Shush the Push for War

Alexis Chateau

It’s almost impossible to make it through a week without seeing Americans debating in public forums about whether or not the U.S. should go to war. To bomb or not to bomb ISIS.That is the political question of 2017.

While I sympathise with the desire to fix a problem that has clearly grown out of hand, people forget thatfixinga problem was how ISIS was born in the first place. So before you launch into your arguements for why war is the best be-all-end-all solution, let’s take a moment to reconsider.

To better understand my line of arguement, let’s briefly change the topic to discuss another touchy issue: imperialism and slavery.

Offshoring Slavery

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If you’ve ever taken a business class, you’ve probably heard the word “offshoring” before. In a nutshell, it means that a certain process physically takes place in another location – usually another country.

Many people…

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fifty shades of ambiguous

It all started with a newspaper article in the Sunday Times. Just a little note about Twilght the book being made into a movie. The write up mentioned that the book had a youth following. It was popular, but not as popular, perhaps as the movie that followed. Suddenly Robert Pattinson was all over the place and well, to be honest, there were a lot of older people who were reading the Twilight books once the movie was out. I believe the film Jai Santoshi Mata did for the Goddess Santoshi what the Twilight movie did for the books, brought in increased popularity and a larger fan base. So,  I dutifully read all the books in the Twilight series, and was introduced to the romance novel or rather serial romances for the millennium.

All through the early 2000’s I’ve heard people grousing that young people can’t be in relationships, they don’t grasp the concept of constancy, they don’t get the values involved, they don’t know how to be there, they don’t know the protocols. Obviously, these people are all baby boomers, or  much older or people who still remember the bad hair of bands in the eighties. However, it seems to me, that they or even I am in no position to have an opinion, since we don’t really know the levels at which millenials live.

When I heard young people talking about Fifty Shades of Grey, I heard the premise and harrumphed. My contempt was evident in the questions I asked. After  Christian Grey beat the crap out of Ana Steele did she manage to make it to work the next day? Didn’t her bruises show? Isn’t the whole putting up with S and M thing just another take on women putting themselves through the wringer for a man, hoping he will eventually love them? Isn’t this kind of franchise seriously harmful at a time, when anything goes is the norm? It will merely encourage more bad behavior and so on and so forth. The only response I got from a large number of evolved millenials was a simple ”It’s not like that” and a roll of the eyes, of course.

I didn’t read the books, I went onto the movies. I respected the chronology and watched Fifty Shades and Fifty Shades Darker.  I still don’t think, I am going to be able to read the books, but that’s just me rebelling in my own perimenopausal way. So, before I delve any deeper, a word of advice to the wise. The feats in the movies are not for the fainthearted. You need a serious commitment to fitness, a good cardio vascular system and overall agility, since watching some of the action gave me a cramp. Of coursed, unlimited wealth would help too, as that kind of Howard Hawks lifestyle can’t be created on a daily bread winning job. Consider yourself forewarned.

For a country and culture that prides itself on creating the best concept of marriage, of a dominant male and overtly or covertly submissive female, we may find ourselves seriously outclassed here. The concept of submissive that is being put forward here is not easy to find in real life. Simply because, a relationship is an act of will. You decide to be with someone and take what their personalities and upbringing bring along. The stray quirk or kink is accomadated, maybe even becomes something to look forward to. But, to live that way in every situation and space? That’s far fetched. Or it’s indicative of an ingrained problem which will have to be resolved before any kind of relationship can be created.

The premise of the movies is exactly that. There is a connect of some kind. Obviously, the boy is stinking rich and the girl is a virgin. (I am doing an eye roll as I type that) but, apart from that, he is good at people, manipulating them, reading them, getting them to do what he wants.While she is looking at life to provide the kind of love that literature throws up, preferably Thomas Hardy style. He has a deeply disturbed, abused childhood,  troubled teenage years and a complicit abusive relationship with an older woman, who was his dominant for his growing years. She has a father figure in her stepfather, a mother who isn’t  always available and is involved in her own love and life, but still pretty much a decent parent.

There are a couple of hats doffed in the movie, which I must acknowledge. Melanie Griffith’s lines to her assistant said by her daughter Dakota Johnson in the movie and Kim Bassinger as the older dominant Mrs. Robinson. Seems poetic , since she was the submissive to Mickey Rourke in 9 and a half weeks.

To all those who can still bend over without looking for the nearest soft spot to fall on, or not get stuck in that position, this one’s for you. The great white hope for romance novels, considering that chick lit is getting us used to all those flawed, quirky, regular guys who eventually lead regular lives, Fifty Shades will end the same way too. Regularly ever after .

An education.

What does it take for a scam to work? A hustler.  And someone who is willing to be scammed, of course. Why, you may well ask. The fact is, most of us do take things at face value, are willing to trust and believe that essentially that others are good, decent, just like us. It’s only time, experience and life that educates us, grows us up to see that people may not be who they seem, our impression of them may be colored more by our wistfulness rather than any fact and that in many cases, people who fool us do so with our unwilling or willing complicity.

Jenny, the protagonist of An Education is the kind of girl who most parents would tut tut about. Something about having her head filled with too many fancy ideas, or thinking too highly of herself, having too many expensive habits. But, actually, all she really did have was discernment, taste and a load of fortitude. The creation of journalist Lynn Barber, the character is inspired by an event in Lynn’s life, when she got taken in by the charms of a married con artist, much older than her.

However, Lynn’s story didn’t end tragically, with this event ruining her for life. Actually, it kickstarted her life, and took her places, good or bad depending on how we see it. Good, because she put aside any thoughts of doing things any other way but her own. Bad in a way because she lost the ability to trust. Although, ironically, it seems to have taken her places, leading to her incisive celebrity interviews where she stripped  facades, earning the title of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

There are a very select few of us, who having realized that they have outgrown their parents in terms of the mind, method and worldliness actually have the courage to move beyond them. A home is a safe haven and a place for dreams to flourish. But, what if the dreams are turned upside down or dismissed just because they don’t understand them? What if the protectors of the safe haven themselves end up inviting an intruder in?

Jenny’s parents got bullied by the con artist’s smooth demeanor, his suaveness and his subtle superiority. In a society where hierarchy rules heavy and people don’t venture out beyond their assigned rut, he seemed exotic, accomplished and all together the ticket. Yet, Jenny held her own with him and didn’t let him treat her as a child. She let him have his lies, since they gave her a chance for a wider, although not better world view. She learnt that all that she had within her, would lead to a bigger life and she seized it, thinking that he would be by her side.

Having dropped out of school, the fact that the con artist is married, comes as a rude shock. Jenny is all of a sudden in the strange predicament of realizing that while her parents regimented her life to the T for a good degree, all they really hoped for her was a better marriage. They trusted her instincts, when it came to the con artist, although they didn’t say so and now that she was in a soup, they were not really going to be able to help.  Her headmistress, who had warned Jenny of dire consequences believes giving her another chance would be a waste, since she was so ungrateful and obviously not ready to be penitent.

Finally, Jenny’s English teacher proves to be the guiding light of sorts. By now, Jenny is feeling really low and pretty jaded, but meeting her teacher puts her back in control. It’s clear to her that educating oneself in the subject of one’s choice is an intensely solo experience. You have to educate yourself, live your life by what you believe in and carry on despite the screw ups which are actually an opportunity to learn more.

I recently heard a very sorted out young man tell his peers, that when someone gives you the courage to live your life and make your own choices, he or she is trusting in your judgement. Use it to your own advantage and advancement.  It seems to me, that is the crux of a real education.

The masterchef

The Masterchef began to cook right after his dad died. It was just as sudden as his dad’s death. One day, his dad was there, and the next, they were packing away his stuff and making believe their lives didn’t have a huge void. Of course his mother didn’t believe that, she put on a brave face, at first for her three kids. But, within a month, she was sleeping all day and waking up only in the late evening to drink some tea and eat a few scraps and then back to bed it was for her.

Although, another solution was possible, he found that he really missed his mom’s cooking. The tastes, the clean aromas and the simple pleasure it afforded him. He went through a series of cooks, who his brother and sister were quite fine hiring, since they were already working. He was still in his last year in college and had some time on his hands and nothing much planned for his life, yet. Soon, he realized his best bet was a maid to help him with buying stuff and doing the mise en place, while he did the actual cooking. He had stumbled into the masterchef mode, quite by chance. Once there, he quite liked it and made the kitchen his domain. Again, his siblings were quite fine about this, too since they were really supportive of him and understood there was something happening here, which was for life.

For those who can’t cook, the realm of a regular cook is a mystery. The masterchef’s universe is actually incomprehensible, since it’s about imagining combinations, methodology, speed, accuracy, precision. The more he delved into this place, the masterchef realized that he was very much at home here. He was not at any point or in any way imagining this would heal him of the tragic turn in his life, he was much too practical for that. He merely saw something that challenged him on many levels and satisfied him deeply on many more levels and he could see himself making a living and getting around to the life he’d always wanted. The more ‘mainstream’ professions that most of his classmates aspired to, that other parents crowed about had always made it seem, he would never be able to achieve that, since he would have to sacrifice all his dreams on the altar of convention, dos and donts and appeasement.

So, when this particular crisis turned into an opportunity, or maybe when he changed his perspective about it, it all fell into place. He finished graduation, enrolled in a catering college. He learnt his craft, and then, he went on to doing a number of internships with very well established and well known cooks many of whom were not on the radar of hotels and many who never had a formal degree and the advantage of a well equipped kitchen. But, since that choice was deliberate, he learnt a lot of things and cooking takes that can only be described as the ninja way.

While all this was happening, his brother got into marketing, his sister got into travel and tourism and his mother began to stay awake a little longer, each day. However, she never went back to the kitchen. She tried, since she felt obliged to it, but her heart wasn’t in it. After a point, her kids just took it for granted she would never cook again and were glad to have her back in some form, at least. His brother married a very competent, sensible woman really quickly and she took charge of the kitchen at once, since for her it was the best way to get the keys of the kingdom.

The masterchef now chose to wander a bit, and even travelled with his mother at times.  On one such trip, while his mom and he were rattling around in a rickshaw in Haridwar, he met her. The rickshaw was already spilling over with him, his mom, two sadhus,their dreadlocks and a family of four, when the driver stopped to let her in. His mom covered up her nose, since the girl was scrunched up really close to her and smelled really bad. That of course didn’t stop the girl from being friendly and chattering with his mom till they got to their destination.

The next time they met was at the Hidimba temple in Manali. This time, he was alone. She was offering the devotees  food and water outside the temple and  seemed all set to stay on the whole day. Again, she looked as if she’d not bathed in a while. Still, he found out where she lived and took her out for dinner that very evening. There was no thought in his mind about a relationship. It just didn’t seem possible with someone as weird as her. She was an amateur wildlife photographer and was currently shooting for a project on the birds in that particular area. She didn’t think, she would pay her bills this way, but then, there were so few to pay anyway. By the end of the first evening, he knew better than to discuss anything of a practical or regular nature with her. He knew better than to imagine she would look at him in any way that would suggest something romantic. He recognized someone who was traumatized and trying to create a world for herself, while alienating people in the real one just by being herself.

That was five years ago. Currently, the masterchef is handling the chef’s table for high rollers in a floating casino, off the beaches of Goa. He stumbled upon this assignment, when a banquet manager from the casino ate hakka noodles he’d cooked on a windy evening at Rohtang Pass, Manali.

The shift from mountains to the sea, came with other changes, too. The girl was no longer in his orbit. He would have to either tell her to change her orbit or include her in his own. But, offering a ring didn’t seem to do the trick. She didn’t believe in the institution and he knew, he didn’t need to bind her to him to get her undying love and support. It was always there, in her own weird way. That weird way was causing a lot of problems, specially for his mom, who wanted the girl to settle down and accept that her life would be limited by other people, duties, responsibilities. The girl believed her life was to be governed by her dreams and beliefs and she wasn’t going to sacrifice any of it, for a lifetime of what seemed like people pleasing. So it was, that just like that, they  got together and soon found a space where their orbits coincided. She was still wary of sharing a space with him together and so they met each other in out of the way locales, and caught up on the phone.

The call came, as he’d expected it to. The masterchef had the night shift, and was going in at 2am. He was already wearing his clothes, as he answered the call.

M: Hey.

G: Hey, you. What’s going on?

M: At 1 am? Not much, ya. Just thinking of what to serve at chef’s table, today. What did you eat today? Or, did you eat today?

G: Yeah! Of course I did. Duck egg omelet and sesame prawn toast.

M: Wow! I hope you’re climbing enough hills to work that off.

G: Well, certainly climbing enough trees. We are shooting orchids in the North East.

M: So did you like the duck eggs?

G: They smell, very strong. I mean, like really strong, you know? Chicken eggs seem almost like vegetables in comparison.

M (chuckles): What about the prawn toast?

G: Oh, God! It was so crunchy! And fried sesame is even better than bread crumbs, you know!

M: I know. So, you liked the Diwali gift mom sent you?

G: She didn’t send it. She landed up at the shack and gave it to me.

M: Oh, no. Who told her about the shack?

G: I don’t know.  She just landed up there, one day, looking really elegant and with this really cool basket crammed filled with goodies and done up so beautifully, I didn’t want to open it.

M: Ah, her daughter-in-law’s handiwork, I bet. She’s really good at it.

G: Yeah, she is. Anyway, I offered her tea and food.

M: Food? What?

G: I had cooked.

M: You cooked?

G: Yeah, aloo poori. I always make that when I’m down or when I can sleep in.

M: Okay, so, did she like it?

G: I don’t think she liked the multi grain dough. It’s too healthy, I suppose. But, she was very nice about it and well, I’m glad, I had that around.

M: So, did she ask you to marry me?

G: Yes.

M: What did you say?

G: No, thanks.

M: Just like that?

G: Yes.

M: Maybe something a little ambiguous would be nicer. You know?

G: Actually, she seemed relieved.

M (chuckling): Well, I can understand that, too. So, what’s new?

G: I cut my hair, I had a bath, today..

M: What? Don’t tell me! You actually did all of that? And shot orchids too?

G: I had to do both. My hair was too tangled after a month of no oiling. And I fell into a field, of mucky water, which I thought was solid land.

M: Okay, I get it. Business as usual.

G: So, what’s on with you, today?

M: Oh, the usual. Cooking for some high roller at the chef’s table. He’s requested, get this, indigenous Indian cuisine.

G:  Wow, that’s rare. So what are you cooking?

M: Well, he’s mentioned a liking for game, rather than domesticated poultry and meats so, I thought, I’d try out some quail dishes, pickled venison and a wild rice and mushroom pulao. There’s also a take on a Singhaada fish chop and I’m using the mustard liberally in the sauce. I don’t know about dessert, yet. But, I think, he may like the steamed rice cakes with sweet coconut stuffing. That’s my guess. And of course, I’m trying out the Mahua with the other local wines.

G: That’s sounds like fun. Okay, got to go. See you.

M: Mm. Goodnight. Love you.

G: Yeah.

He disconnected, and headed for the door. Out in the corridor, he bumped into GN, the on board entertainment  guy. GN used to be a former talk show host and had relocated to Goa when he lost his spot on the channel. He used his skills at schmoozing and getting people to know what they didn’t want and ran a pretty impressive entertainment set at the casino. He was always wooing the high rollers hoping to regain his lost onscreen telly glory but that hadn’t worked out so far, although he could never be faulted for not trying enough.   He latched onto the masterchef with all the eagerness of a lovelorn octopus.

GN: My boy, my boy! Just the person I wanted to see!

M: Oh, hello. And who are we, today? I’m detecting Elvis the pelvis.

GN: No way! We are fabulous and completely in love.

M: Nice. Anyone I know?

GN: Me! Anyway, moving on to the real business of the evening, a rather overweight birdie told me that you’re going to be meeting with a majorly loaded HR, tonight.

M: HR? Oh, high roller. Yes, seems to be so. Why? You interested?

GN: Only in his money, darling! But, yeah, I mean later, who knows? Things may just happen you know. I live by the kindness of strangers.

M:  That is way to twisted for me to handle, right now. I guess, you should drop by the table and I’ll introduce you. Okay?

GN: Lovely! Ta!

The masterchef entered the chef’s table kitchen. It was a world apart. It worked at top precision with the silent proficiency of a well tuned machine. The masterchef flexed his shoulders, unconsciously and walked in, taller. His work always brought out the best version of himself and high rollers or not, he sent out each offering to the chef’s table with equal diligence and good feeling.

After an hour of solid work, it was time to welcome his guest at the table, since the perks of being at chef’s table included an audience with the chef and his introduction to the food he’d offered up. Most of the invitees to the table treated this opportunity with pleasure, but, they ended up being rather too nervous by the end of it all, since they weren’t able to keep up the right mix of admiring without being complete pushovers. They tried to figure the protocol out, and tipped high, but somehow he had gotten resigned to never meeting anyone who would get it just right.

Which is why, he was pleasantly surprised to see his high roller for the night. A really thickset man of medium height, who seemed completely at ease with himself, with a powerful forceful personality which was emanating from him. He was balding and made no attempt to hide it. But, the masterchef was most struck by the high roller’s hands. They were fleshy, with thick hair on the backs and almost like the paws of a beast. The slightly longer nails reminded the masterchef of the talons of a bird of prey. All of a sudden, the masterchef had a feeling of being in the presence of something primal, made by nature in all it’s pitiless, terrible glory.   He shook the feeling off and walked forward with a quick smile. A brief handshake where his workman’s hand was engulfed by the fleshy paw. A deep searching look followed, while the high roller sized him up. The masterchef knew that the man already had him neatly slotted. Within the next few minutes, he would figure out the details and know the masterchef’s weakness and try to use it to his own advantage. The masterchef smiled wryly, he knew high rollers never stopped rolling. They were always looking for that one advantage, a gamble, an opportunity, an advantage. Where others noticed stuff, they moved in and used it to get more stuff. But, now with the silent exchange done, he had to speak to the high roller.

M: Good evening.  *** here.  Lovely to have you with us, today.

HR: Hello! Very nice to meet you. So, please, sit down. Let’s have a chat, before you send me your lovely meal, today.

M: Of course. May I offer you something to drink? We have some very nice local beers.

HR: Oh, no, no, no local brewery stuff. Do you happen to  have some rice beer?

M: Japanese or Indian?

HR: Indian, of course.

M: Right away.

HR: Would you join me?

M: Of course, but with some juice, if that’s okay with you.

HR: Very good. Cheers, then.

The meal progressed quite well. The HR was actually a perfect connoisseur and the masterchef found himself quite impressed. This man was the right mix of admiring, knowing and deferring, but only just slightly. Other  than that, he was completely in control of the conversation, himself and was drawing out a lot of info about the masterchef, through very light, casual and chatty questions. The masterchef was essentially private, but didn’t mind being worked over since he could see that the HR would do this to  most people anyway.

HR: So, cooking, hmm? Never thought of the business of it? Maybe your own restaurant?

M: That involves so much more than just cooking. It’s about clientele and other stuff, which I don’t really think I want to do. I want to cook, and feel free to live my life and add to my craft, bring in new experiences and incorporate it into my work, the presentation, the finer touches.

HR (chuckling):  Ah, an idealist, I see.

M: No, I just know what’s right for me. I don’t think, I should do it any other way.

HR: Come on, don’t make it so easy! That line should come at the end of maybe 15 minutes of keeping me guessing, you know!   You don’t just let on who you are, within the first five minutes of a conversation. Keep it mysterious, draw people in, lure them in and then, when you’ve got them where you want them, use it.

M: I think, I just got a million dollar lesson in business management, completely free.

HR: Ah, but nothing is free. Not with someone like me. When it comes to resources, I’ve got plenty. I am always looking for the one thing that I can invest in and believe me, they are few but they are worth their worth in gold. Tell me, what’s your goal in life?

M: To live my life.

HR: Oh, come on! Be more specific.

M: Actually, I’ve told you it all. I want to live my life, not the one my parents wish I had, not the life others who don’t know me would like me to lead, not the kind of life I’m supposed to live, given my temperament and capabilities. I want to live the life which is bliss in every moment. Not flaming joy or heart rending sorrow, just bliss, involvement, and being there in every moment.

HR: Oh, my God. Not a philosopher.

M: If the shoe fits, I guess.  No, not a philosopher, I just have my own philosophy in life and I really wear it well, you know.

HR: Hmm, yeah, it seems so. So, tell me. No hidden desires, nothing you hanker for?

The masterchef was hit by a pang that made him fifteen, again. He remembered a wedding banquet in Kolkata. His mother was resplendent, as was his dad. They were celebrating a friend’s 60th birthday and his reaffirmation of vows with his wife. His mom served her famous Arvi tuk and Sindhi Kadhi and fluffy Basmati rice. After they ran out of Arvi or colocasia to fry, she was quick to replace it with tuk made with potatoes. Double fried, golden brown with a crunch that didn’t end till you got almost to the heart of the soft, flaky potato. Coated with dry mango powder, a hit of red chili and the slightest touch of salt, since there’s nothing worse than over salted Tuk. He did hanker for that with all his heart. He wanted his mom to get back to being the woman she had been. Filled with love, brimming over with the desire to feed her brood and her man. Knowing that each murmur of satisfaction from the guests would make her man fall more in love with her and thank his stars, for her presence in his life. He hankered for the beauty she exuded when she wore her saris with swag, and all the embellishments, since you didn’t disrespect the outfit. You gave it it’s due, right from the right bindi, the kohl, the perfect muted shade for naturally luscious lips, ornaments, beautifully painted nails and the right shoes to mount the  outfit and give it all the height it needed to shine. He hankered for the way, his dad used to hold her around the waist, like a tango dancer, securing her to his side, unabashedly, while he spoke, gesticulating with his cigarette in the other hand.  He hankered for them both at this chef’s table, savoring his food and wondering where did he learn all this? While his smile would tell them, it was all them, just packaged in his unique style.

HR: Ah, I see I’ve hit a nerve. My apologies. Well, let’s move on. So, what’s for dessert?

M: Well, we have a little tray here, and it has samples from our dessert selection. You can sample it and I would be glad to have your choice sent out to you.

HR: Oh, no dessert for me, thanks. Actually, send the dessert out to table 15. That’s my daughter sitting out there, with her mom. They are the dessert lovers, though you can’t tell by looking at them.

The masterchef glanced at table 15. A statuesque lady and a very beautiful, stylish girl were sitting at the table. The girl looked  nothing like her dad. In fact, she seemed to have hit the genetic jackpot with her mom’s looks. Still, there didn’t seem to be any vestiges of her father and that puzzled him. He looked back to see the HR smiling at him, knowingly.

HR: She’s my stepdaughter. I married her mother 15 years ago. I took over her ex-husband’s company, I got control of my wife’s shares.  She came on board completely and helped me create the life that I live, that others aspire to and it makes enough of the right people curious, which is why, I never run out of resources. Marrying the right woman, is the difference between a great life and an exceptional life.

The masterchef grimaced, despite himself. When had he not heard that before? Like almost every day of his life and from everybody he ever knew. Somehow he never quite fell for that philosophy for unfathomable reasons.

HR: You know, there is so much unspoken good that the right woman can do. It’s like that secret ingredient that just brings everything together and makes it work. You know, click?

M: Yeah, I guess love is the right ingredient.

HR: No! Not love! Oh, please, don’t make it murky by adding love into the mix. Who said anything about love? I’m talking duty tempered by resilience,  caring but with the right touch of control, governing everything to make it to the right conclusion.

M : Which is?

HR: Power. The power to live your life, on your own terms.

M:  Which most of us have anyway, if we didn’t give in to our fears.

HR: Oh, that’s a fine thing to say, but manipulation and using someone’s fears is the best way to get things done! Happy people don’t see any reason to make life changes unless you lure them with the right bait or stoke their fears with the right fuel.  And that’s something you learn to hone, over the years. How much you can push, how to back off, appear cold, create insecurity, but never back away from your prey.

M: Well, that’s very enlightening, sir. I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed our chat. Is there anything else you’d like?

HR: Yes. I’d like you to consider a proposition. Marry my daughter,  and I’ll set you up in any property you want, anywhere you want. You won’t worry about anything, but the cooking and just live the way you want. What do you say?

M: I’d say, it’s like a million dreams coming true at once. But, may I ask what brought this on?

HR: Well, as I said, I always look out for an investment and you seem to be an extremely sound one, since you are warm, talented and a man of integrity. I can’t think of a better way to use and expand my resources.  So, anyway, take your time and call me.

The masterchef took the card. It was very tasteful, with a stylized forest view and the name  of the high roller inscribed on it in an old world italic.

He went back into the kitchen, card in hand. The rest of the crew turned to him and nodded. The shift was almost over and they were treating themselves to the leftovers and packing the rest to be sent to a list of schools that the masterchef sent meals to on a regular basis. The TV was on and it seemed to be an interview of sorts with a man and a woman talking. A graphic on the screen appeared and the masterchef started. It was the exact same stylized forest from the HR’s card.

M: What’s this about? I mean, what are they talking about?

Sous chef: Oh, it’s just this guy who decodes the ancient Indian epics and texts and you know describes and explains them to a modern day audience. Very engaging stuff.

M: Okay, but what about this forest thing? What is that about?

Sous chef: Oh, it’s the nature sprite story. You know, Yaskhas? They’re not technically gods, or goddesses and even their gender can be indeterminate.

M: You mean transgenders?

Sous chef: No, almost inter sex, you know? They could be either, male or female, depending on their propensity. Like the earth is considered female. A tree is considered male. A holy basil plant is considered female, and you know something like that. The spirits inhabiting nature, basically.

M: So, they can  take on human form?

Sous chef: Sure, but they can’t help giving away their natural aspect. They give you a sense of what they may have been in life. Like this Yaksha here, who is questioning a prince in return for offering him something precious. So, his hair is like tree roots, see? Generally, they had a thick set appearance and were custodians of great wealth. But it was never earned. Always acquired. Even their female companions were acquired. You know, they didn’t actually marry them, they kind of stole them from others.

M: Wow, perfect CEO material, yeah?

Sous chef: I don’t think, CEOs could make their grade. These guys were not scrupulous, you know. They would cut a deal for anything and everything. They would offer nothing, without throwing out a challenge and the reward would always have a twist in the tale.

M: Okay, well, that’s very interesting and informative.  Listen guys, can somebody send out a sampling of the dessert menu to table 15? Our high roller’s wife  and daughter would like a taste.

Sous chef: Our high roller? But, he canceled over two hours ago, by calling in at the reception. We just sent out the menu since we thought you had a personal guest.

The maitre’d came into the kitchen with a bemused look. He handed the  masterchef a gambling coin worth the cost of the meal and a hefty tip, plus a small note.

The masterchef opened the note. There was a question mark on it.

well behaved women rarely make history

 

When I first read Wuthering Heights, as part of school reading, it was of course an abridged version. It made no sense to me. I had to get to the original, which I did. I almost gave up on reading that, many times. Out of sheer exasperation. I mean, what a self indulgent pair of lovers. What’s more, the supporting cast didn’t seem to have a spine, between the lot of them, except Hindley and even he gave way, finally. Not to mention the long speeches by Catherine Earnshaw describing the nature of her love for Heathcliff being like the rocks under the shrub and other such drivel.

Things got worse, when I read Vanity Fair and instead of the stalwart heroine one expects in a classic, I met Becky Sharp who would shame any modern day opportunist. If she hadn’t been cast by the author in that role, I doubt I would have read about her exploits and her ‘sharp’ mind, which used everybody in her path and got exactly what she wanted. I read this one sullenly, at times really pissed off that the author could do this to me, a gentle reader who wanted nothing more than a reasonable, decent character that would inspire one to higher ideals. Really, was that too much to ask for?

Of course, these paled into insiginificance, when I read Gone With The Wind. God knows, I have never hated any character with as much passion as I hated Scarlett O’Hara. The term Southern belle suddenly   took on a perspective which made me feel extremely wary. I thanked my stars, I didn’t live in a society where someone tied up my waist in corsets, and the only way I could assert myself was through the arch of an eyebrow and political ploys that would please any spin doctor.

Yet, I kept going back to Wuthering Heights. I don’t know why. Talk about touching a raw wound, I guess. Only this time, it was done via film, series and even a song, by Kate Bush. I even watched a Hindi adaptation of the story and wondered why people who were supposed to be living in India were  wearing Victorian style nightgowns. Anyway, after seeing Ralph Fiennes, Tom Hardy and others as Heathcliff, I realized the love story was cloying and really self destructive. By then, Kahlil Gibran and his poem about two people who live with love for each other without limiting each other in any way had made a big impression on me, personally.  The story still seemed self indulgent . What’s more it seemed Catherine was a spoilt brat who bent situations and people to her will, without any thought to the havoc she created. Heathcliff seemed to follow her like a lamb to the slaughter, actually, since she wasn’t going to leave him, even in death. This was one love story which would make the plague seem like a day at the spa.

In 2011, I chanced upon a version of Wuthering Heights, which thankfully didn’t have much dialogue. In fact, it was almost as sparse as the hair on Hindley’s head in this one. After years of hearing Heathcliff being described as ‘dark’, finally, he was portrayed as a black man, with hints of other exotic ancestry. Brought home like one brings home an exotic  souvenir which has surprised one on a run of the mill journey by Catherine’s dad, Heathcliff is really odd in a place where the outdoor and indoor are pretty much the same. Bleak, grey, filled with ice, fog and muck. There is no sense of hierarchy, with master and laborers inhabiting the same place and privacy is not a word anyone seems to know about. In this strange world, he finds Catherine. Just as exotic as him, since she’s wild, willful, knows her mind and won’t let anyone push her around. She’s also desperate for love. Catherine takes Heathcliff under her wing and nurses him with her stifling love, her lack of boundaries. She makes him fall for her completely, and what’s worse, she does it all the while searching for something that will take her beyond her present circumstances.

Edgar Linton presents that opportunity and she grabs it with both hands. She enslaves him as adeptly as she did with Heathcliff and perhaps it was even worse for him, since the poor man was weak and didn’t know to handle the intensity of his feelings for her. When he should have socked her in the jaw, he turned into her nursemaid and she hated him all the more for it.

Heathcliff in the meanwhile, did what he’d already done before. He made his way despite his heartbreak. Hindley was broken by his wife’s death. Heathcliff watched him piss his life away in drink and gambling. He watched Hareton, Hindley’s little boy take on his own attributes of callousness and cruelty, since he was now the boy’s only male role model. He married Edgar Linton’s sister and when she hated Catherine for being the love of his life, he proceeded to beat the life and will out of her. While all this went on, he and Catherine, who now lived a semblance of a regular life, continued to be willful.

The movie ends at Catherine’s death.   I send up a silent prayer, because I know what happened next in the chronology of events. Heathcliff and Catherine messed up a lot of lives and carried on their love affair that reeked of madness, loss of innocence, into the afterlife. For when Catherine died, she certainly dragged Heathcliff into the grave with her. He may have lived on, but there was not a single moment when he would live without thinking, missing, grieving and wanting her.

I hated the story, I hated the 2011 version of the film. Couldn’t wait to turn it off, soon enough. Yet, I watched it over three nights, since I had to, in horrified fascination.

 

Gentle reminder: The title of this post was Sania Mirza’s T-shirt logo, mentioned in the preamble to an interview with her in the 90s. That’s where I saw it.

The Revenant

There is a scene in The Revenant, when Hugh Glass drags himself into a freezing river of icy cold water. He’s been wrapped up in a bear skin so far, to protect himself from the bitter cold, but now the dunking in the river is sure to kill him. That’s the first thought that  comes to mind followed by a second one, which is almost a realization, that this is a man who is already dead, simply because he has nothing to live for.

The life of a frontiersman is something that we in our safe, comfortable city lives can’t even begin to imagine. An hour of power failure and cutting off of water supply can throw our regimented lives out of gear. We grow plants in our window boxes and cut down our trees on the roads, when a bough breaks. We go out to farmhouses for weddings and  parties and do exactly the same stuff we would do bang in the middle of the city and crow about the beauties of nature and a wholesome life.

Those who chose life as frontiersmen knew that nature was majestic and cruel. It brings out the savage in the one who wants to survive. Those who are already of a savage bent find a justification for their inner evil. Hugh Glass is the survivor, the revenant or the one who returns from a vicious mauling by a grizzly, while Fitzgerald is the trapper who uses the fact that he is in the wilderness to misbehave.

The film brings to my mind a slogan I heard in the late 90’s during a commemoration of the Pilgrims arrival on the American continent. Alongwith the jubiliation, there was a small faction of native Americans, now clubbed together despite their affiliations to different nations.  They kept chanting, “who asked the White man to come?”

Honestly, by the end of Revenant, I find myself asking myself the same question. Who did ask them to come? Not that people don’t have a right to go any place in the world. They do, so don’t cast any trumped  up aspersions on me. However, if a visitor seeks to come into a place, change it and break down to his convenience, using any means possible while at the same time claiming that this is the price of civilization, it’s quite silly. There were people who dwell in the great outdoors, and lived in harmony with it, and the white settlers went in ruthlessly, claimed their lives and marginalized them without a second thought. They used, abused,  raped and left behind people who were relegated to roles which were stereotyped in the media, to the niche and the same goes for the wilderness.

I know that civilization is about destruction. It’s murder, in a sophisticated form. The first thing you have to kill off are your scruples. If not, you are labeled a goody goody loser two shoes. But, there is life apart from the civilized and it did exist. It was just not allowed to stand a chance.

There is a lot of flak for The Revenant, the director and the staging of scenes of the film. But, consider this. The director inspired people to do something no sane person would want to do. He actually brings up the idea, that instead of revenge, sometimes, you have to let go of the one thing that’s brought you back from certain death. That revenge is ultimately for the creator.

 

 

 

The Audition.

I guess, looking for the moral of the story, the message, and the takeaway, in almost every situation comes from taking and enjoying moral science classes in school. There are many times when it seems like a fatal flaw particularly in a time and place when things are not what they seem and what they seem is not what they are.  Yet, flawed or not, every take is welcome in this world, which is so full of possibility.

La La Land is dedicated to the realm  of possibility and all those who seek to travel there on their dreams. Reviled as the last bit of childishness by many who find success, dreams flourish in the most unlikely places, across space and time.  It isn’t so strange to find that one person’s dreams years ago may inspire another to dream of the same things.

So, what makes some dreams come true and what makes some dreams give way before their destination? Are all dreams certain to end in their pre-imagined conclusion, or will they surprise the dreamer with a twist in the tale/tail? Will the dream take over the dreamer and make him/her lose all sight of reality and maybe even the true nature of the dream? With all the bad press that dreamers get, is it really wise, safe or smart to dream?

Yet, it seems, one’s wishes of achievement and growth and career  aren’t the only subject of dreams. There are other unspoken, unexpressed dreams which are relegated to the back seat, as being less important. They are told to hush up since there’s work to be done, books to be written, music to be created, art to be made, life to be lived. The dream of love, togetherness, a real connect. Facing up to the fact that they can co-exist with the dream life one has built, is the stuff that a lifetime is made of.

At the end of La La Land, one is left with a metaphor that is applicable to the whole  of existence. It’s not just the world of art or film that’s la la land (crazy). It’s the world in itself. The order we build out of chaos is not deliberate. It’s not planned. It’s all instinct. That is where dreams come from too.

Sebastian and Mia smile at each other at the end of the film. Are they acknowledging that they can be together, even now? Are they acknowledging that they had the same dream? Are they wishing, they had dared to live that dream? Is there truly ever a shared dream? Or is that too much to dream of?

Dream on, dreamers.

 

love bytes with Booma and Nanmun : the oil drop

Booma: Okay, you have to take this.

Nanmun: What is it?

Booma: It’s a pill.

Nanmun: What is it for?

Booma: It’s to keep you healthy.

Nanmun: How?

Booma: Well, it’s got stuff in it, that your body needs and it makes it work better.

Nanmun: I am not sick, why should I take a pill now?

Booma: This makes sure you don’t fall sick.

Nanmun: How?

Booma: Well, I just told you, it’s got stuff in it, that makes your body work better. It will stay strong and not fall sick, easily.

Nanmun: What is it?

Booma: It’s a pill…that contains an oil drop.

Nanmun: So, there’s oil in it?

Booma: Yes.

Nanmun: How can it have oil in it?

Booma: Here, feel it. Doesn’t it feel soft? Not like this other pill, right?

Nanmun: You won’t give me the other pill too, will you?

Booma: No! Just take the softy pill. See, it’s a golden colour. So pretty.

Nanmun: How does it taste?

Booma: It’s got no taste, because you take the pill and drink water and down it goes!

Nanmun: So, the oil has no taste?

Booma: No, the oil has taste.

Nanmun: What does that taste like?

Booma: Horrible. No! I mean, it’s…well, it tastes like fish. You know, fishy? Raw fishy?

Nanmun: What does raw fishy taste like?

Booma: Okay. Okay, you know, it’s got a very strong fish smell, like Mabel aunt’s garbage?

Nanmun: Ew!

Booma: No, but, that’s garbage, right? This is raw fresh fishy smell.

Nanmun: Tell me what oil it is.

Booma: Okay, so there’s a fish called the codfish, which produces oil. Actually a lot of sea fish do that. Whales do it, sharks do it. Their liver makes it.

Nanmun: Why?

Booma: I guess, to keep warm, or maybe it’s just part of their digestion process?

Nanmun: What is that?

Booma: Okay, so when we eat food, we use it, right? We use parts of it to run our body, to do things, to think, that takes energy too. And, we store some of it away, so we have a little bit of food inside our muscles, under our skin, to keep our hair and nails healthy. There is some stuff, which we can’t use , which we give out when we poop, pee, sweat. Then there is some stuff, which we don’t really use, but it gets stored. Like sugar. We store it, and we may use it, for energy to do things at other times.  Or we may not use it and get fat.

I think, the fish does the same. It makes the oil and uses it to keep itself warm maybe, or to keep it’s skin protected from the sea water and changing temperatures. But, I don’t know for sure. I have not read about it, ever.

Nanmun:  I want to taste the oil.

Booma: Why?! The pill is made like that so you don’t have to taste the oil! Why do you want to taste it?

Nanmun: I want to know what raw fresh fishy tastes like.

Booma:  Oh, God. Listen, it’s…it’s not nice. It’s not tasty. Just don’t taste it. Please, don’t taste it.

Nanmun: Give me the pill.

Booma: No, please. Just swallow it.

Nanmun: Should I bite it to taste the oil?

Booma: No, if you keep it in your mouth, it dissolves  after some time.

Nanmun: Okay. Give me the pill.

Booma: Okay. Here.

Nanmun: It’s still there.

Booma: It takes time. Just swallow it with the water, don’t taste it.

Nanmun: No. It’s going soft.

Booma: That means it’s about to melt.

Nanmun: Okay.

Booma: Has it melted? Yes? Oh, God, here’s the water, drink it.

Nanmun: Wait. I..ew! It tastes so bad!

Booma: I know! Drink the water.

Nanmun: Why didn’t you tell me?

Booma: I told you! But, I guess, you had to feel it, for yourself.

Nanmun: Water! Aagh. You have to give me a chocolate, now.

Booma: What?