Monday, September 27, 2010

Life’s little eccentricities

A civilized society is one which tolerates eccentricity to the point of doubtful sanity.”

Going by the above definition, ours is an extremely civil society. We do not mind eccentricities – we discuss them, pamper them and at times joke about them…but we do not discard them at all.
While reading a PG Wodehouse book one evening, this thought came to my mind about eccentricities- the so called sprinklings of madness each one of us has. Have you noticed how almost all Wodehouse characters have these peculiar traits. There are some who steal pigs, others who impersonate a psychiatric and my favorite , who paint moustache on the statues (for they like them better that way) . DO they appear unreal to you in anyways? Not to me, for sure. Those of you who have seen Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain (Amélie) would remember how most people around this girl have little eccentricities of their own. There are those who collected torn pictures from the bins, accountants who think they are perpetually ill and hate the words” fruits of thy womb” , some others who sneak at neighbours with a video camera , failed writers who like watching bullfights on TV , rejected lovers who spy while cracking bubble wraps, a waitress who likes to crack bones and even a cat who likes to overhear children’s stories. If you look carefully you’d find that eccentricity is not, as dull people would have us believe, a form of madness. It is often a kind of innocent pride or may be just an habit. Genius and aristocrats are frequently regarded as eccentrics because they are entirely unafraid of and totally unaffected by opinions and vagaries of the crowd. But well, eccentricities are equally divided among all age groups, income groups and gender .
I too am particularly blessed with such people around me. So much so that at times I wonder whether it’s me who is responsible for attracting such characters around me . Oh but god bless them for being how they are…. Life would have been so dull if we had no such characters around. I keep telling them that one is only given a little spark of madness and one must not lose it. Generally I find that people have these happy obsessive preoccupations, and this gives them a significant meaning in life. And they are far healthier than most people because of these traits. It somehow makes them more human, more lovable and more acceptable in my eyes. I had a colleague who had only two interests- Dogs and Indian classical music. That his two interests have no common point never occurred to him. He sings either patriotic or sad songs in parties and loves to cook desserts. Another friend was a compulsive shopper for books- which he hardly ever read. My mom re-arranges fridge racks at least thrice a day and my secretary always smiles his sweetest when one is scolding him. Another colleague cannot help starting every sentence with “ No no- yes yes…ok ok “ and yet another ( a lady), regularly forgets her bag, notebook, even cosmetics in my room and then searches for it everywhere . My hubby knew someone in college who could not reply to a question without repeating the question first . Then there is favorite category of eccentrics - the professors and teachers. Aha...what a collection we had in them. Hubby had one who would bargain as a matter of principle on every small or big item - from rickshaw fare to vegetables and usually ended up paying more than the originally asked price . He bargains , next time again - as a matter of principle .
It’s interesting to watch people closely . A very senior officer of my service once told us how most people in bureaucracy are ophthalmologist- that is “I”- specialists and who love to talk about themselves to no end. It was a wonderful joke and all of us laughed - but then he continued for next 45 minutes explaining “ But then I am not like that. I like to….I do not like to…. And many more ‘I’s ” It was difficult not to find one of other such specimen while I was in Kolkata – the city which takes pride in its eccentricities . I had an accountant who was a practicing tantric, another who did PhD in Latin to read Paradise Lost in original. A boss who used to roll his own cigarettes to save money and another one who thought he was a reborn German soldier of WW-II . Best so far however , was my ex-boss , who loved to edit my drafts by replacing some words with their synonyms. When the fair copy will go to him...he will find yet another synonym. After about 6-7 such "corrections" in 90% cases my original word was back to its place and the boss had a smile of satisfaction pasted on his face which is usually found on gentlemen after a difficult task is achieved with perfection. In the Mussoorie academy we had an economics professor who always started his lecture with “ Suppose this gaaay ( guy) has 100 pepsi bottles…..” and one whose favorite adjective was "atrocious ". Then there is one interesting superior in hubby's office whose favorite phrases are " I do not like to beat my own trumpet" and " I am an artist by nature " . That these are sometimes followed by totally unflattering stories of his career never makes him see the contrast.

I am sure I too have some favorite words something which can be called eccentric . But then I have to rely on others’ for knowledge about that . Once a cousin told me that I am a bathing freak – as I used to take bath 4-5 times a day in summer months . Hubby adds that I am a control freak and mom says I freak out if I see too much stuff in the house and start throwing things in the wastebins. So the common adjective is ‘freak’ and if despite being a freak in one way or the other , if I am being accepted – I am sure ours is a civilized society .
Coming to the genetic aspect of eccentricities , I too with confidence can say like queen Elizabeth , about my family that like all the best families, we have our fair share of eccentricities, of impetuous and wayward youngsters , senile elders and of family disagreements. To begin with the eldest member of the family , my grand uncle , at the age of ninety two gives every one appointment to meet, including his maid and the postman. He even has fixed daily phone appointments with my aunts and uncles With me he holds a weekly appointment over phone …where conversation must end with a santa banta joke. Then I have aunts who watch teary soup operas, discuss them incessantly and then trash them as foolishness. It’s heartening to note that youngsters are also keeping the family flag high. My elder sis loves to visit markets and malls – where her favorite activity is to reject the stuff available on racks . Mind you, the lady is pretty fair in her dealings…she gives chance to all markets and all shops to reject their stuff regularly. Then I have a dear brother in law who hates curds but relishes Dahi bada made up of it . He cannot tolerate smell of mango and loves to drink mango drinks and then his elder brother - my better half, who insists that potatoes cut in round shape taste differently than those cut in finger chips . Sometimes I feel irritated by these habits of my family members but then honestly, life would be pretty dull if all of us have similar habits .
After all, if you spend too much time being like everybody else, you decrease your chances of coming up with something different.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Bursting in a song

My husband says I am a film addict. More than that he concludes that I can and love to watch same movies again and again and well, almost always on TV . I have to admit that he is right ...almost. I love 'my kind of cinema' and I do not enjoy watching movies in cinema hall generally. Somehow, the comfort of my home is important for me to watch a movie . It always seems to amaze me how films(and sometimes television ) are my answer no matter what life might throw my way. There is always a movie to fit my mood and console my feelings. Its difficult to worry about problems and mess in the office when a TCM musical is going on. Similarly, I am unable to feel angry or frustrated for long from my real life if a funny / romantic movie is going on. So its typical for me to come home and collapse wondering what a busy day was all about and then almost like a magic the Tv screen starts telling me tales - some known (but I do not mind hearing them again like a greedy child) and some unknown, which make me dream endlessly about places and people I know not. But my favorites are musicals . They never fail to pep up my spirits .
Do you ever get the urge of bursting in a song while you are in middle of a conversation- a serious one ? Well, I do. When I was a schoolgirl, a favorite cousin very wisely told me that we like the bollywood songs so much because somewhere in our mind we picturise them with us in it . I thought it was a joke at that time. Now I believe in it . No wonder I think musicals are very real cinema. I feel disappointed that we , in India experimented with musicals (the Broadway kind) in very few projects . I can recall Amol Palekar’s Thoda sa Roomani Ho Jaye and some of Sai paranjape’s movies say Katha . But other than that though songs were part of most movies, they were not musicals in the Broadway style. I mean in Indian movies, characters do not burst in the songs while doing normal chores. Songs do not replace dialogues mostly ….they are carefully woven in the storyline. Occasions are created for them .The main function of musical numbers in Bollywood films remains to express emotion. Broadway musical numbers, on the other hand, primarily drive the plot. While Broadway musical numbers are integrated into the narrative, Bollywood musical numbers usually are not. Rather, they’re metaphors, removed from the plot, that show how a character feels, not what the character is actually doing.
But what I miss is movies like My fair Lady , Singing in the Rain ,more recent ones like Mamma Mia, Chicago, Moulin rouge, and Enchanted ………..and many many more . The 1950s and 1960s Hollywood musicals are my all time favorite. However it is heartening to find that the trend of making musicals has not stopped since then. Most of Disney's movies including animations are musicals. The recent High school Musical series was fabulous and I adore Glee on Star world .
India we did not experiment with this genre much.Some Devanand and Gurudutt movies came pretty close to be categorized with these but mostly mainstream cinema in India remained non Broadway musical that is with music- dance sequences only. Such a shame , if you ask me.
It seems perfectly normal to me that people at times may like to sing and dance while going through their normal daily life. I also feel at times the words of a song describe our feelings much more aptly than any length of prose. No wonder at times I find people humming a particular song in a particular mood. There are songs which remind us of some event or someone and there are songs which remind us of ourselves in a particular mood. We all have songs associated with college days , school days, birthdays , our friend circle and many other such milestones of life. But still most of us , even those who love songs and movies, would be shocked to find someone singing publicly . Almost how the guy in Enchanted was embarrassed when Princess Giselle burst into her song in the Central park, NY .
My friend Rani tries hard, not to start singing loud while in office or with her hubby . Her husband like many others feel that bursting in a song is unreal . I too resist my urge to sing --- mostly . But I do sing loud with the radio, when I am alone in the car and of course, I am an experienced bathroom singer. But even on other occasions it is difficult not to imagine a song in my mind. Try this, it is very de-stressing to imagine a song with you in its picturisation while you are in between a boring meeting /conference. Or still better, give lines to each of the persons sitting with you( of course in your mind). This game is so hilarious that at times I find myself smiling or giggling while others give me puzzled look. But take it from me that this is just a poor substitute of the joy you can feel rushing into you while singing out loud. Uncaring of your creaking voice, unaware of the frowns from others and ignoring the astonished look of people walking with you. Its most liberating feeling that dawn on you when you unbind yourself from what others will say. It is almost magical. So take my advice and next time you find Julie Andrews declaring hills to be alive with the sound of music, do not hesitate in joining her in her declaration. …and remember to do it aloud . Musicals , I repeat , are manifestations of how things should be - alive , happy and moving .

Thursday, September 2, 2010

My University Town : A decade after

I am not surprised why I never bothered to come back to Allahabad once I passed out from the University almost 15 years back. Even now, it is compulsion of official work that brought me here. I am sure readers of my blog know what a big sucker I am ,of old memories and nostalgia. But somehow, I was never fond of this sleepy conservative town. My association with the city ended after my graduation from the university. I have already confessed in one of my earlier posts my ignorance about a lot of things associated with the history of this city . Somehow , I was so disappointed by its tardiness , lethargy and typical regressive attitude that I failed to see the beauty …even when it was in front of my eyes. Its not that I never had good times here, it was just that I missed some aspects of the town, which I would have liked otherwise in any place . But today when I go back there , I have an insuppressible urge to visit my University. Somehow, I want to be sure of what I remember about the place. I finish off my official work and almost forced my friends from Univ days to come along . Somehow sometimes even memories need company to be talked and thus sound real . So we reached the science faculty ( former Muir Central College) and once again walked through the corridors of this impressive stone building . Department of mathematics—our department, the place where we spent many years talking , teasing and at times, ignoring one another . Its so amazing that not much has changed since then. The maintenance is as poor as ever. The stone building and our favorite Vijayanagaram hall stands as tall as ever . Even the students look much like those days. But three of us visiting the place, were changed. The big world outside this town changed us. We talked incessantly about our batchmates, mimicked our professors and joked about the famous oddballs of our times. Interestingly we found ourselves talking about topics we would have not talked when we were here. Crushes, heartbreaks , complexes, fears and much more. It was so weird when my friend Prasoon pointed out that he never noticed how tall I am . And immediately he added in very matter of fact voice that anyways, it was impossible for him to measure my height by standing next to me in those days . We laughed about how some of us were terribly scared and uncomfortable in interactions with other sex. We laughed out loud about the conservative times – times when our mixed group was scolded by a professor for sitting together on stairs in front of the department . It was considered very indecent . We wondered how from that kind of life most of us went and conquered the world without much problem. It was so heartening to find that from that small group almost everybody is so well settled in life and career today.I find it amazing that most of us connect somewhere so deeply despite our professional, locational and other differences. Probably unknown to us, the city and the university taught us something that stayed and become part of us. I am not talking about the mathematical equations and statistical models , of course.
After this , I moved on alone exploring the town I hardly remember . It was kind of empowering not to belong here.I had few hours of a lovely evening and I knew no one and cared for no one this time . I started from the rivers. After all the presence of these holy rivers and their confluence is one of the biggest claim to fame for this town from past many centuries. I climbed stairs for the new Naini bridge and looked around the beauty of the river . The fort built by emperor Akbar was visible from there . Except for occasional fishermen trying their luck the ghats were almost deserted. The rivers were full with monsoon supply and the setting sun provided excellent background.
On my way back I looked for the Gora Kabristan ( The British Graveyard) at kydganj . It was difficult to resist visiting this old cemetery . But with ASI in charge , the gates were locked and no one was around except the blue board declaring it a protected monument .I cursed ASI once again . But then when have I considerred closed gates a bar for y curiosity– specially if they are gates to a such an old cemetery . So while my driver looked incredulously , I jumped the gate . In a very touching gesture, protectively, he followed suit- nodding disapprovingly all through . The place is a must go for anyone tracing history of the place . This being an old cantonment town, the graves are usually of army officers and their families. Once again like the Park street cemetery of Kolkata , the age profile of the dead is generally below 30 . Mostly the tombstones were missing . I could read one , remembering Margaret, 23, a wife and mother who succumbed to disease in 1808. It is somewhat moving that these people died on a foreign land young vulnerable to heat and mosquitos . From there , I went to see All Saint Cathedral – my favorite stone church and found that locked too. To my driver’s relief I did not jump anymore gates. The church compound was green and untidy with the undergrowth of weeds and grass. But somehow despite all the mess, the building is a stunner . I looked the evening light on it mesmerized . I think I had more than enough share of replenishment for my memories of this town for one evening .
I know, I still do not want to live in this town…but at least now, I do not miss the beautiful British bunglows lining the civil lines , the old trees around the cathedral and most of all , my alma mater- the university .

(Find more pics of my visit here )

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My Train Times

Today ,I am travelling by train after quite some time . Off late I have switched on to road and air travel- mostly due to time compulsions . But I always believed that I am very much a train-person. I feel totally at home in trains . This time however, I found myself bit nervous while dealing with the crowd and chaos that prevailed on the platform. I was kind of relived when I was alone in my coupe and the train left station . The familiarity of sounds and sight returned soon afterwards. While reading a wonderful book by Joanne Harris I found my mind was going back remembering – my train times . The time spent during my train journeys . I am surprised how we always felt comfortable travelling in ordinary class . The questions of security and hygiene never bothered us much in those days. Striking conversation with strangers was never difficult. The alertness , the guarded behavior or the fear of getting cheated somehow was not this much. I was remembering the heated debates on politics, cricket and all other general subjects with the co-passengers. It seems everyone was interested in talking . Today of course I find almost everyone either playing with his/her mobile, laptop, mp3 player or sleeping . I cannot complaint because I too am doing the same. People are curt and businesslike in talking with co-passengers . In my university days , it was difficult for me to catch a train from Allahabad and not to find someone or the other from the university in it. Instantly the conversation will start about comparing different departments, professors, hostels etc . Looking back I think it was quite funny . It was somehow so important to prove our point . People would not mind sharing food or magazines, Even the railways staff would at times take part in these regular train discussions. I was never a card player …so my favorite way to spent time was to look out of window . My mind can still visualize those scenes. Later while travelling to Bengal, I realized how dry and barren those fields were in comparison to the green Bengal land. Thankfully this years monsoon was very good and even in north India the fields are full of crops – green and prosperous. A happy sign to witness from the train window.
Incidentally the train experience is also never uniform. Its different while you travel in the toy train from shimla and different when you travel in Konkan railways. I cannot help remembering the happy days of my two Bharat Darshans when we had spent a lot of time(usually nights) in the trains. It is great fun to travel in a group. The continuous singing , teasing, dumb charade and chatting is unforgettable. I still remember when from my university- we were taken on a study tour. What fun we had in train journey to and fro. Of course it must be a nuisance for the fellow passengers. A bunch of noisy college goers are hardly ideal travel companions and we really behaved like brats. So much so our HOD had to get up in the night and shout at us. The giggling and pillow chats continued despite that . Travelling is always interesting, but the flood of memories most of us face while travelling by trains is incomparable . Each one of us has his/her own unforgettable train times.