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September 2013




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Sep. 12th, 2013


Letter to an imaginative thyroid gland

Dear Ms. Gland,

I hope this letter finds you in the
of health

Or at least a few shades
closer to happiness
than you were
after our Monday meeting
that went a little sour

Or during the final Friday
lunch that didn’t fair too well
because you coldly
presided over pepperoni pizza,
many false summations
and our overworked
lacrimal glands.

I am writing to you
to be honest,
feeling a little resigned
at the way things
have shaped
at your end in the
middle of a journey
that began promisingly

and had survived four
similarly orchestrated
farewell lunches
where you threw your
weight around
and we rallied so
diligently around
your high horse.

And yet, I am writing
to let you know
that the cold feet
you developed
when I asked for a
rational explanation
was in fact a confirmed
side effect
of your yet-to-be-diagnosed

The doctor says,
and I suspect she doesn’t
mean this in a
purely medical sense,
‘heal your gut’.

You and I both know
its feelings have been
off by a mile lately.

Yours (still) sincerely.

Jun. 6th, 2012



I wrote rarely when I was here. Now I will write rarely here: asutteredforth.tumblr.com

promoting - (www.facebook.com/afterthethirdbell) (www.afterthethirdbell.com) - remains important here and there!

Aug. 27th, 2011


love-hate relationship

He recognized
the two 't's
in the word
ro tt en.

They were
served to
him twice daily
along with

Jul. 22nd, 2011


The Kerala Conversation

I had always known this about my home state. A newspaper headline triggers a conversation, a conversation turns into a debate, debates turn intensely political and end only when the cup of tea in your hand is finished.

But what I didn't know about Kerala was that one didn't need a strongly written editorial piece for this to happen. Even an ad in a newspaper could do the same. But it did exactly that. I am not going to get into brand names but broadly speaking the ad boasted of a diesel car.

My mausa ji who knew that I was planning on buying a car didn't waste time on explanations and gave his final verdict.

"Buy only a diesel car."

My father added, "definitely, considering the long trips you take out of the city its the best thing for you".
As much as I trusted the wisdom of these two gentleman, everyone from the Mechanic to my regular cab guy had said "diesel will give you trouble". I imagined being stuck in the middle of the night on my way to Dehradun with absolutely no idea about what to do. I knew nothing about fixing a car and with that ignorance came anxiety.
Why would the cab guy give me wrong advice? In the sense that, he probably has more experience on a day to day basis dealing with cars and their problems. 
In the debate that ensued saw me as a weak opponent with a cousin who has only recently started to drive on my side. Our main argument, and even that he had contributed, was that Diesel was more expensive and from what we had heard gave trouble .
But my moments of doubt didn't last too long. My mausa ji who is a car enthusiast (drives from Mumbai to Kerala twice every year) ably supported by my dad gave me the most compelling, albeit technically loaded, arguments that saw me convinced.
Apparently a lot of the worries that people have about diesel cars are outdated. That have no logic given improved technologies.
I wondered why I ever used a petrol car in the first place!
As a freelancer, financial management was a crucial skill and diesel seemed like the best way forward. I never actually thought about it, but when I went back a few months with a calculator and my credit card statement I realized how much money I could have saved.

And to every showroom that I went to, I said the word 'diesel' confidently! And that's what I test drove, no petrol cars for me no more!

By the by, this is not a story about why not petrol or why diesel. Its actually about 'feeling the music and forgetting the fuel'! That was the newspaper campaign that triggered that conversation and the subsequent change. And it was an ad for the Fiat upgrade offer that triggered this post in turn.

Dec. 29th, 2010


"Hostel" releasing on 21st January

Let's hope this film helps create awareness about the horrors of ragging and works as a deterrent for students (seniors and juniors).

Check out the trailer of the film ... http://www.hostel.in.com/
Stay away from Ragging!

Dec. 19th, 2010


Toto's Haunt

Or haunted by Toto? The answer to that can’t be a simple one. But I wanted to know, to try to know.

Office spaces can be really cut off from the world. Unless it’s a media house of the news variety. (The opposite becomes the problem in that case. But you could be sitting in your tall office building, let’s say Vikas Minar at ITO, and not know that a building tumbled down in Laxmi Nagar, less than a kilometre away.
But what if your office is out of the bounds for the world?

The ivory tower - partly out of choice.

Out of bounds already made it interesting. And I was sure that like other things out of bound, entry here would require some bribing perhaps. This was not anything “illegal”, in the liberal sense of the word, but the moment leading up to a bribe is one filled with calculations. How much would it be? How much would be fair? etc. But to my surprise just a smile and a polite request did it for the dilli walah documentary film maker (the beard and kurta being a stamp of identity).

For quite some time, the stairs never ended and when they did, how!

First came the thunder and the lightning.

Sound then visual. And I was excited.

Some ugly things don’t look ugly because of the way we see them. More importantly, what we see in them. It must be our perception that does a Photoshop on the image and the glaring imperfections go unnoticed, or even seem attractive. Like some old dilapidated buildings.

The same goes for sound. So even though this was the most meaningless drone ever, it was exciting as I got closer to it.

And there it was.

A sky blue colored room like a rectangular box with these two machines giving each other company. And giving them company were two men. One in his 40’s, the other in his 60’s.

Sharma ji joined this Cinema 28 years ago. The year I was born. After having worked 20 years in a another movie theatre. Even though you couldn’t possibly notice this when you were inside the room, in proportion to the large theatre below, there was a logic to where and how it was constructed. In spite of the machines, the room had a very modest quality to it. Disconnected from the scale of the rest of the place. And so did Sharma ji.

Sharma ji was unarguably the second last link in a long chain of events. But he must have been the most modest and unassuming part of this long chain even though he was not unimportant by any measure.

An important, but thankless job.

Sharma ji is obviously not used to receiving guests in a place that is out of bounds even for the employees at the Cinema. But he greeted me almost as if he was expecting me. And he was pleasant, which you would probably not expect from a man who spends his days with two loud machines and an apprentice. He asked his apprentice to explain how the machines worked. And I tried my best to understand.

The weight of this room could make you feel inconsequential in the larger scheme of things. And then this conversation happened.

Documentary filmein? Lekin woh to bandh ho gayi thi na?

He did sound a bit suspicious when he said this. I didn’t understand but I had to so I somehow made sense of what he said.

Haan, aaj kal TV mein aati hai, news channel pe, aur festivals mein.

Haan, wohi mein kahoon, Lucknow mein hua karta tha Documentary ka vibhaag, phir band karna pada kyunki paise nahin bana paayi sarkar unse.

(I had said that I was a documentary filmmaker. Sharma ji wondered what documentary films I was talking about; he said they had stopped to exist many years ago. When I told him that it was limited to television and film festivals he thought that made sense because he knew that the Documentary Department in Lucknow had shut down because the Government never made any money off them.)

Thus, suddenly in the projection room of this single screen theatre, I was a filmmaker whose “art” did not exist. Inconsequential, indeed.

The romance with that projection room (and the projectionist) was so real in Cinema Paradiso (The 1988 Italian film by Giuseppe Tornatore). In that projection room, I found myself unable to cut off from that borrowed reality. I felt possessed by that romanticism for the 20 minutes that I spent there and for quite some time afterwards. I wanted to write, to make a film. But what about? About him, about this.

About Toto’s favourite haunt, or about being haunted by Toto. Or both.

PS: How apt that I entered a projection room for the first time in my life when an RGV film was playing to a more than less empty movie theatre.

Dec. 5th, 2010


Last day of registration :)

A day before the registration closes, this coverage in HT definitely gave us a good boost :)

Nov. 12th, 2010


Since you asked ...

Q: What’s the point of this event?
To give unpublished writers a forum to share their work and, more importantly, get (constructive) feedback on it.

Q: Why 9 minutes?
Because we prefer odd numbers. And it’s a square of 3. Do you really need more reasons?

Q: Eligibility?
Above 21 years.

Q: When/where?
17 December, 2010
The Attic, Connaught Place (New Delhi)

Q: Am not from Delhi.
A lot of people in Delhi are not from Delhi. Register online (writeto.images@gmail.com), send in your entry and nominate a friend (in Delhi, obviously) to read for you. Ask another friend to record your friend reading. If you don't like how he/she reads, sort it out immediately with your friend. Friendship is important.

Q: Should I be reading for the whole 9 minutes?
The time is meant for each individual writer to introduce themselves, talk about their work a bit, read a bit and get feedback. It’s like a film trailer! Only longer. By a bit.

Q: Only novels?
(Anything where words are strung together (meaningfully or otherwise). Fiction, non-fiction, play, poem, short story, novella, novel, biography, autobiography...)

Q: What do I send in?
A synopsis (half-page) and a 3-page sample in case of any prose. If poems, then 3 poems. Film scripts/plays - the scene you want to read out of. Unfinished? You want to read fragments from a longer piece? Piece them together, send it.

Q: Who’s the Jury?
Esteemed. (Like most juries)

Q: What is the Jury looking for?
I don’t know. A needle? Good writing

Q: Is there money involved?
You know what they say, there are no free coffees in this world. Rs. 500 per entry. (In other words, multiple genres or multiple entries within the same genre require multiple registration.)

Q: So what next?
Register at Kunzum Cafe (Hauz Khas Village) or Fab Foto (Khan Market) or send us a mail for the online transfer. Send us your entries.

Q: What about plagiarism?
What about it? Oh, you mean to say "What about my paranoia? My worry that someone will steal my idea, my manuscript and run away with it"?
Don't tell us who dies. (And please don't send us the whole manuscript.)

Q: Can I do it with someone else?
(It's actually more fun that way!) We are open to entries from people who have co-authored a piece or are working on something together.

Q: What’s in it for me?
Nothing, if you think about it. But a lot, if you actually think about it.

Q: Seriously, what’s in it for me?
Apart from the fact that you get an *esteemed Jury* and an *objective audience* to listen and give feedback on your unpublished (maybe even unfinished) work? The free coffee.

Q: Who will win?
(Corny alert*) The event will and in its success lies yours.

Q: Am I going to be published after this reading?
Our best wishes will always be with you.

Nov. 11th, 2010

space 2

The Verdict

Dr. Kachroo is completely right. There is nothing to celebrate.

And if I can be pessimistic on this day, there won't be anything to celebrate for long now and here's why.

This I heard from a bunch of seniors in a college. Faculty members asked them if they are not ragging the juniors enough because they see no discipline amongst the juniors.

In another instance, juniors complained that they were not being ragged and therefore did not get to know their seniors very well. And in yet another instance, one of my students told me that his friend was delighted, nothing less, that he had been ragged. "The usual obscene gay acting stuff."

I keep thinking, in each of these colleges what we need is two-three years of absolutely no ragging so that the "tradition" dies and soon enough is forgotten. But then I wonder if even that will help, considering the attitude of teachers, parents and other people in authority.

We have received enough anonymous emails and phone calls from students from across the country saying they need help because their college is turning a deaf ear. When I say college, I don't mean rejected applications that were sent to the management in anonymity. I am talking of the callousness of a Principal or a Dean or even members of anti-ragging cells.

I am talking about students being made to sign blank sheets of paper which are later filled with the words 'I take back the complaint'.

You see, the college has its own roofs to build and rebuild year after year. For that it needs enrollments and for that it needs to project itself as a place for academics, only. "A ragging-free campus!"

What happens behind closed hostel rooms, no one ever finds out. Students don't report anything because they are scared that the result would be angrier forms of ragging. Suffer a few months. Inflict the next year. A tradition is born! A criminal tradition passed on over generations in the top colleges of this country.

The change in law has already happened. This verdict needs to be upheld and should scare students. A deterrent. When you kill someone or you put someone's life in harm, you know you are committing a crime. When you rag someone, you should know you are committing a crime. Nothing less.

Being a student or young is no excuse. In fact, being a student suggests education, an understanding of civil society, an understanding of lawful and unlawful. Would our politicians be any less criminal if we picked them out of our best academic institutions?

The next time before these students, senior by default, embark on a distasteful prank that invariably goes out of hand and ends in the death (physical or psychological) of a 'junior' they should be made to think. If I do this, I'll be going to jail like those four guys who killed Aman.

But I wish it was as easy as that. Even if they did it, their parents and friends will rally around them and say: no one is ever accountable for anything in this country, why my child then? And they will use whatever resources are accessible to them to prevent justice from being carried out. But all the same, this sentencing should work as a major deterrent for some students at least. And that much would happen, I think. But just that much.

And that's the verdict really. The law has spoken in favor of justice and 4 people have been sentenced. But a change in attitude, that will bring a definitive end to this cycle of death and sentencing seems a far cry.

Softening the flight of time

Films are mostly made for personal reasons, even those films that are made to espouse a social message. The assumption in these cases is that the artist is in some way committed (I am not necessarily saying involved) to the cause(s) the film talks about.

But what happens when a film is made for a really personal reason? Its making becomes a layered process. There are things you want to talk about and things you don’t want to talk about. There are things you should talk about and those that you probably shouldn’t talk about. And there is the risk that the creative process would get hampered in some way. As a filmmaker, you know how to create drama on screen, but then this is your own life.

Or in the case of Pankaj Johar’s film, his dads.

Still Standing is a documentary that chronicles, simultaneously, the life of Dr. Rajinder Johar and the NGO he runs out of his room, laying on his bed. Can you imagine how that works?

And that is the toughest thing about reviewing a documentary like Still Standing–it’s incredible premise overwhelms your every perception. But I am going to try to move beyond the sheer impact of this true and truly inspiring story, although not without stating it once more, clearly. A doctor who is completely bed-ridden, having survived two bullet injuries, starts up and continues to run an NGO for people with disability.

Since its inception in 1992, Family of Disabled (familyofdisabled.org) has worked with and for people across disabilities through a range of different initiatives. A bi-annual magazine, an employment scheme, scholarships for students etc.

As the title suggests Still Standing is hardly about the setbacks in the life and times of Dr. Johar or the organization. And the narrative style almost mimics his light-hearted and courageous attitude towards these setbacks.

“This is the silver jubilee year of my accident,” quips Dr. Johar about that horrific accident which left him quadriplegic—total loss of the use of all limbs and torso.

The film’s biggest success lies in its writing. Lucid, honest and heartfelt. The film doesn’t exaggerate anything. Neither the tragic background, nor the many victorious moments. 

Talking of its writing, one of the most striking qualities was Johar’s decision to paint the complete picture a man who has moved far beyond the accident which changed the course of his life in 1986. “I don’t care what happens to him,” says Dr. Johar about the man who shot him and in the past 25 years has spent less than 35 days in jail for it.

And in painting this complete picture, Johar doesn’t shy away from documenting negatives.

“He should try to control his temper,” says a former employee of FoD about Dr. Johar. The sentiment is echoed by another well-wisher who hopes he would do this so that it does not have any adverse effects on his health. This little sequence certainly takes you by surprise, because we are not used to our documentaries being so three-dimensional.

“Mr. Johar has a sense of humour like nobody,” says a lady who has been associated with Dr. Johar and FoD for many years. Piece them together and these unscripted and sincere testimonials make sure that Dr. Johar is portrayed as a human being who is extraordinary. Extraordinary, undoubtedly, but a human being nevertheless.

In its treatment, Still Standing, is consistent for the most part, though a few things stick out. For instance, why were Mrs. Johar’s interviews not shot in ‘normal’ backdrops like the other interviewees? Especially considering her obvious discomfort with the facing the camera.

Also, with the flow of the testimonials the attempt at creating a non-linear pattern was evident, but to carry that off the edit needed to be tighter. These were points at which the narrative could have moved faster, leaving the viewers to internalize some visuals rather than be fed complete information. This would have certainly come through had Johar gone in for the use of cuts rather than the fade-in-fade-outs that were used excessively in the second half of the film.

Music is used adeptly in the film to accentuate its many moods, while managing to keep it very much in the background.

Indian documentary films are rarely greater than the story they are telling. And Indian documentary filmmakers are either criticized for sticking too much to conservative styles and stifling the energy of the narrative or going overboard with experiments and thereby losing the essence of the story. The line in between, which balances style and content, is not easy to tread on. And even more so, when the story you are telling is so close to your life.

In his first feature length documentary, Pankaj Johar certainly doesn’t deviate from the conservative too much. But at the same time he gives the story space to breathe and at no point does he try too hard to drive a point, allowing the story to do the talking. A powerful story that grips you right from the word go.

At the time of its first screening, Dr. Rajinder Johar had not seen the film. One wonders how he would react to it. It wouldn’t be surprising if he took greater pride in his son’s achievement as a filmmaker than feel euphoric about his own achievements being documented. This is after all, an incredible journey spanning 25 years (and still counting), captured in about 54 minutes.

In a film titled Lumiere & Company, 40 filmmakers used the Lumiere Brothers’ camera, the Cinematograph, to make short films. During the process of making these films they were each asked some questions, one of them being, why they made films. I remember Greek filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos saying that it was “to soften the flight of time”. I imagine, that Dr. Rajinder Johar and the people who have been associated with FoD over the years would agree that Still Standing certainly does that and much more.

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