Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, indeed!


adhm

(A still from the Hindi film, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil)

For me, unrequited love brings to mind these arresting opening lines from Marquez’s masterpiece Love in the Time of Cholera: “It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.” After watching Karan Johar’s latest, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, I’ve now found another poignant description of this bittersweet relationship–that unrequited love isn’t shared. It solely belongs to the one whose love isn’t returned … I don’t know if my translation does justice to the original Hindi dialogue, but it’s one of the most insightful lines I’ve ever heard in a mainstream Hindi film.

To my delight, the actor who spoke these words with the impassioned sensitivity it deserved wasn’t the film’s hero Ranbir Kapoor but the King of Romance himself, Shah Rukh Khan, who plays Tahir, the ex-husband of Saba, (essayed with quiet confidence by Aishwarya Rai.) I thought Johar had moved on from casting SRK in his love stories, but this cameo seemed like SRK’s way of declaring: “And that’s how it’s done.”

Of course, this doesn’t take away from what Ranbir Kapoor and Anushka Sharma bring to this film. They’ve sunk their teeth into their respective roles–as Ayan and Alizeh (what a name?). However, the film’s central relationship–Ayan’s unrequited love for Alizeh–just didn’t work for me. It was almost as though I was viewing Ranbir’s Ayan through Alizeh’s eyes. When Saba asks her why she didn’t fall in love with someone as charming as Ayan, she says he seemed like too much of a baby for her to fall in love with. I couldn’t agree more.

The love stories that engaged me were unfortunately just sparkling sub-plots. These include Tahir’s poignant love for his beautiful ex-wife, who shows up with her young lover for his art show, and Alizeh’s consuming love for the rugged Ali (portrayed by the “oh-so-dreamy” Fawad Khan).

While I grant that there’s only so much a film can depict, the Lit student in me felt these love stories needed the sweeping expanse of a novel to capture the contours of these flawed relationships. So to those who asked me if Ae Dil Hai Mushkil is any good, the answer is an emphatic yes. It deserves a viewing for its master take on unrequited love.

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I’m done with Breaking Bad


BreakingBadPhoto courtesy: AMC

Note: I wrote this post almost two months ago, but I’m only now getting around to publishing it. 

My break from Breaking Bad didn’t last long. A few days later, I resumed watching the show. Turns out that gut-wrenching scene that shook me to my very core was just par for the course. It was like acclimating myself before embarking on an arduous trek. When I’d gone trekking in the Himalayas almost a decade ago, our group first went on a shorter trek to a nearby hill. I returned from that test run tired and nauseated. I even threw up. Thankfully, I was fine albeit slow for the rest of the trek.

Similarly, those scenes depicting that neglected child of two methheads acclimated me to Breaking Bad‘s horrific emotional landscape–horrors that encompass both adults and children. I witnessed a decapitated head on a tortoise; a scene that depicts how that head ended up on a tortoise; a daughter left to die of drug overdose; her grief-stricken father causing an inadvertent mid-air collision; cartels that use children in their drug trade; children left orphaned by parents embroiled in the drug trade … All these scenes hardened my sensibility as a TV viewer. In that sense, my journey through these five seasons paralleled Walter White’s descent from a decent family man to a hardened criminal. The man who in season 1 wrote a pro and con list to decide the fate of a ruthless drug dealer eventually thinks nothing of poisoning a child to further his interests. And the only person who was shocked by this act, when season five rolled on, was Jesse Pinkman, not me.

I was more angry than shocked. I empathized with Flynn’s outrage when he thundered,”Why aren’t you dead already?” Yes, my sympathies firmly lay with Walt’s family: the horrified Skylar, the traumatized Flynn, the blameless baby Holly, whom you know will not have a happy life ahead of her.

Although you enjoy the drama, you always know that a story about a man who becomes a drug kingpin will not have a happy ending. How do you cope?  The key is to think, not feel. The only way to make sense of all that transpired on the show is to think of what led to this series of events and learn lessons from the tragedies that unfolded.

For me, it helped to view Walter White as the quintessential tragic hero. His hubris was his fatal flaw, and he realizes it right before he dies. He admits to Skylar that he cooked meth primarily for his needs and not for his family as he’d always proclaimed. He was good at it, and it made him feel alive. The tragedy of this tale is that his desire to feel alive left so many others dead and deadened.

 

Why I’m taking a break from Breaking Bad


I’m a typical girl. I’m everything macho men and women–the ones who think they’re one of the guys–hate about girls. I love romantic comedies. I love pink. I love babies. I’m scared of the dark, cockroaches, and scorpions (I live in Arizona, after all). Tragic scenes in TV shows and movies make me cry. This list could go on and on.

So it was surprising that good old girly me– who’s currently binge-watching Gilmore Girls for the zillionth time–had mustered the guts to watch a gritty show like Breaking Bad. I made this decision as Bharath and I were running out of things we could watch together. We couldn’t go on watching Friends forever. Moreover, Breaking Bad is hailed as one of the greatest TV shows of all times. So I decided to toughen up my TV palate and watch the show.

And what do you know? I actually enjoyed it. Yes, it depicted the ugly world of drugs and the violence it involves, but there were also flawed people at the center of the show that made it so compelling. A male version of Desperate Housewives, if you ask me. Walt, the cancer-stricken overqualified chemistry teacher who resorts to cooking meth to secure the financial future of a family he’d soon leave behind. Skylar, the hapless devoted wife who has to deal with a surprise pregnancy and a husband who’s growing increasingly distant. I loved watching them and the other characters that people this drama about a man who chooses to enter a dangerous world under desperate circumstances.

I held on to these aspects as I sat through gory scenes unlike anything I’d ever seen. A chemically disintegrated body that plops down from the ceiling. A psychotic drug lord who beats his henchman to death. I stomached all this and more until the second season–until that scene when Jesse, Walt’s partner in crime,  musters the courage to kill a couple of methheads who’d stolen a batch of meth from one of his drug dealers. As he breaks into this run-down, filthy home and waits for the two to arrive, he’s taken by surprise when a scruffy little boy who seems to have just woken up toddles into the living room and switches on the TV. When Jesse later tries talking to him, the boy says he’s hungry.

This scene churned my stomach in ways the blood and gore of previous episodes just didn’t. My desire to binge-watch the show stopped after this episode. I needed a break from Breaking Bad. Was I being a girl again? No. I was being a mom who couldn’t bear seeing a neglected child.

What kind of a mother am I?


Tiger mom

(Images courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

About six months ago, I read the controversial book The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother just to find out how the author Amy Chua could possibly justify a Hitleresque approach to parenting. Based on what I’d read about the book, I assumed this would be the perspective of someone with a rigid idea of success, a lot like the Tam-Brahm maamis (Tamil Brahmin ladies) whose sole purpose in life is to get their sons into a good engineering college, preferably the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). (Mint on Sunday had made this comparison as well. You can read it here.)

Having grown up in Chennai and having studied in a school where getting into IIT was more sacrosanct than attaining nirvana, I’m no stranger to the Tiger Mother school of thought. My own mother expected me to be self-motivated and an academic achiever like her, sing Thyagaraja keerthanas like a junior M S Subbulakshmi, dance like a young Padma Subramaniam, and someday win the Nobel Prize. (I kid you not!) Unfortunately, she was no Tiger Mother; she was just a plain old cat, and I was a hapless kitten surrounded by a brood of big cats—Tiger Mothers, Leonine teachers, and Cheetah cubs. It’s a wonder I even got out alive from the jungle we call the Indian education system.

So imagine my surprise when I found myself agreeing with Amy Chua’s premise: that she pushed her daughters to excel for their own good, that the more they worked hard on something, the better they got, thereby becoming more self-confident. Having battled self-confidence issues all my life, Chua’s earnest rationale resonated with me. Several of my female peers battle self-confidence issues as well, and I wonder if this has anything to do with the way girls are raised in India. (That’s certainly a discussion for another day.)

Another big surprise—this book is more about artistic excellence than academic achievement. As someone who has learnt Indian classical dance and music, I know the importance of “sadhana” or practice in perfecting one’s art. And I understood Chua’s need to push her daughters to practise their instruments. She reasons, in her scathing style, that if it were left to children to pursue their passion, all they’d want to do is Facebook for ten hours and eat junk food.

Some of my assumptions, however, did turn out to be true. She is definitely harsh on her kids. Though she claims this book is a self-parody, it hardly reads like one. It appears she’s utterly convinced about her parenting style as opposed to what she calls the permissive Western style of parenting. Yet, she conveniently overlooks the fact that her husband is a product of that vilified parenting model. He went to an Ivy League school and even got into Julliard (although he didn’t stick it out there), and from her account, I don’t think Chua’s mother-in-law was a Tiger Mother.

Eventually, she concedes that her style of parenting may not always work. It did with her eldest daughter, but it didn’t with her youngest. But you’ll have to read the book to find out how her approach wins in the end, after all.

While I agree with certain aspects of her parenting style, it appears that being a Tiger Mother is centered on being successful. Chua’s idea of success is about being better than everyone else and not just being better than what you were earlier. That’s my biggest gripe with her approach.

There are so many ideas of success out there. To me, a successful person is someone who can deal with terrible lows and still have the capacity for joy. Success is using your skills to be of value to others and not just yourself. Can a Tiger Mother facilitate this kind of success in her children?

I think I’m more comfortable with the “Elephant Mother” parenting style. This approach gained currency through an article published in The Atlantic by author Priyanka Sharma-Sindhar. She talks about an approach to parenting that involves nurturing and encouraging children especially in their early years. I was instinctively drawn to this approach. I know it’s a tough world out there. That’s why I want to be the nurturing influence in my daughter’s life. Far from making her soft, I think it will make her secure.

Elephant

Such an approach isn’t permissive either. Parents can still set boundaries and launch their kids on the path to success without being a feline nag. An example that comes to my mind is Karolj Seles, the father of former Tennis champion Monica Seles. (I was always a Monica fan!) Stories about how he would draw Tom and Jerry figures on tennis balls to get Monica interested in the game are well-known. There’s an elephant parent.

Closer home, an excellent example is my own mother-in-law, a Tam-Brahm maami who deserves a place in the elephant parent hall of fame. My husband tells me that she has never yelled at him. Instead, she’d gently yet firmly get him to do what needed to be done. Considering she had to raise him alone for the better part of her life, I think she did an excellent job. He did well in school and sports, went on to have a successful career, and eventually, a fulfilling personal life. The key outcome here isn’t just achievement but wholesome development, which can only stem from a sense of security. If you don’t get that security at home—from a loving, nurturing parent—you’re going to have a harder time finding that validation from the outside world.

 

Five things I love about living in the United States


 

The nursing space at an IKEA store in Tempe, Arizona.

 This has been a year of firsts for me in many respects. Not only did I become a new mother, I’m now living abroad too, albeit temporarily.

I’ve always wanted to experience a culture other than my own (even though I experience bouts of homesickness from time to time). The United States, therefore, is a great place to embark on this adventure for this country isn’t new to me. I’ve grown up watching American shows and have several cousins in the US. What’s more, I’ve travelled to this part of the world earlier as well.

Still, merely visiting a place or hearing about it is not the same as living in one. For example, many NRIs complain about how they have no domestic help in America. However, what they don’t reveal is that doing chores is hardly a chore in the Western world. I’m discovering a whole new world of convenience and comfort. It makes living away from Bangalore that much more bearable. So, in this post, I’m going to list five aspects of living in the United States that I’ll definitely miss when I head back to India by the end of the year. (These are all mostly home-related as I’m experiencing another first–being a stay-at-home mom 🙂 )

A. Dishwasher: As someone who would grudgingly wash dishes at the end of a long day or conveniently ignore this chore if I didn’t feel like it (almost every other day), I can’t tell you what a modern marvel the dishwasher is. I love that a machine competently washes my vessels while I can kick back on the couch after a meal. What’s so tiring about washing vessels, some may say. Just like a piece of cake here and a bite of pizza there can bulk up your calorie intake, similarly a ladle here and a tumbler there results in a lot of effort, especially when done at the end of the day, all year long. Sure, we do have domestic help in India. But relying on the maid to do this job isn’t a viable option in my home for reasons I’m not at liberty to mention. So the dishwasher spares me the physical effort and mental stress.

B. Washer and dryer: Washing machines in India only do half of the job; they just wash clothes. Drying clothes is left to the mercy of the elements. In Bangalore, I had to ensure I did the laundry when the sun was shining nice and bright. If I forgot to dry my clothes by mid-day, I was doomed as the weather would suddenly make a u-turn, and it would begin pouring. My damp clothes would smell like stale fish until the next wash cycle. So the dryer is such a delight. I can do the laundry at any time of the day for I’m no longer held hostage by that grumpy goose that is the Bangalore weather:P

C. Disinfecting wipes: Not the most eco-friendly option, but supremely convenient. These tissues drenched in disinfecting liquid make it so easy to wipe stains, grime, unsightly residues, and anything else that makes you cringe. Suddenly, wiping the stovetop before I retire for the night isn’t a chore; it’s a pleasure. There’s something about cleaning spilt pasta sauce and tiny mustard seeds off the stovetop with the swipe of a tissue that’s therapeutic at the end of the day. It’s almost as if you’re wiping your frustrations away. Sure, the act of cleaning can be therapeutic even in India, but the sight of the ugly rag teeming with germs, which will have to be washed and scrubbed later, only adds to your frustration. Although I’ve discovered that such wipes are available in India as well, they’re not as economical to use on a daily basis. Still, anything that can wipe your stress away is worth any price. So I may just give it a try when I get back home 🙂

D. Coffee: I never thought much of American coffee during my previous visit to the United States. I’ve always loved a frothy tumbler of South Indian filter coffee with the right balance of milk and decoction. Black coffee was an abomination. All that changed when I moved to the US with a three-month old and suffered a serious case of jet lag. Suddenly, I was willing to try any coffee. That’s how I was lured into the heady world of deep roasts, French roasts, and morning blends. I love the full-bodied, pure coffee flavor so much that I can no longer savor chicory-laden filter coffee blends in India.

E. Nursing stations: I never stepped out to public places with my Dewdrop when I was India; it was the height of flu season back then. But here, it’s easier to go places with my cuddly darling. Family restrooms in malls make these outings even more convenient for these restrooms have nursing stations–compact spaces with comfy chairs on which mothers can nurse their babies in privacy. Some of these nursing rooms include changing stations as well. The nursing room pictured in this post is the one at IKEA.

I don’t know if such facilities exist in India as I never went to malls after Dewdrop was born, for the reason I mentioned earlier. The passport office in Bangalore did have a nursing room, which looked more like a changing room in an apparel store. It had a stool on which mothers were supposed nurse their babies. Whoever furnished this room probably thought having a baby strengthens women’s backs, so a seat with no back support would suffice. Still, any nursing room is better than no nursing room.

Of course, even if public spaces in India did have such rooms, I may not have noticed them as I was oblivious to such facilities before. But now that I’m a breastfeeding mom, a nursing room is to me the ultimate gesture of thoughtfulness.

My own baby


As I hold my Dewdrop and gently rock her to sleep, it occurs to me that I finally have a child to call my own. Before her, there were many others that evoked those maternal stirrings in me, but they weren’t my children and I wasn’t their mom.

One of my favorite babies was my cousin. When I was a girl, I thought she was the cutest kid I’d ever seen. She was bald and chubby with rasagulla cheeks, and I just wanted to eat her up. Unfortunately, my bear hugs would only make her bawl like a cherubic diva. She clearly preferred her mother’s touch to my scrawny hands. While that was to be expected, I’d still feel pangs of hurt.

As time went by and she became a little girl, we’d bond over color. I’d lovingly paint her nails every time she would bashfully demand: “Shammi akka, nail polish.”

When she was a teenager, we’d occasionally talk about books. I gifted her a copy of Love Story, and I was so touched when she thanked me for it on Facebook, on the eve of my wedding day. And when she became a young career woman, she’d inform me about leadership seminars and how she demanded a raise at work. I was so proud of her for she’d mastered a skill that I still haven’t.

While I think I’ve been a passable older sister to her, I’ve always known there was only so much I could be to her. She was only my cousin just as that apartment cutie who’d run to hug me when I’d go jogging was just my neighbour’s son, and that lovely girl who once snatched the phone from her mother’s hand to tell “Sharmi aunty” about her day was just my friend’s daughter.

If I may dare say this, my affection for the children of others was like window-shopping. I admired them from a distance even as I yearned to have one of my own someday. And now that I finally do, I’m elated to shower my prized possession with as many hugs, cuddles, and kisses as I want. (Of course, there are only so many cuddles I can squeeze in, what with the outpouring of affection she receives from her dad and grandma.)

I’m even happier that my child has eyes only for me. I love how she recognizes me every time I walk into a room and how her eyes follow me around as I go about my work. It’s indeed special to feel wanted. Then again, I’m the only bar in town (to quote a dialogue from Desperate Housewives) 😉 .

Now some of you may criticize me for equating children with a commodity, thanks to my window-shopping reference. But please know this: even though my Dewdrop is my prized possession, I have no illusions about owning her; she’ll always be her own person. Why, even as a two-month old, she already has a personality of her own. I marvel at how she demands my full attention when I nurse her, bringing the roof, fan, and light fixtures down if I dare hold a conversation when feeding her.

I realize that as her mother, I can only guide her. She’ll grow up with her own thoughts, dreams, and values, and they may not resemble mine in the least. They’ll be hers and hers alone, and all I can hope to be is a springboard from which she can launch the life of her dreams.

So are you enjoying motherhood?


… This is a question several people have asked me ever since my little Dewdrop made her grand entrance into this world two months ago. My answer to this question has always been: “It’s hard, but now I’m getting used to it.” It’s an honest answer, and yet I’d feel guilty every time I uttered those words. After all, motherhood is the holy grail of being a woman. Even if there’s enough information out there about how motherhood isn’t always as rosy as a baby’s cheeks, women who become mothers are expected to enjoy it as soon as their bundle of joy pops out. If not, they are bad mothers. At least, that’s what a voice inside my head would denounce.

However, if I tuned out the guilt and analyzed that dreaded question for what it was, I’d realize it’s unfair to pose this question to a new mother. After all, what’s enjoyable about sleep interrupted by the piercing cry of a newborn? How can anyone enjoy cracked nipples and sundry breastfeeding pains or analyzing why one’s precious bundle of joy is screaming her lungs out?

Nature doesn’t make it easy for new mothers either. All the feel-good hormones of pregnancy are flushed out once the baby is born. So, if women claim to feel high in the days after childbirth, they’ve probably been brainwashed or are in denial.

Let’s not kid ourselves (pun unintended 🙂 ). Women don’t become mothers for enjoyment. So, why do they do it? I’ll speak for myself here. Raising another human being is the greatest opportunity for personal growth. It’s about raising my game as a person. I have to put another’s needs above my own. I have to take care of myself so that I can take care of this tiny person who’s relying on me to survive. And I have to ensure this helpless being not only survives but thrives in a world that will surely make life difficult for her. It’s the toughest job I’ll ever have.

Indeed, this sense of responsibility can often be overwhelming. However, I know this anxiety will eventually make the experience worthwhile for enduring inconveniences are what facilitate moments of unparalleled joy: the faint smile of my baby when she sleeps, the way she gently yawns, stretches her tiny arms, and arches her baby back after a nap, the mesmerizing sound of her cooing, the layer of fat cushioning the dewy skin of what was until recently a wrinkly newborn–these are the fruits of my round-the-clock feeding schedule. The trick is to focus on these moments of joy.

I have to agree with what one of my friends told me: “I have met so many women who talk about the scary stuff of motherhood … My only tip is to enjoy each and every second of this phase as it will never come back again.” It’s the best piece of advice I’ve ever received. I know that I’ll miss this newborn phase of my Dewdrop when she learns to stand on her two feet. Later, when she’s out in the world, ready to lead her own life, I’ll only have photographs and videos to remember the time when she was a swaddled piece of my heart.

So as I settle into motherhood and begin to take pleasure in my Dewdrop’s every cry, coo, kick, and smile, I realize that enjoying motherhood is a process. It’s unfair to expect new mothers to instantly enjoy this phase. After all, there is a learning curve involved in being a mother, and nothing worth learning is ever easy.

So, the next time you congratulate a new mother, don’t ask her if she’s enjoying motherhood already. If she were looking for instant enjoyment, she would have checked into a spa, not the labor ward 🙂