Bench Press

It was dispassionately humid outside, still the spot was located right under the nose of the efficient air conditioner, the blades of which were pointed downwards, in my direction. So all was cool. Was it? For resilient beads of perspiration had already formed a beeline on my forehead, moments away from turning an avalanche. Agreed, I’m a chronic sweater, but not under a Daikin blowing facewards at 16 degrees.
So what else could this hyper sweating be attributed to- metabolism, nope, given the fact that it had slowed considerably over the past several months. Maybe heat from physical activity, maybe if incessant winking counted as one. So, no.So, why else was I on the verge of becoming a damp-salty bundle in a matter of minutes?
I was seeing a man’s face from that perspective after months, his facing mine from above, a spotless body of a steel rod coming between our viewing parameter. The steel rod had plates on either side, heavy enough to constitute three fourths of my body weight between them. I was lying there on my back to do my bench press, a religious routine from a nearby past. And I was afraid, if I would be able to lift as much I did back then.

I was used to it being an autonomous gig,  never quite liked the assistance of a trainer. For I was not just lifting weights, but my pain threshold with every iteration. And I was not just pumping my chest, but my ego. But today was different, I felt like an insulated shadow of myself and had requested a trainer to oversee. I was nervous of making a clumsy fool of myself. Most of the epiphanies and after thoughts that come to me, have come to me in the gym. Body building to me at some level is a deeply spiritual process and I hadn’t loathed hogging ever more in my life than in that particular moment where I had supervision while peeping into my soul. At that moment, the weight of the plates on either side of the rod wasn’t the only thing I was trying to lift.

Hands stretched upwards, I felt the earmarked creases on the rod with my wet palm, to get a grip. I had instructed the trainer to tune his concern down a tad bit- not assist- and just be a moral support.I weighed in my head and it felt doable. In one effortless heave, I unseated the rod from its hold and there it was, firm and steady in my hands in the sweet spot above my chest. The last time my palm felt this validated, it was making warmth in a smart woman’s hold.

I eked my lift’s tenure for a few more seconds, I was soaking in relief, that my trick hadn’t gone. After all it wasn’t one. I eventually put the rod back, thirty six iterations later.

Sweating from every pore, I stood there before the mirror, flexing my chest exaggeratedly; emphatic by the sight of some protrusions I could finally be proud about. I was back, to being myself. There are things that we do,like changing gears while driving that make subconscious impressions to remain etched in our memory forever, as hard as we try to drift away.  That day in the gym, I figured out that body building to me was like driving.

Something like true love

Who am I to describe love? A better question would be from where do I describe it?As an originator of my own stories or from the standpoint of a recipient or just as an undeserving person who’s hair was tousled by its zephyr. For so much has been told by so many, so many times in so many different ways. Like stories about encounters with God, there are a million first person accounts of how it felt to be hit by it, but very few have actually come eye to eye. Yet so many talk about having fallen under its endless wings, to put a halo around their togetherness. Every myth solidifies in stature to become a thing of faith with anecdotes and accounts woven . Love is no different.It finds its eternity in such fascinating stories. One such story came to my mind, that inspired me to yearn for this enigmatic emotion.


Twenty years earlier…


So she was a little short of twenty when her solicitous dad got her married off. Twenty wasn’t the only thing she was short of. She was yet to experience the feelings that came along with travel, relationships and work pressure; yet here she was, already staring at the threshold of matrimony on fast forward mode, thanks to a swift push of a button by her father.
Fair skinned, pleasant faced and well endowed- she was a single point leakage to the collective efficiency of her neighborhood men. Her husband was an average looking man; brown skinned with not a single striking feature. He was one of those generic people who could easily be lost in a crowded street.
As a very young kid, I didn’t make much of the marriage than the food that was served on the wedding night or the lopsidedness of their pairing.

Sixteen years earlier…

They begot a daughter, who was as respectable as adorable.A rare quality for a child of an impressionable age in our family, given the carefree(less) parenting style that usually prevailed. She no more looked like a pencil wrapped in a saree, maternity had made her a tad cherubic, but she was quite the looker still. By now, I was old enough to understand gentleman beyond their faces, her husband was one such person. He was no more the generic person from the wedding altar, he was a friendly man who I had grown up to become fond of.

Twelve years earlier…

They had moved into a new place when I saw them next. Their house felt like home; held together by something beyond brick and mortar in one congenial bond. Their daughter was old enough to understand stuff beyond arithmetics and alphabets. They now had a son who was yet to step out of from the clutches of gravity or gibberish. They were warm hosts, wonderful parents and a great couple. They couldn’t take their eyes of each other and I couldn’t off them. My relationship benchmark was forged back then, with their molds.

Five years earlier…

The next time when I visited them, she greeted me- her eyes incongruent to mine. Didn’t know till then that diabetes was capable of causing blindness . She used to write accounts for a handful of clients back then,she still does just like her dad. The vulnerability of blindness barely sunk into her, for he became her ersatz eyes and hands during that time. They worked together like one person, with him reading out from the bills and she reciting the accounting entries. The children had grown up into responsible adults, who took care of themselves and their parents with little fuss. Together they resembled a well oiled machine, with each of them dovetailing their needs to the larger cause of their family.

A few months earlier…

One afternoon, we got a call from her mom. She had met with a cardiac attack. Some thing cryptic about the way life operates; giving us more than we deserve, to only take more than it gave.
She had come out of her temporary blindness to resiliently firm up her family’s financial status, something that had eluded her father forever. She had made her children independent individuals who could take care of themselves, emotionally and financially. All of this, amidst the chaos from the periphery, provided by her folks and her pungent in-laws and her own dwindling health condition.

As I walked into her ward I saw him seated beside her. He was holding a magazine upside down, musing on her, as she lay asleep, pale and weak. Unperturbed by the raucous of the general ward or the gravitas of the circumstance, his face was the picture of calm in a storm.Over the years, She had lost her good looks, her youth, her father recently and yet he never left her side, through the thick and thin of life. I stood there embarrassed about claiming to have been in love a few times in my life. I still didn’t know what love was. But it definitely was a lot more deeper than a space created to decorate egos, held together by impressions made from first sight, coffee shop camaraderie and finding body warmth together under the fallacy of “making love”. Maybe it was about the inconvenient things that often go un-merchandised, like being unconditional, understanding and accomodative of each other like the two of them were.

It is surprising that the stories of eternal love,sacrifice and hope that we so often seek from the chapters of bestsellers,movies and history to stitch our torn souls, lie scattered around our own lives, waiting to be acknowledged.This is one such story from mine.

Kamal Haasan, the name says it all!

At sixty something,he’s a veteran now, a doyen in every dimension of the word. A crown jewel to the acting fraternity. His body of work and the influence it exudes statiting the obvious. But with regards to him, age is just a number. Not in the cliched way, that he looks eternally young. No. What I’m talking about is the fact that this stroke of genius which we see on screen these days to sheer bafflement didn’t get honed over the years to get there, it was there since forever.

Case in point being Nizhal Nijamagirathu that released in 1978. He plays Sanjeevi, an atheist with a communist affliation (his alter ego) with an authority that belongs to an oeuvre spanning a few decades of mastery.The way he struts across the terrace,nonchalantly crooning Kamban Emanthan,gives you the image of an actor expressing his feelings, not the lyrics.Mind you he was in his early twenties back then.
The way he looked into the eye of his woman, was stuff that made the cupid delirious. The way he dexterously wove poetry around the scaffolding of her humming on a then-and-there basis in the Sipi Irukudhu,Muthum Irukudhu sequence from Varumaiyin Niram Sigappu,stands testimony to his prowess in romance.Most of his mainstream movies treated women as capable peers- strong willed and independent- not just as objects of desire or the shrews that needed to be tamed.

There was something about his mojo, his portrayals endeared while continuing to enthral. It is not now, but even back then, he breathed fresh life into the male protagonist prototype. When every A-lister around him back then, was content playing monochromatic-single note characters; he plumbed the depths of the flawed vulnerable man with aplomb.
Take Unnal Mudiyum Thambi, where he sits down for dinner after showdown with his idealistic father. Red faced he rants about the importance of being a good human being over a good musician. He simmers about how the confrontation before didn’t affect his appetite. Then he quivers. In a moment the red in the face pales down, anger segues into disappointment, as he breaks down leaving the food unattended.

Satya was about a angry young man, alright. Not the noblest of character sketches in the Indian panorama during the eighties one might’ve assumed, with his peers- Rajinikanth and Amitabh playing it to great effect in every other movie. But what Kamal did to the archetype, few have managed. He added a humane coat to its larger-than-life stature. Beyond the dishoom-dishoom, Satya was a guilt saddled son, who rightfully felt instigated when touched beyond the tip of his nose. The outcome of his instigation weren’t only street fights like the norm used to be. Instead, it sometimes came out as heartfelt meltdown like the one with Amala in the jeep or a sarcastic rant at the hypocrisy of his neighbourhood, who wouldn’t testify to a dear one’s murder.

Kuruthipunal opens with a letter, a prologue of sorts in his baritone, addressing the societal disparities and the bloodbath that sucked him into it. His is a voice endowed with a sonorous finesse to it. His diction brings a certain credibility to the proceedings, even before a scene begins to kick in. You almost feel like, his granular articulation could baptise the crudest of swear words and tackiest of lines in Tamil.

There’s only so much a writer can write, so much the director can oversee; what transpires onscreen is the actor’s making. Imagine a generic scene-where a man in his forties meets his girl at a wedding and its love at first sight for him. He asks her to marry him immediatly and she accepts.This exactly is the sequence in Vettaiyadu Vilaiyadu where Raghavan proposes. Kamal waltz through the scene, while churning out corny lines playfully with his chivalry intact. He makes us totally buy his dramatic proposal and its acceptance. In a less gifted actor’s hands, this scene would’ve been another instance of craddle snatching patriarchy inundating our industry.
He brought along a certain dignity to onscreen break-downs. A rare sight back then, even more now. When his eyes welled up with disbelief as he stood islanded ,hit by an offhanded remark of his mother in Aboorva Sagotharargal, we sunk along with him. In Pammal.K.Sambandham when he naively stood there after being used by a woman he loved, asking her dumb things to cushion the gravitas of her rejection; a part of us died there.
Well, what could you say about a man who could direct as well as he could act. Sing as well as he could direct. Orate as well as he could sing. When Maniratnam was asked about Nayagan in an interview, he said,”When you have an actor like him, all you need to be is a pair of eyes and follow him“. That should pretty much sum him up.

When the heart goes, “Dil Chahta Hai”

Posterity is the hallmark of a great work of art. It is the ability to endear to the same person with different relevance in different phases of his life, while being relevant enough to be passed from one generation to another to another, along with wealth,beliefs and ideologies.
Every piece of art worth its salt does capture one’s attention, in a few cases even the imagination, the relevance eventually dissolves along with efflux of time, with changing tastes and sensibilities acquainting one to newer things; weaving cobwebs over erstwhile preferences.
While most creations go through this circle to die a natural death, a rare few manage eternity,leaving behind an indelible impression as- a memorable anecdote, a bookmark to a chapter of life and eventually go on to become a part of popular culture.Dil Chahta Hai is one of those rare pieces of art.Earlier on in the movie there’s a scene in which Tara does a character study from his paintings, calling out Sid’s bluff, as he watches her bring down his wall brick by back, seeing right into his naked soul. That very moment, he finds an unlikely soulmate in this much elder woman with more than a few demons to slay herself. The entire sequence is held together by a soulful score that trickles down unhurriedly in tandem to the happenings, delicately leaving behind a watershed impression without endeavoring to impress. This scene segues into the blissful “Kaisi he yeh,rutu ki jisme…” song  with montages of Sid making a meticulous portrait of Tara.
A younger man falling for a complicated elder woman was rather an outrageous concept back then in my first viewing, when I was on the threshold of puberty. So I grazed around the fence and caught on to the other stuff that glittered, like Samir’s escapades, Aakash’s playfulness and obviously the”Koi kahe, kehta rahe” anthem.But after putting up a decade to my age, some beard to my face and a string of failed relationships, I exactly knew from where the slap fell on Aakash’s face. I had over the years, tiptoed to Sid’s side. I knew why the rift had to come form, Aakash was wrong and it was only fair that his comeuppance came in the form of unrequited love later.

DCH is not only the gold standards of friendship. but a celebration of life itself. It manages the tight rope of staying relatable, while setting its issues against the pristine backdrop of its wealthy protagonists. You’ll not find a single poor looking person or place in the entire film, but not once will you find it to be a vanity fare with prosaic issues.
It fascinates me as to how the film feels like a multilayered concentric circle, peeling away into a newer layer with every iteration, taking you on a trip different from the last time.

If Aakash’s deadpan sarcasm appealed to me the last time, this time around after my break-up I found myself tumbling along with him on the picturesque streets of Melbourne, as he straddled along like a headless chicken; heart pulled out to a solicitous Sonu Nigam going “Ab kaha jaun Mein, Kisko Samjaun mein?“;as the painful melody of the Tanhayee song was inundating both our lives with the vicious shadow of separation.
I didn’t like it when he jokingly lied to her about seeing the fat opera singer- just like me- he didn’t know when to stop joking. I totally understood the gravitas of his dramatic confession on the night of her wedding; for men like him who’ve hidden behind the artifice of humour all their life fall down rather clumsily when confronted with a moment of truth. I was glad that he was able to win her back, unlike me.

I exactly knew from where those tears rolled down his cheeks, as he apologized to Sid. For he had come a long way from ridiculing love to falling in it, to eventually acknowledging another man’s.

This time,it felt like a different movie than the last time,the epiphanies coming from over Aakash’s shoulders. It was all about getting to know him better.Next time around, it would probably be about just Samir alone and his misadventures with the opposite sex.

The journey called Life



I was born into a story,
With little choice about my role or its running time,
There’s some magic in peeking  from the cliff of  an experience,
With little information about its culmination.
Some times sweet, some times bitter
And at times bitter sweet.

As they say,
Life is beauriful

When felt from the comforts of the own skin. 
For the magnificence of self embrace,
Can never be replicated in a thousand pats of approval.

Life to me is a continuous journey,
With foot trails alone to corroborate;

Meagre patches on the sands of time.
But viewed from the tower of destination one day;
Through the lenses of retrospect,

They would connect together backwards as dots that led me there,
Making more sense than they did,
When the thorns pierced through the feet,
Or when the legs grew numb.

That day the big picture would show itself to me;
One fashioned out of my wilful decisions,
Than wishful outcomes.

An indelible impression of me to leave behind.

 

 

 

Likes and Retweets

The myriad ways for people to stay connected now was a dream then; the way people stayed connected then is a dream now.

That was an era; bygone obviously, when people had a healthy relation with their neighbors, not the perfunctory association meetings about car park earmarking. People bled and emoted into letters for beloveds; who treasured them as trophies. Phone calls were a rationed luxury, that had to be booked in advance at the jurisdictional post office; run by a postmaster who doubled up as the agony aunt of his territory. Postmen were acquaintances who were jubilant with money orders and morose with telegrams carrying news of demise.

Friends were family actually, not friend-zoned on facebook. Men wrote love letters rife with metaphors.Women weren’t auditing proposals. “Shy” was the “blush” in vogue then. Good looking people were actually called handsome and beautiful.”Cute” used to be an expression reserved for fluffy mammals.

Then in the pompous wedding between inventions and preferences, the ouster of old school ways happened.Gradually, but steadily. People who grew radios for pets, had moved on to Ipods. People who once used typewriters and fax machines, started getting used by desktops to be it’s artificial intelligence. Life as we knew it,moved from before the monitor to within. Hard copy correspondences were softened in the edges for eco-friendly soft copy ones.

The radical metamorphosis of “What’s Up” is quite something. It started as a naive enquiry of a person beneath to replace “Hello” from common parlance to finally turn into an App that allows colonies of people to bitch about each other with ordered flexibility.

‘Liking’ is not the same as appreciating, like ‘retweeting’ is not the same as patronising.

The advent of Facebook,Twitter, Whatsapp, Skype among a thousand other applications has jeopardized human behaviour like never before changing the way people interact, express, emote with each other. Take the adulation behind a fanboy’s paper cutouts of Amitabh Bachchan during the 80s that cannot be likened with a retweet to a SRK tweet.

For that matter, the charm of a trip to a nearby photo studio to encapture a fond memory with a friend leaving abroad as opposed to a selfie at will.

There was an earnest effort in a direction that the heart took. A process involved. An aesthetic behind every aspect. A story to tell.

Our life run by PDAs is characterized by convenience sans the concern, the person sans the personal touch and most importantly, a robust structure sans the sanctity. We’ve become too involved to flatter our identity crisis to be our ‘virtual identity’,our alter ego fashioned on edited photos and manicured posts.

This relentless pursuit to simplification has led to a whole lot of utilities,tangible and intangible that have gone on to encapsulate processes, in the process rendering human discretion, vestigial. Take for instance, the need to buttonise emotions that has led to a bouquet of emoticons for every known histrionic. Now emoting in a conversation is a touch away in an emotionless world; where yellow balls have replaced the contribution of the facial muscle or writing to express.

There’s nothing which brings two people together than difference of opinions and the resultant fights. When two friends fought over an issue, they wrote elaborate letters,swore it out on phones and even landed a few punches when reasons dried out of the words uttered. There was a boiling point, courtesy the difference. Cooling point when reason prevailed over acrimony. Then the bond strengthened. I’ve heard men from my previous generation share such tales. I’ve found a few friends myself in the grind.

No one cares to go through the entire shebang. All it takes is stop liking a friend’s post consistently, exiting from a group or my personal favourite; not replying after a double blue tick.As simple as that.

From being impulsively angry when rubbed the wrong way; we’ve found solace in sly indifferences and inaction; settling for less friction over permanent solution. Anger,one of the most primal of expressions, that served as a language when men didn’t speak one, has positively been diluted into a pale caricature of it’s former self.

To ensure all hell broke loose;Zuckerberg has announced a possibility of a “dislike” button.So I dont like your looks, Im not happy abt your marriage, I hope you choke over your momos. All of this and more could be expressed with a single button.

What do I say about the faceless crusader activities on cyberspace. Are these endeavors intended to massage one’s tall alter ego or to scratch the itch of the lurking vigilante within?

Being part of an issue actively, participating in a demonstration is not the same as trading in hashtags.For one, there is no accountability;despite the tendency to flatter one’s self to being part of a collective conscious to the nation’s stand on a given issue.

So there is a genocide in Israel, people tweet with #WesupportIsrael to mark their solidarity. Would we trade in hashtags and coinages if our beloved vapourised?

Imagine #JewsforLunch trending over Hitler run Germany or #IndependenceFirstLook trending across India on the night of our independence. Resilience would had a new meaning then.Who knew apathy could be compartmentalized in such a virtual way, World wars would’ve been fought on different grounds.

Coming to think of it, yes the world indeed has shrunk in radius thanks to these social platforms. But have we drifted apart as people in the bargain?

Friend from under the table

.

He’s nothing like the fancy golden labrador who made the marital life of Owen Wilson and Jennfier Aniston blissful when they were childless. Neither is he a fluffy cat prototype who endeared to Phoebe, in who’s dedication she sang a “smelly” song. Nor is he like the congenial orangutan from Dunkston-checks in, who had a few tricks up his sleeve. He’s another newly born lizard(given the size)- the most marginalised variant of the reptilian lineage- who is neither amazing(Amazon) enough to tempt men like Steve Erwin to embark on sojourns, during prime time slots on Discovery. If the unflattering texture of his pale skin is anything to go by, he’s neither a looker. Not to mention the stigmatic appeal that precedes his kind, precluding them from being petted since forever.

Assuming that he’s a guy for convenience sake, I’m gonna call him Liz, a little girly for a guy, but never mind. So it all started with his timid interactions with my feet, especially the toes. I was a little too big for him to interface personally, so he probably  picked some one of his own size. The naive guy that he is, assumed my moving toes to be a bevy of bugs, lined up as a delicacy. So he would start going for it tactfully; hiding and pouncing smoothly at them. After many a failed attempts of attack- it seemed like he finally came to terms with the fact that they were after all not organisms below him in the food chain- his interactions  with them eventually became cordial. So he would sometimes deceitfully slip in from under the table, stare at them for a while and move his mouth as if in a purposeful conversation. Leave alone a female lizard, poor guy didn’t even have another lizard at crawling distance. I felt at times when he got horny, little devil,would treat the soft contours of my toes like an ersatz mate; trying to embrace them with his little limbs.

Slowly my stigma as old as me melted into endearment. I started becoming aware of his shenanigans to reach out, every time I sat before the computer table; legs stretched. I became watchful of my steps around him, especially any superfluous movement with the feet. He no more felt like a specimen, but like a fragile buddy who was all alone by himself in this big bad world- which was at times capable of making me feel like an insect- sans knowledge of its language nor its ways. He’s just a curious hopeful guy who just knew to survive for as long as he could in his little world, that stretched below my table, neither knowing day from night or right from wrong.
We never spoke in a common language, understood each other’s intentions like with cats and dogs through touch-this was a relation that had its roots in this part of my heart that made my head turn protectively, every time I saw a stray dog cross across a busy road clumsily . It is quite fascinating how our perspectives change with age and experience, making habits out of erstwhile taboos, friends out of strangers while making strangers out of friends and pets out of pet peeves.