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November 2019

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Shakespeare’s Secret Sauce

November 12, 2019

I love Shakespeare in all his unabridged glory.  I’ve never touched Cliffs’ Notes and won’t deign to read the summaries.  I like his uncut sentences reverberating in my head in all their iambic pentameter glory.

So at literature festivals I try to catch all the Shakespeare-related talks I can.  At the Bangalore Literature Festival this weekend, I did the same.  A session called ‘Masala Shakespeare’  was on the roster. The presenter, Jonathan Gil Harris is the author of 6 books and his latest project is called ‘Masala Shakespeare’.  I’d never heard of Jonathan Gil Harris, but the name of the session piqued my interest.  And boy was I in for a treat.

Over the years I’ve seen Shakespeare adapted beautifully for Bollywood blockbusters and even stage.  The ability to understand the nuances of a Shakespearean play and transplant it to an Indian setting, without losing the essence of the play and keeping it incredibly relevant to India today requires a unique talent.  So whether it’s Roysten Abel’s ‘Othello: A Play in Black and White’ or Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Ram-Leela’, I have appreciated every scene and lapped up every line.

So it was nothing but pure delight when Jonathan started waxing eloquent about how Indian movies have always been doing Shakespeare.  As an example:

I’ve watched and appreciated most of these…and would even go so far as to day these are some of the best of Bollywood.

 

But what I liked most was Jonathan’s main point.  His assertion was that Shakespeare wrote his plays for the masses to enjoy.  His characters make puns and inside jokes, people from all walks of life populate and interact with each other in his plays and there are the ubiquitous star-crossed lovers.  Jonathan asserted that in England, Shakespeare has evolved to be more for the elite than for the masses, that to go watch a Shakespeare play was akin to going to the dentist.  However, in India everyone goes to the theater to watch essentially Shakespearean movies made by Rajnikant or Salman Khan’s Eid releases.  We understand the puns, we understand the drama, we hope for the best for the star-crossed lovers – and we do it en masse in the movie theatre.  Just as Shakespeare wanted his audience to do.  Watching Jonathan’s presentation was like watching a Bollywood movie – there was pathos, there was passion, there was a social message.

The only thing missing was the obligatory Bollywood song and dance sequence, and we got that too when Jonathan broke into a jig to ‘Jhalla Wallah’ from ‘Ishaqzaade’.  I wish I had a recording of that, but I was too busy enjoying myself to whip out my phone.  Perhaps the lit fest organizers will put it up on YouTube.

Meanwhile, if you get a chance to catch Jonathan live anywhere, I would highly recommend it.

Lifestyle

20 years ago….

November 1, 2019

Over the Diwali break my little sister sorted out her clothes. She made piles of clothes to discard and those to give away. I chose a few things I thought I could use. Afterwards we went to the Ambience mall and she donated the clothes to the H&M recycling drive.

I’m in the midst of sorting out my clothes too. Memories arise unbidden into my mind, as I sift through them. The skirt my sister said was perfect for a yoga instructor, that unbelievable bargain at a sale. The cozy sweat pants I reach for when Bangalore is cold and rainy, the sequined rose-gold skirt I look forward to wearing during the festive season.

Our evolution as individuals can be marked by changes in our sartorial choices.

Twenty years ago, in 1999, I was a senior at the American International School Dhaka. We had moved to Dhaka from the US and my clothes comprised of the usual teenager fare of jeans and tees bought at Nordstrom, Contempo Casuals, even Sears and Macys. In Bangladesh my mother bought yards and yards of handwoven jamdani saris. As my friends got ballgowns stitched for the senior prom, my mother and I scoured the markets looking for that perfect off-white chikankari fabric which the darzi transformed into a beautiful shalwar. Years later and many kgs lesser, that shalwar started to look like a bag on me, and I reluctantly decided to gave it away to a maid. But as I wistfully fingered the border of the dupatta – I had the tailor line the edges with the same chikankari fabric – I resolutely tucked it back into the depths of my trunk, where it remains to this day.

At an Infosys event in one of the first saris I bought for myself. I got it at Deepams on MG Road, and loved the colors and the golden apostrophes peppering the entire sari.

The years 2000-2004 were spent in a tiny hamlet in northern India. My college years were defined predominantly with a sense of displacement and a visceral rejection of surroundings I couldn’t/wouldn’t adapt to. I would not obey, I didn’t care about assimilation. I admired only the art. And so I drank in the colors of patiala salwars and got many stitched for myself. For graduation and other formal events, I, like the other girls, dived into my mother’s collection of beautiful saris. If there was a gene for being a clotheshorse, my mother would be its original carrier. She has trunks full of the most exquisite silks, the purest french chiffons, diaphanous cottons. I was allowed to borrow only certain saris – but to me those were the most beautiful threads to ever adorn my body.

Once I finished college and entered the corporate world, Company Policy started influencing my wardrobe. Highly forgetful formal shirts and pants. Unimaginative cuts, fits to shroud you in conformity. I felt trapped, and creatively stunted and my wardrobe was a reflection of that. When I decided that this life was no longer for me, I remember letting my younger sister have her pick of the clothes, while the remaining went to charity. It was as though by banishing those clothes from my armoire, I was emphasizing my decision to never return to the world of countless excel sheets.

The gap left by my work wear soon started filling with workout wear. I wore a lot of track pants before I realized that I like black tights the most. Not the moisture wicking, dri-fit variety, but of the more unpretentious cotton kind. During my daily practice/teaching, I don’t want to be distracted by flashes of colors or eye catching designs.

Wearing a sari from my mother’s collection. A yellow and green jamdani, handwoven in Bangladesh.

As I continue to go through my cupboards, I realize my wardrobe is now an amalgamation of all the influences in my life. Long basic dresses that my sister no longer feels she identifies with, a beautiful hand-stitched tie-dyed skirt picked up at a garage sale, a salwar-kameez stitched by the tailor my friend discovered when she was 17. Bargains found in the racks of Forever21 sales. Fabrics sourced from artisans at craft fairs, material from Pune’s vibrant Lakshmi Road, whatever catches my fancy at Malkha. My kurtas are long, flowing and light. My collection of 100-odd saris, enviable.

Clothes are perhaps our first form of expression. Even those of us who aren’t interested in what we wear make a decision about what to wear – and that decision is an expression in and of itself. Our cultures define the tone of festive clothing, clothes for mourning, clothes for the bourgeoisie and those of modest means, those in a penitentiary and for heads of state. Clothes you’d wear to a wedding and those you would wear to the Seychelles. Clothes to wear to the cinema, to the opera and for the weekly Netflix and chill.

Perhaps the only statement more powerful than choosing what to wear is choosing not to wear anything at all.

Happy girls are the prettiest.

A handkerchief dress I wore on a birthday. My sister was visiting and we spent the day at Nrityagram.

Not a very good rider, but my riding gear is on point. I picked up the boots at a thrift store in the Netherlands, the helmet and breeches in Coonoor.

[WORDS DO MATTER! This post is written for the 3rd edition of #WordsMatter linkup hosted by Corinne, Parul and Shalini. The prompt for this edition of #WordsMatter linkup is ‘20 years ago’]

I received this tag from Reema from The Write World (https://reemadsouza.com/). It’s my pleasure to pass on this tag to Anamika Agnihotri at https://thebespectacledmother.com/. There are 29 of us on this Blog Hop and it is spread over 3 days – 1, 2, 3 November 2019. Do follow the #WordsMatter Blog Hop, you’ll love our musings!