The  tie  that holds .



She  stood out  in her pink and white chiffon sari among a crowd of tussar clad Marathi speaking  women. She was from a different land and definitely  a different time. I could tell from the calm yet straight on gaze, that this was a woman who had always believed  that women are the driving force of civilization. I wanted to get close to her and talk, understand her, maybe have her smile at me approvingly. But I was busy getting engaged to her son.

After two people decide that they are willing and able to share a friendship for life, the rest of the world and it’s aunt steps in to arrange it for them. In this case, that had not happened. Probably because, there were two single mothers, who were relieved that their   slightly  crazy children were finally getting “hitched”.  They knew that too much interference would not be brooked and had kept it all simple and original.

So it was, that I  met the mother of the man I was to marry , on the day of my engagement.  And we continued to elude each other, thru the following marriage and the reception. Later, of course , I was busy trying to work out how to handle the complex and very interesting package her son was proving to be. A year later, I was breastfeeding her little grand-daughter and trying to stay in touch with the world, thru the news, papers, TV.

We talked all right. You can’t stop women from doing that. We have the facility of talking about issues and non issues, food , and philosophy in random order. But there were reserves. She was brought up in  Baluchistan, in a time when money was not a criterion for happiness.  She was self taught in all matters, including self sufficiency. She dealt with me in a careful manner as she would with a fragile piece of china, or a peace of equipment  one hasn’t figured out.

There is a word in Marathi, called “sasurvaas”. It means the time and experiences endured in the house of in laws, particularly at the hands of the mother in law. I am sure the concept exists in all parts of India, we are a country which marries girls to families, not to an individual. But it did not exist in my vocabulary and was the single hardest thing for her to understand. She would look at me wonderingly, when after touching her feet, I hugged her in the mornings. Once she realized that I liked her, she liked me back.

Conflict needs a bone  of contention, and we never had one. She loved her son, and so did I. That settled, we proceeded to enjoy each other as women. She taught me the joys of cracking watermelon seeds to get at the nut inside. I took her with me to the planeterium. She learnt that I liked  tea and  samosas cold, and  I learnt that she loved  eating chaat and other junk , at any  time.

So, when I look back at the  memory of how we met, I think it was a good thing, that we did not have too much time to size each other up, and  judge. We had to accept each other as we were and create  a tie  that holds us both close to this day.

A story about a story.


The call came  while I was cooking for my daughter and her friends. A friend had been planning a movie for over two years. He was now ready to shoot .I have known him for ten years and rarely missed an opportunity to cheer, when he sets out on a new endeavour.       But, this time, I was in two minds. Spending time on a set for television is chaotic enough and something that I have done as part of my job. Being on a film set, without a function, except that of being the director’s friend seemed a bad idea. What would I do there?

Since, there were no excuses available, such as school, ( summer holidays were on) or a gruelling job schedule at office, ( I am self employed), I found myself packing for myself and my daughter. For a fifteen day trip, no less.

I reached the set at one thirty in the morning, sleepy daughter in tow  (don’t ask, the drivers commissioned for ferrying folk to and from film sets, operate on a totally, out of this world clock) For the next three hours, I watched the set decorator, the art director and a load of assistants  dress up the set. Since a movie recreates an existing reality, the faking has to be extremely believable.

Cut to the next day, when it seemed I had barely touched my pillow for five minutes, a knock on the door jars me awake. A cheery assistant director offers me a smile and the news that the cars are ready, and so is breakfast, at the location and could I please get my stuff together, since the hotel expects rooms vacated by twelve o’clock?

I climb out of my grave and reach the location to find, that my daughter has befriended almost everyone on the set. She has arranged for her favourite bubble gum, her favourite breakfast, and a seat next to the camera monitor. The resilience of the young.

The location is the parking lot of a buiding, which is still under construction. I meet all the major players, the cameraperson, a South Indian who speaks fluent “bangla”. His assistant is a feisty young woman, who has assisted Binod Pradhan and plays soccer with great zeal. The make up person is from the UK, a lady who specializes in chemistry, and working in the interesting  parts of the world. Her last assignment was in a girls’ school in Argentina. We swap stories on vegetarianism and the tango. Meanwhile, a coconut is cracked and a spot boy comes up with what will become a regular feature of the next fifteen days. Coconut and sugar crystals, an offering to the gods of the camera. No wonder  Shekhar Kapur insisted on coconut offerings while shooting “Elizabeth”. Habits, after all, die hard!

Lights, camera and no action. Three days into the shoot, locations have shifted, once again. The present locale is a  village  along the sea, with mountains on one side. The sea views are marvelous, the stage is set for a wild and  wicked song to be picturised on a group of very, very scantily clad dancers. But, it appears, shooting on this particular bit of sea and rocks is not allowed.

If actors work hard, the dancers work harder, and frankly, with much less appreciation. The dance director is a lady who runs a tight ship. In the manner of the classic ballet mistress, she will not accept a mediocre step, or stance, constantly shouting for attitude. Some of the girls are barely out of their teens, probably supporting families with their dancing.

A camaraderie is seen in all the “troops“. The camera crew is from the south, the light men are from Mumbai. There are caterers, drivers and  sound equipment people, who to my mind are true cowboys. I listen to snatches of conversation. They speak of having been on outdoors, studio shoots, exotic locales. The names are there too, Salman, Ajay, all spoken matter of factly. They are fellow professionals.

My friend is a cowboy too, one who I am sure will die with his boots on. He shoots thru the day, prepares for the next day’s shoot , in the evening and  pampers his actors with his praise and attention in the nights. Sometimes, in the night, I wake up to the sound of his baritone leading the “young ones “in a song.

Song sung blue. The shooting of another song, and I find myself sitting next to a beautiful young actress , waiting for the lights, and camera to be set up. She is bright, very aware of her strengths as a professional actress, and worried too. She is wondering about her role in the movie, and how much footage she will get, to showcase her talents.

Now, this is not surprising in Bollywood, where people seem to talk of roles in terms of  two songs, and five emotional scenes. I reassure her of her brilliance, and say that her character in the film is turning out very interesting. She smiles, relieved and sets off to charm her co- star, as the director calls out, ready to take.

Shots are taken, and some will end up in the movie, and some won’t. That’s where the continuity person comes in. The guy in question here, is an aspiring director, who loves to anticipate which shot was okay, and which one qualified as not good.  Luckily, the shooting is proceeding at an economical rate, not too many  shots are discarded . First time directors, with independently funded films, cannot  afford to be wasteful of film stock .

First time directors, should also beware of the following pitfalls. If there are more than one leading actor / actress, there is bound to be a lot of competition, some not very graceful . Money issues will appear at every stage . Money will be scarce, it will not appear on time, and the person who provides the money may suffer from regular bouts of enlarged ego.  So, one person has to be deputed for purposes of ego petting and general reassurance. Whatever can go wrong, will definitely go wrong, so always have a back up plan ready. Have a core team of like minded people, who are supportive, no matter what and who take crises in their stride.

Through it all, it becomes clear, that it is possible to make movies, with a twist of the contemporary, with rank newcomers. Actors are looking for new and challenging horizons to explore, so is the audience. Finding the story one wishes to tell, and telling it in an original way is all it takes.




The desert city of Udaipur embodies the spirit of hospitality. Elegant, with a serenity which makes a welcome real. ‘Padharo mhare des’ (welcome to my land) , takes on a new dimension when the land in question is green, surrounded by hills and enriched by lakes.

It is also a land which takes up arms to defend it’s honour. It has an ego and a certain foolhardiness. The inscription above the City palace reads ‘ he who protects honour, bears a sword’. The peasant soldier and the noble born warrior stand with their swords poised.

Stories in  a desert land are not penned down. They are borne by word  of mouth, over the hot desert wind , thru the palaces and the village squares. Formerly , the tales of glory and gallantry were told by male singers. Nomads who doubled  as  spies and bards. Our story begins in  a square overlooked by a palace.  A woman  garbed in bright ochre clothes- for that is the colour of gallantry and sacrifice – enthralls a crowd of foreign and Indian tourists. She takes them thru the twists and turns of her  story , punctuating  it with the sounds of her anklets, her dramatic gestures and the intensity of her eyes.

The story she narrates is a common one in Rajasthan- right of ascension, honour and pride. It is the story of Rana  Sanga. He was the eldest son, a dutiful, trusting son of old parents. His brothers were wily and eveready  to put  Sanga out  of  the fray  for kingship.

The mother and Panna dhai , the nanny  are important characters. These two women helped make Sanga the man he was, upright, straightforward. They loved him selflessly , so he had no hidden resentments and a clean heart.  They  did not lie to him  but may have colored his perceptions with the hues of their own hearts- duty, honour, bravery. They were the perfection  a child needed to grow up whole. They were the reason  Sanga was  guileless and quite naive.

Rivalry exists everywhere, be it from siblings, or from colleagues. Sanga’s brothers  hated him for he was  set  to ascend the throne. They bore the age old resentments which children bear towards the beloved child.

Sanga  is unaware that his brothers have hatched a plan to kill him. They take him hunting, and while in the jungle suggest  a visit to the temple of a renowned oracle. They want to find out who will be made king. In the temple, the oracle’s representative points at Sanga. The brothers draw swords , while Sanga tries to mollify them. He escapes the oracle’s temple, with a blinded eye and a maimed hand.  He can no longer go home. If he stays away, his parents’ lives may be spared.

The prince now lives like a tramp. He has no skills to survive the harsh wilderness. Sanga is defenceless  against the travails of nature and  seeks shelter with a tribe of dacoits. They are suspicious of his blinded eye and maimed hand. Who is he and why  does he seem to know nothing of survival, while living a loser’s life? Survival makes people different , brings out their inherent qualities.  Sanga seems to  become more naive and austere. His needs are meager and and his whims are matter of the past. He stays aloof from the dacoits , refusing to take part in their raids on the villages. They think it is the fear of being recognized as a petty thief. Sanga stays away from their revelry as well. He is distant, and so very attractive to the  chieftain’s daughter.

A man is attractive to a woman , if he preserves an air of mystery, it stirs her imagination. The chieftain’s daughter falls in love with Sanga in a hopeless manner. She is vulnerable to him, every look , every word. To top it all, she senses he is a good man and would never intentionally hurt her. But she also knows that the choices he will make, will never make life easy, specially for her.

At this point in the story, the female  bard takes a break. The sun  has set and it is time to go home. But it comes as no surprise, that the story and its echoes remain, in another time and another city.


City of Orphans

I live in a city, with a big heart. One which has made my life fast, brisk, and efficient .  It taught me the value of time, and is the only place, a stubborn fool like me would live.

The last time, I felt anger towards the people who run this city was when the dance bars shut down.  That was something, I knew was irrevocable, and maybe, the kind of crisis needed to create some opportunities, none of which I might add will be provided by the powers that be, no matter what their principles or credos may be.

Since then, I have watched and  walked with pride and  a certain hard headed resignation.  Through streets flooded with water, and filth. Seen people distribute food , medicine, advice, and hospitality, without much ado.  I’ve seen the ban on plastics that was the “official” action and the digging up of already mauled roads.

One year later,  I see, that the floods are back, the filth is back, the roads are still the same, but the people are better  than ever.  They are still wading through water, helping each other out, and providing each other with the support that should actually be given to them, as a matter of course.

A few days ago, July 11th to be precise I am sitting in a hotel, waiting to get back home.  I have to thank  FM radio for that. Images on a TV screen tell me, that the life line of Mumbai has been targeted.  I see thousands of people,  hauling out dead bodies, injured people.   I  just know, that people are going to pitch in, and help will come from all quarters, except, one. Politicians, bureaucrats and  the powers that be.

The next day, all the papers are filled with  stories about the faceless public who distinguished themselves,  and gave evidence of the fact that Mumbai is a city of orphans. Uncared for, left to fend for themselves, and yet shining through it all.

Many anxious calls later and I realize, that the general mood is pretty much the same. People take care of themselves and extend a helping hand. There are a few like the  moron who says, “ At least we don’t have to travel in trains” . As  if the one who has to commute, has a death wish!

The trains roll out the next day, and it’s business as usual. Life goes on, the last dead body is claimed,  and an abandoned child’s parents return. Will the city get  lucky? I don’t think so. Orphans must unite and realize that if they don’t get it right, no one will.  Maybe, the next time round,  we’ll have less tears and blood being shed.

My deepest regards to those who have helped, silently. To the ones who shoot their mouths off  and try to  grind any kind of axe political,  or  religious,  I present a finger.







Little Boy Lost.


I am sitting at an open air, Mumbai style coffee bistro. It’s late in the day, and there’s a group of pals with me. The occasion is special. It’s my best friend’s birthday.

At least he says so. I think it’s a ruse to get people together and having a good time. And that is what they are doing. He is holding forth, drawing a lot of attention and not caring about the consequences thereof.

An hour or so later, I am standing on the footpath, with a young girl. She is gorgeous, and looks like Liv Tyler. She has come to smoke, away from the eyes of her guardian. She has tagged along with him for the party, and is very young, maybe 18, 19 but quite self assured.

“So, what’s he like?” She asks, with a glitter in her eyes which I am sure even she doesn’t know has appeared. I sigh, because I have been asked that so many times, and by so many women, I don’t know how to answer it without falling asleep!

And so I tell her, the stuff that interests a young girl . That he isn’t married, will never settle down, and that he has many friends of both sexes . That he can drink a sailor under the table, and roll a cigarette in 15 seconds flat. He can and will take care of people, and he has no fixed address.

However, I don’t tell her that he is a little boy  lost, underneath it all. I won’t tell her, that he has never asked a woman to wait for him. He doesn’t believe it can happen.  I won’t tell her about the long winding road through the mountains that he traveled on a rainy day, to reach his boarding school. The rain subsided, but he cried himself to sleep till six months.

I don’t know when he realized  or felt that he could not trust women. Was it because of his mother, who did the best she could, but could not question her husband’s dictates? Was it because of his own fear of losing something if he cares  too deeply?

And yet, when he falls in love, which he does, very often and with exceptional women, he doesn’t bear them any grudges. He just loves them whole heartedly. I wonder, if his being able to walk away from each romance is a different side of his inner solitude. Almost as if he has enjoyed the moment for what it is, and then moves on to something new, or maybe something undiscovered.

A child who is lost, seaches for a home. Whenever a safe haven is reached, he is reluctant to leave it. What does one say about a boy who finds home time and again, but won’t stay, only visit?

I look at the young woman’s eyes, her lips, her smile, her implicit faith that she can make him want to stay. That she will give him a reason to hang up his boots. Maybe even rest his soul and relax.

But that isn’t going to happen. There’s time till she figures it out, for herself and can say it to herself without crying .  For now she is too young, idealistic and expectant. She thinks his open face and smile are those of a man, who wants to build a life.

And so it is up to me to tell her, not in so many words, but enough, that this is a little boy lost who will only find his path thru himself and the world, not thru her. She will never be able to hold him in the silken strands of her love and he will never lie to her.

Baba Yaga speaks…

(phone bell ringing)

TM: Hello? Who’s this?

BY: You called me, who are you?

TM: Actually, I didn’t call you. I got a call, so I guess, there is some mixup. Anyway, that usually happens with landlines. So, who is this? I’m Tejaswini Malik from Mumbai, India.

BY: I did not call you, either. I hear my phone bell ringing, so I rush to take the call. I’m Baba Yaga, from Siberia.

TM: Baba, who?

BY: Baba Yaga, that’s who! Don’t you know who you’re talking to,  you silly girl?

TM: Been a while since anyone called me that.

BY: Silly? Why? Is it not obvious to most who speak to you?

TM: Don’t be mean, Baba Yaga. By the way, can I call you BY? Catchy, right?

BY: No, you may not call me BY, I am Baba Yaga, you will call me Baba Yaga and not BY or Catchy.

TM: No! Catchy as in, you know, sounds interesting, grabs attention. You know?

BY: I do not want to grab attention. I only want two things in life.

TM: Mm hmm. What’s that, or rather what are they?

BY: First, I want Siberia to remain as cold and friendless as it has always been.

TM: Very good, and second?

BY: I want Russia to be whole again, not divided up into so many people, they now consider me an illegal alien when I try to scare kids in their dreams in Ukraine.

TM: No, seriously! What is the world coming to? But, BY, I mean Baba Yaga, you don’t need to worry, Siberia isn’t going to turn warm any time now. At least, that’s what I think.

BY: You think? And how many centuries of experience and life go into your thinking, tell me?

TM: Not many, but enough to give me a mid life crisis!

BY: Ah, the mid life crisis. Pshaw! What nonsense, mid life crisis! All you need is good hundred percent vodka, a new fox fur hat to warm your ears and your mid life crisis is, how you say it? Finished! Oh, and black Russian cigar, too!

TM: Really, now that’s a new one. Forget about HRT, forget about any kind of visualization techniques, thinking yourself younger, and so on and so forth, just go back to basics, right? Vodka, fur hat and cigar! My God, you’re politically out of time and incorrect.

BY: I am not political. I am mythical, mythological, I am every man’s mother in law and in some cases, their wife. I am also the sister of the earth.

TM: You wish! So, give. Why should we worry about Siberia, please?

BY: You’re getting too warm.

TM: I am? You can tell by hearing my voice on a really bad international call? Wait a minute, it is international, right or are you hanging out on your broom somewhere in the lower stratosphere?

BY: Ah, romantic imagery, Baba Yaga roaming around, what you call it, doing hang out on massive straggly broom in sky, in cold Siberian winter with my dirty matted hair frozen to the roots of my bony scalp! Right. I don’t think so, I know one thing, you can mess with anything, but you don’t mess with mother earth and her laws. No matter what color her top soil may be, she is one revengeful *** and can slap your wrist for any messes one makes!

TM: Mm hmm. I’m going a bit glassy eyed, right now Baba Yaga, you are way too long winded for this day and age. Can’t you limit it to say, 44 characters or something?

BY: Okay. Katrina, Leticia, Sarah.

TM: That’s not 44, you can have…Hey, Katrina is well known, the hurricane, right? What about the other two?

BY: Those are the ones who mother earth is sitting on the bench right now. She lets them loose, your game is up.

TM: Oh, right. We’re talking Quidditch here, I suppose.

BY: No, global warming, end of world, and no more Siberia! The Big Melt!

TM: OMG, I have to tweet this! An eco savvy witch! I so have to tweet this one! Give me 55 characters, I mean, a moment, Baba Yaga.

BY: Take your time, I have to check on my borscht, anyway. So, what you do, for fun, wherever you are?

TM: Oh, you know the usual, spend money, earn money, waste money, mmm let’s see, oh, oh! I know! I write too you know, as a hobby.

BY: Oh, not another writer. But, I hope you at least are drunk most times of the day?

TM: Sorry, Baba Yaga, I’m not a writer of any mention, or one who gets paid to write…

BY: Which writer gets paid to write? Ha! Let me see, maybe the ones who wrote for the Tsar, you know, official stuff, public notices, killings, births, deaths, odes to favorite queens and…but you write for hobby? So, you like to write?

TM: Yes. I enjoy it.

BY: You don’t agonize over every word and wonder why you want to write, you don’t lock yourself up in cabin in lower Siberia and stay unwashed and search for inspiration in the blue veins on your wrist?

TM: Huh? Unwashed? What are you talking about? Lock myself up? Cabin? No internet? Oh, no! No! Why would I do that?

BY: You know, true writer suffering for his cause. Like Doestoyesky.

TM: Oh, I know him! You know, it’s so amazing, they reworked that movie, thirty days in the life of Doestoyevsky, into a romantic comedy! With Luke Wilson and Kate Hudson.

BY: Yes, yes. He write tortured book, The Gambler. He hire secretary to write what he dictates. She really whiny, annoying girl, and she make him change story, idea, and…himself. But, good, good Russian film. Dark, deep. Brooding. Director, Tarkovsky.

TM: Tarkovsky? Uh, okay. He sounds like he had a different take on it.  But Hollywood re-made the film into a kind of romantic comedy, you know.

BY: WHAT? That is sacrilege. What romantic? What comedy? It is pathetic! He trying to make money out of writing about one bad relationship and fall in love with young woman who could be like his daughter. What is romantic in that? It’s torture, to sit and watch suitor court woman you love, when you have no money and no hair!

TM: Gosh, BY, take it easy! My eardrums almost broke on that last one. Okay, I get it. So, he was writing about a broken affair with some chick who gambled, right?

BY: No, no. She make him gamble for her. She need money.

TM: Why didn’t she get a job?

BY: That was her job. To make men gamble, spend on her.

TM: Oh, she was a courtesan?

BY: No, darling! She was a woman! And they all need money, whatever label they may carry.

TM: BY, I hope you don’t get out much in public, your views would get you labeled an anti-feminist.

BY: Why? I live alone in hostile condition, I hunt for my own animal and occasional human being to eat. I help people out by offering herbal supplement and magic spell. I am ecologically conscious and grow forest around me, whenever I shift in my chicken legged house. Actually, house shift, not me. I just huddle in corner and survive the ride. I don’t mind when peasant folk scare their babies into sleeping or eating green goo, saying” Baba Yaga going to eat you if you don’t eat or drink or sleep or work.”  I am good, as you say, female for all season and age.

TM: Hmm, well, can’t argue with that, BY. Anyway, I am going to call it a day. Something tells me, this isn’t the last you’ll be speaking.

BY: Oh, I will get heard, don’t worry. You can’t ignore me…