On Food

Light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.

Not Lolita. I’m talking about food. Love of my life, filler of all voids, bearer of warm joys.

My relationship with food has been a complex one, to say the least. I’ve loved and relished food for as long as I can remember. All aspects of it – preparing, eating and hosting a feast. It’s been my way to celebrate joy, to deal with grief, to fend anxiety.

But it has also been accompanied by a lot of guilt. I have (or had) been overweight since I was a teen. It didn’t bother me for the longest time, because all I cared about was my grades in school. And those I managed to ace.

Eventually life happened and I had to acknowledge my body as much as I did my mind, along with the relation between the two. What I saw was wasn’t pleasant and that’s where I somehow got sucked into a vortex of self-loathing, body image issues and the absolute absence of self confidence.

I felt guilty every time I ate, but food was also the one thing that provided a semblance of comfort. It temporarily filled the voids in my life I didn’t want to acknowledge, hid scars I didn’t want to see, morphed the image of my life I so hated into something that was tolerable like an Instagram filter.

Before I knew I was addicted to that sense of comfort. I was aware of it and yet I wasn’t. I tried losing weight but never did have the grit to give up carbs and my PCOS didn’t do anything to make my life easier. I went through cycles that almost all of us do – lose some weight, gain it all back and more, hate yourself more than ever.

Sometime last year I was unwell and had to undergo a procedure that imposed severe dietary restrictions on me for a few months. I obviously ended up losing some weight, and I decided to use that as motivation and lose the excess weight once and for all.

I’m several kilos lighter now but my relationship with food continues to be complex. I see how I allowed myself to abuse my body with food but how do I get myself to curse something that was my friend in my darkest days? I find my body and my mind reacting to a brownie the same way it did a year ago.

What I did learn in these past months was a way to communicate with my stomach. Nay, I taught myself how to slow down and just listen to my stomach. If food was my friend, my stomach was my guide.

The stomach I spent more than half my life cursing because of how it made me look on the outside was in fact always on my side. It nourished me, took care of me, spoke to me. I just never bothered to listen. I stuffed it with food as fast as I could just so I wouldn’t have to listen.

But now I slow down. I pause so I can hear what it has to say. I stop when it says it’s had enough. We are friends now, at least I hope that we are.

But then its not just my stomach I have to listen to when I pause. In those spaces of supposed silence, I have no option but to hear the noises in my head. Watch the images that flood my mind. Feel the fear.

Fear of uncertainty, of the unknown, or the future, of the past, of the things I know and those that I don’t. Because I can no longer afford to reach for food to make all of that go away. I must now acknowledge the demons.

My stomach was never my enemy. My mind was. What was supposed to be my strength is ironically one that’s somehow entirely unleashed and turned itself into a serpent that has its grip around my neck.

I am getting help though. This time around, I refuse to give in. I am supposed to be in control of my mind, not the other way around. My mental health cannot be anything less than paramount in my list of priorities, even if that means being selfish. If I can train my mind to resist every extra morsel of rice, I sure as hell can get it to build some muscle.

I want my mind to listen to me the way I now listen to my stomach. I want my mind and my body to be one and maybe then, I can learn to love myself as a whole, and not just a sum of parts.

PS -Weight loss is not an achievement, the ability to overcome temptation is. Thin isn’t necessarily pretty, but there is relief in feeling more in control of your body. Weight is NOT the sole parameter of health (or beauty); the number on a scale is not indicative of character.




Customary New Year Post: 2018-19 ed.

Hello, peeps! I hope you’re all doing well. 

I didn’t write or read nearly enough in 2018.

But then again, 2018 was no ordinary year. (Also customary year end posts are convenient ideas, easy to write and a good way to wrap things up)

I graduated as a lawyer. Spent some months working for an Advocate I have looked up to as a role model since my earliest days as a student of law. I got a job. I lost a great deal of weight. (This is not an achievement, but the successful exercise of self-restraint is) I made some amazing friends and managed to stay in touch with the old ones. I did my best to be there for friends who were going through a hard time.

I also received heaps of rejections – from employers, and from people I thought were friends. I struggled with a toxic relationship, and then a painful and  taxing end to the same. I saw my mother battle with unimaginable physical pain, undergo surgery and a strenuous recovery. I got chicken pox in June and serious GI issues is October.

This has been an eventful year, to say the least. But as it comes to an end, I feel grateful for what it taught me.

I spent months looking for employment, and read countless emails of rejection. But my confidence did not waver. Not because I have great self-confidence – I have only trace amounts, I assure you.  I managed to plough through only because of the incredible support I had from friends and family – who checked-up on me, encouraged me, made me laugh, listened patiently if I whined, and most importantly, were never patronising.  I will always, always be grateful to these people, for holding my hand and patting my back and lending an ear (and a shoulder!) as I waded through those trying months.

The many months of struggle also forced me to think about my own ideas of achievement and success. Did I define them for myself, or did I allow myself to be influenced by all the noise around me? Are my parameters of success the same as ones for the boy sitting next to me? Can I measure out my individual milestones in monetary terms? What compromises am I okay with and what are the things for which I am unwilling to bend? These are questions I never asked myself, because I was so busy running.

But then there was a (seemingly) long period when everything seemed to be in limbo – suspended mid air where there was little action left for me to initiate. In that void I could no longer deflect these questions. This, too, I am grateful for. I’d rather know my stance today than discover it at a time when I cannot turn back. Or when the damage is already done. In fact, it worries me now that we are not encouraged to have these conversations with ourselves before making our choices. All the emphasis is on milestones that can be measured in empirical terms – marks, money, balance, promotions. No wonder we have one of the highest suicide rates in the world. I don’t have to lean left to recognise the problem here.

But this post is where I count my blessings. So here’s another one. I have immediate access to wise (and impartial) counsel on my phone. Not an app, no. I find encouragement and counsel (and a lot of laughs. and book recommendations) from some wonderfully wise and phenomenally mad ladies on a Whatsapp Group. We like to think of ourselves as four misfits who belong here, complete with all of our idiosyncrasies and flaws. One of them is my favorite-est storyteller of all time. Another is a wonder woman who can save the world by simply writing code. The third is one gifted with the ability to dissect a situation that seems chaotic, identify a pattern and offer a solution. The fourth, of course, is yours truly. We are the antithesis to Fight Club. We all like to read, we hate wearing pants, love to eat but have shitty metabolism rates. We want to have a social life but wish that was possible to accomplish in our PJs, inside our homes. You may find these women lurking around on this blog every once in a while.

Then there was the MeToo movement, which, for all its strengths and flaws, finally gave me the push to talk about my experience with sexual assault. Social Media allowed me to share my story anonymously with thousands of people. Despite some toxicity here and there, I found a sisterhood of women all of whom share a similar history. And there I found the courage to speak more openly, without the veil of anonymity. And that was cathartic.

MeToo also made me realise that I’m surrounded by extraordinary women in my life. Women who’ve shown courage, compassion and wisdom in the face of adversity and heartache. Women who embody the true spirit of feminism, which at its core, is about empathy more than it is about empowerment.

I also coloured my hair pink, which didn’t work out well and the colour bled too fast and I was left with weird blond hair with the texture of a much abused broom. I chopped it off and swore I’d never color my hair again. But I did. A burgandy+mahogany thing. And I love it. Good thing I was a putty in the hands of the rather charismatic hairstylist who was simply supposed to trim my split-ends.

I also did not purchase any perfumes this year. Not myself, anyway. I did convince the mother to buy one. But that was on duty free, okay? It’s criminal to walk away from a good deal on Chanel.

Ultimately, 2018 has left me with a thicker skin and a more hopeful heart. I wish you all a joyous new year. I wish you emotional and financial independence above all else. And good health to you and your families.

The Board Tornado

Note to all kids/cousins/friends et.al going through the fucking tornado that is Board Exam Results:

I won’t be foolish enough to say your marks do not matter. They do. But the only thing a high score can do for you is maybe allow easier access to a few opportunities. That’s about it.

And believe me, NOBODY will care about your marks or whether you managed to score .002% more than your friend once the admission season is over. It is by no means indicative of your intelligence or even hard work. Or what becomes of you in life.

Yes, you might have to work harder to prove your calibre to those who for some reason believe that an examination reflects your competence. But in my humble opinion, don’t begrudge that. It’s not fair, but we live in a country where being one in a million isn’t enough. You’ve got to be one in 10 million (or something on those lines). It’s a logistical impossibility for a college/employer to objectively select candidates based on qualitative criteria. Understand this, accept it and work accordingly. (In any case the world isn’t a fair place. We all have to deal with that)

And since I’m now giving gyaan, here’s some more of it – Things WILL get better. In a few years from now you’ll look back at this and realise how none of it really matters. Not the numbers anyway.

Personal experience: I’d scored well throughout my school life, thanks to our TamBrahm obsession with stellar academic performance. This was till I entered Class 12 and  suddenly realised I had little aptitude or interest in the sciences, let alone JEE. And I scored miserably. I didn’t crack entrance exams. I was this close to a breakdown.

In retrospect, it was the best thing that happened to me. There was no way I could’ve convinced my parents to allow me to pursue Arts, let alone meet the amazing people I came to know along the way, had I performed well in 12th and managed to make it to a decent engineering college. It allowed me to realise that my skill sets lie elsewhere and they are NOT worthless.

Here’s the thing: I cannot for a second say that the poor scores never came back to bite me in he ass. They did and still do. I’m asked about it in job interviews some times. When I applied for admission to Law School. But it’s hardly insurmountable. You just need to have something else to show for your abilities – later performances, projects, experience, research, innovation – anything. You’ll figure it out. Just keep working hard.

Gyaan #3 – The world doesn’t owe you anything. Stop grudging others or blaming engineering colleges for your problems. They are a problem, sure, but they have also paved way for countless opportunities for people to make a better life for themselves. Acknowledge that, and then the fact that you are consciously choosing a path that’s going to be harder. That you might have friends earning in lakhs while you still have to beg for an internship stipend. But this is your choice and you won’t look back. And you will eventually get where you want to be, as long you keep at it.

PS – Yes, yes, easier said than done. I still have days when I think I should’ve maybe just “worked harder” and done engineering and gotten a job and “settled”. But when I get into the details of this delusion, I realise what a nightmare it would be. And then I’m back to being grateful for the way things turned out. It’s not easy, but it’s mine and I like it. (Interspersed with days of anxiety and doubts but thats just a part of life.)

All the best for everything, you guys! This is a full on Bollywood masala and you haven’t even come to the interval yet. You’re probably at that hit song that comes up shortly after the opening credits in which Govinda dances on the streets . Tujhko mirchi lagi toh main kya karun?


Firdaus. Urf Jannat. Heaven.


There’s a popular saying in Persian about Kashmir – Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast, hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast. It roughly translates to “If there is a paradise on earth, it is this.”


I saw it for myself earlier this month. It’s been on Dad’s bucket list forever. And I’ve grown up listening to my grandfather’s anecdotes about the chinar tree from when he spent some months in Srinagar back in the 1960s.


As a family we’re making full use of the fact that I have all the time in the world (as of now). So we packed our bags and headed to Kashmir.


12 years of schooling etched CBSE into my DNA so I am only comfortable sharing experiences in points and lists. Read on to see how I struggle conditioned dispassion towards everything with genuine awe in trying to elaborate on my time in Kashmir.


  1. Will start with the one that is most obvious and hence, would get me max marks if this were an exam.

    Kashmir is stunning. Gorgeous. The many poems and songs in praise of its beauty have at no point overstated anything; if anything they’ve been rather modest, perhaps succumbing to the inadequacy of words.

    The hills are lush, the rivers crystal and ferocious, the roses across the valleys giant enough to put the finest bouquets to shame. The chinar trees spread across the valley are majestic and mighty; the matriarchs of Kashmir. (I was told by the local people that the Kashmiris regard the chinar as their mother) The wilderness is unkempt and unpruned; the closer you go, the more mysterious they get.

  2. As if the landscapes weren’t pretty enough, you have the people. Kashmiris are the most exceptionally attractive population I have ever laid my eyes on. Cheeks as if kissed by dewy roses and a jawline so chiselled, Sephora should launch a contouring kit named after them.


  1. Khoobsurati chehre pe hi nahi, dilon me bhi hai.Tots Bollywood but also very true. I’ve usually preferred travel destinations abroad over travelling within India for two reasons: cleaner toilets and more amiable people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting Indians are bad people. They just don’t find the need to be polite to tourists, especially domestic tourists. And they’re not always nice to women.

    Toilets were far from comfortable even in Kashmir. The people, however, are exceptionally wonderful. It took me a long time to wrap my mind around the fact that these people were genuinely nice, and I wasn’t experiencing a series of aberrations.

    Kashmiri people are kind, generous and unbelievably courteous. Sure, tourism is their primary source of income and they cannot afford to piss the tourists off. But they go way beyond common courtesies and efficient service. The staff at one of the lodges we stayed at prepared a whole host of Kashmiri dishes for our dinner, something that wasn’t included in the buffet we’d paid for. Another hotel refused to charge us for a halwawe decided to order in one night, insisting that it was their privilege to acquaint people with their local cuisine. They follow traffic discipline in a way that would put most Indian cities to shame (except in the matter of seatbelts). And these are just few of the many instances that left us absolutely floored. It’s almost idyllic in the way they help the ageing cross the streets and bring water to the homeless and ponies that seem to always waiting outside every window. Not exaggerating, aai shapath!

    These people are unfailingly warm and respectful, and this is despite their rather palpable issues with the Indian State (I’ll come to that in a bit)


  1. Speaking of lovely people, I must mention here our driver throughout the trip, Mr. Gulzar. (I prefer to say Gulzar saabthough, does more justice to the weight of his character)

    He saved the lives of 16 soldiers during the Kargil War and almost bled to death in the aftermath. Once he was done being a hero in real life, he went on to become quite the villain in reel life. It seems he was that guy in the bad guy gang that beat up Randhir Kapoor in Kasme Vaade and Rajesh Khanna in Roti. He’s also driven many of the 80s stars around in his car for shoots across the Kashmir valley. The man has several amusing anecdotes in his kitty, starring the brightest of Hindi cinema’s stars from the 80s.

    How do I explain his pleasant disposition except to say that I shall always fondly remember his hansmukh misaaj?


  1. I don’t remember having mentioned my obsession with rivers/oceans (water bodies in general) on this blog. So let me mention that now. I LOVE THE WATERS.

    I’ve been lucky to have grown up in a city situate on the coast of the massive Arabian Sea. The vast waters have always been a source of comfort and calm, and in that regard, Kashmir was my happy place. I had the fortune of dipping my feet in the icy cool waters of both Lidder and Sheshnag rivers and rafting across a small stretch of the Sindhu (Indus). And watch the foamy, ferocious flow of many others, especially the Jhelum.

    Couldn’t keep my feet in the ice cold water for any longer than 7 seconds at a time but the thrill was worth it. It makes me a little sad to think that the people living in the valleys have the fear of gunfire to mar the gurgle of its pristine waters.

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  1. About gunfire. We personally didn’t witness any; the trip was entirely peaceful. But there are armed personnel everywhere. EVERYWHERE. It’s hard not to be struck by the stark contrast between the vast saffron fields and the giant lethal weapons in the hands of those guarding them. There is palpable tension between the locals who feel like their homes have been encroached by the armed forces and the army that is probably just trying to do its job. This friction is the smog that clouds the heavens hiding in between the valleys. The elephant in the room, at least as far as tourists are concerned. We know its there but we don’t talk about it. You’re never quite sure what side you’re on, who is the wronged and who are the wrong doers.

    So you talk about the weather and the blooming fields and the saffron and the almond trees and the apple orchards and the walnuts and the cherries and the Mughal gardens and pretend that everything is fine.


  1. Speaking of elephants in the room, there is another thing that occurred me after almost a week into my stay in Kashmir. There is abundance of heritage and culture and yet, there is one thing that is strikingly absent.

    The Kashmiri Pandits. Had I not known about them, I would never have been able to guess that those people ever existed. All trace or evidence of their very existence is all but extinguished from the face of Kashmir. (or at least the towns and cities I visited and/or drove across) No sign boards, no shops, no houses, no temples (except the Shankaracharya, but that’s a heritage structure and there is no way to destroy that without inviting attention). Nothing.

    Our understanding of what happened to the Kashmiri Pandits is based entirely on stray media coverage (that gets little attention in light of the gravity of AFSPA) and heresay from refugees spread across the country. This is a tragedy. One I wish was spoken about more actively. I do not by any means intend to imply that other tragedies that have plagued the valley are in any way less significant. But the story of Kashmiri pandits cannot, should not, be erased from the pages of history, as it has been from the valleys that were once their home.


  1. There is one thing that every Kashmiri we interacted with asked of us when we said our goodbyes. “Pray for Kashmir”, they all say. And pray I shall.

    There are cinematic clichés about civilians paying the price for political power games on one side and extremist terrorism on the other. Now I see why the cliché exists. It is rooted in reality – a reality so evident and obvious it’s almost funny.

    It’s hard not to empathise with the people – so full of kindness and generosity, being eyed with suspicion by virtue of their very presence. They have got to be really, really nice if even someone as cynical and generally sceptical as me was so moved. There is such warmth in their welcoming smiles that even an atheist would perhaps wistfully hope for the cosmic powers to watch over and take care of these people, their homes, their fields, their rivers, their sheep, their children. (If I’m being blind or naïve or foolish or guilty of oversimplification – please don’t tell me about it. I choose to be foolish this one time)


  1. Too much sentimentality? Doesn’t sound like Twiggy, no? Moreover, I am not a fan of the number 8. Nine is way better. So I’ll come back to the hotness of Kashmiri men. I don’t understand why all of Bollywood is not full of Kashmiri people. Oh, and the men are very good at flirting! Old school, sledgehammer flirting. No time wasted in trying to be subtle or coming up with witty pick up lines. I’m going to miss being hit on by cute strangers who don’t sound the least bit creepy and actually leave you alone when you express disinterest. No questions asked, no dirty expletives spouted in a failed attempt to mask bruised egos. Such genuinely respectful people!


Okay so here are some photos. And CBSE also recommends ending every answer with a line of conclusion for getting that extra point. So,

Conclusion: Visit Kashmir, people! Beautiful place, beautiful people!


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PS: If you intend to buy Kashmiri carpets, pashmina shawls and other handicrafts, visit KCI Emporium on Shalimar Road, Srinagar. I can provide contact details to anyone planning a visit.

My Parents On Tinder (For Parents)

Yes, you read that right. My parents went through profiles, swiped left, swiped right. They chatted, got excited, got ghosted and ghosted some others. The whole production.

But Tinder is too immature for them. Plus they’re both already married so their life is sorted. The project is to get me married. So they’ve been busy checking out Tinder for Parents, aka shaadi.com (and the likes, especially ones dedicated to the peculiar species of TamBrahms).

I resisted the idea for the longest time, because I didn’t and still don’t find anything very exciting about the prospect of sharing a bathroom with someone for the rest of my life while being forced to tolerate (even if I choose not to give into them) several patriarchal expectations within the household. Like the rest of the world wasn’t enough. But there was a little arm twisting, some cajoling and just general exhaustion with the frequent arguments. And I acceded. What’s the worst that could happen any way, especially considering my parents are the last people in the world to force me into marriage?

So, with the blessings of some greying relatives, my parents began the search. Their filters for choosing boys included age, education, job prospects and the absence of too many sisters because my mother’s experience with sister-in-laws has not been very pleasant, to say the least. That’s the starting point. Then the men are rated on a scale of “patriarchal bastard” to “decent human being”. To my parents’ credit, they’ve rejected more men on Tamil Matrimony in one month than I rejected on Tinder in six.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, because on matrimonial websites people are more honest about their expectations from women, and you rarely find horny self proclaimed “sapiosexuals” on it. The simple demands from an ideal Indian bride may be summarised as follows (In points because I attended a CBSE school):

  1. Modern yet traditional (Meaning jeans might be allowed but no drinking or late nights)
  2. Good looking (euphemism for fair and thin)
  3. Should have excellent career prospects but with “family values” so strong that she always chooses the home over the office
  4. Must partner with the man to take care of his family (Also take over household duties when the maid vanishes). The bride’s family doesn’t matter, of course

In return for all this, some men are gracious enough to add a line about how they’re quite okay should the woman decide to continue work after marriage.

And while the expectations from the bride are almost always explained in great detail, there is rarely anything mentioned about what they’re willing to offer in a marriage. That is left for the prospective brides to deduce from the annual salaries mentioned on the profile.

I had smartly requested my parents (for entirely selfish reasons) to give preference to men who own pets (because doggos are the best) and those living in Mumbai (because I want the “main maike chali jaaungi” threat to sound real)

My parents thought the whole exercise would be fun, because they aren’t in any particular hurry for this marriage business. However, they found themselves perilously close to losing their faith in mankind. “Man”kind.  There were hardly any who met the simple benchmarks of “don’t be an ass” or “be half the man my Dad is.”

But, because my intention here (unlike what it seems) is not male bashing, let me admit that everyone was not an asshole (at least on paper). There were some who were, you know, nice.

Well, sort of.

I had the (mis)fortune of talking to two of them. Let me tell you about them.

Prospective Groom #1

Let’s call him MM.

I spoke to him for about 20 minutes one evening. He owns some business which makes these super cool semiconductors. They must be really cool because he didn’t utter one sentence in those 20 minutes which didn’t mention the word semiconductor. Reminded me of this old colleague of mine who’d graduated from Princeton and could never have a conversation without mentioning Princeton at least once.

At the end of the 20 minutes, he asked if we could “proceed with the alliance.” When I suggested there was no way I could answer that after just once phone call, he assumed I had an issue with his “background.” I assured him that wasn’t the case.

From the next day, I promptly received a “Good Morning” and “Good Night” forward on WhatsApp every single day. I had to say Good Bye the next week. I have no doubt he was a nice person, just not someone I could imagine holding a conversation with without freuquent and inordinate awkward silences.

Prospective Groom #2

Let’s call him PS.

PS seemed harmless at first. He was rather funny and polite enough and understood these decisions regarding matrimony took time. Eventually I discovered hidden land mines and then he dropped grenades and he even owned a Glock.

  1. He insinuated I was considering him as a groom because I wanted a green card to move to the US (Did I mention the fellow lives in the States?)
  2. Couldn’t stop talking about what an amazing cook his mother is. Which is great but kinda weird if mentioned 10874859 times in every conversation.
  3. He seemed unable to wrap his mind around why I’d want to do an LLM and then look for a job if I did end up moving to the States. I mean, he earns well so it makes no sense that I’d like to have a career too, right?
  4. He made fun of HIV patients.
  5. He kept munching on chips the whole fucking time we spoke. Every time. I have no issues with people eating, and call me old school but it’s basic decency to at least pretend that you take this call seriously. I’d hear the crunch of the chips more often than his voice.

5 is a nice number so I’ll stop here.

This process has made me want to actively start looking for men to date. The other day I found myself ogling at the men at the bar, wondering if the looks thrown my way were arrogant or charming. And if they smelled nice. And if they’d listen to 90s Bollywood songs with me. (And other things but the parents also read this blog sometimes). Meanwhile my parents are exhausted at the end of this experience and for the time being, they’ve just given up. I shimmied a little in joy.

The search is on, and I am sure this is hardly the end of my trysts with the arranged marriage conundrum. I shall fasten my seatbelt and hopefully learn to laugh at myself (and others, of course) along the way.

 PS – Sorry for the long absence from this delightful space. In my defence I am just an exam away from being a lawyer! LLB Twiggy ❤

On (The) Guide

I’ve decided to earmark 2017 as the year of non-fiction. However, the first exception to that was R.K Narayan’s The Guide – a book that has been on my reading list since I was in college, and one that landed RKN the prestigious Sahitya Academy Award, the highest literary honour in India.

Back in the 1960s, the book was adapted into a Bollywood movie (and an English film, which appeared and vanished without a trace in the history of cinema), a brainchild of the superstar Dev Anand.

The film is remembered even today for its terrific setting, stellar performances from Dev Anand and Waheeda Rahman, and the subliminal music by the legendary S.D. Burman. It was also supposed to be rather bold for its time – a story about an extra marital affair and an un-heroic hero in the lead was far from a foolproof formula for a superhit movie, notwithstanding the popularity of the lead actors.

But the risks paid off and Guide turned out to be a massive hit, pleasing the critics and the masses alike. Yet, RKN penned his displeasure with the film in an article published in Life Magazine, titled “The Misguided Guide.” I haven’t been able to get my hands on the article. However, having read the book now, his displeasure with the movie is hardly surprising.

I watched Guide some years ago and quite enjoyed it; not a favourite by any means but much better that most of the stock we produce. But now, viewing it from the lens of an adaptation, Vijay Anand’s Guide is a gross disappointment.

R.K. Narayan’s bravest, most commendable achievement in The Guide is his ability to question and ruffle the feathers of long established societal notions of “morality” and “culture”. Some would call this the highest duty cast upon any writer, and RKN accomplished that with nuance and aplomb. He does this through his protagonists – Rosie and Raju, both of whom fail to inspire any adoration or sympathy from the readers.

Rosie – her name itself is a middle finger in the face of all traditional notions of a “respectable” girl, something Raju observes at the very outset. He is discomfited by the fact that her name doesn’t quite gel with her appearance – that of a traditional South Indian girl, dressed modestly in a saree and married to a man of (presumably) high standing and pleasant disposition. Later in the novel, this name is changed to erase traces of her past and give to her an identity that would appease her target audience.

In the book, she allows herself to be seduced by another man, fully understanding the implications of her actions. Her behaviour oscillates as she tries to cope with her moral dilemmas; the war between her individual desires and her orthodox upbringing. But her adulterous tryst with Raju is not driven by her husband’s infidelity. Marco (her husband) is entirely disinterested in her life, and more importantly, disrespectful and disdainful of her cherished love and passion for the art of dance. He is emotionally and physically distant, and she is reduced to a trophy wife who means less to him that the furniture in his room. This emotional and spiritual void is what makes her accept the advances of a mere tour guide (Raju) and find comfort in his arms.

In the movie, however, her motivations are justified by showing that Marco indulged in an adulterous affair himself. Rosie, now a “wronged” woman, finds love in Raju. This tool of convenience is the first of the many ways in which Vijay Anand stripped the novel of its novelty. Why, is the thought of a woman leaving her husband for reasons other than infidelity so terribly incomprehensible to our sensibilities? This convenient shortcut is a sign of cowardice in a filmmaker, and to be honest, a disservice to the courage of RKN’s story.

Even as the novel proceeds, the audience is free to form their opinion of Rosie – to view her as a victim or a seductress, a selfish schemer or a helpless woman who was never afforded a chance by society. She is 50 shades of grey and then some. Her passion for dance supersedes all other obligations and she refuses to be constrained to the role of someone who is incomplete without an associate/partner. When Raju’s mother calls her a “serpent woman”, it is on its face a negative connotation. But when you really think about it, is it wrong to be a woman driven by individual passion and dreams that don’t involve other people? What is art to her is wilful seduction to others.

This psychological nuance is entirely absent from the film, which portrays Rosie as a woman who’s morality is largely unblemished despite the fact she indulges in an extra-marital affair. Her flaws are attributed to misunderstandings and not conscious choices. Every facility that moulds Rosie into a more obviously “acceptable” female protagonist is employed, diluting the rich layers so lovingly woven around his Rosie by RKN.

RKN’s Raju is, over and above everything else, an innately selfish man. He is further characterised by his vanity and his prowess at manipulating any situation to suit his needs. And he does so without a trace of guilt. Despite all of this, he is neither evil nor conniving; an anti-hero but hardly the villain.

He is bewitched by Rosie at first sight, and from that point his obsession with her is the only thing that drives his actions. What is for the longest time merely a carnal desire, blooms not into love but food to serve his vanity and puff up his ego, making him believe that he is both her saviour and protector; the benevolent charioteer of Rosie’s life without whom she would be lost and destitute.

To his chagrin, he discovers in time that Rosie is not someone who needs a saviour; she has the ability and the intent to find happiness even in his absence, and she isn’t remotely emotionally dependent on him as he had once assumed. His male ego is deeply bruised, driving him to act recklessly, which ultimately lands him in prison.

The catalyst behind this final act that leads to his conviction is again starkly different in the film and the book. RKN’s Raju acts out of pettiness, jealousy and insecurity – there are no tender feelings involved. In the movie, however, it is implied that Raju’s act is that of a helpless lover who absolutely cannot bear to lose Rosie’s affection for him.

RKN’s Raju is not a man to be liked by anyone, let alone by Rosie. Vijay Anand makes him out to be a hero that he is not. Whether this was a reluctance to acknowledge the evils of masculine egotism or just an attempt to make the protagonist more likable, or both, one cannot tell. But the fact remains that the filmmakers chickened out of exploring the complexities of human nature, choosing instead to romanticise every aspect.

In the last leg of the story, Narayan’s Raju is trapped in the web of fiction he has created for himself as a God-man; his greatest weapon (almost) becomes his greatest threat. His decision to fast is for the longest time not a voluntary choice, but a (bad) hand dealt to him by fate. Only gradually does he show empathy to the suffering of the villagers – people who literally worship the ground he walks on and who have placed utmost faith in him even in trying times. He is moved by their naivety more than anything else. This, coupled with the complete absence of an alternative, is why he decides to make a sincere attempt to help them out of their misery – even if it is blind and superstitious and whimsical. In the last few pages of the novel, Raju’s journey hits its zenith as his actions are, for the very first time, not driven by his ego or in an attempt to make the best of an opportunity or to fulfil a selfish desire. This is the first, (and presumably the final) selfless act on his part.

However, at no point does RKN even suggest that this final act is meant to be anything resembling redemption. There is no remorse, no magical moment of self-realisation or nirvana, no effort at absolution. It is merely a culmination of the game of destiny. Adaptation.

Vijay Anand, however, succumbs to the typically Bollywood temptation of giving the audience a perfectly ideal and happy ending – the hero rises to the occasion and saves the day, reunites with the love of his life and his family and emerges as an epitome of goodness and truth.

I have two issues with this.

Firstly, this oversimplification takes away the essence of the original Raju of RKN’s creation. Of course, the director enjoys artistic liberties and he had every right to treat the character as he pleased. I am just saying that in doing what he did, Vijay Anand managed to use cinematic tools not to elevate the story to a higher level, but to reduce the same to a simple love story which lacks any ingenuity or chutzpah.

Secondly, considering this movie was released in the 1960s when India was fiercely trying to uproot long standing superstitions and build a scientific temperament in the public, Anand’s choice of ending was socially irresponsible. R.K Narayan was careful to leave the ending ambiguous, and that was a smart thing to do. His tone throughout he novel is that of a mere observer, giving free reign to the audience to make their deductions.

Anand on the other hand decided to entertain the audience with happy miracles; Raju’s sincere penance leads to the end of the long drought, bringing joy and happiness to all in question, including himself as he reunites with his mother as well as Rosie. Back in the 60s, this would’ve reinforced in the minds of public the idea that God-men indeed have the ability to work miracles. Modern irrigation could go to hell.

My final gripe with Guide in my gripe with almost all of Bollywood. It has decided that India consists only of a few northern states, while the South of India only exists for comic relief in the form of caricatured sidekicks. As a friend of mine, in her review of the book said, “…the truly South Indian flavor which is so richly scattered in the pages of the book (you can almost smell the coffee every time it is offered to someone, you can almost taste the bonda that the holy Raju so craves!) was completely marginalized in the film.”

I couldn’t agree more with her observation. RKN’s Malgudi might be a fictional town but there is no one who will dispute the fact that he infused such life into it through his writings that it is perhaps more real than any city one has lived in. He sketches life in that small town with such loving detail, rich with culture and language and history – all of which has been almost cruelly ignored in the movie. Because South India is not quite pleasing enough for Bollywood. (But South Indian actresses are just fine. As long as they are fair skinned, of course)

Yes, Vijay Anand’s Guide is visually spectacular, and was a brave story that broke some cinematic barriers in its time. Dev Anand did as much justice as he could to the character of Raju given this severely diluted version of RKN’s original, especially in the scenes leading up to the climax. And Waheeda Rahman brought a depth and personality to Rosie that was nothing short of stunning, something even RKN acknowledged.

However, all said and done, when viewed solely as an adaptation, the movie is virgin mojito to the premium scotch that was R.K Narayan’s masterpiece.




I went to Bangalore

A friend texted me this Monday asking if I was doing okay. This text was followed by another explanatory text – it seems she was worried because I had made no appearance on Whatapp or any other social media for a little over four days. Which is unusual.

I wouldn’t say I am addicted to social media but I do pay a visit at least once a day.

In my response I mentioned that she needn’t have worried – this prolonged (?) absence over the long weekend was because I was having way too much fun to bother with my phone.

And I did have fun. I spent four days last week(end) meeting up with friends in Bangalore and had the most fun I’ve had in a long, long time. Here’s all that I did in those 4 days:

  1. Chat/gossip/giggle/ with friends
  2. Watched a movie – Raees may have been a disappointing film but that was mostly made up for by the smouldering hotness of Shahrukh Khan. He is the Badshah alright. The King in Pathani suit FTW. Ovaries somersaulted in excitement. And those kohled eyes – Lord have mercy.
  3. Eat (Some Margarita may also have been involved. Also the best waffles ever. And a supremely cute attendant)
  4. Book shopping
  5. Cooking
  6. Trump bashing (while watching CNN on mute)

Oh and some time was also spent in the company of a fabulously cool and adorable kid.

I had nothing on my agenda – which is the best kind of agenda. So there was time – time to laugh and share and make memories. And memories we did make. Enough to make me want to sulk when it was time to head back home.

Ooh – and how many of you have been treated to the luxury of having someone to receive you at Bangalore airport, huh? MY FRIEND WAS THERE TO RECEIVE ME. Can you beat that?

Here’s the best part. The friends with whom I had so much fun are:

  1. People with whom I have shared a virtual, “online” friendship with for over 4 years now
  2. Older to me by a decade.

What better proof to affirm the already established truth that I am in fact an old soul? Or maybe my friends are all young at heart. It doesn’t matter. Because at the end of the day, everything was almost shockingly effortless.

It has little to do with me and almost everything to do with them. They are wise, kind, generous people who opened their hearts (and homes!) and let me in to have a most wonderful time.

I returned home a kilo heavier and several kilos happier.  And happy times must be documented.

I hope you all had a fabulous January 🙂