Sunday, August 21, 2016

Chennai—Denmark 2: In the middle of our dream

It was the wee hours of Oct 9, 2015 when my eyes flew open. Dawn was quietly filtering through our curtains, declaring open the much-awaited D-Day. Yes, the next dawn in Chennai was going be at least 2 long weeks away. Two long weeks of paradise away. 

Quietly I nudged the boys, growled into their ears the sweetness of the moment, and ordered them out of bed; 4 am the following morning wasn’t too far away. R, woke up, smiled at my impishness, and ruffled my hair. That was far too tepid a reaction for me and my excitement. The son was far better. He sprung out of bed squealing, “Ma, it’s time, let’s go to Denmark!”

The plants were all duly drip irrigated, my help was told to come knock only after 2 long weeks, the refrigerator was emptied and cleaned, and we were ready for Denmark. The day went like a breeze; it was soon 4:30 pm. “Leaving early” mails were sent, Kavin was picked from his day care, and we were at the amrket for our last-minute shopping. We had to buy banana leaves. I had plans to make a Karimeen Pollichatu for GSG (my SIL’s family in Denmark). Even if we wouldn’t get Karimeen (Pearl Spot), we would at least get Tilapia, and that would serve just fine. I insisted on the banana leaves that were absolutely fresh, which would last a 10-hour fight journey. The vendor boy just laughed and said, “It would last for several days, akka, fear not.” I smiled back and left, making plans to pack the leaves first with aluminum foil and then some newspaper. I also made a mental note to find a way to insert them into the check-in luggage and also declare it, what with the EU’s norms on stuff that can be carried into their land.

It was 6:40 pm as we entered home. I had already laid out the clothes we were to wear on our maiden flight into the European Union. Comfort came first and last in clothes and footwear for the HSK family. We gobbled our dinner at home, cleaned the dishes, and put them away. The clock began to tick. It was 9:00 pm; 4:00 am was still several hours away. At 11:00 pm, the fast track driver arrived in a Mahindra SUV (Xylo) and loaded all our stuff. For one last time, we checked each faucet, switch, plug, and almirah. I hugged and kissed my plants good bye, telling them to be safe. By 11:25 pm the taxi began moving towards the airport when a light drizzle began to fall making a lovely tup-tup noise as it fell on the wind shields of the SUV. Moms called and wished us a safe journey. By 11:45 pm we had already reached Chromepet when R suggested a pitstop for tea. The sheer beauty of the rain in the dead of the night during our most-awaited journey came together in the steam from the tea that snaked its way up and condensed on my eyelashes. It's still one of the most beautiful moments of the entire trip. It was at that moment I experienced pure joy; arguably the most joyous in my entire life until then. 

We are finally at the waiting lounge!
 In no time, we alighted at the Chennai International Airport. Like a pro, K insisted on wheeling the trolley loaded with the check-in luggage. We humored him for a while, walked up to the check-in counters, produced our tickets, and got our boarding passes. It was then time for immigration. Lighter by our check-in luggage, we sauntered into the immigration cubicle and breezed through it. Then of course was the security check, which was followed by the 3-hour long wait. It was 1:15 am. We got our 30-minute free wi-fi; no Indians were awake at the time. The Danes were up, and we whatsapped, sent pics, and got ready for the final hours to melt away as the rain began to pour outside. It should have been 3:00 am when I heard the boarding call for EK 543 bound to Dubai. I also heard a rather helpful announcement about people travelling as families not having to stand in the long queue. R simply brushed it away as my excitement-induced hallucination. But thankfully, it was no hallucination and we went on to board the flight to Dubai.

Monitor with headphones all for me!
Each of us had a monitor all to ourselves! Whoa! It was the first of the many pleasant surprises the journey was to throw at us. At 4:00 am sharp the plane began to taxi the runway, gained speed (was it mach 3?), sped into the air, and banked sharply bringing into view our dear Chennai just before its dawn. But we were flying backwards in time. By the end of our journey, we would accrue about 4 extra hours; 4 extra hours of life! And what beautiful life it is in the lap of pristine white clouds. Slowly, the Sun showed itself through the clouds; beginning as a bright Orange sphere, it took its sweet time to stream its rays right through the plane windows. We had been on air for almost 3 hours and awake for more than 24 hours. But sleep was nowhere near any of us. We either watched the movies, gobbled the food they gave, looked at the clouds, or whatsapped through the Emirates on-air wi-fi!

Customary click at Dubai.
It was 8:30 India time when we landed in Dubai, the dreamland of many Indians. We hardly had anytime there; our connecting flight was due in another hour or so. My SIL had given us enough heads-up about what to expect in Dubai; in the particular, the mad scramble for strollers for the kids! Thankfully we got one for K, who was only too trilled for he hadn’t been in one since a very long time; since 3 years precisely. So thrilled was he that he refused to part with it even at the waiting area for the next flight. It was 10:00 am India time and the flight bound for Copenhagen began its ascent as the first signs of sleep began to show on the boys. R signaled me to get some sleep; I shook my head and began to look out the window. Such large swathes of desert land, sand dunes, and 6-lane roads, who would miss these for a couple of winks?
Our first sight of Denmark

By around 4 pm India time, as the plane began to descend, the clouds parted and offered me the first glimpse of the European landscape. Nothing prepared me for what my eyes saw at that instant. Undulating green meadows, churches looking exactly like the illustration of the Westminster Abbey in my Class 7 English textbook, windmills, and the blue ocean stretching and enveloping the little island we were to land in! The plane touched down, bringing us safe and in one piece to Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark.
Lo and behold, Denmark

As I took my first steps on the land of the Danes, I could hear one thing, and that was silence. Absolute, silence; deafening silence, definitely. Even the kids made no noise, people formed queues without being prodded, men and women allowed others to go past them, nobody hurried, everyone seemed to move to the beats of a silent tune that only their hearts could hear. What is a chatterbox like yours truly going to do here? Composing myself, I closed in on the immigration counter with R and K in tow. Perhaps my serious veneer was too thin; the woman at the immigration counter smiled happily and welcomed us into Copenhagen. Hurrah! I let out an audible sigh of relief, smiled back and walked into the luggage collection center.

In the land of the Danes, with G.
When we finally made our way out, G, our BIL, was waiting for us. K flew into his arms and began regaling stories of the flight, the food he ate, the jacket he was wearing, his school, his friends, yada, yada, yada! Then began our 3-hour drive to Aarhus, which was where GSG had made their home. The roads are so good that a 186-km drive took only 3 hours or even less! The windmills, which I had spotted fleetingly on the flight, came into view in all their splendor! What a heck of a sight was that! Huge pieces of steel, welded and screwed together and drilled right into the ocean to harness all the wind power the sea had to give! Such ingenuity and skilled engineering. Even as I tried in vain to pick my jaw that had dropped to the floor, K kept talking, talking, and talking. After a little while he began giggling uncontrollably. R and I began exchanging concerned glances. “It’s just the jet lag; that’s how these little fellas handle it. He’ll be asleep soon,” assured G. In just another couple of minutes, as if one cue, K was out like a light bulb.

Our road to Aarhus
After an hour or so, we made a pitstop for some coffee. R and G left to get the coffee. With K asleep in the car, I quietly got out to check out the place. The cool air stung. Yes, it stung. I quickly scrambled back to the car, slipped on the gloves and my headscarf, and checked if K was warm enough. Whoa! We were right in the middle of the European winter. None of the English novels I had read or the English movies I had watched prepared me for this. Giggling at my little adventure, I snuggled back into the car when R and G returned with piping hot black coffee. Oh! Coffee is black; I corrected myself. Only we in India doused it with so much creamy milk and sugar and consumed it like a dessert! The black, hot liquid glided down my throat and warmed my very soul. We were finally in the middle of our beautiful dream, every new minute was better than the one before.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Chennai—Denmark 1: Getting Started

It all started with the tingle of an email notification on a warm August afternoon. The email was from our BIL, G, sending us all information necessary to make the 4000 mile journey, across the proverbial 7 seas. The email arrived when I was having lunch with my office pals and I suppressed the effervescent joy that was threatening to burst right off my chest. In no time I finished my lunch and ran upstairs to speak to R and get the things rolling. There were several forms to be filled, stuff to be
bought, tickets to be booked. We had to fly sometime in mid October, but I was already on the cloud, counting my days when I’ll finally find myself in an Emirates flight that will take me to the Land of the Danes! Yes, R’s sister and family stay in Denmark and they decided to invite us for a holiday in Europe! And my joy knew no bounds.

Amidst our busy schedule, we had to find time to read through the instructions on the website that told us what forms to fill, what things to curate, and how to get ready for the life-changing experience!  Ok, the last one was my imagination. And, finally R and I found the much-needed time to go through the instructions in detail. We had to first book our tickets, then apply for the visa, get the visa approved, and get ready to fly out. Actually, it sounds simpler when written out in words than when the whole act was performed a few months ago!

 Couple of weeks after the email, K, R, and I locked ourselves up in a room one late evening and began the paper work. K kept himself busy with either a mobile or a tablet or some random snacks; the poor guy left us alone to do our work. We booked ourselves in an Emirates flight that will have a layover of an hour at Dubai. Then, I was tasked with filling out the visa forms for all of us, which I did with gusto and mounting pleasure with each stroke of the pen. In about 3 hours, we were ready for VFS, the visa-processing center in Chennai. The next day was the VFS day, where we got our photographs and color photocopies of the passports taken. The whole place was bathed in white and with separate counters for each country. Whoa! It was that easy; perhaps, that was how it has been all along, except that it was hidden in plain sight for yours truly. The VFS folks assured us that we’ll receive our visa in about 2 weeks. Then, began the arduous wait for the visa; every single day, I would check the status of the application, which one fine day changed to visa processed and couriered! Yippe! Pure joy! 
Us, smiling ear to ear at? wait for part 2  ;)

In the next weeks, we laid siege on various shops in town and came home with arms full of clothes and winter jackets and shoes and stuff needed for the 15-day vacation! S, my SIL, detailed every single prop we had to carry for the trip, including gloves, shoes, and winter wear. In the process we discovered the different types of winter wear there are and how a layer less or more can make a world of difference in a country that had only three types of weather: cold, colder, and coldest! 

With just a week left to go, there were days I couldn't sit still. Especially, if you have a partner that is as cool as a cucumber, quietly making task lists and ticking them off so that the trip is perfect, it's difficult not to be happily strung up, with a song constantly playing on your lips.

Image courtesy:

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Iraivi: Perfecting the art of mansplaining

With all the hoopla around the very title, Iraivi, and the manidhi song (Iraivi is an attempt at feminizing a word traditional used to refer to God; manidhi is again feminizing the ‘man’ word), I went into the theater expecting an honest rendering of at least one woman’s story, if not all 3, as claimed in the trailer and the teasers. But, I guess that was too much and I was literally begging for trouble! Come on, you can't fault me for nursing such expectations, especially after the amazing films like Jigarthanda and Pizza that Karthik Subburaj (the director) had dished out earlier.

For someone who could delve right into his characters and make them look convincing like he did in his earlier attempts, Karthik’s characters in Iraivi fall rather, short. The film worked only in parts for me, and before I go into any more details on why the film as a whole didn’t work for me, I’ll first dwell a little on the parts that did.

There were some extremely well shot, thoroughly researched, and crafted scenes and dialogues. In one of the scenes, the men sit around a half-dead woman, the mother of the protagonist, and talk. And talk. And talk. The scene for me was a brilliant piece of feminist reading of the everyday. The woman, after years of struggling under an oppressive family structure, with the foil of a neglectful and an arrogant husband, has almost called it a day and is in a half dead state, where she neither cares or can even be bothered, for she has been milked dry of all her humanity by the patriarchal structure. The son, whose only way to meet failure is to down gallons of alcohol, with absolutely zero responsibility towards his role of a father or a husband, becomes this little scared baby who runs to its mama, asking, no demanding its share of attention, completely blind to the pain of the almost dead mother! While the dialogue begins with adequate foreword on the mother’s great sacrifices, the heart of it continues to revolve around what matters to men; their aspirations, their failed dreams, the arrogance of other men, what to be done next, the plotting, and other macho things. As these conversations happen, the camera keeps panning around the room, prising open a male world, where women are these emaciated (figuratively), half dead, muted spectators. Just to nail the point, comes the rude dismissal of the woman nurse, who keeps reminding them that this place is something the mother has finally won for herself and they are usurping even that!
Another high-impact scene for me is the one where Michael (played by Vijay Sethupathi) confronts his wife about a probable straying. The shock Ponni (Anjali) registers on her face is simply par excellence. It doesn’t tell you anything, it could be outrage or even fear of being discovered, but she never gives him an answer. As Michael looks at her expectantly, it begins to rain, which Ponni notices fleetingly and runs out the next moment to pick the drying clothes. This one scene adequately illustrates the two different worlds that men and women straddle every day. Besides exposing the double standards of men who hold on to the sexual ‘purity,’ of their wives like a holy grail, it deftly shows how little a woman cares about sexual purity or the husband’s obsession over it! She’d rather do something more productive and useful like pick the clothes before they get wet!

Except such glimpses of brilliance, the film has left, at least me, longing for more! Someone called it an unusual feminist film. I literally blanched at that! (He even titles it with "few good women." *Yawn* where were they, actually?) Now that was taking it too far; it was an out and out boy’s day out film, complete with gore and swearing, amidst which the men have an epiphanic moment of a sexist realization about their monstrosity or the absolute helpless, vulnerability of 'their' women! The problem is right there, in that binary, Karthik Subburaj! Neither are men such monsters within the family, nor are women all that broken or under the mercy of a single man. The structure oppresses women, and they, unlike the women in the film, regardless of class, negotiate, and many of the women today are empowered enough and do negotiate a far better deal. That of course doesn’t mean that today women are all equal to men and they are all partying hard in a feminist paradise! I am just saying that you couldn't read into the complexity of the oppressor-oppressed relationship under the aegis of patriarchy.

A hint for you when you attempt mansplaining women oppression next time is to remember that the prototype of an oppressive figure in real life would be the “guilt-ridden” Radha Ravi and not any of your 3 little boys, who have clear anger issues, alcoholism, and other such problems that need psychological intervention! By presenting these little caricatures of men, who are actually struggling and buckling under patriarchy, you aren’t really helping the cause of the women or these poor men! Women’s struggle within the patriarchal confines of a home, and I don’t just mean the struggle of just the wife, is against not only the men, but against a structure that's founded in not just women oppression, but the oppression of the powerful against the powerless. It would have been refreshing and truly feminist or even unusually feminist, as one of your uncritical fans mentioned, if the only women spoke or even if the film had been about them at all in the first place!

The film revolves around three men, all spoilt, selfish brats running around TASMAC, chasing their independent dreams, with no particle of responsibility neither about themselves or the people around them. Now this was a betrayal of sorts after showing the three women in the first few shots as if we are going to be told of their stories.  The women in this film continued to be the fixtures that they have been all these years in the history of mainstream Tamil movies. Even if one side steps the male-centeredness of the film, the absolute vacuum one encountered in terms of even the experience of the female character, or their presence, was too to much bear. The film runs for almost 160 minutes, and I am sure the scope for women wasn’t anywhere more than 40-50 minutes, at a generous estimate. If this is not mansplaining woman liberation, what is? Next time around you want to make a movie on women liberation, tell the men to lower their decibel; they seem to scream louder than the women about women liberation!

As already mentioned, keeping aside all political hang ups, the film works to some extent. But it misses the mark by a huge margin, especially the mark that Karthik Subburaj made with Jigarthanda and Pizza. The storytelling was good in parts, all actors did a great job, and the photography was great too. 

SJ Surya definitely deserves a word of appreciation. I have always steered clear of his directorial ventures and his epic acting attempts! However this one stands apart, and it speaks of the director’s potential to get the best out of an actor. I liked every frame that had SJ Surya in it. An absolute powerhouse of an actor; a great find, but which works only under the strict supervision of an able director! Radha Ravi and the character John gave some great performances; was totally floored by them! Anjali was good, except for her Telugu accent grating on your ears. So, I wouldn’t write off the movie completely, it does have some interesting spots, but that’s all there is to it…spotty and speckled with the faraway haunt of a feminist specter!

Images source:,or.r_cp.&bvm=bv.123664746,d.c2I&dpr=1&ech=1&psi=Lo1SV6DECYf2vASOvpPQCg.1465027886812.3&ei=Po1SV-jJFoycvQSuyqrwBw&emsg=NCSR&noj=1#imgrc=K_EB76mEQ-nBcM%3A