Dunkirk

Dunkirk

When you watch a Nolan movie, you know you’re not being spoonfed. You’ve been served an exquisite dish – with tasteful and minimalistic cutlery – and it’s up to you how you make your way through it.

I’d never been so excited about a war film before I watched Dunkirk’s trailer. I was curious to see how Nolan goes about it, and it’s safe to say that he has turned the very concept on its head in a way only he could have. Of course, he bought and decimated an actual Spitfire, and of course, he shot it in 70mm – those things are expected from a director revered globally for his godlike movie-making prowess. But what amazed me were certain things that changed the meaning of war films in general, in a way none of us could have fathomed.

When it’s Nolan, you know the linear passage of time will get kicked hard in the butt. But I didn’t realize there were three completely different time passages being shown simultaneously in the film – one week, one day, and one hour. Through all the gunshots, dizzying POVs from fighter planes, the jagged breathing, and the sheer desperation, I didn’t even have the time to process it. I did realize what the mad genius had done towards the end when all three stories (on land, water and sea) came together in a maddening crescendo. Beautiful.

Nolan didn’t use similar war tropes in this movie. There was no need to even mention the Germans, let alone show us their side of the story. Why? Because that wasn’t the point. The point was to bring us as close as possible to the face of war, trap us inside its murky jaws, make us feel the pointlessness of battlefields, make us hold our breaths and jump in our seats. There are no heroes in the film, so to speak. If we had to spell it out, then survival or getting home is the protagonist, and war or death, the antagonist. Getting out of Dunkirk is the only thing that mattered. Even the title of the film says a lot about what it focuses on.

Another thing I appreciated about the movie is that it doesn’t use any sentimentality, which is the easiest thing to do in a movie surrounded by death and destruction. There was no carnage, no pieces of bodies flying off, no soldiers crying out for their friends, no wives/children/parents waiting for their sons back home. There was no war strategy, no blooming friendships, no extended shots of dead soldiers. He didn’t use any well-known actors, there was hardly any dialogue, he didn’t even show Hitler or Churchill. He didn’t need to do all that because that wasn’t his intention. All he wanted the viewer to do was to be there – at the beach, on the ships, in the jets, under the water, fighting for their lives amidst fire and missiles and torpedos. Everything else seems too insignificant.

The shots were breathtaking. You almost felt like a war videographer, following these soldiers, trying to survive yourself. You were as much a part of the narrative as any other soldier – crawling like ants in neat files, finding refuge in abandoned boats, waiting with an acquired sense of patience, hoping and hoping to be taken home. Everything from shaky camera movements, to disorienting shots of capsizing ships, to the deafening sound of gunshots – everything in the movie is designed to shake you, to play on all your senses. It’s not a dramatic movie, but with the looming terror of dread and Hans Zimmer’s heart-stopping music, it’s a psychological thriller. It’ll make you hold your breath right until Tom Hardy successfully lands the plane on that beach, right until the soldiers reach home. Dunkirk is not a story, it’s a first-hand experience, less likely to make you exit the hall with tearful eyes, and more likely to make you walk out with a glazed, vacant expression.

In terms of character development, I wouldn’t say I could feel too much about any of the characters. I didn’t even get most of their names – but I guess that is what Nolan wanted to do. I wouldn’t say it’s as amazing a spectacle as Interstellar, the music not nearly as haunting, the characters not as long-lasting, but it’s definitely something that makes you forget the hall, forget the people, forget the world around you. It’s an exercise in complete immersion – it’s existential, it’s introspective, it’s deeply personal, almost meditative. And that’s what great cinema is all about.

So Now What

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Wow, 2017 already feels so old. Seems like yesterday when we were all happily making silent resolutions and sighing and convincing ourselves that nothing can be as bad as the year 2016.

Well.

A while ago a fresh bout of anxiety struck me. See, the thing with anxiety is, the more you try to ignore it, the more it flares up. It’s like a spoilt, obstinate kid that demands all your attention and energy. So I gave in. I sat and let it attack me with full force from all sides. I dealt with all the little nagging problems my brain was firing at me. I was answering my questions patiently, trying not to be too hard on myself, but the questions just wouldn’t stop.

“Oh yeah? What about the time you turned your back against your best friend in 5th standard?”

“And what about the time you absconded from home and sent everyone into a furious state of panic?”

This time, it was a classic case of self-admonishment and loathing. You see, I am not known to have made very good decisions in life. It’s only in hindsight that I realize the horror and embarrassment I had caused my friends and family. I’m still reeling from the after effects of some of those decisions. I know what some of you will say. “Oh, don’t hold regrets because all the paths you chose led you to this place in life and made you who you are, so it was all meant to be!”

Please, just save it.

Sometimes you do things that cause irreversible damage to your system, or your relationships or your lives and you can’t do anything about it and that’s OKAY. We’re all complicated humans with brains that haven’t been fully understood and higher states of consciousness and hormones and mood swings and probably a lot more we don’t even know about. So it’s okay to accept things for how they are. We don’t need to sugarcoat everything just to make ourselves feel better. Suck it up and pull yourself together. Or not. It’s your call.

Last week I was in the shower and all these decisions came running back to me and I literally said out loud, “JUST LIVE WITH IT.”

(Side note: So Now What by The Shins is my new favourite nostalgia-inducing song.)

I rarely ever have happy dreams anymore. They’re either gruesome, post-apocalyptic, or involves people I’d rather not think about. I trudge through the day feeling emotionally heavy, a bitter aftertaste I try to cover up with cups of chai, and sometimes milky coffee with extra sugar. I’m hungry almost all the time. I don’t know why my stomach is turning into this bottomless pit. Oh wait, I know why. I’m eating all my feelings. Distracting myself. Telling myself it’s okay, because look! I can eat this entire sub all by myself with the cheese dripping down my hand as I binge-watch Master of None.

Oh, by the way, please watch Master of None. I love it not only for how real it is, but also for the incredible production quality and cinematography. They’ve used such classic and techniques: black and white, simultaneous cuts, muted audio, continuous wide shots. And just their ability to show relationships begin and grow and change and decay. It’s brilliant. I would recommend it any day.

Tell me something. Do you have days when you’re like, “Oh god, I’m already too tired of life?” Where your brain wants to shut down, or reboot or just wants to voluntarily conk off just for a little while? No? Yeah, me neither. *looks away sheepishly*

I’m reading this book called The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu. Despite some bad reviews I read on Goodreads, I LOVE it. The stories are a perfect mix of science-fiction, fantasy, drama, everything put together into a wonderful, wonderful book. So glad I came across it.

Also, dear readers (the entirety of the three and a half people who actually read what I write), if there’s someone you’re not able to get over, please watch this video. I promise it’ll make you feel better. I love all of School of Life’s videos. I love the authoritative voice, the wisdom, the beautifully and succinctly constructed sentences.

I’m currently on a sort of “purge” in my life. It really sucks, but like someone used to say to me. “It has to be done.” Whoa, it just started pouring outside. With thunder, lightning, rattling windows, the works. Pathetic fallacy, much?

You know in Assamese, when people separate for short periods of time, say a few days or so, they don’t say “bye” to each other. There’s no word for goodbye in their language. What they say is “Moi aahi aasu”, which translates to “I’ll be back soon.” Isn’t that sweet? 🙂

Anyway, I’ll unburden my woes through something else now. Maybe watch Moonlight? Though I’m not sure I’m ready to cause so much emotional damage to myself yet. Probably watch American Gods? Let’s see.

P.S. I can’t believe Chris Cornell is gone. This just proves that behind all those appearances, there’s a whole new person, probably trying to deal with their own anxieties, in their own ways, and often failing at it. Ben shared one of his lesser known albums with me, and each song is as beautiful as the other. Listen, and go cry into your pillow, okay?

I’ll be back. Like always.

Much love.

Neon, neon, neon

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Bits of patchy sunlight.

It’s the 13th of April. There’s something so inauspicious about today. Sinister, almost. I’m not a big fan of this month. I’m waiting for June, desperately. The moon is hanging low tonight, uncannily orange. From my window, it looks like a gigantic bulb in the sky.

Alt-J just released the official video of their new song. It’s so despairingly melancholic. So otherworldly. I can’t believe the intensity with which I love the things (and the people) I love. It breaks my heart.

I’m writing in this weird, staccato fashion because my thoughts are too varied and disjointed, and this is a new technique I’m trying out. Seems easier, somehow. I don’t have it in me to glide from one topic to another without any effort. (It’s only temporary though).

I deactivated my Facebook account today. I feel so damn liberated. Lately I have been spending too much time on it, and the emotions I’ve been feeling have all been negative – anxiety, sadness, shock, annoyance. And yet, and yet, I was browsing through the damned site like a drug addict. My thumb would just automatically reach out for the bloody blue sign and then I’d scroll like a zombie, not really processing anything fully. Why was I doing that to myself? So I decided to detox for a bit by taking a couple of months off. (On the plus side, I can still sign in through my Facebook-enabled Goodreads account through Amazon! Thank god for loopholes.)

I just finished a writing workshop I had participated in. Lots of stories, discussions, feedback, critiques, words, long nights, crippling self-doubt and angst later, I can say that I’m finally one step closer to the actual art of writing. It’s a lot of work. A. Lot. Of. Work. But it’s something I’m willingly going to put myself through. I have to do it. I have to.

I recently met some wonderful people and warmed up to them so organically. Something that I’ll always be thankful to Bangalore for is the barrage of people it brought my way, some of them so close to me I can’t imagine the last three years without them.

Which brings me to the next point. I’ve been in Bangalore for three whole years now. When did I grow up, man? I look at my fresh-out-of-college pictures and I realize I even look different now. A little more matured, a little more flab on the hips, the youthful skinniness of the face has been squandered away (like a boss). I like it though. I feel like JD when he turns from Bambi into a third year resident at Sacred Heart. (Whuddup Scrubs reference!). There’s still a lot of uncertainties and even though I may not know what I want, I certainly know what I don’t want. And that’s an important lesson to learn.

I’m reading a lot, lot more now, thanks to my Kindle. I do watch a movie once in a while, but reading is something I did not want to lose touch with, and I’m so happy that hasn’t happened. The last book I read was Roald Dahl’s ‘Switch Bitch’. My brain feels vandalized right now. I love him more as an adult fiction writer because he’s so unapologetically edgy, sexy and bizarre. Also read ‘A Monster Calls’ by Patrick Ness. A book that only fully hit me once I was done with it. It kind of took my breath away.

There are certain truths about life and existence that I’m beginning to understand, and I feel a little more stable, and a little more at peace. Just a little. A teeny bit. I’m learning how to love myself again. Baby steps. I’m learning how to meditate, how to tame my anxiety, how to learn from it, how to grow despite it. I’m learning how to accept who I am. The real me, with all the fusses and frills.

A friend shared a TED talk with me today, and it kind of changed me a little. Check it out, and if you’re someone who gets extremely excited talking about life, the cosmos, consciousness, evolution, society, (and if you’re in Bangalore), let’s meet up over a cuppa coffee and talk 🙂 I’ve realized that connections with like-minded people are essential to keep your sanity in check.

I’ll be back soon. This time, hopefully, with some stories to tell. I know they’re in there, somewhere. I wish you all the best in the world.

Lots of love. ❤

You’re not my sunshine

You’re not my sunshine
You’re the night sky
Studded with a million sparkly stars that reflect back
My own vices, doubts, fears, dreams, questions
I could lie underneath you
Awake, uplifted, astute
And if I could, I’d never let it turn into day
Because the sun could never be what you are
Every single day, just by existing
You’re not my sunshine
You’re my inky black sky.
You come and go on stormy nights
Silent, but luminous
You come to me during the witching hours of dark reason
You’re the stolen treasure I buried long ago
That I unearth day after day with my bare hands
I dig deeper and deeper till my fingers bleed and I can dig no more
You’re the shadow of an extinct tree
You’re the itch on a phantom limb
You’re the part of me I wish I could remove
But the one I can’t exist without
Because it is I, and I am it
You’re not my sunshine
You’re my dark grey cloud.

Hello, summer :)

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Seasons change slowly. It’s a process that takes days and weeks and months. But one summer evening when you’re sitting in bed, you realize it’s a bit chilly. So you take out your blanket and suddenly, winters are here!

Change always occurs gradually, it’s the realization that hits all at once. This happens in life too. You’re sitting at your desk working, and out of nowhere, you feel like you’re a different person than you were a few months ago. You’re a little more grown-up, a little more in control, a little more responsible. (Okay who are you kidding? You’re still lost and clueless most of the times). But you’ve finally started accepting who you are. You’re not trying to change yourself anymore. You may decide to keep certain parts of yourself stashed away, but you’re not pretending to be someone else. It’s such a liberating feeling. To let yourself go, to be vulnerable and honest to your own self. To cry into your pillow if you feel like it, and not berating yourself for it.

You know how little things cause a lot of pain? Rude remarks. Unspoken words. Cold shoulders. A neglected friend. A trip you’ve been meaning to take. Not stopping to breathe. Tiny little regrets that you keep living with till they make your shoulders droop and shrivel like flower petals out in the summer sun.

It works similarly the other way round. There may be things not going very well in your life, but you’re at a stage where you can do something about it. So you get up, bundle your uncombed hair up in a scruffy little bun (that really works when you’re trying to get some serious work done), you play some Milky Chance, change your bed sheet, stow away your fluffy blanket, clear out your drawers and desk, throw away those cartons you keep hoarding for no reason, re-arrange your books on your bed stand and you realize that little things go a long way. Things like telling your cook that you really appreciate his food for the first time ever. Like standing in your balcony and enjoying a cup of tea you made for yourself with a lot of effort. Because you deserve that tea. You deserve all the tea in the world. Because you’re just a regular person, trying to be nice, and good, and you’re just fine the way you are. Being cool and sarcastic with a touch of ‘swag’ is something you can’t handle. Because that’s not you. Stop trying to fit in. Be that wobbly little, oddly-shaped piece in the jigsaw puzzle. There are more puzzles out there, waiting to be discovered. You’ll see.

And even though you know this new-found love for life is temporary and will pass soon, and it’s probably being caused by your overactive ovaries and your hyperactive hormones and overenthusiastic sweat glands), you accept it. You welcome it, and let it wash over you. You’re happy being human. But you also know those overbearing thoughts will come back soon to haunt you. But that’s the price you pay for being creatures with a higher consciousness. You feel extreme pleasure, and you feel extreme pain. That’s just the way it is. So enjoy the sunshine on your face for a while. Stop and take in the smell of summer. Breeeeeeathe. Lock in your feelings for now, so that when you come back to them on a bad day, you can remind yourself that seasons always change. Gradually, slowly, and then all at once.

A letter to our families

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It starts when you’re young. When you’re really, really young.

It starts when you’re just a toddler and are asked to wear a dupatta over your salwar kameez. You don’t even have breasts, but how does that matter? Guys have wild imaginations. Have some shame.

It starts when your cousins don’t allow you to be a soldier during playtime, because who wears a frock during war? You’d just look idiotic holding a gun, standing there with your billowing pink skirt and lacy bloomers. Just use that cardboard box as a stove and make them some dinner.

It starts when your brother receives a remote-controlled car for his birthday, and you get a kitchen set. To be fair, you played with all his toys, but they were never given to you, were they? No, because they were never meant for you.

It starts with Raksha Bandhan. You need to be nice to your brother so he protects you from goons when they tease you. Don’t you want his protection? Let’s all just overlook the fact that he’s seven and you’re fifteen. Shh, don’t be sharp. Your brother is your lifelong bodyguard. Now smile and give him your chocolates.

It starts when even as a tiny kid, you’re told that your saas (mother-in-law) will not accept you if you don’t learn how to cook. It’s all in jest, of course, but you grow up with a constant nagging thought: if you don’t know how to cook, you’ll fail at being a woman.

It starts when you have guests over, and all the little girls serve water, lay the table, and smile sweetly. The boys? Oh, they’re outside playing cricket and yelling at each other like hooligans. Just a bunch of boys being boys, you know? Hehehe. Why don’t you wear those pretty bangles your uncle got for you and show us?

It starts when you’re barely ten, looking for a second-hand school book in a busy market, and a man grabs your butt. You laugh and tell your sister about it, because it seems funny to you. Because it’s so absurd in your head. You don’t know what that even meant. But you both keep quiet about it. Because maybe it was your fault. Who asked you to wear jeans and expose your butt like that?

It starts when you’re not allowed to wear shorts when you go outside. You’re not even allowed to wear shorts when you sleep. Because don’t you know the house help’s eyes are gliding over your legs? Don’t you have any shame? Why are you attracting his attention (even though you’re completely oblivious and unconscious in that state?)

It starts when you’re barely twelve, and a bunch of boys pass lewd comments at you and all you get to hear is “isi ne kuch kiya hoga.”

And so it continues.

When a salesman runs his hands over your back when you’re trying out a sweater, and you storm out, livid. Why were you not careful? If you giggle and make small talk with him, obviously he’ll get the wrong signal, no? Just be quiet. No need to be nice to strangers. What kind of a girl does that?

When your driving teacher grabs your breasts shamelessly, and has the audacity to flash his tobacco-stained smile at you. You rage, cry silently, and then you quit. But nothing is done about it. Because “baat ko aage badha ke kya faayda?”

When you’re followed by a bunch of guys on your scooter, but you’re told to not do anything about it. Ignore. God knows what they might do if you retaliate? You know about these acid attack victims, right? Oh, and always wear full sleeves. And tie a hankie over your mouth. Don’t grab their attention with your face.

When your entire family wants you to get married, not because you want to, not because you feel ready – mentally and emotionally – but because “this is the right age for girls. Boys ka kya hai? Wo to late shaadi kar sakte hain.”

When you’re questioned (after being in three long-term committed relationships), “We don’t trust you. Tu kisi ek pe tikti hi nahin hain. What if you run away from this one too?” Do you have any idea what the boys in the family are up to? No? Thought so. Because it’s irrelevant, right?

When you’re told “Thank god you’re not like those new year party type girls. Why do they drink and celebrate every year when they know what happens?”

To be honest, I could have been one of them. Heck, I am one of them. And I live every single day of my life looking down at my body like it’s a curse. To see whether any part of exposed skin may incite some dirty look, some snide remark. I look down at the road and walk. Because I don’t want to witness anyone gawking at me, chewing their paan, scratching their crotch, undressing me in their head. My fists are always clenched, senses on high alert, music volume turned down so I can be prepared in case of an unfortunate event.

Sometimes I feel like wearing a skirt, or a nice summer dress. But it’s not worth it. Who knows? Maybe that means I’m an adventurous little wild cat, who is just asking to be groped? Why take that risk?

So, parents, dadas dadis, kakas kakis, mausas mausis, and all other random relatives and well-wishers, there’s something I want to say to all of you. I’m not questioning your intentions. You obviously know it’s a big, bad world outside and you’re only trying to protect us. You mean well. You’re looking out for us.

But these are the little things that have made us so timid, so scared, so afraid of the world we live in. By asking us to ignore every situation and every insinuation, you’re allowing them to thrive, become bolder, more evil than they already are.

It’s years and years of conditioning that has turned us into angry, frustrated, hapless victims that are desperate to be heard, respected and treated equally. In fact, it only seems like a distant dream. Something we pine for, but something we have all accepted we may never actually witness.

We’ve been asked to stay quiet, look down, cover up, obey, bear, tolerate, adjust, listen, and never, never answer back all our lives. It’s because of this that we feel inherently weaker than men. It’s because of this that we are always targeted and accused. Please, don’t let us grow that way. Don’t take away our shine. Don’t ask us to hide, to bow down, to suffer silently.

Teach us how to fight back. Teach us not to feel limited, helpless, or inferior in any way. Tell us that this world and its pleasures are limitless and we should run, unfettered and free, to experience it all. Tell us we deserve every bit of freedom that boys have and that we should get it and enjoy it without any shame or reservations.

Let us be. Set us free. And maybe, someday, slowly, bit by bit, we can create a world where we don’t have to feel stifled. Where we can begin to love ourselves for who we are, where we never have to cry and shout to the skies, questioning why we ever had to be born a girl.

My Safety Net

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(L to R: Me, Mangu, Didi)

It was a chilly December morning. Mum got out of the cocoon that was her blanket and carefully pulled the foot-rug towards herself with her toes. Stepping on the cold floor made her sneeze unstoppably; and her sneezes were always loud enough to wake the entire neighbourhood. Which would actually be of help to her, given that she had to extricate three sleepy kids from their snuggly beds on a foggy morning for school.

Like all usual mornings, she got up, tottered around in the kitchen and had a cup of chai in the living room. Those ten minutes were rightfully hers. Silent. Peaceful. Then she sighed, mentally preparing herself for the hullabaloo that was to follow. She had to wake me up. There was a reason my grandfather called me Kumbhkaran ki nani. 

She’d started calling out my name before she even entered the room. Different variations of “Chinkyyyy” that had somehow found their own rhythm and progression over the years. She switched the light on and saw that I wasn’t in bed. This had never happened in the entirety of the five years I had spent in that house.

The mosquito net – fondly known as the machchar daani – was still intact; securely fastened by four pieces of scraggly strings tied to random hooks around the room. There was a gaping hole right in the centre on top, conveniently covered by a stray piece of paper.

She went inside the washroom, expecting to find me lolling on the seat, asleep. I wasn’t there. Was I in the other bathroom? Nope. She asked my brother. He didn’t know. She went to my sister’s room. I wasn’t there either. Maybe I had sleepwalked all the way to the kitchen. (I did that once). She checked all the rooms, even the most unlikely places – the store room, the aangan, the porch. After a brief panic-striken fifteen minutes, Papa came out of his bed and calmly pointed out where I had been all this time.

Have you seen house-flies stuck in spider webs?

I looked exactly like that. Having rolled off my bed in the middle of the night, I landed in the safe lap of the machchar daani. Found hanging between the net and the side of the bed, I was oblivious to the world, still deeply ensconced in the evidently heavy slumber I was in. (Thanks to Papa’s shoving-the-net-deep-under-the mattress prowess). Yes, I was that light. Yes, I was that tiny. Yes, I was that escapable to the eyes.

All this while, I’d had no inkling that I was being frantically searched for by the entire household. When I woke up, I had a mosquito net imprint on my face that stayed for an hour or two. Everyone laughed – not at me, but at the ludicrousness of the situation. I laughed with them, but all I wanted to do was go back to sleep.

It has been over twenty years since. A couple of days ago, in the feverish aftermath of a nightmare, I found myself in the throes of one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. I rolled off my bed, fast asleep, and woke up mid-fall. My heart jumped out of my ribcage. I gasped, broke into a cold sweat, and sat up in bed. It had knocked the air out of me.

The dream was fading away fast, but it had left a bitter aftertaste. I sighed. I felt a twinge. I missed my house, my Mum, my safety net.

I got out of bed to make some chai. It was a chilly December morning. Silent. Peaceful. I had ten minutes before I had to start getting ready for office. I stepped on the cold floor, and started sneezing uncontrollably.