Saturday, March 31, 2007

Random Thoughts and a Painting

Last year I picked up painting after a hiatus of six years. I painted very regularly during the entire spring and summer season. I was planning to start oil painting this spring. I can spend hours painting and totally lose myself to that imaginary world. I paint my feelings, anger, frustration and passion. Sometimes I paint my innermost feelings that I cannot articulate in words but it is well articulated in colors and forms. Now those of you who know me are going to start laughing because I talk non-stop, sometimes sense but most of the times nonsense. Anyway I am glad my livelihood doesn’t depend on this because I would have been starving right now. The last painting I did was way back in November of last year.

As I had mentioned earlier I have started a new job and one of the administrative staff member is an accomplished artist. She holds exhibitions and even takes commissions. She has a day job because that offers her a steady income, health and other benefits like 401K. I could go on about health care issues and retirement issues faced by the aging population but then that defeats the purpose of my blog, which is to be irreverent and write inane nonsense. Of course her style of painting is totally different than mine and so are her subjects. I however love her passion for it and the ability to do that ceremoniously every weekend.

Last evening before leaving work she came up to me and asked me if I had done something lately. I told her that I just don’t get into the mood these days and also I don’t have the time. She asked me with an incredulous look that how could I go on without painting? She said that I am wasting my talent by not doing it. I thought about it and realized that out of all my hobbies I have consistently painted. As a child I would paint everyday after I got home from school. My mother had with great affection collected all my work. When I got married, she had given it to my husband who in turn had kept it very carefully in his parent’s home. The infamous 2005 floods in Bombay destroyed all that. I was a little sad then but really didn’t think much about it because I still can paint and the floods did not wipe my ability. Last evening after speaking to the lady at my workplace, I realized that I have taken a lot of things in my life for granted including my art. I always took my parents and my sisters for granted and I realized their value after moving thousands of miles away from them. I have to find time now to paint. I did it last year so why should it change this year. I think it is all about efficient time management. Besides I don’t want to have any regrets later in my life.

I am sharing the above abstract painting that I painted in India several years ago. It was a hot summer day and I was particularly frustrated about a certain situation. I took my colors and randomly painted this piece. At the end of the exercise I was exhausted but my mind was at complete peace.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Movie Review: The Namesake

We went to see the film “The Namesake” this evening. This post is not a review as I don’t claim to be an expert in cinema. I am, however, an admirer of Mira Nair’s work and have seen most of her films. "Salaam Bombay" was the first film of hers that I saw way back in the early nineties, when I was studying architecture, which is based on the street children of my city. Subsequently I saw “Mississippi Masala.” I had absolutely loved her film “Monsoon Wedding,” which was released in 2001. If I am not mistaken, her background is in documentary and her films are faithful to that genre.

I also love Kal Penn who is the main character in this film. The first film that I saw of his, was a small budget film called “American Desi,” where he had a supporting role but really stood out. I also saw his movie, “Harold and Kumar go to White Castle,” which pokes fun at stereotypes. He was hilarious in both the movies and it was very refreshing to see him play a rather intense character in this film.

Moving back to “The Namesake,” this movie is based on Jhumpa Lahiri’s book with the same name. The movie is the story about a Bengali family, the Ganguli family, consisting of Ashoke and Ashima and their two children Gogol and Sonia, and their journey from Calcutta, India to New York and eventually to Boston. Ashoke is played by Irfan Khan and Ashima is played by the incredible Tabu, who is a very talented Indian actress. It spans between the three cities and talks about the conflict of Gogol, played by Kal Penn. Gogol has an identity crises and is trying to find himself. In addition his name “Gogol,” which is given in the honor of the Russian author his father reveres is also the cause of the conflict. There is a story behind it which unfolds as the movie progresses. Gogol dates a Caucasian Manhattan socialite but then eventually marries an Indian-American with the same Bengali heritage. That does not solve his problem either and a family tragedy brings him closer to his roots. The other inter generational conflict is the fact that most expatriate Indians think that their children must marry into their regional and cultural background. Doing that is not necessarily the formula for a happy marriage, which is highlighted by Gogol’s situation. Also the fact that the Indian community is so insular and they socialize only with “their own.” This can be very conflicting for a child who has one life in school and whole other in the parent’s home.

Mira Nair is a sensitive film maker and her films are very poignant and capture intense emotions which are interspersed with such humor. The other thing I have noticed is Mira Nair’s ability to spin her very own special cinematographic magic in her movies. She always shoots on location and paints a very realistic picture of an Indian life. She makes very ugly landscapes and cityscapes look very beautiful. As an artist I see beauty in the old dilapidated buildings, in the crowded streets and in the amalgamation of different cultures that is India so I completely identify with her aesthetic sensibilities.

All I can say is that it was an enjoyable evening and I would definitely recommend this movie to you.

Among Other Things:
There were other things in that movie that I could identify with as Bengali culture is not dissimilar to Maharashtrian culture.

The one thing that I identified the most was with the concept of pet names. Bengalis tend to have two names for their kids, a pet name and a registered name. One of my Bengali classmates had a nickname “Rana” and my friends and I used to mercilessly harass him by calling him “Rana Tigrina,” which is the scientific name of the Indian bullfrog (I know it is not funny at all but it was quite funny at that time. Thank God my sense of humor has matured with age). Gogol is the character's pet name while his registered name is "Nikhil."

My sisters and I have registered names and totally different pet names too. My pet name is rather weird sounding and if translated in America would be considered a "racial slur," when in actuality it is a very common term of endearment in India. Till today my parents, sisters, brother-in-law, and old friends call me by my pet name. Even my 13-year old nephew refuses to call me and my younger sister by the honorific Marathi/Indian term “Mavshi” (which means mother’s sister) and instead calls me by my pet name. For quite some years of my life my pet name overtook my actual registered name and it can be very annoying when acquaintances start calling you by it.

I couldn’t really identify with the need felt by Ashoke and Ashima to hang out with other Bengalis but it is true with a lot of expatriate Maharashtrians as well. When I first moved to New Jersey, my cousin asked me if I joined the “Maharashtra Mandal,” which basically is the cultural group of all Maharashtrians. I said that I did not and he replied that since I don’t have children I might not feel the need. I wondered if it would change when I become a parent but then since K and I never made friends based on ethnicity I don’t think it will ever matter to us.

As an Indian woman who lives in the United States, I couldn’t identify with Ashima perhaps because she belongs to a totally different generation than me. I could however identify with her love for her family in India as I am part of a very close-knit family. Although I live here with my husband and have lived here all by myself as well and despite being well integrated and comfortable with mainstream American society yet I still miss my home and family terribly.

Last but not the least, the character is an architect who gets inspired to study architecture after visiting the Taj Mahal. When I was 13, I visited Agra on a school trip and was completely awe-struck by the architectural splendor of Taj Mahal and Fathepur Sikhri. It sounds very cliched but I attribute my architecture and planning education to that trip!

PS: I also love Bengali sarees and despite being a person who seldom wears sarees I own (K calls it "hoard") quite a few Dhaka, Tangail, Kantha and Baluchari sarees. So I enjoyed looking at all the beautiful sarees as well.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Monsoon in Panchgani

(To maintain anonymity on this blog, I have cropped off my name. This painting belongs to Sai Speak)

I had mentioned in my previous post that I have been cleaning up and organizing my stuff. I found this landscape that I had painted way back in August 1999 in Panchgani, which is a small hill station near Mumbai. This town is a plateau in the Sahyadri mountains that run across the State of Maharashtra. This town runs along the river Krishna. I had painted this early in the morning, using gouache and watercolors. I remember we were staying in a hotel overlooking the river. This was painted on a day when it was raining a lot and the river was very turbulent.

Panchgani is very close to Mahabaleshwar, which is another hill station. Both these small towns were developed by the British and have quaint colonial style architecture. It also has substantial Zorastrian (Parsee) population. This town is famous for their elite boarding schools as well. Speaking of which, one of my father-in-law's friends had their son studying in one of the schools. On this particular visit of ours, the friend was visiting her son as well. We bumped into her by chance and she insisted that we go and see her son and check out his school. K and I made up excuses but she didn't get the hint and literally dragged us to her son's school. The entire time K was grumbling to me about having to meet people and be forced to make small talk and hang out with them. I told him to grin and bear it. But as soon as we reached the school we were totally taken by the beauty of the surroundings. The school is nestled at the end of one mountain range and has the magnificent panoramic view of the mountains. The school had an ampitheatre which took advantage of the natural contours and dropped down to the stage that overlooked into a valley.

Monsoon in Panchgani is relentless. It doesn't rain heavily but there is a constant drizzle and the temperatures go as low as 50F (which is cold given the tropical location!). Anyway so we were at the top of the amphitheater and K wanted to check the view. I told him to not go further because I feared that there might be moss on the steps due to the moisture.

Typical K ignored me and ventured down the steps when he slipped on the moss, went for a toss and went tumbling down the steps. In full view of the principal of the school, our friend, her son and a few of his classmates, K screamed involuntarily "Mother F****!!!!! Oh F***!" The velocity with which he slid down the steps scared the hell out of me and I feared that he might just go over the railing and into the valley. Helplessly I along with the others watched him slide down the steps all the way to the bottom of the amphitheater. Miraculously he pulled himself up with minor bruises and screamed from the bottom of the steps, "Don't worry I am OK." He was fine the only thing bruised was his ego and few scratches on his arm! He was embarassed not only because of his fall but also the fact that he cussed! K rarely cusses and most certainly would watch his language in front of people he doesn't know at all! After ascertaining that he was indeed well I started laughing. I told K that he was concerned about making small talk with his father's friend, but after hearing him cuss and that too in front of her eight year old son, his few classmates and her son's school principal, his father's friend would most certainly not want to socialize with him for a pretty long time!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Spring cleaning....a painting and an anecdote

This year has been quite crazy season wise. It was rather warm in January and we had storm on last friday. Anyway this weekend I decided to clean up and organize my stuff. As I was rummaging through all my nonsense, I found this painting that I had painted about ten years ago.

K's father owns a weekend home by the sea in a small town near Bombay called Alibag. We used to spend go there every other weekends with our friends. His father's house was situated right on the beach but was seperated by sand dunes; therefore you couldn't see the sea from the home but could always hear it. Their house was designed in such a way that there were no proper doors or windows in the living and dining area so anyone could walk in and out! I always used to be nervous about the fact that the house could be easily be broken into but it was close to the village and those who are from that area will know that it is very safe place.

On one of our visits I set out early in the morning with my easel, paper and colors to paint the above landscape. While I was walking back home I saw a cobra slither past me into my father-in-law's property! I stood in my tracks frozen with fear, which was a good thing because I surely would have had a lethal dose of the venomous poison had I reacted. At that very moment I was trying to recollect the first aid tips that we were taught in school in an event of a snake bite. It is one thing recollecting first aid tips for your school test and another thing recollecting while watching a poisonous reptile slither in front of you, whose bite incidentally is very fatal! That night I slept with my one eye open.

Friday, March 09, 2007


Sanjay mentions “tea” as the Friday word in his blog and has written a lovely poem. I suck at poetry so decided to share an anecdote instead.

I absolutely love tea and once upon a time could drink innumerable cups per day. Those who are from India can identify with the ubiquitous chai-vallas present all over the country. When I joined my architecture program at Sir JJ School of Art, my best friend’s older sister took me under her wing. She took me to the JJ canteen. This place was famous and reminisced by all famous alumni for being the place where they got “inspired.” Anyway it served the most decocted and therefore rather strong masala tea and batatavada with pav. She told me that if my stomach can take that I am ready to face the five years of undergraduate study. I survived that test and spent my five years of architecture eating all the street food in South Bombay. That has worked wonders on my immune system!

JJ’s canteen was run by a very kind gentleman called Laxman who had kids from his village working as chai-vallas. These boys used to go to school at night and work during the day. The architecture building had these two boys, Sitaram and Ramu, bringing in innumerable cups of chai to give us, teetotalers a good caffeine buzz. I for one cannot go without sleep, so survived sleepless nights on hundreds of cups of chai. The vada-pav was so sad and the tea was equally bad yet I got hooked on it. I always used to tease the guys in Hinglish (mixture of Hindi and English), “Arrey Sitaram jara adulterated chai aur vada pav lana,” which translates as please get me some adulterated food from the canteen. Sitaram, barely spoke a word of English but would always give me a beaming smile and say, “Thank you very much Madam,” without even realizing what it meant. Laxman was extremely compassionate with all the students who lived away from home in the hostels. With the rest of us who lived at home he was pretty particular and saw that we paid our chai tabs on time. The kids had photographic memories and would remember how much we owed them and when we ordered what. Despite the fact that we lived with our parents and not in the hostel, we were equally broke as the students living in the hostel.

One year my college hosted the national convention of all architecture schools in India and everyone’s parents came to visit. My parents were not at all interested but I felt so left out. I called them up from school and threw a huge tantrum so they were coerced into attending it! As I showed them around the campus and introduced them to all my classmates, I asked my dad if he wanted to have chai at the canteen. He said “why not” and we walked up to it. At that time I remembered that I had to pay Sitaram and didn’t want my father to know how much I owed. So I told my father, “Never mind, the tea here is rather bad.” At that very moment, cheeky Sitaram ran towards us and asked my father, “Do you want tea?” and ran back with two cups. My dad asked him how much he owed and Sitaram said “Rs. 200.” My father looked at him with a very surprised expression as chai was only Rs 1.25 then. Sitaram then said that I owed them around Rs 200. My dad scolded me as to why I didn’t pay these guys right away. I said that I always paid regularly. So my father asked me that since when was this tab due. I was embarrassed and said that I didn’t remember but the precocious kid Sitaram squealed saying that it was since the previous morning. Then he rattled of how many cups of tea and vada pav I had since the previous morning. My father chuckled and joked that I had an iron stomach to endure all this and not fall sick but my mother gave me one of those looks that makes you want mother earth to open and swallow you! I really wanted to kick myself for even inviting them over. Anyway I learnt my lesson and decided that if my parents don’t want to hang out with me it is just fine by me!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Nothing Substantial to write about

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post I have started a new job. It is a group of companies with different office locations and I work in one of the branch offices. I must confess that on my first day when they set up my computer and email, I checked to see how many desis were working in that company. Then I found, out of how many of those belonged to Maharashtra. I know it sounds pretty provincial but what the hell….enquiring minds want to know. So I started stereotyping to find what they were doing in that company. I found that all desis, including myself, were pretty much doing geeky things. Maybe there is some truth in painting with a broad brush of generalization. I was also pleased to know that there were other foreigners working and I am assuming it is a pretty diverse place. This was such a contrast to my old job where I was the only Indian and foreigner. I was asked a lot of ridiculous questions, which used to annoy me. Sometimes I would make up things just for fun! I would come home and regale K with anecdotes of all the nonsense I have been telling the ignoramuses at my old work place. He always laughs at my imagination and my ability to poke fun at myself! Anyway that’s all I am going to write about my work place, old as well as new.

Anyway on Saturday I took a train to the City at an unearthly hour, to meet one of my dear friends who was visiting the City. I thought I might peacefully nap the entire time. I was sitting in the second car and was peacefully napping until when the train pulled out of Newark International Airport Station. I was rudely awakened by a male voice yelling in the first car, “Hello….Hello can you please not talk on your cell phone. People are trying to sleep here.” The guy had a distinctive foreign accent, to which ethnic group it belonged shall not be disclosed. He continued yelling, “You are not in your living room but in a train….so please SHUT UP.” We did not know whom he was yelling at because we couldn’t hear the other person on the cell phone. Everyone in our car woke up and started looking around for the errant cell phone user. At that very moment, the woman stopped talking on the cell phone and yelled back in a foreign accent, which also won’t be disclosed, “You don’t own this train and it is a free country.” She continued talking on the cell phone and briskly walked towards our car talking in a foreign language with the guy following her and yelling, “Hello hello…how are you??….ha ha ha….what are you doing at 7AM.” By that time everyone in our car were woken by this ruckus and were looking stunned at the spectacle. The guy chased her out of our car and walked back and sat down on an empty seat right in front of me! I thought the whole situation was so funny and wanted to laugh out loud….but couldn’t as I was scared of the cell phone Nazi sitting in front of me. I thought maybe he doesn’t like people laughing too and might chase me out of the car as well! I am completely annoyed by people talking non-stop on their cell phones but just ignore them than make a fool of myself. Like I mentioned in yesterday’s post….there is never a dull moment in New Jersey!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The reason for not blogging

First of all, Sugarlips and Sanjay, thank you very much for dropping a line and finding out how I was faring. I am very well and the reason for not blogging regularly is that I have recently started a new job. Last week was my first week and it is a long commute. So I leave home early in the morning, negotiate Jersey drivers and Jersey highways *rolling eyes* to my new place of work. In case anyone wants to know I can say "F*** Off" in Italian these days! I have longer hours than my previous job and also the commute to my old job was only ten minutes hence I had all the free time in the evening to write. Most importantly, I was so frustrated in my previous job that towards the end I would even blog during my office hours *blushing with embarassment* to cope with the frustration. Hence there were regular posts from me for the past few months.

As I had mentioned earlier blogging is very therapeutic for me. I will still write on weekends and probably a post or two during the week as I enjoy this very much. Yesterday I couldn't write because I left early in the morning to meet my friend, who was visiting New York on business, for brunch. Of course I have a funny story that happened on the train ride to the City which I might blog about in a little bit. All I can say is that there is never a dull moment in Jersey! I am sorry I haven't had a chance to visit all your blogs and shall do it very soon.

Hey Dan, from Dan's blah blah blog, I have a slogan for New Jersey and here it is......
New Jersey: Never a dull moment here!