The enlightened call a person wise when all his undertakings are free from anxiety about results.

— Krishna in The Gita

The mind is everything. What you think you become.
— Buddha

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Pay it forward

Just imagine walking into a restaurant on a weekend morning for a scrumptious meal which has already been paid for by a complete stranger!

While driving around town yesterday I was listening to the BBC radio and this is what they were talking about. After a week of depressing news it somehow cheered me up. Who said genuine charity doesn’t exist?

This restaurant is situated in Washington DC and is run by Polo Club, an Indian restaurant, which operates normally on other days, except on Sundays when it offers a taste in generosity for anybody who walks in. No prior reservation is required.

* There are no prices on the menu. All you would be given at the end of a lavish meal is a bill of $0.00 with a footnote that reads: "Your meal was a gift from someone who came before you. To keep the chain of gifts alive, we invite you to pay it forward for those dine after you."

* The meal is Indian (and I presume, vegetarian), with no alcohol.

* It is run entirely by volunteers.

* Diners may eat entirely free or if they like, leave some money for the next person. A new twist to “It’s on me”, eh?

An initiative of the nonprofit Charity Focus, originally the project started in California and they have plans to open similar joints in Chicago, Maryland and Virginia. The idea is to establish “giving back” in every city in the country.

Incidentally, the name of the project is, you guessed it, Karma Kitchen!!

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Kites doesn’t soar

A couple of days back I was reading somewhere that a British woman (Dubai resident), who had lived in India as a child, was eagerly looking forward to watching Kites. “I’m planning to drag my friends with me,” she said. “They feel Indian films lack substance but this one is going to be different.”

I wonder whether she watched the film and regretted doing so, at least dragging her friends. Because I watched the film yesterday and was mighty disappointed.

First the good bits…It’s well-produced, has a real exotic appeal, Barbara Mori and Hrithik Roshan are extremely impressive, the choreography is outstanding, the stunts are well-executed and there are some unexpected twists in the clichéd plot.

Having said that Anurag Basu doesn’t quite deliver. The biggest flaw is the script itself, written by Basu on the basis of a story by Rakesh Roshan, who has also produced the film.

The film tries to give us everything: romance, action and even comedy, but none of it, I’m afraid, is worth crowing about. The story is about two gold-diggers with sad past, Jai and Natasha, both of whom are scheming to get married to the siblings of the richest but a very brutal family who owns casinos in Las Vegas.

But their schemes fall off and they fall in love with each other inviting the wrath of the family headed by Kabir Bedi (who makes no impression whatsoever) and his son (newcomer Nick Brown, who doesn’t do badly given his two-dimensional role). The rest of the film can be summed us in thus, chase, romance, chase…

I’m not going to tell you any more lest I spoil it for you. But as an avid fan of Roshan and Basu I was let down. On the whole the film looked like a bad cross between a B-grade Hollywood movie and a B-grade Hindi movie, without any emotional core whatsoever.

The film was supposed to be a romance, if I’m not mistaken. But where is the chemistry between the lead pair? Was the rumoured affair between Roshan Junior and Mori just that, a rumour, you know, a publicity stunt? They look extremely good together—Rhithik is getting more handsome each year and Mori’s vulnerability and earthy charm are irresistible. But that’s it. The inability to speak to each other should have brought a different kind of chemistry to the screen (remember Ek Duje Ke Liye?), but in Kites, despite the smouldering looks, bare bods and exotic locales, the romance doesn’t quite take off.

Should you see the film? Yes, you should. Because if you go to the theatre leaving your expectations behind you might be able to enjoy it better than I did. Basu and Roshan tried to do something different and I think they deserve kudos just for that.

Oh almost forgot…Kangana sizzles in her short role. I love this girl—she manages to better herself each time.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Afraid of ageing

Life is full of surprises…

The reason why I’m starting off with this tired cliché is that a very dear friend of mine has gone and dyed his hair all black. So what, you said? Well, he is a couple of years shy of 60 and hold your breath, bald except for a fringe of hair ringing the bald patch.

I know he’ll read this post and will be livid but I don’t care. I’m equally angry with him. I know I have no right to be. After all, it’s his hair, his decision, his bald head. But somehow I’m feeling so let down.

While we’ve all fallen victims to the Dorian Gray syndrome here was a guy who had been carrying on getting old as if it was the most natural thing on earth! Sometimes if we made fun of his grey hair he’d take it on his stride. “So what? Pak gaye to pak gaye…” You know, you age and your hair turns gray.

Secretly we admired that, at least I did. Even though I dye my hair and wage a daily (preventive) battle with wrinkle and tummy fat I had always found my friend’s attitude liberating. Ah, to be able to sport the ravages of time on your chin and say I-don’t-care!

And he is a smart dude, well-read, suave and articulate. The grey hair, instead of taking anything away from him did wonders to his personality.

And then there he goes, dying his hair black. Now he looks, well, your average bloke who sports jet black hair at 60. A narcissist like everyone else…

My rant may be unfair, after all we all do what we do for a reason and we have a right to do so. I just hope to get used to seeing my friend in this new avatar.

But are we becoming extra age-conscious, even at 60?

Monday, 17 May 2010

Ethnic wear

Baroness Sayeeda Hussain Warsi has caught my imagination for two reasons. Firstly because by being inducted as the first Muslim minister (that too of Pakistani origin) in the British cabinet, she seems to have done the impossible in post-Time Square climate, a fact that says something about her accomplishments, whatever they are. The youngest member of the House of Lords, she was apparently conferred the title of Baroness of Dewsbury three years back, on the recommendation of David Cameron. “Humbling” is how she described her latest achievement.
Secondly because she happens to be the daughter of a Pakistani immigrant mill worker and yet made it to the highest echelons of power in a white, Christian UK, without trading her salwar-suits for Western outfits. Now that is what I call gall and confidence.
Another woman I really admire for the same reason is Usha Uthup, the Indian pop diva of the ‘80s whose oomphy voice was all the rage of the night clubs despite her uber traditional image: temple-border sari, huge bindi and flower on her hair. In fact, the bindi had become such a part of her image that I remember Uthup saying in an interview that if by chance she decided not to wear it, she would be promptly reminded, “Madam, you forgot your bindi.”
Atta girls! To my mind these women have really done a Gandhi…remember the “naked fakir”?
Whether it’s the sari or the salwar-suit or the abaya, I feel ethnic dresses have a charm and elegance of their own. I don’t know if the abaya is a symbol of repression, I‘ve never analysed the issue too closely, but to me Emirati women look utterly feminine and graceful when they sashay around in their flowing abayas, designer or not. Ditto for Emirati men, who absolutely rock in kanduras. By the way, whatever happened to the Indian dhoti!?
With more and more people going for Western wear even when there is no need to, I feel the ethnic attires will be confined to museums within a century, at least in India. It’s due partly to the influence of Bollywood, which is blindly aping Hollywood dress code. The only exception that comes to mind is Aishwarya Rai, who is seen in a sari more frequently, even though for reasons best known to her she didn’t wear one at Cannes. Rani Mukherjee and of late Vidya Balan are two other Bollywood stars who show a preference for the six-yard wonder.
I think Indian politicians, both men and women, do a better job of this though. Doesn’t Rahul Gandhi look cool in his crumpled kurta-pyjama?

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Some thoughts on silence

Raghunandan Sharma, a friend of mine has just returned from the Kumbh mela in Haridwar. He enjoyed the experience like millions do every year, but was upset about one thing, the festive spirit of the mela. Jubuliant crowds, mikes, lights, decoration, the works. “It looked as if the entire town was decked up for a wedding,” he rued. “The peace that you expect on such a religious occasions was totally missing.”
Well, if you don’t get peace in the foothills of the Himalayas, where else do you?
I wondered whether others also felt like Raghu, because we are all getting so desensitised to noise and distraction that lack of silence no longer surprises us.
Just take in your surrounding noise for a moment…Mobiles sounding off, traffic noise, construction sounds, white noise of electronic appliances, the chatter of radios and TVs at home, clanging of keyboards at office.
Study after study has shown the health problems related to surrounding noise levels…elevated hear rate, high blood pressure, surge in stress hormone levels, fatigue and irritability. Children exposed to noise have poorer learning skills, and teenagers walking around with iPods and MP3s are at risk of having their hearing ability impaired.
But what I personally worry about is the inner noise within us that has risen due to this constant outer noise and distraction (calls, smses, mails and social networking), depriving us of inner silence, which we so badly need and yet don’t realise. Being deprived of silence and stillness means losing touch with our inner being, our true self.
Yet we seem to be doing so little about it. Since 15 years, April 25 has been observed as International Noise Awareness Day, but I wonder how many people even know about it.
Well, I don’t know how we can reduce the noise levels. Not running cars and trains, shutting off the gadgets and generally cutting oneself off is certainly not practical.
What we can perhaps do is squeeze out some silence out of the constant distraction, by increasing our “silence quotient” to counter the outer and inner noise. We can’t all retreat to a Himalayan ashram or escape to spas, but we can surely nourish silence through meditation, or by taking frequent trips natural surrounding. In Stillness Speaks, Eckhart Tolle gives some wonderful instructions. One of them is to observe a plant or power, how totally they are immersed in being. The other advice he gives is to be aware of the silence behind the noise…
But the trouble is, as some psychologists have pointed out that we might have already become so used to noise that silence may actually frighten us. What about the television or the radio that chatters in the background or keeps us company?
'Be still,' Jesus said, 'and know that I am God.' And many seers and philosophers in the East have gone a step further: ‘Be still and know that you are God…’
For being still and silent is to be one with the source of our being.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Shakespeare was wrong!

Our names are no accidents, numerologists claim. I wouldn’t discount that. In India we believe in naming a baby according to its star or the moon sign, so to that extent our names seem to be predestined. However, the astrological name mostly remains in the horoscope and a person goes by the “real name” chosen by the parents or close relatives.
Most of us have no issues with our names. I guess we just learn to live with it just the way we get used to our height or the colour of our hair. But this post has been prompted by the fact that my daughter, Yashodhara, dislikes her name. The complaints started as soon as she stepped into her teens. Initially I never took her seriously always insisting that the name has a nice ring to it and a beautiful meaning—bearer of fame or glory. More importantly, I had chosen the name after Budhdha’s wife, a resilient, wise woman, thanks to my memories of my maternal grandmother reading Maithili Sharan Gupta’s Hindi poem Yashodhara.
But all this has cut no ice with my daughter who now insists on being called “Isis”, with her friends and some teachers happily obliging. After all, compared to “Isis”, “Yashodhara” is quite a mouthful. Now that she’s in a boarding school in India, the issue has taken a backseat, but I can feel it ripening in the background.
After reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake I’ve been preparing myself for the sad eventuality of my daughter going the Gogol Ganguli way, who changed his name to Nikhil as soon as he turned 18.
“Would you like Tina instead?” I asked her once, in a reluctant effort to meet her half way. Tina, by the way, happens to be her astrological name, which I thought was still better than the alien-sounding “Isis”. “Ti-na? Is that a name?” she replied, rolling her eyes in mock horror.
Sorry Shakespeare…there's a lot in a name.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Proud to be a woman

'Where do you buy your lovely saris from?’
It’s a question we women hear everyday, or something like that. Where do you buy your clothes from? Your shoes? Your lingerie? Your grocery?
But when Meera Sanyal, ABN Amro (India) head asks such a question to Naina Lal Kidwai, the first Indian woman graduate from Harvard and HSBC country head on a national TV programme, it goes beyond the realm of the mundane.
Because, if Meera wanted a straight answer for her question (she got it though…”handloom saris”), she would probably have been discreet and not chosen a platform like NDTV’s Your Call. But what Meera was actually doing was making a statement about herself and women like her—super-achievers who reached the top not because they are women but despite being women. She was telling all those women watching the show ‘c’mon you don’t have to be ashamed of your femininity.’
What a lovely message, from one of India’s high profile bankers! (Incidentally, Meera had also contested as an independent candidate in India’s last general elections). She was looking absolutely gorgeous herself, all decked up in a pretty sari, and at the same time being generous in her compliment to another woman.
Well, looks like to be successful a woman doesn’t have to be one of the boys anymore. Instead, you can succeed like a woman—with elegance and quiet confidence.
Bring out those frilly skirts and saris!

Monday, 3 May 2010

Dial H for Hitchcock

According to The Independent of London, some of the dozen-odd silent films by Alfred Hitchcock have been restored and will be made available for the public in 2012. That’s a long wait but I bet it’s going to be worth it.
Recently I watched Shadow of a Doubt with a friend. “It has to be Hitchcock’s simplest film,” commented my friend, who has watched the film before. But I couldn’t agree. The storyline is simple no doubt but the psychological layering and the emotional stakes make it complex enough, taking it much beyond a thriller. Now it’s firmly on my favourite H-list, along with Rear Window, Rebecca and Dial M….
The opening scene itself gives away that our handsome New York guy Charles Oakley has some truly dark secrets. So when he arrives at his sister’s house at Santa Rosa, we have more than shadow of a doubt that he isn’t what he makes himself out to be—a successful businessman with charming, velvet-smooth ways. But the unsuspecting Newtons and the friendly (typically American) Santa Rosa community welcome him with open arms.
If there’s one person who's more thrilled than anyone else at Charles’s arrival, it’s his bored teenaged niece Charlie. She is particularly fond of him and is proud of the fact that she has been named after him. The emotional thrust of the film comes from the fact that the young and sensitive Charlie will have to discover the true character of her beloved uncle and keep the secret to herself lest her mother never recovers from the shock.
This poignant underpinning, as well as the device of using the innocent and sensitive Charlie as a foil to the sinister Charles, gives the film its soul.
I have never analysed Hitchcock’s techniques. To me his greatest achievement is the apparent lack of any studied method. His shots appear to be straightforward, the scenes and settings simple, the stories often moving in a linear fashion, but you always sense that there’s something lurking in the shadows or under the table...
Next on my list is To Catch a Thief. Shall keep you posted.