Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Of books and their readers

I don't often post comments on other blogs (which is no reason for you not to. ahem.), but a twitter friend (is that the correct term?) recently wrote this lovely piece, and I was prompted to. And I did, and while writing it I thought I wanted to come back to what I was writing and do a longer piece of my own on this topic at some point, but the comment seems to have disappeared altogether and I'm not quite sure what happened, so I suppose the longer piece about this is coming sooner than expected.

I'm not much of a reader, truth be told. I used to be. When I was 16, I had a lovely three months of nothing to do and spent them reading all the more traditional classics that my library had. Soon after, however, I discovered Mills & Boons and how they didn't require any thinking. And that was the end of that. While I have now moved on from them to a select few romance authors I like to think are better, the number of really good books in any other genre I've read in the years since is a pitifully short list. And then of course, the internetz happened, and so much of my reading is just online these days - blogs, articles, and whatnot.

However, even though I don't read that much, I love books. I always have, so even though I have the Kindle app on my phone full of a whole bunch of nonsensical no-thinking-required type of books, there are times when you really do want to just curl up with a book in your hands. But more than that, it's old books, books owned by others before me, books handed down to me by others, books that have a history behind them that I love most.

Which is probably why most of the books I own are from Daryaganj, or College Street, or lending libraries that were selling off their stock, from the second-hand bookshop in the airport I flew in and out of for the two years of business school, or now from Half-Price Books. Very often they've been books I'd already read, bought simply because they're favourites I like to go back to frequently.

And all of this brings me to the point I had in mind when I started this post, of reading old books, and the notes in them. I'm not one to make notes in books while reading them. Well, except for textbooks, and they don't count as far as I'm concerned anyway. The only times I have made a note in a book if there was a line that jumped out me, but that's been rare too - I was, in my teens, far more likely to carefully copy it down in a notebook full of quotes I used to maintain; these days, though, I'm more likely to post it on tumblr or goodreads!

But the notes I love, and my favourite part of owning or even browsing through pre-owned books, is the inscriptions in them. Who owned them, where and when they were bought, who gifted them to whom, and why - I love glancing into books and seeing those notes that give these books a history. Running my fingers over those names or notes always makes me wonder, and smile.

Whenever I buy a book - new or old - the first thing I do is scribble my name, the date, and where I bought it on the first page. When someone gifts me a book - new or old - I hound them till they scribble a little note inside. It's how I've got the best letters from my family, truth be told. And I do the same if I'm gifting a book to someone.

Who knows, twenty or fifty years down the line, someone will pick up a Chalet School or Georgette Heyer book somewhere, and see my name scribbled in there, and wonder. And maybe smile?


Friday, March 28, 2014

Goin' home

I went home for two weeks.

I landed at the airport, and stood outside waiting for my parents to pick me up. A car pulled up, with an older couple in the front, a dog at the back, clearly waiting for their offspring. It wasn't for me. Their son showed up and got into the car; they drove off, and my parents pulled up. For the first time since I left home, and came back to visit, the back seat was empty.

We reached home, and there was silence in the house. Excited voices chattering over each other, yes, but silence otherwise. No paws pattering (or slipping, as I used to perennially worry) on the marble floors. No deep sighs of exasperation when I got into arguments with the mother, or the brother when he showed up a week later.

I celebrated my birthday at home this year, and my parents brought out a cake and the camera and gifts at midnight. And my mother took a piece of cake and dropped it to the floor, in memory of the four-legged idiot who would go berserk on hearing the words "happy birthday" and would salivate and palpitate any time a cake was baked or cut at home, and would be the first one to be fed every time. And I looked the other way and pretended I didn't see.

We went out, and no one bothered closing the kitchen door to prevent someone from sneaking in. I did, out of habit. We came back home, and no one jumped off the sofa guiltily, or came pattering up with a wagging tail to greet me. I went down to the basement, to the father's office, and there was no one sprawled on the stairs, blocking my way. The brother went for a run every morning, but there was no one sighing patiently as he and I argued over whose turn it was to take her out.

Two days before leaving, I was sent to get the laundry, and I passed the father's white board, where he's put up post cards and magnets sent to him by his kids over the years. And next to them, was the release form he signed for her cremation, when she left us nine months ago. And I read it, and broke down. And bawled.

And I came back upstairs and my phone was playing music, and this song came on, and the silence in the house grew louder.

I went home for two weeks, and Kyra wasn't there to greet me, or sleep with her head on my feet, or eat my birthday cake, beg for food with those guilt-inducing eyes of hers, or make me go for a walk at least once a day. And the house felt so damn silent.


Monday, March 24, 2014

Of broken eggs and deleted posts

Sometimes you go to Whole Foods and accidentally drop a crate of eggs. And you pick up the crate and stand wondering what to do with it, and while you're standing there with yolk dripping on your fingers, a woman who's been glaring at you ever since it happened stops a Whole Foods employee and points him your way. And you keep apologizing, but he just laughs you off saying he drops eggs several times more than you do, and you don't feel so bad. And then you see the woman who was glaring at you look disappointed that you didn't have to burn in hell for what you did and you feel even better. And then you come home and type out a long FB update about the incident and the woman who wanted to see you pay for your sins but delete it without posting because you realize you have an overactive imagination and no one really cares.

And then you open Blogger and post it there instead because what is a blog for if not your overactive imagination that no one cares about.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Thoughts I had while watching Highway

I think these are by and large in the sequence I had them, but some might not be, plus I'm pretty sure I've forgotten some.

I'm fairly certain this is pretty spoiler-free, but tread with caution?
  • Oh good the UTV dance. I still miss the fingers doing the rangoli thungummy though.
  • This Window Seat Films sketch is the cutest thingummy for a production house I've seen in a long time.
  • I've clearly spent too much time in Amreeka, because the opening montage in the movie is from the viewpoint of the driver's seat, and is absolutely gorgeous, yet all I could think was: that's... not the right side of the road.
  • Wow that fiance's a pansy. (Sidebar: you would think there would be a better video of that beautiful line available on YouTube. I am disappoint.)
  • Ugh creepy guy pretending to be nice and helpful ugh.
  • It's a good thing this movie has subtitles. Being from Gurgaon obviously hasn't done much for my Haryanvi comprehension skills.
  • Alia Bhatt has gorgeous hair. 
  • Ugh creepy guy ugh.
  • I'm very sure that scene was filmed on the main road near my home.
  • A review I read a few days ago talked about Veera - Alia's character - having a "secret from her past". I was bang on with my guess as to what that secret would be. 
  • The jump from being terrified of your kidnapper to confiding your biggest secret to him to dancing in the wind seemed too abrupt.
  • Can I bash the heads of these two idiots sitting in front of me? Maybe that'll get them to stop talking.
  • Where does the second kidnapper (Adooda? was that his name?) keep disappearing?
  • Excellent casting, I have to say. Adooda and Tonk, especially.
  • That dance scene - love how the entire hall erupted in laughter when the bhangra started.
  • India's quite beautiful, no?
  • On the other hand, the progression of emotions shown by Mahabir - Randeep Hooda's character - seemed far more natural.
  • I can't remember another movie where I watched actors cry so realistically. 
  • Okay I might need to stop my friend from punching these two idiots. But seriously, shut up. It's not your living room.
  • I'm not quite sure what's going on right now with this QSQT-like living in the mountains scenario. I like movies to have an identifiable end goal, and I'm not seeing one right now.
  • I'm not sure why I don't love Randeep Hooda. The man is gorgeous, can act, and does interesting movies. What exactly is it about him that doesn't stick?
  • Holy crap, I did not see that coming.
  • Wait, the movie's not over? What could they possibly do after that?
  • Ah okay, I see where this is going.
  • Huh. Okay, I can live with this ending. Not overly dramatic, and largely believable. 
I have to say, after watching Hasee toh Phasee two weeks ago, and now this movie, the question begs to be asked: was Student of the Year really the only option Siddharth Malhotra and Alia Bhatt had for their debut? They deserved so much better. Both can act, which I had suspected when I saw SOTY, but am convinced of after their subsequent movies.

Well done, Imitiaz Ali. I am inclined to forgive the hash that was Love Aaj Kal. I still don't plan to watch Rockstar, however.



Thursday, February 20, 2014

Of (some) things that make me homesick

I was listening to this song on the drive to work this morning, and once again found myself thinking that the opening lines of this song always make me a little more homesick, as well as a little questioning of my life choices.



And then I got to work, pulled up Feedly for my morning browsing of new posts, and the first one that popped up was this.

Sometimes the universe conspires to make you miss everything you hold dear a little more.


Friday, February 07, 2014

A note on Dilli and its people

I've realized no matter which part of the world I'm in, no matter how vaguely or how well I know someone, it's the folks - mainly guys, interestingly - from Delhi who will end an evening with the words "let me when you get home so I know you've reached safely."

It's not everyone from Delhi. It's not only in the evenings. Most of all, it's not only folks from Delhi, I know. But it stands out to me because in general, I don't get along with folks from Delhi much - despite having grown up there. And therefore don't hang out with them all that frequently since leaving home. But when I do, I almost always hear this. More than I do from people from other parts of the country or even world.

And I'm choosing not to rationalize it in any way - city characteristics, gender, personalities, falana dimka. It's something I've observed, and find interesting.

That is all.


Monday, February 03, 2014

Where we set goals for this blog

I've been flip-flopping about what to do with this blog for a while now. Struggling to write the annual recap I like to do made me realize just how hard it's become for me to write off late, and I've been wondering if it's worth the effort.

I came very close to shutting down this blog last week, mainly because I was (am) furious with someone who allegedly knows me very well, yet doesn't grasp how important it is to me to keep this blog private from extended family and acquaintances. Having calmed down somewhat, I realized I can't. This blog has been a part of me for too long. It's been a medium for me to vent, to express, to share - and I'm not letting anyone take that away from me.

When I browse through this blog's archives, I find myself liking what I've written in the last two or three years more than what I wrote in the early years. So while my frequency has decreased, the fact I've been writing mostly when I've been overly worked up or emotional about something has helped, I think. At the same time, it isn't very nice to realize I can only write something I won't disapprove of later when I'm either angry or sad.

So here's the thing. I'm going to set myself reminders to blog a minimum of twice a month. It could be anything - a meme, a few quick thoughts on whatever TV show I'm currently doing a marathon watch of, what I lost that particular week. But I'm going to write. And if between those two mandated posts I get worked up about something else and decide to type out a furious rant, well then, that's just a bonus. But I'm going to write.

And if there's no one reading those posts other than the one mother and one friend who are subscribed to this blog by email - well, that's no different from the current situation, so what's there.

That is all. I will go set reminders now. Toodles.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Passport woes

My annual flashback for 2013 is still pending, but recent events have fueled bitter tweets on my twitter timeline, which in turn prompted me to write this post that I really wanted to write almost two years ago, but thought it wiser to wait.

Some of you might remember a fleeting reference to a it-can-only-happen-to-me type incident from my annual flashback last year. This, dear reader, is the long-promised post about it.

This story truly begins in 2004 when I applied for a passport renewal in good old Dilli. In those days, children, Indian passports were still handwritten, and had none of these fancy bar-scannable stuff. So of course, when my new passport was issued on March 1st, 2004, the person filling it out glanced at his calendar, and put down 29th February 2009 as the expiration date.

Quick, who sees the problem with this? Wait, wait, it gets better.

Since we had applied for the renewal through the tatkaal process, it was issued only for five years. After the "verification process", which involved a drunk cop showing up at home at 10 PM and my  mum having to go ask our neighbours to write out and sign utterly useless letters, we then applied to have the passport extended to a ten-year validity, where again, yes, again, the fellow writing down the new expiry date on the next page glanced at the first page and put down 29th February 2014 as the expiry date.

Now, if you haven't gathered the problem by now, allow me to elaborate. 2004 was a leap year. 2009 wasn't; neither is 2014. So neither of those years have a 29th February. You savvy?

So anyway, when we realized this, we contemplated trying to get it fixed, but by that point any energy or motivation to go back to the passport office in Bikaji Cama Place had left us, so we decided to let it be till it became an issue. This, my friends, is the story of how it became an issue.

Honestly, for eight years, it wasn't an issue. I got multiple Schengen visas issued - from at least four different countries, visited the UK, China, Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia, and got two-two US visas issued. And never had a problem. Till two years ago.

After eight years of people from all over the world looking at the date there, applying the brains the Good Lord gave them, and using 28 February as the actual date of expiry, one bright lady decided that to do so would be perjury. And so four days into my internship in Chicago in the summer of 2012, I received a call from HR saying I was being let go till I could sort this out.

And so I did what any strong, collected, independent woman in my situation would do - called my father even though it was past midnight in India. Who in turn called every friend in the US he could think of, and also found me the phone number of the Indian consulate in Chicago.

After much hesitation, and also getting advice from sundry people who were really not much help, I finally called the consulate, where one old Uncle picked up the phone. And heard my situation and promptly handed me over to another Uncle. Who had the bright idea that since my home address in the US was in North Carolina, I should go to DC and apply for a new passport. Which, I mean, hello, I had already researched and discovered that it would be too expensive, take too long, and may not even work since I had more than a year before my passport expired.

So I went into whining mode. 
"But Sir, I'm a student and they've asked me to leave my job so how am I supposed to go to DC and get a new passport?"
"Hmmm. Achha, why don't you come to the consulate tomorrow morning and we will see what we can do."
So at 8 AM the next morning, I was at the Indian Consulate in Chicago. Where I got a ticket and waited for my turn, and when I finally approached the counter and explained my situation, got a big grin and:
"Oh, so you're the one who called yesterday! Wait, wait, give us your passport and we will call you in 15 minutes."

So I waited 15 minutes till one Aunty called me and gave me my passport where they had essentially written on the first blank page they found that the correct expiry date was 28th February 2014, and stamped it, and made a note near previous expiry date to look at other page. Very complicated, and yet so simple.

After thanking them profusely, I called HR to ask if this would work, got a yes, and went shopping on Michigan Avenue, where I splurged on a lovely red dress from Nordstrom and sent my family a long emotional email.

And the first thing I did when I got back to school after the summer was find out if I could renew my passport even if more than a year of validity was left (yes, since the passport wasn't bar-scannable), and sent off my application to DC. Who promptly sent it back since I had forgotten to sign one measly form on one measly page. But then sent me a new passport eventually after I resent everything correctly.

So there you go. Eight years of no one but one airport security guy asking me about a wrong date, one woman who blows up the wrong date into epic proportions, and an Indian consulate who were incredibly sweet and helpful to me at least.

Honestly, I think I need a label for all passport-related incidents posted about on this blog. This is at least the third or fourth such post.
 


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Where we do a quick recap of 2013

I didn't do this last year, and it left me feeling a little incomplete all year. So I think this just needs to become an annual tradition for myself. Ergo, drumroll...

1. What did you do in 2013 that you’d never done before?
Shared a two-bedroom flat with five other people in London for two months. Graduated - by which I mean had a proper commencement ceremony, because y'know, two degrees from Delhi University had none of that.


2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
No, and no.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
A close friend from business school had a son a couple of months back.


4. Did anyone close to you die?
Yes.

5. What places did you visit?

Gallivanted all over England for the first two months of the year. Then Asheville, New Jersey, New York, Chicago, San Francisco. Not bad at all, methinks. Even though I know I had the opportunity to do a lot more.

6. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?
Will power.


7. What date from 2013 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
The weekend of 12th May - graduation weekend.
16th July - see #4.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Graduation? Surviving those two months of close quarters in London? There's a theme to this post this year...


9. What was your biggest failure?
Becoming a hermit again, once I moved to Dallas.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Hah. Yes - burnt my arm quite badly in March, followed by sundry other incidents. Also the car accident mentioned here led to terrible back ache for several weeks, as well as my first ever experience of being hopped up on painkillers. Not something I would like to repeat, thankyouverymuch.


11. What was the best thing you bought?

I bought a LOT of stuff this year, but I don't know if any of it qualifies for this.


12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

My brother. Because (and don't tell him I said this) when things have happened this year that have made me feel hopeless about what women have to deal with, his responses to all of those situations have made me feel hopeful that there are good, decent men out there.



13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and/or depressed?

On the personal front, no one, thankfully. In the public domain, where do I even begin?


14. Where did most of your money go?
Hahahahahahahahaha. New gaddi. Furniture for my apartment. Clothes I felt I needed, but may not have really. Those damn romance novels that keep having Kindle sales. Sheesh. I've been awful this year.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
London. Graduation. Going home this summer.

16. What song will always remind you of 2013?
This. I was listening to my Amit Trivedi playlist one day, and I realized this line from it is how the house felt after 16th July:
Sab kuch wahi hai, par kuchh kami hai 
Teri aahatein nahin hai


17. Compared to this time last year, are you happier or sadder?
Bit of both. It's been a good year, overall. But there's a sadness that won't go away. I'm grieving for my princess, still. And I don't know when I'll stop. And I'm not sure part of me wants to stop.


18. Thinner or fatter?
It's gone up and down, this year, but overall, a leetle bit fatter, I think.

19. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Socialized. Travelled.


20. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Been a hermit. Played Candy crush saga?



21. How will you be spending Christmas?

I went to New Jersey, and spent five days up to Christmas with my friend and her family. No matter what the years ahead hold, this will always be one of my favorite Christmas memories ever.

22. Did you fall in love in 2013?
Nope.


23. How many one-night stands?
Gazillion, don'tcha know?


24. What was your favourite TV programme?

Once Upon a Time and TBBT remained favorites. Discovered and fell in love with Arrow. Did a West Wing marathon of all seven seasons over three months this summer, and have revisited it again recently. My to-watch list keeps growing longer, but I keep going back to The West Wing. That show, man. That show.

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
For once, no. If you had asked me this in February or March, certain flatmates might have gotten named. In the nine months since, I have gotten to a point where I now think fondly of them as mere irritations.

26. What was the best book you read?
I actually did read some books this year. I developed a love-hate relationship with the Game of Thrones series, and read a few other books. Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth was probably my favorite of the year, despite her refusal to give me happy endings.


27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
I mostly stuck to Amit Trivedi this year. But Papon and he both put together some fabulous episodes on Coke Studio. And of course Pinjra.

28. What did you want and get?
A lot more time with family than I had expected at the beginning of the year.

29. What did you want and not get?
For Kyra to get better.


30. What was your favourite film of this year?
I didn't see too many, really. Kai Po Che was good, as was the second Hobbit movie (at least, better than the first). I also lurved Saving Mr Banks.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Ah, that was a good weekend, that was. I turned 28 in London, and celebrations lasted three days. A dinner with the godfather and his family, a ride on the London Eye as a gift to myself, attending a drag show in a gay bar in Vauxhall where I enjoyed the British humour a lot more than my friend who wanted to be at said show, an evening spent drinking a lot more than I usually allow myself to drink, followed by dancing that wouldn't have happened if I hadn't had said drinks, and finally dinner on the day itself with flatmates and another friend.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Holding myself back less, I think.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013?
I now own more dresses than tops or blouses for work, which, as anyone who knows me would tell you, is just weird.

34. What kept you sane?
Holing myself up and shutting out the world. Which is also what I feel I should have done less of, but wuttodo.


35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Major girl crush has been developed on Jennifer Lawrence, I must admit.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
Does the Tarun Tejpal incident count as a political issue? It's what I got most worked up about, at any rate.

37. Who did you miss?
Kyra.
By this point in life, family goes without saying, but Kyra, mostly.


38. Who was the best new person you met?
I dunno.


39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013.
It takes very little to make me happy. It's making that happiness last that I struggle with.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
Nothing comes to mind right now. Is there anything that talks about a gazillion life changes in just a few months?


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Where I ramble about religion

The term "against our culture" puzzles me.

I'm not the most religious person around, but I grew up reading every single Amar Chitra Katha comic I could lay my hands on (including one memorable Delhi Book Fair where I spent my entire allowance on all the ACK comics at the first stall, and got them bound into three volumes), as well as C. Rajagopalachari's versions of Ramayana and Mahabharata, so I feel like I know something about the stories of Hindu mythology, if nothing else.

And the thing that always struck me about our mythology is how flawed our Gods are. You look at everything Indra did, sometimes for nothing other than pride. Krishna, Shiva, Rama - they've all done things that not everyone would say was the right thing to do. Sometimes they regretted and/or atoned for their actions, sometimes they didn't. But I feel like our Gods were a lot more tolerant than anyone gives them credit for.

I've also been to a few churches and attended a few sermons in my life - probably understood them a lot better than any puja I might have gone for too. And a common thread I've always heard in them is that it doesn't matter what you've done in your life, as long as you believe in God and accept Him in your life, you will be accepted by him into Heaven. Which always feels like a bit of a cop out to me, but also convinces me that if there is a God out there, or a gazillion of them, he/they is/are a lot more accepting and human than us mere mortals.

I've heard the phrase "against Indian culture" being countered by examples of sculptures and writings from ancient times. But for those who use religion as an argument to not accept something about a person, you need to go back and remember how accepting your religion really is.

Because our gods were flawed. And heck of a lot more tolerant than those who claim to follow them.