Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The wonderful year that was!

A beautiful start to the new year!

Why is the time around new year so hard? Is it the pressure of another year gone by? Is it the hype of the year yet to come? Is it the compulsion to make new beginnings? Is it the regret of not having achieved goals set for the year? Is it the fear of hope and disappointment playing out in my life yet another year?

I have always struggled with new years. Try as much as I do, I haven’t been able to look at January as just another month that comes after December. Just like June comes after July. I have dreaded the beginning of new years and written them off as another bad ones in the first 2 months. On analysis I realized why. I have expected each year to bring about an unprecedented transformation in my life fulfilling all my pending goals. In one annual sweeping shot! Wrong ideal to presume, right? 

Also, the hype created around the new year is actually hard to miss. You are compelled to flow with the spirit and make resolutions. You can’t go on with your work when any one you look at wants to know what are your plans for 31st. You just can’t pretend that it’s no big deal. (And I hate the hype about any festival/occasion)

But this year, it’s not been as hard as it has been all these years. It used to be much harder. In hindsight, I realize that the trepidation was due to all the ambitious expectations I mentioned before. Do I still expect all those things and still fear failure? Yes. But it isn’t as bad. I tried to figure this out as well and the findings are quite encouraging.  

I think we all grow up and learn to cope with things. I think I have learnt to manage the whole expectations bit. After the shitty year it’s been with two major life goals going for a heart-breaking toss, I have accepted that some things take time. And happen only if they are meant to be. My anxiety doesn’t help. And I guess once we go through enough shit in life, we just develop serenity and patience after a point. 

And age is not just a number. I am a lot calmer than I used to be even a few years ago. This year, particularly, I discovered a new me! Someone more confident, more sure, more in control of my thoughts (not situations, yet) with a never before devil-may-care attitude. I took up projects and patiently saw them through. I met people online, made friends with them and just followed my instincts about it. I stumbled upon this person inside me who looked afresh at me and discovered I am person in my own right. No strings attached. 

And all this surprised me because I had written off the rest of my life as a predictable, humdrum one. I thought I had crossed all important milestones the ones awaited would arrive in their own time. But life has wondrous ways of surprising us. We change from decade to decade and I guess I just happened to change as a person and found that it’s not “that’s it” in my life, yet! There’s a lot of adventure left to explore, a lot more to come. 

The most important lesson I learnt this year is to appreciate what I have. I wasted all these years pining for what I did not have/get. At least not yet. I have realised that everyone has their own share of what each one gets. Some people will kill for what I have. And I have just been looking at others and hoping to get what’s on their plate without looking at the bounty I have been blessed with. Again, happiness is just a matter of perspective I guess. And what’s amazing to me is finding this state of bliss and happiness despite all the goals I have been waiting for still being out of reach.  

Bring it on, new year! I am prepared. Good, bad - all in a day’s work. It’s foolish to start with resolutions. Goals are more like my thing. I set up goals last year - to read more books and blog more often - and it worked for me. I have goals for next year - realistic ones - and I can aim at achieving them. I am no longer scared of the future like I used to be. I always worried about looking back and regretting that I did not live life right. But I think I have lived long enough to know that if you do your present right, you won’t regret the future. And even if all’s not well in the present, it will get better in the future.

How has your year been? Take time out and ponder over the blessings you got this year. I am sure you can dig out some light amidst the evident darkness. Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below. 

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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Traveling abroad? 6 tips that can help

Holiday beckons!
Earlier, I wrote about what travel in the country has taught me over the years. I thought it’ll be a good idea to also share some tips from my experience in international travel. Whether you plan a quick shopping trip or plan to beach holiday, planning for a holiday itself can be quite stressful. I hope this list will help you sort most things out. 

1. Apply for visa well in time: The single big reason why I don’t look forward to international travel is the stress of applying for a visa in time. Since most of our plans are last minute, visa process just adds to the mayhem! Hence, preparation for travel overseas has to start much earlier than traveling within the country. Visa papers need time for processing. Every embassy has their own working time. In my experience, visas generally do not get rejected as long as all your papers are in place. But the haughty embassy staff will always make you believe that there could be a problem. The air tickets and hotel bookings already made make the suspense worse. 

2. Remember to carry your passport: OK! Now this is insulting your intelligence, right? Who forgets passport on an international trip? Just Joey and Rachel!! Better be safe than sorry, correct? I think it was important to add this point because when I follow my routine of packing for travel, there have been times when I have had to remind myself to fish out my passport and carry it along. When we are used to doing certain things in a particular way, we may forget that one odd little extra that needs to be done. And I do add that to my own last minute check list! It is a good idea to invest in a passport holder with pockets which can hold your cash, a pen, immigration forms etc. This way it’ll be convenient to have everything in one place and pull it out at different counters. (check in, immigration)

3. Do your research: Just like I mentioned in my post on domestic travel, research is the key even in international travel. Acting like a localite might not be of help here especially of you are going to a different part of the world. You will need real intelligence from the internet. A few things that you should look up are:

a. Hotel reviews: Booking a hotel in a place you have never been to is quite challenging. I was at my wits end when I had to do it all by myself for a hotel in Zurich. After a lot of research, I zeroed in on a popular chain of hotels. Yet, the rooms turned out to be smaller than the standard ones. Still, research is your best bet. Sites like tripadvisor have unbiased reviews from hundreds of users which can be trusted while booking. Consider factors like location (preferably city center), modes of transport available close by (a train station or a metro), presence of a market place/shopping area, restaurants etc. 

b. Geography/climate/culture: Google maps and Wikitravel can help you understand most aspects of a region. Reading up helps understand the culture of the place - laidback/fast, safe/unsafe, wealthy/third world, crowded/not so much etc. You will find enough stories online to tell you about things cabbie behaviour, food habits, popular food joints etc to give you a hang of how the city functions. You can understand routes, modes of transport, the type of area you will stay in (city center, suburbs, mountainous) and how the local travel system works. Wikitravel also helps you with the climate, temperature range etc which will help you decide the kind of clothes/shoes you will need.

c. Things to do: Unless you are going to a destination where you intend to just laze on a beach, it's a good idea to check out things there are to do - city tours, museums, beach trip, adventure sportsAnd then you can choose what you prefer to do. This way you will be ahead by planning your days according to the city tour pick and drop (if you choose to do that) or the closing time of famous monuments/landmarks.

It's best to understand what's in your food before you go for it!

d. Food: As Indians, we have varied food habits. For instance, many dishes in Mumbai will have Jain and half Jain versions - because just vegetarian isn't specific enough! Travelling abroad can be challenging, especially in countries like China, if you are a vegetarian or a vegan. I am a non-vegetarian and thought chicken was a safe bet in any country but was sadly mistaken. Boiled, bland chicken with its skin intact (served in South Africa) is not my idea of appetising food. In most countries, chicken stock is commonly used and considered vegetarian. You may want to research your food options in advance. It may not change what is available in that country but will help you be prepared for it.

4. Money matters: Understand the currency conversion ratio of the country you are visiting. You will need to convert sufficient Indian rupees in order to have enough cash even after conversion. In certain countries, a huge amount in rupees turns out to almost nothing when converted. Make sure you don't keep all your cash in one place, lest an unfortunate incident robs you of everything. If you choose to go shopping, it makes sense to convert local prices into our own currency before you decide to spend. Sometimes, a silly shirt turns out to be way more expensive in dollars/pounds and could have easily been purchased back home at half the price. 

5. Invest in appropriate clothes: Our first foreign trip was the beautiful city of museums - Amsterdam. But the trip was marred by lack of warm clothes suitable to the country. Living in a city like Mumbai doesn’t give you the option of buying over coats that can hold against winters in Europe. I had literally all my woollies on me every single day! Before the trip, it felt like a waste of money to buy warm, bulky stuff for a trip and hoard it afterwards. But you could always borrow and return later. Or if you have to buy them, give it away to friends/relatives who will find it useful. That way your investment still wouldn’t go waste and you get to enjoy your trip comfortably. 

6. Stay safe: Your research should also give you an idea of how safe the place is going to be. Don't expose yourself to late night traveling if it is advised otherwise. Use the security locker provided in rooms to lock up your gadgets, cash, passports and other valuables. Don't leave them carelessly around assuming it's safe. General common sense should mostly guide you to avoid danger. 

All said and done, travelling to different countries is the best way to broaden your horizons of thought. Take care of the important things and be sure to enjoy yourself and make it memorable!

Do you have any experiences to share? Would love to hear your stories. Hack away on the comments! 

Friday, December 12, 2014

5 unanswered questions from my favourite sitcom, F.R.I.E.N.D.S

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F.R.I.E.N.D.S is a favourite with millions of people across the world. My best stress burster and an all-time comfort watch, the episodes transport me into a different world. I have written about it before here and here. But I think the more you watch something the more you try to reason things out. Beyond all the fun and laughter, there are a few lingering questions in my mind that keep coming back. I thought I should share them here and see if any of you have an answer. 

1. What was wrong with Pete?
Some twists in the sitcom feel like just a whim on the part of the writers. Pete was a perfect person any woman would want to marry. Handsome, intelligent, rich and considerate - he had all a woman would want in her man. And the best Monica could get! Why did the writers kill that relationship off? The couples who were eventually put together is even more imperfect.

2. Why do friends end up marrying each other?
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Why were friends turned into lovers? No new people except Mike. I guess there weren't any more friends left except for Joey who isn't marriage material. Monica could have married Pete, Rachel and Mark were great together, Ross and Mona were fine - she even liked his collection of semi precious stones!! I somehow don’t agree with the friends-marrying-each-other concept. Even the series is named FRIENDS!! 

3. Why did the Ross-Rachel track drag on for all 10 seasons?
It seems like the writers just did not know what new to do with the plot. The time after Emma is born, Ross and Rachel do find themselves living happily together and raising the baby. But they still act annoying by treating marriage with each other like a horrible idea. And they are anyways brought together at the end of the series! This also goes into my previous question. 

4. Why are pointless flings between friends just thrown in?
This started towards the later seasons of the series. Joey has a crush on Rachel. It doesn't work. And then Rachel has the hots for Joey! It can't get more silly. And the track is so contrived proved by their inability to take it any further even after they reveal their feelings for each other. Seems like the writers twist it that way to make it easier to kill it off. 

5. Why doesn’t Monica get pregnant?
This is my biggest question because it makes me very sad for her. Monica has always been in control and managed to discipline everyone. Looks like she just failed to control this. Given how she badly wants to be a mother, it almost seems cruel of the writers to deprive her of that joy.

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Do you find something to say about the series? Are there things that irk you in the otherwise perfect series? Or do you refuse to accept there's anything wrong in it and will defend till the end?

Feel free to drop your thoughts in the comments. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Marriage isn't for a lifetime.

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A woman married for 14 years to a man who never respected her or earned her respect. He never had a job or shared responsibilities. He lied about his educational qualification and his family supported him just to get him married. She ran the household. She took care of her girl-child. She put up with his egoistic tantrums. But after 14 long years of her life, she decided to call it quits. But isn’t marriage supposed to be a relationship of a lifetime?

My last post was about my own blissful years of marriage. Very ironically this one is pondering over whether there is a justified time and reason to walk out of a marriage. No, there’s no storm brewing in my life. But when you come across people who carry on being married even though it is unendurable, one does stop to think. 

I always believe that if it doesn’t work out between two people, it’s just better for them to find happiness elsewhere. But what is that limit? What determines that it isn’t working out. And how far along do you wait before giving it all up? Are there times when staying married is worse than giving it up, no matter how sacred the institution? 

Yes, there are. 

In popular perception of our times, marriage as a tie is at its tenuous best - thanks to DINK couples and all the stress they go through. It’s just too much effort to live up to the expectations that keep this bond going. It is quite possible that it might not work out between the spouses. 

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The first reason, to me, is lack of respect for the spouse. If the spouses don’t love or care for each other anymore, the whole point of being in a marriage is futile. Being together is to be able to share ones good and bad times. And if that isn’t possible anymore in a relationship, it is best to let go. 

As if the complications of making it work between two people isn’t enough, marriage is very much a function of families and the society. And both these institutions - family and society - could be responsible for keeping two people yoked together. 

I have seen some of my own friends go through a bad marriage because their parents wouldn’t hear of anything else. Girls in our country are always taught that it is their duty to gel into their new family. They are trained to look after everyone and not expect in return. This becomes her undoing since she becomes incapable of standing up for herself. The boundaries of tolerance are pretty wide. Hence, it takes a long time to realise how much is too much. But lack of support from parents is still a a big reason why they just carry on with their marriage. 

Even though this is common for women, I also know men who just stick to their unhappy marriage because their parents think that just living together gives respectability in the eyes of the society. They would not bear to compromise on that. And this is irrespective of the fact that their own children live through suffering. 

There is also a lot of “what will people say!” So people just choose to stay unhappy as long as they can maintain the facade of being happily married. 

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But whatever the reason, I think only the two people involved in a relationship should have the freedom and the right to decide to call it off. In many cases, marriage is not a lifetime of love. And it is better to accept that for the good of all the people involved. To use the liberty to go out there and find your happiness with someone else more suited to you. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

7 things I have learnt in as many years of marriage

7 wonderful years of togetherness!!
In my last post, which was actually supposed to be this one, I rambled on with my musings on marriage. I am sure there are reams written on marriage. If you looking for practical stuff that I have learnt in my life, this post is for you. 

I am no marriage guru and have just hit the 7 year mark in a relationship that is supposed to last a lifetime, apparently. And 7 years isn’t much from that perspective. But yes, I have learnt a few things in these years that will stay with me forever. Stuff that hit at the rosy picture that marriage is made out to be. You might read some of them and say - what nonsense! This doesn't happen anymore! But let me assure you that it does! 

1. Compatibility is a myth. Compromise is the key. I knew my husband for just over a year when I got married to him. The person I knew was this suave and successful guy who swept me off my feet with his charm! But living under the same roof turned out to be a totally different ball game. We were no longer meeting in cafes once in few weeks and did not put our best foot forward! 

The task of having to live with another person from a different brought up, background, preferences, idiosyncrasies, moods, experiences and worldview is no laughing matter. It takes all the patience that you can muster every single day to keep it going. Thats the only way you will make it work. And it doesn’t matter whether you had a love marriage or an arranged one. 

On our first anniversary
2. Marriage is not romantic. Romance is just a tool for mechanical maintenance of the relationship. I know that sounds quite drab! I just mean that the spark that ignites a new relationship is easily put out with time. What sustains the relationship is true love for each other, which may not essentially be romantic. We were so lovey-dovey in the initial months. But very soon real life, work, stress and the business of running life took over. The fact that his work involved insane amount of travel didn’t make things any easier. And then started the maintenance bit. We need to make time and schedule time together. And I mean squeeze whatever time that you can lay your hands on. Social commitments, relatives, bills, laundry - all can wait. It’s very easy to get carried away with mundane things at the cost of quality time. Listen to each other’s favourite tracks. Watch a show in a theatre. Or just stay in your room and catch up with some old fashioned chit chat! (remember to put your phones away and switch the door bell off)

3. You are not one mind, body and soul. My husband loves his gadgets and I love my cosmetics. He listens to a lot of English music and I love my desi Bollywood fare. And these differences are actually interesting. The bedrock of a strong marriage is this freedom to be able to pursue our interests on our own. Spending quality time with each other to reconnect is vital to the survival of the marriage. But that doesn’t always have to be an act of self-effacement. Being on your own at times and pursuing your independent identity is equally important.

4. Find a balance. Where and what needs to be balanced is unique to the couple. Two different individuals are bound to have different views about how things should be done. But since you jointly run the household, it is important to find a balance. Since the woman generally moves into her husband’s house, make efforts to get her comfortable. She may be used to things in a certain way. Give reasons, discuss and ensure each partner has his/her way one time or the other. The way we find balance is to take care of areas we are strong at. For instance, I know about the bills and he makes better travel schedules. 
At NH7 weekender last year

5. Mutual respect and equality shore up the relationship. I have been exceptionally lucky that I am always treated with the utmost respect. We all have rough times. But my better half understands my ups and downs. And more often than not just the process of venting out makes me feel a million times better! Support for each other’s work, hobbies, dreams and aspirations is also pretty critical. I have been blessed to have complete support from my spouse to go out there and do what I dream of! And I have ensured that he could go out and achieve his career goals without having to worry about home. 

In the Indian context, the husband generally has the upper hand and the woman is just expected to fall in line. But with changing times, it is a great thing to see the mindset change. 

6. Don’t compare yourself to others. While we do have frames of reference from our parents’ marriage or from elsewhere, the trajectory of every marriage is unique. The only perfect scenario is what works for the couple. For years, people kept commenting on our erratic schedule. We did not have the conventional routine everyone else had with regular sleep and meal times. We still pretty much suit ourselves! It was tough for me too after having led a regimented life for close to 3 decades of my life. And my mind rebelled at this haphazardness. My attempts at taming our unruly routines just did not work. And gradually I realised - to each his own! Couples with full time jobs have to have a very planned life. But for a work-from-home couple like us, that wasn’t priority. Our life was different with my husband mostly between business travel and me holding the other things in place. 

Aging together! 
7. Marriage is work in progress, always! Yes, there is no happily-ever-after in real life. You just learn to get more at home with each other. But not without constant effort to keep it up. It never just takes care of itself. And if you are really committed to make things work, you will be up to the toil it takes to pull through good and bad times.

Are there more things that you can think of? Feel free to add them in the comments. My marriage is work in progress and I’d love to learn from your views. 

Is getting married even worth it?

Our younger selves in the first year!
“I don’t believe in soul mates either. I don’t think that you and I were destined to end up together. I think we fell in love and we work hard at our relationship. 

Some days we work really hard” 

I find myself nodding my approval at Monica Geller’s words in F.R.I.E.N.D.S. They ring so true today as I reach the 7 year mark in my marriage. Don’t all of us dream that we will get married to our soul mates and live happily ever after? No matter what others go through, we believe we will certainly have a great partner, never have a fight, always keep the romance alive and just have the perfect marriage!! 

And these humongous expectations from the institution are what lead to our undoing. At least, it did lead to mine! I remember being so heart broken after our first fight a few days into our marriage. To my naive understanding, perfect couples don’t fight, ever! And we weren’t the perfect couple anymore because we broke that rule..and so soon! I can’t help but have a hearty laugh at that now. 

So if you start with huge expectations, you need a reality check. Or you are in for a rude shock. Let me tell you that marriage is a difficult, complicated and convoluted relationship rife with sexual and gender politics. It’s not easy to live with someone who throws wet towels on the bed (usually men) while the other wants to keep it clean (mostly women). And it’s a bloody tough task to keep up with someone who’s demanding in a relationship (mostly women) while all the other partner wants to do is watch soccer and unwind with a chilled beer (mostly men). Sometimes, I feel the worst invention of all times is this concept of putting together 2 individuals under the same roof for rest of their lives! I mean, we were living life on our own terms for a few decades and have to accommodate this other person in all aspects of your life now!

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Why, then, do we even need to get married? Aren’t we, as humans, intelligent enough to comprehend how impractical this is? My answer to this is that the love, companionship, togetherness, freedom, peace and the sense of security that marriage brings is worth every bit of dirty work. We are social, emotional beings. We need to be with people and are insufficient, incomplete on our own. A constant companion is the anchor that keeps the ship of our life from floating rudderless. You have someone to come back home to. This concept might seem a bit outdated with our busy schedules. But I still feel the relationship makes sure that no matter how far the birds fly (pun intended!), they are going to come back to the comfort of the nest they put together!. 

I feel sad to see things not working out for some people. I wonder how big are the differences that people begin to hate each other and drift apart. Very unpleasantly, at times.  I know about celebrities separating after a good decade of being with their partner. I am sure there are plenty of common people like you and me who go through the same plight. But even as successful stars, it must be equally traumatic. I sometimes feel there is no reason that justifies giving up on each other. But I guess to each his own and don’t want to be judgmental. If people can’t find companionship and happiness with each other, it’s better for them to find it elsewhere. 

Then there are also exceptionally lucky people who have cupid striking them more than once! Those are the people on the other end of the spectrum. While we ordinary mortals scrape out all our patience and courage to keep up with one partner, they move on with gay abandon and explore greener pastures. That’s the more colourful side of matrimony for you. 

What do you think about marriage? Married or single, you are bound to have a view. Or experiences to share. Feel free to leave your comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Do you have the right to end your life?

Birth - we can't choose to be born. Death - we don't know when we will die. 

Or do we?

Some people presume that they can decide when and how they will die. And this presumption is called committing suicide. Some prove it right. Some fail to. Either ways, I think the episode is traumatic and scarring.

In the last one year of my life, I have been an unwilling participant in 2 such incidents. One successful, the other, a failure. Forced into it but I guess shit happens in life and one has got to face it. And sometime in the quiet moments after the storm has seemingly passed, the mind stops to think and ponder. Ponder over a lot of things. So, I guess that's what I am doing right now.

First of all, it is very shocking to come across something like this. (I say this because I have seen people nonchalantly brush it off) Yes, a lot of people commit suicide every single day. Nonetheless it is shocking when it happens to someone around you. I can't imagine the agony of family members when something like this hits them. Fortunately, my experiences did not involve family.

And it is shocking - even if there were signs of the impending doom, however imperceptible! I don't believe anyone would just wake up one morning and hurl themselves off a building or slash their wrists just for the heck of it. Except in the book - The Illicit Happiness of Manu Joseph - where my patience with the author till the end wasn't awarded with a plausible answer.

In my limited experience (which feels like enough to me), the 'contemplating' bit of committing suicide is generally a considerable time. Even months, in some cases. And the hallmark of someone determined to succeed is secrecy. I had read somewhere that people who kept coming back to their therapist/psychologist to complain that they couldn't endure life anymore and wanted to really kill themselves were the ones less likely to actually do it. People who want to really succeed ensure no one can pre-empt and stop them. Depending on how intelligent they are and what resources they have, there is research of some kind involved to explore multiple options and to figure out logistics. Yes, logistics! You wouldn't want to hastily hang yourself from the fan without being sure it'll take your weight. Or not consider the implications of slashing your wrists.

And it is this critical period of contemplation that is also the best for prevention, if anyone is interested. This is the time when the symptoms of what's coming should become discernible to the perceptive. But most of the times, we may have an inkling but we can't think of a lot of things to do. We are all busy with our lives and obviously can't shadow someone day in and day out unless the person is permanently shifted into a crowded family. And not many want to be saddled with the burden.

People who succeed, congratulations! But they leave behind a mammoth wave grief, guilt and emotional devastation for the survivors. But God bless your soul.

And people who fail - congratulations to you too! Welcome to your own guilt trip! You've just added to the list of failures which led you on to something like this in the first place. I don't know if you prepared for this eventuality. I don't know if you thought of the horror your own people would go through when they discover you half dead gasping for breath. But congratulations! You managed to give your loved ones an experience they will never forget in a lifetime!

You will now get the attention you did not ask for before you took the step. Everyone who knows you will now take turns and sit with you to ensure you don't jump out of the window. They will all ensure that they bear the additional responsibility of rehabilitation since no one likes to see their loved ones have a bad life.

I have always wondered what goes on in the mind of someone who decides to harm himself/herself to the extent that it ends their life. Is it utter hopelessness that they feel doing this to themselves is the ONLY thing possible to do? Or a moment of unreasonable passion that they don't realise what they are doing? I will confess that a lot of times, especially in the last one year, I felt so frustrated that I just wanted to end my life. Angry times when I thought I could have just hurled myself from a building. But then, I realise that it's just a thought. I never really looked down a building to gauge the height. I guess all of us have bad times when we just want to give up. But where do people find the courage to go the whole hog. Or is it weakness?

I find it highly disturbing when I come across such people. I don't think anyone has the right to end their life - NO MATTER WHAT!! Life is not perfect. All of us have troubles. All of us go through tough times. Sometimes hopeless times. But if we all resort to something like this, we wouldn't need disease and wars. We would be a community of losers and Earth would be a sad place to be born in.

Anyone feeling hopeless should remind themselves that bad times pass. Every problem has a solution. The triumph of overcoming challenges in life will be much more satisfying than the ignominy of having failed to end your life. If you are unable to take charge, reach out. And you'll be surprised at how responsive people are with help.

We can do something with a little faith, nothing without it - goes a saying. So have a little faith. The tide is about to turn. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Should our Diwali really be cracker-less?

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India is a land of festivals. And yes, i have said this before here and here. In these modern times, new fangled ideas abound everything. Including festivals. Come Ganpati and canvassing for organic Ganpatis starts. Karvachauth arrives and feminists cry out aloud against women having to fast. Come Diwali and there's hue and cry over making it cracker less. For the environment, for the poor kids in Sivakasi and also as a topic to tweet about something! Wishful thinking but there were whispers about a bloodless Eid too.

Fantastic ideas all! But aren't we missing out on something crucial here? Tradition! I am not talking about conventions or orthodoxy. Yes, we need to change traditions to suit our changing lifestyles. But do we have to kill them altogether? Can we not find a midway to meet tradition and practicality?

While we are baying for men's blood because women have to fast for them on Karvachauth and say let's skip the fast and do the rest, aren't we killing the very soul of what the day stands for? I know I have said otherwise elsewhere. But I still mean - keep the tradition alive. Fast or no fast just keep up the spirit bonding and love for each other between a couple.

Organic Ganpatis are great but why did we have to think of it in the first place. Because we believe in overdoing things. Do we have to have a Ganpati in every street corner? Can we not have organic Ganpatis AND have just a few community ones so that we don't have to immerse a few thousand idols every year? The tradition will still stay alive, which to me is more important than every individual showing off his piety with an idol each.

I think what matters the most to me is the cracker less Diwali campaign. No, I am not saying "To hell with the bleeding and burning kids at Sivakasi, go and blow your money on crackers". I am just saying that if you impose a ban on crackers on Diwali, are we not killing a very important part of what the festival is? I don't know what the history behind bursting crackers is and I won't get into it. I just know that my childhood memories of Diwali are incomplete without those smoky, noisy evenings spent bursting crackers with my siblings. I know the fumes are bad, unsafe for animals and no less than torture for the sick and elderly. But till eco-friendly crackers that emit, probably, fragrances rather than noxious fumes are made, we can exercise restraint and just do sufficient enough to keep the tradition alive!

Crackers keep the spirit of Diwali alive! Photo credit

Why I thing this is very important is the rapidly changing times we live in. The world has changed at an unprecedented pace in the last 5 years and is very different now even compared to the last 10 years. The kids born in 2000 are now well into teenage. The world they were born and are growing in is a world apart from our childhood worlds. These kids will never know inlands and postcards. They will never use stamps and post boxes. This generation can't imagine watching TV without the pause and play of Tata Sky plus. They will never know what having just one channel on TV is. And the thrill of waiting all week to watch our favourite programs - He-man or Giant Robot. The fun of bursting crackers for Diwali is something that we should not bereave them of. I know writing letters is obsolete, so that's ok. Television technology has moved and so have gadgets like phones. Let's make peace with it. But burst crackers - even if it a handful of them - for the sake of pure joy and family time that it brings with it. Let the kids of today enjoy what we did in our childhood.

We all are aware of the bad effects and people have drastically cut down on crackers compared to how it used to be! So go ahead and burst a few crackers this Diwali!

Have a Happy and safe Diwali!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

4 things I have learnt about traveling safe as a woman

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I have traveled alone a lot of times in india, mostly on work. Initially, it did feel odd going to new places and managing on my own. But through the years, I have found a few things that help, especially if you are a woman traveling alone. I thought I could put down a quick list that can help others get sorted before a trip. It isn’t rocket science and there is nothing to fear even if it is your first outing by yourself with just a few basics in mind.

Before I begin my list, I want to point out that traveling within the country is a smaller challenge compared to traveling outside it - which is the topic for another post! In India, we can blend into crowds with ease which works to our advantage. Of course, if you are a fair North Indian, you will attract stares in Chennai! But by and large, it isn’t too difficult to gel along with these simple things to do.

1. Do your research. I generally don't do a lot of research about the culture and habits of people for Indian cities. We all have a fair idea about how things work in different parts of the country. You may definitely want to go through websites like for hotel reviews before you choose your accommodation. Or check it out in case your client booked it for you. Maps and travel websites help you reach a pretty fair estimation of the location and facilities of the hotel you are going to be in. Also, remember to come back and write a review on tripadvisor because you got to give back to the community as well.

2. Know your map: This is one thing that gives me the most confidence on my travels alone. It is pretty hard for anyone to mislead you or for you to get lost with this marvel of technology called Google maps. If you don’t have a data plan, it’s a good idea to activate it at least for the time you are traveling. I always look up the distance between destinations before I have to negotiate with the rickshaw guys. If you know your whereabouts you are less likely to be cheated by touts.

3. Be confident. Act like a localite. Yes, one look at your suitcase and people know that you are a traveler. And more often than not that acts as a signal to treat you as vulnerable. My suggestion is you walk out of the station/airport with your head held high with an air of confidence about you. Nothing holds people off like a confident woman! (and the converse is also equally true!). Plus your research back home should help you assume an air of authority.
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4. Better safe than sorry. If you are a woman traveling alone, it’s not a good idea to pick up a very low cost hotel since it will reflect in the quality of their service and level of security. Here too, make sure that you act like a pro during check in. Keep your door bolted from inside at least when you go to sleep at night, just as a precaution. I usually put up the DND tag outside, when I am in the room to avoid anyone ringing the bell and also when I step out because I do not want anyone to get into my room when I am not around. And most decent hotels will respect your wish to remain undisturbed. (smaller cities have the facility but the staff is not polished enough to understand what it means and housekeeping will get into your room in your absence anyways). When not in your room, make sure you do not leave valuables like gadgets, watch, money etc and leave temptation staring up at the staff. Lock them up in the room safe or just zip them away in your bag.

I think I have covered the most important points that come to my mind. Are there any more that you can think of? Feel free to share your travel experiences in the comments below.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Would you sell your fertility to your employer?

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Finally, huge corporate giants like Apple and Facebook have ushered in a level playing field. After free laundry, unlimited vacations, baby care facilities, the two corporates have come up with an unprecedented perk of freezing the eggs of their women employees. This move should enable them to continue working undeterred by the cruel, ever-ticking biological clock. Both companies have generously offered to pay a whopping $20000 to cover the cost of freezing the eggs and storing them. It’s a day of victory for American women and Indra Nooyi stands vindicated. The dream of motherhood and an excellent career - women can finally have it all!

Or can they?

The move is being touted as an attempt to bring in parity between the workforce which consists of men and women. Women tend to take breaks to have and nurture children setting them back in their career. So, the companies have now decided to free them of this crushing worry. Women employees can now happily concentrate on their careers while their employers will take care of the cost of preserving their fertility.

It’s a great move for the organizations who get the best years of a woman’s life working for them. But are they not encouraging women to delay having children by dangling a sense of false complacency about motherhood in front of them? Are they trying to say that work comes first and parental instincts can wait? Is this a call to compromise on the best phase of a couple’s life nurturing for their child, which translates to better quality of personal life? It’s like saying that since women’s absence while having babies is an inconvenience at work, let’s just take babies out of the equation. Perks to entice talent is great and desirable. But managing the fertility of your employees is taking it a bit too far! To me, it just exposes the sinister desire of companies to win employees’ commitment and cut down on hiring and training costs by giving out a false sense of welfare.

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Let’s look at it from a woman’s perspective. Women have already been meted out a raw deal by Nature and society. They have enough on her plate juggling home and career. The fact that child birth sets them back in their career leads them to postpone it, anyways. But the companies are now offering the delay as an incentive which forces women to hedge on a future possibility which has a very meager chance of success. At least the ticking of the biological clock gets them to consider babies before it is too late. But this perk might ensure that it is too late. Women in their 20‘s, which is the best time to have a child, are hardly thinking about motherhood and fertility issues.

Whether a woman wants to have a baby and when and how she wants to have it are deeply personal issues. Leave alone the company they work for, I don’t think anyone else, except the couple involved, should have the right to decide this critical issue. The employer has no right to tell a woman what she should or should not do about her fertility issues.

Also, are women better off if they postpone motherhood and don’t take breaks? Are they as successful and well paid as men? You wish! There is research to back up the fact that no matter what, women are paid less than men. Even at the cost of postponing motherhood. So who’s losing again? Women! If you want to treat women equally, a good start is to pay her what she deserves. Don’t rob her of it just because of her gender.

Even if a woman chooses to delay pregnancy, how can one be sure that a she will be in a better position to take a break in her career to have kids at 35 than at 25? By that age, wouldn’t she have given up everything she had, including the joys of motherhood, for her career? She is more likely to be in line for promotions she worked hard for all her life. Would she want to give it all up and use the damn frozen eggs because her employers planned it that way for her?

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Okay, given that freezing eggs in lieu of a worry-free, flourishing career is a fair deal. But medically, the process is not a party women would love to go to! It’s a 6-week long, invasive, hormones-induced process which makes the ovaries produce multiple eggs, sometimes upto 15, in one cycle. A woman’s body is injected with high doses of hormones to induce the ovary to produce so many eggs in a single cycle. So it’s like dialing up the pressure of hormones multiple times to achieve the results. The eggs are then removed through an invasive procedure and frozen for future use.

Someone i am close to went through the process for IVF, recently. She told me that the process is so long and painful that she wouldn’t wish it for anyone else go through it. Her advice - the best thing for women to do is conceive naturally by planning babies at a younger age.

After going through the arduous process, can a woman stop worrying and fearlessly go back to work? Scientists unanimously agree that the answer is - no. Frozen egg is not equal to a baby in the future. With the advancing years, the success rate also plummets considerably, sometimes dropping to just 35% in the 40's. Hence, the logic that the facility of freezing eggs can preserve the fertility of women to be used anytime in the future is a myth. Freezing doesn’t guarantee children. What do the employers intend to do if 5 years down the line women are unable to conceive through those eggs? Any answers?

Also, are we bidding adieu to the natural process of conception? Is sex, which is also important for deeper bonding between couples, being sacrificed at the alter of professional success? Freezing is supposed to be the last resort and the norm of having babies. Are our conversation in the future going to be - “Honey, it’s time to have a baby! Let’s defrost!” If nature meant babies to be conceived in a particular way, who are we to question and worse still, defy it?

What about men? Why are women being discriminated against here? Are men not going through fertility issues due to long working hours, stress, lack of physical activity and reduced intimacy? Or is it conveniently been ignored in the scheme of things? What if women have frozen their fertility but men lost it in the game? I guess the male fertility preservation can be the perk offered for next year!

If companies care for their employees, both men and women, they should encourage them to have well-rounded lives which don’t expect them to cut back on family life. If corporates indeed want a level playing field for men and women, enable the woman to balance the responsibility Nature entrusted her with. Don’t manage her fertility for her. Accept her the way she is! Encourage her to have children at a biologically safe age without the fear of losing out in her career. Don’t tweak her biology to ensure steady workforce. If you really want to be a caring employer, assure her that you will treat her equal to men when she comes back having fulfilled her personal duties. Give her the power to decide when she wants to enjoy motherhood and not worry about being penalized for it. Give her the right to love her child freely and indulge in her maternal love, not deprive her of motherhood.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

What's the big deal about Karvachauth?

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Come Karvachauth and men bashing starts. i don’t know how much of it is justified and i wont get into it. i take this opportunity to reminisce about the day through different stages of my life.

My earliest memories of Karvachauth are of my mom. That was the only day she would be all decked up even though she was at home. She would drape one of her best sarees - which weren’t many considering she had 3 kids to raise on one income. She’d put on her jewelry set, lots of bangles and vermillion in her parted hair. She said this is how women got dressed up on this day since it is a sign of being married. This information was our only window to the world of Karvachauth since we had no other reference point in the 80’s in Bangalore. The tradition hadn’t swept the whole country like it has now and was celebrated by only the Punjabi women. She would do the rituals for the day by herself in the evening. And by night, my brother and i would be making frequent trips to the streets around our house to see if chandamama was out. And no, the concept wasn’t Bollywoodised yet and my dad wasn't supposed to feed her the first bite. My mom would just walk out with her pooja ki thali and sieve to finish the ritual. She would first drink water because that was a more immediate need. And the day ended without much hoopla.

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When we shifted to Delhi in the mid 90’s, i got to see the glitsy and glamorous version of the day. With some commercialization, some Bollywood and some Delhi’s high-class culture, Karvachauth was a whole new concept here. Mehendi on both hands was a must and the mehendiwali made a killing at the exorbitant rates. Women turned out in their most expensive finery for the communal pooja where women from the whole building gathered to do it instead of doing it alone in their homes. My mom had stopped fasting by then due to health issues. So, we would just watch all this from our home and feel glad that we didn’t have to be a part of this pageant!

i looked forward to the time i could play the Bollywood-style wife, draped in traditional best and do the look-at-your-husband-through-the-sieve-ritual! But the ultra rational person that my darling husband is, he said i could do all the decking up i wanted to make myself happy. But the wife being hungry for the resulting long life of the husband was pure ‘buhawkee’ to him! In hindsight, i am also relieved at some level. Films like Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham have totally made the whole thing so filmy and melodramatic! i'm sure i'd imagine one of the scenes from films i was doing my own pooja and it just wouldn't seem real at all!

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Sometime around the same time, i became aware of the feminists’ angle to the story. Why should women fast? Why should only women fast? Aren’t we equal in a relationship? Poor men! They also offered to fast. Yet, the bashing of men begins every single here. Even if women fast voluntarily.

Here’s what i think about it. We all have just become too hyperactive thanks to multiple avenues we have of venting out our sense of rectitude. To me, Karvachauth is a beautiful festival. In today’s times, when women hardly have the time or the inclination to dress up traditionally, i think it is great opportunity to do it even if it is just to keep up with the spirit of the day. How else will we keep the traditional in us alive? Also, add one more day to birthdays and anniversaries when married people can take time out to strengthen their bond with each other. If fasting is the bone of contention, lets do away with it. i know it’s like hacking at the most important part of the festival but don’t we change so many other things to suit our convenience? Fasting can be optional since women have equally demanding careers. But with equality being the flavour of the times, there can be a different dimension to the festival. Earlier, women did everything like a dutiful wife. Now, men can help cook, take care of the kids and generally take time out for the wifey! Why create controversy over something that can be turned around to for the better! Don’t you agree?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Are you as crazy and insane in your browsing habits?

Open email to do important work. 

Click on Twitter while the mail takes 2.5 seconds to open. Since thats too long time to wait idle. While at it, lets hit the bookmarks of Facebook and personal blog as well. Think of tweeting something. But get carried away scrolling through the timeline. Come across a blog post link. 

Click on the post. Find that it’s an author’s. Go to the blog post. Read it. Scroll through archives. Open a couple of more posts with interesting titles. Find the blog interesting. Meanwhile, open Amazon to check out the books and reviews. Bookmark or copy paste blog link in the file with 206 other links stored for later reading. Sigh at the mounting number of things pending. Remember why you got on to the browser in the first place. 

Click back on email. Check mails. Open Linkedin to check requests. Give in to the temptation of scrolling through the home page. Mr. X is coming up with another seminar. Open tabs for the seminar page and the profile page of X. Leave him a message for more details. Check out his profile. 

Click on his profile page. Go through the page. Look at his schooling year and try to figure out his age. Remember why i came to Linkedin. Go the requests. No one seems a potential client. Open tabs for discussion groups.

Click on Facebook and personal blog one after the other. Browse through the home page of Facebook. Note that some more people have had kids. Check for any new comments on the blog. Find that there aren’t any. 

Click back on Amazon to check books and reviews. Go to Google to check if free pdfs are available. Come across a blog that has free pdfs of other books. Browse the categories and labels to find something interesting. Open a couple of tabs with interesting categories. 

Click back on Twitter and check tweets of the author. Find another author she’s taken pics with. Go to the 2nd author profile. Check her books. Check her blogs. Ponder whether to bookmark her blog. Groan at the piling list and lack of time. Think of why you came to the browser to begin with. Remember there was work to do. Look at the open tabs of discussion groups, Facebook, Twitter, blog, blog links, Amazon, book reviews, Google search for pdfs, tabs for pdf categories. 

Click X to close the whole browser. Give up in frustration to come back another time.

Another time. 

Open email to do important work. 

And you know the drill. Does this happen to you too? Isn’t there too much of information vying for our 2 little eye balls and one brain? With unending content online, can we catch up with anything substantial? Is there a way out? Do we need an information detox, or call it browsing detox if you will? What do you think? Drop in your comments below. I would love to hear from you! 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Am I old-fashioned?

A recent conversation, a very unwelcome one at that, with someone made me realize i am old fashioned in so many ways. I realized i am stuck to some concepts which definitely are rapidly becoming old world, if not totally defunct yet! Though, the way the world has changed at a blistering pace in the last few years, the world as people of my generation knew it is vanishing. 

So, the conversation that led me to this realization was about the changing concept of a work place. To me, work is still a place you get dressed every morning and go to. In fact, the getting dressed part is where much of the charm of going to work lies. At least, for me! Having been a freelancer for the past 6 years, i still miss having to choose my clothes everyday, get decked up and head out of the house in the morning geared up for work. Freelancing gives you the freedom to choose your work but i am definitely more lazy than i was when I worked full time. So, my worldview of the world felt a lot dented at the realization that the idea of an office is a vanishing concept. A laptop and a smartphone and you could work out of a beach! 

This could be your workplace!

One of the other old ways that i realise i have stuck to is my love for pen and paper, despite all the gadgets i have. i just can’t get my head around making notes/lists on the new fangled gadgets and apps available to me. i do that sometimes with grocery lists etc so that i have it handy on my phone. But such a practice is rare. The joy of holding a pen and writing each letter in my own handwriting is too much to give up. Nothing can replace that! It's easier to add things to existing points. And the happiness of ticking a task done on your to-do list is matchless!

And the third thing that comes to my mind doesn’t surprise me or anyone else who knows me. i still believe in complete sentences and correct spellings. Though, i will confess that i have slipped and resorted to chat versions of words due to lack of character space in some media. But the satisfaction of writing out proper sentences and then editing them for correctness will never go out of fashion in my life.

Watch your language!
i am appalled at the state of English, thanks to the onslaught of online medium that encourage, rather force you to conveniently compromise on the written word to express your thought. Felicity of words and cadences of phrases have no meaning in this world. Words like selfies  with no literary depth are conjured just for convenience! And more horrifying is that an entire generation is growing up exposed to such language and God knows where we are headed to with this.

Even if these things are not the current norm, i think i will hold on to them for old times sake. Are there things you are attached to but seem out of sync with the times? Do you think there is a charm of its own to keep these things alive? And isn’t it comforting to continue with old habits in this ever-changing, ever-evolving world? Feel free to share your thoughts below. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Khoobsurat (2014) - some thoughts

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First of all, i am strictly against remaking any old classics. i think no one can do justice to the hits of yesteryears. And any attempt to recreate the old magic will at best be an unsuccessful one. (i thought the Don series were well re-made even though i don’t think anyone should have dared to touch a Bachchan classic) 

Coming to Khoobsurat, the spirit of the original film - that of a bubbly girl coming over and toppling the regime of a strict matriarch but later turning out to be the sensible one - is present in the background of the film. Though, it’s a little too much of bubble and much less of a regime. It also doesn’t have the large family the original had, which means less fun. It’s like the director got lost in the insipid love story of the lead pair and forgot the rest only to add them as after thoughts.

The first thing that strikes me is overly, artificially bubbly Sonam in the most garish clothes. i wonder if the bright, uncoordinated outfits are meant to bolster her bad acting skills. i wouldn’t reinforce a stereotype that doctors should always be serious people but Sonam’s character crosses the limit of even being a sensible human - sometimes with even no sense of manners. Supposed to be funny? Irritating, more so. Most of the I-am-so-clumsy incidents appear forced. 

i wouldn’t even venture to compare her to the incomparable Rekha. Rekhs was the true bubbly, fun-loving girl. Sonam just kills it with over-acting. No wonder, daddy dear has to make films for her to keep her going!

Fawad Khan has pretty much the same expression in the whole film - blank! It’s like his facial muscles are frozen. And too bad for him, he’s so cold even in the romantic parts of the film. The only 2 times some light flickers on his face is when he confesses his love and his Punjabi style dialogue in the end. 

The sibling or the fiance in the film seem like an after thought and are potential sources of adding fun wasted. 

Unlike Finding Fanny, the 2 moms are in their element and which is exactly the reason why I went to watch the film. Can skip this. You won't miss much.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Anupam Kher Show - some thoughts

The new kid on the block!

In times of revival of comedy, Anupam Kher has come up with a talk show. Beating Koffee with Karan and Satyamev Jayate isn’t easy. But, somehow, i like the concept of the show. Even though Mr. Kher has a lot of catching up to do to develop the natural flair that Karan and Aamir have as hosts.

The Good

The first thing i love about the show is its positive packaging. While Karan cashes in on the controversies and Aamir thrives on his pseudo-altruism, this show genuinely brings out the motivating stories of life. The inspiring undertone with the tagline - Life mein kuch bhi ho sakta hai - brings before us the lesser known facts about celebrities who have achieved success through their grit and determination. It seeks to debunk the popular myth that stars are just plain lucky.

Photo credit: The episode with Kapil Sharma
Every episode unravels facts about stars we didn't know. Vidya Balan was thrown out of 12 films before she finally got Parineeta. Kapil Sharma’s story is the common man’s victory through sheer hard work. David and Varun Dhawan's life seemed to be a story straight out of a middle class family. Kangana Ranaut ran away from home to make it big. And Parineeti and Varun wanted to actually become banking professionals! All these people come alive just like you and me who have had failed plans and not so rosy lives!

Photo credit - The set of the show
The not so good

i’ll begin my list with the garish set. It seems very artificial rather than a real place where people have just come together to talk. The false ceiling is the limit of the artifice! Added to that, the host’s 3-piece suit in every episode is a bit jarring on the eye! I can understand that people of a certain generation would consider nothing less for formal wear. But i think the show would get a lot more chatty feel if the host is more casual, albeit still crisp looking.

While all aspects of the show are well researched, the segment where a member from the audience is chosen to speak to the stars needs work. No one has thought of tweaking the concept and prepping the person before they shoot the segment. Most of them are either star struck or really have nothing to ask. And then Mr. Kher has to come with ideas to cover the goof up! It’s things like this on the show that make it lack finesse that the other talk shows have.

The tagline is a tad bit overdone. The repetition of it through the show is unnecessary and redundant.

Finally come to the show host himself. With all due respect to Anupam Kher for the incredibly amazing actor that he is, he needs to brush up his hosting skills. His diction is great and so is his narration. But he doesn’t look very comfortable doing that. Also, one thing that even others on social media have noticed is Anupam cuts the guests across/interrupts their stories with his questions. Sometimes even unrelated. It’s like someone’s talking about an incident and we don’t get to hear the end of it because the host has moved on to the next thing. The whole idea of a chat show is to chat leisurely. But wonder why it looks like the host is in a hurry to finish the questions in his list irrespective of whether the answers do justice to them. Even more strange is that no one seems to have noticed this and sought to correct it in the subsequent episodes. i would give Mr. Kher the benefit of the doubt and blame my critical eye to just a hangover of KJo!

But all bad things apart, the show is still a winner. The artificial sets or a lame segment with the audience will not deter me from watching a show that stays true to bringing out the inspirational from people's lives.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Finding Fanny - did you find Fanny?

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Finding Fanny was a damp squib for me. By the end of the film, i wasn’t sure if we really found Fanny or if the person we found was really Fanny! 

i guess because my expectations were quite high thinking that the film will be in the league of Being Cyrus. But that is not the case. The first half goes well. In fact, the interval seemed to be too early and the film hadn’t got us to the point of “what next?” And the second half made no sense.

Good things first. The look of the film is good. The actors roped in is perhaps the main reason why so many people made it to the theaters in the first place. The best part of the film were the dialogues. The Goan style of English is well captured. And the parts written in English are also above an average Bollywood film. 

But to me, the goodness ends there. The film fails to capture any potential that the film’s lead actors or the fabulous supporting cast offers. There’s promise in the introduction of Dimple Kapadia but the film fails to take her role to the level of Being Cyrus. Naseeruddin Shah marvelously portrays the aging, lost lover. But he too, like Dimple, has no scope to spread the magic of his presence beyond a point. 

When Arjun Kapoor enters the scene, you hope that there will be revival of old romance and at least that thread of the story would take you somewhere. But except for a scene groping in the dark, there is no depth to this angle as well.

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So, at the end of the movie, i want to know if this was a love story? No. Because the lead characters don’t go through one in the film. Is this the story of unrequited love? Maybe. Because Ferdi does venture out to find his lost love of 46 years. Is this a tragedy? Maybe. Because Fanny isn’t part of Ferdi’s life despite the effort. But, like I said earlier, I am not even left with the satisfaction of having found the right Fanny in the first place! 

i guess this film is going to cash in on the initial boom of the wonderful trailers which portray it as a winner. But by next weekend the boom would have gone bust!