Dum Laga Ke Haishaa – * * * 1/2

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Nostalgia and love, often intervened, are the two emotions which probably touch the deepest chords of our hearts. Yet, while it has been reasonably and excessively milking the latter for stories, Bollywood hasn’t really mastered the skill of evoking nostalgia on screen, often confusing it with period setting or a bland regressive imitation of the era. Hence, this sweet little film deserves accolades for getting it just as perfect as seen in a really long time. The opening credits, where the usual Lata Ji’s voice with the YashRajFilms logo is replaced by a Kumar Sanu ‘heheaaaahaaa’ set the mood just right which reaches the tipping point very aptly with the suitably over the top ‘Dard Karara’  number in the end credits over a 110 mins journey, and what a journey!

Thankfully, the makers did not get buoyed by the perfection of their success in detailing and did not lose the sight of the script in the penchant for getting the minute details right. The story traces the journey of a 25 year old Haridwar boy Prem (Ayushmann) who cannot clear high school despite multiple attempts, and sits on his father’s cassettes/VCR shop and mixes tapes, and an overweight but educated and confident girl Sandhya (Bhumi), who become an unlikely couple. Amidst the embarrassment of Prem due to his wife’s plus size and his own inferiority about his failures, how their relationship grows forms the crux of the story, supported by a set of delightful actors,  Buaji (Sheeba Chaddha) being the most impactful of the lot. Apart from setting up an authentic small town of 1995, the writers also deserve full marks for showing the small towns in a fresh and positive light, and handling marriage, relationships and an overweight lead character with maturity and sensitivity. The small town characters here are neither your regressive abusive males, melodramatic mother-in-laws, nor the overtly sexed up versions as is the norm in movies. The women might be happy cooking in the kitchen and getting water for their men, but they aren’t afraid to express their opinion or even force them if need be. The men might be waiting for rotis to be served and clothes to be washed, but there is no sense of malice or dominance out of prejudice, rather it is just a way of life. Amidst all this, the lead character of the overweight Sandhya is probably one of the best etched ones in recent times. She isn’t ashamed of her size, and yet thankfully isn’t the fat girl with a golden heart, as is the cliché. Her temper, outbursts, demand to be treated as an equal and with respect are all independent of her body size, and the debutant nails it almost perfectly. Same can be said for Ayushmann, who is back in his element after a glorious debut. After a delightful first half, however things get a bit slow in the second half, and climax might seem a little rushed up. But again that delightful retro song comes as a rescue. While you get the feeling that much more could have been done with the story, we’ll give the director credit for keeping it short, simple and not trying to attempt anything larger than life.

But most credit must go to the producers, the Yash Raj Films for breaking out of their mould – of the archetypical ‘slim-milky-white’ actress, glamorous settings and trying something different. As long as the Yashrajs and Dharmas can keep making movies like this, we have hope. And for that hope, the movie deserves to be seen.

Badlapur: Revenge served cold, a bit too cold. ( * * * )

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* * *

There are movies which are downright stupid, catering to the basest of your sensibilities; there are movies that are genuinely intelligent and drive home the point in most clever and delightful ways, and then there are movies that are designed to make you believe that they are intelligent when they might not necessarily be and make you believe that they have much more to say than they actually do.

Badlapur, a riveting thriller and revenge drama by the noir-expert of Bollywood, Sriram Raghvan, is definitely one such movie. This however does not mean that it is a bad piece of cinema. There are flashes of brilliance, quite occasionally, but the inconsistency of the story and perhaps the focus on style and building up the noir gets the better of the story, which had the potential to be a lot, to say a lot.

The story, seemingly a simple revenge drama of a young father Raghu (Varun Dhawan) for the murder of his wife (Yami Gautam) and son by Layak (Nawazuddin Siddique) and Harman (Vinay Pathak), chooses to focus more on the psychological battles and conflict of the leads. This could have been the biggest strength of the movie if executed with more finesse, but in an attempt to appear intelligent and deep, it actually loses a lot of steam. While you feel the brutality of the murder and Raghu’s pain, the intensity and intent to seek revenge doesn’t really come across strongly, atleast not in the first half, where all he does is hide from the world and stays in ‘Badlapur’. Why? Because revenge, you see. The proceedings catch up some steam in the second half, with a number of great actors making appearances, but the motives of several actions is never clear, stylish as they might appear on screen. The climax also undoes in a lot of hype and expectations built throughout the running time, with a fizzled out and seemingly moralistic twist.

Now, where the story fails the movie, there are several other factors which redeem the movie from becoming another run of the mill stuff. The best, and by leaps and bounds, are the performances of the entire ensemble of actors. It is a rare experience when you realize how good the acting, even in the miniscule roles, can be.  Huma Qureishi, Divya Dutta, Radhika Apte, Pratima Kazmi, Vinay Pathak, Kumud Mishra all excel in their supporting roles, especially the women. Varun Dhawan puts up an impressive display of angst, and the fire of cold revenge in his eyes. If only the script had not let the revenge get a bit too cold, he would have got the chance to put up even a more spectacular show. Lastly, as always, Nawazuddin Siddique puts up a show that’s hard to match. Just when you think he has reached at the peak, he just raises the bar. Certainly another class act by him, he wins you over completely so that you wouldn’t know who to sympathise with.

But then that is point of the story- not to take sides. Another aspect where the movie excels is, surprisingly, humor. Amidst the tensed revenge drama and what-will-happen-next moments, dark humor is employed very effectively to lighten up the situations. The numerous references to retro and movie folklore serve well to make Badlapur an avant-garde production.

If only the story had been a bit more consistent, or clear about the point its trying to make, we’d have our own noir classic!

Tevar: Atrocity, not Attitude

*1/2

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So the right wing felt offended by pk and called for a ban. Keeping aside the violent nature of those protests, I have a similar desire each time I come across such banalities which Bollywood tries to pass off as ‘masala’, ‘paisa-vasool’ etc. My sentiments get badly hurt – those of rationality and self-respect, and often the hurt turns into an insult when some of those ‘’movies’’ actually lap a 100 crore or two. In all likelihood Tevar should not be one of those fortunate few, thanks to the absence of a certain superstar. For, the lead actor who claims to be his fan and a mixture of Rambo and Terminator other than him, certainly has miles to go before he attains those ‘superpowers’. That is not to say that he is bad. Arjun Kapoor as Pintoo Shukla is actually good. He has the right attitude, the body language and makes those never ending 80’s action sequences look somewhat believable. Also bang-on is the lecherous villain Gajender Singh, the typical UP ka neta/gunda , portrayed almost fondly by an excellent Manoj Bajpai. Sonakshi Sinha is well, there as always. But none of them are good enough to keep you hooked in your seat for a running time of 2 hours and 40 minutes. There were so many possibilities of making this an entertaining experience, given the background of city of Taj and Radha-Krishna, but all are conveniently forgotten and the monument of love is only a pretty background. Since nothing can actually spoil this already spoiled product, here are a few of the samples of the level of atrocities the movie inflicts on you. (Well, spoilers ahead, if you will)

1. People of Agra and Mathura, if you feel offended by the movie, I totally understand. Yes, U.P. isn’t the most lawful or disciplined state, but the movie would have you believe that murders and abductions in broad daylight in public places are no less normal than a traffic jam in these small towns. When using real cities as backdrop, it is just pure bad taste.

2. Pintoo’s father is the Superintendent of police, and that too an upright and honest one. Still Pintoo is running away from him with the girl. Why?

3. What exactly is the stand of his father?

4. Pray, what was Deepti Naval doing in that ‘chal parantha banati hoon tere liye’ role?

5. The hero is stabbed, almost dies, then comes back to life and fights the villain. Yes, again.

6. Holi is Agra also means Holi in Delhi, or doesn’t it?

7. Out of close to 3 hours, a total of 45 minutes are just old-fashioned one hero against 10 villain dishum-dishum, as the heroine hides behind him.

8. The heroine. Well that list will be endless. Or just one word – Sonakshi.

Watch at your own risk.

Context

First day at a new work location- the situation was in no way comforting. Hence, looking around and pinging every person possible on Whatsapp were the only options as he sat there waiting for his new boss.

‘’Hey, how come you are here? What have you been up to?’’, he looked towards the source of the voice- a face which took a few moments to register, and not to a positive effect. Yet as an auto generated response, (which was one of the effects of those first 6 months of his professional life) he smiled and extended a hand.

He couldn’t probably call it hatred, but then there was no word close to the feeling he had for him. He disliked him for sure. The differences were purely professional for all he knew, but if only we were that sorted out, things would be simpler. Hence, even though they had met in person only once, his mention evoked a strong response in him. So much so that the phrase ‘Sunit Kumar’ in his mailbox made him feel irritated now. As a trainee and the face of this new project, the first assignment of his professional life was going all smoothly until he had to deal with Mr. Sunit, to get some manpower and funding for the project. As a function head of one of the in-house businesses, he was in-charge of the same. He did not think it would be much of a task, given that the project spanned through multiple businesses including Sunit’s. The myth was broken within a few days only by the hostile nature of communication, mostly written and occasionally verbal with him, during which he was told that his expectations were unreasonable and the manner of communication inappropriate. He had discussed it with his manager, who enlightened him that there are things like internal politics, one-upmanship, efforts to reduce costs at any costs and things like helping a newbie and supporting a young career existed mostly only when there were rewards associated. The project had continued with whatever he could manage and despite on being the verge of losing his cool often, he had controlled his fingers and mouth. He realized maybe Sunit wasn’t wrong or evil as he wanted to believe he was, and was almost certain it wasn’t anything personal, yet he couldn’t control the dislike. They had met once in an office event, when he was sure the smile and show of ‘I-know-you’ had certain smugness behind it.

The same smile and show today in a different place reminded him of all those moments in an instant. That project was done with a month ago with whatsoever he could manage. Now he was here in a new city with a new project, and strangely after the initial few moments, the negativity he felt had subdued subtly. As if voicing his thoughts, he said, ‘’It’s good to meet someone I know’’.

‘’’So you’re here on a new project too?’’

‘’No, I am on leave actually. This is my hometown. So thought I’ll visit the office too’’.

‘’I kind of like this office, much more spacious and open, no?’’

‘’Yeah, much less number of people too, but just look out on the streets – wish they would clean them up sometime! Even the canteen here doesn’t look clean. How’s the food, did you try yet?’’

‘’No, I came this morning only’’.

‘’Okay, let’s go have a cup of tea then’’

A couple of hours later over lunch when they had discussed enough of weather, politics, movies and cities, he said, ’’Actually, I am quitting the company to start something on my own. I’ll submit my resignation as I go back. I am here to keep my luggage as I vacate my place there. Don’t mention this to people here though. I have realized that in my 3 years here that there is a lot of office politics here.’’

‘’Yeah, I know.’’ He smiled, and that was when they became friends he thought. For the next 3 days, they met over tea, lunch and otherwise; chatted about the company as well as life – from college to girlfriend to marriage. He shared his experiences of 3 years in the organization – good and not so good ones as well, but nothing about the project through which they knew each other. Over lunches and bill sharing, he realized, they would have been good friends if met somewhere else. It was all about context.

On the 3rd day, a couple of hours after they came back from lunch, an office boy came to him with a pair of earphones. ‘‘Sir, these are yours right? Sunit Sir asked me to give them to you’’. I went to his place, to find an empty chair.

It was indeed all about the context.

Happy New Year, and all things wrong with Bollywood!

So as you read this, Farah Khan and SRK are probably laughing their way to the 100 crore club, shattering many records (highest first day collections, fastest 100 crores, widest release etc). In all probability it will create many more records, and add many a zeroes to the bank balance of the makers. Well, without mincing words, it is simply one of the most appalling and mind-numbing movies you’ll ever come across, and does nothing to salvage bollywood’s reputation as a chauvinist, brain-dead and crass medium of entertainment, though the last two might not necessarily be that bad a quality, as long as the end result is suitably entertaining. Now, lest I am labelled a pretentious masala movie hater or one of those grown-up-on-hollywood types, I am perhaps one of the biggest Bollywood buffs you will ever come across.  Having grown up on a staple diet of Sooraj Barjatya, Abbas Mastan, David Dhawan, Aditya Chopra, Karan Johar and lately the lady herself, Farah Khan, my knowledge of Tarantino is limited to the reviews of Vishal Bhardwaj’s Kaminey. Yet I found this piece of cinema insulting, and the anger probably is a cumulative effect of a string of such movies, all similarly assaulting at the core, only varying in appearances, in the past few years in the name of potboiler, masala, crowd pleaser and what not. So, this one is for you, Farah, SRK and all the ‘creative’ minds behind this colossal collective assault of sensibility.

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  1. SRK the Superstar: So most of us have been a fan of Raj and Rahul at some point, admit it. So SRK has been one of the most popular actors the country has ever produced, admit it. But why does that mean we have to be constantly reminded of the fact throughout the movie? From the opening sequence of ‘Bade bade matches me..’ to Deepika’s Chak de speech, and along with it the dismissive and I daresay cocky grin on the ‘superstar’s’ face as he looks at her; seriously what are we supposed to make of it? Maybe that you’re done with all the punchlines (or pick up lines if you may) and all that’s left is a rehash. Yes, reference to self in a mocking tone can be funny and it was to some extent when the same team started the trend in Om Shanti Om, but not anymore. And mind you, OSO did throw at us a couple of really memorable and original lines too. What do we have here? ‘Kismat badi kutti cheez hai…, oh so original and creative! Lastly, as much as I want to avoid the moral tone, but an SRK movie by default invites a large number of children and families as audience; now how appropriate is for the kids to listen to the characters take constant shots at everyone’s mothers and sisters and using the colourful ‘madar…chor na yaar’ is something we should think upon.
  1. Sense of humor(?) : Amidst a fight scene with Sonu Sood and the goons, Boman is sitting on the side and while talking to himself that how the situation is a piece of cake, and takes out a cake from his bag. Now did you see what was done here? It could actually have been funny, it not so evidently forced and contrived. While entering the basement of the factory, Abhishek says – O , Patal bhairavi! So what? Yeah, that’s the question. On spotting the Koreans, the Junior B calls them Chinese as ‘saare same hi to dikhte hain’. Now, the stereotyping can even be ignored for once, but not the done-to-death-ness of this joke. For the India level auditions of WDC, we find out that judges Anurag Kashyap and Vishal Dadlani are a gay couple and our hero has a video clip of them dancing around in itsy-bitsy pink tops and bras with a scary display of a hairy back (as if the display wasn’t enough, SRK actually mouths the three words- your hairy back!). Now why would anyone find this sight or the thought amusing is beyond my understanding. Are we supposed to laugh at people being gay or is the filmmaker trying to say that’s how reality shows selections happen in our country? Quite audacious, must say, given she has also been a regular on judging panels of some of them.
  1. Deepika’s character: Now this one is a real shocker. The lady who very recently waged an online battle against a media giant for allegedly objectifying her has most certainly no qualms being treated like a door mat in a mainstream movie which certainly would reach an audience hundred times larger than any online page ever would. So she plays a bar dancer who dances in front of ‘anjaan mard(s)’ wearing ‘nangu-pangu’ clothes, hence is cheap, bazaru and has no ‘izzat’. No, that is not my judgement but our hero’s who says it aloud as the heroine listens, gives a two minute rant about being hurt and then in less than 5 minutes, falls in love with the man as he utters a few English words. As if that wasn’t enough, twice more our hero insults her, ‘bar dancer kahin ki’ and keeping her safely out of the plan (and trust). Well he loved her, right? So what if he can’t show a little respect. Seriously, is this the same Farah who gave us the beautiful sequence of a tomboy Sanjana teaching the brat Lucky the lesson of being loved and respected for what you are! (Main Hoon Na)
  1. Logic: Now, having grown up on Bollywood fare throughout, our tolerance for stupidity is normally very high. Logic isn’t one of the primary virtues we look for in our movies. So we don’t mind that bullets never hit the hero, or the sight of the girl crying for help brings back the hero to life, or that the WDC finals are being hosted in Hindi, along with English. But seriously, there has got to be a limit. Atleast in a movie which has a difficult heist as the main component of story, and when a major part of screenplay is devoted to ‘’intelligently’’ planning it, we do expect to be treated as adults and not toddlers being told a fairy tale, skipping the ‘how’ parts. Same was the issue with Dhoom 3, The missing how! I am sure hackers all over are offended by the joke the movie makes hacking look like. So it appears anything and everything in this world can be hacked without a trace. A participant of the finalist team is a humshakal (even typing that word feels scary now, damn you Sajid Khan!) of the son of the Diamond king and no one notices, not even the dad who is around the event round the clock.
  2. Box-office numbers: Get a superstar, pay for as many number of screens as possible and flood the theatres with your movie. Movies being the primary source of entertainment; India being a nation of 130 crore people; a large chunk of them actually finding the above mentioned traits likable, before the people form an opinion about the movie, it is well into the 100 crore club. See how that works? Now all that is possibly justified within legal limits, (although with regular stories of use of money and power to buy no. of screens and shows and a high profile case between Ajay Devgn films and Yash Raj Films in 2012 over alleged foulplay by the latter, even that is yet to be established), but it can be so much better. Given the immense command over public our movie stars enjoy, they can actually use all this stardom, money and power to make some really good movies, as they will find an audience for sure. Now the definition of ‘good movies’ may vary to extreme extents, from meaningful message oriented to commercial entertainers and so on. Without being preachy, if the hindi film industry could be a little less of an industry and a little more of a responsible social media, it would definitely do wonders for everyone and itself in the long run.

 

Oh, and I am not even mentioning the strictly average standard of dance numbers in the movie. For a movie claiming to be unabashedly bollywood, for a movie directed by a leading choreographer, for a movie based on a world dance championship, it has surprisingly ordinary dance numbers. However, it is probably the least disturbing aspect of the movie, so we’ll let it pass.

India, Love

Love makes the world go round they say; though Copernicus might disagree. But what makes people go around the world is a question still devoid of a clear answer. Could it be the lack of love? Nay, that would be being an extremist, and in matters of country and family, we Indians are anyway ‘accused’ of being one. Anyway, what’s the big deal about people moving from one country to another, especially if the ‘from’ side of the globe is already overloaded with people?

Numbers never give the full picture, but they are quite an instrument to describe the magnitude of the picture. So when we observe that around 1,55,000 Indian students leave the country for either side of the Atlantic; around 1,70,000 professionals cross the Atlantic to grab a bite of the big Apple, with the Indians comprising a big 64% of the total H-1B approvals in the US, it is indeed a big deal. For a country where only 6.7% of the total literate population is able to formally enter a grad school or above; for a country which spends a fortune on a handful of its elite higher education institutions and their protégé, it indeed is a big loss. Hence the need of the inspiration to reduce this loss is more than ever. After all, why would someone with a sane mind choose the chaotic roads of a Chandni Chowk over a chic Manhattan lane to drive his Audi?

The answer is less complicated and less idealistic than it seems. I would stay here in my country and try to improve the state of things within my capacity, simply because it is mine, it is how I know life, and because I love my India. While this simple statement might seem pretentious to most of our ‘common people’ (Yes, somehow patriotism isn’t one of the good values that our good old families tend to nurture in us from childhood.) it actually isn’t. We actually judge ourselves a little too harsh on this, because the fact is; somewhere we all do love our country. Because loving it doesn’t mean sacrificing our lives or the good things for the nation anymore. This love manifests itself in simplistic forms such as the food, the dresses, the movies, the traditions, the overbearing and nagging mama mamis and chacha chachis, the crowd, the rickety rickshaws and all things that we cannot imagine our lives without, including a lot of things we can’t ever stop cribbing and whining about. It might sound contrasting but it isn’t really.

Loving the country isn’t really different from loving a person. Why do we love someone? It is certainly not because someone is perfect, has certain desirable qualities or fulfils our needs in the best possible way. It just happens because of the relation we share, because of the time we spend together, the memories we create, the lives we share and the connection we form. We love our loved ones with all their flaws. We realize, we accept and we grow to love their flaws as well, and at the same time trying to change them. The same relation we have with our country. We can judge it, we can ‘not like’ it at times or even often, but often we fail to realize that despite all this we love it, as it is ours, it is us! Anyone who has spent even a couple of months abroad will vouch for it. The desirable qualities of the first world infatuate us, but eventually it wanes out and what we miss is that connection, that understanding, that familiarity. That familiarity- of celebrating festivals along with the never ending trail of relatives; of attending the family weddings and dancing crazy to the inane bollywood numbers; of eating roadside puchka or vada pav; of waking up to temple bells and the taste of samosa and jalebi; of the faces that get concerned over a single sign of sickness we display; of the mismanagement, the chaos, all that is wrong with the system and of the newly found and emerging hope, that change is round the corner. Now which relationship doesn’t involve change? More often than not, it is for the better! 

So, yes I want to stay here and change the state of things, though it isn’t the only or the main reason. In fact there is no reason; for, love requires no reason, hatred does. Love just is, and in the process it takes us through some beautiful changes, the one that our country is looking for. Maybe I won’t be able to see the change, but then that wasn’t a precondition. For the greater good, being selfless, contributing to the nation building- all these terms might sound coming out of some big heroic act but they are born out of sheer love.

 Copernicus may rejoice, purists may sulk, but even driving the Audi wouldn’t be that much of a pleasure without the wide eyed looks, applauding comments and the children running and chasing it in the walled city!

 

खिड़की

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मेरी खिड़की के बाहर

एक बेचैन सा सागर रहता है

क्षितिज से भी दूर तक, ऊंचाइयों एवं गहराइयों में

लहराता हुआ सा वो कुछ यूँ बहता है

मानो मंजिल का पता ही नहीं, न ही जानने की परवाह है

बस इस अनर्गल से कलह में घुले हुए रोष को, बेबस होकर कुछ यूँ सहता है

कि दसो दिशाओं में बढ़ता हुआ सा, वो निराकार व निरंकुश सा

भव्य पर भयावह सा, शोर में कुछ कहता सा है

इस ऊंचाई पर, इस शोर में, सहमाती सी गहराइयों में, आगे जाने की इस होड़ में

एक ठहराव , एक संगीत , एक धरातल, एक शब्द सी

तुम .

मेरी खिड़की के बाहर

एक चाँद और कुछ तारे बिखरे से हैं

अशांत उस सागर से अछूते, इन ऊंचाइयों और गहराइयों से अभिन्न

बहाव के शोर से अविचलित, स्वयं की दुविधा में  बुझते जलते

उनको इस पाषाण सागर के किसी किनारे से देखती यूँ अविराम सी

तुम.

मेरी खिड़की के बाहर

एक ख्वाहिशों का तूफ़ान उमड़ता है

जलती तपती धूप में, कभी धुंए कभी ओस का, सैलाब सा बनता बिगड़ता है

ख्वाहिशें, कुछ पाने की कुछ छीनने की

कुछ ठंडी ओस सी कुछ काले धुंए सी, तूफानों में घिरी इन दीवारों में

धुओं में छुपी इन इमारतों में कहीं,  बारिश की पहली बूंदों सी

शांत सुन्दर शीतल सरल सी,  सभी ख्वाहिशों की से परे

तूफानों के बीच थमी हुई एक चाहत सी

तुम.

मेरी खिड़की के बाहर

एक मेला सा लगता है

अनजाने अजनबी चेहरों का, कुछ पहचाने अजनबी चेहरों का

इस सागर में सैलाब में, तूफ़ान में इस मेले में

एक पहचान तलाशते इस भीड़ में इस रेले में

धुंए के साथ जलते, लहरों के साथ बहते,  अपरिचित भावो वाले वो चेहरे

उम्मीद आशंका अविश्वास से डरे,  विश्वास व ख़ुशी के परदो से ढके

इन चेहरों में कहीं वो एक, जाना पहचाना सा, अपना सा माना सा

पल पल बदलते मेले में एक ठहराव मनमाना सा

तुम.

मेरी खिड़की के अन्दर

एक मैं और एक मैं , आपस में यूँ प्रलाप करते हैं

बेतहाशा अनायास सा ये सागर, सहरता भरमाता सा ये सैलाब

अब क्यों अपने से कुछ लगते हैं

ये चाँद ये रफ़्तार, ये लहरें ये ख्वाहिशें

नींद भरी आँखों में सुबह के सपने से क्यूँ लगते हैं

अनजान राहगीरों का ये मेला , अब एक जलसा सा क्यूँ लगता है

निराकार निरंकुश यह दृश्य , अब एक स्वप्न नगरी  सा क्यों लगता है ?

लहरों की ऊंची छलांग में , चाँद की शीतल छाँव में,

ख्वाहिशों के उस जूनून में , मेले की उस रौनक में

जो ख़ुशी है , जो जादू है , जो प्यार है,

वो हो तुम .

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Freedom

Finally, he broke open the cage and was free, so to say.

For quite some time now, he was caged. He was a prisoner, and used to being one now. The memories of different times had faded away with time, or were covered with layers of the feeling of being tied. He used to be sad often, he felt. It must have been sadness only, that feeling of nothingness, of waiting for some unknown respite, dreaming of the state when he would fly freely and there would be no restrictions. There were a few happy moments though, such as thinking of freedom; planning of things to do when he would be free; how things would be different from now; how he will be able to do anything he wanted and how there will be no feeling of discontent but only of satisfaction. His time was spent talking to his co-slaves, discussing the pitiable state they were in and abusing and cursing the master. Together, they would dream of the free world, of what freedom must feel like and what they would like to do with it.

Finally, he broke open the cage and was free, so to say.

It was a different feeling, a new one. He had the full sky and a limitless world ahead of him. It did feel odd, not being told what to do, having all options open and having to make a choice. He remembered of the things he had thought to do once free. He took the flight and spread his wings wide, so to say. The wind was strong and steady. He had to find his way on his own. He had to identify his obstacles and overcome them. He was responsible for all the choices he would make. There was no one he could blame and curse for his actions and consequences. His direction was uncertain. He did not have his co-slaves to share his possible misfortune with. He felt fear; he felt responsibility; he felt a lack of supervision; he felt unsafe; he felt risk.

He was free, he thought. He could do anything he wanted. He wanted that comfort of knowing what to do; that lightness of not having to compete and fight for everything; that laziness of being instructed and led along; that feeling of being a helpless victim and not having things under control. He missed that predictability of things; he missed that feeling of hope of freedom; he missed that lack of accountability and surprise. He craved for the satisfaction of scheming with his co-slaves; he craved for the satisfaction which cursing and abusing the master brought; he craved for the relaxation which absence of competition and limitless options brought.

He was free, he thought. He could choose to do anything. He turned back to the direction from which he had come, towards the cage. He was free to choose slavery.

Delusion

‘It was a few moments before he realized that she was whistling a piece of music – and that it was the theme of Halley’s Fifth concerto’.

Once again, he lost the plot with a stream of memories flooding his mind. Rather than turning the pages to recollect who ‘she’ was, he put away the book and closed his eyes to get some peace of mind- if only, it was that easy! Ever since he had come back to home, he had been trying hard to stay composed and not let the constant pang of memories affect him, only to fail miserably. It had been a month, still it almost felt as if he just stopped living that life in that place with those people, with his friends. It had still not sunk in that it was all over, that it was a beautiful phase of life which he had lived but it was time to move on.  Everything he did, everything he saw somehow reminded him of that place, and all those memories somehow led to her. It was not as if he was in love with her. He was long over that feeling, he reminded himself. It was not as if they had been together or been the best of friends either.  Not that he hadn’t wanted either of these to happen, but it didn’t, and he had made his peace with the situation. He had some friends with whom he shared perhaps the most beautiful bond. For one last year, though he had just been used to her presence all over the place. Just her presence, which had never got much to do with his’, or him in anyway.

So he was surprised (pleasant or not, he was not sure) that all his memories of the place somehow led to her. The canteen, where she would be chatting merrily with her gang; the grounds, where her laughter would be heard almost all the time; the classes, where her eloquent and intelligent questions were more interesting than the professor’s lecture; the lawns, where she would be found posing for photographs or smearing cake on her friends; the library, where she would be found with eyes full of suppressed laughter and a wait for getting out of the place, and the hostel where her voice would echo all around the floor- all he missed of that place had her presence. Each day, as much as he would try to avoid the thoughts, more they would come, initiated by any and everything. Starting as a slow process of a series of memories flashing in the mind, it would slowly turn into a cold sinking feeling in the heart, and in some time engulf him completely in the most disarming way possible. He tried all he could to get back to his normal self- reading a book, scribbling in the pages of his diary, watching a movie, social networking, but nothing really helped him stop her from coming in his thoughts of that place.

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It was the day he had been waiting for two months now. Finally his new life, in the new city had started. He had known that she would also be in the same city, though wasn’t particularly excited by the information back then. But over these two months, he had realized that probably the only way to get rid of that feeling was to see her, to spend some time with her. So, here he was, waiting for her in a cafe.

She arrived. Seeing her walk merrily, full of life and the infectious happiness as always, he was somehow reminded of the times when he would visit his home after a gap of months, a feeling not of particularly happiness, but of relief, of stability, of things being as he had known and wanted them to be. She smiled happily and greeted him. It was all the same- Her sitting comfortably in the chair yet jumping out every moment in the excitement to speak, like in those classrooms, with semi-circles of tables and chairs and the ever cheerful and familiar classmates battling sleep and boredom; Her loud and full of energy voice asking about his two months, like in those grounds with some beautiful plants along the side, benches in the corner which were never empty and tall trees reaching the heights of the surrounding buildings; Her carefree dismissal of his boredom and her genuine laughter ringing in the cafe like in those lawns with 2 levels of ground and  the old tree regarded as the tree of wisdom on one side; Her vivacious call to the waiter which echoed around like it did in the hostels, with those long corridors and a scarily semi-functional lift and the shredding away walls yet housing the best comforts and luxury ever possible to them; Her easily visible attempts to suppress the laughter at waiter’s attire like in the library, with those long rows of empty spaces between the book-stands, the attractive emptiness of the reading hall, the tempting internet speed all around and the beautiful statues of the guy and girl outside it- he could remember all of it. Every single image of that place he had captured in his mind over last two years came alive in that moment.

He felt something sinking down his chest again. She was there. Everything she did took him back there. He was no more here, with her.  The book was perhaps going to be unread for some more time.

He should have known better.

बारिश

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ना ही रिमझिम सी , ना ही घनघोर सी
एक खामोश से एहसास सी
मखमली बूंदों की चादर सी
खामोशियों में ही सब कुछ कह जाने वाली  …
आज कुछ अलग सी है ये बारिश …

कहीं छुपा के रखी हुई यादों को जगाने वाली
सहमी सी , घबरायी सी
खुल के बरसने से शर्मायी सी
हिचकिचाती हुई सी
ठहरी हुई सी
पर बिना ठहराव की ये बारिश …

मन को भर ले अपनी बाहों में
चेहरे को हलके से छू जाए
चेहरे से सीधे दिल में उतर जाए
दिल के खामोश पड़े तारों में
एक सनसनी सी कर जाए
एहसासों को हवा देने वाली …
ऐसी बेताब है ये बारिश…

हलकी हलकी आहटों के बीच चलते कुछ दिल
उन दिलों की बेताबियों को अक्स देने वाली

ना जाने क्यों …
आज कुछ अलग सी है ये बारिश ….