Demagogues. Charlatans. Con men. Time servers. Cronies. Populist politicians. Abusive husbands.
It’s not a world fighting for.
Ah, Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire! Would not we shatter it to bits - and then Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!
What are you thinking? How are you feeling? What have we done to each other? What will we do?
The primal questions of any marriage — says, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) as David Fincher’s 2014 adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl begins. Wrestling with the unravelling of own marriage, watching the scene in a lonely hotel room after a long day of work, the questions came as a jolt.
A decade of marriage, and you realise you don’t know who your partner is. Worse. You don’t know who you are anymore.
What have we done to each other? Indeed!
Ramadan fasting is like no other Islamic ritual. In the month of Ramadan, those who never perform the pre-dawn Fajr prayer get up even earlier to eat, only to abstain until dusk. And after a month of that, even those who would otherwise never set foot in a mosque line up in unison to kneel towards Mecca. For an entire month, from cooking, attire, TV to intimacy — the very lifestyle of a billion plus people change. Except perhaps the aversion to pork, observance of, or at least respect to, the Ramadan fasting is arguably the most ubiquitous characteristic of Muslims.
Given its prevalence and ubiquity, Ramadan must have observable economic impacts. Exactly what might they be? In a fascinating paper, Filipe Campanile and David Yanagizawa-Drott of Harvard’s Kennedy School provide us with some answers.* Summary — fasting makes us happier, if poorer.
Love stories tend to be boring because they tend to end in rather predictable ways. And yet, from Radha-Krishna and Laila-Majnu to Romeo-Juliet and, because we aren’t unaffected by Bollywood, Amitabh-Rekha, our imaginations are captured by love stories.
Yes, that last sentence is a derivative of something from Midnight’s Children. Salman Rushdie, of course, drew inspiration from the famous Bollywood romance for his infamous Satanic Verses filmstar-gone-crazy who was haunted by his jilted lover Rekha Merchant. Then there is the Shashi Tharoor novel about the rise and fall and apotheosis of the matinee idol A
mitabhshok Ba chchanjara, with a many pages on his off screen romance.
It’s fitting then that the last movie to star Bollywood’s most famous couple is a tale of socially ostracised love, which also happens to have one of the best love songs to come out of Bombay. The Bachchan monologue — I often wonder with my solitude what if you were here — tells us that it’s a sad song. But it’s the multiple possibilities and nuances of the female perspective — rendered sublimely by Lata Mungeshkar — that makes the song what it is.
There appears to be a lot of variation in how people make rezala. Mine is definitely not authentic as I tend to improvise a lot while cooking this, which these days is regrettably rare. Back in the day, however, this had never failed. Go ahead, give it a shot.
Update: April 11 425pm BDT at the end
Theirs was the stuff of fairy tale romance. The son of a Supreme Court judge and a charismatic English professor, he was brought up to be a pukka gentleman. She came from the wrong side of the poorest of backwater towns, first in the family to make it to university, relying on nothing but her grit. They were white collar professionals, colleagues who fell in love in their late 20s. I was there—it happened in my living room actually. They moved in, and then moved overseas together for greater opportunities, for both. Careers progressed, and love deepened. About ten years ago, they got married in a picturesque island. Couple of years later they returned to a large wooden house with a big backyard to raise a little girl, and then a boy. Financially secure — they benefitted from the asset booms of that decade — it was a time for career change, to follow their hearts. She joined politics. He decided to pursue his passion for writing.
Then the fairy tale ended. While turning 40, she finds that politics is hard work, and merely willing isn’t enough. He is in deep blue funk, with writing going nowhere. Kids are alright, I guess. But the parents most definitely aren’t.
How about a more conventional couple? Both from straight forward middle class families. Met in their 20s through friends, and started seeing each other frequently, and then exclusively. He had an opportunity to move overseas for work. Marriage was the only way for them to be together, even though this meant an end to her career. A decade and three daughters later, she is mostly tired and bitter. Meanwhile, he wonders what might have been had they never met.
These are not isolated incidences. Whether in Desh or in the west, I see couples of my age and socioeconomic background, regardless of ethnicity or culture, in stale, unexciting marriages where no one is really at fault, where the fire of passion is buried in repressed memories and forced indifference. And these are the marriages that survive. Scarily, I joked recently with a friend that I am more likely now to attend a social shindig marking the end of someone’s marriage than a wedding!
What happens? In short, life. It’s hard to navigate the demands of modern life — finances needed for the standard of living we aspire to, but also the expectations of personal achievements we set ourselves, and then there is the social rat race that none of us are really immune from. All that before we throw in the curve ball of raising kids and the emotional and physical tolls that entail.
There is cricket in the subcontinent, and while it’s good see Bangladesh being competitive, nationalism often leaves me cold. There is, however, one part of life where I am, if not nationalist, quite parochial — the stronger sex. There is something about Bengali girls. As with many things, Satyajit Ray captures it brilliantly:
A Bengali girl once asked me why Uttam Kumar is so mean to Sharmila Tagore. I was surprised she hadn’t watched Nayak. I shouldn’t have been, as this is one of Ray’s lesser known gems. That’s a shame, because arguably it’s one of his best work.
Raj, the Desi guy in the sitcom Big Bang Theory, compliments his friend’s deductions in an episode as ….a regular Byomkesh Bakshi. Another friend quips — What’s that? An Indian Sherlock Holmes?, drawing Raj’s retort — Perhaps Holmes is an English Byomkesh Bakshi!
Of course, Holmes predates Bakshi by decades. And I have no idea how widely known Bakshi is outside of erstwhile Bengal. Or even among the Bengalis for that matter — growing up, I was certainly more familiar with Satyajit Ray’s Feluda than Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay’s satyanweshi (the seeker of the truth).
Perhaps this has changed with the recent films coming out of Kolkata and Bollywood?
I was 14 when a Dhanmondi girl first told me about Valentine’s Day — no, not asking me for a date, rather informing me about hers. In the quarter century since, in and out of relationships, the day has never really resonated with me. Call me unromantic? Not so fast. You see, I do love rom coms, particularly on the small screen.
And could there be a better show to showcase my case?