Love in the time of friendship

Ten Years On by Alice Peterson is a love story involving three friends — Joe, who is forced to pursue medicine by his folks, Olly, an average musician and a wannabe writer and Rebecca, an artist who dreams of making it big one day. Olly and Rebecca are a couple, and everything is hunky dory until Joe enters their lives with his handsome looks and striking personality. The three bond well, until Cupid looses focus and strikes arrows on wrong targets, and Joe quits college and leaves town without any notice.

Why does Joe leave? — the author tries building mystery with this, but really, it is no rocket science. A love triangle is not hard to decode. What keeps the pages turning is the back and forth narration that Alice adopts throughout. After Olly dies (no spoiler; the book begins with Olly’s funeral) Rebecca, unable to cope with the tragedy and the anxiety of bearing Olly’s kid without him to support her, heads to her hometown in Winchester.

Here, Alice gives a generous peek into Rebecca’s childhood, her baggage of disappointment about always being the second priority after her sister, an ace Tennis player, for her parents. But soon, we read about a very pregnant Rebecca assisting Joe in his work. Then, it’s back to her halcyon days with Olly in Bristol, before the pages turn to a tensed Rebecca talking to the spirit of Olly, asking him to come back to her (yes, Olly’s spirit keeps talking to her inside her head).

The parts about the carefree hostel life the three share, works the best for me. There are references to songs like Bob Dylan’s Make you feel my love, George Michael’s Wake me up before you go and Supergrass. A whole chapter is dedicated to an eighties night party where Rebecca dresses as Madonna in blond wig, tight black jeans and lace corset and Joe as George Michael, in a leather jacket and ripped jeans. Among their friends are those sporting looks of Michael Jackson, Duran Duran, Blondie and Boy George.

It’s a breezy read. While what Rebecca goes through is quite tragic, it doesn’t pull down your spirit, or have you all tensed about her future without Olly. The narration struggles to keep pace with the reader, who can more or less predict the next scene.

That Which Cannot be Spoken

That electric tension. It intensified as she walked towards him. The feeling was raw and fresh. Like the biting cold of the first snow of the season. It pierced in as he stood with a gaze that he kept casual – an effort that used up his last of muscles.

She walked towards him. He looked at her. Inside her head she could hear the thud of heavy prison gates closing, and inside his, he saw himself getting swallowed into the eye of a very violent storm.

‘Hello,’ he said, blood rushing to his lips, forehead and tip of nose. ‘Hey,’ she replied, her lips quivering a little, and feet picking up pace faster than normal. Am imaginary thread wove them like two pieces of fabrics. The needle pulled one to the other, but in vain, thanks to the scouring eyes in the room.


A lazy-afternoon sketch

The last night’s conversations brewed and surfaced. It stayed over their heads like a gigantic cloud. Prick it with the smallest of pins and a million desires, feverish needs and unanswered questions would rain. No one dared to. The cloud remained, getting thicker and thicker with every gaze, voice and proximity.

He stole glances at her, from the narrow gap between two computers; never missed to look at her face as she passed by him; drank in her confusion and doubt as she spoke to her friends. He fantasised her in the well lit 10-people strong room on a Monday afternoon. Look or die. It came to that. He went inside a small dark room with transparent door, directed the seat aiming a full view of her, and continued watching, oblivious to the work stacking up on his table.

She smiled, more cautious than usual, stretched her neck longer than usual, popped her eyes out to suggest surprise, more than usual. She knew he was watching, and she was ready to play the game of Seek and Find. She saw him watching her from the dark room and felt a hundred spiders running up her legs. She saw him getting up from the chair and beginning to open the door.

The timing was perfect. He opened the door and walked in straight to her. There was a small halt. He took a generous look at her flushed face. She looked at him, put up a preoccupied face, and walked past him to her colleague.

The next day, the same continued. And the day after. And the one after that.

Why I wouldn’t go to Ega Theatre Again

It was 30 minutes past the movie had begun, when a usher shone the torch on our face. ‘G-19 and G-20, veliye vanga (come out)!) My friend and I were in the extreme corner, and couldn’t at first gauge what was up. Those in our row shifted in their seats, reassuring that they were not the ones pointed out. A few seconds later, even as the movie was going on, the usher shouted, ‘Madam, seekram vanga (come out fast)’. At this point, like a well-choreographed dance move, all heads bent to see who were the two culprits. The guy next to me whispered in a tensed tone, “They are calling you. There is some issue.”

Sure there was, just that none of us knew what it was.


My friend and I walked to the exit, where a young man asked us to show our online tickets downstairs, get the converted tickets and come back. “But we showed them the printout of our e-tickets, they accepted it and gave us these two, before entering,” said my friend, showing him two pink slips of paper. We could have as well showed him a chocolate wrapper, for he continued asking us to go downstairs and get the tickets. He reminded me of those auto-wallahs who refuse anything below an insane amount of Rs 100 for a three-km ride, with that very annoying negative nod.

We went downstairs, showed them the e-tickets on our mobiles, and got the ‘real’ ones. ‘So who is the manager here?’ my friend asked, after explaining to him what happened back inside. The reaction was instant. The guy at the ticket counter threw back a question at us. “How can they ask you to come in the middle of the movie for a ticket?” he asked, wearing a mask of concern. Soon there was a cluster of staffers, all eager to throw a rag on the fire.

They followed us like paparazzi until we reached the entrance of the screen. We showed them the usher who asked us to get the tickets, the usher got into an argument with us saying he did the right thing, and we asked him to at least Shut Up if he didn’t know to apologise. All this while, the cluster of men stood like witnesses to a road accident. Not a bit useful.

As we made our way to our seats, probably it was just my imagination, but I could see that you-guys-are-freeloaders?-kinda-look on faces. It wasn’t pretty, though the movie was.

Can You Water Money?

​Does money plant bring in real money? I remember asking my grandma this question years ago, when she had fewer wrinkles and when biology projects were my biggest worry. She never gave a definite answer. Instead she said that for the plant to grow well, one had to steal it from someone else’ pot.
Steal? My dad had asked me with a shocked expression the next day. ‘Yes, that’s what she said,’ I confirmed. He walked away with a disapproving nod and a slight chuckle.

Years later, now, as I sit in my drawing room, I see a healthy green bunch of money plant leaves flowing out of the pot beside the TV. Enter kitchen, there is one on top of the fridge, proceed to balcony, there are at least 20 pots of various sizes with money plants. This is besides the creepers happily clawing on every railing of the balcony, forming a neat money plant curtain.

Money plant glowing in the light of the morning sun

Money plant glowing in the light of the morning sun

All these are works of my mom, who saves every empty perfume bottle, broken cup, and glass, and converts them to a holding pot for money plant. Most of them, she admits, have been taken from our neighbours’ pots without their knowledge. Many guests at my home have asked my mom if these plants actually brought in money. My mom always laughed it off, like it was an issue silly enough to be discussed. Many have come to a conclusion that since the money plants in their houses were not growing well, they were facing the financial crunch.

An array of money plant pots kept neatly aligned in my balcony

An array of money plant pots kept neatly aligned in my balcony

According to the Chinese Feng Shui philosophy, this plant brought in good fortune and prosperity, especially when kept beside the place where you kept money. In the past one month, I decided to try it myself, and placed a small cute pot of money plant on my desk, and placed my wallet beside it every evening after I got back from office. I haven’t observed much change to be honest. However, there is an important lesson which my dad pointed out one evening while he was sipping his tea and I was carelessly browsing through Facebook.

‘Have you observed… this money plant, no matter where you keep it, it grows,’ he said. I thought about the several​-meter long, hard stemmed ones in the balcony, and the dainty small one on my study table. They all just adapted to the surrounding they were kept in​, with or without sunlight, with or without soil​.​ All they needed was little water.


‘Probably it is this urge to grow, to prosper, that gives it the name?’ he said, before taking another casual sip of his hot tea​, not realising that he had just solved one of the biggest puzzles that haunted me ever since I was a kid.​

Grandma’s Tale

Achamma* lay on her bed watching us all. There were half a dozen of us around her, swallowing our tears and sniffing from time to time. She smiled at a few faces, uncomfortable with the attention she was getting. “What happened? Headache?” she asked my aunt, who kept her forehead cupped in her palms.

That's my achamma, beginning a brand new day :)

That’s my achamma, beginning a brand new day 🙂

A slight breeze from outside swayed the curtains in the room to reveal a stiff cold body inside a glass box in the hall, that of my achachan**. He had passed away that morning in his sleep. “He left us just like that. Not even a slight movement” — my dad, who had sat by his bed on the night of his death, said to all who came to offer their condolences. Following the statement, there were satisfied nods, a few looking upwards to thank the supreme.

But achamma would never know how her husband of over 65 years of marriage passed away, how she wasn’t there to hold his hands, or give him his last cup of warm water, as she had been doing almost all her life. For, achamma now lives in a faraway land, where reality has no place.

Achamma enjoying the 96th birthday feast of achachan, along with him

Achamma enjoying the 96th birthday feast of achachan, along with him (taken in June 2014). He passed away on January 23, 2015, before the crack of dawn

Inside her head, she is young, looking for an alliance for her elder son — my dad. Her husband is in Delhi, and she is awaiting the day he would show up at her doorstep armed with goodies for all her six children. She is a busy woman, managing all household chores under the supervision of her strict mother, who though passed away due to a stroke ages ago, still is hale and healthy for her. “Oh I have to light the lamp, else mother will get angry,” she would say at times, or “Let’s pack our suitcase, we need to rush to mother’s place,”  at other times. Sometimes she would rush outside to the winding roads of Vellinezhi*** village like she was in her early 20s, and sometimes take to washing a heap of vessels, cheating her own health.

Achamma taking a brisk walk along with her one of her daughter in laws and a grandson

Achamma taking a brisk walk along with her one of her daughter in laws and a grandson

On the day of achachan’s death, when dad broke the news to her, she cried her soul out. She passed out after a bout of wailing and woke up to a new world where everything was perfect. She even did the ritual of walking around achachan’s corpse devoid of any grief, like how she would walk to fetch a glass of water from the next table.

The next morning after the body was burnt, achamma sat at the dining table, and asked one of her grandchildren to call achachan from the bedroom for breakfast. A shadow of panic clouded everyone’s face, but only for a while, as achamma had begun to concentrate on her dosa by then. In the noon, when someone casually asked her if she knew where achachan was, she said he was in Delhi and continued massaging her legs with herbal oil. From then on, no one took efforts to bring her back to our world.

Sometimes achamma cracks witty jokes and laughs at it before we do

Sometimes achamma cracks witty jokes and laughs at them before we do

At 86, she laughs more than anyone I know at her age. She doesn’t carry any heavy burden of past, and lives her life in minutes. Probably she still hears achachan calling her ‘Janu’, an abridged form of her name Janaki, from his side of bed; probably, she does get flashes of the tragic news my dad broke to her, but rebuffs them violently inside her head; probably, she is consciously holding on to a world that was complete with happiness — when her mom was around, kids were messy and achachan, a young and handsome man.

From her, I am inspired to hold on to the happy moments in life, and forget the rest. Happy Women’s Day achamma!

*Grandmother **Grandfather

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.

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.


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.


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?


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.


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.