Monday, 15 December 2008

Re-imaging, Re-imagining

I have been wondering of late if I was 'meant' to be a writer, and if my recent foray into the world of filmmaking and cinema theory is a broadening of my creative interests, or if I'm simply losing focus. Then I began reading Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, and after only about twenty-five pages, have a new-found appreciation of writing for all kinds of artists, and of the image for all sorts of writers.

What I am doing these days is a lot of blogging, writing for my personal journal and thesis, but also creating a scrapbook of memories to include as the opening sequence in my documentary. I have so far shied away from images of myself in the film, but now realise that this is crucial to tell a story that is both honest and poetic. Such a re-imaging of the past in the present, then, is a re-imagining of the journey that me and others like me interviewed in the documentary have undertaken. Why do we need to re-image and re-imagine our private and collective stories? Perhaps the desired effect is a refraction of my/our experiences, a re-contextualisation rather than a de-territorialisation. The originary place of our socio-cultural milieu may be geographically removed, but it continues to be reinvented in the new spaces that our bodies and minds now inhabit.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Diaspora and Dispersal

I have nearly finished interviewing people for my documentary titled, I Journey Like a Paisley, and am now well on my way to editing it into a coherent piece of cinema that articulates the Indian-Australian experience through my individualised artistic lens. What have I learned from these interviews that is different from my academic research into diaspora theory and cultural practice? Is there a single, unequivocal message? Who is my audience? Why am I passionate about this story?

Perhaps what I have to acknowledge first and foremost is that it is indeed my own experience of living away from the land of my birth (an experience that is gradually acquiring diasporic undertones) which has fuelled my interest in diasporic narrative(s). But an old feeling tells me I was curious about diasporic writers, filmmakers and members of my extended family living abroad even when I was 'wholly Indian'. Why did the Deepa Mehtas and Mira Nairs always haunt my dreams and linger on the horizons of my imagination? A worshipper of Arundhati Roy's brand of writerly-activism in my teenage years, I was still more puzzled by the likes of Salman Rushdie, and continue to be fascinated by his amalgamation of recklessness and wisdom. Reading his book of essays called Imaginary Homelands while undertaking a third-year university course on world literature, I figured I was always drawn to the idea of home(s) away from home(s), probably destined to wander.

Wandering reminds me of a story my grandmother told me on my last trip to India. Always keeping me up-to-date on Sikh folklore, she said that once Guru Nanak went with one of his disciples to a village where the locals treated him indifferently. On his way out, he wished the villagers well, saying may they stay here and prosper. In the next village he visited, he was showered with respect and gratitude. This time, he wished the villagers left their abode and dispersed. The perplexed disciple was told that the latter set of villagers were good-at-heart, and hence it was better for the world if they wandered around and shared their spirit. The former village folk, on the contrary, were better off staying put and not polluting others' with their negativity.

And thus, I believe wandering spirits have a higher purpose. Sometimes, however, evidence of extremism or frozen cultural practices amongst those living in the diaspora (Indian and others) questions my faith in the liberalism of transnational populations. Aren't there bad apples everywhere though? While academia tell me that diasporic citizens are merely 'complex', one of my interviewees proclaims himself a 'confused desi'. What do I think/feel? The path becomes less muddled as time passes - choices are made both consciously and sub-consciously, accents are shed and acquired in context, clothes and jewellery learn to make adjustments. Hence, I have come to view the diasporic experience as an ongoing negotiation rather than a confusion of values or a complexity of heritage. It is a process of self-discovery, creative-expression and knowledge-sharing that is as enriching as enlightenment itself, provided you do not succumb to the pitfalls of nostalgia for the motherland, contempt for anything ostensibly foreign, or an uncritical attitude towards the economic and social advantages of the new society. This is my message of hope from the diaspora, but it is for everyone. The message is not new, but I/we have travelled far and wide to disperse it. The stories of our diasporic lives are a testament to this dispersal of humanity, of universal values, of cross-cultural sharing (not just understanding or co-existence).

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Slumdog Millionaire (Dir. Danny Boyle)

There was a whole lot of Gen Y jargon occupying my headspace as I sat down to watch a preview session of this internationally-acclaimed co-production. My mind was a mish-mash of emotions and questions, more real that usual because I was on the brink of a decision. Am I, a tertiary-educated, well-travelled, career and family-oriented 20-something woman making the right choice(s)?

And then I was confronted by the image of a boy in the slums of Mumbai, covered in shit (there isn't a sophisticated way of putting it), and sprinting to get an autograph of Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan. This image was disgusting and endearing at the same time and set the tone for the rest of the film - about rags and riches, money and love, God and death, tourist and native, class and power, violence and envy. There are countless movies of all genres in the market on the above themes, but what sets Slumdog Millionaire apart is its unabashed representation of the most gory details of poverty and its accompanying ills. Thus, my dilemmas began to dissipate in the grime and sheer reality of the streets of Mumbai. The director invited me to take up the point of view of his three musketeers - Salim, his brother Jamal, and Jamal's sweetheart Latika, so I accepted the invitation.

The part of the film I enjoyed the most was the orphaned brothers' adventures through India - riding on trains and hanging off the roof of one to steal a passenger's chappati through a window, inventing novel ways of making money by stealing shoes and embezzling foreign tourists at the Taj Mahal, working in local restaurants and re-filling old mineral water bottles. Needless to say, one had no choice but to surrender western notions of morality to empathise with the boys and applaud their ingenuity. However, morality of all kinds was put under a cloud when Salim, by then an adolescent, decided to have Latika to himself after rescuing her from the hands of her evil benefactor who he shot, and subsequently throwing his naive younger brother Jamal out of the hotel room where the trio were putting up. Betrayal of blood, of family! What do we do now? We stood by Jamal as his 18-year old self alternatively sat in a police officer's chair and the contestant's seat on India's 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire?' and flashed back to the confronting stories of his past. Did he win the coveted prize money? Was he even after the money? What about Latika? Why was he being questioned by a cop? What was his destiny?

I will deliberately leave the aforementioned questions unanswered so your curiosity bones are tickled and you have adequate motivation to go watch the film when it is officially released in Australia on 18 December. All I can say is that I liked it probably because it is a film of this generation - not overtly stylistic like a Deepa Mehta or Mira Nair work, not escapist like most of commercial Hollywood and Bollywood, and not pretentiously cerebral like some art cinema. Slumdog Millionaire is an in-your-face and on-your-skin kind of film - let it in or leave it out!

Wednesday, 3 December 2008


I find myself tossing between extremes
A meditation retreat and a holiday in Sydney
A treatise on film and experiential cinema
A spiritual read and a style magazine
A physical craving and emotional detachment.

But are they really so dialectical
If they are present in me 
And assert themselves 
With equal vigour?

Perhaps I don't toss
But flow.

Tide over
Tide out
Double up
Cross over

Monday, 17 November 2008

Prudes and Prejudices

Six years ago, I remember driving out of a posh Hyde Park cafe with a university pal and casually mentioning that it would be boring to tie the knot with someone of the same ethnicity/background. My friend, a few years older and a bit more factually-oriented (perhaps as a direct result of being male) correctly pointed out that most people marry within the same post code. How unimaginative, I thought! Three years later, I had a reference from popular culture to add to my strengthening belief in the appeal of being and being with someone 'wild'. It was the scene from Sex and the City (yes, again) where Big is getting married to a 26-year old and Carrie walks up to him and asks why it wasnt' her. He is non-commital, and finally says that it just got too hard, after which she brushes off the hair falling on his forehead, and repeats the much-acclaimed line - "Your girl is lovely, Hubble". The episode ends with a usual Carrie-esque epiphany, but this time she is not pining away for a man, simply acknowledging the possibility that maybe she just wants to be free and run wild until she finds someone who can be wild with her. Kudos to kinky-haired girls!

Now, a certain degree of practical experience later, I am wondering if I (and many of my fellow women) are so open-minded and kinky after all. Can we, for instance, date someone so different from the way we were brought up that their good qualities overshadow our own prejudices? A conversation with a stranger who turned out to be a blue-collar worker made me realise that I am more conditioned by my class and upbringing that I am willing to admit. The man in question was quick to point out that I must be upper-caste Indian because of my proper English. (An aside - questions/remarks to do with the Indian caste system, arranged marriage, and Bollywood do not constitute good pick-up lines or initmate conversation topics). While the formative years spent poring over Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens and others have contributed to this 'properness' (or an illusion of it anyway), I can't help but wonder a) if this is a reaction to dissociate oneself from any assumptions about a rustic brand of 'Indianness', and b) whether being well-read and worldly can free one completely from the often prudish attitudes of the birth culture.

Case in point is a character named 'Prudie' in the film, The Jane Austen Book Club. Prudie is a French teacher who is ashamed of the fact that she has never been to France and who, according to her bohemian mother, dresses like a flight attendant. Not only has she gone the other way because of her hippy commune upbringing, but she is also constantly finding fault with her neanderthal husband. An episode of lust towards a student makes her wonder if her mother is dormant within her, although she eventually chooses to stay loyal. Perhaps the moral then (if there is any such unequivocal 'thing' as a moral) is that all one can do is not beat oneself up about what one is or isn't. True open-mindedness lies is recongnising the limitations of the self as much as being empathetic to the flaws of the other. Prejudices welcome...

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

iPause (Intro)

I have flirted with ‘Atheism’, ‘Buddhism’ and everything in between during the last eight years of living away from my parents’ home, but feel the time is now ripe to ‘settle down’. These flirtations have often been the consequence of beliefs and opinions held by current and former nears and dears, alongside the desire to be unethnically cool. However, their shallow roots in my heart now lay exposed, and the soil of my soul is seeking a new seed. This seed better be mine if it is to yield a lifetime of resilience and contentment. What is this seed? What is its texture and colour? What is MY opinion on/of God?

I look through school photos as well as pictures of my early years in Australia and see a recognizable but not entirely familiar face staring back. That girl is an unmistakable nerd in her loosely fitted clothes, her round glasses, her plaited hair and her intellectually timid demeanor. This girl, even though ‘academic’, as pointed out recently by a good friend, is no longer the Goody two-shoes idealistic achiever of her younger years. She/I now would rather read a classy women’s mag or bead a bohemian necklace on a lazy Sunday afternoon than attempt to finish my tutorial readings before time or brush up on the latest in US politics. I would rather babysit my best friend’s ten-year old brother (even if it involves successive defeats on Playstation car games) than lock myself in a room and write an impassioned piece on the trauma faced by first and second-generation immigrants. Where is the career woman, the Miranda (of Sex and the City fame) that I always envisaged myself to be? Why do I feel like a mixture of Carrie and Charlotte? What is MY destiny as a young woman who wants a balance between enjoyment of material comforts, devotion to worldly causes and the pursuit of creativel hobbies?

I am sporting a fringe after years of having nothing but long, dark, straight, and increasingly boring hair. After experimenting with hair scarves, layers, partings, side ponytails, I was simply looking for something more expressive of me. This ‘radical’ new hairstyle received a warm reception from friends and colleagues in Adelaide, but I was wary of the reactions it would provoke back home. To my pleasant surprise, my parents did not utter a word of protest and my can’t-keep-anything-to-herself sister said I looked like a doll. Me? A doll? I took this well, but when my mum later commented on her eldest daughter being a firang (foreigner), I was taken aback. True, I will celebrate my sixth anniversary of being in Australia in early 2009, but I love Indian textiles, silver jewellery, Mughalai cuisine, anarchic politics, Hinglish writers, Sufi musicians and other cultural artifacts even more than most ‘Indian Indians’. Perhaps this nostalgia, this romanticized notion of India’s highest potential is what makes me a foreigner in the land of my birth. Perhaps my now-persistent whining about the smallness of Adelaide and the back-of-beyondness of Australia implies that I am actually mirroring the regular Aussie whinger. Perhaps I just need to stop thinking about where I belong, and ask a more pertinent question. What is MY culture as a hyphenated, globe-trotting, transnational citizen?

It all began with a literal pause...a night when everything around me seemed to be in slow motion. After initially dismissing it as a simple case of fatigue, I spoke about 'it' to a few good friends, all of whom recognised it was a larger malaise, perhaps along the lines of an 'existential crisis'. Sounds like a post-modern Agatha Christie mystery? Well, it gets better. For there were no love notes or last letters, but there was a new life. Encouraged by friends and colleagues, I decided to travel to India for a couple of months and take a real 'break'. Cliched it may be, but I began to look at the trip as a 'spiritual journey', although it later acquired emotional and intellectual dimensions, thereby convincing me that spirituality is integral to a fulfilling personal and creative life. Amongst the holiday reads I took along was a best-selling book by Elizabeth Gilbert called 'Eat, Pray, Love'. Another cliche perhaps, but it worked. And the first song that played on my iPod as I sat on the flight back to India was Joni Mitchell's 'I get the urge for going, but I never seem to go'.

I went, paused, came back. I still try to pause everyday. Not to reflect on my day, or analyse my situation, or judge those around me, but just to sense the present moment. Call it meditation, or positive thinking, or a love of life, all I know is that it is immensely empowering and calming at the same time. It has given me my grace back, and endowed me with gumption.

And so I have decided to write a non-linear book called 'iPause' to understand the pause and share the journey. Sounds like an Apple gadget with a bohemian spin? Well, I'm not getting paid by Steve Jobs or the Dalai Lama. They can donate a spare Mac and a speck of Elightenment if they like...

Monday, 27 October 2008

The Inner Glow-Torch

The inner glow-torch that
e x t e n d s
from the pit of my stomach
to the sheath underneath my facial skin
and produces a luminescence
that no amount of good food can explain
and no creams can re-create
beacause it comes from knowing that someone
is loving me and watching over me
every hour of every day
so that I can give and receive love
and be grateful
for the light
in my inner and outer lives
that is really
just one

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Monday, 20 October 2008

We Journey like a Paisley (Intro)

This film is a snippet in time. It is an attempt to capture the lives of young people of Indian origin or ethnicity living in Adelaide in the spring of 2008.

What does this spring being forth? What do these lives bring forth? How do I, as a fellow Indian living in Adelaide, as an interviewer cum director cum country cousin cum peer function in such a situation? 

I am exploring where I belong through their belongings, as well discovering their multiple affiliations through our shared location. They have journeyed. I have journeyed. The film is a testament to our past journeys, as well as a beacon for the journeys yet to come. This film is a paisley - fluid yet shapeful, rooted yet cross-cultural. This journey is a paisley. We journey like a paisley...

Sunday, 12 October 2008

What is the genre of my life?

If I were to write a screenplay of my life and pitch it to a potential producer, how would I describe it? How would I sell it? How would I make it short and sweet? Would it be a comedy or a tragedy, or something in-between? Would it be a sophisticated Woody Allen take on the cosmopolitan lifestyle of a 20-something female lead in a leafy Adelaide setting? Would it be packed with Martin Scorcese twists and turns in the life of an adveturous young woman in a home away from home? Would it be the subject of a Gurinder Chadha drama on the funny and no-so-funny aspects of being a modern Indian woman? Would it be a Richard Linklater conversation between a smart lady and a bright gentleman at the transit lounge of an international airport? Would it be a Karan Johar extravaganza with a blooming girl who breezes through life by dancing at Hindu weddings and in Swiss streets with equal aplomb? Would it be a new-Bollywood Farhan Akhtar flick packed with friends, lovers and the self-discovery of youth in a swish urban background?

I wish there were a genre called 'life'. And that would make life easier for all kinds of writers, directors and agents. Ne need to explain a plot that doesn't have an end. No need to apologise for a heroine who can look good and think. No need to hide the objects of affection that arrived before the soulmate. No need to elaborate on other-worldly cultural references and colours. No need to load every spoken word with a formal statement of intent. No need to push characters beyond their paper existence.

Experience and instinct tell me that good writing must have clarity as well as elegance. So here's my pitch - I want to make an ordinary film about an ordinary life, and the audience can decide if it's special. The life I want to depict is ordinary because there is a lot of reading, writing, talking, eating, loving and leaving involved. The film I want to make about this life is ordinary because it will use cameras, tripods, microphones, lighting, computers and editing equipment. And hence, you must invest in it because it will transcend its ordinaridess in its specificity. Every detail will be illuminated until it becomes the centre of your audio-visual universe. Logic and meaning will arise from lingering, not cutting. You will feel texture in two dimensions.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

A Post-Modern Fairy Tale

Once upon a bitter-sweet time
There lived a bookish princess
Who spent her adolescence in glasses
And heralded her youth in heels.

But she hadn’t let go of her reticence
Even as she embraced the chic world of godlessness
So she fell blindly in love with a commoner
Who she mistook for her bespectacled prince.

She lusted after him day and night
Even with the books there to give respite
But the fantasies never turned real
While her broken heart became palpable.

Misty-eyed, where now she thought
Where are my dreams and desires
Where does my happiness lie
Where can I find grace and gumption.

She journeyed far and wide for answers
She peeped into her heart to know herself
She talked to kith, kin and karma
And she wrote an ode to her soul.

Poetry was the cause and the cure
She recited a mantra to fall out of love
So she could sing about falling in love again
And live merrily with Prince and Post-Modernity.

Back to Living

I was alive but not living
Not noticing the colour of the leaves in my backyard
Or the texture of the wood in my office
Or the varying temperatures of my own body.

And now with each new burst of spring
Tiny parts of my spirit are beginning to swell
With the joy of being and breathing in this universe
Feeling its heart beat in my own chest.

Saturday, 2 August 2008


Anchored to a work
which doesn't work anymore
And on the quest to find a new flame
a new anchor
Both inside and outside
a reflection of itself
But deeper than a mirror
and more resistant
To heat and cold.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

A Momentous Hair Cut

Today, while at the hairdresser's to get my two-monthly trim, I had an itch to write. This itch was provoked by a turban lying on a nearby chair as I sat waiting for my turn. Glancing ahead, I saw a mirror with the reflection of an Indian-looking man, a pair of scissors swiftly moving across his forehead. Glancing below, I saw a garden of dark hair against the light-coloured floorboards of the salon - big and small ringlets forming such intricate patterns that their random beauty almost broke my heart.

Born in a Sikh family, I first cut my hair five years ago when I moved to Australia. I suspect this was the case for the aforementioned gentleman as he later took a picture of his newly hair-shorn self on his phone camera. This photo would now be on its way to friends and lovers, but what about family? I am still reprimanded every time I go home with slightly shorter hair, or unusual layers, or anything deemed too foreign. And despite being independent in every way possible, I occasionally experience pangs of guilt. Not for breaking some religious code, but simply for missing my former long, thick, straight locks in all their natural unruliness. They are not all gone, simply altered over the course of the last few years. This progressive change has not made me more Australian and less Indian, but it has reflected the changing colours and textures of my inner turmoil as I spend more time overseas. 

Love of Life

I love life so much that to my senses, every moment is a photograph worth capturing - sometimes joyous, at other times imbued with pathos, but mostly beautiful.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Unaccustomed Earth (Aut. Jhumpa Lahiri)

In this book, a collection of eights stories in two parts, Jhumpa Lahiri outdoes the humane literary genius she displayed in The Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake. Like her previous tales, the most recent ones are about first and second-generation Bengali immigrants in the United States. Her narrative style pays close attention to small, seemingly trivial items that compose the domestic sphere and populate the lives of dis/placed migrants. This sphere is the fragile zone where the negotiation of cultural identity and inter-generational conflict takes place. Also important is the subtlety in the writerly staging of this conflict as rarely do we come across shouting matches or catastrophic events. Instead, there are siblings growing apart, spaces left by dead mothers that the surviving members of the family struggle to fill, inter-cultural marriages and relationships that are often not very different in their love-strife dichotomy from unions arranged by parents, lives variously taken over by lovers and careers, and children who inherit both a heritage and a sense of loss.

As the book progressed, the stories seemed to become more tragic rather than being simple chronicles of the migrant condition. When the flawed hero of the final story jumped into the fatal tidal waves of the oncoming tsunami, I was compelled to confront this question - Are these stories life-affirming or simply realistic? While I, as a displaced reader, would like to cling to any remnant of hope, it appears that Lahiri is keen for this hope to emerge from the loss itself. The loss then, whether cultural or human or material, becomes an absence with the potential to be filled with something else. Something equally flawed, equally tangible.

Monday, 14 July 2008

I don't know how to know

Instead of introducing writer-director Adam Brooks's film Definitely, Maybe (2008) with the regular movie title and filmmaker's name that I use for film reviews on this blog, I decided to make an exception this time. Then the question arose - is this film worthy of an exception? A quick skim through Google, IMDB and Wikipedia revealed that although it was released around Valentine's Day this year, the so-called rom-com indeed fared well with the critics. Some even went to the extent of calling it a 'sophisticated chick flick' or a 'seriocom'.

Pre-decided genres, new classifications and critics' opinions aside, what did I think of this film? Aware of the gushing honesty of my next comment, I must now reveal that I felt more than I thought. Even intellectual gems like one of the lead female character's declaration to politcal consultant Will Hayes ('I don't know how to know') evoked an embodied rather than a cerebral response in me. I did not sit down and ponder over the philosophical implications of not knowing, or the historical antecedents of the science of ontology, or the postmodern anarchy resulting from a generation faced with too much choice. Embarking on the film's dialectical journey of the despair of succesive heartbreaks and the hope of potential discovery, I was swayed, moved, tossed and turned until the destination beckoned. And it was a sweet end. Realistic or willing suspension of disbelief? I'll tell you when I know how to know.


Monday, 30 June 2008

Punjabi women in vogue

Trinh T Minh-ha writes in Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism:
"'Wo-' appended to 'man' in sexist contexts is not unlike 'Third World', 'Third', 'minority', or 'color' affixed to woman in pseudo-feminist contexts. Yearning for universality, the generic 'woman', like its counterpart, the generic 'man' tends to efface difference within itself...'All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men, But Some of Us are Brave' is the title given to an anthology edited by Gloria T Hull, Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith...'Third World', therefore, belongs to a category apart, a 'special' one that is meant to be both complimentary and complementary, for First and Second went out of fashion, leaving a serious Lack behind to be filled".

Does the 'special' status currently bestowed upon 'Third World' sufficiently explain why formerly rustic and primitive traditions (in the Eurocentric mind that is) like those of Indian writing and film are now considered chic, and not merely exotic? Does it also justify the growing popularity of Bollywood amongst mainstream and arthouse audiences in the west? And finally, what is with the trio of fiery Punjabi women - Deepa Mehta, Mira Nair and Gurinder Chadha, residing in the diaspora and effortlessly embracing the cosmopolitanism accrued from making 'crossover' films?

I wonder if diasporic Indian men or non-Punjabi women would make the same kind of films, or would make films in the first place. I would like to think that the 'Mehta-Nair-Chadha phenomenon' is a mere coincidence. But it doesn't help that I am Punjabi too. And female. I'm trying to make a film. And negotiate my diasporic identity.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

I Journey like a Paisley

Are you an Indian Student, or an Indian-born Migrant?

Do you enjoy talking about India with your friends, family and strangers?

Would you like to share your story on film with the rest of the world?

Monday, 23 June 2008

Conquering the Quarterlife Crisis (Aut. Alexandra Robbins)

I remember being surprisingly relieved when the ever-cooing Sarah Jessica Parker, while promoting 'Sex and the City: The Movie' on Oprah, uttered a sensible sentence - "Your 20s are a search, your 30s are for learning lessons, and your 40s are when you finally know who you are". Now, the surprise is understandable, but what about my sense of relief? What can a 20-something pursuing a PhD, holding a part-time tutoring position, producing her own documentary, and enjoying a decent social life possibly have to complain about?

The last rendezvous with my parents in India and their insistence on 'settling down', the current spate of friends pairing up, the overwhelming feeling of being 'stuck' in Adelaide since travelling overseas, the intensive self-questioning of my personal and career goals, the doubts relating to the 'job value' of a doctorate, the pain of rejection, and the humility resulting from all of these experiences has made me realise that I am exhibiting symptoms of what is now commonly known as the 'Quarterlife Crisis'. After spending months whining about this to close friends, I have decided it is time to share my thoughts, because as I discovered in the above book, this crisis may sound trivial to those of an older generation, it is very real for people in their mid to late 20s (even early 30s), and is a rather ubiquitous phenomenon. So, if you find yourself directionless and reflective at a stage of life when societal norms tell you to be carefree and exhuberant, you are not alone!

Not one for therapy or anti-depressants, I resorted to my love of reading to get through this rough patch. When chancing upon Robbins' book in the local community library, I was admittedly sceptical about what a self-help manual could offer. Again, I was surprised because the book covers some basic questions and scenarios, with each chapter beginning with a crisis faced by a 20-something, and ending with advice offered by mentors who are only slightly older and have already been through the Quarterlife crucible and survived. They also offer a range of exercises, like listing out the activities you enjoyed in your childhood, to get you back on track. This one especially worked for me as it opened my eyes to the fact that my creative streak has always presided over my intellect - that despite being a teacher's pet, what really got me going as a pre-teen were hobbies that involved some form of visual art, be it sketching classes, glass painting, flower making, embroidery, sowing doll's clothes, creating paper mache objects etc. With this lucid realisation, I went to the Spotlight store in the city and bought a few essential beading tools. I have now been making jewellery for a couple of weeks, thereby transforming all my erstwhile negative energy and curbing the tendency to compare my situation to other people. Miscellaneous steps, like listening to upbeat music, walking for at least half an hour a day, and following my instinct with regards to the most basic of decisions, also seem to be helping.

Instead of paraphrasing the advice offered by Robbins and the mentors, I will quote them directly below, in the hope that it has more impact. Enjoy! And remember - if you counter this crisis, there may not be a mid-life crisis at all.

On finding your Passion in life:
"Your passion is what happens in the process of you becoming you" (Viola Nelson, 33, Mentor).

On looking for The One:
"I wish I'd known at 23 that you should look for happiness in life itself, not just in another person" (Andro Hsu, 27, Mentor).

On having a Timeline:
"What if you don't get married by 30? So what? What if you haven't paid off your loans or debt by 35? So what? What if you're not a stand-out success by 28? So what? If you were to achieve everything by the age of 30, then what would you do for the next fifty years?" (Robbins).

On searching for an Identity:
"At some point in your life - you are going to have to face yourself and confront your identity - stripped down, vulnerable, and shed of protective layers like material goods, advanced degrees, and the pressures and expectations you've internalised. You are Alice leaping through the looking glass" (Robbins).

On confronting Adulthood:
"One's character is truly shown in dealing with the random monkey wrenches thrown into our plans and how one accepts the finitude of life, career, and relationships. Adulthood, then, consists in knowing that I'm not the one really in control of events, but I'm in control of my reaction to them" (Jake Dixon, 37, Mentor).

I'm Beading Again

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

The Shivering Leaf

Did you notice
the light climb up the tree trunk
the notes drifted in
from the nearby conservatorium
the eucalyptus plate reflected
the image of
the shivering leaf
was a testimony to fragility
in the texture of roughness.

Future Memories

I remember the Future
That you have forgotten
Because you are oblivious to
The sounds
The sights 
The very mechanics
Of your own body clock.

It may not be anatomy
Or science fiction
Or future noir.
But it is my memory
That I want to be ours
Because it plays in my mind
Like clockwork
Like history
Like the certitude of time.

Bollywood and Kitsch

After more than a year of researching Indian Cinema (including commercial, art-house, diasporic, independent, and the unnameable kind), I have come to the conclusion that most mainstream and some academic writing about this 'exotic' industry still embraces an orientalist discourse. In other words, more often that not, the richly-coloured visuals and the dramatic chords that make up this cinema are often equated with 'kitsch', or low art, as opposed to the production techniques and content of Hollywood films that are naturally assumed to be superior. A case in point is this section on the website of the British Film Institute that lists a selection of works on South Asian Cinema, most of which use the graphic exoticism of commercial Bollywood on the book covers, probably for sales purposes. But who are these books being sold to? Certainly not 'native' Indians. The likely audience for such elaborations on South Asian cinematic techniques and aesthetics is those of us living in the west who may be fascinated by these films, drawn to them or to the originating culture for a wide variety of reasons. 

I am reminded of an animated conversation I had with a South African tourist during my last visit to India in December 2007. Although the flight from New Delhi to my hometown of Jammu was only an hour or so, we managed to discuss the intricacies of Indian cinema and why it appealed to a certain kind of western soul. This financial advisor, proceeding to Srinagar for a ski trip, reckoned that Bollywood was special in his eyes because it was 'spiritual'. He added that he rarely felt a similar soulful connection with the psychological thrillers churned out by Hollywood. I would like to think this well-travelled man had no need to be patronising towards India and Indians when talking to me, a self-confessed Bollywood researcher who is not a Bollywood devotee. Did he embrace a point of view that is simultaneously western and non-orientalist? Can Indian Cinema, then, be a beacon of spirituality as well as a symbol of kitsch? Perhaps it depends on where you are and how you feel.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Sex and the City: The Movie (Dir. Michael Patrick King)

The following is an effusive film review/a willing suspension of analysis:

I dedicate this to all my girls, but especially Kasumi, Puja and Poppi. Thanks for watching the 'Sex and the City' TV series and countless good and bad films with me through the last few years. Thanks for listening to my endless rants about academia, Adelaide, identity crises, incomprehensible men, caffeine addiction and life in general.

How do I respond to a film that is carrying the anticipation of a large proportion of women in the Western world on its designer shoulders? It is not that I feel inadequate, or incapable of writing a review that will do justice. I'm simply too moved to pen down an objective critique, to analyse the plot and storyline, to comment on the acting, to pull apart the visuals and sounds that make up this film. The academic/critic/filmmaker wants to take a back seat and just let the woman in me be.

As the credits rolled, I thought the film did not have the 'spark' of the TV series. However, a few scenes later, as I looked at Carrie's swollen, mascara-less eyes at a resort in Mexico, my glasses came off. And so did my pride, for I can't recall the last occasion I shed a tear in a cinema hall. The waterworks continued way past the cancelled wedding and honeymoon. I sailed in their murky ocean during Carrie and Miranda's lonely New Year's eve and Valentine's Day, and pushed them back with welcome laughter through Samantha's LA adventures. Charlotte remained a beacon of hope throughout, and the perfection of her new family life seemed surprisingly credible.

For SATC fans who read this before watching the movie - I will not spoil your experience by answering the ever-looming question regarding Carrie and Big's future together. Despite my recent predisposition towards films with 'closure', in this case, I just had blinkers on. As they say - stop wishing and you'll be surprised.

Friday, 30 May 2008

What a Girl Wants (Aut. Kristin Billerbeck)

Am I 'dumbing down' this blog? Or embracing the 'chick lit' genre? Or worse still - 'adopting a religion'? I ask all these questions because I glanced upon this book in the not-so-literary 'Inspirational Fiction' section at Borders and despite years of cynicism doubly generated by a university education in the Humanities and that bittersweet pill called life experience, I picked Ashley Stockingdale's tale off the shelf. And then I sat and read 20-odd pages, too embarrassed to take it to the cash counter. But the narrative had a grip on me, like reading it at age 24 would do to me what poring over Ayn Rand did back in high school (which basically means it would change how I looked at EVERYTHING). Part of the reason I bought this book is because it has probably been a while since I had clarity regarding any life issue. Gone are the days of late-teen idealism or 21-year old youthful dreams. All that I can see through my five-year old Dolce and Gabbana glasses (which I can't wait to discard) are patterns of behaviour that need amendment before permanent doom sets in. The pickiness with regards to the opposite sex, the extreme diligence in matters pertaining to academic work, the supreme joy arising from creative pursuits - I thought I had cracked the code to happiness. Alas, not! Fear nor reader, for I'm not suicidal, or depressed, or even unhappy. I'm simply at a crossroads where previously-held beliefs have been turned on their head and a major shake-up in thought and action is required.

Similar to the story of 31-year old Ashley who, despite being a patent attorney in Silicon Valley, carrying a Prada handbag, and subscribing to the Christian faith, is SINGLE (but more importantly, dissatisfied). Hence she goes about changing her attitude and getting comfortable in her own skin as the narrative progresses. So what's new here? Haven't we all heard this advice before from well-meaning Oprahs? I think the character is endearing because of her many vulnerabilities, and her ability to laugh at herself.
Is this the key then - humour? As I turn it around in my brain/heart-shaped lock (see, I'm confused about this too), will it make a wonderful clicking sound that is the music of my future? Will it open the door to a pathway of self-belief and success? Doubts are already beginning to creep up like rust on the shiny new key. Let's go get a new one cut!

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

My Filmmaking Anti-Manifesto Manifesto

According to Wikipedia, a manifesto is a medium that is intended for communication with the whole world. Such a definition of ‘manifesto’ is in line with its political origins, but what purpose can it serve for artists?

When I met filmmaker Deepa Mehta on a film set in Toronto, she was reluctant to talk about her intended and/or real audiences, and insisted that if you didn’t write/make for yourself, there was no point in writing/making. This response conjured up for me the image of the isolated (and probably distraught) Modernist artist in his/her ivory tower. And then a cynical voice arose – somebody built the ivory tower, just as someone constructed Mehta’s set, operated her cameras, microphones and lights, acted in her films, and distributed them. Perhaps that is the moment I began to distance myself from the artistic ideal, from Mehta, from the imaginary documentary in my head, and took the first steps to being my own (albeit collaboratively forming) filmmaker.

Despite taking these steps last December, I have been struggling with decisions relating to the content and form of ‘my’ film. I recently presented a number of options for conducting filmed interviews at a postgraduate forum, and was bewildered at the multiplication of these choices by the time I was done. With the encouragement of my supervisor and close friends, I soldiered on and sent out a Facebook message to members of my self-created group, ‘Cinema Connoisseurs’, and other film aficionados, asking them a series of questions about what appealed to them about the documentary genre. I have received a few noteworthy responses, and maintain my stance on the need for ‘effective’ filmmaking to be a collaborative effort. However, what has been slightly more productive is thinking about these questions myself and reflecting on personal aesthetic and political choices. This necessitates the question – is it more useful to head back into the academic/artistic ivory tower?

After careful deliberation, my answer to the aforementioned question is an emphatic and unequivocal no. I have realized that the act of communicating my ideas, however unformed, was crucial to their evolution into something that both resonated with me, the aspiring filmmaker, and had some meaning for my potential audiences. Putting the beginnings of my thoughts into words, and transforming these words into queries that I could confidently project onto the known world became a kind of ‘creative research’ – difficult to quantify or classify, but undoubtedly contributing to the process of creation of the film. 

This processual nature of creation parallels the evolution of my project and my relation to it since its commencement over a year ago. I am no longer caught up in attempting to pay a tribute to Mehta and her work through my film. Subsequent to meeting her in Canada and broadening the breadth of my research to include reviews in India, I have decided that the documentary will not merely be a response to the filmmaker herself, but a ‘poetic document’ of my own emerging filmmaking practice and the specific Indian-Australian diasporic context in which it is currently situated. 

Why have I chosen to present my life and those of other Indian migrants in Adelaide when it would have been easier (in terms of academic justification) to record individual or focus group responses to Mehta’s trilogy and edit these together to create some semblance of a film in the documentary genre? Within my doctoral project, an account of a specific site of the Indian diasporic experience may not be the most obvious choice for a creative component, but it certainly resonates with the personal-political stories that artists/intellectuals in the diaspora (like Mehta) are beginning to tell to a steadily growing global audience. The question now arises – if such work is being done by Indians and non-Indians occupying the ‘displaced’ sphere, what specificity do I bring to this global narrative? 

I have chosen the well-known paisley pattern as a motif for my documentary, perhaps to both signify my specificity and broadly apply its fluid curves as a trajectory of the contemporary migrant experience. What I bring to the global narrative then, is my geographical positioning in Australia (a relatively recent site for Indian student/professional migration, and my personal ‘route’ to the west), my imaginative positioning in India (in that it continues to be the primary concern of my academic work, and is the place of familial ‘roots’), and other experiences that do not neatly fit in the first-generation migrant mould. The people I interview will also highlight the similar-yet-different stories of the often-stereotyped migrant worker/student/business owner and how their identity-construction is impacted by (and in turn impacts upon) representations of them in the media of the host country, the native country, and the diaspora. 
The documentary, then, will be another representation of them, albeit through the lens of someone who is in a similarly displaced position. Is this unlike Mehta’s representation of India in her elemental trilogy? Even though Fire, Earth and Water are not films about the diaspora, they are of the diaspora by virtue of the site of their conception and the dispersed nature of their consumption. Would it be a leap to suggest that they are also, in a way, representative of the diaspora? Does this mean filmmakers like Mehta and myself will always be considered ‘diasporic filmmakers’, regardless of our subject matter? Perhaps the diasporic location is ideally situated for exploiting the ‘crossover’ potential of cultural products in general, and cinematic representations in particular. 

Yes, I want to cross-over as a filmmaker. I want to make back and forth trips among rather than between these points – the university, the film industry; commercial cinema, art cinema; feminism, postcolonialism; politics, poetics; India, Australia; as well as what lies beyond. 

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Notified Absence

It has been a year since this blog began\A year of intense emotional, intellectual, and artistic pursuits/Pursuits that are no more intense than the meanderings of previous un-blogged years/But a record has rendered these most recent experiences indelible/And possibly reached those to whom so many things have been unsaid and unsayable\\This has been an experiment in thought and action/Although I cannot measure its success//It has enabled me to live-write-articulate the moment in the moment/And hence there may have been some cruel sayings as well others of a more vibrant hue that is borne of spontaneity\So while I have often been notified of several absences/I believe I have now notified these absences with a presence that will hopefully fill up another year/Namaste//

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Monologue of Groceries and Ideas

There is an explosion in my head. A bursting of ideas so palpable I have to let them out on this screen so I don’t disappear under the weight of their accumulation. I don’t know when the pile reached this point. I have been caught unawares. Especially since I haven’t felt any new emotions in a while and was beginning to wonder if there was any way out of the rut of groceries. I don’t hate groceries. I don’t dislike supermarkets or farmers’ markets or any other kinds of markets. But the constant filling up of my basket/trolley/shopping bag has become mundane, story-less. Where are the hidden aisles, the undiscovered tastes, the emerging aromas? In my head? I want to let them out.

So I baked today. Created a cake. No pre-mixture was involved. And as its freshly-cooked smell wafted through my home, I came back here to finish writing this. I also watched a David Lynch movie in between. There was nothing mundane about this film. Perhaps that is how I came to have an appreciation of normality. To get back into the post-Lynch real world, I went to the kitchen to taste my cake. A bit dry, but will do, especially considering I haven’t baked in months. And also keeping in mind I didn’t use a recipe. Just a long-developed knack for sensing fluffy sponges from the texture of the batter. I knew this batter wasn’t perfect, but it had that special mingling of coffee and hot chocolate in a cake that I find irresistible as winter makes its annual windy-rainy way into town.

I wrote. I baked. I ate. I wrote again. And I feel lighter. In the head and in the heart. I know my dilemmas won’t go away if I serve them a piece of the cake I just baked, or offer them my writing/editing services. However, as long as they are not an impediment to my creative and emotional development, they can take their jolly time in the supermarket queue. I’ll either wait patiently, or try talking to the person in front. Perhaps I secretly hope that another cash register opens soon so I’m the first one in line. So I can be served in a jiffy and make my way home. But what’s the rush? I can think as I wait. Getting home will unleash countless chores. When/where will I fit in the baking? I did today, a day I also waited almost an hour at the bus stop. Without reading. Without listening to my comfort-playlist. Maybe over-stimulation was the rut in the first place. Can you smell my cake?

Monday, 14 April 2008

The Motif Moment

Was it an agnostically-divine, timely-timeless, monochromatically-colourful fraction of a second - the moment I met my motif? 

Before I go on to a description of this motif itself, I must spend some wordy time on the long and uninspiring search for it. The (re)search has spanned and scanned continents, city streets, women's magazines, old family photos, bohemian retailers, dreadlocked musicians, fringy plays, art cinema, dismal philosophy, avant garde installations, and a great deal of self-centred thought. Even though I eventually discovered it sitting right below my nose (literally), I believe the journeying and meandering was necessary. These wanderings established a motif of their own - a pattern where my cultural/political leanings largely determined my aesthetic tastes. One could argue that this is the case for the a majority of homo sapiens, and that argument leaves me unfazed and convinces me of the 'normality' of my formative processes. The novelty in this normality, however, is the particular criss-crossings, the detailed design, the indelible imprint of this motif on my personal and political self (as opposed to selves). 

It is the paisley - the same pattern that I saw my mother paint, sketch, block and screen-print, fill up with colour, and adorn with leaves in her textile-designing and my crayon-fiddling days. I have since admired its graceful shape(s) on cashmere shawls, South Indian brocade silk saris, Gandhi's khadi-inspired cotton prints, chic scarves and sarongs, silver beads and jewellery, Persian-style carpets and rugs, cushions and quilt cover sets, wrapping paper, handbags, and a range of other objects I am yet to lay my eyes on. It doesn't even need a Google search to realise that these patterns are here, there and everywhere; perhaps muticultural in a way modern people and nations can only aspire to be. While it may have had its hey-day during the hippie era in the 1960s, the paisley has certainly passed the test of time in terms of both its pop cultural and sub-cultural relevance. Growing up, I knew it as the 'ambi', which is a Hindi term for a mango seed, and now recognise it as the 'paisley', after a town of the same name in Scotland. Good old (or new) Wikipedia tells me it has resemblance with/refers to a teardrop, a Persian vegetal design, half of the Chinese Yin Yang symbol, the Indian bodhi/mango tree, the Indian/European medicinal leech, a Turkish calligraphic seal, the Zoroastrian symbol of life, the French rendition of the palm leaf, and the modern fractal image. Perhaps I sound idealistic here, but I want to unapologetically and unequivocally adopt and adapt the paisley as the visual motif for my aesthetically-political documentary as a film-viewing maker on the subject of 'homed-migrants'. 

Paisley is the new Black

Monday, 7 April 2008


Like icicles
That strangely please the eye.
And injure the heart.
Lining the cave of time.
Ornamenting openness.

The English Patient (Dir. Anthony Minghella)

Based on a novel of the same title by Michael Ondaatje, a Sri Lankan-Canadian writer who is renowned for his non-linear narratives and the depth of his characters, this is a film that is literary without being cerebral. It begins with graceful brush strokes (representative of Egyptian cave paintings) that drew me in like other film beginnings seldom do. While revolving around the bygone life of Almasy, a Hungarian geographer who is considered an English patient by the French-Canadian nurse Hana, the story flips effortlessly between the past and the present - and so we have the sandstorms of the Sahara desert and the mines of post-war Italy; the tragic lover affair of a married British woman and the young inter-cultural love of a Sikh sapper; the fatal flights of war and the bumpy rides of peace. Even as time echoes itself in this film, some space remains unabridged. This is the place of the future, this is the church that Hana and Kip may come back to. Can uncertainly be a flicker of hope?

Friday, 21 March 2008

Bollywood Hollywood (Dir. Deepa Mehta)

When I first saw this Deepa Mehta 'comedy' as an Indian native, I found it kitschy and far-removed from my largely urban and privileged understanding of Indian culture. I couldn't imagine why NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) would worship at the altar of commercial Bollywood cinema, considered uncool amongst us pseudo-Oxbridge types with colonial hangovers. However, watching it now as a diasporic Indian entity, and as a Deepa Mehta researcher, I see the film as a parody of both Hollywood and Bollywood conventions (of both content and form), and as a mediated, albeit gripping representation of transnational Indianness. Some of the characters, notably all first-generation migrants, like the sobbing widow mother, the nostalgic Punjabi mechanic, and the Shakespearean grandmother seem to be lifted from Bollywood formula musicals, but on closer examination, they are simply exaggerations that entertain. At the same time, the second-generation characters, like the girl next door turned prostitute, the dutiful son in love with a white woman, and the rich ethnic boy who is bullied at school are bound to strike a more emotional chord with viewers in the vast South Asian diaspora.


Shrouded in the whiteness of winter
The city that now seems afar
Yet closeby
Because it is not my memory
But the silhouette of it
Like a bygone self
On vacation in a distant land
Revelling in its novelty
In the dew-like newness
That makes every day glisten
With hope
Which is sought by the current self
In the city of now
Of an approaching winter
And a tender core
Growing stronger in its fragility.