Monday, December 30, 2013

A Belated Infatuation

A guest post by Arushi dated December 29, 2013. Remembering the immortal superstar on his 71st.

The world didn’t end in 2012, but was left with a void because of which it would forever seem       incomplete. I write this with a person in mind whose absence only now I have come to fully mourn.

“Rajesh Khanna”, my father had replied when some seven years ago I had interrupted him watching a movie by my question,“ Who is this handsome man?” Little did I know then that this actor would break my hostility to Bollywood as I knew it by taking me to its golden era of the seventies. Having enjoyed watching Anand and Bawarchi with parents at 13, I had yet to discover what made romance synonymous with Rajesh Khanna.

Now years later I caught the Kaka fever on a breezy July evening. The weather called for some music but I craved for something new as I was tired of the same songs in my overplayed playlist. Kishore Kumar’s name came to my mind and I found an album ‘Remembering Rajesh Khanna’ on searching his songs. The fantastic songs led me to watch all of Kaka’s hit movies and so I discovered Hindi cinema’s superstar and became one of his thousands of infatuated female fans. Just like stars leave their light in our skies for generations to see, this superstar’s twinkle reached me now, even though he had shone brightest long I was even born.

What I was perhaps too young to fully appreciate at 13, I began to relish at 20. The absolute pleasure of watching Kaka’s acting was the chief motivation, but I enjoyed other things that the movies had to offer as well. I marvelled at the wonderful contrast that the cinema of the seventies posed to the present day. Every movie that I watched had the perfect blend of science and art, from well structured plots to melodious and richly poetic songs. The movies even reminded me of my class lectures as the storylines met the demands of Aristotle’s dictums of ‘reversal’ and ‘discovery’ and the songs blazoned the beloved in a livelier way than Petrarch. I also admired how movies back then were made to mirror the society’s shortcomings and profess a hope for change. Even as they ended usually on a happy note, the gender and class problems stood out. Issues of widow remarriage in Kati Patang, the hard life of widows in Aaradhana, and the  prostitution in Amar Prem and Mehboob ki Mehendi, are a few examples of the ways in which movies fulfilled their responsibility of being vehicles of reflection and change in the society. This moralistic aspect blended all too well with the divine persona that Kaka portrayed. The crux of the stories’ messages was always voiced by his character, and would become ingrained in the audience’s minds because of the dramatic perfection in his acting. It’s interesting to note that even in the story, so often he was called “devata”, as he indeed became in reality with his superstardom. The characters, sometimes even the villain, would be as much in awe of him as the audience. This blurring of the line between fictive and real worlds added to the fantasy that cinema created for the people.

Kaka became this awe-inspiring magnet by virtue of his indescribable charisma. All poetry in the songs could only strike so strong a chord with the audience because of that spell he cast with his eyes, voice, and charm. I had been used to listening to songs, but with Rajesh Khanna, I ‘saw’ the songs as I listened to them, as if the mandragora of his eyes spilled into the sweet melody and created a sweeter ecstasy. Songs usually appeal to us mostly because we find in them something that relates to our lives, but Kaka’s songs also carry the effect that he infused in them by his serene seductiveness. The helplessness that I feel for lacking words to express all that I so ardently admire in him, I also feel for the lack of people in my age group with whom I can share my passion for him. Being very late to the Kaka fan club, I envy the fans who have lived in his reign, have seen him up-close and keep cherished autographs. I also realised that not only is my passion belated, it is also much belittled by the passion of his fans when I learned of the euphoria that spread in his stardom, of girls writing letters to him in blood and even marrying his photograph! Such craze remains unparallelled even today and is the only way to express his aura when words fail.

The wide variety of roles he has played also pays homage to his artistry as he played the imperfect man with his classic perfection. Be it the uncaring husband driven to madness by being trapped in false blames in Ittefaq or the alcoholic womanizer in Prem Nagar, Kaka made the audience love his character as he showed the frailties of man and the sad truths and circumstance that made a man cross the line dividing the good from the bad. Of course, at the heart of this rich variety always lay the essential element of romance, without which no movie could captivate the audience. And Rajesh Khanna defined exactly that captivation. Even the restrictions of propriety that the seventies era posed on cinema only stoked his fiery charm. In his actions, there is that essence of literature which implies love in a poetic, subtle sense and heightens the emotive potential in being symbolic, dramatic, artistic. It is his alchemy because of which, Roop Tera Mastana, a song shot in only four takes and involving just sight and delicate touch, became the most sensual song filmed in Hindi cinema. The importance of songs needs no explanation, but what Rajesh Khanna did with the romantic lyrics shows how the song was the hallmark of love and courtship in the movies. It is in the songs where he puts to work his wondrous ways of implying love through mannerisms and multiplies the effect of the already effusive romance in the songs. From rubbing his fingers across his lips to the iconic eye blink, there’s even more to him than pure charm. His art feeds also on the perfection with which he delivers the dialogues, as if his voice wrote it in the air that those lines were to go down in history.

While he made history on screen, his personal history isn’t documented with similar glory. Even on being told that he was impractically dramatic, a “complex person” according to gossip columnist Devi, and one who, according to the BBC’s documentary, had the “arrogance of Napoleon”, I could reason away every blame that his critics piled on him. What he achieved as an artist is so great that, for a fan, all his faults get eclipsed by that wink of his eyes. Watching his estranged wife Dimple say, “there was no man behind Rajesh Khanna, there was only Rajesh Khanna.. He lived like Anand, he was Anand”, I smiled for she answered my wondering questions about how he would have been in real life. Not much then, remains hidden from his beloved fans who are the subject of his last on-screen dialogue ( Havell’s ad : “Mere fans mujhse koi nahi cheen sakta”) and to whom he dedicated and addressed his last message. There isn’t a single interview I could find where he doesn’t thank his fans from the heart, for giving him so much love.

While dialogues from Anand are Kaka fans’ anthem and are usually reiterated to evoke the immortal superstar that he’ll always be, this line from Prem Kahani said by Vinod Khanna’s minor character in his dying breath encapsulates the undying love that Kaka inspired : Rajesh hamare dil mein hai.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Wheel of Time.

There were many things Ayush did for the first time during his school trip to Delhi. Playing  ‘Teen patti’ (flash) was one of them. With Rs 30/  he won 370 in one deal, and treated everyone with  boiled eggs on a thela. Other secrets I could not dig as he had a friend waiting on Skyp and then various tests he had to take in his coaching classes as well as in school."Bahut mauj kaati", (enjoyed a lot) he said in the local lingo and left me unpacking his soiled clothes. I could relate to every moment he was going through.

The wheel of time seemed to stare at me saying, "See how fast I move."

It does seem long back when after returning from Allahabad, State level games our frends came back to college and three of them had the same expression on their faces.They blurted to each other,'You also know?" Then began a live show by three stand-up comedians at the basket ball floor of MKP College.. Laughter was already in the air.

In their basket ball team some of the girls were from other schools. In the train a mind-blowing session of  songs and dance  was  a ritual .Suitcses used to be one of the main musical instruments.I wonder if RD Burman knew abt it, as he has used desks in one of the songs in Kitaab. Very late at night,in the Link Express,when the orchestra died down, girls went to their berths and boys went to the seperate compartment.

When everyone went into deep slumber,a boy entered and came to a girl. The girl ws nervous.But the boy told her tht all ws well.She whispered the names of all the three girls who, had berths around her.Assured of their privacy they must hv carried on..It must have been difficult for the 3 kids to supress their giggles.I wonder if they pulled her leg when they met her in some other tournament.

MKP was known for its hap and bold girls who had come from different elite and other schools of Dehrdun.The uniform was all white,shalwar-kurta and dupatta.A famous one liner goes like this: seeing them in all white a boy said,
"MKP ki saari lardkiyaan vidhwa ho gayi hai'
Immediately came the answer, "Haan DAV ke saare lardke mar jo gaye hain"

Once we were standing in a circle and talking to our games teacher in the winter sun.Suddenly we spotted a man near a small gate which opened to  a lane.The lane was called love-lane. Not many students used it. A pervert was standing and making obscene gestures. It was quite a distance otherwise one of us would have hit him with a real big stone.We were seething with rage.A girl shouted "tod ke haath main rakh do", eveyone looked at her, then she completed her sentence....:iske daant".(Break his teeth and put it in his hand)
Without deciding anything, they just ran behind him.One of them, a tall Sikh girl  had a hockey stick with her.They chased him till the market but in the crowd he could escape.They came back without thrashing him.But no such incidence was repeated there.

Thinking about my college days and trips, I asked Ayush, "Who won the maximum money in Teen Patti?"
"Arundhati", she won Rs 700/.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Uniform Trouble

The school uniform was introduced in India by the British. I never cease to thank them for that. As a mother I realize that I might have spent a fortune on branded clothes for my kids, but I found them most dashing in their white uniform.

Growing up in Dehradun, a city famous for its schools, I got to see beautiful uniforms. The most chic I found, belonged to Welham Girls' School. White lower (salwar) and white kurta with blue bug shaped dots and a thinly folded dupatta. IMA (Indian Military Academy) also gave the locals, the pleasure of gazing admiringly at the young recruits in their uniforms, even at the places like restaurants and bazaars.

I wore blue, green and white uniforms during my different schools and college. I loved to wear my uniform and even iron it, which used to be a salwar kurta or a tunic. When I joined teaching, things began to change. My first boss was a Russian. He introduced a multi coloured scarf, representing different Houses. Though it saved them from the burden of wearing a tie, I found it unnecessary. Many newly opened schools experimented with a light coloured shirt and dark coloured lower, i.e., shorts, pants or skirts. All the schools came up with lovely combinations.

  Wondering about the school uniforms in the rural India long back, I asked my 75 year old father about his uniform in school. Uniform for them meant  just a white cap or Gandhi topi. The moment he used to see the sun rays hitting a particular rock he used to grab his topi and rush to school which was located by the river Mandakini, a tributary of the Ganges. After standard five he came to Dehradun.  He wore his first uniform, khaki shorts and white shirt, in a school run by Jansangh. Most of his classmates were refugees from Pakistan, their differences vanishing under the garb of the uniform.

My house at the IIT Kanpur Campus, is surrounded by different schools, a kindergarten, a primary school and a KV. I meet many of my ex-students while going and coming back from the school where I teach now. One day I ran into a KV student whom I had taught in DPS. She was not very eager to meet me and was trying to hide behind another girl. Since she happened to be the daughter of one of my colleagues also, I stopped to ask her how she felt about her new school and why was she so shy. She wished me with a grin. As we came closer, I observed her uniform. It was a pair of trousers and a full sleeves knee length kurta with Nehru collar. She also wore a waist coat, at 2 in the afternoon, on a humid July day.  Later her mother told me that how much she disliked her uniform. Senior boys also wore a big blue and red check with red collars and some more designing with red. Wonder how the KV students in the hotter places are coping up with this change.

KV has changed the uniform as a part of a ‘facelift’ to celebrate its fifty years. The ministry of textiles and National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) have designed the uniform. I have yet to meet someone who liked the uniform. The good old navy blue and white is missed by everyone.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Naming Game

When I see Dhirendra becoming Dhiren and Atindra becoming Atin, I realise that there are many who hate their names.I was happy to change a student's name from Devgiri to Mayank in the new session. He'll not have to carry the burden of an unwanted name throughout his life.

My sister is one of the victims.While enjoying a long drive in the lower Himalayas, once she told in a grave tone, " I wonder how could grandpa, a veteran astrologer with a sound knowledge of Sanskrit, give me a name as petty as Meena? Meenakshi would have suited me so well." I tried to console her by saying that it means, 'a colourful gem' or a fish (meen), which is not bad. Her disappointment multiplied manifolds when one of the kids in the car spotted a signboard on the way stating, 'Meena Bar.'

I have always been at ease with my name, though during most of my school and college life I was known by my different nick names. My games teacher who knew me for two years, stared me with wide eyes and asked, "You are Vandana, not Vandy?", while giving  the certificates for some event.

I was also convinced that I didn't have a very hap name as my friends had, like Anindita, Parul, Shalini etc. But I sympathised with  my Sikh female friends who had very masculine names as Upinder, Harjinder and even Rajender. On the other hand I loved Simran (before DDLJ), Mehar and Divjot Kaur.

As a child whenever I could get to watch a movie, I used to have this secret wish that the main character was my namesake. But it never happened, not even during the Doordarshan days. Then Youtube happened and I could watch all the movies I wanted to. I was so happy, for old time's sake, to see in one of  the super hits of Indian cinema, with Rajesh Khanna in the lead and gorgeous Sharmila Tagore sharing my name in Aradhana

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Ganga Mela: A unique Holi celebration

Life in a Non Metro-3

When  for the  rest of India  Holi, the festival of colours, is a thing of bygone week and celebrations and Gujhiyas ( a sweet) are over, Kanpur is ready for the second round of  Holi  on Ganga Mela, with more fervor and enthusiasm.

Ganga Mela falls on Anuradha nakshtra, which is three to seven days after Holi.This Holi doesn't have the colour of mythology but of nationalism. The objects of worship are not our Gods but the heros of  National Movement for freedom during Quit India Movement.

During The Quit India Movement (1942) the freedom fighters  hoisted the tricolour on the day of Holi, declaring India free. It infuriated the British administration and the freedom fighters Ghulab Chand Seth, Hamid Khan, Shyam Lal Gupta (lyricist of ‘Jhanda uncha rahe hamara’), Amrik Singh, Raghubar Dayal Bhatt, Bal Kishan Sharma, Pitambar Lal and many more were arrested. 

The city which had witnessed Mutiny of 1857 was furious. People stopped playing Holi and demanded the release of all the freedom fighters. Seeing the protest, the British had to release them. The day of release coincided with the planetary position called Anuradha Nakshatra. Overjoyed people of Kanpur celebrated the festival the whole day and in the evening met at Sarsaiyya Ghat, on the banks of holy Ganges. The tradition is still followed with the spirit of patriotism.

The Campus I live in, has nothing common with the city it belongs to. When we came to Kanpur to settle down I didn't know about this post Holi celebration. It was just a bonus holiday for me, a working mom of two school going kids. But now I feel like urging the people to smear a little Gulal (colour) and take a dip in the ganga on my behalf too, as I salute all the heroes of our freedom struggle.
Sarsaiyya Ghat, Kanpur.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Circle of Desire: My entry for the Get Published contest

The Idea:

This is Vaishali's story. It begins with her journey of romance with life. Life gave her everything on a platter. I invite you to be her guest and walk through the meandering trail of her stream of consciousness and relate to her narrative, if you too are a woman and a dreamer. What does a woman want in a man? Would she be happy if she gets one? This is about the romance which bloomed during the pre-internet and Facebook days. When long distance relationships also worked. When Rudre's just a glance weakened her knees and created a storm in her chest. Why she worshiped Rudre whose only reality was his palette and brush and his career as a painter? His charisma was  intoxicating, which had a firm foundation of honesty.
And then there is a third corner of the triangle, Dhruv...

What Makes This Story ‘Real’?

Next morning, she was at the railway station with the team manager and the other girls. She saw Rudre coming towards her. She was not exactly waiting for him but was delighted  to see him. They talked for a while till it was time to part. They exchanged phone numbers and addresses. “Only to my pen-friends”, she had told when he asked her, “Do you write letters?”

She knew that he would make a wonderful friend. He too felt something similar. Looking outside the train window she laughed at herself, wondering how she could even like someone who wore a gold chain around his neck and was barely taller than her. Jewelry was a feminine thing and boys had to be tall like her brothers.

ndnote: This is my entry for the HarperCollins–IndiBlogger Get Published contest, which is run with inputs from Yashodhara Lal and HarperCollins India.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Gifts- Then and Now

Love is the most clich├ęd and googled word, especially in the month of February. A month which has two or three days less than other months for the lovers to gaze at each other’s eyes. When I see the advertisements of diamond jewelry in the context of love and romance and the women fluttering their eyelashes, I think of my mother’s expressions when dad gave her a gift and our family including a few of our neighbors were ecstatic. Which was followed by the peels of laughter.

I was in class V and was preparing for a test to get admission in a prominent convent school in Allahabad. A city which was known for good schools and education. The campus (PHQ, Police Headquarter) we lived in had well maintained play-grounds, badminton and tennis courts, clubs, gardens and mango and tamarind trees. Life was good. During the summer break dad got a promotion and the transfer order. We were transferred from the Gangetic planes to the lap of Himlayas. Life changed drastically. We were too young to realize that how it would adversely  affect our education and career in the long term, but mom was heart broken. We missed our campus life and friends.  

The house we got to live in, though spacious, was neither cozy, like traditional a pahari house nor  charming like a British bungalow. Soon the tough mountain life kept us too busy to complain and get bored.

Without any domestic help, after the tedious chores mother could squeeze some time for her hobbies, reading and gardening. She loved to read magazines like ‘Saptahik Hindustan’ and ‘Dharmyug’. For gardening, she could use as much land as we could, because there was no boundary wall. Just a hedge had to be there. She used to keep us updated about the  new blooms and shoots in the garden. Once she showed us a variety of pumpkin which looked more like a bottle guard. The pumpkin grew day by day, on a clreeper which had only a few leaves.

One day, we reached home from school, tired and hungry after climbing  2 kms of steep trail. While serving hot parathas, mother said with a wry smile that the Pumpkin was lifted by someone as it lay near the hedge. Same evening, we were chatting with our neighbors, about the lost object. We were also  cracking jokes about the ‘stolen’ veggie when father reached home from the office and heard her woes.Before she could finish her story father produced the same pumpkin and shocked all of us.

He used to walk home from office. While coming home he stopped at a vegetable shop and glancing through all the veggies, he saw that familiar Kaddu. Haneef, the shopkeeper told him that ‘it’was fresh from the garden. That morning only a village boy sold that to him.