Friday, July 24, 2015

Stumbling through life..

As a child growing up, I dreamed of becoming a physician, going to a fancy college in London ( don't know why, maybe because that was the only city that I knew of- after all British had ruled us for over 200 years and I was born in the 60's  a few years after they left) and becoming a fellow at FRCS ( fellow of Royal college of physicians). That dream did not realize due to family constraints. I happened to stumble into newspaper ads for Hospitality management courses in colleges which were out of town. Did not want to take the normal route that most of my schoolmates took, so I applied and got into hospitality management school.

After finishing 3 years of college in HM, my course in life was set to pursue a career in catering industry when I again stumbled into an ad for a major airline seeking flight attendants. thought I will give it a shot even though I did not have a personality for a FA. Surprise, surprise after a 2 year long interview process... I became a FA.

This is it I am going to be a FA for life....or that's what I thought.... 4 years later I stumble into another opportunity to go live in the land of milk and honey.....yep... I did....happily tossed the comfy FA job aside and landed in NY back in hospitality....only to be disillusioned and disappointed. Stumbled into someone who was a Computer Systems Engineer at Columbia Pictures. That laid a thought in my head and head and slept on it for a while. Took some introductory Computer classes and before I know it I was a IT professional. During this time I also stumbled into someone who helped me move to Toronto,  3 years later.......I was a Canadian.

the best of it is yet to come.... I answered a phone call from a young lady who lived in Chicago, as luck would have it, met her a few months later and 11 days later we were married. That was it. Rest of my life was some what planned ahead and there were no major stumbling... or is there? only time will tell.


What does 23 mean to you? Michael Jordan wore #23, Don Mattingly wore #23 in his 14 years as a Yankee. 23 is a significant number for me for a different reason. For me, 23 is a state of mind, perhaps my favorite age, so much that deep inside my heart I still feel like a 23 year old. why? it was coming of age for a way...for all my insecurities, shortcomings, I experienced my first few successes at the age of 23... the sweet smell of success, power, love, I got a small taste of it at 23. that is when I realized that even my life is meaningful. My existence has a purpose. I too can make a difference in this world even if it in a small way.

The light at the end of the tunnel was non existent till I actually thought of the tunnel and started visualizing the tunnel and a slight flicker of a light. God works in strange ways, first it was the Wednesday novenas at the Mahim Church, which led to membership at Gym, a mystery lady who came into my life, managerial position at Kumariyas Hotel, the power and perks :-) that came with it, feeling of being wanted, loved, falling in love. If I were a junkie, it could be stated as my first high from my first hit. it was exhilarating and euphoric. it was happening too fast and just like new money ( people who have financial windfalls and do not know how to handle it), it all went down the tube within a matter of time. So.......23 was good.....24 was bad. But it was a building block on which I learned my lesson and build for years to come.... come to think of it I am still building...the light is shining ever so bright. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Angst of a teen...

I was walking home one day from the grocery store when I was surrounded by a bunch of bullies in the 'hood. They started calling me names typically reserved for South Indians like anna, Madrasi, idli sambar, annadurai etc. then things got rough. one of them pee'd on my slippers (flip- flops) and feet. Being timid, tiny, weak and scrawny I had no courage to fight back. Luckily, the groceries in my possession was spared, else it would be spanking at home too. I walked home crying after the ordeal was over, really angry and wanting to go home grab my belt come back and beat up the bullies. I never did... did not have the balls to go out there and fight for my pride. This was 40 some years ago.

Today, my teenaged son is going through the same pain... of being bullied. However, he has the courage to come home and talk to me and his mom and we try to find some resolution together. Back when I was in that stage, I felt talking to my parents was pointless as nothing really came out of it. My boy is not like me, he is has a good head on his shoulders, can reason out most things, but face it , he is 13, it is going to get to him sometime or the other, a kid can take only so much. The bullies haven't changed; they attack his ethnicity and try to get under his skin. He remains calm and composed as verbal or physical altercations in school can lead to detention and other penalties. My advice to him is simple, stay strong, ignore and they will go away and eventually stop bullying. They lack confidence, feel inferior and are compensating by directing their frustrations on someone who is successful.

It is up to us the parents to reassure kids and make them look at the good and ignore the bad. It is really important for parents to be really involved in their kids’ lives, no matter how much they dislike it. Engage them in conversations, get to know what is going on in school, in their lives is really important. Ask questions and answer questions, no matter what the topic is. Especially sex. Trust me, if you have a teen with raging hormones, it is normal at that age. They have questions that need to be answered. It is better you be proactive and educate them or they will learn it from the streets which is wrong. Don't be embarrassed to discuss openly about sex, drugs, alcohol or anything that you can think of what you had on your mind, when you were a teen.

While in middle school and high school, I had this humongous crush on my classmate who was also lived in my neighborhood. Needless to say, I ate, dreamed, and slept with thoughts of her on my mind. But I was scared and apprehensive to approach her or any other girl for that matter. To make matters worse, growing up in a lower middle class family was no fun. My clothes were either too big or too small. Tending to our 2 cows was one of my primary jobs after school. Also making cow dung cakes for fuel. Many a times, she would be in the vicinity while I was performing these chores. That was so uncool. But I had no choice, had to do it. Looking back, I chuckle and shake my head. I love animals and outdoors. I thank my parents for that.

Guess what, my older boy has developed a liking towards this schoolmate and he has openly expressed it to us. I tried to explain that, it is normal and natural to feel that way at this age or any age. I also said that the other person may not feel the same way so be prepared for any kind of setback, he thought about it for a while and was cool with it. We are so proud that our kids can openly talk to us about their feelings and ask for our opinion. But being a 13 year old is not easy; school, peers, media, society in general has expectations of how one carries oneself.  If you are different, they pick on you. It is a cruel world of bullies, nerds, geeks, jocks… where does one fit in? Thankfully, we have level headed kids who can differentiate between good and bad although they constantly try to test us on how much rope they can get…what they can watch on TV, what video games they can play and who they can hang out with. Most of the time they comply with our gentle suggestions, but I can sense the resistance as to "If my friends can do it, why can't I?" to which my answer has always been we have a different set of rules in this house which we all follow and is applicable to all, starting with me.

Dear reader, if you have a teen at home you have to be a parent and a friend to him/her. Sometimes, you have to walk the fine line but do it and they will thank you for it in later years.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Gangs of Wasseypore- A review

“The idealisms of the Society are not mandated by the Society, but by the so called custodians of the Society”. Thus stated Anurag Kashyap in an interview. Well... not in those words but that is my loose translation of what he stated in Hindi. In my life I haven't seen a film maker tackle and take head on the custodians of Society like Mr. Kashyap. It is even harder in SE Asian cinema because of the shackles by which the society is tied down. Anurag is like the giant monster that has broken down those shackles and lives large with the audacity to tell a story how it is supposed to be told.

It is easy for the Coppolas, Spielbergs and the Polanskis of the west to tell a bold story. But in India it is unheard of. For us SE Asians cinemas is a means of escapism from reality than send a message or learn about what reality is. The Society in general goes to cinema to escape from the grueling reality that is life and live in a fantasy world for 3 hours. To tell a story like what Anurag did in Gangs of Wasseypore is no small achievement. Yes, this is all about Gangs of Wasseypore and the brilliant story teller that Anurag is. Look at him; he looks like one of my tapori friends who don’t want to be associated with. Smoker, typical bhaiya like mannerisms, etc. Yet today the world loves him and so do I. More like awe than love. But you have to love him to be awed by him.

I remember growing up and getting beaten up exactly with what my mom had in her hand, be a rock or a piece of stick. That was tough love, and I love her to death.

I watched Paan Singh Tomar and said to myself, now this is cinema and this is how a story is told. Then I came across GOW and said hmm.....worth a peek, no harm done, guess what? It has been 2 months since then. I have seen both parts frame by frame about 20 times. Listened to each song about 25 times.

Sneha K, can't say enough of her, she is an evil genius just like Anurag. If you listen to the song 'Abroo ki kasam", "keh ke lenge", oh what the heck all the songs even the “chattano sey kreeda karthi” will suck you in and won't let you leave till you have nothing left. Trust me; you don't need weed or liquor to enjoy these songs. Well... if you do have it I am sure it will enhance the pleasure... not that I had to indulge in any of these to enjoy the music.

I am not going to detail the cinema here. You have to see it to believe it, to understand it, to appreciate it and love it. Every character is unique, even the young junior artist who you see a glimpse of, eating rice with a big smile on his face surrounded by filth, sometime towards the middle of the first part while Piyush Mishra is narrating the changes happening in Dhanbad. Asghar, Guddu, JP Singh, Durga, Shama Parveen, Mohsina, Danish, Babua, Tangent - I am naming the characters instead of the actors because it is as if these actors were born to play these roles and they do it with so much conviction. No melodrama and no exaggeration. I am going to save Sardar Khan, Faisal Khan, Ramadhir Singh, Sultan, Nasir and Definite for special mention as Manoj, Nawaz, Tigaminshu, Pankaj, Piyush and Zeishan will live on forever in the hearts of true Hindi cinema aficionados. Anurag and Sneha blended this story like poetry in the form of motion picture. The Lust, passion, violence, gore and brutality that is shown is true and unfortunate reality. GOW (I am not going to break it down into the 2 parts) is truly an epic that should be canned into a time capsule for people to see a thousand years from now and still appreciate it.

If I compare Manoj Bajpai to Marlon Brando, it is an honor to Brando, and at the same token comparing Nawaz to Al Pacino, is an honor to Pacino. Tony Montana (Scarface) Sonny (Dog day afternoon), Faisal Khan, you can mention these characters in the same breath and not think twice about it. Like Anurag stated, camera loves Nawaz and boy does the camera love Manoj! It is a chilling scene when he asks Ramadhir- “Maja aa raha hain”? Ramadhir Singh had send Sultan to kill Sardar Khan and had failed, the expression on Ramadhir's face not knowing what to priceless.

Faijal climbing up the window sills to get into his lover's room is a scene that is simply priceless.His awkwardness, hesitation and the eventual explosion where he is pounding away all night, boy isn't it real? The expressionless Faijal pumping hundreds of bullets into Ramadhir's lifeless body is vengeance at its best. So much hatred.... it makes you shudder.

"Bhoos ke Dher", "Ek Bagal mein Chaand", they are playing like a record in my head all day every day for the past few weeks. Hats off to Varun Grover and Piyush Mishra for the thoughtful and melodious lyrics.

GOW will probably go down as one of the best Hindi movies, I have ever seen, along with Aashirwaad, Deewar and Paan Singh Tomar. It will be hard for Nawaz to top what he did in GOW. If he does, more power to him. Same goes for Manoj.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Spurling Banks

Spurling passed away on August 21, 2011. An accomplished musician and a gentle soul. I loved him like my older brother. After fighting with his ailment for a good year and a half, he gave up and decided to call it quits as diabetes took its toll on his body. Love ya man and may your soul always rest in peace.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Saturday Night Fever

It was late 1978, a small group of 15 year old boys lined up outside a run down movie theater in a small sleepy town called Bhopal to watch the latest Hollywood sensation "Saturday Night Fever". No one has a clue as to what the movie is all about. The movie poster outside depicts John Travolta striking a pose wearing the famous white 3 piece suit and a seductive Karen Lynn Gorney. The raging hormones are anxious to see some "action" as otherwise life is pretty boring with not too much to do other than hit the books and cram for exams. They pay for the cheap seats ( Re 1.65) which converts to less than 4 US cents in today’s money and get inside eagerly.

For a bunch of small town boys the movie was nothing to rave about, they come out somewhat disappointed as most scenes were heavily censored, the American English was hard to understand and it was a "silly" movie about dancing."Kuch samajh mein nahin aaya yaar" ( didn’t understand a damn thing), we said as we biked home, one of us even thought of seeing it a second time just to understand what the movie was all about.

If we learnt and understood one thing, that caught on like wild fire, the flared "bell- bottomed" pants with a waistline that came up to the chest and polyester shirts with collars the size of a dog's ear, that was made popular by the actors in the movie. Everyone queued up in front of the local tailors to emulate "Travolta style". I myself went to the tailor with a piece of fabric and told the tailor- "make the bottom as flared as you can", well there was not enough fabric for a reasonable flare so the tailor generously added extra fabric from left over cloth from someone else's garment.

The year 1980 came around, SNF and John Travolta were long forgotten and I made my transition from Bhopal to Mumbai. It was a culture shock, like moving from "Greenbow", Alabama to New York City. Albeit, I survived the initial shock and was also shocked to learn that "flared pants" and "dog collar" shirts are out of fashion and "drain pipes" were in. I was a freshman in a 3 year program in Hospitality management. As fate would have it 'DK' was my batch mate and a fellow Hostelite. He danced the Travolta dance to the tune of "Stayin' Alive" dressed in the white 3 piece suit at a college function, and became an overnight sensation among all the students- juniors and seniors alike. He was the coolest kid and everybody wanted to hang out with him. DK is a successful executive today and well respected by his peers.

Well, as for me, I flew below the radar and no one noticed me. However, I did develop an interest in pop music- Bee Gees, Beatles and tried to listen and understand the lyrics. I even tried to dance in front of the mirror and realized that the best I could do was "Gump"( as in Forrest Gump) like. The first time I stepped my foot in a nightclub was in 1986, courtesy of a friend who knew a friend. I was in awe, sat in a corner and tried to act cool and gulped down a couple of beers while the hip crowd swayed to the music.

Few years later, I landed a travelling job which took me around the world and I too enjoyed the luxury of nightlife at some of the nicest night clubs in the world. "Tatous" (now defunct) in New York city was one of my favorites, '1900' at the Taj Hotel also brings back fond memories.

Just a couple of days ago, mind you, the year is 2010, I was watching History channel and it was a story on the making of "Saturday Night Fever". The story outlines the struggle of the producer, Director and actors to shoot the film within budget and the allocated time frame. Money is short, Local mafia is hustling the moviemakers for money and to top that John Travolta's girlfriend loses her life to cancer. The initial release is met with much skepticism due to thin story line and foul language. But finally, when it was released, it broke all records in the opening week. In the last 30 years I have watched SNF umpteen times and I totally love the movie. Also, being a big Travolta fan I have watched almost all of his movies. "Get Shorty" is one of my all time favorites and all of his other movies come a close second, even the crappy "Michael", story of a womanizing angel.

SNF is about life of teens and coming of age, the story revolves around the mundane chores and mediocre life in Brooklyn. Angst of the characters to break from the monotony and do something sensational with their lives and in the process, one of them actually pays with his life falling off the Verrazano bridge. Robert Stigwood takes a group of little known actors and makes SNF one of the biggest cult sensation ever. John Travolta is adored as the James Dean of 70's and nominated for the Academy awards for best actor. He immortalizes his solo dance sequence in the movie which he executes with pitch perfect timing, tenacity and vitality. It is said that he dedicated 9 months to practice those dance moves to precision. When the director wanted to cut some of it from the final edition, he would have none of it.

John Travolta became one of the most biggest and successful Hollywood Stars. Nonetheless, fame also brings controversy and he has had a fair share of it. Recently, he lost his teenage son in a tragic accident. it is hard to fathom... losing a child is hard, no matter what the age is!

Like Prem Naseer ( my favorite hero from Malayalam movies), young Amitabh Bacchan ( the angry young man of Hindi movies), John Travolta has a special place in my heart. Whether it be a dancer, a cowboy, wily politician, a shylock, a rogue extortionist or a desperate attorney, he plays them with conviction and wins your heart.

To put it into perspective, every one has experienced a little bit of Tony Manero's life. The hair, the swagger, the values, the attitude, we all go through that phase of life. I myself have experienced the agonies and ecstasies as a young man, the little victories which makes you feel like you are invincible and the heartbreaks which makes you not want to wake up the next day. I have 2 kids who will go through these stages in a few years and probably repeat a similar story someday, thus continuing the circle of life.

Monday, June 14, 2010

My Hero!

My cousin passed away recently, succumbing to colon cancer after a futile fight for almost a year. He was my hero, some one who I looked up to and cared dearly. I wrote a letter to my nephew, summarizing my life and how he influenced it. I have somewhat come to terms with him not being around, getting emails from him and talking to him almost every week. Not a moment passes by without his thoughts flashing through my mind. Even when my dear mom passed away, it did not affect me to this extent.
(For privacy, I am changing real names to made up ones)

Dear Roger,

The earliest memory I have of chettan is him lying down on his bed in his room with ammayi( your grandma) sitting next to him and having a heart to heart conversation. I may have been 4 years old then. that would make him about 17. his dad- my Ammavan(uncle) was a good man at heart but very short tempered, most of the time I believe chettan got "caned" silly as he was the only one ammavan could take out his frustration. So, your dad inherited his dad's anger and in your house the poor remote controller and the little dog ended up being on the wrong end of the stick or rolled up paper.

He took care of me as a baby. I was born in your grandpa's house( the big house which you may have not seen). That house had a lot of character. Your Aunt inherited that and eventually sold it. I lived for the first 5 years of my life in Kerala shuttling between Mulakulam, Cheruvally( you must have heard of your dad referring to Kamala chitta), and Ponkunnam ( Biju koch's house).

He studied in Bhopal and Ujjain and I happened to travel to Kerala with chettan for Mallika chechi's wedding. I ate some grapes and my face turned all red. he panicked, thinking that I got some kind of illness and eventually realized it was just grape juice color that would just wash off. on the same trip I pooped in my pants and guess what he did the honors of cleaning me up. This was in 1968.

After he moved to Ujjain, I lost touch with him except for the occasional letter that I would receive from him. I knew he was in Bombay, working as an exporter and travelling abroad. he would send me post cards from exotic places like Hong Kong, Kenya, Mauritius etc. We would finally reunite after 10+ years in 1980 when as a skinny, shy, awkward, timid teenager I would land up in Bombay to study hotel management at Dadar catering college. I still remember clearly, he was wearing a light brown short sleeved shirt, dark pants and his stylish ray ban sunglasses. he gave me a big hug and a kiss- my chettan, he made me feel comfortable right away. I stayed with him in PG dig in Bandra Perry road for a week or so before I moved to the hostel.

Live life like a king, that was his motto, when he had money in his pocket, he had no problems spending it or helping out anyone. When he was broke he would take the bus, else it was always a taxi. Many people took advantage of his kindness.

I would visit him at least once or twice a month, sometimes more to borrow a few rupees, I was always broke ( I use the term borrow loosely because, I never paid him back :-)). In 1981 or 82 he introduced me to a lovely young lady at Andheri Station. She was pleasant but a little aloof, but I liked her right away. She warmed up to me in no time, maybe because of the positive vibes I sent out. No prize for guessing who that young lady was- "your mom". I think I gave her a diary to write notes once as a new year gift. Once she gave me a Gold cross pen which I still have to date, although I don’t use it. I hardly ever write, I am too used to typing and my handwriting is like a 3 year olds.

I was there at their wedding, your Dad was late as there was a taxi strike and he had to walk all the way from church gate to fort where the wedding took place. Your mom had an uneasy feeling, thinking that he might not show up. but he did, all drenched in sweat, I think it was October 8th, if memory serves me right. We went to "Dilli Darbar" in Colaba for lunch after the wedding.

After I finished college, it took me a while to find a job and again stayed with chettan for a couple of months. Guess what, he had to provide for me again as I had no income. Those were tough days for me and tougher for him.

I was a frequent visitor at your Grandpa's house in Nagpada, your grandpa and grandma were gracious hosts. We played cards on occasions and generally just hung around. Mind you I am still the insecure, shy and timid one. I only went because I felt comfortable among everyone there- your mom, grandma, grandpa, uncle and his family.

They bought their first flat and moved to Malad. You were born and were doted upon by your parents. Chettan had a special name for you " Kunjandan" I am not sure what it means but it must have been very endearing to him. He would make up songs like- "Tu soja bituva, tenu ninni aa gayi" ( go to sleep precious, you are sleepy) and others that I cannot remember. There was an elderly lady who took care of you. She was very loving and caring. From 1986 to 1992 I watched you grow from a baby to a toddler to a little boy. We used to play catch, bat ball in your living room. You would pretend to be Sunil Gavaskar walking back to the pavilion after getting out with the bat tucked under your arm and head down muttering :-). I would give you rides on my motorcycle around the block, with chettan watching and instructing you to hold on tight to my torso.

After I moved to US and Canada, I drifted around aimlessly and constantly looked towards chettan for guidance. he visited and you all visited as a family couple of times, you remember the trip to Connecticut in my beat up BMW. I fondly remember him buying all kinds of stuff for you and your room. My first 5 years in North America were hell, made some real bad decisions, lost thousands of is endless saga. I kept my sanity with the hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and my conversations with chettan. He said never to lose hope.

When I cam to India and got married in 1998, you mom helped me pick out the ring which I gave to my wife, it was a nice small diamond ring on which I spent practically all the money I had. But as luck would have it, Air-India ( my previous employer) owed me some money and I got a decent amount as back pay that they owed me. Lata loves that ring even though it is a small diamond, but there is some thing about that ring that is very special. So when you find that special lady :-)who you want to propose to, take your mom with you to pick out that perfect ring. It may not be the most expensive but it will be classiest.

He was a jovial person, also could be annoying at times :-), he would talk non-stop and some times it made no sense. but that was him. You had to LOVE him for what he was, and ignore the rest. He would write all kids of nasty letters to newspapers and I would tell him -"please chetta stop, some one will beat the crap out of you". You don't make enemies in your own back yard. But he spoke his mind and did not fear the consequences.

The picture frame that hangs in your living room is symbolic( chettan, you and me). I don't need to elaborate. That picture speaks a thousand words.

I am writing this to you to refresh your memory. some of this you may already know, some may be buried deep in the sub- conscious part of your brain and just needs a little nudge. When I was growing up, I did not have anyone to look up to except chettan. You may ask- why not my own father- that is another long story, I will have to tell you another time. Your mom might know. she may be able to tell you. If not, I will share my story with you when we meet in person.

Love and hugs

Your Koch (short for Kochachan- Uncle).