Saturday, August 25, 2018

Reserved for One: A poem

We don't trust enough
We don't pour out our hearts 
Telling all our secrets, our fears and surrendering to each other.
Completely and wholly. 
We can't. 
We've been taught to be cautious. 
Learnt to be guarded. 
Only a legal commitment allows exposure of the heart. 
Because what if you walk away
With the treasure trove of my insides
What if you laugh, use it against me, judge me
Hate me. 
But what if you're the only one who gets it. 
And even if you leave one day. 
You'll be the one who knows. 
And I won't care what you do with everything of me. 

Because I was meant to love you anyway. 

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Letter from a Hogwarts Teacher to Hermione

My daughter Ariaana is a big Harry Potter fan.
For her summer holidays she's gone to spend time with her grandparents. So I thought I'd write her a letter. But not just as her mom, as a Hogwarts Teacher. And since her favorite character is Hermione-  I addressed it to the character. 

Dear Hermione,
This is the third time you've not attended my class! I know you think divination is completely useless but if you don't pass my class young lady, Dumbledore won't allow you to go to the next grade. 
But instead of insisting that you attend my class let me try to convince you my dear that what I know you can't learn anywhere else.
Your birthday is on September 19, 1979. 
In Tarot your birth cards add up to  19, 10, 18, 9. 
They're the Sun, Wheel of Fortune,  the Moon, and the Hermit. 

You will always have wonder in your life, innocence and high vibrancy. But sometimes you can hv mood swings and you must be aware of them and not let them bother you. 

And you obviously already know that you'll be very fortunate in whatever you undertake. 

However there will be times when you'll need solitude. You'll need to introspect. And when you reach out for friends, they won't be able to understand you as well as you understand them. I pray that you realise then that there is inner light,wisdom and guidance from the universe that will always help you and you will find success. 

As I look into my crystal ball I can see that you're loving the nature around you right now and are in no mood to study at all! You've also developed some new skill? Is that so? What is it? 

Are you liking this new skill? 

I can see several people listening to your words as you speak. You hold their attention. You'll be a good leader and commander. 

Oohhhh there's something else that's coming up. Beware of becoming too full of yourself. No one likes so much ego darling. So don't only talk about yourself. Ask questions about others. 

Harry seems to like you a lot. Ron is a bit of a scaredy cat. You don't need boys on your life right now anyway! 

I'm going to end this letter by saying that not everything needs to be practical logical and rational in life. While science is making progress, there are several unexplained mysteries of the universe. To understand people better we don't need science, we need divination. A divine power that comes from God. 

Not everything in life will have answers through logic. Some answers will come from seeking divine intervention, meditation and mindfulness. 

Stay true to your inner strength while I'm trying to stay strong and not lose my marbles in this class with all these hooligans. Where is Neville? He's not here either! 

Divinely yours,
Professor Trelawney 

Friday, June 22, 2018

My World Cup Love Affair.

My father took me to Paris in 1998 for the first time. I had begged him because I wanted to see the art, history and culture. But every evening when we were sitting for dinner somewhere there were gigantic TVs and the entire restaurant becoming an animated audience for The World Cup. And soon art and history was left behind for football. 

Until then I'd never seen football. I only knew about love for cricket and tennis. But after watching a few matches with the French, I was hooked. The euphoria when their team won, the disappointment when the others scored and the pride they felt for each player was magical. It was like this enormous, all encompassing, ecstatic group energy that I'd never experienced or felt with anything else in my life. 

But the best part was when France won the World Cup! My Dad and I were walking through the millions of people at Champs Elysees, singing and watching parade after motor car parade whizzing by, handing out flags, food, beer, hugs. The whole country was celebrating n it was pure, clean, unadulterated fun. 

Since then I was hooked. I needed to see every match, cheer for my teams, and got to know the players a little bit better (very good looking, fit men add to the sports attraction!)

The next time I watched FIFA was when I was shooting for the film Boom with Kaizad Gustad. During breaks, a few of us would dive into restaurants to watch the game. I remember standing next to Mr. Amitabh Bachchan in a small restaurant in Dubai when Brazil was playing. And I was more interested in my team winning than taking a picture with him. When Brazil won the World Cup beating Germany 2-0 that year I kind of remembered that both Amitji and I had prayed for them n we made them win together! 

In 2014 I was in New York City when the World Cup was happening. It was my solo trip to explore the city, life and myself  but I found myself at bars cheering on my team with the rest of the people there. A really cute guy asked me out that day but Germany was beating Brazil 7-1 and I was far more interested in why my team was making so many mistakes than making a mistake with a white guy that night! 

This FIFA I'm not in any fancy country but my own home in Mumbai and watching it. I still feel the thrill when a team almost scores. I can't believe that Coutinho did that kick. And for all the sleepless nights I'll be having, I'll always remain a FIFA WORLD CUP fan. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Palace of Assassins by Aditya Iyengar

Palace of Assassins by Aditya Iyengar begins with what happened post the Mahabharata war with the forgotten anti hero/villain Ashwatthama. He has been one of the most misunderstood characters of the Mahabharata and very little is known of his story after being cursed by Lord Krishna. What we know from the epic is that Ashwatthama who committed the heinous crime of killing the Pandava children in their sleep was cursed to roam the earth forever and his body would be covered by sores. 
As per Hindu mythology there are eight immortals (chiranjeevis) who still live on earth for various reasons. Most of these are blessed. But only Ashwatthama is cursed with immorality. The tragic story is captured quite well in this book which portrays him neither as a hero or a villain but as a troubled soul trying to find ways and means to end his miserable existence. The story goes forward and he tries to exact revenge on the pandavas with the help of a band of warriors called the Samsaptakas. They have also been wronged by the Kuru race and they are also looking for revenge. The book deals with a lot of magic which exists in the form of nature in the world called as tatva and there are magicians called tatva karman who use magical stones to imbue fantastic powers. It's with these powers that Ashwatthama believes he'll kill the Pandavas and restore to being a mere mortal so he can die and be rid of his leprosy. 
The story is filled with fantastic sequences visually enriched with incredible narratives. It also has a love story in the form of Kasturi who takes care of him to regain strength. While the story progresses smoothly I found a certain lack of character arc of Ashwatthama. He remains bereft of strong emotions which is unusual given the trying circumstances that he finds himself in. 
Ashwatthama was a Maharathi (A warrior who has mastery in all forms of weapons and combat. Capable of fighting numerous multiple warriors simultaneously.) This arc is never explored and he is constantly shown as a weakling. Though there are philosophical sayings in the book and it deals with mindfulness and breath Ashwatthama doesn't seem to use them wisely. 
I would have also loved to see a dialogue between Ashwatthama and Lord Krishna where he accuses the Lord of using deception and guile to kill all the heroes of the Kauravas from Duryodhan to Bhishma to Dronacharya to Karna. Ashwatthama's own father Dronacharya was killed by a lie uttered by Yudhisthir and Krishna engineered it. The book could have explored this disturbing duality of truth and lies, right and wrong. 
Over all the book is interesting in parts and gets boring in certain places. Read it if you're a fan of the anti hero and the epics. 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Mills n Boons vs Real Life Romance

“He slid his hand behind her head and brought his mouth down on hers in a hard, demanding kiss that stirred up a raw hunger. A kaleidoscope of emotions ripped through him but the prime one was need. It spread through him, not slowly, but like wildfire burning everything in sight. Gripped by it, Sean powered her back against the railing and trapped her there.” Suddenly Last Summer by Sarah Morgan, a Mills n Boon romance novel.

It’s been over 100 years since Gerald Mills and Charles Boon teamed up to publish books. Since then, they have been responsible for more than 30,000 fictional kisses.
Mills & Boon sells 130 million books each year in 109 countries and 26 languages. Someone buys a book every three seconds!

In India Harlequin, the publisher has published 26 titles in their Indian collection with authors Milan Vohra and Aastha Atray being the first authors to write a home grown Mills n Boons romance in English. Since then there have been titles that have come out in regional languages as well.

The Hindi titles "Raaste Pyaar Ke" and "Punar Milan" and Tamil titles "Bossin Kadhal" and "Avargal Meendum Inainthaargal" are available with Marathi and Malayalam editions as well.

It’s no wonder that almost every woman in the world has read at least one Mills n Boons if not more. Hence our idea of a perfect man most often stems from the heroes we’ve grown up reading. The list of qualities that he may need to possess are tall, rich, good looking, sense of humour, roguish, talented, sexy, intelligent, challenging who can sweep the woman off her feet and give her a good time in life. Now that we’ve made the list, let’s find men who can fit this role!

But alas, there’s no such thing as a perfect man or a real life Mills n Boon hero.
While a man is dating, he is at his best and puts on the cloak of a Mills n Boons hero to please his woman. He is dashing and articulate, funny and intelligent, wild yet surprisingly reliable. As soon as the man has ensnared the woman in a commitment, the cloak is kept in the back of a `routine’ closet and the man goes back into the minutiae of his existence. Meanwhile the woman is all swept up and has nowhere to go. She’s a tornado of expectation and romantic energy that she had read and tasted with the man.

The man acknowledges that he’s not a Mills n Boon hero. He recognises fact from fiction. But for a woman the realities are blurred. Her romantic notions, her relationship ideas, her future plans have been derived from an idea of a perfect romance she may have read eons ago that have stayed in her memory.

The company Harlequin has also been criticised for repeating plots, the inevitability of their happy endings, and a simple writing style, whereas fans cite predictability as a key reason for reading. While this may have boosted the sales of the books, it’s always a repeat reading or watching of something that allows it to take shape in memory. Kausar, Integrated Therapist at Sanctuary of Life mentions, “What we read or watch repeatedly will also be accompanied by our repeated interpretation of that message. Depending on our level of (un)awareness of the interpretation and its consequences on us, it can have an impact on the choices we make.” When this repeat reading of the perfect man takes shape, it is very hard for us to shake it when we do start having relationships.

In 2011, psychologist Susan Quilliam blamed romantic fiction, and Mills & Boon in particular, for poor sexual health and relationship breakdowns.

Gauhar, had always believed that her relationship would be like a Mills n Boons romance. In the beginning her husband had taken her for bike rides and chatted with her under the stars on a trek. Once they got married, the bike was traded for a cozy family car and the stars in the sky were exchanged for the stars on TV at night. “How has he changed so much?” She would ponder.

Bangalore based leading psychologist Dr Geetha Appachu has seen many cases of women with unreal expectations. She says that when a woman is stimulated by the idea of romance she equates it to love and she will perceive her relationships to have that same stimulation. Most of these women clients sit and wonder why their life is not close to what they have read.

The women are dissatisfied because they want their spouse or partner to pamper them the way a Mills n Boon hero has pampered his heroine. Often the relationship for the woman gets “boring.” Boredom then causes lack of enthusiasm in the home front and interferes in other areas of her work and society life. If the man and the relationship isn’t “exciting enough” for the woman she chooses to either break the bond or find stimulation elsewhere.

While we love our romances and Mills n Boon it’s important for all women to have realistic expectations from their relationships. When we start getting bored we must question whether it is in relation to something we’ve read, seen or heard and are comparing our life to it. A deep understanding of why you need the pampering, what more you can do in the relationship and what else can you do with life may help women in understanding themselves and their relationships better. But keep reading romance novels because they can uplift you, move you and make you smile. Just don’t make them your reality.

Research from: 
Dr. Geetha Appachu: 094486 17789 (Bangalore)
Energy Healer: Kausar: 09849152872

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Udta Bharat

Now that the Udta Punjab hullabaloo has died down and everyone knows about the Punjab drug issue, let’s talk about the rest of India where the drugs and alcohol problem is also prevalent.

Recently I spoke to my niece Aiyana in my old home town Lucknow. When I was living there it was quiet, conservative and rather dull. None of us had access to drugs or alcohol and we spent our days studying and gossiping. But all this has changed in 2016. As my niece tells me that in a reputed college hostel in Lucknow, everyone has access to marijuana and almost everyone consumes alcohol.

In her words, “Even if we don’t want to drink there’s so much pressure to fit in that we succumb to it. Otherwise we’ll be called losers.”

She also says that there are some who “smoke up” the entire day but are brilliant at studies. Their parents don’t care as long as they get the marks at the end of the year.

I just came back from an Under 25 Lit Fest in Bangalore. When I met the youngsters they were all brimming with excitement and enthusiasm. The founders were 21 years old. The volunteers ranged from 19 to 24. They were all bright, motivated and focussed. But when I began speaking to one of them Tarun and began discussing the Udta Punjab issue he said, “It’s not just in Punjab, it’s here in Bangalore too.”

When I probed a little further he opened up to say that alcohol was at a reasonable price and weed was even cheaper. Everyone had it.

“But why?” I asked in confusion and a concerned forty year old aunty tone.

“To celebrate sometimes, to take the pressure off most times, to get away from the depression largely…” Tarun ruminated.

“What would you be depressed about? You have an entire future ahead of you. You don’t have a stale marriage, responsibilities of kids, EMIs of a house or wrinkles to worry about,” I said.

He laughed. “We have other issues. Mainly relationship issues. Studies pressure. Lack of a future in this country. Corruption. No money.”

When I told him to explain more he said, “Mostly girls and guys cheat on each other and they become depressed. Some get into a commitment too fast and then realise they don’t want it. So they break up. By that time the other person has fallen for them and is heartbroken. So alcohol becomes a way to get away from it and soon it becomes an addiction.”

“What about drugs?” I asked.

“Everyone has it, knows where to get it and uses it. It’s mild though. Some of us don’t use it at all. And we rarely drink. But there is pressure to be part of a group and we all hang out and drink or smoke. It’s easy.”

That night I went to sleep pondering about why these youngsters were unable to move on in their relationships. After all there were so many apps that could help you move on! After a full eight hours of sleep, I awoke the next morning and spoke to one of the volunteers and asked if they got enough sleep as well. (Yes I realise I’ve become an aunty) She replied that everyone was working till one in the morning. To which I said, “Oh so you got six –seven hours of rest. Good good!”

She laughed and replied, “We finished working at one but went drinking till four (am). We’ve got two hours of sleep. But we’re all very eager.”

Later I looked for signs for who went drinking and who slept and I couldn’t make out at all. All the volunteers were on their toes, smiling and working through the day.

Then I figured that this generation uses everything including alcohol as an escape. Apps that help you get over a relationship by finding someone new to sleep with or alcohol that takes away the pain of being alone. And they all feel alone. The fact is they are a passionate lot of people. They are passionate about their relationships, work, studies, commitments, ideas, etc. And when there are hurdles along the way their passion dies as quickly as it was fuelled.

But why is this generation needing escape at all? And why do they need the drugs to focus when they have fertile minds that will allow them to do so anyway?

Aiyana in Lucknow says, “There is so much competition that just having a fertile mind isn’t enough. Sometimes the pressure is so high that the only way to release it is through marijuana or alcohol. It settles the over worked mind.”

There is a huge generation gap that is also occurring between youngsters who are between 18-26 and their parents. The demands of the parents to secure high percentages to get into college and then get employment, the ire of the parents when the child is having a relationship, the distrust, the judgements, the lack of communication is distancing the bond between the children and the parents. So these youngsters turn towards their friends and social media. Social media only has strangers and in a competitive world, the friends they rely on and the relationships they have become either too dependent or too toxic.

“My girlfriend cheated on me with my best friend,” revealed one youngster Shrey to me. “I lost not only the love of my life but also the person who I could turn to.” Shrey fell into depression and started drinking.

A young reader of mine came to me and asked, “Maam you give relationship advice. I want to be open with my parents and tell them about all my relationships but they only scold me and continuously tell me to stop seeing people and focus on my studies. How do I get through to them?”

In my own aunty way I replied, “You must understand their core issue as well. They’re scared that they you will lose focus and not do well. Once you assure them of that they will be fine with your relationships.”

To which she responded, “I have. I study a lot but I also need a personal life and I read books too. So what’s the harm of having a boyfriend? I want to be honest with them but they’re not getting me.”

Before I could respond my fellow young author friend said, “Lie. Your parents aren’t going to understand. YOLO.”

Reports show that “During 1992-2012, the per capita consumption of alcohol in India has increased by whopping 55%, the third highest increase in the world.” In a country where there is an increasing generation gap between the 60% of the population - the youth and the ones who can influence them – the older 40%, alcohol takes over as a counsellor. Another worrying trend from India is that the average age of initiation of alcohol use has reduced from 28 years during the 1980s to 17 years in 2007. In India alcohol abuse also amounts to huge annual losses due to alcohol-related problems in work places. Nearly 25% of the road accidents are under the influence of alcohol and it is also a significant risk factor for increased domestic violence. (

What is the solution to the alcohol crisis in India? Banning it will only lead to spurious alcohol which could be fatal for everyone. Lecturing about it could ostracise the people involved. And making it more expensive could lead to more crime as youngsters will find new ways of acquiring the money for it. Showing videos before films will only make the youngsters laugh. 

Even putting a disclaimer in Bollywood movies when actors drink is not going to change the alarming statistic of the youth who drink.

The solution just may be simple. 
1. Parents need to be trained to communication better with their teenage children, maybe through regular on campus workshops. 
2. Counsellors who are non-judgmental and not too old in age on every campus who help the youngsters deal with their relationship issues. 
3. Workshops on spirituality, healing and meditation on a regular basis with the youngsters made compulsory. 
4. More sports facilities so the youth can be occupied with physical activities and good coaches to help them. 
5. Role models from different spheres of life who can visit the campuses and speak about their own journey and influence them. 6. Maybe even online apps that can advise the youngsters about relationships their career opportunities and guide them.

Youngsters today need a guiding light. They need to know that marks aren’t everything and they will succeed even if they don’t get into a great college. They also need to know that it’s alright to have different relationships and move on from there instead of settling into depression because you were jilted or broke up.

A week ago I lost my cousin who was forty years old to alcoholism. She had been admitted to NIMHANS for rehab, she had also gone to a retreat to detox for a month a few years ago. Most days she was lucid. But alcoholism was a monster in her life which she could not control. It began in her college when she needed “just one drink.” Soon she needed more. When her boyfriend left her, she turned to alcohol even though she had supportive parents who spoke to her about the relationship and guided her in many ways to do various things in life. But alcoholism was a demon that refused to let go of its clutches. She died of multiple organ failure starting with her liver. Her parents are still heartbroken and wonder where they went wrong and what the purpose of her being in this world was!

The youth of India must understand that the problem and the solution lies within. You must believe in yourself. You must understand that even if there is corruption today, the country needs you to quell it out and make it better. You must know that dying young and living dangerously is not cool. No one will care or remember. The only way you can make a difference is to be proud of not fitting into this alcoholic culture. It may be the most difficult thing you’ll ever do but you’ll have a life that will be worth it. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

What is a good enough percentage to get into college?

Courtesy Hindustan Times.

Pallavi. 50%. Wants to be a doctor. Refuses to do a B.A. 10 lakh donation needed to get into a medical college. Parents want her to get married off!

Seher. 92%. Wants to do Business Studies. Not got in to the first cut off list. Didn’t do well in the interview round. 7 lakh donation needed to get into college of choice. Middle class parents don’t know how to get that kind of money!

Akash. 85%. Wants to study History. Arts cut off is 87% first list. The college of choice is full. Parents need to find another college out of the city they’re living in.

Syed. 73%. Wants to do medicine. Can get through quota in certain colleges. Still needs to pay a donation.

How much does a pupil need to study in India to get into the college of his choice without paying any money?

College Admissions is every parent and student’s nightmare! The second list for most colleges is out on Wednesday 29th June. For most students their fates are sealed. Some are still hopeful for a third list and some are already getting lectures from their parents for not doing well enough.

The cut off percentage list for admission as per Times of India 28th June 28, 2016 was 82% for Arts and 87% for Science in only one college. The rest of the cut offs were higher than 90%. How much do students need to study to get into a college? Is out system so flawed that a teenager’s life is defined by studies? It is a number, a percentage and an admission that can make a parent happy. And even if he or she gets that number they might not even get admission because the education racket is corrupted with donations sky rocketing every year.

When I was giving my 12th board exams, I studied every day only to receive approximately 75%. And thankfully I got into the college of my choice without giving any donations. But then again I didn’t want to do business studies or medicine and was happy with English Honours.

Today’s teenager is struggling with studies, pressure and distractions. To be extremely focussed and get marks above 85-90% when the competition and syllabus is so tough is an achievement. And as parents, a society and system we should be praising them for their hard work and effort.  Except that we berate them for not doing well enough. They still need to get into a college.

So if a teenager gets low marks they have two options. 1) To give the 12th board exams again and hope for a higher percentage that will allow them to pursue what they like. 2) Pay the donation and acquire your seat.

But most parents are scared that even after coughing up lakhs, will their child stick to the subject and find employment later?

The system is letting the students down. Many of them have got high percentages and don’t have the money for donations. They believed that by studying and doing your best, you can follow your dreams. But they are not able to get into the courses they want even in the second cut off list. 

Somewhere all students are learning to make a compromise, either with their education choice or their college. So most of them are becoming jaded and uninterested even before they begin the next phase of their lives.

If donations are the only way to go then most rich students give up even before they take the exams. They know they’ll get in any way. And colleges are reflecting a pattern of rich average students and extremely intelligent middle class ones.

The pressure builds up from class 8 itself. Most boards complete the 8th and 9th standard syllabus in one year while still doing a sports and annual day. This puts tremendous pressure on a young hormone filled 13-14 year old teenager who begins to rebel against the education system and parents who put pressure for marks. By 9th grade schools are teaching the 10th board syllabus and if the student has not picked up the 8th and 9th grade syllabus he would be lagging behind. And in 10th grade the schools revise the entire syllabus that will be coming for the board exams.

Why is the education system relying so heavily on marks? Arts students need to get 95% to get into prestigious colleges. And science streams are looking at a full 100%. Coaching institutes are thriving. 
And childhood has died.

Parents don’t encourage sports or music anymore unless the child is brilliant at it and can get in to college through that quota. And every parent is working, saving and struggling to keep their child happy if the donation is needed. As a parent, we lose touch with reality because of the competition. We stop seeing our children for who they are – intelligent, bright, talented individuals who can be defined by more than just a number.

Unfortunately when the system only depends on marks, all a student can do is work hard and pray for good luck. And maybe accept that whatever happens will be for the best and that their destiny will lead them to the correct path where there will be a pot of gold.

Reserved for One: A poem

We don't trust enough We don't pour out our hearts  Telling all our secrets, our fears and surrendering to each other. Comple...