Friday, June 07, 2019

Hindi gothilla. Bas.


Well, frankly speaking, I passed my high school Hindi exam only because of Doordarshan. That too, specifically because of Amitabh Bachchan and Rajesh Khanna. Well I guess that really means I passed because of Salim-Javed.

I can’t remember exactly when Hindi was introduced in school. Middle school? By then I was tying myself into knots over Kannada vyakarna (grammar) – especially those sandhis. As it is the gerunds and infinitives in English grammar was giving me a blood clot in the brain.

By high school, Hindi was real problem. Coming from an absolutely non-Hindi family (although my paternal grandmother held a Hindi vidhwat, and she passed on when I was barely in my primary school) Hindi homework was becoming quite a circus. Nobody in the wider community interacted in Hindi so there was simply no way to develop one's communication skills in the language.

Our Hindi teacher, I remember her as a very beautiful lady, totally sagar jaisi aakhon wali, worked really hard to help us. In Hindi, even non-living things are assigned gender, and this affects the construction of the sentence. As a native Kannada and Melkote Tamil speaker, this flummoxed me no end – see in Kannada and Tamil we don’t give a rat’s ass if a table is male or female. It’s just, well, “it”. But I was losing marks, no matter how leniently she corrected. I was also making a lot of spelling mistakes and she said the only way I can come to grips with the writing is by writing. What on earth do I write in Hindi? My brain would switch off the minute I saw the textbook.

Sometimes it helps if your brain is wired in a very weird way. See, by then I was addicted to Hindi movies – good, bad and ugly – that was aired on Doordarshan. I was always humming songs which are now considered age-inappropriate for 13-15-year-olds by conscientious parents. Like, samandar mein nahake aur bhi namkeen ho gayi ho. Summer holidays meant listening to bhoole bisre geet in the morning, aap ki farmaish in the afternoon, and jaimala for fauji bhais in the evening, all on Vividhbharti. I started to note down the lyrics as the songs played on the radio, and I automatically wrote them in Devanagari script. One listening was not enough to complete the lyrics, I had to wait for the next time it played. By the time summer was over, I'd filled up a diary. When I returned to school, my teacher was quite pleased with my improved spellings and asked if I’d taken extra tuition. And that’s when I started paying closer attention to the film dialogues and songs – I knew who my real teacher was, and my lessons commenced.

Teri zulfen. Teri nazarein. Teri aankhon ke siva...ookay…so the “ee” because it’s in reference to her? Hold on. What about Isse apni jeb mein rakhle Peter. Ab yeh taala mai teri jeb se chaabi nikaal kar hi kholunga? Crap. Is the key female or is the fucking pocket female? I ploughed on. When do you say tumhara, tumhare, tumhari? Okay so, tumhara pyar chahiye; ilakha tumhara hai, aur mai akela hun; hum tumhare hai sanam; yeh pulees station hai, tumhare baap ka ghar nahin; yeh tum nahin, tumhari vardi, tumhari kursi bol rahin hai;  tumhari nazar kyun khafa ho gayi?  

Well, this sort of improved my vocabulary too – as far as Kannada was concerned, “kafa” meant phlegm, especially when you cough. So that didn’t fit in with the question tumhari nazar kyun khafa ho gayi…unless we’re talking some real horror shit here. But Joy Mukherjee and Saira Banu sorted it out with woh hai zara khafa khafa. This was further confirmed by Dev Anand/Rafi …baito na door humse, dekho khafa na ho…

Of course, all this meant my Hindi improved, but not in the intended way. The thing is your language skills can develop only when you speak and interact. In my case it was a bit schizophrenic, having conversations in my head, scripted mostly by Salim-Javed. So, my repository of Hindi skills included an assortment of dialogues - Mai aaj bhi pheke hue paise nahin uta tha.  Hum bhi woh hai jo kabhi kisi ke peeche khade nahin hote. Jahan khade hote hai, line wahi se shuru ho jaati hai. Jab tak baitne ko kahan na jaye, sharaft se khade raho. And an assortment of phrases. Izzat loot liya. Izzat bachaya. Not to forget the iconic and cataclysmic mai maa banne wali hun.

I didn’t progress much on the numerals. I knew ek to dus. Then gyarah because gyarah mulkon ki pulees was behind Don. I knew sola because it was supposed to be baali umar. Bees because bees saal baad. I sort of knew sow, hazar, laakh, karod. And for some reason, now-sow-ninnajji ninnyaanveh.

Guess what? The above repository was pretty useless when it came to answering exam questions – Sita dukhi kyon thi? (5 ankh, prabandh likhiye). This Sita was not Mrs Rama, but if memory serves right, she was a little girl who had lost her pet or something. Well, I tell you Gabbar Singh was yelling Bahut nainsafi hai in my head. I started paraphrasing from whatever songs came into my head. Theoretically, it was a sound approach, already demonstrated by the song mere jeevan saathi. So I started off writing snippets of lyrics and then paraphrasing them. Badi sooni sooni hai. Teri aankhon ke siva duniya mein rakha kya hai? Yeh kya hua, kaise hua, kab hua, kyon hua? Kya qayamat hai? Kya museebat hai? Hum bhatak the hai…kyon bhatak the hai? Na koi umang hai. What about tum log mujhe dhoond rahen ho aur mai tumhara…yahan intezaar kar raha hun? Crap. That would be the puppy talking. Which would be creepy. I did think of comparing Sita’s pet-less life to a kati patang, you know, just to add depth to the experience, but something told me that would overcook the essay. Eventually I finished off by describing how her life had become kora kagaz without the goddamn pet. I wonder if my poor teacher had a conniption. I passed though. Big ehsaan. Actually I think it was survival instinct for the teacher. Imagine dealing with me for another year. 

My academic engagement with Hindi stopped after high school, but I continued my film relationship. I picked up some beautiful Urdu words along the way. But being a teenager also meant the world was one big zanjeer around my neck, so I picked up a good amount of maa bhen stuff too.

Years later, I did think of relearning Hindi properly but by then I was seduced by Bengali. Ki korbo? At least I didn't have to worry if the table is mey or chele. 

The bottom-line is I still can’t converse fluently in Hindi, unless we speak in film dialogues. I do have Hindi-speaking friends, but I tend to converse in English lest I refer to the coffee table as female or curtains as male or something. Or worse, get frustrated in figuring out the gender of the coffee mug and then inadvertently resort to maa-bhen vocab.    

You know what, I’m not the only one who’s learnt Hindi this way. I strongly suspect whoever wrote the qatal ki raat speech also belongs to my category. In fact, I think this speaker and his best friend often look in the mirror and secretly say kabhi kabhi lagta hai ki apun hi bhagwan hai.  

Now if you’ll excuse me, I must return to mai aur meri tanhayi …

© Sumana Khan - 2019

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Shape Of You





Breakfast is the time when I sponge up general knowledge about the world and mull over things. Like, all the flurry of weddings for example. That 75-foot veil – that’s the stretch from my home to K & C’s home – I must get something like that for frost protection for the outdoor strip of vegetation. Or, I end up wondering if Deepika’s Bangalore reception had chiroti in the buffet? Or, like it’s 2018 and Bollywood is still making movies titled “Loveyatri” – the reviewer had succinctly summed it up as “pain in the raas” because the hero is a garbha dance teacher. Or, that I’m no longer dark, but “melanin-rich” according to Times of India.


So, one morning when I was viciously stabbing the oatabix brick that wouldn’t disintegrate in the soya milk, I read a headline about how Mark Wahlberg wakes up at 2:30am every day. I thought aiyoo papa. See, that way insomnia is an equaliser; it does not care about bank balance. We have something in common, I told Wahlberg’s photo on the computer screen. I opened the link because I was curious to see if he also lies awake thinking of scenarios like a large meteor falling into the Atlantic and the ensuing displacement tsunami,  or war (most likely), or a new plague-like disease (we are due), or…okay…he probably won’t lie awake thinking he forgot the laundry in the washing machine and he may have to run another rinse cycle so the clothes won’t smell.

Damn it, it turns out he does not have insomnia at all. The man wakes up at 2:30am because he goes to bed at 7:30pm. In my books, that’s worse than insomnia. Why is a grown man going to bed at 7:30pm? Every. Day. Ah. He wakes up at 2:30am because that’s when he exercises. Oookay. Maybe he goes back to sleep by 3:30 or so? No. The dude is properly up and about. Showering, praying (yes), breakfasting etc etc. And in between making movies and earning $$$.

This is where my life is going wrong, I tell The Husband who has a Mark-who? look on his face. I could be making £££, but no. Now that the sunrise time is 7:50am, I can barely string sentences properly even at 8am. And look at this dude. He would have probably finished 150 push-ups by 2:45am. But really, I couldn’t see myself staggering out of bed at 2:30am, the wind howling outside, and doing lunges and jumping jacks. And the only reason I’ve gone to bed at 7:30pm is jet lag after India trip.  

Anyway, after having accidentally stepped on the weighing scale whilst removing cobwebs from the bookshelf, and after confirming the digital display on the scale was A-okay, and also my eyesight was A-okay, I finally enrolled us in a local gym for off-peak hours, which is after 9:30pm. Very Wahlbergish. By the time we return, the lights are off in the neighbourhood and the deer would’ve come out for the nocturnal foraging. On the days we don’t go to the gym, I go stomping around the neighbourhood mostly after dark (well I can’t help it because it gets dark by 4:30pm when every respectable country still has bright sunshine). I’m sure someone will call the cops on me, reporting suspicious movement.  

We’ve even gone as far as eating salads as meals. Not like that spoonful of kosambari placed in the corner of your plate when having anna saaru palya.  It’s a cruel dilemma – do you choose between making memories or counting calories? See on cold, grey afternoons it is criminal not to have piping hot kichdi or bisibelebath. But I’ve sat poking around pitted green olives and goats cheese and walnuts, cheering myself up thinking about all the magnesium and iron and proteins that are getting in, and that someday I’ll be like Okoye. Yes. It was a good thing I did not return that pair of jeggings I’d bought a while ago. Surely, I’ll fit into it before man colonises Mars.

The thing is we are closer to putting humans on Mars. And I’m probably on the brink of causing world-wide walnut shortage. Still, I can’t pull up those damn jeggings beyond my ankles.  Now I’m thinking it’s probably meant for a four-year-old. Maybe the size label is wrong. Yes, that’s a more logical explanation.

Anyway, when K from next door said he wanted to join us in the gym, I thought, ah, perhaps like Wahlberg, we have inspired him. At least something good has come out of rolling olives around in the mouth, even though the eyes are filled with visions of kodubale. I believed in that lofty idea for all of ten seconds. By then I happened to observe The Husband hovering in the kitchen, in the throes of a great mind battle – whether to choose between dry fruits or spicy Bombay Mix. I actually heard his thought – fuck this shit – and he filled up a bowl of Bombay Mix and sauntered off.  

So what’s K’s angle, really? He tells me he’s mainly going to join the gym to tone his abs. Ah. The year-end Caribbean cruise. K wants to impress the ladies with a surprise six-pack. But he’s also human after all. Last week when I asked him to join us for a gym session, he revealed cruelly that he was feasting on biryani.  

Anyway, I can’t be so selfish thinking only about my health all the time. As a responsible citizen I should support local businesses. So, it’s going to be pizza for dinner. With some garlic bread. And wedges. And Narcos on Netflix. 

And suddenly, I feel richer than Wahlberg.

© Sumana Khan - 2018

Monday, August 06, 2018

Monday Moral Dilemma



My financial life is uncomplicated, as befits anyone without money. That does not mean I’m a yogi. I have my fair share of temptations. These past few weeks I’ve been tormented between buying a Dyson hairdryer and a Dyson vacuum cleaner, given both hair and house are in a mess perpetually.

But I’m not your average weakling – I’ve been toughened by past experiences. I admit I’ve fallen for the adverts of other hairdryers, shampoos, conditioners,straighteners where the thin woman with thick hair turns this way and that and the hair swishes around like shiny velvet. My hair will swish only if the wind hits a certain speed. Like gale force. Still, when I saw some photos where I looked like Slash on a bad hair day, I said enough is enough and bought this ungainly hairdryer that looks like an X-ray gun and straighteners and anti-frizz serums.  I used them now and then and lost interest because really, I can do something else in the 45 minutes that it takes to tame the mane. Like maybe finishing another seventy pages of the book.  And what is the point of all that effort if you then think I want to eat sandige with the sambar…and after that five minutes of frying, you are back to square one? But this Dyson people were saying in ten minutes my hair will be swishing like a horse’s tail. Still, I haven’t given in…that much tough I’ve become.

First consideration is I’m a responsible global citizen. So, I’m thinking should I buy so many gadgets and increase carbon footprint? Everywhere it is only forest fires and earthquakes in the news. Okay, I did not think you’d fall for that. It’s actually the £££. First of all, both the hoover and the hairdryer cost more or less the same. On top of that the cost is equivalent to a return fare from Gatwick to Marrakech on low-cost airlines. So, I’m thinking why should something that cleans four bedrooms cost the same as something that dries four strands of hair? And why should something that dries hair or sucks up hair cost as much as a thousand-mile journey? In any case why at all should I be placed in this position? I must choose between glamour and hygiene – I must be the sexy woman whose hair swishes when she sneezes in the dust…or I must be the woman with a dust-free home who looks like a Masai Mara lion. And what shall I say to the interesting men I shall surely meet in the future? Hi, I’m so-and-so and I have a dust-free sofa? I tell you, this is somehow discriminatory, (I don’t know how, yet), so I was just planning to write a very strong bullet-point letter to old man James Dyson. I wanted to write arre, first see how you can introduce decent ceiling fans in this country then do all these fancy-geency innovations. But something happened.

One Mr Johnson Kwame, Regional Director of an anonymous bank in Ghana chose me out of 7.6 billion humans on this planet to share 7.5 million USD. It’s on email and all. He’s addressed me as “Dear Friend”. My mind races and I bring out the calculator. There’s nothing like a dose of capitalism to cure these moral dilemmas. What about carbon footprint you ask? I've already planted many trees in my garden - I've single-handedly brought down the price of this property. So I've paid my price. Ah. The calculator tells me I can buy hair dryer, hoover, package-holiday in Marrakech and still have change left over. I checked the calculator twice. Wait a minute, I can throw in some more things. I’m not reckless but still…

So, first priority is I must upgrade my kitchen gadgets. Earlier when a friend had generously offered to give away his wet grinder, I had politely refused. There is no place on my counter, I’d said grandly. But the way my writing and PhD is heading, it is better to have a backup plan – and selling dosa batter by the kilo looms large in the future. I mean I can't rely on this Ghana money forever...I firmly believe: easy come, easy go. I’ll probably throw in an InstaPot too, so I no longer appear primitive. Okay, a quick check at the calculator. Looks like I can afford the commercial popcorn machine as well. There’s no place to install it…so maybe when The Husband heads out, I’ll set it up on his work desk. It’ll take him at least five years to figure out there’s something different about his study.

Talking of The Husband, I decide not to tell him anything till my list is ready. Otherwise he’ll go off-tangent and start proposing immature things. Like domestic drones and stuff. Or he'll join hands with K next door and buy some grass raking machine. Or worse, that Tesla-gisla car. I’ve seen some model of this car in a mall. Nice colour, I had demurred politely. Like my red Kanchivaram. Still, can it vacuum? No. Can it dry my hair? No. It’s just a bloody car. Which will be driven from home to Tesco and back. On top of that, only two doors. You must clamber in like a chimpanzee if you have to sit in the back seat. And if you are big-bottomed, this can lead to disastrous situations especially if driver is already sitting. Don’t ask me how I know…it’s NONE of your business, actually.

Okay, I must put one more thing on my list. What’s the use of money if it can’t fulfil childhood dreams? So if you see a woman taking her pet giraffe for a walk… 

© Sumana Khan - 2018

Monday, July 09, 2018

Six Reasons Why ... (No one will make a movie about you and I)

Courtesy: Retrieved from http://pedia.desibantu.com/bollywood-1941-cinema-list/ under Creative Common License.



I’ve not yet contributed to Hirani’s bank balance because of heat wave and resulting ennui, and the immensely addictive Sacred Games on Netflix. But I do want to catch the flick for Ranbir. I’m sort of neutral regarding Sanjay Dutt himself – I mean I won’t go and catch a movie just because he’s in it. For me Sanjay Dutt = two songs: Kya yahin pyaar hai from Rocky and Meri duniya hai from Vaastav.  His biggest franchise – Munnabhai and the associated Jaadu ki Jhappi and Gandhigiri – barely make it to the top of my recollection, possibly because whilst I found the films entertaining in parts (mostly because of Circuit), the pontification grated on my senses. Decades ago I watched Khalnayak under duress and wanted to do a self-lobotomy by the time the credits rolled. Saajan was Madhuri all the way. 

Dutt as an individual – I don’t have any lofty opinions really. In one of the interviews with Karan Johar, Dutt commented on Kangana’s clothes (she was wearing a cleavage-revealing dress). You don’t like someone’s attire, sure, you have the right to find it distasteful. But keep your mouth shut, thank you very much. And in this case, dude, you’ve been held guilty of really, really serious charges; you have a well-chronicled history of substance abuse… dammit you must be the last person to assume a moral high ground and comment on an adult colleague’s (who is an immensely better professional I’d like to add) choice of clothes on national television.

That said, the criticisms that have been pouring in regarding whitewashing of Dutt’s volatile life are all valid. If you are touting a film as a biopic, then honesty must be the cornerstone…something that’s too much to expect from commercial Bollywood. The most entertaining and intriguing question I stumbled across - why make a movie on Sanjay Dutt? I’m sure Hirani has many profitable reasons but really, why not? Here’s this guy who’s born into an illustrious family and despite that advantage, he went off the rails spectacularly. Through it all he somehow picked himself up and managed to make a name and identity of his own. That’s a life worth examining – the sheer dichotomies of his life and character. That’s not to say the rest of us lead boring lives (oh who am I kidding?) but really, most of us don’t even approach the qualification mark. Take my friends and myself as the sample demographic – here are some reasons why no one will make a movie about us -

First point for disqualification – monogamy and fidelity. I suspect for many of my gorgeous friends it’s not the lack of opportunity but the knowledge that at some point, romance boils down to “What’s for dinner?” “How about my left foot?” rejoinders. Or a romantic evening conversation is discussing if we need to buy horse manure for the rose shrub.  Or trying to figure out whose turn it is to take out the trash.

Second – I’ve never seen a gun in real life. War museums don’t count. The closest I’ve come to wielding a weapon is a broom to thrash a cockroach whilst screaming my lungs out. I can’t imagine any of my friends wielding a gun – I mean even the context of a gun never comes up – like – I’ve run out of onions, do you have some…and by the way how is your gun? (I know…stop sniggering…it seems there’s a sneaky sexual innuendo in there somewhere). Or like the other day, my friend R (who runs a military schedule for her laundry) and I discussed at length the benefits of a dryer. Neither of us thought about a gun or anything...like…the clothes come out wrinkle-free…that reminds me I must oil the gun. I don’t think any of us have the reflexes to handle a weapon either (I apologise to any secret snipers in my group). Look at me and The Husband for example…if a dangerous situation arises, depending on the pollen count our first reflex will be to sneeze really loudly into the perpetrator’s face.  If the situation further deteriorates I might use the mooh mein keede curse with full feeling. There ends my repertoire.  

Third – drugs – I know loads of my friends have tried it at some point, but I doubt if they have it lying in the bedside drawer. The only powder I have is an expired talc that promised a flush of youth; then there’s tiger balm and Deep Heat roll-on stick … but you can’t get high inhaling that shit. And good luck with the Chyawanprash and Dashmularishta.  See if there is a potluck dinner, we carry bowls of puliyogre and chitranna…and no one comes by with weed joints or thinks of spreading coke on the cutting board after everyone’s done with payasa.  Also, when things go down the pooper, none of us go scouting for drug mules – we simply accept Shani dasa has started and send archane money to Tirunallar. And we just get on with life.

Fourth – public brawls. Not happening. We fall back on mooh mein keede murmured under the breath. The only time I’ve elbowed someone in the ribs knowingly is when getting out of crowded BTS buses…and that is acceptable behaviour because it falls under the category of survival instinct.

Fifth – we pay taxes. Period.

Sixth – and most important for disqualification – we don’t know any “underworld” types. Sure, we’ve had our share of evil bosses but that’s about it. So, the chances of someone asking us to look after their (illegal) assault rifles in the tone of “water the plants when I’m gone” is zilch. Even if someone does that…well… we might be chicken shit when it comes to violence etc. but we have enough reserves of integrity and common sense to do the right thing. Which is to call the goddamn police and recite Hanuman Chalisa in the meantime.

To sum up, our lives are about as exciting as Krishi Darshan on DD…which is fine by me, really. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must do the laundry. Wait a minute…my biopic will probably be “Dirty Laundry”.


© Sumana Khan - 2018

Friday, July 06, 2018

Lullaby - Leila Slimani



During my daily ferreting of news about new books, I stumbled across Leila Slimani’s Lullaby (French original Chanson Douce – literally means “soft song”; translation by Sam Taylor). The Guardian called it a “sublime thriller” and some reviews even made references to Henry James’s Turn of the Screw (a story that still gives me the chills). Slimani won the prestigious French literary prize – Prox Goncourt for this book.

The novel is set in Paris and is about a young family including two children. When the mother, Myriam decides to get back to rebuilding her career, they hire a nanny, Louise. Louise proves to be godsend – the chaotic house is suddenly transformed to a neat place; there’s always delicious food on the stove; the children no longer have tantrums – it’s as if Louise has a magic wand. And then, as this co-dependent relationship becomes complex, things spiral out of control.

Unlike traditional thrillers where information is withheld from the reader and drip-fed to increase tension, Lullaby opens to the crime scene – “The baby is dead. It took only a few seconds.” The opening chapter is clinical, graphical and quite like that dreaded first splash of ice cold water when you turn on the shower. You are numbed by the shock; your macabre curiosity is aroused - you want to know what led to this.

We are then led into Myriam and Paul’s world – a world familiar to any contemporary modern family. The cramped urban living spaces; the eternal struggle of a new mother to somehow gain that equilibrium where she is more than just her biological and social role; the debris of everyday life that requires constant cleaning; the sheer exhaustion of parenting. Into this world enters the petite, neat, and somewhat weird Louise. Order is restored; the mother grows wings and that ever-elusive equilibrium is now established firmly it seems.

But who is this Louise? Who is this woman who gives so much to others’ children; who is always on time, before time, immaculate and never speaks a word out of turn? An omniscient narrator allows the reader into Louise’s barren, frigid world. But Myriam and Paul, the employers do not know what the reader knows, and in a way, they don’t want to know either. No one likes to feel guilty about the inherent inequalities in our societies. But they are decent folks, Myriam and Paul. They try to look beyond this class barrier and treat Louise more like family. Louise is invited to stay back for dinner parties with the couple’s friends. They toast her culinary skills. They take her on a holiday where Paul teaches her to swim. Perhaps Louise felt she was now a part of something; like joining a constellation – the three of them and the children. And as she asserts her stubborn will, she feels that sense of bonding slip away. You see, nothing can really erase the line that separates the Louises of the world from the Myriams. Louise, though much needed like a good employee, is beneath them, and will always be.

This strange symbiotic relationship forces us to consider the weird position women find ourselves in – self-awareness and feminism, though admirable, are heavy burdens to bear. We can never escape judgements and self-flagellation. We are self-aware of our potential as individuals, as citizens. This is often in loggerheads with our biological roles and whatever choices we make, the judgement is harsh and ruthless. Myriam feels depressed, guilty, and even goes on lunatic mode when her sharp lawyer mind must be shut away and erased to deal with diapers and baby puke. She is not a domestic goddess, and she’s constantly stressed about her chaotic house, her unmanageable children, her lack of skills in the kitchen. So when Louise comes into their lives, Myriam, against the very grain of her feminist beliefs, is ironically apologising all the time for her inability to do all these “womanly” chores, which Louise seems to take over selflessly, without even being asked. You can’t help but wonder about Paul who does not face these conflicts – he is supportive sure, but not in a million years will he lose sleep over dusty surfaces or burnt toast. And so, the woman of the house must necessarily turn to another woman for help.

The power struggles are subtle – Myriam must now tow the line about housekeeping rules as laid out by Louise. Louise on the other hand is terrified of her future – what after the children grow up? Where will she go now that she’s “built a nest” in their house? Can she induce Paul and Myriam to have another baby?

As the reader gets to know more details about Louise’s life, unbeknown to her employers, a sense of foreboding rises even though you know the worst has already happened, and you are reading all this in retrospect. 

The narration is in present tense and it renders a sense of breathless urgency as we hurl towards the day of the disaster. The unravelling of Louise is shown to us very factually, almost dispassionately. We are at once sympathetic to her desperate financial and personal situation, yet we recoil at her machinations.

The psychological terror rarely boils over like in The Hand that Rocks the Cradle. In Lullaby, the terror is a muted background noise that comes into painful and acute high pitch in specific scenes, only to fade away quickly. This leaves the reader terrified, especially if one is a parent – and am sure many would’ve kept the book aside. Perhaps it is more terrifying because you realise the hapless victims of these adult choices are children. They are voiceless in their innocence and it cuts you. Besides, the whole plot is too close to reality.
I suppose there are criticisms to this domestic noir plot - it once again makes the women the guilty party whilst letting the man go scot free after his job and interests.

Whatever is your view, it is a book that makes you contemplate on current discourses of gender and class roles. I’d love to see this on the big screen.

© Sumana Khan - 2018



Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A Quiet Place

Courtesy: http://empirecinemas.co.uk

I walked into the cinema hall to watch A Quiet Place without any background whatsoever; I don’t think I’ve done this for any movie, especially horror. We’d seen intriguing posters in all the tube stations and the fact that Emily Blunt was in it was good enough to buy the tickets. I drew my breath in during the first scene and let it out only after the credits rolled – A Quiet Place easily makes its way into the top five horror movies for me.   

The starting point of the story is a few months post an apocalyptic event.  And so, the opening scene takes us through an abandoned American neighbourhood, into the darkened aisles of a supermarket where the Abbott family is ferreting out useful supplies as quietly as possible. The silence is unbearable as the scene progresses and the sense of unease builds as the family communicates in sign language (not least because one of their children is hearing impaired). When the little one picks up a toy rocket, the sheer terror of the parents makes you gasp, although you don’t know why. It’s too loud, the terrified father signs. Too loud for what? Well, you’ll know in a few minutes and your pulse rate never goes down after that.


The plot is simple – you make a noise and you’ll be hunted. We are a noisy planet so presumably the culling was swift. Now, there are very few survivors. And to continue to survive, you must tiptoe your way through life. In the hands of a less competent writer/director, this could have gone wrong in many ways. But John Krasinski has a clear vision and delivers a movie that recasts horror in the purest sense. This is not just about throwing random obstacles in the path of the protagonist, but turning the everyday-ness of essential existence into something life-threatening. And so, your fist finds its way into your mouth when you realise Evelyn Abbott (Emily Blunt), the mother and wife, is pregnant and the due date is fast approaching.

In this new way of life, the family must fall back on primitive roles – the male must go hunting-gathering, the female must keep house and hearth safe. In the silences, the tensions in the relationships is even more palpable – Regan (Millicent Simmonds), the fiery teen daughter, already frustrated with her hearing aid, rebels against the domestic role assigned to her in this new survival set up. There is no option to vent emotions – every physical and mental pain must be borne in excruciating silence. As the movie quietly explodes into the climax scenes you just don’t have time to breathe or blink or process; you can only live through it, like the Abbotts.

It’s a movie that screams in its silence; a silence that assumes a character of its own. It exhausts you because you must pay attention to every expression, every sign, every little noise. The sound engineering is brilliant; the POV shifts are shown through changes in ambient noise – dead silence when Regan is in the frame, for example. The background music is sparingly used, and when it comes on, it is unobtrusive and adds to the drama.
Emily Blunt is brilliant as usual, but for me it was Simmonds as the feisty teen who stole the show.

A friend of mine recommends watching the movie with boxing gloves on so you can beat up noisemakers. I’d say wear the gloves to protect your knuckles from being chewed out.

© Sumana Khan 2018


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Of Pumpkins And Gourds...

Courtesy: Photo by fietzfotos on https://pixabay.com/en/pumpkin-autumn-food-halloween-3138179/


I made an astounding (only for me) discovery this week. I had sailed through life all these decades without having a clue about the English nomenclature for boodugumbLakayi…or what I used to refer to as white pumpkin. But a little context before I present my ignorance in full scale.

The pumpkin cuisine in my Iyengar home consisted sambar and majjige huLi mostly. I did not really care for the unknown and hazardous territories of halwa and dumrote. Even majjige huLi was too out there for me. Why waste a good pumpkin drowning it in a yogurt base when, oh my god, you can make sambar? I especially love white pumpkin in sambar and bisibelebath (BBB for the uninitiated). Unlike the sweet pumpkin, which has its distinct taste, white pumpkin is very subtle. It becomes translucent and succulent when cooked and absorbs the flavours of the gravy so unconditionally. And so, white pumpkin sambar was always my comfort food; on the odd days I’d take off from work, this was always on the menu.  For sambar and BBB, I make the masala from scratch for that particular meal…it ensures incredible freshness of flavours and also, I can vary the ingredients depending on the veggie going in. For the pumpkin sambar I prefer slightly stronger flavours – an extra half inch of cinnamon and a little more fresh coconut for the white pumpkin; maybe a peppercorn or two for the sweet pumpkin to kick in heat (it’s not a standard recipe, but I like it this way); extra red chillies (either “byadgi” variety or Kashmiri mirch) to deepen the colour (these chillies don’t increase the spiciness). For the white pumpkin, I’m quite generous with the coconut; I tone it down for the sweet pumpkin. I love a handful of green moong and brown lentil sprouts cooked along with the sweet pumpkin. For the white pumpkin I invariably include pink kadlekayi to add bite. Pumpkins have a delicate flesh so it’s important to leave a sliver of skin when you chop them, and the pieces must be really chunky so they hold shape when cooked. In general, if you ask me, one must have all sambars in accompaniment with a good sandige; for the white pumpkin sambar, I strongly recommend araLu sandige. And then, kick out all the noisemakers and prepare for an extended siesta (it’s a criminal offence if you don’t do this).

In my Bong family, I was introduced to kumror chakka -  a dry curry made of sweet pumpkin, potatoes and kala channa, seasoned with bold flavours of the panch phoran. I’d never imagined this combination could work but woaaaow. It keeps your tongue constantly surprised with the sweetness and mushiness of the pumpkin, the soft firmness of the potato and the bite of the channa – and suddenly you have the flavours of ginger garlic seasoning along with the five spices – methi, cumin, fennel, black onion seeds and mustard. All this is  sautéed in mustard oil and nothing on earth can render that kind of flavour and aroma. But my personal kumro favourite is the kumro phool bora – pumpkin flowers dipped in flavoured besan batter and deep fried. Have it with plain tadka dal and rice, or for evening masala chai. You will be able to see Indraloka.. 

But back to my white pumpkin saga.

So, this past Saturday, BBB was on the menu. And it’s been a really long time since I’ve had white pumpkin. In fact, I can’t spot it that easily in these parts. Now, white pumpkin in BBB is a game changer (for me). I’m talking nirvana here. It elevates BBB from comfort food to food of gods. In a one-pot dish like BBB, where you have all these other veggies like carrots, potatoes, beans – all colourful and firm with distinct tastes – it’s a treasure hunt win when your tongue suddenly feels the softness of the translucent pumpkin that’s absorbed all the flavours of BBB seasoning. Khara potato chips (Mangalooru Stores ones… not the neatly packed rubbish crisps of the western world) or boondi go well with BBB. But if you want a blockbuster, try BBB with peNi sandige. I tell you, I spent sleepless nights thinking about white pumpkins. Then, my friend happened to mention that he has an hour to kill after leaving his car for servicing. I immediately recruited him on a pumpkin-finding mission. The first round – no white pumpkins in the neighbouring town. The second round - he called me from a store in my town. He had spotted a look-alike…he asked if boodgumbLakayi was ash gourd. I said no without batting an eyelid and sadly asked him to abort the mission.

You see, in my mind gourds are misshapen, elongated veggies – look at hagalkayi (bitter gourd), padavalkayi,(snake gourd) sorekayi (bottle gourd) heerekayi (ridge gourd)...surely a gourd can never be the elegant pumpkin… much the same way I can never be Katrina Kaif.

But a voice floated in my head in the dead of the night. The voice of my botany teacher back in school – her voice and knitted brows were known to cause thunder and lightning in the heavens. Gourds. Melons. Pumpkins. Cucurbits…same genus…subspecies. I sat up and summoned Google on my phone at 3 am. There it was. My white pumpkin. Also known as Ash Gourd. Or Winter Melon. Or Wax Melon. I slapped my forehead. I’d come this close to heaven.

Well, at least now I can consider myself well-educated. Also, I have a new-found respect for the gourds. That doesn’t mean I’ll start grating laukis (bottle gourd) to make koftas...there’s a limit to things, really. But a friend kindly shared his mother’s hagalkaayi gojju recipe – I’ve had this only during thithis. That’s on the agenda (the gojju, not the thithi). Maybe make some padavalkayi tovve. And some heerekayi bajji whilst they are still promising snow and bitter winds.

There's a teeny weeny blip of hope too - if a gourd can be a pumpkin, surely I too can be Katrina Kaif...

© Sumana Khan 2018

Thursday, March 08, 2018

My Women's Day


Courtesy: Clipart
I knew it was a special day. First, there was a clear day break. You don’t know what it is to wake up to perpetually weeping skies and suddenly spot a splash of red on the eastern horizon. Plus, there was a perfectly sliced moon still hanging around and spring birds were out in numbers.

I felt like Popeye on spinach overdose (they’re adding something to the coffee these days, I tell you). I edited and dashed off a bunch of writings to competitions. The sun was proper golden by now, pouring in through all the windows, revealing all the places we don’t bother to dust. Then, just as I was done slurping the coffee, the carpenter called to say he’s sending his boy to finish a pending work…a work I’d envisaged following up till 2040 at least, going by past experiences of other tradesmen. This was surely some sort of cosmic intervention—

I checked my Whatsapp – all my favourite men had wished me. What? What? I thought. Did I win a lottery? Ooh is someone casting me in the movies? I fumbled for my specs. Oh…it is International Women’s Day. All my favourite women had wished me too. Always the one to reciprocate, I jumped into the thick of things and poked my phone to send out best wishes to every man and woman. With Whatsapp wrapped up, I next jumped into Facebook. FB goes berserk on these gender-based days. Paisa vasool entertainment. The platitudes can make you choke on your granola…holy crap I did not know I was so special! My favourite jeweller has come out with designs specially for Women’s Day. “Magnify the woman in you” their FB post read. Well, I’m already over-magnified, thank you very much. Then, there were all the messages in colourful backgrounds thanking me for being a Strong Woman and working tirelessly on doing the dishes, laundry, cleaning, making the bed, taking out the trash and all that.  Thanking me for behaving like an adult?  Sure, whatever.

Then I jumped to Times of India. You can always count on ToI to burst your bubble because of the balance they offer to readers. Like, you could read about women in technology. Or a piece on “Do we really need to celebrate Women’s Day.” Right next to “Kim teases fans with topless photo”.  
  
I know in the larger scheme of things this tokenism is grating.  Many of us find it meaningless. But we must view everything in a wider time frame to get a perspective of the progress we’ve made. Women have faced crippling obstructions in all spheres – religious, social, political, cultural, sexual – from the beginning of history. And despite those blockades, we’ve reached here today. We’ve not lost our voice. There is still a long way; very long way to go. We’re getting there. We’ve vocalised many issues which were never spoken about just a decade earlier. And we’ve had this progress because there was always that one single woman who bravely wore the crown of thorns to spearhead change. It could be something as huge as the Suffragette led by Emmeline Pankhurst, or something as humbling and gritty as being India’s only woman truck mechanic – Shanti Devi.  Or what about the years of stress borne by Rupan Deol Bajaj with such brave dignity – without her struggle, we would not have had any sexual harassment code of conduct in India. I do celebrate International Women’s Day in the name of these countless women who have made our lives better today directly or indirectly. It is good to have a day to remember these women and to introspect on the journeys – past, present and future.

I leave you with a confession -  I don’t feel particularly offended by discounts on Tupperware for Women’s Day. I know this is as serious as treason for some.  That’s not all…I’m not even ashamed of this domesticity. Maybe because I know my preference to stacked airtight dabbas has not diminished my capabilities in quantitative statistical analysis. Just like how Shanti Devi can make phulkas as well as figure out wheel alignment. Do celebrate this multi-facet so uniquely wired in women 😉 (I celebrated properly with bendekayi huLi and sabbakki sandige). 

Happy International Women's Day <3 nbsp="" span="">

© Sumana Khan 2018


Friday, March 02, 2018

Into The Water - Paula Hawkins



I wanted to put up this review a couple of days ago.  But I held off till after Sridevi’s funeral – as a mark of respect for the woman and professional I admire immensely.  I held off because the title of this book and the nature of her tragic, untimely demise was too much of an uncanny coincidence. Besides, there was such a glut of faecal material on news channels and personal blogs, I just did not feel like even opening my blog. No amount of lamenting on the severe mental regression of our populace will serve any purpose. All of us know it was not like this before…and none of us know why it got to this. Where did this generation come from? This entire generation of sociopaths who’ve invaded our lives and purged every ounce of decency in public discourse?  It’s a question that requires many blogs.

But back to Into the Water by Paula Hawkins. With her debut The Girl on The Train, Hawkins gave an adrenalin shot to the publishing industry with its astounding success, perhaps even surpassing its contemporary grip-lit – Gone Girl. When Into the Water released I picked it up immediately despite less-than-favourable professional reviews. I was very curious as how to she’d managed a dozen POVs – I go crazy even with a first-person account of one measly protagonist. The only book till date that has impressed me with this multi-POV technique was Bram Stoker’s Dracula, with its epistolary story-telling.

Into The Water is set in Beckford, a typical, unremarkable small English town, but with a remarkably murky reputation. A river flows through the town and at one of the bends in its meandering course, the river forms a pool – the Drowning Pool. The Drowning Pool has the dubious reputation as a suicide spot, where women through the ages have inexplicably drowned/committed suicide. A place to get rid of “troublesome women”.

We accompany Jules Abbott to Beckford – her childhood home; a place she’d rather forget. But she must make the trip because her estranged sister Danielle – Nel – was found floating in the Drowning Pool. Jules must not only face bitter memories and resentment towards her more successful and beautiful (and now dead) sister, she must also put up with the feral teenage angst and hostility of her fierce niece – Lena. As the story progresses, we get to know Nel was researching the women who’d committed suicide at the Drowning Pool. In the process she’d opened old wounds and she was not very popular in the community. Everyone believes her macabre interest got the better of her – perhaps Nel was so curious about what drew these women into the water that she wanted to see for herself? But then it’s not so straightforward. A few months earlier Katie, Lena’s classmate and BFF had also committed suicide by jumping into the Drowning Pool.

A body of water that’s really a grave. Consuming so many women through the ages.  What is causing this? When I started reading, I felt this was the axis – the pivotal question of the plot. But because the story moves more like a camera-angle POV, the reader’s attention is fragmented. You can’t get to care about any character. I barely warmed up to Jules with her unreliable narration what with her seeing and hearing things in her childhood home. She does not do much to advance the story – of course she is not motivated given her troubled relationship with her sister.  But still, I thought she would incite some change. But like the river, the story then flows  from Nel’s apparent suicide to Katie’s suicide. And in that meandering we are introduced to a motley bunch of characters. Sean, the feckless inspector in charge of the investigations who treads on unethical territory – he’s had an affair with Nel and so he really has no business heading the investigation. But he does. Ironically, Sean’s mother Lauren too had jumped into the Drowning Pool when he was a kid, leaving him motherless and in the care of his highly psychopathic and patriarchal father, Patrick. Sean’s wife is prim and plain Helen – headmistress of the local school where both Katie and Lena are students. The living arrangements of Sean, Patrick and Helen is off-colour and makes you go oookayyy. Then there is the usual town loonie Nickie – a bit of the village idiot – the “psychic” who everyone knows is a fraud. These and various other characters including the Drowning Pool itself get their own chapters to advance the story.

There are enough people with motives, and enough red herrings along the way, but your pulse barely quickens; you simply can’t be bothered because you’ve lost sight of the main question. Was it about Nel’s death? Katie’s death? Or what happened to Jules back in her childhood? Or was it about the place itself?

From a writer’s perspective, I felt this manuscript is remarkable in its experiment and risk-taking and must be applauded. There is no hierarchy of the characters and you don’t know who’s going to become important when. It breaks all the so-called rules of narration and the neatly boxed “primary”, “secondary”, “tertiary” characters.  

But the reader struggles because one must keep up with 12 different voices, and also keep track of the time lines – someone might be narrating incidents that happened back in 1990s. Some are in third-person; some in first person. If you don’t keep an eye on the name appearing as the chapter title, you will not know who’s narrating what.

Because the plot is so character-driven, I felt it lost out on many atmospheric elements spectacularly executed in The Loney. Even though the Drowning Pool gets its own chapters – the river observing the women coming to rest in its belly – somehow it did not move me. I guess I expected to feel a sense of foreboding melancholy or even a little desperation – but nothing. It was just a page I had to turn.

But at its core, Into the Water is really a commentary on how early in life women face and understand gender-based violence; and how this stains everything they do and become; how much stuff like body image, sex (with consent or otherwise), and the need for validation from men rules their lives. I know many eyes will roll – there is a school of thought that this narration must change. I suppose it will when the reality changes.

I have a feeling Hawkins’s next book will elevate grip-lit to a whole new level and I look forward to it!

© Sumana Khan 2018

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Kitchen Cults


Courtesy: https://www.mickeymouse.tv
So, two of my childhood friends are turning out to be androids of some sort. I always suspected this of one of them – A – who’s efficiency in just about everything peaked much before the Japanese discovered productivity metrics on the assembly line. She’s super practical and clinical and does stock market number crunching as a hobby. Let’s just be thankful she’s on the right side of the law. But the other friend, C, well, she threw me off guard with her recent display of kitchen nerdiness. Maybe I did not suspect her of android traits because the two of us share the same incorrigible hair woes –  we look like we’ve slept on thorny shrubs. And that’s just the good days. That, and also she’s abreast of all the tapori songs and movies I enjoy.

Both A and C are working mums and so, a lot of planning goes into kitchen chores. Breakfast and lunch must be packed really early in the morning. So, menus must be worked out well in advance. A’s kitchen is a lean six sigma operation. She’s the gadget queen. Her days start with the coffee machine which automatically starts roasting and grinding the beans at daybreak. That’s her suprabhata, and I can’t think of a better way than to wake up to the aroma of freshly roasted coffee beans. Both A and C are Instapot (hereafter referred to as IP) girls, and between the two of them, they can open a museum of kitchen gadgets. This Instapot thing runs in the family too - the Sister also owns it, though even without it, she just sort of does one spin in the kitchen and thirty different dishes are ready. 

All the while, I thought my kitchen was at the cutting edge of technology because I own a fifteen-year-old Preethi mixer grinder (steel jars - big, medium, small) and three pressure cookers – Butterfly – big; Prestige pans – medium and small. On top of that, I’d been reckless enough to buy a slow cooker, in which I now ferment dosa and idli batter. Yup, I live on the fast lane at times. There was a moment when I came this close to buying that chapati-making contraption. I was kneading the dough and my elbows were hurting (from holding a book in a crooked angle, and also, old age) and I thought, hell. I’ll buy that machine. For a moment I even imagined making copious amounts of chapatis and distributing it in the neighbourhood. Oh, the tears of joy that would overflow from all the over-worked mums here… Then I saw the price – equivalent to a return ticket to India. So, I gave up the idea and applied Tiger Balm to the elbows.  

Anyway, now C has upped the game with some methodology known as OPOS. I forget the full form – one pot something. At first, I thought she was cursing. Then she explained it is a super-efficient way of using the pressure cooker. A, a staunch IPist, jumped in and asked if the recipe could be adapted to IP. From C’s answer I figured OPOS is a secret cult and now, some OPOSians are forming a rebellious sub-cult of OPOS to IP technology transfer. So, A gave C a paneer migration project which was wildly successful. So successful that A, who is very reticent on social media, put up a status on her Facebook timeline – this unprecedented event might have caused the lashing winds outside my window.

In a desperate bid to draw me out of stone age - I mean, I can't even deal with these newfangled pressure cookers that look like submarine gadgets for deep sea exploration - C asked – Is your pressure cooker X litres? I bobbed my head. The hell I knew the volume of my cooker. When it comes to size, I understand only big, medium, small...no clue about litres. But then, there's only so many times I can look like a fool. C then gave me the syllabus. She shared links and theoretical analysis of OPOS. All I understood was you have to be mindful of the time. If it says 7 minutes 30 seconds, you better stick to that. If it says 1 and a half whistles, they exactly mean that. If that whistle draws out then your veggies will be tar. And, you can't haphazardly dump things into the cooker. It has be done in layers. C showed me photos of her cooking, all the while saying, "tumba easy kaNe" (it's very easy). Yeah, right. 

I tell you, this OPOS sounded ominous to me. It requires the focus of one who is pipetting concentrated sulphuric acid into a test tube of nitrate to see if the damn brown ring is formed. It’s not meant for specimen like yours truly, whose life moves at a glacial pace, and who listens to pyar ki pungi while cooking and forgets to count cooker whistles. It's not that I don't plan my menus - I do saunter to the fridge, open the door and stare at the shelves, hands on hips. And then, I make Maggie.

That's not to say I'm no domestic goddess. I'm insisting on a steel bandli for my birthday, if you must know.

And, A and C, I love you both to bits, you nutjobs.

 © Sumana Khan - 2018