Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Calming down the mind – A diary note

(I started writing this months ago. I finished it on Aug. 29)

I had first been at the yoga camp in Bangalore in 1998-99. I visited again in 2001. The first time my mother had recently died. The second time I was on the verge of quitting my job. Both times I had no clue what path my life would take. Taking the path of yoga seemed both stupid and inconclusive. What would I ever do for money? I needed lots of it and needed it fast.
Yoga can help you earn money. However, in 1998 I wasn’t seeking a career in yoga. I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to become. In 2001, I was already a journalist, but my success had been “limited”.
This year I had the occasion to visit the yoga camp again. There wasn’t a crisis looming over me like the previous times. I was a bit ill, but I would have survived without the camp. My career is journalism had taken off and finally I was going somewhere with it. This time though I was restless at the camp. Suddenly, mediation and prayanamas didn’t seem so good.
Today, after I have left the camp, people often ask me what I benefited from it. It’s not in the end, but in the means, I like to tell them. It’s in relishing the experience. It’s like a journey to nowhere in particular. You enjoy the journey, not the destination.
But having said all this, I must also confess I didn’t relish it much this time.
Yoga, they say, is the calming down of the mind. Your asanas would achieve their end if your mind slows down a bit. But my mind was like a high-speed highway. I would wake up at an unearthly hour of 4 am to do my meditation and asanas. I would also promptly show up for the evening hour of asanas. But in between I mostly ate and read and fretted.
I don’t like conservatism. I hate organised religion. But conservatism, yoga and organised religion go together. If they don’t, yoga fails. When Osho combined his liberal ideas of free sex and communes with yoga, he failed.
On the positive side of things, I did quit smoking for 10 days. I puff again today, but those 10 days I was proud of what I had done. It’s a pity that the pull of nicotine was greater than my pride.
When I entered the camp this time, I was guilty of allowing my life to go astray. My fight with bipolar mood disorder had ended in my defeat. For the last five years, this fight has cost me a lot. Now it was costing me what I thought was my freedom.
In the camp, you can’t go on your own. You have to confirm. But I am rebellious by nature. I can’t stand routine. And the seeming ideological drivel at the camp was getting to me.
The first time at the camp, I was caught by surprise. The philosophy of yoga can be seductive. And it is essentially good. But it does have the ring of propaganda I abhor.
All through the 30 or so days I spend at the camp this year, I was constantly up against one question. What next? The easiest option it seemed was to return to my job, which I had not lost.
But after having spend eight years in journalism, two of them in training to be a journalist, I realise that work at any office is essentially non-creative. After a while, any work you do does gets tedious. When I was younger, the attraction was that I would be in a position from which I would inform and educate the world. And with luck change it a bit.
What I wanted to be never matched what I was. But in those days I was sure I would get there. Now I am not so hopeful. This isn’t a bad thing. Work could be something you do for bread and butter. You can always do things on the side. A colleague of mine spends her weekend hours at an NGO. She probably finds that more productive than her work at the office.
Let’s get back to BMD. In all the years I have combated with it, I have learned one thing. This is the one disease that I would find most difficult to fight. It requires discipline and a trust in doctors and modern medicine. I don’t have discipline. I sleep at dawn and sleep through the day. My distrust of doctors was O.K. till I was 20. I never had anything serious happening to me anyway. But after being diagnosed with BMD, I have constantly struggled to believe in my doctor.
Today, I have learned the hard way to rely on my tablets. To keep supplying my brain with the chemicals it needs. I have also learned that you can’t out think BMD. It’s like malaria minus the fever.
At the yoga camp, I tried to reform myself; to question ideals that I had stood by for years. I realised I had to change. I could not afford to wallow in things that were not good for me.
When I came back, all that remained in me was the urge to get back to work. For someone who is so undisciplined, I have surprised myself with discipline in office. It’s been weeks now since I have had trouble meeting deadlines or performing well.
The yoga at the camp did little to help me. But I like yoga if it isn’t done in a secluded place like a camp. I am going to try yoga again soon. This time in the city.

(I took a break from work late December last year till Feb-end to go do yoga. My BMD has since then recurred. My resolve to fight the disease, however, remains as high as ever.)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Chak De! India

I am back as you can plainly see. Most of my break was spent ruing why I declared it in the first place. I suddenly had a flood of ideas to turn into posts. Some of them, hopefully, will be implemented in the days to come. O.K., it's back to business. We start with a film review.

Chak De! India banks more on the emotional high of patriotism than on the sports it is based on - hockey, our national game. Shah Rukh Khan plays Kabir Khan, a disgraced captain of the national hockey team, who returns to the field, this time as coach of the women's hockey team on the eve of the world cup.

This is the classic tale of the underdog overcoming all odds and doing well when it matters the most. And yet, the movie is nearly free of clich├ęs. The matches are a marvel in the way they have been shot, with the camera never capturing a shot not possible while shooting a real life hockey match.

If you have seen In A League Of Their Own, you know the routine. Take a team filled with characters, warts and all, make them the underdogs with not a chance to win anything, and you get a killer movie in the sports genre. Many a time, Shah Rukh reminded me of Tom Hanks in that movie. I am not a big fan of the star, but this a good performance from the actor. He finally gives what by his own standards is an understated performance. But what is really surprising is the ease with which he shares space with the lesser-known actors who comprise the hockey team.

In 1999 or 2000, I attended a lecture by a German director, who made documentaries, at the Max Mueller Bhavan in Chennai. He spoke of how he chose the faces of actors who portray ordinary persons in his films. He said the actors should have "strong faces". In a sequence from a documentary he showed us, a group of women cycle down a hill with the camera in a jeep tracking them. As the wind blows on their faces, the women – none of them good looking – smile at the camera. It's a rare, honest moment on film.

Many of the actors who comprise the hockey team in Chake De are not conventionally great looking. Some are pretty, but there are a few who don't have actor good looks, only strong faces. All of them are quite unlike the other - in body, face, diction and character. Each one of them comes with her problems intact. Their faces create an immediate impact when caught on camera.

When the team parades before the press wearing sarees with tricolour borders post interval, you finally realise that quite a few players – often shown as being dirty and bruised on the field – are actually good looking. Until and after that moment, it's all back to the strong faces again. Much could be said of the casting of these actors, who are nothing short of wonderful.

When I reviewed Rang De Basanti, I thought the movie was manipulating our natural patriotic instincts for commercial purposes. I am still uneasy when the patriotic highs of the movie bring tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat. I always have to ask: Am I being manipulated?

Patriotism is often a prop in movies produced by Aditya Chopra. In Kabul Express, the take on patriotism is irreverent. Everyone seems keen on saving their own skin first. In Veer-Zaara, however, the lovers are divided by land; one is in Pakistan, the other is in India and the patriotism is contrived.

However, in Chak De director Shimit Amin (Ab Tak Chappan) keeps the reins tight. The patriotism dose is just about right or at least it's enough to ensure commercial success.

I can't help but think that writer Jaideep Sahni (Company, Bunty our Babli) borrowed from the Hollywood sports classics. He at least lifted a couple of ideas from In A League Of Their Own. But still this is a brilliant effort.

The cinematographer Sudeep Chatterjee also shot Iqbal. So the sports genre must have been familiar to him. The music by the famed pair Salim-Sulaiman is quite good, though the title song seemed a bit familiar and, therefore, hummable.