Thursday, September 3, 2015

Of frostbites and fantasies

It’s a rather rhetorical and in all likelihood a completely futile question but one I will ask anyway. When will Bollywood quit misleading Indians (and whichever other languages our movies get dubbed in) into believing iconic romance only unfolds in impossible-to-reach, navigate and survive, ultra-exotic locales?

     Twice this week I’ve stumbled upon pictures of SRK and Kajol in some remote, godforsaken place called Iceland. It evokes a painful memory that seems to have lingered on subconsciously. Many years ago (when I was a tad more spontaneous and intrepid) I was obsessed with watching the northern lights in Alaska while traveling across it.  You know the enthralling, dramatic, magical display of lights that fascinate every bit? It also goes by Aurora Borealis. They call it the most spectacular light show on earth, and for good reason. A bit of research quickly threw me in direct confrontation with the harsh reality; it would require driving 2 hours north of the farthest human establishment in Alaska closer to the north pole, camping out in minus 30 and 40-degree Fahrenheit temperatures for nights in a row and relying entirely on my luck for my chance of a lifetime to witness those auroras splashed across the sky and make me believe in miracles again. Winter months are best as December and January have the darkest nights, I was told. It would also require a truckload of snow gear from massive jackets to balaclavas (monkey caps, if you insist) and I’d still have to risk frostbites, jumbled speech and blue skin if not frozen arteries. I was also warned it could lead to hypothermia and in rare cases closing this earthly scene but let’s not make it all too grim. Needless to say, chickening out was the wise thing to do.

     I couldn’t kill the curiosity within so I looked up blogs of photographers who’d braved it all to watch and capture those magnificent lights on film. Their facial skin, or what was visible from the balaclavas, was a sorry blend of sunburn, frostbites and numerous wrinkles from the severe climate. They still seemed ecstatic, posing proudly with their cameras or calendars they’d made out of those photographs. One chap in particular seemed to have a bad case of cold and the dripping mucus from his nose had turned into an ice blade. Really sexy stuff. And that’s exactly how I pictured myself as well under the circumstance, sadly enough. If I somehow lived to tell it all, the top two items on my wish list would be a bathroom (equipped with hot water and a shower head) and several fortifying cups of tea made with fresh ginger and real milk, not some powdery version stocked away in a factory for months. It’s hard to tell sitting on a couch at home but I am almost certain romance would not have made it to the list if I were writing it from that ice-covered tent.

     Cut to the behind-the-scenes viral shots of Dilwale, the newest SRK-Kajol flick for those of you who live under a banyan tree, replete with northern lights spattered in the backdrop and one can imagine why it may have left me crestfallen and defeated. Time only claims to heal until you look the ghosts of your past in the eye once again. Then all bets are off. If anything gives me solace it is that SRK seemed to be in pretty much the same situation I had decided to run away from; thick jackets, ski masks, a trembling jaw (okay I may be imagining a few things) and his million-dollar face resembling a sun-dried plum. Utterly tragic! But let me get real. There’s a reason why behind-the-scenes is called that.

     Bollywood and snow romance is a formula as old as the hills. From Madhuri in Pukar to Alia in SOTY, each time I watch a number unfold on screen, my heart goes out to the poor ladies. I start out being compassionate but by the end of the track I’m left completely sold on that spellbinding romance.

     Our movies and the audiences have evolved enough to allow the luxury of layering occasionally to an actress. But it’s a rare sight, just like those northern lights. And so they emote, sing, dance, and radiate love in itsy bitsy pieces of clothing like they’re in sunflower fields under the Tuscan sun, not with feet piercing the porous snow sending shivers up their spine.

     As for SRK and Kajol, I know what will transpire on screen will be breathtaking and iconic. The lead pair will seem unfazed by extreme weather conditions, like those yogis who roam around shirtless in the Himalayas. And we all (or at least those susceptible ones among us) will be reduced to falling for the deception fantasy yet another time. 

Travel woes

If you're used to flying Southwest like me, you probably take the world to be a warm, friendly, trusting place, entirely free of malice. I consider Southwest an extension of my front yard. It's not my favorite place to put a lounge chair and sip on some coconut water but familiar and comfortable nonetheless. That is on a bad day. On a good day Southwest is my girlfriend who I can call in the middle of the night to crib about work and weight issues. It knows me intimately. I mean, in the capacity of a frequent flyer. Potato pahtato, right? It knows me, it gets me. We share a really special bond.

I don't expect camaraderie from a foreign railway company or airline. I'm not saying lets get all pally pally and take a pouted selfie together. Not going that far. But a howdy won't hurt.

Turns out I expect the world sometimes.

"Thank you for buying a euro rail pass at the 11th hour, Ms. Joshi."
"Oh you know, chores chores..."
"Yeah, not our problem. FYI there's no print-at-home option. We'll ship you your pass which will weigh a kg."
"Wait, an actual paper ticket an all? Wow, I thought those were only found in museums now."
"We'll also charge you an enormous fee for expedited shipping and some more for rolling your eyes."
"That is not even..."

"Your booking with RyanAir is now confirmed, Ms. Joshi. Please be responsible enough to bring a paper boarding pass in this era of smart phones. The airline will charge you 70 euros to print it at the terminal otherwise."
"Ha ha nice one."
"Not joking."
"Wait, what?"

"Your booking with RyanAir is now confirmed. You may choose a seat if you like."
"Choose a seat! Woo. You know in Southwest..."
"Not interested."
"Ok, sorry. Let me find a seat."
"That'll be 35 euros."
"No, I don't want a seat in the cockpit. I get all claustrophobic."
"I meant cattle class."
"And if I don't pick a seat?"
"Where will you sit, tell me."
"Wait, so what does a ticket confirmation get me?"
"A promise that we'll do all we can to fleece you."

"Ms. Joshi, your carry on looks like a check in. We'll have to check it in."
"Ha you know American portion sizes are bigger than tapa size."
"Please, don't waste our time with your lame humor huh?"
"Sorry, I mean, this is standard carry on size in the US."
"Not standard here. We make our own rules. 60 euros please."
"For checking in my teensy weensy bag for a 1 hour flight?"
"You heard me."
"Wait, your website says bag checkin fees are 40 euros."
"That's a web special promotion."
"So I was supposed to foresee all of these and pay online?"
"Can you hurry up?"

Finally, on board RyanAir. Just as a flight attendant is about to sell me a cappuccino for 7 euros, my phone beeps. It's a deeply personal email (account summary email if you will) from Southwest. "We've missed you."

I do a Europe trip roughly once a year so technically none of this should surprise me. What can I say, Southwest spoils me. It makes me Bloody Marys just the way I like it. It auto checks me in. The crew are all stand up comics of sorts and entertain. And once it even got an entire flight to sing me happy b'day on my flight to LA.

Oh Southwest, how I have missed thee!

The Giralda

Covertly, quietly, the night tangoes
holding my gaze, twirling me around, seducing me
I lean against the window
of my 2nd floor apartment
Not moving an inch
silently inhaling the dream
that is this summer night
A man washes the tranquil plaza right below
their bond visible, unmistakable
Kissed by incandescent light from ornate lampposts
the cobblestones come alive,
glittering like jewels
Trees with ripe oranges, beautiful, coy, like brides
gracefully flank the plaza
guarding a tangle of narrow lanes
that emanate from an antique fountain
Some lanes showcase paintings of flamenco dancers
vibrant in color, poignant in expression
Others just let themselves be consumed
by creepers with dangling, perfumed flowers
Further up, The Giralda (bell tower) is glowing
a copper hue accentuating its chiseled curves
A dozen enormous bats hover around the tower
gliding back and forth, piercing the calm
They say one's destination is never a new place
but a new way of seeing things
Tonight, through the aubergine darkness
I see ordinary bats
bathing in the divine light of the tower
get transformed into fireflies

Spaniards - a distant cousin of Gujjus

At the very bottom of the Spanish soul is a Gujju heart beating. The more time I spend observing life and locals around me the more conviction I have in that hypothesis of mine. 

Consider the facts.

The Spanish love their mahou (beer) countless times a day, we our chai. They indulge in tapas, we can't go a day without farsan. Siestas are a sign of a healthy lifestyle, just like aram is deeply rooted in ours. Bar/tapas crawls are a daily necessity, just like our very own aanto. And no points for guessing what happens during these crawls - chachara (idle chatter), oh hello guppa! And finally, everyone seems to be chasing felicidad aka jalsa. 

See what I mean? :))

Monday, August 24, 2015

#wokeuplikethis #blessed

    Unless you live in a sorority or a glossy magazine you have no visibility into what the real world for perpetually put-together women looks like. Which is why you can scoff at those Insta bed selfies of girls with perfect hair and luminous skin that are tagged with ‪#‎wokeuplikethis‬ and ‪#‎blessed‬

    Here I am, 9 hours into my long-haul, overnight flight from North America to Europe, looking like I'm ready... to commit a heinous crime. Sleep hasn't exactly been an ally on board and that's the kindest thing I can say about it. Add to it the incessant kicks (I know I'm supposed to love these) from a tall kid who optimized the surface area of all three sequential seats and turned it into a comfortable bed and you have a woman who's sleepless and in pain aka routine mommy life. The man of the house meanwhile slept like a baby and can potentially easily do justice to a #wokeuplikethis and #blessed bed selfie but let's not go there.

    We're an hour away from landing. So although it's some ungodly hour in SF it's breakfast time in air as is conveyed to us subtly with the invasive smell of scrambled eggs and skillet potatoes being warmed up. Co-passengers wake up, rubbing their eyes, yawning, opening the overhead compartments. I'm grateful for some activity around. Little mercies. It's the first time I take notice of the fact that there are more women (mostly blonde, mostly light eyes, mostly with a tan, mostly wearing tank tops and printed pants) than men on my flight. I take a closer, incredulous look with my bloodshot eyes. There's mascara that has stood the test of a transAtlantic flight time. Then there's ironed, subservient tresses (yes, tresses, because the usage of hair here seems trite and insufficient) that is ready to face the lens in record time. Photoshop won't be necessary, no ma'am. And there's an appalling lack of oily patches on the nose or forehead.

    I'm not at the age where superfluous aspects of my tribe would make me insecure. I've safely left that phase two decades in the past. But out of sheer curiosity I continue to assess and am soon on my way to eating humble pie, or humble jabelis, if you will. The flight has not only robbed me off my precious slumber, it has also robbed me off my prerogative to judge Insta pics that make outrageous claims. Because now I know, more than ever before, that there are indeed many, many women who do ‪#‎wakeuplikethese‬. Guess they are really #blessed.

    Meanwhile I'm left with bigger fish to fry, which essentially means looking an immigration officer in the eye and convincing him I'm not about to commit a heinous crime on his turf regardless of what my face may suggest. It's a cruel world out there.

Monday, August 10, 2015

City of my dreams

My heart must be replenish-able because I seem to leave them in too many cities and somehow I still feel one beating inside. Toronto is my latest city crush. It’s one of the more eclectic, bustling, diverse and chic metropolises I’ve been to. It’s got a New York veneer to it but scratch the surface a tad and you know it instantly; it’s far more welcoming, laidback and cheery. And it knows how to play that elongated seduction dance with its old world charm.

What is it that makes a city vibrant and memorable, I often wonder. Toronto boasts of French, British, Irish, Portuguese and other influences given its war heavy history so diversity is deeply rooted around here. Its little surprising then that you see these cultures interspersed and manifest through architecture, food and languages. At the end I remember it as a melee of voices and opinions, angles of face, twists of mouth, vagaries of accent, of a single behemoth with a myriad tongues. A blur, still distinct in its own right.

The downtown is resplendent, filled with beautiful buildings, both colonial from the yesteryears and the modern ones. There’s no pattern there. The old and the new sort of just get along. No surprises then that when Toronto Star, a paper known for hard-hitting journalism per a local fellow, did a survey on the ugliest building in Toronto downtown, it turned out to be the building of Toronto Star. That’s a valuable lesson; be careful what you set out to discover.

Not many can claim of being unaffected by aesthetics. And boy this town knows how to make a grand first impression. Going bold rarely fails and bold it does with color. It’s a bit of a challenge to find two adjacent shops/homes/buildings painted in the same hue. Believe me; I looked before I gave up.
You know the city has a colonial hangover when busy, prominent streets have names like King St. and Queen St. Queen Street by the way is flanked by flamboyant boutiques and people in trendy attire strutting through it ceaselessly. Vogue magazine called it the second most fashionable street in the world I was told. I am yet to look up which street aced that noteworthy contest.

If there’s anything that can top diversity and aesthetics it’s attitude. For if everyone looked at the world with the same lens, it’d make for one dreary realm. Summer ain’t called summer here; they call it The Patio Season. That’s one way to romanticize it I’d say. And patios are aplenty, decked up with cheerful blooms everywhere you look. So sought after are these settings that the city has even set up colorful wooden lounge chairs on certain streets, little happy places if you will, where you can chill and feel blessed with a book or a drink or whatever rocks your boat.

I gathered the city is on the brink of an organic (and raw pressed juice) revolution, something that’s very reminiscent of San Francisco. And when that happens, can hippies be behind? When you have all that organic goodness running through your bloodstream, your veins need a hint of melody to jam to. In a day and a half, I caught bits of 3 concerts and a jazz fest. The concerts were all around office buildings or in parks or at public squares, playing tracks from Imagine Dragon to folk songs of Native American tribes, covering all sides of the spectrum.

If you’re anything like me you probably get startled when the duplicate is just as good or better than the original. Toronto is so versatile that Wall Street, the movie about Wall Street, was filmed in Toronto downtown and so was Chicago, that movie about Chicago. For that matter my favorite show Suits gets filmed here as well. They say if they’ve stolen your essence they’ll robbed you off everything. Oh well.
Anywhere you turn in downtown be prepared to run into an art installation. You’ll also run into hot dog stalls that sell everything from halal to veggie dogs, ice cream trucks and a super chic bicycle with a pink-striped box with pretty girls who ride it and sell confectionary goodness. Speaking of food, Toronto mirrors NYC in food options. Countless options, everything just as good. I had to end my last meal on a local note—poutine. Poutine is French fries topped with brown gravy-like sauce and cheese curds. It definitely set off a few happy hormones running amok through my body.
It’s a pity then that I had all of two days here, large parts of which were spent working. But it’s helped me define what I’m partial to and savor the flavor. They say traveling is about the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown; it’s pretty much the only reason I do it.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Why Hindi soaps are the bomb

A friend asked me today whether I was aware that Hindi soap writers were paid thrice as much as Bollywood screenplay writers. She said it in a disdainful tone.

I think writing for Hindi soaps requires heck lot more imagination than say, certain movies. I mean, giving new voices and new conflicts to those cliched cardboard idolized characters for years who barely even step out of their cocoon and have to go through various stages of life looking like their young decked-up self can be no small feat. It must take a toll on the writer.

I recently got lured stumbled upon an episode of Saath Nibhana Saathiya, the show on Star Plus that’s been on for eons and honestly I assumed had been over eons back. The timid, docile, once-illiterate Gopi Bahu was sent to jail for a decade for killing her evil sister. (I had to look this up. So much effort!) You’d think a woman like that would sink into irreversible depression and lose all sense of self-worth and dignity. Not our Gopi Bahu. Our GB is like the mother of dragons; returns with a swagger, bangs and some crackling zingers. Her attitude, confidence and the ability to cut naysayers to size are so refined, Hilary Clinton could take a cue from her for the 2016 presidential election. You’d think GB had returned with an MBA from Yale, not a decade long jail term for murder.

She makes it home but alas, the coochie cooing will have to wait. Husband now lives with a girlfriend and surprise surprise, she's not the first 'other woman' in his life. The pig also almost married someone else. But hey he’s still Ahem-ji ok ok?

She tries to impose herself on him with her new Yale jail returned self.
“Hey baby I’m back. Kisses?”
“Shoo shoo.”

If there’s one thing you learn in b-school, it’s persistence. So she keeps at it.

Ahem-ji is sick of being wooed by two women he doesn’t deserve in the first place so he berates GB. When all else fails, GB resorts to the ultimate weapon of men destruction – sindoor.

Ahem-ji romances the girlfriend in full public view, dishing out trite periodic insults at GB, while GB lovingly has to engage a bottle of sindoor, her only ally in testing times. Hey producers, why don't you get the poor wifey a battery-operated er bottle – you know the kinds that talk back, to keep her company?

GB is determined to win husband back, come hell or high water.
She’s like, let’s do this no, hun?
He’s like, no dice.
She’s like, don’t make me say the s-word.
He’s like, whatevah. I get plenty already.
She’s like, eww perv. I meant sindoor.

He gets so vexed he does something crazy amazing. He asks GB to explain what sindoor means to her while a dozen onlookers nervously bite their lower lips in anticipation. GB gives a huge sermon, no points for guessing, on the magical powers of the colored powder. It's just what the bugger wanted. Sly! Women – do not, I repeat, do not fall into this trap. He lunges forward, grabs the bottle and jumps back to the tile he’s been assigned in the living room. Then as the camera rolls and the cacophony soothing background music ensues, he creates a divider in his house with it in a high tension sequence. Brilliant, no?

This is Rekha, he declares cockily.
Wait, I thought she’s Mansi, GB can’t even keep track of the girlfriends.
Lakshman rekha, you illiterate women, he roars. "If you really value sindoor, you'll never step on this rekha and try to shag shack make up with me."

The episode ends with Ahem-ji and the girlfriend staying on the other side of sindoor ki rekha happily ever after in the same house while poor GB had to buy new sindoor pronto since he used it all up. Dawg.