Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Inhuman humans

Don't watch this if you dont have a strong stomach..on the other hand, do watch it...But just a warning - I nearly threw up after I'd seen it.

Monday, March 26, 2007


Pratap Singh Bhandari a.k.a Tata is a man I've known ever since I can remember. He's not a cook, he's not a cleaner, he's not a sweeper..He's like my surrogate father. He's a part of the family. Has been for the last 35 odd years. As far as I can remember, I've known him as long as I've known the rest of my family. He washed my bottom when I was a baby, he stuffed food into my mouth with his big rough fingers, he sent vanya and me to bed when our parents were out for dinner by massaging our heads. He called it "champi", and till this day, if someone plays with my hair, I eventually fall into a deep comfortable sleep.

When my sister and I were growing up, Tata wasn't just tata. He was superman. He could do anything. He could make us eat stuff we wouldn't normally even go 10 feet near, he could stop us from crying by cracking a joke or doing something funny, he would sing in the kitchen while concocting the most delicious innovations you could ever think of, he named our dogs Nimboo and Imli, "Johnny" and "Julie" respectively, regardless of the fact that both are female!!

When people ask who he is, I say he's a part of the family. He cooks delicious food. That's his passion. And if someone dares to retort, "Oh he's a servant?", they're pretty much written off my book. He's a member of the family. I love him as much as anyone else in the family. And he has a right to be a part of it. He's been a part of all it's joys and sorrows.

His son, Monu a.k.a Madhav Singh, was like a brother to me. Vanya and I tied rakhi to him for years and years, and he was our playmate till him and i both hit adoloscence and became too shy to play. But we remained somewhat close. He was a shy and goodlooking boy. And we didn't talk much since we both hit our teens, but we had huge memories in our pasts, to acknowledge the bond. I was with him, through his Leukaemia when he was 19, taking him to and from hospitals, talking to him, comforting him, researching on the disease. When he died, I cried bitterly. I wept even more when his mother looked at me, sitting beside his cold, dead body, "Monu was so proud that you are going to China and Japan to dance. He told me he's very proud of you."

Tata has not quite been the same since Monu's death. I remember hugging him while he wept for his only son. We shared something there. A common grief that transcends class or culture or region. That's one of the reasons why I think such distinctions are so futile. We all feel the same things - the same emotions, the same hysteria and calm, elation and devastation. So why create boundaries?Over time, of course, Tata came back to his normal self. Well, as normal as he could be, after such a catastrophic nine months of watching his son decay away, completely enslaved by this disease he didn't understand. But he slowly began to smile again, and then one day, I heard him singing again in the kitchen, and I cried. Despite his efforts to be normal, however, I can still look deep into his eyes, and sense a sadness and a feeling of loss emanating from deep within his gut.

When I was leaving for Liverpool after the Christmas break in India, my heart clogged up with tears to see that Tata was crying. He was crying while saying goodbye to me from outside the car. It was amongst the saddest I've felt in a long time. I called him from the car and asked him if he was ok. He was still sniffling a bit, but said he was going to be ok.

Since then, I've spoken to him many times on the phone and he seems like his normal, mad, cheerful self. Vanya tells me he misses me a lot. I spoke to him a few days ago and he said "bahut yaad aati hai bhai...ghar kabhi kabhi khaali khaali lagta hai" (I remember you a lot. The house seems empty sometimes without you).

Tata is a very important part of my life. My childhood would've been incomplete and too normal and mundane without him and his jokes, his pranks, his singing, his food.
And I'd imagine, so would the lives of all the people he's come into contact with! They all love him! It's difficult not to.

You'd know if you met him.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Bharatanatyam and me

Whilst rehearsing for my upcoming performance in London, I sat back and thought about Bharatanatyam for a while...What drew me to it as a child? What kept my passion incessant once I grew up enough to look beyond my childish passions? What draws me to it even today, to drive me to risk an obviously precarious career in it? Why do I love it so much? Why do other people not love it as much as I do? Millions of questions that were begging to be answered. Questions that I'd attempted to answer before and drawn different conclusions for, each time.

When I was little(nearly 5 years old), my parents took me to several dance performances, and there was one that I didn't fall asleep in the middle of (its not that the other performances bored me..its just..most performances were past my bed time then!). It was my guru, Leela Samson's performance. I watched her, entranced. By the colourful costume, the shimmering jewellery, and the sheer grace, though I obviously understood little or nothing of that grace.

I pointed to her and said "Mama, I want to do that!" And so it all began. Years and years of struggle and learning. Till I was about 12, I unquestioningly loved it and danced it - in class, at home, even on the beaches of goa in a tiny little swimsuit.

It was when I was 12 that peer pressure stuck it's head out and I began to open my eyes. My friend said to me - We all have something - I've got my basketball, shes got her golf, she's got piano, and you...have your Bharatanatyam. I wasn't impressed. I didn't like the label at all. In school, I had other things I wanted to be passionate about. I wanted to be "cool" too. And I thought for a brief period of time, that Bharatnatyam was not. Because no one did it. I felt like I wasn't a part of my peer group anymore. I wore kurtas, while others wore tank tops. And nobody wore saris! I had unmanageably long hair while others had swanky haircuts. I had kajal(eye kohl), while others gave me slack for it for having the remnants of it left in my eyes at school. I was going to dance performances, while the others went to the latest movies. I had to leave in the middle of day long 'parties' because of dance class, while the others played truth or dare. I missed all the fun, I thought!

It wasn't long before I found out that that was my identity. I became proud of what I had become outside the dance class, because of what I did, in it. And I began to symbolically show the finger to what people considered to be cool. I liked my long hair, my bindi, my kajal, my kurta, and the values I'd inherited because of dance classes three times a week for the last 10 years. And it wasn't long before people caught on. Or perhaps the trends changed for whatever reason.

I began to perform 'professionally' with my guru at that time. Whatever little money I made (which was a lot for me!), I used to hand over to my parents to put in the bank account. I didn't spend it. It was around this time that I also started really doing Abhinaya. Dance pieces that had a story to it, and that required 'acting'.

My Arangetram was one of the most important days of my life. I remember every minute of it, from the moment I woke up, till I moment my head hit the pillow at night. And without sounding too arrogant, I was relieved and happy that it went off well. And without sounding too proud, I knew that all the hard work that I had put into it had paid off. It wasn't a perfect Arangetram. I was nervous at the start, and obviously my abhinaya wasn't as mature as it would be 5 years later, but at the age of sixteen..I still felt at peace on stage. And I was happy that I didn't make any mistakes, get nervous and blank out, or fall flat on my face.

And over time, I wondered why such a beautiful art form, and others like it were being completely taken over by Shyamak Davar and Bollywood. While being a Bharatanatyam dancer was now considered oh-so-cool, I wasn't happy. Because still, no one tried to understand it. And that's when I started seeking answers.

Bharatanatyam is an ancient dance form that started off in the temples of Tamil Nadu, performed by men dressed as women, and then Devadasis(servants of the gods). Legendary dancer Balasaraswati was amongst the last devadasis. It was brought out of the temple onto the stage by my guru's guru Rukmini Devi Arundale. And soon a new era of dance began. Today it has many forms and styles, and many dancers to show it. It was taken to different levels by different dancers. My own guru, Leela Samson used it to create her troupe "Spanda", that explored Bharatanatyam in ways that not only made it enjoyable to watch, but also gave us dancers a deeper understanding of the movements that we did.I had the tremendous fortune of being a part of Spanda for all of my adolescense. Chandralekha fused it with Kalaripayettu and Yoga to create her own grammar.

Bharatanatyam is very stylised, and so I understand when people say that they can't understand it. But it's like any other art form. If you follow it for long enough, the grammar becomes familiar, and you can understand it deeper. It's not an impossible task. It just requires a bit of interest. And that's not very difficult. The movements require only an understanding of beauty and an appreciation of geometry. The hand gestures aren't infinite. And moreover, the feelings and emotions we display on stage are real emotions that we feel and express every single day. And that's why I think Bharatanatyam trascends time, and is not a 'victim' of stylisation. Rather, it is a stylised expression of what we all have felt before and will feel again, from the time we are born till the time we die.

I don't know if I will ever be good enough to take the stage by storm. And just last night, someone in a LIPA studio asked me if I was going to make it as a dancer, considering that there are millions of other dancers just like me, with the same aspiration to dance. I just said - "I don't know..but I'm going to try!"

I don't care much about fame at all, and I know that Bharatanatyam as a means of livelihood is a luxury only a few exceptionally talented dancers can afford. But I know how I feel when I'm on stage.

I'm not looking to be a "famous dancer". I just hope that one day, some day..I will perform on stage, and someone sitting in the auditorium will be moved by it.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


It's a film I've been wanting to watch for a while. "Iris" starring Kate Winslet as the young Iris Murdoch, Judi Dench as the old one, and Jim Broadbent as her husband John Bayley, was a moving story about her struggle with Dementia in her later life, her drive and passion for writing in her youth, her boundless faith in love, and unaltered connection with her soulmate, John Bayley.

The entire film was speckled with little nuggets of knowledge and wisdom, about the simple and yet complicated things in our lives - like love, sex, justice, temperance, wisdom, inspiration etc.

She said to her husband, over a pint of beer - If there is a choice between two evils, choose the one you haven't done before.
To students at a lecture, she said - We need to believe in something divine, without the need for god. Something we call Love..and Goodness.
And then, hinting at being influenced by Plato, she said - We experience, sometimes even before our births, pure forms like justice, temperance, goodness. And in our lives, its the shadows of our experience of these pure forms that drives us to be good. And that is when we are at our most pure.

She was a wise woman, that Iris.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Love is enough: though the world be a-waning,
And the woods have no voice but the voice of complaining,
Though the skies be too dark for dim eyes to discover
The gold-cups and daisies fair blooming thereunder,
Though the hills be held shadows, and the sea a dark wonder,
And this day draw a veil over all deeds passed over,
Yet their hands shall not tremble, their feet shall not falter:
The void shall not weary, the fear shall not alter
These lips and these eyes of the loved and the lover.

- William Morris

Sunday, March 11, 2007


Someone who's alive, died in my dream last night
Another who's died, was alive in my dream tonight
Dreams and illusion sometimes bring to light
Your most ardent hope and biggest fright...

Saturday, March 10, 2007

My Walk to Buddha

Last night, I was walking down to a pub nearby called 'the Buddha', a quaint, quiet place where they play live jazz on sundays - a relief from the noisy, manic bars teaming with students, wanting to get a drink and possibly someone to go home with, when I saw a man walking towards me.

Instant panic went into overdrive, as I said to myself, "I should really cross over to the other side of the road"..but I continued walking, wary and suspicious, ready to lash out in case something happened. "Prepared" for everything, thinking I was not going to let fear get the better of me.

And when he passed me by with what seemed like the sweetest smile that almost resembled my grandfather's, I felt so ashamed.

He looked like someone who had a little but wonderful life, a beautiful wife, and children he was proud of.

As our eyes met, he gave me a little nod, the corner of his middle aged eyes creased as his mouth stretched into a hint of a smile, and he walked on, probably eager to get home to a warm meal and his kids, after a long hard day of work.

I walked on, feeling very ashamed and terribly guilty. This man's eyes got stuck in my head, as deeply embedded in my memory, as that of the man that night. These eyes were as friendly and gentle, as the other man's were, diluted and bloodshot. I got into the pub, had a drink and forgot all about it. Until now.

What is wrong with me. I, the queen of naivete, mistook innocence for savagery.

This has got to stop.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Northern Lights of Norway

These are the Northern Lights..I was at my singing teacher, Kaya's house one day, and she's from Norway..she showed me pictures of the Northern Lights and then showed me this...I was amazed. I'd heard of the Northern Lights and their grandeur but never seen them obviously. And when I saw this, I was stunned. I'd never have imagined such a vibrant play of colour and light! It's all just natural light and gases of the atmosphere.The Northern Lights reveal themselves dramatically in the skies of Northern Norway in the winter months.

...This world is really something, isnt it? :)

Thursday, March 01, 2007

I've let go

I was just dozing off on the train on my way to London this weekend that just passed us by, when I found myself thinking that the last 3-4 years have been so incredibly full of difficulty and loss. And suddenly it dawned on me - this is what growing up is! The older you are, the more loss you're bound to feel, because you know more about everything in general. Was it for that reason that someone said ignorance is bliss? I thought about how Ganesh deals with loss and how strong he is. I suppose the more you grow up, loss and death and difficulty become more and more frequent, and over time, instead of being so horrified and shocked, which is how I've been, perhaps you start to learn to live with it all. And smile your way through it, conquering it. And perhaps that means that once you've accepted all that to be a part of life, it doesn't horrify you and terrify you the way it horrifies and terrifies me right now!

Suddenly, I felt comforted. I fell asleep.

Teachers at LIPA have been telling me to go and see a counsellor about the attack, and I've been resisting it because I think I'm strong enough to deal with it on my own. But I did eventually go to London to visit the counsellor that has always resulted in the best counselling I ever got. My father.

Talking to him about everything that was worrying me, arguing with him, reasoning with him, hearing what he had to say left me with a clarity that I haven't felt in weeks. I tackled one problem at a time, and found that I was letting go of each of them. I could feel the burden of each problem lifting itself off me and floating away, as I sat with abba in a pub, or in the hotel room.

Of course, it doesn't mean that all the trouble has just gone away just like that. I still have to deal with Personal Mitigation Circumstances forms, and not being able to do assessments, and visiting doctors, and the pain.

But what I feel now is bigger than all these problems. I feet at peace.

I feel stronger. I feel positive. I feel unconquered. I won't let the bad guy win. I won't I won't I won't. If I continue to feel dejected and upset, then he's won.

Thinking on the train to London, talking to my father in London, and thinking by myself since I've been back from London..I realised that I have let go. I've realised that I'm so ready to fight.
I realised that he's not going to win.