Monday, April 30, 2007

When i grow up....

Tomorrow's Labor Day. It's the day before i officially become one of the 'labor' - the kind that goes to an office every day at 10 am and stays there till about 8 pm, manages to do lots of things, all of which are totally mysterious. But, miraculously, they seem to be contributing to the GNP.

I have been a freelance writer for the better part of 4 years and before that, i have been a freelance assistant director for features, ad films, TV shows, etc. The word freelance is used a lot in my regular conversation, and when people ask me what i do, my usual response is, "I'm a (writer/director/actor/bartender) these days." They would give me a "you're so interesting" look, ask the basic questions to which i'd reply in my usual way ("yes, scripts.. screenplay.. films.. nothing you would have seen so far, it's all getting made... LOVELY weather we've been having, right??") we would laugh, and quickly we would move on to more tangible topics of conversation - like the latest war or Rupert Everett's sexy smile.

And i loved it. I lived in my favorite pair of jeans and sneakers, worked out of home which pretty much meant that i mastered flexitime, and couldn't be bothered about the impression i made on people so long as my work was impeccable. I would look down upon the "corporates" as people who barely saw anything beyond the four walls of their company, so completely imprisoned by who said what to whom, always huddled together in corners of bars talking about the skeletons in their bosses' or colleagues' closets, and who would laugh at jokes that weren't remotely funny. Me, I talked movies, and TV shows and knew what Mrs Jaya 'really' meant when she said something about Aishwarya. I could do what i wanted, when i wanted - i was the queen and mistress of all i surveyed - my time was truly my own, and a mid-afternoon movie mid-week wasn't a luxury. And someone was paying me to tell stories! Life couldn't get better.

Until i realised that there was a great price to pay for this exciting and volatile life. Somewhere in the vicinity of 700,000 bucks, to be precise, over the last 2 years. I was broke. Despite all the work i was doing, i wasn't seeing the paychecks i had earned. Producers just conveniently didn't take calls, IPR was just another meaningless collection of letters and 'the check is in the mail' was the cruel joke and it was on me.

So i capitulated. A job came along and someone put his faith in me. I took it up, promising to join from the first of May. All my friends congratulated me on a new life, new steps and new adventures (come on! How adventurous is going to work at an office after all?). I smile at them all, and yet i sense the underlying judgement that sounds something like "sellout." Or maybe that's just me. From being a bohemian raphsody, supremely arrogant of her choices, i have quickly morphed into someone who peddles her 'creativity' (probably non-existent) for the benefit of a faceless corporation.

And here i am, looking back on my ex-life with something that resembles nostalgia and a slight bitterness. Like looking from the outside in and wondering what went wrong. But more than that, i'm terrified that this new life, with its unique code of conduct, dress and language which will just strip me bare and expose that fact that i'm NOT creative, couldn't lead a team to save anyone's life and that i'm totally unemployable after all.

But atleast for a few months it'll be easier to introduce myself. "Hi, i'm Searcher, creative head, So and So company." That sounds allright then. But the big question remains - what do i wear??

Monday, April 23, 2007

Till Death Do Us 'Part? One can only hope.

So over the last couple of days, the whole marriage thing has been floating around a bit. And it's odd, because while i'm thinking that it's just one of those things, I observe that the Universe may just be lining up its stars to tell me something that i'm just not paying any attention to.

First, there was my grandmother calling me (she NEVER calls) telling me how she has set me up with some guy she's found out about who lives in the USA and who has a brother in Australia. Since when did people get married to someone based on the country of residence? No, i'm not being naive.... I know grooms and brides are sought after particularly if they happen to be in any of the First World countries, but we know that's not a marriage so much as a visa.

So anyway, about this guy. He's supposed to be absolutely perfect - settled (read as rich, has a green card, has a 6-digit dollar salary doing some IT/sales/marketing job in an international company), single (read as bored of chasing skirt and under pressure to provide the regulation bride and grandkids), etc etc. But how does one marry a stranger?

My friends seem to be facing this exact situation a lot these days. One of them is sure she won't marry a stranger. Her folks got her on to one of the matrimonial sites, and she met a few people, ended up falling for a few... but no marriage in site. After 6 months of dating, it's still "too early" to tell. The fact is, there's nothing to tell. They're still doing the dance that we're all tired of dancing - the reason one is going through the "for matrimonial purposes" exercise anyway.

Then i have my mother calling up - a veteran of two marriages. And it seems even she's pretty clueless. According to her, a marriage works only if two people trust and respect each other. After all, the age-old reasons for marriage seem to have been deemed redundant - financial security and sexual availability... and yes, family. But in today's changing world, women are earning enough to be independent, everyone's sexually active and women have been single parents for years already.

Then in today's paper, i read how, with lengthening paces in the world of scientific breakthrough, it's possible that sperms will soon be created out of bone marrow. No men needed. No mess, no heartache, no need for prozac. Yay.

And finally, all around me, my still-single and newly-single friends hurtle towards the wrong side of 30 or 35 or 40, wondering what went wrong. Why did that girl/ guy not love them enough/ not wait for them/ leave them/ cheat on them/ divorce them/ marry someone else, etc etc and why are they left on the sidelines, giving their all to keeping that smile pasted on their faces, while they watch someone else get their happily ever after?

I don't know what the Universe is trying to tell me. That time's running out? That we're lonely creatures of nature? I knew that a long time ago. But seriously, did it have to rub my nose in it?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Where would we be without our painful childhoods?

This was the question that Dr Finch, a psychiatrist, and an unforgettable character in the bestseller book (and now a motion picture) "Running with Scissors" asked Augusten (the writer) when he said, 'I don't fit in." We all have those days, but when you're younger, you have the capacity to feel every isolating moment in its purest agony., as the adult reflex of rationalising it hasn't yet kicked in. In those moments, it helps to have someone to blame. Augusten blamed his parents mostly (and yet didn't really), and i blamed mine.

When i was 13, my father left home and his family - his wife, and two kids - and went to NY, USA to study further. At the time, i thought it was just a short break, and soon he will return and we would go back to being the happy family that we had been (i mean, what are fights between parents, right? And hey, silent houses and non-conversation dinner tables are a small price to pay for having a dad and mom).

When the short break showed no sign of ending, I became worried that the reason my father was staying away was because when he had been here, he used to think that the only reason i talked to him was when i needed money to buy my small treats - candy, samosas, ice cream. I was hugely relieved when a few months later, my mom told me that we were all going to travel to the US, and start a new life with Dad. Maybe he had forgiven me.

Except, USA wasn't much fun. The place was cold, which probably made the people so too, and every evening there were the constant repetitive slightly drunken fights between mom, dad, my aunt and uncle (with whom we were staying in a 3-bedroom apartment that housed 4 adults, my brother, my three little cousins, a nanny and me). So when it became clear that this particular marital equation was not going to work, my mother made the very brave decision to return to India. With 15 year old me.

My father never let me forget it. He considered it the biggest betrayal that his daughter had committed against him - chosen MOM. In my head, it was the most practical decision - Dad had my brother, so Mom was going to have me. It was fair, right? Plus, Dad wasn't earning at all those days, so the idea of him supporting himself and two kids (one of them going to art school - my brother) was impossible. Plus i hated NY, hated the school there, the rules of existence ("don't stare at people, they will kill you!") that had been instilled into my young mind by my father and brother.

So when i returned to India, and home, and my school and friends, just a few months after leaving for another shore, i was relieved. I was happy. Except on those days when i would receive a letter from my father which would hold just the most awful things that he could think of writing to me - how i was selfish, didn't love him, how i was going to end up like my (shrewish) mother, how he was disappointed with me, etc. Let's just say, the fragile bonds of a father-daughter relationhsip were being frayed beyond repair. And we stopped writing to each other.
My mother continued living a half life, living with increasingly resentful in-laws who kept finding ways and means of throwing us out of the house, not earning enough to be able to move out, evading all "how's your husband?" questions with "he's fine" answers and when my father found someone else, and chose to break the news to my mother - bravely - through me, I held my mother as she wept in my arms. That was the day i knew i hated him.

Six years later, when i was in University, doing my Masters, my father dropped back into my life. He wanted to build bridges, held me and sobbed on my shoulder, telling me how thrilled he was to see me, how happy that i had become 'such a gorgeous lady', probably not quite fathoming the fact that he was a total stranger to me. But he tried a lot - gave me money to support myself through the lean beginning years of my work life, contributed finances towards buying my house and partly furnishing it. In exchange (and it always felt like that), i pretended to participate in the "we are fa-mi-lie" role play.

This entire thing probably goes to explain why in my own personal relationships, i am torn in two different directions - the desire to settle down and have a family that sticks together, and yet running at the first sign of committment. I look for father figures in my professional life, from whom i'm constantly seeking approval and hate rocking the boat, I have ill-advised relationships with highly inappropriate people, and torment myself with feelings of guilt and inadequacy when those relationships don't work out. Unfortunately, I don't see a way out of it, as i really have no frame of reference.

So boo-hoo.

Until i come across "Running with Scissors" about a childhood that is truly unbelievable. Born into a family with an alcoholic father, a psychotic mother with delusions of her creative genius who finally gives him up to the care and welfare of her freaky shrink, who defrauds his patients because of his own IRS woes, and his fucked up family where each one would be a separate tome in the psychobabble library of woes. And at the tender age of 15, when no child should be asked to make a decision of that magnitude, he decides to leave it all behind, and chase his dreams of being a writer in New York.

I like those kind of stories. Not just for the resonance that i sense - in some alternate part of me - but also for the fact that these are the true heroes of our time. In an age of technologically isolating lifestyles, where all one seems to have are memories of what one was and what one thought they would be, people who manage to survive their childhoods, and come out the stronger for it, are the ones who need to be applauded.

Augusten came out of it with a bestseller book. Hopefully i'll come out of it with something just as cool.