While her lehengas go round and round, she stays grounded


She wandered around the room with a cup of tea in her hand. She seemed satisfied just looking at the way people were combing through her collection. Anju Modi sipped from her cup slowly, almost in a meditative effect, as ladies rushed to the changing room to try the long flowy lehengas and blouses.

That's the designer for you

That’s the designer for you

After winning a lifetime of compliments for her costume designs in the movie Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ramleela, Anju knew how to handle frenzy.  Her clients couldn’t compliment her enough on her new collection that was launched in the city recently. Anju would smile to all of them, help them pick dresses and engage in casual how-is-the-weather conversations. And without being too rude, occasionally she would slip into a small room to give interviews.

‘Ma’am wouldn’t you want to attend to your clients?’ a staff would call out to her.

Arey, maine to kapade bana liye, ab aap log sambhalo…(I made the clothes, now you guys manage…)’ she would say, with a laugh.

——————————————————————–

Here is a copy of the interview I did  with her.

Even before the movie Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela released, talks about Deepika’s 30-kg lehenga on the poster and Priyanka’s seductive white dhoti in Ram Chahe Leela song went around like wildfire. Unperturbed by the blinding spotlight, costume designer Anju Modi sipped in on the compliments with all modesty.

The 30-kg lenhenga ?

The 30-kg lehenga ?

“The subject in itself was very vibrant. The character Leela (played by Deepika Padukone) in the movie, was vivacious, fun loving and full of life. Also, the script required a traditional outfit,” said Anju, who was recently in the city at the launch of her new collection ‘Draupadi’ at Evoluzione.

One of the designs from her 'Draupadi' collection

One of the designs from her ‘Draupadi’ collection

To suit the modern interpretation of the age-old love, the costumes were required to maintain that balance between being sexy and traditional. “The original Gujarati dresses are in itself very colourful. Also, we used a lot of velvet, which is again a very Gujarati fabric. The set (that was based in the background of Kutch) had a lot of colour. So the costumes were designed based on all that,” adds Anju.

Those who have watched the movie wouldn’t have missed the slow change in hues and patterns as the narration goes from a gush of romance in the beginning to violence towards the end. While Deepika sports deep-necked blouses and colour-dripping lehengas in the beginning, towards the end, it is more of close-necked tops and shawls.  “The team behind the movie always used to sit and discuss ‘Shall we do this, shall we do that?’ Since they were having all those discussions in front of me, everything progressed in a natural way. I wasn’t following any trend, I was just following my heart,” says Anju.

Unlike the conventional all-white sari for Holi, Anju decided to add colour to the costume, while keeping an elaborate white space

Unlike the conventional all-white sari for Holi, Anju decided to add colour to the costume, while keeping an elaborate white space

Now, her new collection, which is again as womanly as Leela’s, is based on the theme ‘Draupadi’.  Anju says that it is not her love for the epic, but her awe towards the philosophy behind it. “I like to have a story for my collection. And Draupadi is the perfect character when it comes to depicting a woman’s elegance, strength and sophistication,” says Anju.

The collection includes colours that sync with the different phases of Draupadi’s life. “Since she is born out of fire, I have used fiery orange. And then she goes after her swayamvar (marriage to Pandavas) to the royal palace. To depict that, I have used crimson and gold. To show her devotion to Krishna I have used blush pink, yellow and ivory which are spiritually inclined,” says Anju.

“I like to prepare a storyline and work around that. As I go along a storyline, I start relating it with hand embroidery, colours and motifs,” says Anju. Previously, she has done a collection based on a day in the life of a girl – from 6 am to 12 am. And her next, she says, is inspired by Alice in Wonderland.

Well, we don't know about Alice in Wonderland, but this dress for Priyanka Chopra sure looks dreamy

Well, we don’t know about Alice in Wonderland, but this dress for Priyanka Chopra sure looks dreamy

It was earlier published in The New Indian Express. http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/chennai/From-Draupadi-To-Alice-in-Wonderland/2014/03/13/article2105629.ece#.UyJ17D-Sw9I

She could have been my exotic pet


“How did it come here?” I heard my cousin’s voice from the kitchen. I was in my room, trying to concentrate on a story I was typing out. How did what come where? I thought, sharpening my ears to hear more.

“What do we do now?” she asked.

“Open the balcony doors,” replied my mother.

At this point I had to stop typing. Why would they talk like a pair of convicts? What had they done?

I shot outside my room, and walked into the kitchen to see both my cousin and mom staring hypnotised at the most beautiful thing I had seen for a while.

Here is what I saw.

The dagger-beaked beauty

The dagger-beaked beauty

I nudged them aside and walked towards the wonder. I wanted to own it, but I knew I couldn’t. This one would remain one of my thousand unfulfilled dreams.

I asked my mom how long had the bird been there for. But she had already left the kitchen by then. How could she go? Doesn’t she want to keep looking at it for the  little time it was here? I thought this aloud, and my cousin gave me a blank look.

I knew I was over reacting, but life doesn’t always make a kingfisher visit your house, does it?

By then, it had hopped on to a higher platform, on top of the shelf. Sitting like that with all the poise and grace, I named it ‘The queen’. She deserved the name.

WP_001841

She seemed to take a liking to the silhouette of the dancing girl

The queen sat in the same position for several minutes. She was probably decoding my painting on the wall. What did she think it was? A school of fish dancing in a dusty pond?

I kept looking at her, and she kept looking at the painting. I wanted to bring all my paintings from the hall just to let her watch it and probably stay for a while longer.

WP_001843

No one has admired my painting that long

By then, my mother was back with a long rod.

“No!” I screamed.

“What no?” my mom questioned, clearly annoyed at the melodramatic upsurge in my voice.

“Are you going to throw her out?” I asked. A highly redundant question, but I had to buy time. I wanted The queen to stay.

At this point, she flapped her wings and perched herself on the tube light. Probably she had caught sight of the long deathly looking rod.

I shrieked, and hid besides the fridge. I was scared that The queen might turn violent. What if she thought my nose was a little fish?

WP_001844

The disco-lights effect

I looked at her sitting on the tube light, her turquoise blue glowing like the disco light.  I was scared, though I was tempted to touch her. I wanted to feed her something. Only if I had a tiny aquarium.

The queen had finally sensed that she was out-of-place. She no longer was interested in my painting, but kept moving restlessly on the tube light, trying to find her escape.

I wanted to tell The queen to calm down. ‘You could be my exotic pet!’ I wanted her to understand.

But of course, The queen couldn’t understand my love. She flapped, hopped, and clicked her neck. And then she hopped onto something steely right beneath the tube light.

WP_001849

My mom deftly showing The queen her way out

My mom had ascended the rod to where she was. The queen had jumped right onto it without any coaxing. 

Slowly she was led to the balcony, outside the grills, where she clicked her neck for one last time before launching herself into the night.


You want to fly high
But your wings are shred
By the righteous society
Plan, plan, plan, they say
Spontainity is blasphemy
Adventure is sin
Sit closed inside, they say
Stabbing your spirits
A hatred swells in you
Against society, against safety
Ravenous, you break shackles
A maniac, a trotter
You swim alongside the whales
Society is far behind
You dance in the rain
Folks curse you
You take it all
That’s not the world you seek
It’s out here under the skies
Pack your things
Even that little family pic
You don’t repel your family
Just love life more
And then comes opportunities
As you live with yourself
Stiching relations
Which you like
Wandering places
Which you want
Tidying up life
All your way
One day you look back
Where is the closed door?
Where is the hatred?
Eyes shine due respect
Hugs sense due love
Then you leave again
To your little nest
Far away from restrictions
Far away from society
Made with hays of freedom
Set on a branch of life

It’s ‘pissing’ indeed


It was a peak summer afternoon. I got inside Bus No 114, a direct one from Vandalur to CMBT. Inside the bus, there were heads dangling from pulpy vertebrae and hands holding on to the bars like withered branches. Not a welcoming sight. I found a corner seat anyway.

The hot breeze through the window forced my eyes shut. Post that I saw everything in a haze. The oily heads and baskets of dried fish at the Tambaram stop would blur into a blank red screen. Next I would wake up to college lads playing tabla on the bus door to some MGR music. This would culminate in a splash of red. Next, a bunch of white ribbons tying the frizzy plats of school girls as they fight to get in. Blank red.

After what seemed like a day, I woke up to a slight nudge on my shoulder. It was a lady who was trying to unbutton her blouse to feed her baby. The kid, well above three, looked at me with her round eyes in despise. Heat does that to people. The innocent start loathing other equally innocent. I turned my face and let the sun brush my face black. The kid kept hitting my elbow as she rejoiced her mom’s milk.

I realised I had slept again when I woke up to a nudge for the second time. I wanted to be rude, but this time I could only see the lady’s back. Where was the kid?

The bus was almost empty with just a few fast asleep. The conductor was busy talking with the driver about a new release. I slightly raised myself up from my seat to get a better view of what the lady was doing? I was almost standing when she suddenly turned and sat straight. I sat back and pretended to adjust my dress. She picked the child from the bus floor, kept her on the lap and hurriedly pulled her shorts up. The kid smiled. A wicked satisfied smile.

The conductor whistled. As the bus came to a halt, the lady got off along with the kid, carefully placing her steps as she walked past to the bus door. Did someone puke?

I slid slowly on to her seat and looked down to see a trail of yellow urine meandering all the way to the back seat.

A landmark at Brussels which shows a kid urinating into the fountain's basin

A landmark at Brussels which shows a kid urinating into the fountain’s basin

Atrocious! I looked around at the empty seats and sleeping faces. Should I tell the conductor? Just then his whistle halted the bus.  School children chattered their way in, their new Bata shoes smudging what was then a lean valley. The chatters grew, so did the imprinted foot marks.

I cringed in my seat. It felt weird to be the only one to know the truth. But I couldn’t shout ‘Urine Urine’. I didn’t want to be a silent spectator, neither did I want to create a ruckus. I did what I thought was sane, got off the bus in the next stop like nothing happened at all. Once out, inhaled in deep, shouted ‘Yuck’, and continued walking.

 

The yellow shabby sheet


I have a board above my study table wherein I pin up anything that I find inspirational, aspirational or  simply interesting. While the paper bits get changed almost every week, there is one clipping that remains. It is a yellow shabby sheet out of a pocket-sized diary. It says – ‘Ammu, I love you always’ written in green marker. Underneath is her sign. A curve around N of Nivya, written in fat bold alphabets.

Like graffiti on my wall

Like graffiti on my wall

Chechi had her moods. She would randomly sign on my brand new notes, right on the front page, much to my annoyance. This withered sheet was a reflection of one such instance. She had pasted it on the board saying that it should be left there permanently. I had given a sarcastic nod then, and continued with my work.

Months went past. The clippings changed from news about Obama’s announcement of Osama Bin Laden being killed to the curiosity rover being sent to Mars. During this period, she had got married and moved to her in-laws place permanently. The space in the shelf, which I used to fight for, now lay empty. The portion of the bed which I demanded for every night, now lay vast and untouched.

Years went past, the hollowness vapourised. The yellow sheet remained. Sometimes ignored, it lay beneath a pile of books and would be later excavated while cleaning, pinned up again. Sometimes I would find it hanging at an angle with one pin less to hold it. Be it during a hurried breakfast with mouth full of food or while inserting my tight sandals up my soles, I would always take a second to pin it up if I see it dangling on the board. It had almost become an involuntary action.

Then she left for the US. I remember smiling at the yellow sheet when back home after seeing her off at the airport. The idea of it resting right there somehow is comforting. The sheet talks to me. It pacifies me during stress, says things are alright, perfectly okay. It reminds me of the little garden we had in Haridwar, where as kids, chechi and I spent our childhood riding toy cars, eating unripe grapes and smelling jasmine. All those days when we used to apply ponds cream on our cheeks to get rid of the winter freckles and go to Kathak classes with three layers of clothing. It reminds me of the white frock with fat circular blocks and the huge cactus plant in our balcony. The smell of mango kept for drying and the sight of vulture outside our bathroom window, the same window through which we used to see mom and dad coming back from work in the Bajaj scooter. It’s surprising that this shabby scrap holds the key to such memories.

A few days ago I had unknowingly discarded it along with few other bits. After scavenging inside my files and shelves, I found it lying inside the bin along with a banana peel. Now it rests on my board again, neatly pinned up, yellow and rusty as ever.

Jab we met on the net


 

March 25, 2012. That’s when he finally met her. Like a scene sliced out from Bollywood, they stood on either side of the railway platform in Pune, looking at each other. A friendship moulded by a million online chats over a span of five years, finally seemed real.

“I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t look at her face. I just kept smiling like a fool,” says Arun Sakthinarayanan (23), an IT employee from Chennai who deems his friendship with Fatma Tanveer(27), IT employee from Pune, to be a miracle. “I just became too busy associating each of our conversations with the expressions on her face,” he says, beaming.

It was during his second year in college, in 2008, that Arun first got a scrap from Fatma in Orkut. It was a comment enquiring about a Robotic project that he had posted online. From academic discussions, they say, the conversations became more personal with every session of chat.

“I never had to think twice before saying anything to him. He was a stranger then, and his judgement wouldn’t affect me, anyway!” says Fatma, who believes that it’s the distance which has worked the magic. For both of them, who were going through a rough patch in their life then, the conversations were a respite from their immediate surrounding world. But, how much can one trust a stranger?

Yes, online friendship is seen with a lot of speculation, Fatma agrees. However, she says that it’s the gradual growth which cemented the trust. “He respected my messages and never nagged me for my number,” she says. For the first one and a half years, neither the telephone numbers were exchanged, nor the photographs. There was only a slight hop from Orkut to Gchat, from Gchat to Facebook. “Today, both mine and his family know about our friendship. Sometimes, I find my brother chatting with him,” she adds.

Unlike with friends from within the city, misunderstandings cannot be solved with a treat or hug. So when there was a sudden retreat in 2011 from her side, Arun recalls suffering the pangs of loneliness. “No messages or calls. I was horrified if I had done anything wrong,” he says.

It took a long conversation to analyse the issue and sort it out. The incident taught them to break the filters and speak, as that was the only medium for them to share their emotions.

“Since then I have never kept any of my feelings bottled up. It’s better talking to him about it,” she confesses. Be it a new crush, ego clashes with parents or a bad day at work, Arun talks about it to Fatma, whom he considers his personal diary.

While Arun plans to leave to the US this month for higher studies, the ‘bestest buddies’ have come to accept online as their abode for friendship. “We started off like this. Though the distance does seem enormous, we are at our best online,” says Fatma. No farewell hug?

“Whenever you feel lonely, just look behind

For a friend whom distances don’t bind,” quotes Fatma, from one of her poems she wrote for him.

The article was previously published in The New Indian Express. Check out -http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/1441638

 

Captaining the Friend ‘ship’


The atmosphere defines comfort.  Basking in the eveniing sun, Durga and Revathi, housewives in their mid-thirties, sit reclined in the sofa sipping a cup of coffee. Their dialogues have intermittent laughs, slight nudges and sudden loud claps. A small distance away, their toddlers follow the trail of a toy car into the kitchen.

“It has been more than 30 years,” sighed Durga. “And am still bearing with you,” she adds with a tinge of naughty smile. Revathi knows more than just to give a direct answer, and retorts, “So, what now? We break up?”  Both of them break into fits of laughter. It’s the same laughter which they had shared after pulling pranks at friends in school, bunking classes without their parent’s knowledge or after coming up with a funny name for their teachers.

The duo was an unlikely combination though. While Durga was more of the extrovert types, the brainchild behind any ruckus at school and gang leader of sorts, Revathi was on the subtle side, counting her academic cards and making sure her name was never blotted. “We were ‘outstanding’ in our own ways,” Durga says with a laugh.

“She used to nag me to talk with her while the teacher was inside the class,” says Revathi, widening her eyes to convey the magnitude of risk she had taken passing small scraps of paper, in reply to Durga’s silly questions. This happened during one of those instances when Durga was asked to stand outside the class for dedicating a famous Tamil song, yaro yarodi to one of their teachers, who had recently been engaged then. “Atrocious!” quips Revathi, while Durga blushes acknowledging her action. “What was I thinking!” she cups her face in her palm.

After their school days, they parted ways. The college indulged them with new friends. The calls became scarce. Meet-ups, none. Neither of their marriage invitations reached the other. But life is surprisingly kind at times. This time it came in Facebook avatar. “All it took is a friend request to reinvent the wheel of friendship,” says Durga, passionately recollecting the day when she tracked down Revathi’s profile.

Finding each other after years is exciting indeed, but imagine finding each other pregnant at the same time. “It was mind whacking!” admits Durga, who was in South Africa then. “The green status beside her name was the green signal for my day,” jests Revathi, recalling those days when they used to survive on food, water and online chats. “I knew even the exact count of kicks which she would have experienced,” giggles Durga. There have been days when Durga’s husband has sung lullaby for both of them to sleep, admits the duo.

Baby boys for both, the happy news had been conveyed. But when did they meet? “It was a Sunday morning, when my door bell rang,” recounts Revathi, now embracing Durga’s son. “It was Durga with her 5-month-old son! I swear I could have dropped dead with happiness,” she says almost tearing up.

It’s been two years since then and till date, Durga says, not a day goes without hearing her voice. The conversation then diverts to finding the best way to explain the mounting phone bills to their husbands. Their hushed tones and animated actions remind one, of the four-year-olds they were – sitting beside each other in a group photo that now stays framed in the hall.

The article was previously published in The New Indian Express. Check out – http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/1441638