Monday, May 16, 2011

Just a Bit of Bollywood-Part 2: A Sneak Peek

 I spent the weekend in Vancouver, as part of round one of my sister's wedding celebrations. Several friends told me they've been reading the blog, which was so nice to hear. Some complained they're too long, which is too bad for you because I've decided to embrace my verbosity. If you did read the entirety of last week's Bollywood blog, here's your reward. As promised, an excerpt from the novel.


After the news, the uncles went to the backyard with their drinks and the aunts sat on the sofas planning Cyrus’s sixth birthday party. Laila and Rashna, I noticed, kept glancing at Grandmother, whose eyes had begun to droop. As soon as her head fell to one side, Laila was at the TV, changing channels and lowering the volume while the boys slithered out of the parlor to go play chor-police in the large foyer, whose marbled floors were perfect for sliding around catching bad guys on. As the angst ridden faces of American teens fill the screen, the girls smiled contentedly. Every emotion of the characters played out on Laila’s face and even Rashna sat up straight, leaning slightly forward. Back home this show had been our guilty pleasure; Roop, Sara and I watched it every Wednesday night. Tonight, though, watching my cousins watch the show, I was suddenly hyper aware of little nuances; the clothes the characters wore, the things they said and did. It was all exaggerated, I knew that. But did these girls? I grimaced, recognizing this episode. The father was having an affair, the mother was hitting the bottle, and one of the emaciated teens was going to OD on prescription drugs by the end of the episode. A teenaged couple stared at the bed they were being forced to share for the night.
Laila glanced at me and looked quickly away. Oh God, were they thinking this was what my life was like? I laughed under my breath at the irony. Mum had made it plenty clear that dating wasn’t an option. Once, Dad stopped at a traffic light right beside a teenaged couple making out at a bus stop.
“Chee,” Mum had said, “No sharam these ghoras have. That girl will be pregnant by dinnertime.” She turned to me. “Katayoon, remember, you must marry a Nice Parsi Boy.”
I shuddered at the sound of my full name. “Those two are dating, not getting married.”
            “We don’t date. We marry. And when you marry, it’ll be to a Nice Parsi Boy.”
            “If I marry, it’ll be to someone I love. We’re not some backward villagers, Mum. This isn’t the sixteenth century that you can barter me off to whoever offers you the most goats.”
            “Goats? Who’s talking about goats? See, Freddy, didn’t I tell you? Bring them here and they lose all respect for our ways.”
The show cut to commercial and Laila whipped around. “Do you have a boyfriend, Katya?”
My cheeks burned as I thought of Phil – could I even call him my ex after only three months? “No.”
Dilshad Aunty’s ears had perked up. “Chalo chalo, Katya, time to get serious soon, haan? What are you, 22, 23?”
“25 in a few months.”
She bit her tongue between her front teeth, a worried look on her face.
“Knowing her mother, Dilshad, I’m sure she’s had an eye out for years.” We hadn’t realized Grandmother had awoken and Laila glanced nervously at the TV. “That woman knows how to marry well.”
“Oh, this is a great movie,” Coomie Aunty said loudly, preventing Grandmother from dropping the next bombshell. She had already changed the channel, and Laila breathed a sigh of relief.
Toned, tanned bodies filled the screen, wearing even less clothing than the American teens we’d just seen traipsing around Southern California. As a child, I had watched Hindi movies most afternoons, my head in my favorite ayah's lap. But those had looked nothing like this. Two guys broke into a song, the actress between them pretending at first to be irritated but soon breaking into a perfectly synchronized dance with them.
“Wait, what’s going on?” I whispered to Laila. Instead of the two men hitting on the girl, they seemed to be dancing with each other.
“These two are pretending to be,” she paused, leaned on my leg and whispered, “Gays.” Giggling she continued, “They have to pretend so that that girl that they both like would stay with them in their apartment.”
 “Why is she wearing a bikini top under her sari?” I asked.
Laila laughed, “It’s the style, silly. Isn’t she gorgeous. I wish I had her body.”
Rashna said, “Well, you have to work at it, you know.”
Laila’s face fell. Her yellow t-shirt was snug across her waist, and her hair was in a side ponytail, a look she couldn’t pull off with her short hair. Her mouth tugged downwards, and I couldn’t stand it.
 Putting an arm around her shoulder, I asked, “Tell me, why are there so many white people behind her?”
“They’re in Miami.”
“Why? I thought this was an Indian movie.”
Her eyes sparkled. “Bollywood has gone Hollywood. They film in UK, US, Australia. Don’t you remember Salaam Namaste from a few years ago? It was shot completely in Australia. Kal Ho Na Ho was set in New York. DDLJ was shot partly in UK and Switzerland. K3G was shot partly in UK.” She counted the titles on her fingers, oblivious to my oblivion of all the acronyms she stated. She trailed off and was soon glued back to the movie, her arm remaining on my leg.
“Coomie, Dilshad, this is really inappropriate for the children,” Grandmother said as the two guys sandwiched the bikini-sari girl and air-humped her.
Her daughters didn’t hear her. “God, Dil, isn’t John Abraham yummy?” Coomie Aunty was saying.
“Nayee, yaar, Coomie, I like Abhishek. Tall like his father he is.”
Grandmother grunted. “His father had class, this boy is soiling the Bachchan family name with this behavior. What…what is he doing with his hips? How vulgar.”
“It’s called gyrating,” Laila said.
“Filthy,” the OC said. “I did not approve it on that Elvis Presley and I do not approve it on our men.”
No one heard her; they all stared at the TV. The uncles came in from the balcony as the song ended and Rohinton Uncle bounced his shoulders and swiveled his hips. Even Grandmother cracked the tiniest of smiles.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Just a Bit of Bollywood-Part 1

No matter how hard I try, Bollywood seeps into my novel. Sure I read a lot. When I was seven, I used to hide my favorite Read-It-Yourself book on the top shelf at the Gymkhana library (yes, I could reach it at seven) so it would always be available for me when I visited. Yes, the greatest day of my life was when we first moved to Canada and  I found out we could check out not three books like in Karachi, but TWENTY-FIVE. And fine, I've been known to cancel plans if a book is too good to put down. But Hindi movies flow in my veins.
Remember these?

I grew up watching them in the air-conditioned comfort of Nani and Nana's sitting room on those hot Karachi summer nights. The flash of the Hindi Film Board certificate, the title in Hindi, Urdu, English, and we were off.
Nani dozed off at exactly 11 and Nana, the best husband ever, turned it off soon after so she wouldn't miss the ending that we had all predicted at the start.My grandparents' neighbour, in fact, rented out these movies, and Cuz One was in charge of crossing the hall and getting a beautiful black VHS every night; I, being female, was forbidden to do so. I used to stand in the doorway and hiss at him not to get one with too much maar-faar, no blood and guts, please. He, of course, smiled mischeiviously back at me, knowing the power of his gender even then.

I grew up with the classics, Dil, Kyamat Se Kyamat Tak, and of course, my all time favourite, Mr. India, which, after my 18th rental, the movie man refused to lend to us anymore, insisting others must have a go. My mother used to have a heart attack whenever she came into the air-conditioned den and saw her little girl glued to the screen where one blood-drenched good guy took on ten gun and/or dagger-wielding bad guys who appeared on cue out of the shadows, all of whom cursed each other's mothers and sisters while throwing punches with exaggerated dishoom-dishoom sounds.

                I especially recommend minute 1:41, the epitomizing moment

In Canada, it all ended abruptly, mainly because I didn't know where to get the goods. It wasn't until I went to Korea and met Monica, a Korean teacher at my ESL school, that it all came back. Monica had majored in Hindi, spoke it fluently, and loved the films. She befriended me because my middle name was Shahrukh like Shah Rukh Khan, and it was through her that I discovered the underground world of Desis in Korea. My first Divali happened in the outskirts of Seoul and spared no details: we began with with a pooja, followed by a recital of Om Jai Jagdish- which of course I knew, not because I was Hindu but because of the fil-lums I'd seen- and continued into the wee hours with a rousing game of Antakshari. When I got pneumonia and spent weeks in the hospital, Monica brought me the soundtrack to Mujse Dosti Karoge (Will You Be My Friend), along with a touching letter about why our friendship meant so much to her.

After she left, I loaded my Walkman and immediately, a high-pitched female voice filled my ears, its familiarity sending goosebumps down my spine. But it was the last song that did me in. A medley of old classics and recent hits, it sent me on a roller-coaster of memories, and I cried and cried and cried. Mind you, at that point, I'd been hospitalized for well over a week, but that wasn't what made me cry. It was that reminder of the air-conditioned room, the brown sofas, Nani Nana by my side, that made me cry so much for so long that the Korean woman taking care of her ailing mother in the next bed over left her mum to come stroke my shoulder and hand me her extra large Kleenex box.
  Minute 10:07 was what got me (ignore the subtitles, learn Hindi instead)

And that's how this Desi Girl came back with a vengeance. I made CD mixes, took dance classes all over town, had Hindi movie dates with whoever wished to come, or with myself, it didn't matter. Living in London, I tried every Indian dance company in central London, feasted regularly at hole-in-the-wall curry joints, and bought pirated DVDs, four movies in one, on the pavements of South Hall and East Ham. For my birthday, I dragged all the friends I'd made to Bollywood Night. They say you know who your true friends are when you drag them to a Bollywood Night and they feign enthusiasm for shoulder shaking and  light bulb screwing and that night was definitely one for the record books.

Now I live in the Bay Area, the India of the West. With my ICC membership, plethora of Indian restaurants and fast food joints to keep me full all weekend, and Bollywood movies in regular cinemas, I'm  home.

You can see, then, why Bollywood has seeped into my novel in various forms and proportions over the many drafts. Most of it had to be deleted, though not without saving a draft for a future Hindi movie somewhere down the line. But the manuscript is not void of Bollywood. In fact, I think I've struck a good (healthy) balance.

And if you are still reading this, next blog entry, you will be rewarded with a sneak peek at the novel itself.