Monday, June 30, 2008

Miaow Miaow Miaow--I love you!

Basket of Kittens

Really sorry--I have had to remove this post as it will soon appear in a book. Making it available online would have been very unfair to my publisher who has placed so much trust in me. I hope you enjoy the other posts as much as you enjoyed this one. A heartfelt thanks for your support and understanding.Thanks for continuing to read what I write.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Egpyt --an affair to remember

The dust from Cairo has still not been washed off my shoes. Or my mind. The warmth of the people still lingers in my heart. I can close my eyes and still feel the pulse of Egypt and hear the gentle sound of the ship on the waters of the Nile.

The experience can only be described , to use a cliché, as a dream come true.

Where do I begin? How can a journey of a 5000 years be contained in a single blog post? How can I describe something that was so awe inspiring, moving, and so completely humbling? As I walked into the great monuments at Luxor, Karnak,Kom-ombo and Edfu, I could imagine the grandeur of those imposing, towering, massive structures, where pharaohs and high-priests, Queens and princes once walked, conferred and worshipped. How they would have taken the same path that I was now walking on, and how they would have sailed on the waters of the Nile.

We took a flight from Mumbai to Cairo.My mom too came with us. After a day in Cairo, we flew to Aswan. Then we were on a cruise. We sailed on the Nile for four days and three nights, stopping at komombo, Edfu and finally at Luxor. Each place had monuments, each one better than the other. The carvings on the walls of the temples and the hieroglyphics were detailed, intricate and so beautiful. Each one told a story or depicted a scene. I learnt about Upper and Lower Egypt, (being so designated not due to its altitude but because of the origin of Nile river.The place where in originates is called Upper Egypt which is basically in the south) the Cartouches with the names of the royalty inscribed in them, the pantheon of powerful Gods and Goddesses—Horus, Hathor, Isis, Amon-ra and many more. They reminded me a lot of our own Indian Hindu Gods—especially Hathor who is a Goddess with the head of a cow.

Egypt is an Islamic nation and there are more than a 1000 mosques in Cairo alone. The language spoken is Arabic. English is hardly spoken or understood. We had to learn basic Arabic to manage on our own. The people are so charming, friendly and warm. The women are gorgeous. They have to wear clothes that fully cover every part of their body. Yet, women being women, have found a way around this. They wear figure hugging body suits which emphasizes each and every curve of their body. Over this, they wear a stylish T-shirt and jeans or trousers. Some wear long skirts and others wear long dresses. They also wear a head scarf that covers their hair and dark sunglasses. Almost all of them look super sexy with perfectly manicured hands and stylish high heels. It is only the women who are tourists show some skin in Egypt—never the Egyptian women. Just two days there and I was beginning to feel very under dressed in my T-shirts and jeans (That too, I had not worn any sleeveless ones, respecting the culture there), and so mostly I wore a cotton jacket too.

Some of the Arab men wear ‘galabia’—But most of the stylish ones wear designer t-shirts, jeans, trousers, shirts. Almost all of them look really handsome. Egyptians pride themselves on being more open minded than the other Islamic nations as the women are allowed to work, drive and even to not wear the head scarf if they choose not to. (I found very few women without it.(98 percent of the women I saw had covered their hair)

The young people in Egypt were like the youth everywhere. There were lovers in Malls, meeting secretly, young guys hanging out together and staring at attractive women who passed by and making comments and lusting after them.

Sex before marriage is absolutely taboo and for a man to get married, he has to pay a ‘bride-price’ to the girl’s father.(A dowry system that we have in our country but in reverse) The minimum I was told is 2,00,000 Egyptian pounds, which is a large sum of money. Earning such a large sum of money is beyond the means of many young men, and so they get married at later and later ages, maybe even in their late thirties and forties. Maybe it is all this high sexual energy in the air, I found the atmosphere highly charged. I was also told that the Arabic language is full of sexual innuendos and it richness lends a naughty bawdiness to daily talk.

I loved the Egyptian food too. I don’t eat meat and there were a variety of choices for me. I loved almost all of it.

Egypt mesmerizes. It charms, it enthralls and spins a web over you. It is hard to not get caught. It seems to cast a spell on you, and I was telling Satish that you can waste your entire life in Egypt, sipping bitter sweet tea, smoking a Hookah (The place is strewn with Cafes and women too frequent them. Some are only for men. I loved them.) , watching the world go by, and be very content about it. There is something about this place that seems to make time stand still.

I wanted to remember every moment of it.Ended up taking LOTS of pictures and I am sharing a few here. Satish and I are great fans of Wilbur Smith, and for us, it was the very scenes described in his well researched books coming to life. We could almost see the great Magus and Queen Lostiris as we imagined Ancient Egypt in all its splendour and glory as we visited each monument in reverence and awe ,apart from all the touristy things we did.

They say there are some things that you have in your mind that you just have to do in your lifetime. For us, visiting Egypt was one such.

It really seems to have a sprinkle of the magic of memories now and the dust still lingers.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Real life hero

If you haven't watched the movie Taare zameen par, I recommend that you stop reading and watch it right now.If you do not understand Hindi, watch a version with sub titles. It is a movie which cannot fail to touch you in some way.The hero of this movie is a young child called Ishaan Avesthi who is dyslexic.

Imagine my surprise, when I came across a real life Ishaan Avesthi, when I was asked by Times of India, Pune to do an article on Dyslexia. While researching my story I discovered Anant. I was so moved by his life , I just had to tell you all. His life was eerily similar to the protagonist of the movie, including the boarding school bit. His dad was shocked to see him when he came to visit him--Anant was taunted, labelled, shouted at, beaten and if that was not enough, even put on anti depressants. His dad says he could not recognise him as his head was drooping, chin touching the chest, he had thin legs and a belly. He was looking so dead and expressionless.
I could only imagine what his parents must have gone through. I could feel Anant's pain when he told me that he learnt to answer prying questions about his marks--"Yes I got only 50%.Yes I failed." When my own son who is only 10, comes back from school after they have got an exam result I get calls from other moms asking how much he scored. I refuse to answer them (Most of the time my son would have got marks in nineties, out of hundred--and though I do feel happy I never tell other moms) I feel really bad for those children who are being compared constantly and I refuse to fuel it. Anant's mother was so strong and his dad was so supportive. Most importantly they had the courage to stand up for Anant and face society. They never compared him with his younger brother who does very well ,academically.

A person is so much more than the sum total of his marks. In India, increasingly academic excellence is given so much importance and toppers (especially the ones who make it to the supposedly hallowed portals of IIT) are glorified, almost deified. In such an atmosphere, I could only think of what guts and courage it must have taken for his parents to hold their own.

When you see Anant today, he is charming, confident and bears no scars (and is one hunk of a guy). He worked extremely hard to overcome his condition. I really admired his spirit. The newspaper article that I wrote had a word limit of just 450 words. So I had to blog about it.

What I have uploaded is the the published article (click on it to enlarge and read) which appeared in Times of India's Eastside plus, on 6th June 2008. It just proves that hard work and determination can indeed work miracles. If you want to make a difference in your life, you have to make that difficult journey and it all begins with a small step.

Talking of journeys in a different mode, I am going on one tomorrow. I am going here and am really looking forward to it. So I will not be able to visit your blogs or update mine for a while as I will have limited Internet access there. Of course I will be writing about it :)

See you all when I get back.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Hard to digest

Click to enlarge--for full article see Readers Digest Joy June issue

Chances are that if you speak English, no matter which country you live in currently, you have read at least one copy of Readers Digest. (Or at the very least flipped through it)
Although Reader's Digest was founded in the U.S, its international editions have made it the best-selling monthly magazine in the world. The magazine's worldwide circulation including all editions has reached 21 million copies and over 100 million readers.
Reader's Digest is currently published in 50 editions and 21 languages and is available in over 61 countries. It also happens to be India’s largest selling English magazine.

It is a monthly general interest family magazine that stands for quality writing and has been around since 1922. For me memories of it are indelible as they are associated with my childhood.

It was in 1981, when I was about nine that I first stumbled upon Readers Digest. My dad had a huge collection which he had hard bound. He had issues from 1971 to about 1978. It was great to find them and see products advertised that no longer existed! It was like going back in a time capsule. I read them all. I devoured each word. I laughed at some jokes which I didn’t understand (I was only nine, remember) because I felt very important reading them.

Some of the stories inspired me. I marvelled at the way some people wrote—the language, the wit, the clever puns, and the style. I soaked it all in. There was one underlying thread in almost all the articles—values. Readers digest stood for values like honesty, courage, positive attitude, generosity, kindness and a human spirit of love and understanding and strong family bonds.

I never thought that one day I would be writing for them. The latest issue of Readers Digest Joy which piggy backs with Readers Digest is now on the news stands in India and Nepal—and it has an article that I wrote—“Five fun ways to foster family bonds.”
It was one piece that I truly enjoyed writing and had worked hard at it. Even though I write regularly for Times of India’ s edition in my city and also for a few other magazines (so seeing my name in print is not exactly new) I was still delighted to be associated with Readers Digest.

I wished my dad was alive to share my joy. He would have understood what it meant and would have been so proud. Somehow when people tell me that he is watching wherever he is, he is with you in spirit etc, it just doesn’t work. It is also ironical because I had first started writing, to get over the grief of losing him. I so miss him. I so miss talking to him.
The unchanging fact is he is gone, and there is nothing I can do to bring him back.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Art. From the heart.

Farrukh Dhondy (Novelist, Short story writer, Screenplay writer, Journalist. ) wrote a piece in the newspaper today about Indian art where he said that that most Buyers don’t know a Matisse from a Mattress or a Chagall from a Shag-all. He said there are thousands of idiots out there with more money than taste or sense and most of them just want to boast about the price and that they will tell you what they paid as you try to take in the composition of the hung artifact. May be Dhondy is exaggerating a wee bit but yes, I hate to admit, he is right.

Most people are flummoxed when it comes to Art. I have written previously too about Surrealist and Modern Art and Niall Young, who is an amazing artist , a hyper pointillist (and a wonderful human being) agrees with me. He says “I favour the viewer/listener/reader to discern their own meanings.” If the picture ‘speaks to you’ it is Art. If it moves you in some way, if it fills you with a sense of awe, if it compels you to look at it again and again, if it beckons you, fascinates you and allures you, it is Art.

Since I paint myself, I know how much of feeling and passion goes into a piece. Like most Artists, I can paint only when I feel deeply. When mere words don’t suffice, that is when I turn to my paints. It is a compelling, driving, extremely deep and a powerful force that makes me take up my paints. I have no control over it. When it evades, it takes over me completely. The image flashes in my mind and the thoughts go round and round in my head until I must spill it on to a canvas, else I’ll burst. Once I start a picture nothing else matters till I finish it—I forget everything—I forget I am a mother, a wife, a woman, a person. I forget hunger, thirst, pain, irritation. I go into a different world. The high lasts a while and when it is over I am emotionally drained. That is how powerful Art is to me.

I don’t claim to be a great artist, but my paintings are a deep expression of something that moved me—something that affected me. I cannot paint ‘just like that’. (Unless of course they are landscapes from photos or a scene in front of me that I am depicting) Most of my pieces are bits of my pain, my joy, my sadness, my frustration, my amusement---it may not be wrong to say that they are bits of my soul.

Here is one I made a while back.

Sometimes people whom I hardly know ask me casually to paint a picture for them. I just smile and change the topic. The truth is, no matter what others say or think about my paintings, they mean the world to me and I paint for myself, not for others. There are only very very few people for whom I have painted and gifted my paintings to. Making a painting for someone is like writing a poem for somebody. It is a gift from the heart. It cannot be demanded or bought. It has to be earned.

I made another one for a good friend recently. It is a simple picture—Ink on handmade paper. It is called ‘Happy as a lark’. The photo fails to capture the beauty of the handmade paper. But he still liked it.

And I was happy.

Oh and yes, one more thing--if you liked my pics, don't forget to leave me a comment :-)

If you want to view more of my paintings click here.