Friday, December 16, 2011

Tackling An Assault - Physical,Verbal or Emotional

Being born a woman in India has its own fabulous set of advantages - but when have we ever harped on the advantages when you can whinge about the disadvantages?

I fancy myself as fiercely independent and capable of taking care of myself. But years of being told that as a woman, I need to be more wary than were I a boy has somewhere left its tell-tale marks on my psyche. It isn't debilitating, but there is a niggle when you find yourself in unknown territory - somewhere at the back of my head a feeling of inadequacy I'm not a man.

Maybe it's a sum-total of our lives- my small-city upbringing ( You can't call Kochi small town, can you?) dictated that I was home before 7, dress codes of what could be worn and what shouldn't even be attempted was unspoken ( can you imagine that in the late 90s, very few girls in my class wore sleeveless kurtas while taking the bus to college, and jeans was like an occasional indulgence with oversized shirts borrowed from our brothers), I wasn't seen loitering anywhere near the male-dominated watering holes of the city ( Point to be noted - its only recently that lounges and pubs have appeared, long after I left the city. Till then all that existed where those multi-coloured, garish bars that you wouldn't even turn and look at), went for movies even with family early enough to be back home by 8.30!

So what was the lesson inherent in all this? Its a big bad world out there, you have to take care of yourself when alone and be inconspicuous and part of a group when with family so as to not draw unwarranted attention to yourself. Why? Because you could never trust the intentions of the unseen man out there - he has not been told to fence his thoughts and intentions to women of his circle - just about anyone is fair game. Our ideas of morality and permissibility came circumscribed - there was even an unspoken code on which men from the family qualified as safe escorts on evenings out.

That was about growing up, When I moved out of Kochi, first to study and then due to work, I realised that the big bad world my parents protected my life from was in fact, more sly in unseen ways.

The smiling stranger who was your colleague could turn out to be your stalker as my friend found out - for over sixteen years, she has been at the butt of his stalking - messages, marriage proposals, threats, dirty innuendos - you name it, she has seen it all. The landlord who takes unholy interest in the comings and goings into your apartment by asking neighbours to 'keep an eye out'. The anonymous 'well-wisher' that my cousin has is a compulsive mailer, the spouse, the boss and family and even a few of the family members are on the receiving end of messages that 'reveal' how promotions have been achieved so fast, so high, while leaving hardworking people like the 'wellwisher' on the fringes, unappreciated and unseen.

Every day seems to require you to wear a mantle and a shining armour - the armour shined not your specification but that of the society around you. Why do we have to constantly present certificates of being good and therefore warrant immunity from having to live a life strictly curtailed so as to avoid these kind of harassment? How can others get away with passing random judgements and enjoy the salacious thrill of malicious gossip sticking on to our personas like pesky post-its?

We speak of equality, but mentally we need to be treated as equals - you throw mud, I throw a mountain back at you. Beware! And there are thousands out there. Strangely, I think my generation (in the Indian context) is at the cusp of once-restricted always unsure upbringing and an all-permitted, no holds barred adulthood.

What it leaves in its wake is a duality - of existence, thought and action. I want to rise above it, be able to debate why things are the way they are and how to tackle issues that are not of my creation nor my responsibility. How can I be held culpable?

Monday, December 12, 2011

An Abandoned Blog: Wanderings, Musings

It is not that I have nothing to write anymore...I got lost in finding what I wanted to do, but forgot that unless you kept your online journal, inspiration does not fall like a coconut on your head ( Newton was lucky..and thank god, it was an apple!)

In Kerala, the state I am from, there are no apple orchards, we have coconut groves. If I were to sit under the dubious shade provided by one of them and wracked my brains, I'd possibly end up with a concussion and no Inspiration..Ok, on that rather dumb PJ-ish word is a quick update..

The blog has moved from the picturesque locales of Brighton, UK to the whiney hustle and bustle of Mumbai..Why whiney? Because I'm two years older than I was when I last fantasised about the warmth and the flavours of India while I braved my first snow and winter in the UK. Now that I'm back to sweaty, earthy home turf - the charm of nostalgia has palled considerably.

My blogging community is also likely to have altered completely. I'm not sure who reads me anymore, though I see a lot of activity on my visitor's pages. Do give a shout out, if you are there and reading this...We need to familiarise ourselves with each other over again..

Regular musings and postings will follow...haven't decided what the nature of the posts will be..But I don't like working on multiple drafts before posting on the journal...

So its going to be an impromptu ride! Saddle on, my cycle is rickety and the journey will be long, but let's have fun..

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Tips to Good Writing

Found this extremely entertaining compilation and felt this is a must-share....While teaching young trainees to write good broadcast copy, wish I had these 25 tips to make my instructions succinct.

Better late than never!

                                   25 Non-Random Things About Writing Short
by Roy Peter Clark

1. Keep a journal where you practice short writing.
2. Practice short writing on small surfaces: post-it notes, index cards, the palm of your hand.
3. A list of 25 is NOT an example of short writing: It’s long writing with 25 short parts -– which is cool.
4. The short bits make a long list more readable, in part because they generate white space, which pleases the eye.
5. Obey Strunk & White: “Omit needless words.”
6. Beware: The infinite space on the Internet creates aerated prose.
7. The shorter the passage, the greater the value of each word.
8. Obey Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch: “Murder your darlings.”
9. That said, every short passage should contain one gold coin, a reward for the reader.
10. Obey Donald Murray: “Brevity comes from selection, not compression.”
11. Obey Chip Scanlan: “Focus, focus, focus.”
12. Imagine a short piece from the get-go. Conceive a sonnet, not an epic.
13. Cut the weaker elements: adverbs, passive constructions, strings of prepositional phrases, puffy Latinate words.
14. The more powerful the message, the shorter the sentence: “Jesus wept.”
15. Don’t just “dump” short messages: revise, polish, proof-read everything.
16. Try your hand at short literary forms: the haiku or the couplet.
17. Read, study, and collect great examples of short writing, everything from the diaries of Samuel Pepys to the Tweets of your favorite Twits.
18. The best place for an important word in a short passage is at the END.
19. Begin the story as close to the end as possible.
20. Food for thought: Study the prose in fortune cookies and on Valentine candy hearts.
21. Cut big, then small. Prune the dead branches before you shake out the dead leaves.
22. Obey Mark Twain: You may need more time, not less, to write something good and short.
23. Study and discuss this editorial: “They say only the good die young. Spanish dictator Francisco Franco died last night at the age of 83. Seems about right.”
24. Write a mission statement for your short writing. Keep it short.
25. Treat all short forms of journalism –- headline, caption, blurb, blog post –- as literary genres.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

To Sir With Love

Years ago in school, a lesson in the English reader, 'To Sir With Love' introduced me to ER Braithwaite - the teacher I searched for among the numerous who I encountered over the first twenty two years of my academic life - the time from pre-school to a masters degree in journalism that is. ER Braithwaite set a benchmark - of a teacher who allowed freedom -free thought, free expression and above all - one who did not homogenise the heterogenous community of students that he taught.

Through school and later college, I was known for my precociousness - not the ill-mannered variety, mind you, but the desire to question what is normally followed as rote, to eke the extra bit out of lessons. I wonder how many students can vouch like me that I still remember the lessons learnt in school - I can still quote poems from the Std 3 reader or joke around about the ways in which I tried simplifying differentiation and calculating the trajectory of a projectile - the latter part with little success.

But the precocious me was also a puppy - a teacher's puppy - easily influenced by teachers who loved their topics, who were able to impart that love for their subject to students. Teachers who stood out because they made their subjects come alive using just a blackboard, a couple of chalks and some well-aimed dusters at errant mischief-makers in the backbenches.

Two English teachers left their mark on me while in school. The first one was a lady named Ranjini Varma - I wonder where she is now. She had innovative games in those free periods that she would have once the lessons for the semester were completed. For instance, imagine a teacher goading students to stretch the limits of their imagination and vocabulary by giving us an emotion or a word and asking us to co-relate it with something tangible. So those who related 'soft' to 'sponge' would get a smile, while the one student I remember who said a 'baby's cheek' got a dreamy look from her and I could feel the power of imagination.

Yet another was Indira R Menon, the gentlest teacher I knew - who time and again made me compete with myself to improve my command and fluency over handling what was essentially a foreign language. The love she inculcated in me saw me ditch the science stream that every semi-gifted student in my era was pre-destined to enroll for and announce that I was going to major in English. Thankfully, long suffering parents knew better than to dissuade me and so began my life-long love affair with the language that would mould my career and personality.

Broadcast journalism was an accident - asked to make a choice between the different streams on offer at my college, I gravitated towards the medium that seemed to have a bigger power over classes and masses alike. And it was there that I met the third teacher - Joseph Pinto - one who preferred Joe over Sir, informality over a formal association. Joe taught us copy writing and sub-editing in the first year of my post-graduation. His reputation preceded him, he made fans of his students through his militant style of teaching. Those fans,who could later be only called 'converts'. So 'word of mouth' was that a wrong step in Joe's classes and he would shred you to bits.

In the first couple of classes, I sat quietly, a couple of benches from the back - my preferred seat through my academic life- gauging him. What he taught me wasn't in all honesty anything I hadn't studied during my degree in communicative english. But it was how he taught it that made the impact. The constant testing of our abilities, literally throwing us challenges and seeing who rose up to it. He hated superfluous usages, hated unnecessary words, worshipped the simple style of journalistic story telling that wove 5Ws and the single H. The lessons learnt in those years came in handy years later, when I was training young trainees in the art of copywriting.

Over the years, since college, Joe and I lost touch -  for while in college, I was never one of those who made a conscious effort to get into a teacher's good book. And so it was but normal, that there wasn't an exchange of email ids or the promise to stay in touch. I have seen very little of Pune since 2001 - the year I left Symbiosis and moved to begin my career with Aaj Tak.

Years later, I think in 2009, when Facebook had become a rage, I received a friend invite from a Joseph Pinto - the name rang a bell but the recall wasn't instant. You don't expect your teachers to send you a friend invite on facebook, do you? It was when I saw my Symbiosis seniors and classmates on his long and fast increasing list of friends that I made the connect. Joe was getting back in touch with me and I wondered if he remembered who I was. Turns out all it took to jog his memory was a description of where I sat in class. Strange isn't it, considering that we were not the only batch he taught, but one notch in a series of academic years and thousands of eager faced journalism trainees that passed through Symbiosis' classroom.

To date, he meticulously reads most of what I write- is unforgiving with loose usages, meticulous with criticism and effusive when he likes something that he reads. What more can you ask for in a teacher? He's my ER Braithwaite and as he celebrates his 60th birthday on Sunday, I wanted him to know the role he played in my life. That's the gift he sought from his students, that's the least I can offer him.

I can't be in Pune on Saturday as he holds court with his wife and daughter over tea and biscuits. I am sure a number of his students - old and new will weave their way to the Pinto household to be with him. I can't be one of them, but I don't want Joe to be in any doubt that my wish for him is that he continues to inspire many more students to discover their individuality and pursue their convictions.

Here's raising a toast to you, Joe - To Sir With Love.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

New Year..New Resolutions, New Musings?

Happy New Year Bloggies...

The holiday season for me was about returning to my old love - films. A snug duvet, a cup of hot chocolate and some good films and I think I can survive without friends or food - ok that's a gross exaggeration, but this love needed a gross exaggeration to drive in the magnitude.

So I revisited Tara where Scarlett grew up (Gone with the Wind), also travelled along country roads in Clint Eastwood's beat up truck to meet Meryl Streep (Bridges of Madison County), chuckled hard and joined Amelie mentally as she went about dropping little drops of goodness in the lives of those around her..

That set me every movie I saw a bit of myself - without sounding terribly self-indulgent, I hazard to ask..Is it just me or isnt this the way women watch films? Identifying and empathising with characters they like and then juxtaposing their life experiences on these characters and sighing with the same pathos?

Why does it feel like its mandatory to identify with strong women characters in films that you like? Are you in a sense elevating yourself into a glamorous avataar, enjoying seeing yourself portrayed by someone pretty and always unruffled? Or is it a way of admitting to things that your mundane lives don't let you admit to?

I think living and loving on the big screen helps select and dwell on just those things you'd rather see or focus on. The rest is all left in the sub-text, unread and un-pondered over.

Otherwise why is to so dreadful to imagine the ideal couples in the celluloid world suffering their partner's snores, drools, bad breath? Why don't their struggles with reality be as mundane as tummies starting to plop and flop out in under a week after it was tucked in by months of strict diet and exercise or losing a battle against baldness?

Who was it that called films a mode of escapism? Or is it? Doesn't it also alternately inspire and show you a new direction, a new route to get to the root of your problems if you are able to put it into perspective?

It does for me, because I'm the heroine of my life and I end up getting inspired by my heroines..I wait to hear from you before the verdict is passed...

PS: How many of you have New Year Resolutions? Wanna know mine - I want to act in a play or a street play or something where I train my largely paralysed facial muscles to perform on cue!!! Some resolution isnt it??!!