have faced unhappiness. Lifestyle gurus can tell us all about positive thinking and meditation and blah blah blah, but the truth is that if we try to be happy all the time by ignoring the bad things in and around us, we will never be satisfied with what we have. I sometimes believe it is the quest for perpetual happiness that makes people greedy. Instead of perpetual happiness and excitement, one should first look for perpetual contentment and then pursue interest that add excitement to our life.

So, to embrace the darkness, here are a few tips:

1. Know what people love you for:
If you are under the illusion that everyone loves you for your personality, you are wrong. Different people like us for different reasons. Some just like the way we look. Some are in awe of us and feel secure in our presence. Some like us for their own purpose. There are only a few people who love us for who we are. Don't over- or underestimate yourself depending on how surrounded by people you are. But beware when using this tip- you might come up with some hurtful discoveries. For example, your best friend might be using you for something or your boyfriend might want you just because other guys want you.

2. Ask Yourself Questions:
Whatever you ask, answer honestly and keep repeating the answer in your head. In the beginning, it'll be hard. You might feel deprived of the happiness that is brought by not questioning anything. But soon, you'll have a simple, uncomplicated life.

3. Be Practical:
A lot of people are going to encourage your dreams. Very few will help you achieve them. Don't let your dreams overshadow reality. The truth is that the world is a very competitive, mean, horrible place. We must first be able to secure a place in it. Only then can we even hope to make any difference to it. But this doesn't mean that dreams need to be given up and don't listen to anybody who asks you to do so. Divide your time in such a way that you get to work both on your interests and your obligations.

4. Remember That You're Not Someone Out of a TV Show:
Whatever you see in magazine and TV and films is all fake. Your hair will never be as perfect as the one's that models have. Your eyes will not be like Aishwarya Rai's, you smile will not be like Katrina Kaif's, you will never be as thin as the models on the ramp. A lot of time, effort and money goes into making them what they are and so, it's impossible for us to attain. Just look at the 'before' and 'after' pictures of those girls on the TOP MODEL shows. They look like normal girls without all the make-up. And I'm not just speaking of appearances. Our lives are never going to be as exciting as the people who act in sitcoms without causing us some pain. Break-ups and divorces are never funny. Friends from high-school don't magically end up at the same college. So don't expect these things.

I have only helped you see the truth a little better. Could you blame me for that? I am not trying to make you pessimistic. I'm just saying that you could be happier if you just stop pretending that you already are.

When we're grown-up, I don't think anybody would want to go back to the time when darkness was a source of fear. At some point, we all just accept darkness as a part of the natural world and realize that we need to fill it with light. Looking away and turning to pale glimmer from a distant source doesn't help for long.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Through Eyes Of A Child

Today, I'm filled with questions.

I recently read 'To Kill A Mockingbird'. It's the story of a lawyer. Atticus Finch, who fights for a black man accused of the molestation of a white girl. The main themes are racial prejudice and hypocrisy of society. Strangely, the novel, with its mature themes, is not narrated by an adult. It is narrated by Atticus' daughter, a girl so young, she barely has any knowledge of the things around her. What astounded me was how this girl, despite her immaturity and lack of knowledge, observes everything and tries to interpret it. A scene in which this is illustrated is when she wonders why her teacher, who detests Hitler for his intolerance towards Jews, is herself intolerant towards people of color. She hates how she is forced by her aunt o 'become a girl'. Although she doesn't yet know what society expects of women, she feels the pressure to conform. We can see that she is in fact her father, and may one day become a strong feminist. On her first day of school, she is told to hold her capabilities back and not read or write until the other children catch up with her. The school forces her and the other students to study by an teaching system which is meant to be interactive by actually doesn't benefit them.

It is Scout's objectivity and keen observation which made me love the novel.

I remember my first day in school. I remember the mean things some of my classmates did to me when I as younger. I remember being more patriotic than I am now, more honest, a better individual. At that age, the world was a place full of promise and I was allowed to see it as it was because I still believed that if something was bad, someone or even me could change it. All kids feel this way. They may be innocent but their mind is not clouded by illusions. They don't look away when they see something bad happening because they still don't know they are supposed to. Their teacher (us) teach them they can fight all evils, and they believe that. They believe in heroes. They believe in goodness. They believe that the two will eventually trump villains and evils. And they believe all this because we have taught them to, even though we may not necessarily believe it ourselves?

So what happens when we grow up? Where does the objectivity go? Why can't we differentiate what is right and wrong? Why can't we stop something wrong from happening? And if the world is an unchangeable, horrible place, why do we give children hope? Is it the disappointment which comes when the hope is shattered that turn us into skeptics? Is being a skeptic ever good, or is a child's will to see things get better actually make the world go around?

As I said, today I'm filled with questions. I don't remember having so many of them as a child.

The Age Of Innocence- We Never Really Grow Out Of It

'The Age Of Innocense' is a novel by Edith Wharton about the uptight and conservative New York society of the 1880s. It tells the story of Newland Archer, a young lawyer engaged to be married to the lovely May Welland and living life the way a man of his age and background is expected to live. His life has been planned by the world he lives in and he simply follows the rules set for him. He is satisfied with his existence till the arrival of May's cousin Ellen Ollenska. Ellen is seeking a divorce from her European husband, a step that would destroy her reputation. She catches his fancy- her former European life a mystery, her mannerisms unconventional, her life pitiable. He falls in love with her and starts a forbidden romance but must eventually marry May, his bethrothed. Years later, after May's death, he sees Ellen in Europe, only to realize they can never rekindle what once was. Both of them have grown and changed, just not together.

'The Age Of Innocence' is a beautiful novel in which every line subtly and sarcastically criticizes society. Wharton's work can be compared to Jane Austen's, but in today's day and age, the young will find it easier to relate to Wharton.

The novel filled me with question. Did Newland ever love Ellen, or was it the promise of an unconventional life so different from the one planned out from him attract him to her? Is May, the one who is painted as the most conventional of the lot, really the best character, with her showing more wisdom than Newland on several occasions? Is the novel about Newland's love or about his dissatisfaction? And most importantly, how is it that public and personal lives dictate each other and what gives others the right to decide how we shall live?

Now, we may think we have come along way since the novel was written and we may be right. People have learnt not to live to find a place in society but also to find happiness. Or have we?

Even today, there are things we consider 'right' and 'wrong'. Let's take an example- kids are sent to private schools even though public schools have the same curriculum. It is not about learning the right things. It's about mingling with the right people, learning to use the right language, having a good front to show the world. Your social standing may be determined by how popular you are in the social circuits, how many get-togethers you are invited to, how many you show up at. You are judged by the people you are seen with. And when we feel we are becoming like everyone else with no identity of our own, we decide to do something wild and inconsequential. Maybe if we do something wild (get drunk, drive fast, go partying), we'll be able to grow and say "Yes, I did that". But when we grow old, we see we haven't really done anything and if we could go back, maybe we could have lived our lives differently. We se that our actions, both careful and reckless, didn't really lead us to any special place.

We all do have a thirst for superficial happiness. It's almost as if we are competing for happiness and nobody is allowed to get there before us. But this race makes us lose our way. It takes us to a place from where no matter where we look, we see the exact same thing.

Unlike the novel, however, real life does give us true happiness at times. We may not find it at a fancy dinner, but we may find it when we win a simple competition with our teammates. We may not find it after we get a raise, but we may find it when we stand first in class. We may not find it with the thousands of friends and acquaintances we chose to surround ourselves with in order to feel less lonely, but we find it with our parents and children and true friends. The only problem is that we are so caught up in trying to be happy all the time (believe me, that's impossible) that we fail to notice it when we actually are.

It's time to stop living in the age of innocense. It's time to grow up.

Ugly Is An Ugly Word

Ugly is the ugliest word in the world. Whenever you say it, you become ugly. Now, I am not trying to preach anything here. I am not going to encourage you to see beauty in everything. I realize that there are some things and certain people who are more aesthetically appealing than others. I'm just saying, don't just dismiss someone as 'ugly'.

I have had the good fortune of having a best friend who never uses the word 'ugly'. Every time someone utters the word 'ugly', I feel like covering my ears, but the one saying it seems to feel no guilt whatsoever. Don't they think they're being shallow? Can't they hear how bad the word sounds coming out of their mouth?

Now, there are lots of different kinds of people on this planet. One of those kinds are the girls who don't think twice before using the U-word. These are usually the people who have their nose eyes, ears, limbs and the like in the right places and in the right size and since they don't have much problem in the aesthetics department, they feel like they have gained the right to dismiss people about their appearance. They think their beauty makes them superior to others in some way and if in case they feel that someone doesn't share this superiority, they say "Oh, she's just so u***!"

Now, the question is- What exactly is beauty?

Let me remind you that I recognize the fact that some things are more aesthetically appealing than others. But at the same time, I look around me and see there are girls who are absolutely beautiful but probably don't get much attention for it. These girls are pretty on the inside too, but someone more fashionable or thinner or fairer is always deemed as the prettiest. This has led me to believe that what we call 'beauty' is basically just 'superficial appeal'. You lose some wight, throw on some make-up, suppress your emotions and plaster a permanent smile on your face, play hard to get and wham! You become 'beautiful'.

Look a little deeper. There are people around us who are gorgeous. The people we see on TV wear eight kilos of make-up and have the latest technology making them look flawless. In the real world there are people who're almost as beautiful as them. We just need to keep your eyes open and stop looking for superficiality.

And next time you call someone 'u***' remember that whatever gives you the confidence to say it may be snatched away from you any day. You'll grow old and your skin will sag. You might meet with an accident which causes disfigurement. Or maybe something less extreme- you might have to move to a place where the culture doesn't classify you as pretty. Don't call anyone ugly, and the chances of you becoming ugly go down because ugly is an ugly word.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

My New Taste In Movies

I am going through a phase right now. Most psychiatrists would call it normal and blame it on 'age', but they would probably expect me to want to dye my hair purple, get piercings, wear 8 kilos of make-up and listen to angst-y rock music. but that's not happening. Instead of trying to desperately keep up with my peers, I am turning- at least culturally- to the past. All of a sudden, I have started enjoying movies from the 70s and music by R.D. Burman. In the wake of the development of my new interests, I have made a list of great movies I have seen or would like to see at some point. Here is the list, in no particular order:

1) The Graduate
As the opening credits roll Bejamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) comes down a conveyor belt wearing a deadpan expression with 'Sound of Silence' playing in the background. In the next shot, a briefcase comes down a similar belt and passes by a sign which says 'Do they match?' Then, we see him emerging from the airport with a smile on his face, but we don't see who he is smiling at or who has come to receive it. The smile is just him following social custom which demands pleasant expressions. The first scene itself, although simple, is rich with symbolism and it intoduces the stroyline- Benjamin wants to break free from the his society and wants his life to be 'different'. Throughout the movie, scenes which actually don't depict anything out of the ordinary carry extra meaning because of the lack of wide shots that convey Benjamin's sense of confinement. This could have been a bad movie. It could have been one of those movies with 'adult'/'serious' storylines and almost no sense of artistry. But instead, it is a sweet (big shock, right?) movie about how Benjamin, after rebelling in the worst of ways, finds happiness in a plan that is similar to the one his parents always meant for him. A little trivia- when director Mike Nichols was asked what happen to Benjamin and his love, Elaine, he replied, "They become their parents"!

2) Do Aankhein, Barah Haath
I haven't seen it yet, but I know it's about a jail warden who transforms six inhuman convicts, a task that is described as 'turning an animal into a human being'. He employs them in agricultural activities and together they produce a fantastic yield. The ironic ending has the hero being killed by one of his enemies and not any of the convicts.

3) Pyaasa
I haven't seen this one yet either. It's about a poet in post-Independence India, Vijay, who struggles to make people take his poetry seriosly. Through a series of events, he is exposed to the corruption which prevails in the world. When his own blood brothers identify another man as Vijay to bank upon his poems, he is heartbroken. The movie ends with him denying his own identity, letting the impersonator take his place, saying, "I'm not Vijay".

4) Stepford Wives
I hate horror movies. I don't like useless gore or cheap thrills. But this is one of those rare pieces where horror doesn't man ghosts, ghouls, vampires and psychopaths who go around killing people mercillesly. A young woman, Joanna, moves into the town of Stepford with her husband and children. Slowly, she begins to realize that the women in the town are not normal- they live to serve their husbands, they look like Barbie dolls and are obsessed with cleaning. It turns out that the men who are threatened by their wives' independence kill the women and using their collective technological expertise, replace them with robots with the same face and name but different bodies and demeanours. The first step in this is making a potrait of the womenin which they appear more beautiful than they are, something Joanna thinks is not right. Then, a language specialist makes her record her voice so they have a limited vocabulary devoid of dangerous words like 'archaic', 'sexist' and 'feminist'. The third step is to take them away for a 'romantic weekend' from which they will return as their duplicates. A truly original storyline with great performances from the actors. Plus, it's a rare combinatio of horror, sophistication and social commentary.

5) Bawarchi
I have seen this millions of times with my parents. It's about a mysterious cook which comes to serve a warring household. Slowly and almost magically, his presence resolves all issues of the house and gives rise to a loving and caring family. Then, he just disappears one day. The girl of the family catches up with him and he tells her his mission in life- to make every family as beautiful as possible so the world wll one day become a more beautiful place.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Let's Talk Politics For A Change

I have been watching some TV and have got in touch with some current affairs. A certain election in my country brought some un-surprising results. The outcome was pretty much decided way before votes were cast because sometimes, you just know who's going to win.

This made me wonder- How often does our political conviction make a difference?

Ever since I was a kid, I have seen that leaders who're so hated by the people often come to power. Trust me, a cynical teenager's observation is never wrong. I have a big question- how do these people come to power if so many people hate them? I had just one answer- maybe we just don't care enough.

Ask any teenager and he/she is most likely to say he/she is apolitical. Basically, it's a way of saying 'I don't read papers and know nothing about the country'. I'll admit, even I am not very into the politcal affairs of my country but at least I realize I should be.

When so many people are apolitical, how come the government gets so much criticism? I mean, if you don't care, what gives you the right or the inclination to make a comments?

Now, I am not one of those adults who chants, "Don't blame the government for everything". If you want to blame the government for the sun rising two minutes late, you're free to do that. We're a democracy, right? We do have the constitutional right to trash-talk the government any time we want. But at the same time, it's good to have political conviction. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to be a devout leftist or rightist. It just means, that for our own benefit, we should know about the people and the events that run the country we live in. Knowledge will undoubtedly induce politcal conviction, rage when we are wronged by the people we choose, pride when our country succeeds and a sense of duty which I think could help all of us.

If you've been reading carefully, you will see that all I ask of you is to take a balanced political view. As you may know, democracy is all about checks and balances. And democracy begins with you.

The Importance Of Reaching Out

I just checked out the stats on my blog and it turns out I have readers in countries like Malaysia, Poland, USA, UK and UAE. I, an ordinary girl from a big city in India who usually goes unnoticed in the crowd, am reaching out to people who probably don't speak my language, don't know my name, don't know what my life's like. Thanks to the wonders of Internet, I am reaching out to people. For a change, I am letting people know what I feel.

Most writers say that writing is an emotional thing for them. It's something that's close to their hearts. Not me. For me, writing is something that's not close but deeply rooted to my head. I write with a purpose. Writing for me is a way of standing apart and reaching out at the same time.

Okay, I'll be honest. When I was younger,I always thought I was smarter than those girls in school who loved the attention they got on stage. I was wrong, because I see how much courage it takes to actually put yourself in front of an audience and actually perform a song or dance routine. But at the same time, I couldn't help but notice the detached appreciation writing got me. Whoever read my work didn't know or even care what I looked like or if I was popular. It was about what was inside of me, not outside. For me, it was a way of feeling empowered.

The truth is that since human being is a social animal, the best way to be one is by reaching out to other in the most positive of ways and it's our choice as to how we do that. Some people do it by entertaining others. Some great men and women have done it by influencing others' lives in the greatest of ways. Some people amongst us touch us in ways that go unnoticed.

Always remember that just because you're shy or unpopular or 'the short, ugly one' (don't believe you're the last one) doesn't mean you are destined to be shut up in a mental cell for your whole life. If nobody else, reach out to your family and keep it close to you. It is supposed to be the only thing that will stay by your side when everything else falls apart. Being silent isn't the same as being mute and that's what we should always keep in mind.

Lastly, thank you to all those who have ever taken the time to read my blog. In your way, you too are reaching out to me and connecting to other's like you.