Ten years a home

Duliajan is also known as the Oil Town of Assam. Digboi, the place where the Britishers dug the first oil well in the country is situated just 80 kilometres away. Oil India Limited found oil fields in Duliajan and established a modern0town with quarters and various other amenities for their employees. I was born in a hospital which had the words Oil India in it. C-Type, our first quarter was a cramped 2-BHK house which was excruciatingly hot during summers, owing to the asbestos roofs above. It was the house where I watched Teletubbies and Kaun Banega Crorepati as a toddler for the first time while my father struggled with the TV antenna outside to get a good signal. Cable hadn’t arrived till then. It was also the house which housed our vomit yellow FIAT Padmini in the cane-walled garage while the red Hero Honda gleamed beside it. Most importantly, it was the house whose walls were abused with crayons by yours truly in such a disgusting way that the occupants after us were traumatised.

 

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Somewhere in Duliajan. Credits: http://dada.theblogbowl.in/2012/11/the-badminton-chronicles.html

 

I was a particularly shy kid, as my parents tell me. Babu Dada was my favourite relative. His mother used to call me out from the back of their gate in the evenings while I stood behind our gate looking like some lost puppy, drooling. Sometimes she opened the gate and advanced to pick me up and that was when I ran inside. They lived opposite to our house. Babu Dada was a teenager at that time and he had a lot of good toys, especially that green truck which was my favourite among the lot. He gave me that truck when we left C-Type as a parting gift. I was ecstatic. I attended a play school for some time before going to Tiny Tots for kindergarten. My father used to haul me up on the petrol tank of our Hero Honda and drop me till the school, which was actually a house. On a hot summer day, the tank used to burn my bum but I seldom paid any attention to it. A few passers-by giggled as they saw me sitting awkwardly on the tank and not on the back seat. I was too young to sit back there without falling off. When my father napped in the afternoons, I used to go near the bike and twist its accelerator while making bike noises. I could never reach the seat. One foot rested on the ground while the other used to stay at the footrest. There is a picture of me doing that when one day my father saw me and got very fascinated. We had a Yashica back then and father used to take a lot of pictures with it.

Outside our quarters, we had a small garden in which big, yellow dahlias bloomed during spring. My mother was fond of gardening and there was space to do all that. We also had a few jasmine plants and chrysanthemums. Then one day, there was a storm. We had been reading the papers that a cyclone was imminent and we were terrified. Father was out of Duliajan for some reason and my mom and sister were even more worried as to what was going to happen. None of us even knew what a cyclonic phenomenon was. There were high-speed winds that day and it rained for hours. We stayed inside and I think my mother was praying now and then, she is immensely scared of thunder and lightning. The cyclone didn’t blow us all away but it decimated the garden outside. It was pitiful to look at all the dismantled flowers which my mother painstakingly grew. She was upset. I had experienced a cyclone for the first time and survived through it.

Father got a promotion and we had to leave C-Type by the time I enrolled into a nursery. We moved to the quarters named DD (pronounced Double D) which were a few kilometres away. DD was resided by people who belonged to the ‘executive classes. We got free gas, free electricity, free water, a maid, and a small patch of a garden, a large 2-BHK house which had a terrace which made the house hot yet again and three families as immediate neighbours in the block. Parul Didi was our maid and she used to take me to Tiny Tots. She was from Andhra Pradesh but she had lived in Duliajan for many years and had learnt Assamese. She used to bathe me, feed me and tolerate all my not-gonna-go-to-school tantrums early in the morning while my mom shouted in the background; I hated school from the very beginning. I walked with her to Tiny Tots for three years. She introduced my mom to idli and even got a cooker from her native place and taught her the process of using it. Back then, my mother was one experimental cook. We got a microwave oven and I was fixated in just opening and closing the damned door of it. It was probably the best invention I had seen till then. Mom even made dhoklas in that oven.

We lived on the first floor and DD-39 had a balcony too. Overlooking the balcony was a badly maintained road and across that was a high concrete wall with barbed wires on top. Beyond the wall lay a stretch of tea plantations which extended all the way to the horizon. Sometimes we saw women and kids plucking tea leaves and they waved at us when we stood in the balcony. I waved back at them but my mother was a bit reluctant to do that for some reason. There was a road on the horizon which went to this place called Tinsukia and the vehicles plying looked like fireflies at night with their headlights. My mother got a lot of potted plants and decorated the balcony to match those of our neighbours. Our neighbours were nice people but I never had the kind of toys their children had. They had Beyblades and Hot Wheels sets while I was only permitted to have a small blue Maruti Zen and a yellow Tata Sumo. Sometimes I felt that gross injustice was done to me but I seldom protested in front of my parents. There was this one incident in Oil Market. Everything in Duliajan had Oil in it, even the market. So, Oil Market was this enclosed bazaar that we frequented. There was a shop named Pick-Me which we crossed on our way to other shops. It had a glass-paned counter and behind that were chocolates. There was one big blue pack of Dairy Milk which I will never forget; it is perhaps the biggest Dairy Milk I have ever seen. I don’t remember how many times I begged my mother to buy me that, but she never did. One time, I got so hysterical that the shopkeepers inside looked surprised as to what was happening outside. My mom, on the other hand, did not budge.

Our neighbours included our family to the executive life by taking us to Zaloni Club. The place was a hangout place for many of the people in our colony and others. It had a movie theatre which was also an auditorium, a swimming pool, tennis and squash courts, a bar, a restaurant, a canteen, open space with a stage for events that happened, a gym, a place for aerobics, a venue for table tennis, a small cricket pitch and a lot of rooms behind which I don’t know what lay. None of us had seen a place like this and we were surprised by the openness of culture over there. Kids were roaming around in shorts, speaking fluent English because they were from DPS (I was in KV and there was a rivalry with them) while their mothers walked around in high heels with short hair and smeared themselves with red lipstick. All the kids in my neighbourhood did some kind of coaching in Zaloni Club, some did tennis, others did squash or swimming or TT. Naturally, my parents expected me to do something as well. My father joined the gym and found his long lost love for swimming and so did my sister. Mom joined aerobics and gym for a short time as well. Everyone lived a very healthy, active lifestyle. I tried swimming but failed miserably due to hydrophobia and I screamed and wailed in the swimming pool and made life hell for my father. “I am not taking this good-for-nothing back there again”, he told my mom one day. I enrolled for TT instead because tennis was beyond my physical capabilities. I was the only noobie in the TT department and the coach ignored me because he already had some ten kids who were playing quite well and deserved more attention. I learnt some of the basics but failed to catch the attention of the coach. My first time of watching a movie in the theatre happened here as well. It was The Polar Express which was screened as part of Club Week, a week long fiesta involving a lot of food, games, competitions and other upper-class stuff like flower shows and all. Most of my friends in the neighbourhood went there while I was forbidden to do so. Kids were allowed to buy ice cream by just signing a coupon and writing their parents’ name. They didn’t have to pay money because it got deducted automatically from the parents’ bank account. I was strictly forbidden to do this as well.

In the Club Week of the year 2004, I decided to take part in a children marathon race. It started from Zaloni Club went through the DX quarters, took a U-Turn, beside the Golf Course and back to the starting point. It was a beautiful stretch, shady with trees and shrubs along the side of the road. There was a kid who lived in a couple of blocks from us named Riki. Now, the news was floating that Riki had been practising for the event with his father in the Golf Course every evening. Everyone in the neighbourhood was sure that he will bag the first prize. I didn’t do any practising but my father gave me a couple of tips. Start slow, keep your stamina for the final 400 meters, let everyone pass you first but they would eventually die out, regulate your breathing and do not open your mouth at any cost. I did the same, I was in the third position for quite a long time and was content with that. The organisers gave everyone Center Fresh before the race. That’s when I got greedy. I stopped and my fingers went into the pocket to get my chewing gum. I looked back and saw a few kids but they were far. I forgot the last rule my father said and ate the gum and started running. Naturally, I inhaled from my mouth and that’s when my lungs got tired and the lactic acid crept in. There was a shooting pain and I lost my speed. There was still around 300 meters to cover and my breath was gone. I saw a kid run past me and then another until some four kids crossed me. Ricky was in the first place as expected and he won. I sipped the glucose which was given after the race dejectedly, cursing myself. Back home, I told my parents what happened and they face-palmed themselves on my stupidity.

Duliajan was one terrific place. After father got a transfer and we shifted to Tezpur, I and my sister got a tremendous culture shock. We had to leave our executive lives behind and move to a place which was ordinary and mundane, didn’t have clubs or swimming pools or round-the-day electricity. It took me around six months to assimilate with the new place but I missed Duliajan a lot. Many years down the line, I occasionally gave a thought as to how life would have been like if I grew up in Duliajan as a teenager. It would have been exciting and active and fun-filled maybe. But in some ways, I was also glad that I was able to grow up in a much humbler setting than Duliajan, amidst the common folk. I left Duliajan in 2005 and haven’t seen it ever since. From what I have heard, things are pretty much the same. There are still Club Weeks and other stuff which happen every year. Many of the kids I knew played with are doing different things in different places. Duliajan was my hometown for nine years but it gave me moments worth writing for.

 

On Raksha Bandhan

There was one occasion every year which my sister devotedly followed and that was Raksha Bandhan. I remember her waking up earlier than usual on those days, taking a quick bath and arranging the thali. As I came out of the bathroom, she used to stand ready with a lighted diya, a rakhi, a bit of tika, some flowers with rice and some sweet, mostly a rosgolla. She used to wear a churidar on those days, tie her hair up and put some kajal. Mother stood close by as she did the aarti by doing the whole ‘thali in a circular motion’ in front of my face. There was something in that warm glow from the diya which stayed with me for a long time. The rakhi stayed on my wrist till the end of the day. Afterwards, we used to hurry off to school. I never gave her anything as a gift for quite a long time. I felt kind of shy in front of her during those days; mostly because this was too much of sudden sibling love and it was unlike us because we used to fight with each other all the time.

My earliest memory of gifting her something goes back to 6th grade. By that time, I had gathered knowledge that one is supposed to give something to his sister during Raksha Bandhans. TV ads and the fact that my sister got gifts from her bro-zoned classmates made me realise that. I gifted my sister a chocolate that year and I remember the Cadbury Celebrations that she got from some classmate-turned-brother in school. I followed this never-seen-before box all the way to the refrigerator and hoped earnestly that she would share it with me. She did share but she consumed most of its contents herself. My tiny 20 rupee Dairy Milk seemed inferior against that large cache of chocolates. By the next year, she had moved out of Tezpur for her higher studies to Guwahati and things changed a lot. There were no early morning aartis anymore but instead, the rakhis started arriving by post, with a hand written letter in the envelope. I received the first letter of my life in 7th grade written by her using sketch pens. This was also very unlike of her and I was surprised that she wrote something for me. Needless to say, I felt very special and for the first time, sensed that someone was actually missing me. I mentally did somersaults and blushed as I read that letter which was filled with a sort of sibling love that I hadn’t experienced before. Her words conveyed a lot than her physical presence ever did. It said all the things we could never say to each other verbally and it made her absence all the more profound. I felt that the letter deserved a reply and I wrote and posted one, tried my best to convey everything that I was feeling and mentioned that we will talk more over the phone and share things from now on. I promised her over the phone that I will gift her something when she comes home during the vacations.  The next year, I received a similar package and I decided to act mature. I asked my sister over the phone as to what gift she wanted this time. I had saved a bit of money by now as I was ‘old enough’ to handle money on my own. She told me that she wanted an eyeliner and a few good nail polish bottles. I didn’t have any knowledge about cosmetics so I had to confirm which colour of nail polish she preferred. After getting an idea of everything, I went to the market on my own to buy the same. Mom didn’t know what was happening. It was the first time I was buying cosmetics for someone so it took me a while to figure out which brand to get and what Lakme Colossal Kajal actually was. I gave her gift when she came home during her Autumn Break and she was happy with the nail polish colours I chose. I felt glad as a level of competence flashed on my face.  My mom gave me surprised looks because I had managed to do everything so discreetly.

This tradition continued till 10th grade, although the length of those letters decreased to the size of a note. By then she had moved to Bangalore and the rakhis took more time to arrive by post. Instead of me giving her gifts every year, she made sure that the parcel contained not only a rakhi but a small gift as well. There was a t-shirt one time and when she wasn’t able to include one with the rakhi, she made sure she got something on her visits during the vacations. Each time I made the same promise of yeah, I will give you the gift when you come home. By the time I had reached 12th grade, I already had three years’ worth of pending rakhi gifts that I was supposed to give her. That backlog lives to this very day.

Truth be told, I have seldom protected my sister from anything and over the last year, Raksha Bandhan isn’t the same for me anymore. I understand the essence of a sibling connection but I am so not okay with the whole brother-protecting-sister thing. My sis has protected herself just fine all these years so why follow some tradition just because our history and parents tell us to? For issues involving family and parents, I have covered up for her, more so in recent years. She has protected me equally but more than that she has been a guiding post and that matters a lot more for me. Last week when she told me to meet up as she wanted to give me the rakhi in advance, the feminist in me was in a conflicting position. I texted her saying that I don’t want the rakhi as I do not comply with the tradition behind Raksha Bandhan anymore. I told her that should a case arise, I would be there to ‘protect’ and support her in all ways possible and that a thread wasn’t necessary to make sure that happened. I used sentences like “patriarchal traditions” and “why are we still doing this”.  She agreed with what I was trying to say but she urged me to understand that this was something she wanted to do, regardless of what history or tradition says about it. I was glad to see that she took this tradition for what it is meant to be, a bond between siblings. That’s all. She didn’t want to break the bond which was created well before I was in 6th grade and I couldn’t say no to that either.

Actually, I feel like I should tie a rakhi on her wrist as well.

 

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Me and my sister c. 1998

 

A Childhood Curiosity

His mother always told him that boys seldom paid attention to their appearance. That, the dressing table was only meant for the ladies in the house while the men were occasional visitors who came to put a bit of moisturiser or comb their hair, whenever necessary. Men looked good the way they naturally were and didn’t spend time in front of the dressing table like women did, she remarked. It somehow created an air of mystery for our boy Philip here. The more his mother told him about the dressing table, the more he was intrigued to open all the individual drawers and peer into the secrets that they held. But alas, all the drawers were kept locked in the only wooden dressing table his house had. Apart from the regular cold creams, perfumes and combs that were kept outside, he couldn’t see the rest which were locked away safely. Fortunately, he went to his relatives’ house quite often. Thus, a childhood curiosity was born.

People usually do not pay attention to kids when they are drinking a cup of tea and munching on snacks. Usually, this was the time when Philip used to sneak into the bedrooms of his relatives’ house. Every bedroom had a dressing table by default, their appearances and configurations varied. Some were tall and made out of dark brown wood while others had a combination of wood and sun mica or even metal. Some had few drawers while others had many; all of them had one mirror which was the only similarity. Philip used to quietly open the drawers and marvel at the belongings inside. It had everything ranging from combs, cheap plastic bangles, kumkum and bindis, buttons and earrings, needles and threads, strands of hair to cotton balls, tablets and cough syrups, kajal, ear cleaning swabs.

There was a certain sweet smell which used to emanate from all these drawers. It was more of a damp, woody smell mixed with varnish that lined the walls of the drawer. Somehow, the contents inside lost their individual smells and got mixed with this smell giving the entire drawer one single, collective smell. Philip never took anything from all the drawers that he opened, he just used to look and poke around with the contents inside. Sure, he used to open the moisturizer bottles and perfumes to check what they smelt like, maybe use the perfume or deodrant once in a while if it was really good, but that was it. Sometimes, there were moisturisers having ingredients like Shea butter which smelt so good that Philip felt like eating a bit to see if they were actually sweet. But, he never did that because they were never sweet to taste. He was never caught during any of his inspections and always made sure that he kept things the way they were after he was done with everything.

There was always one drawer that was locked in every dressing table. When Philip was young and new in the vocation of opening drawers, he felt that the locked drawer had the most valuable secrets. He didn’t know what but he was very curious to know. At one time, he even felt that his mother hid all the cream biscuits in that drawer, considering the way in which he pillaged biscuits in the household. He still does though. But when he grew up a bit more, he got glimpses of that drawer’s contents whenever his mother used to get dressed to go out for occasions. Philip eventually came to know that the locked drawer contained jewellery which were precious and could not be kept out in the open or in unlocked drawers. As he grew older a bit more, he started to inspect the drawer’s contents in detail. It wasn’t a surprise for him that the drawer smelt the same like every other. It was just that the contents inside were of higher importance and demanded to be handle with care. Philip was conscious about this and always held everything with the utmost concentration. Sometimes, he used to put on his mother’s golden bangles which dangled awkwardly on his wrists. He used to feel the texture of those velvety red and purple square boxes inside which lay necklaces and other pendants.

Eventually, Philip grew up to become a young man and this childhood curiosity eventually got lost but what stayed with him was that woody smell. A close synonym for that smell would be musk probably.

 

In VV Puram, all you do is eat and eat and eat

We reached early, it was around 6.30 PM and the road was already filled with a sea of people. I and my roommate decided to take a walk as we waited for M and D to arrive. The small stalls selling boiled corn in an assortment of flavours was eye-catching. One can try these out as a form of starters but we decided to keep them for another day. Walking through Food Street, as it is famously known, the smell of the air changed and like a gust of wind blowing at your face, different aromas came to me at once. With every step that I took, it changed from the smell of fried bajjis, the tangy smell of curd in what seemed like dahi puri being made somewhere, the sweet, spicy and nose-tingling smell of potato twisters, samosa and the buttery smell of pav bhaji culminating with freshly brewed coffee as we reached the other side, after a bit of a struggle walking amidst so many people and cars. Cars shouldn’t be allowed to ply on this road because they look menacing and you are always in the fear of being hit from behind. I don’t understand how people can drive on this road; it wouldn’t make them feel hungry with all their windows rolled up. How can one not smell all that?

We reached the other end and decided to wait for our two other friends to arrive. In a few minutes, M came towards us with what looked like vada pav, only that the vada was missing. It was a bun with peanuts topped over a layering of masala with coriander leaves, onion and grated carrots. As I took a bite, I could sense that there was some butter inside too and the entire thing was one explosion of a nutty and spicy feeling. M told me that this was the Congress Bun from the famous VB Bakery, situated at the end of Food Street. The peanuts used in it are a special type known as Congress Kadlekai (peanuts). But why Congress though? Upon some research I came to know that it has many urban legends, one of them being that Congress netas during the British rule used to write messages in chits and pass them between one another in boxes and snacks of peanuts, hidden from the British officials. We went inside VB Bakery where M told us that it was essential to try the Rum Ball (Rs. 30). Divided into four parts, it had a soft chocolaty texture on top while the inside had a surprise of cherry pieces, raisins and cake infused with a bit of rum. The smell was strong and the taste, equally that which managed to stay in my mouth for quite some time.

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Rum ball from VB Bakery

Right opposite to VB Bakery is Sri Vasavi Vaisista Thindi, a place selling South-Indian street food amidst the usual offerings of Button Idly Sambar and Sagu Masala Dosa. Thindi is the Kannada word for breakfast. M suggested that we have to try Aambode (Rs. 40 for two pieces), which is apparently a Kannada funeral food. It is idli shaped although the taste is nothing like a normal idli. It’s made out of tur daal and has peas, onions, coriander leaves, chili and spices in it. Its taste resembled that of a litti that you get in the north, although this was a more spiced up version of that. I wanted to try the button idli but that too was saved for the next time. We decided to try something sweet and jamoon seemed like a nice idea. The buttery soft ball of dripping sweetness glided through with a spoon like a hot knife through butter.

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Dahi kachori in its full glory

Next up, we reached a small shop selling jalebis and a variety of chaats. Dahi kachodi (Rs. 40) caught my eye and we decided to try that out. The place was also selling Obattu, Akki Roti, and Paddu among other things. The dahi kachodi was like sev puri but had kachodi instead of puri, garnished with onion rings, coriander leaves, a dollop of curd, some tamarind chutney, lots of sev and crushed kachori beneath all of that. Sweet, tangy and wholesome are the words to describe it. Just beside this place was Chandni Chowk Hot Honey Jilebi. Although we just had something sweet, it was too tempting to avoid it and move forward. Something sweet right after something tangy and spicy would not be encouraged by many but we were on a hogging spree so what the heck. That is the power of these sweet smelling sugar concoctions. We decided to eat less and got one for each of us. Jalebi never disappoints but more than eating it, what fascinated me more was how it is poured onto the oil in circular, rapid yet calculated movements.

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And this is how jalebis are made

If you think that Food Street is all about food, then you are mistaken. Sitting alongside the road are people selling toys, balloons and bracelets made out of small squares with alphabets written on them. We also found an uncle selling peas on the middle of it all and a few stalls selling fruits. Moving on, M said that Boti Masale is something we ought to try it out. It is made out of a long, cylindrical finger chips. Inside, there is masala consisting of fried chana dal, sev, pineapple pieces, peanuts, moong dal, chopped onions, and chopped chili. The entire thing is garnished with puffed rice and coriander leaves. A light snack compared to everything we have had till now.

Going to VV Puram and not taking a stop at The Chaat Shop would be a mistake you cannot afford to commit. This place has the craziest chaat combinations I have seen till date. Some of them were Jalebi Chaat, Basket Chaat Tikki Rasgulla Chaat and Nachos Chaat. But, the potato twisters right beside seemed more enticing to us and considering the fact that D loved them, we decided to buy it. The twisted potato slices were spicy and got us looking for our water bottles with our tongues flaring out. The slices were crunchier than any other potato twister I have had till date. This made us frantically look for something to cool ourselves down and kulfi seemed like a good idea. Situated right across the street was Mumbai Badam Milk Lassi Center, advertising all form of faloodas, milk shakes, baadam milk and kulfis. Every name had Mumbai in front of them, which made us all the more confused as to what to buy. Finally, we decided with Gulkand Kulfi which sounded a bit simple. Nothing exceptional about the kulfi though, it had a nice proportion of dry fruits inside of it and thankfully wasn’t melting all over our hands.

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These potato twisters will spice up your life

After our engines cooled down, we decided to continue the hogging spree. By now, it was nearing 9PM, and the crowd had thinned down a bit. We huddled in front of Shri Vasavi Thindi Mane and all around us was a crowd of hungry, peering population. I concluded that this is one of those hit places in VV Puram. We glanced through the menu and among Paneer Roll, Veg Roll and Roomali Roti, pizza caught my eye. Pineapple Cheese Chilli Pizza (Rs. 70) was what caught my eye. It seems blasphemous to have pizza from such a place but after thinking it through, we decided that an experience of a pineapple pizza from a non-pizza place should not be missed. The order took around 20 minutes to arrive. And all that time, we were fixated on the guy who was making the Roomali Rotis. His hand movements and the way he flipped the roti multiple times before putting it on the inverted kadhai, prompted all of us to use Instagram’s boomerang feature to its fullest. D told us that maybe we should have reconsidered our order. Well, it was too late for that. The pizza arrived and it was smaller than what we expected. Garnished with yellow and red capsicums with green bell peppers and pineapple pieces, it looked cute. I was having pineapple pizza for the first time and to many people, I was committing blasphemy. We have all seen the memes but after having the first bite, I mentally said screw you to all those memes. The cheesy taste mingled with the sour and sweetness from the pineapple, until the bell peppers hit you. The cheese was evenly melted and the crust was properly cooked. All in all, it was nothing like what the Internet suggested it to be. The Roomali Roti was saved for the future visit. We were almost at the end of the street and it was time to try the famous bajji that Food Street was famous for. Sri Swamy Bajji Centre is the place to be which was again crowded with hungry bajji eaters. We decided to go with Mangaluru Bajji (Rs. 10 for 3 pieces), as suggested by M yet again. Opposite to the road was a shop selling Obattu and I knew that this had to be consumed. I have a soft corner for Obattu, one of the few Kannada dishes that I really like. I have forgotten what the name of the establishment was but it is situated opposite to the bajji shop. It sold Obattu, Puliyogre, Rava Idly and different types of Baath. Dal Obbatu it was! For those of you who don’t know, Obattu is a sweet dish, which looks like a paratha of sorts. Dal Obattu is made by putting a dollop of the paste of dal inside a ball made out of dough from flour, rolled out like a chappati and fried on a tawa with ghee. It is quite sweet and might not appeal everyone but for me, it was definitely the highlight of the day. Somehow, it went really well with the Mangaluru Bajji.

Nothing ends without a cup of kaapi and to mark the end of this frenzy filled food fiesta, we decided to go to By2 Coffee to fulfill our caffeine needs. VV Puram is indeed a place to eat and eat. There is a lot more to explore in this place which would ideally take two or maybe more visits. We missed out on a lot of places and a lot of food but all of that has been noted down for the next visit. Food Street is definitely one of the must-go places in Bengaluru and is bound to take out the foodie within you. If you are not fond of the food, just go and observe the crowd. You won’t be disappointed.

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Filter coffee to end the day

 

 

This Malayalam Film Will Enrage You For All The Right Reasons

I vividly remember the end scene of the film “Ka Bodyscapes” that was being shown at the Bangalore Queer Film Festival (BQFF) 2016. Just as I entered the dark auditorium at Alliance Française de Bangalore,  the screen showed a man walking gradually towards the sea before disappearing out of sight as the sound of crashing waves resounded the room and the screen turned black. I checked the pamphlet that I had in my hand and looked for a name. “Ka Bodyscapes, Malayalam, 1h 30 mins,” it read. For some reason, I wanted to know what the film was about. But I couldn’t at that time.

Now that I have watched the movie, I tend to believe that I was meant to watch it. Call it fate or give it some other name, I am glad I got the chance. This film by Jayan K. Cheriyan has been fighting for a certification without any cuts from the CBFC for the past two and a half years. The movie has been screened privately in film festivals and has won immense praise and accolades, but hasn’t seen a formal release in this country.

One of the things that I loved in this movie is the absence of background music of any sort, except in the final scene before the credits roll out. It has comparatively few dialogues as well and is presented in a very raw, almost amateurish form when it comes to camera panning and the shift in scenes. Due to the content and ideology of the film, a prior statutory announcement was made before the screening, informing everyone that certain people with certain ideologies might find the film awkward or disturbing and that they can leave any moment they want to. Fortunately, nobody left.

“Ka Bodyscapes” is based in god’s own country, Kerala, in the town of Kozhikode. It primarily focuses on the life of Haris who is an aspiring gay painter, played by actor Jason Chacko and Vishnu, the subject of Haris’ paintings and his lover, played by Kannan Rajan. Along with them are stories revolving the life of Sia, played by Nasreena, who works for a footwear manufacturing company and is a vocal feminist. The film encapsulates a lot of subjects ranging from homophobia to violence against women and the ever infecting patriarchal and right-wing society.

Kerala, as far as I know, is ahead of many states in this country, in terms of education, equal rights for people belonging to different sexualities and everything in between. But the film showcases the conservative side of Kerala, the side which roots for Ghar Wapsi and the need for women to be home before the sun sets. It is a society where cribbing grandmothers with rosary beads wince at the sight of girls washing their feet and do not hesitate from calling them a wench. It is a society where fathers beat up their daughters when they raise their voices against patriarchy and the subjugation and degradation of the female body that it brings with itself. In short, it is a society where love and equality lie at opposite poles.

Haris brings Vishnu to Kozhikode where the latter gets a job as a graphics assistant in his uncle’s right-leaning newspaper Bharatbhoomi. His uncle believes that it is his duty to uphold and save his traditions from going to the dogs and disapproves the idea of Haris and Vishnu living together under one roof. The idea of Vishnu posing as a model for all of Haris’ “naked” paintings ignites him even more. Haris’s place has scores of paintings which he wants to showcase as a part of an art exhibition and he gets a chance to do the same.

A still from the film ‘Ka Bodyscapes’

Sia, his friend who goes by the name of ‘Sia Rational’ on Facebook is a strong advocate of female body rights but is subjected to daily criticism from her conservative Muslim family. She works under a misogynist, condescending boss. Things get bad when this repulsive boss finds bloodied pads in the factory washrooms and tells the female supervisor to take care of the culprit. The supervisor questions all of the workers but to no avail. This is when she grabs one of Sia’s friends and drags her to the washroom for a strip search. The ordeal ends with Sia coming to the girl’s rescue and resorts to calling the police. The police do not take any action, obviously.

Sia along with Haris and a few of their friends decide to stage a protest while Vishnu decides to stay out of it due to its risky nature. Sia Rational ends up putting a Facebook profile picture of her bloodied sanitary pad after which they organise a roadside protest with slogans of “My body, my choice”. While some goons wait on the other side of the road with batons and swords, the police intervene. This entire incident is based on a real-life. What happens next should be discovered by watching the film.

The film is supposed to enrage you and it is successful in doing so. If you do not feel angry for the right reasons, you are not thinking rationally. Amidst all of that, you feel a certain form of helplessness, a very weak state of mind as you begin to realise how inconsiderate and close minded we are as a society and as people in general. You would feel the need to shout as you absorb the frustration and anger that the characters in the film go through while their worlds crash down, frame after frame. And this is reality, simple and unadulterated.

Many of us choose to be inside our cubicles, we don’t want to look at things and get our mind “dirty”. Many of us talk about same-sex marriages and equality but I think all of that is too distant for us. We live in times when misogynists feel disgusted at the sight of bloodied sanitary pads and when freedom of expression in the form of art is abhorred. We live in times when religious intolerance is met with death and centres to cure homosexuality operate in full bloom.

The despair that follows after watching a film like “Ka Bodyscapes” lives on for a long time, not because of what happens in the end of the movie but because of how there can never be a world where the need to make a film like this would ever arise.

P.S. If you want to catch a screening of Ka Bodyscapes, there is a screening on 5th August, 2017 at the same venue. Do follow Urban Solace on Facebook for more info.

Firing on all five ‘Piston’s

I had heard of this thrash metal band called Piston for quite some time now. The first time I came across the name was on a Facebook post by a friend who had watched them live and was writing about how ‘tight’ their performance was. And when I saw that they were going to perform at VR Mall on the 24th, I was all the more intrigued, mostly because of the venue. I called my sister up asking if she was interested but she sounded disgusted when I sounded thrash metal. “Not my scene bro” was all she said.

After a gruesome and traffucked two-hour drive with two uncles in an Uber, I reached Phoenix Marketcity. The courtyard is the place where all performances generally happen and I jogged my way to the venue only to find a reggae concert in action. People were cheering from their seats amidst the banging of djembes and other types of drums. The singer was telling the crowd to put their hands up. I looked around for help from someone to guide me at the right direction; mostly I was looking for someone wearing a metal t-shirt like me. I decided to go to VR Mall, which is right beside Phoenix Marketcity, maybe the show was happening inside the mall. It was already 7.30, the show was supposed to start from 7. I asked one of the security guards if a show was happening somewhere and he pointed towards the left. I followed his finger and saw a small platform that had been erected and some twenty clueless people lingering around. Some kind of a live EDM track was playing from the speakers, which was bizarre. The four people on stage were all clad in black, three of them having a guitar and one of them with glorious, curly long hair. Something I could only wish for.

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Unlike most heavy metal concerts, nobody stood near the stage

Across the mixing table, I saw four guys wearing metal tees, looking all pumped up while the rest of the crowd murmured and continued to linger around. The weather was windy and chilly, after the rain. Someone from the mixing table started speaking on the mic. Took me a while to figure out where the sound was coming from. Salman U. Syed, the boss of Bangalore Open Air welcomed the gathering and talked about the ‘promotion’ that they were doing for the fest, by organising this show. The drummer of the band spoke next, introducing themselves and pointing out that this was the first time a metal band in Bangalore was playing in a mall. They played the first song and surprisingly, it was the drummer who was singing and not the guy with the long hair, who I presumed was the singer. Whoa moment, indeed. I know Rakshith on Facebook, because I went to ask for drum lessons from him a long time ago. That didn’t work out. The sound was achingly loud and distorted but that is what you get from an open air venue like this. Towards the end of their second song, Rakshith said that their singer was sick and couldn’t make it so he was taking up vocal duties for the day.

I was more interested to look at the crowd. Most of them had no idea what was going on. There were a few uncles and auntys who were making faces while Piston was covering Slayer. Five hands went up when the band announced if the crowd knew who Slayer was. Only those five hands clapped after the second song. “It’s very odd for us to play here. We usually play in places where people are drunk as f**k. I see a few people who look my parents and that is so weird because they have never approved this kind of music” Same story everywhere, I tell you.

The quintet went on to play a few more songs and covers while the crowd slowly got the hang of their “no core, no fiction and only 80s thrash metal inspired by real life events” music. Rakshith kept alive the profanity and made the crowd realise that the music is a bit difficult to take in and also pointing out facts like God indeed is dead. Their rendition of Slayer’s Disciple proved the statement for them. For a moment, I was worried if this venue was appropriate for such subtle blasphemy but luckily there wasn’t any divine intervention. I, for one, was happy that this music was being introduced to an oblivious population. I heard a few girls admiring the rhythm guitarist’s long hair, an aunty telling her husband “aise gaane sunta kaun hai bhai?” (Who listens to music like this?) and a father coaxing her five year old daughter to dance to it while he tried to click a few pictures of her. The drummer was the only person who did all of the talking on behalf of the band and apart from giving reality checks like of how the world is a living misery, he did a pretty good job on the drums. Personally, I was left with a constant ringing in my ears after the show was over, mostly because I was standing too close to the speakers and guitars were too distorted. All in all, it was a good show, the first of its kind. People were affected by it, in both ways. And yes, metal is pretty much alive in this city.

 

 

Those deceiving paintings

I have had a track record of events not deceiving me. By deceiving, what I mean is that the events take place wherever they are designated to take place. It has never happened that I reach the venue to cover something and find out that the complete thing was a hoax and that there is no event happening at all. When I first saw the details of this event, I noticed the vague information that was put up on the newspaper. “Painting Exhibition – Gallery Third Eye (Till May 31st, 10:30 AM)”. There was a small thumbnail of what looked like a painting and apart from that no further detail was mentioned. Nevertheless, I decided to go and cover this. Painting exhibitions have been a personal favourite plus this was a gallery I hadn’t been to. I asked Vijeta ma’am if she knew about this gallery but she said no. Another thing which pricked me was the absence of the artist’s name. But I thought that perhaps this was an exhibition involving various artists or something like that.

After consulting uncle Google, I came to know that the gallery was situated in HSR Layout. Around 8.4 kilometers from Shanthinagar, so taking an auto was definitely out of the question. I searched for bus routes but that also turned about to be a complicated mess involving two bus changes at the least. I went for the cab apps and saw that it wasn’t going to come below 80 rupees. One way. I even tried to borrow the scooty that my landlord had but it didn’t have petrol and the honk wasn’t working. The day was hot, the sweat had started trickling down my spine and a slight irritation had already set in. Finally, I decided to go forward with taking a cab and packed my bags. I was confident that the event would provide sufficient material to write a decent piece.

After travelling for around 50 minutes, I reached this four storeyed building near the BDA Office in HSR Layout. The time was around 12.30 in the afternoon and I was pretty sure there would be very less attendees. After a bit of checking, I approached the lift and proceeded to the 2nd floor. The ground floor had a spectacle shop and a SAMSUNG mobile dealer. The second floor had a small boutique and on the other side rested Gallery Third Eye with a small banner that can easily miss your eye. Through the glass door, I could see the paintings but couldn’t see any humans. Above the door I saw a rectangular banner which said Hygiclean Autowash Detachable Bidets on italicised fonts. For a moment, I was unsure if I was in the right place. Perhaps, the exhibition was happening upstairs? I lingered outside for a moment thinking what to do. I went inside and saw an uncle peering into a computer screen while a fat bunch of papers lay beside him. Behind him were three white and gleaming commodes, magnificent spotless beings placed on raised platforms. I went and asked if any exhibition was happening here and he curtly replied no. The place only sold paintings. I told him about the newspaper clipping I saw and he seemed unsure as to what I was talking about. He worked for the commode business but was supervising the gallery as well, I concluded. I realised that the whole thing was a hoax and that no exhibition was taking place. Heck! This wasn’t even an art gallery! A second uncle appeared from behind the room carrying a cup of tea. I tried to veer away from my frustration by looking at the paintings and reached the end of the room. There lay a microwave oven and a coffee maker with a small wooden table and three chairs. There was a transparent Tupperware box and inside contained what looked like Saranna. Lunch for those uncles, I thought. The room was filled with panels, most of them featuring abstract artworks by artists I do not know about. Others included vibrant landscapes, a few portraits of women and Gautam Buddha. All of them were oil paintings on big wooden glass frames.

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Some of the artworks at display. Expensive, of course

Since there was no other thing to do, I decided to gather some information of the place. I hadn’t given up hopes about not creating a piece out of this hoax event yet. I went to the first uncle and asked him as to when this place was opened. Three years ago, came the reply and he went back to his peering. I asked him about the prices of the paintings and he told me to check the website, this time without peering up from the screen. I nodded and didn’t say anything more. That was the end of my information mining and I resumed looking at the paintings, clicking a picture or two occasionally. So, a reporting piece was out of the question and what lay was a feature-ish kind of a thing. Also, I was hungry so that had to be urgently tackled too. The commodes gleamed and I was thinking as to who does a commode business with a so-called art gallery? But then, people have used commodes as an example for modern art so I guess it goes with that.

Fountain 1917, replica 1964 by Marcel Duchamp 1887-1968
Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917) Source: http://www.tate.org.uk