Friday, February 7, 2014

Farewell, Farooq

Farooq Sheikh- the gentle, versatile actor died recently of a heart attack while holidaying in Dubai.  I did not pay too much attention to the news when it broke, last December.  I had seen his films in the late seventies and eighties- and enjoyed them tremendously.  He had worked with top directors of Indian parallel cinema at the time - Satyajit Ray, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Muzaffar Ali, MS Sathyu and others.  I always assumed that the impression these films left on me was largely because I was then at an impressionable age myself!  Seeing Farooq in recent years, playing minor roles in Bollywood films - overweight, with an unflattering hairstyle and glasses, I felt he had just let himself go.  Theatre lovers thought otherwise; his performance with Shabana Azmi in the two-character play 'Tumhari Amrita' ran for 21 years and people still wanted more.

A few days ago, quite by chance, I happened to watch an old movie of his and was startled by the quality of his performance.  I glimpsed a naturalness that made me feel that he was not acting at all, that in reality he was the character.  After watching some snippets of his other films on the computer, I realized that this aspect of his performance was his style and strength - and perhaps something that led him away from mainstream cinema towards more complex, subtle or unusual films.  At a time when angry young men and raucous songs filled gigantic screens, Farooq Sheikh was content to express different kinds of qualities - gentleness mingled with firmness, an innocent vulnerability and a sensitivity that could be effortlessly tuned to comedy or pathos.  He is remembered most for some of his romances and comedies with his natural on-screen partner Deepti Naval, who could match him, expression for expression and mood for mood.  He was also known for some of his television shows including 'Ji Mantriji', a Hindi version of the British show 'Yes Minister'.

Farooq Sheikh was born into a wealthy family of zamindars and trained in law, so he could join his father, a successful lawyer in Mumbai.  But his heart was in acting and, as it turned out, he never practiced law.  He had no formal training in theatre or films and there was no particular style that he emulated.  Yet he left a mark on Indian films and theatre through the handful of films and the unforgettable characters that he brought to life.  They will never die.

Off screen, he displayed a gentle but spontaneous sense of humour.  His speech was impeccable - a mix of Hindi and Urdu that is not often heard in Mumbai.  He will also be remembered for his unassuming nature, his generosity and philanthropy- much of which came to light only after his death.

Unfortunately there are almost no trailers or snippets of his films available online right now (full length films are available) and none with English subtitles.  I am attaching a link to one of his songs with Deepti Naval, from the film Saath Saath ('Together').  It is a song they sing about how beautiful their house is.  Should anyone wish to see the house, they first need to borrow the young couple's vision (in order to truly appreciate it).

Here one sees how two skilled and expressive actors can elevate a pleasant sounding song to something more meaningful and heartwarming. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Now We Are Two : Thoughts On Pregnancy

As I dwell on my advanced state of pregnancy, I wonder whether to put down my thoughts in a blog.  The pregnancy began suddenly, seemed to stretch on forever and now I wonder where all the time has gone.  I have decided to write a little, just in case it is of help to anyone, especially in India.

"Any time now," the older women around me say.  But I think the baby will wait for a few weeks, if not days, to emerge.  Let us see.

Pregnancy is very much a social affair in India, as perhaps it is everywhere.  Given our gigantic (and ever increasing) population, I am always amazed that every new baby or baby-to-be causes such a flutter.  Evolution, I suppose.  "Give me dogs any day," I used to think while watching people fussing over babies (and in some recess of my heart, perhaps I still do).

I grew up with dogs.  Large numbers of them, bounding in and out of our house and garden.  They were my favourite companions and I spent many hours with them - seeing them being born (our dogs were comfortable with my presence at all times), helping them grow up - bathing them as they wriggled and flew from my arms, teaching them how to climb up and descend stairs, playing "catch the lizard" with them and helping them through teething.  Everything was effortless and executed without any fuss or bother.  Bliss, in retrospect.  Not so with humans.  The noise begins as soon as those pregnancy strips turn positive, and it apparently never really ends.  All of it is not unwelcome of course.  I am moved by how many people have come up to me and said they were praying for my well being, in their own ways.  Many offers of baby sitters have arrived, surprisingly the most fervent ones coming from elderly retired professors, who I thought had only science on their minds.  Babies certainly bring out a different aspect of people, a part one never really perceives as an adult.  This I am learning everyday.

As Indian cities change, lifestyles (including issues like pregnancy) change accordingly.  A mix of old and new is found and one must tread with care.  Active birthing techniques and complete empowerment of women are still to come, but many more facilities and options are offered to pregnant women in big cities.  I ask for very little at this stage; just for minimal medical intervention intelligently applied and for the presence of my husband during crucial periods, and the Delhi doctor seems to share my views on these aspects.  It has been a struggle though, to keep the medical intervention to the minimum.  My doctors in Bangalore were very concerned and believed in taking steps beforehand to prevent future potential problems; they would therefore prescribe supplements by the dozen.  Supplements are not as innocuous as they are made out to be.  Any chemical in large regular doses is bound to affect metabolism.  And some of the supplements - hormones or hormone triggers, affect the endocrine system as well, causing large changes with very small doses.  Fortunately, I did not take any of these and none of the dire predictions have come true.  One important aspect to keep in mind during pregnancy is that each person is different - the range of "normal values" is huge while measuring levels of blood parameters, minerals, vitamins (and certain hormones as well).  What's normal for one woman may never be seen in another.  This is where the internet is very helpful as technical sites provide lists of acceptable ranges of numbers churned out through blood tests.  Over-interpretation of data (especially with inadequate knowledge of metabolism) is a common problem encountered with doctors today.

Other programmes are also on offer - pregnancy classes, exercises and, in India, things are often marketed as "packages" - one free scan, one free consultation, discount on room tariff etc. with pregnancy classes.  It took me a while to decide whether or not to attend these classes.  I asked a few people for input, called up some of the teachers and finally asked myself what exactly I wanted to achieve.  Many people like the feeling of bonding and interacting with others who are in the same state; I had no such desire.  Besides, I hate commuting- dealing with traffic jams, potholes and pollution - things that are common in Indian cities.  These days, due to excessive or poor air conditioning, lifestyle changes and other factors, I find some fraction of sick people everywhere I go, at all times.  For this reason as well, I wanted to avoid being indoors with large groups on a regular basis.  (This also meant a drastic reduction in the number of cultural events I could attend but there are many other ways to occupy oneself).  Of course, the main deciding factor was my existing lifestyle - I was practicing Yoga everyday and also going for long walks.  I did not think I needed too much more, except for some inputs on the process of labour and birthing, which were explained in a wonderful fashion to me by my acupuncturist friend, Nora.  My Yoga teacher, who continues to check on my health from afar, told me right in the beginning that he had no special instructions for me.  I had read the Yoga books that dealt with pregnancy (and there is very little literature on this) and had several questions, which he answered.  But he stressed that it is a very individual experience and I would know what to do and how to proceed, from within.  He also stressed that I should not compare myself to any of the models in the pregnancy books (a very useful tip)!  I would not recommend this for beginners but for advanced Yoga students who have had individual training, I think it is a good way to proceed.  I am still comfortably able to do an hour of stretching and I have not had any backaches or major strains.

The other aspect to think about was clothes!  I was surprised at how little was on offer for maternity wear (especially for winter), given the large numbers of women who are pregnant each year.  New shops have opened recently; they have some kinds of clothes to offer but nothing elegant or particularly well designed.  The materials are sometimes not very comfortable and are often synthetic or gaudy - this for a country overflowing with textiles, craftsmen and designers, is shocking.  Mothercare (an international outlet) has opened and this seems to be where many pregnant women shop.  It is relatively better but completely western in concept.  Almost everything has been made in China for the U.K. and marketed in India.  Good for track bottoms, jeans and western baby things.  Not a chance of finding Indian cottons, loose kurtas or any local products.  Oh well, could be worse.  The one problem I immediately find is that the sizes and shapes seem a little off.  Certainly my baby (on the ultrasound screen) looks too tiny to immediately be able to wear the 0 month size.  This is where family helps.  One of my sisters in law has taken me firmly in hand and ignored all arguments about waiting till I am sure my baby will actually emerge before taking action.  She marches in with a tailor, who takes my bundle of old clothes and rapidly converts them into little vests and nappies in three sizes.  Exquisitely soft cotton, having been washed hundreds of times over is now ready to cover the baby in different ways.  Not just as clothes, but sheets to sleep in, sheets for changing, sheets for covering.  My mother's softest saree - an old fine Bengal cotton is converted into a little wrapping cover for when the baby is just delivered.  The belief is that the blessings of the ancestors pass on to the baby.  More involved than Mothercare but more personal as well.  In between trips to see her terminally ill mother, she knits tiny baby vests that will be perfect for small Indian babies.  She has already ordered sheets, quilts and bigger clothes which will be stitched and hand embroidered as our clothes were when we were young (my grandmother set up a small organization where women learned to embroider and sew in order to be financially independent).  These are of course some perks of being in India.

As for myself, I do find a few clothes but I am living in track pants with hand me down pregnancy sweaters.  Women - don't fall for that "Wear your husband's sweaters," line.  In the third trimester, maternity clothing becomes essential especially in the winter.  Men's sweaters end up dangling over your arms, exposing half your chest (with those V-necks) and so on.  Sarees are a relatively elegant option but the accessories need to be re-stitched each month for comfort.  I call the tailor home again, not for maternity clothes this time but for nursing clothes.  Yes!  In a few weeks, all these clothes will be of no use and an entirely new set will be required.  Do keep this in mind while planning your wardrobe.  Shoes - problematic again.  I visit malls, which have rows of branded shoe shops lined up but find nothing other than sports shoes which fit.  These are good for walking but tying and untying laces gets trickier over time.  The slip-ons available are tight fitting or hideously coloured and, of course, fancily priced.  I return empty handed, visit a small neighbourhood shop.  I explain all my requirements to the owner and within a few minutes I have a set of comfortable shoes and non skid slippers at one third the price I would have paid in the malls.  My shoes are a wonderful shade of purple (my first ever purple shoes!) which, strangely enough, go well with my track pants and my slippers are candy striped, in white and pink.  These are a local brand which apparently are very popular with the hill people; they are soft and easy to walk in.

Food!  Keep in mind that the average Indian woman has a much lower hemoglobin level as compared to her Western counterpart.  Don't be alarmed at your blood reports but do try and keep the levels up.  Many people give many suggestions.  I am just taking the middle path - having as much iron in tablet form as I can (I can only take it on alternate days), drinking my own recipe of juice - carrot, beetroot, pomegranate and a squeeze of lemon or fermented black carrot juice, taking a small bit of meat occasionally (I don't feel like eating too much meat) and having fresh greens, salads, soaked prunes etc.  Some of these iron building foods are cooked by my aunt and sent to me in little boxes every week.  Indian food can aggravate or soothe nausea, as I discovered after talking to many people. Fortunately I did not suffer much from morning sickness but people who do can barely enter the kitchen.  I find that some of the spices - cloves, black cardamom and cinnamon are quite soothing especially when used in sweet and savoury stews.

Well, I think this covers most of the basic aspects that I have been dealing with these last few months.  I don't know if my baby agrees with me.  It began as a tiny part of me but now there are definitely two of us.  I can see its outline as it moves, pushing my abdomen outwards to an impossible extent.  It is wide awake when I want to sleep and quietens down as soon as I begin my morning Yoga.  It kicks when I indulge in desserts and stays silent when I eat my salads.  Never seems to mind the potholes and speed breakers, which I absolutely detest.  Perhaps it takes after my husband...  
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