Induced Catalysis Podcast – The Pursuit of Happiness

This is a transcript for Episode #2 – The Pursuit of Happiness of the Induced Catalysis Podcast. In this episode, I share my thoughts on how you can try to figure out what makes you happy, how you can try and motivate yourself to work on these things and stay accountable to yourself.

Disclaimer: Before we start off with today’s episode, I just want to put out this disclaimer that everything that I’m talking about today is based on my own personal experiences and I’m not really looking at giving out advice of any sort.

I’d like to start off today’s episode with a quote by John Lennon. He says and I quote, “When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy‘. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” As much as I like John Lennon and his music, I find it hard to believe that he was this articulate at the age of five, but it definitely makes for a good story, and it also gives us the topic for today’s episode.

Around a year ago, in June 2019, I moved to Mumbai for my first job. I was almost 25 then and by my own weird definition of the word, I felt like my life was ‘sorted’. Because for the first time in my life, I didn’t have an immediate goal to strive towards. Up until that point in my life, everything had been fairly straightforward. It was like a road and there were various milestones that I had to clear one after the other. Tenth standard, twelfth standard, engineering, MBA, placements. And suddenly, I was at the end of this road.

I had always thought that after reaching this point, I would be happy. I had achieved (to a fair degree) everything that I had set out to achieve in life. I was living in a nice part of Bombay, working in a good company, earning a decent salary that allowed me to buy the things that I wanted to. And I thought that this would be all that I needed to be happy. But now that I was here, I realized that I wasn’t happy at all. In fact, I felt pretty lost and aimless.

Over the past year, I have realised something about happiness and how it works. The syntax for happiness isn’t ‘If I get xyz, I will be happy.’ You might be tempted to think in that way. You might think that happiness lies just around the corner – that landing that dream job or buying that new car is going to make you happy. But that kind of happiness is extremely short-lived. It’ll be gone before you can even savour that feeling properly.

But we always tend to think along those lines. Last summer, when I was overweight, I constantly told myself that all I needed to do was lose 10 kilos and I would feel happy. So I hit the gym, watched my diet and tracked my weight like a maniac. I did lose 10 kilos and I did feel happy at that point of time. But at the same time, it’s not a permanent state of mind. Once you reach ‘x’, your mind automatically sets a new target for yourself, ‘y’. And the cycle just repeats. Over and over and over again.

So I sat down long and hard to try and figure out what exactly ‘sparked joy‘ for me.  And after giving it a fair amount of thought, I’ve figured out that, for me, happiness isn’t about reaching a particular destination. But rather, as the cliche goes, it’s about the journey. And once you make it about the journey, it can be extremely satisfying because the journey, by definition, doesn’t have to culminate at a particular point. It can be never-ending. So I’ve zeroed in on the two things that make me happy.

The first is learning and growing. I’m someone who gets a huge kick out of learning something new. I love being able to do something today that I wasn’t able to do yesterday. As a result, I’m constantly on the lookout for new things to learn. This can take various shapes and forms – it could be something as simple as learning new chords and strumming patterns on the guitar so that I can play a new song every week or it could be about improving my Mandarin vocabulary and learning new characters. Sometimes, it could be just reading a book or listening to an interesting podcast.

When you’re learning something new, very often, the learning curve can be incredibly steep and it’s easy to get dejected. And whenever, I find myself in that state of mind, there’s this song by Macklemore called ‘Ten Thousand Hours’ and there are two lines in it that I really like – ‘The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint. The greats were great ’cause they paint a lot.‘ And that’s the thing really, you might not see progress immediately but keep at it and you eventually will.

And the other thing that makes me happy is connecting with people. Again, this could be in different ways – it could be through my blog posts, it could be through this podcast or even through my half-baked attempts at stand-up comedy. I love the feeling when someone actually takes the time and effort to read my posts. It gets even better and more fulfilling when they say that they could actually relate to what I was saying.

I think it’s very important to figure out what makes you happy so that you can focus your time and effort in pursuing that. You might be someone who loves dancing. But there are so many aspects to that – Do you get joy out of performing on stage? It could be about learning new steps and improving your technique. Or it could just be about being in the moment and losing track of everything else while you’re dancing. So try and figure out what exactly makes you happy. You probably already have a fairly good idea about this.

Deep down inside, I think all of us have these ambitions, dreams and projects that we want to pursue. But there is this inertia that holds us back. And as a result, we grow so accustomed to putting off these dreams. We procrastinate, we wait for a better day and we make excuses to ourselves. Very often, I think it’s because we’re afraid. We’re afraid of trying and failing, of coming face to face with dejection. It’s much easier and more comforting to think that I could have done this if I wanted to. And as a result, we put them off thinking that, “I will do it later on when I get more time or when the right opportunity comes by.”

The same thing happened with me and this podcast. I kept telling myself that there was no point in trying to make a podcast because I didn’t have proper equipment. I continued doing this for more than a year until one day, I snapped and decided to just get it done with. I recorded the first episode of this podcast on my phone and just uploaded it. And it felt amazing. The fact that I had finally acted on something that had been in hibernation for so long.

And once you actually start, things get easier. No matter what you want to try or what you want to learn about – there is a plethora of resources online. Pretty much all of humanity’s collective wisdom and knowledge is at your fingertips. And more often than not, we don’t do justice to this fact.

I’m not denying that it’s a struggle to break out of our comfort zones. But I try and ask myself everyday, ‘What have you done today to take yourself closer to your dreams?’ It doesn’t have to be anything spectacular. But the small steps add up over time and it’s important that you do something everyday. Sometimes for me, it might be something very simple like cooking my own dinner instead of ordering in from Swiggy or Zomato. I tell myself that with every meal that I eat at home, I am essentially buying myself a meal for next year or whenever I eventually go off on my backpacking trip to China.

I’ve also noticed that it’s easier to get things done early in the morning. I’ve set myself a routine – I wake up in the morning and begin work on my Mandarin lessons. This ensures that even if I have a long day at work and I’m too tired to do anything at night, I don’t have to feel guilty about not studying. Another rule that has helped me is the ‘two day rule‘. I came across this concept in a YouTube video by Matt d’Avella. It’s very simple – you never go two days in a row without working on whatever you’re trying to accomplish. It’s okay to not go to the gym because you’re feeling tired today. But you have to push yourself to go tomorrow at all costs, because missing two days in a row is simply not done. This simple rule helps me stay accountable to myself and keep things going.

That’s pretty much all that I wanted to share in today’s episode and in conclusion, I urge you to try and do something small today, no matter how insignificant it might seem because it all adds up in the long run.

You might want to check out this book, ‘Atomic Habits’ by James Clear. The book has a lot of handy ideas and techniques that help you build and maintain good habits that stick with you. It also explains how you can work on getting rid of bad habits. I read it and loved it. Maybe you might feel the same…

Book Review: Coming Out As Dalit

Ever since I read The Essential Writings of BR Ambedkar last summer, I’ve been trying to read Bahujan literature in order to learn more about the caste system and how it continues to affect the lives of millions of people in India. It is perhaps disheartening that many of us know more about movements like #BlackLivesMatter than about the injustice and atrocities that are being perpetuated in our own country.

I recently read somewhere online that systemic racism doesn’t imply that the system is full of racists. Rather it means that the system leads to differential outcomes based on race. In India, the same can be said about the caste system. The below passage from Coming Out As Dalit highlights how systemic casteism plays out in India:

To quote directly from the book’s inner jacket, ‘In Coming Out As Dalit, Yashica Dutt recounts the exhausting burden of living with the secret and how she was terrified of being found out. She talks about the tremendous feeling of empowerment she experienced when she finally stood up for herself and her community and shrugged off the fake upper-caste identity she’d had to construct for herself.’

I found the book to be incredibly engaging right from the very beginning. In the prologue, Yashica shares how she came across Rohith Vemula’s letter when the news of his suicide broke out in 2016. Latter when she comes across his photo, she suddenly realizes that she’s seen the same photo before. He had sent her a friend request on Facebook two weeks before he committed suicide. ‘And I had deleted THAT request, I thought with dismay, a request from someone in whose life I so easily saw my own.’ Soon after this, she started a Tumblr page called ‘Documents of Dalit Discrimination‘ in which she shared her own experiences as well as published the stories of many others who wanted their stories to be heard and shared.

A topic that often comes up in the book is that of reservations in educational institutions and government jobs. She highlights how students who avail reservations are often mocked, ridiculed and made to feel unwelcome. In her words, ‘But most Indians failed to see the irony in demanding compensation for nearly 200 years of colonial rule while refusing any reparation for thousands of years of discrimination against their own citizens.’ She quotes senior policy analyst Shikha Dalmia, ‘If paying collective reparations for collective guilt is appropriate then how about India ‘atoning’ for thousands of years of its caste system?’ Dutt brings this up in the context of Shashi Tharoor’s famous Oxford University debate which went viral in 2015.

While studying at IIFT Delhi, I have seen for myself how, within the first few weeks of joining, many of my batch-mates used the campus portal to look up everyone’s entrance exam percentiles. They used this information to figure out which students had availed of reservation. Many of them would later go on to bitch about these students during drinking sessions while complaining about how unfair the system was and about how some people had it ‘easy’.

I recommend this book for the extremely simply but powerful way in which Yashica Dutt puts her point across about so many social issues. And yet the book feels incredibly personal. By the end of it, you can’t help but feel like you know her a bit.

Movie Review: Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro

When I was in school, we had to study a short story by Khushwant Singh titled, Portrait of a Lady. I love how it opens with the following lines:

My grandmother, like everybody’s grandmother, was an old woman. She had been old and wrinkled for the twenty years that I had known her. People said that she had once been young and pretty and had even had a husband, but that was hard to believe. My grandfather’s portrait hung above the mantelpiece in the drawing room. He wore a big turban and loose-fitting clothes. His long, white beard covered the best part of his chest and he looked at least a hundred years old. He did not look the sort of person who would have a wife or children. He looked as if he could only have lots and lots of grandchildren. As for my grandmother being young and pretty, the thought was almost revolting. She often told us of the games she used to play as a child. That seemed quite absurd and undignified on her part and we treated it like the fables of the Prophets she used to tell us.

Similarly, I sometimes find it hard to wrap my head around the fact that my parents and grandparents used to be young once upon a time. Even if I were to picture them as kids, I can only do so in black and white. I can’t imagine them growing up in a world that had colours in it. Watching movies like Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro has a somewhat similar effect on me. I find it almost preposterous to think that oldies like Naseeruddin Shah and Neena Gupta were also once young and full of life. For me, it’s hard to shake off the image of Naseeruddin Shah playing the role of the old drunkard from Iqbal.

The movie is over the top, outlandish, improbable but somehow, it still works! It’s a brilliant satirical take on corruption in Indian society. Although the movie was released almost four decades ago, it is still as (if not more) relevant today as it was back then.

There is one scene in the movie that really captures the essence of the movie. In the scene, a new bridge is being inaugurated by Tarneja, a corrupt builder, played by Pankaj Kapoor. During the inauguration, he says, ‘Yeh pul sirf ek pul nahi hai. Yeh laakhon logon ka sapna hai. Aur kai gareeb log ek din is pul ke neeche apna ghar basaayenge.‘ (This bridge is not just a bridge. For lakhs of people, it’s a dream come true. And one day, many poor people will build their homes under this bridge.)

At the inauguration, another guest goes on to say this about the late Municipal Commissioner after whom the bridge is being named, ‘Unhone ek hi morche pe itne mahaan kaam kiya. Aur woh morcha hai… GUTTER! D’Mello saab aksar kaha karte the – Kisi desh ki pehchaan agar kisi cheez se hoti hai, toh woh hai GUTTER. Woh gutter ke liye jeeye, aur gutter ke liye mare. Marte marte, unke aakhri shabd thhe GUTTER. Hum unke yaad mein ek din ke liye sheher ke saare gutter band kardenge. Isliye aap logon se praarthana hai ki aap log peene ka paani ek din pehle bhar ke rakhe.’ I have no words to describe the brilliance of this one scene, the effect of which is heightened by the thunderous applause that this announcement is met with.

There is yet another dialogue that had me chuckling. The character Ahuja (played by Om Puri) says this about his business rival, ‘Hum cement mein raith milaate hai. Woh toh raith mein cement milaata hai. Pul toh tootega hi!’ (I mix sand into cement. He mixes cement into sand. It’s no wonder that the bridge collapsed!)

In my opinion, there’s also something magical about seeing the old Bombay in these old movies. I find it fascinating to see sights that I am familiar with in a somewhat different era and setting. It evokes a weird sense of loss for what once was. (I recently saw Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai, another movie set in Bombay, to which there is a tongue-in-cheek reference in this movie.)

Another aspect of the movie that really caught my attention was how the two principal characters are extremely hesitant to travel without a ticket on a local train. This, after a drunk policeman waylays them in the middle of the night and relieves them of all the money in their pockets! This stands out in stark contrast to how the editor of a newspaper famous for exposing corruption is willing to accept hush money.

In conclusion, if you’re in the mood for a dark satire with over the top antics and some rib-tickling dialogues, you really should watch the movie. You won’t regret it one bit. I could literally have gone on and on about some of the dialogues from JBDY, but then that would kill all the fun for you!

My Weight Loss Journey: From 91 kilos to 78 kilos

After completing my MBA, I returned home to Trivandrum on March 1, 2019. Over the course of my MBA, I had gained almost 10 kilos. It’s not like I hadn’t realized that I was putting on a lot of weight. I just didn’t have the time to deal with it when I was studying at IIFT. Or at least, that’s what I kept telling myself. All those late night booze parties and cheese Maggis had definitely taken a toll on my body.

By the end of 2018, I had started hating myself for how much weight I had gained. Every time I looked in the mirror, I would get pissed at myself. I hated posing for photos. I dreaded wearing formals at college because I was afraid my tummy and man boobs would show.

Even if I managed to get over how I was feeling, I would always get reminded about my weight gain in some way or the other.

My plan was to start working on losing weight as soon as I got home after my MBA. I began by cutting down on snacking and junk food. I ate healthy meals and tried to limit my carb intake. Lunch was mostly a cup of rice that I would measure out for myself. Dinner was two chapatis or fish/chicken salad. If I felt hungry between meals, I would have fruits.

To keep myself motivated, I started following a subreddits related to fitness like r/fitness and r/bodyweightfitness. Reading about other people’s weight loss journeys and seeing their before/after photos gave me a lot of confidence. I kept telling myself, ‘If so many other people could do it, so can you.’

Things got really scary when I tested my blood sugar and lipids. I was only 24 and my cholesterol and blood sugar levels were messed up. This made me even more determined to get fitter.

I joined Gold’s Gym and went there regularly (almost everyday) for 3 months (from April to June 2019). At the gym, I would do some light cardio to start off my sessions followed by 45 minutes of weight training. I’d mostly do upper body-lower splits. In addition to this, I would go jogging at the Museum grounds in Trivandrum as often as I could. By June, I managed to shed around 8 kilos.

I would obsessively track my weight on a daily basis using the Libra app. It’s very useful because it plots a trend line based on the weighted average of the weights that you log in the app. It smooths out the daily fluctuations in your weight and gives you a pretty good idea of where you’re headed.

In July, I moved to Mumbai. It took me some time to get settled into a routine here. I joined a gym (Thera, Lower Parel) that also offered cardio kickboxing and yoga sessions. I’d do kickboxing twice a week, yoga once a week and do weights on the remaining days. The kickboxing sessions were a lot of fun and I could see for myself how I was getting stronger. I’d also supplement my gym sessions with regular jogging sessions at Worli Seaface.

Within six months, I was able to bring about a sea change in my cholesterol and blood sugar values.

It’s been more than a year since I started off on my weight loss and fitness journey. I have lost 13 kilos and gained a ton of confidence. More than the weight loss itself, the fact that I am now stronger, healthier and capable of doing things that I couldn’t do a year makes me incredibly happy. The joy that comes out of being able to wear clothes that you wore back in your second or third year of engineering is indescribable!

Since the lock-down kicked in, I haven’t really been working out much but even then, I’m glad that I haven’t gained back any of the weight that I’ve lost.

Aamis: Not quite like The Lunchbox

I have been meaning to watch Aamis for a while, ever since my Twitter friend @BrutuTweets posted a recommendation a couple of months back. I finally got around to watching it today after my friend NKV posted about it in one of our WhatsApp groups.

Warning: This post may contain spoilers. Also, certain aspects of the movie might make you squeamish.

Aamis is a 2019 Assamese film written and directed by Bhaskar Hazarika. The basic premise of the movie is pretty straightforward. A young PhD student Sumon and a married paediatrician Nirmali meet and strike a friendship that is built over a shared interest in eating fresh and exotic meat dishes. They start off with rabbit meat, but then move on to increasingly taboo sources of protein.

I loved the opening shot in which this particular portable radio player is shown. We had the same one at home. It was extremely cool – with a hand crank that you could wind to recharge it. Seeing it brought back a lot of memories from my childhood – of how we’d sit on the stairs outside the front door and listen to the radio during power cuts; of my mother singing along with the radio in the mornings while making breakfast.

When they first meet, Sumon complains to Nirmali, ‘These days people put anything in their mouths. Not knowing where the meat came from, how it was stored or how old it is.’ This brought to mind a dialogue from the Malayalam novel ‘Verukal’ in which the protagonist Raghu takes his four year old son to his native village.

Similar to how Raghu’s children seemed to be losing touch with their roots, we also tend to forget how food reaches our plates.

My parents often tell me how eating meat was usually restricted only to special occasions such as Christmas and Easter while they were growing up. Chicken was sometimes served when guests came over – a chicken would be freshly killed and cooked. Nowadays, we’ve reached a point where we eat meat at almost every meal. The act of killing is far removed from actually eating meat, especially if you pick up shrink-wrapped broiler chicken from a supermarket. However there is truth in Nirmali’s remark, ‘Who has the time for all this? We have hectic schedules’.

The chemistry between the two is brought out nicely right from their first meeting. I also loved the small town vibes that are depicted in the visuals – they kept reminding of things back home in Trivandrum.

As the movie progresses, it forces you to try and answer certain difficult questions such as How do you decide what kinds of meat are ‘normal’? What you consider normal might seem disgusting to someone from a different culture or background. The scene in which they eat bat meat really drove that home. It reminded me of all the xenophobic and hateful messages that popped up in the aftermath of the Corona pandemic.

I took this photo of live scorpions on display in a market during my trip to China in 2018. I couldn’t muster the courage to try eating them…

During one of their outings in search of exotic meat, Sumon tells Nirmali that to really savour the taste of meat, you must eat with your hands. Nirmali disagrees though because it makes her feel uncomfortable.I’m with Sumon on this though. In my opinion, eating with your hands hits home different and food tastes infinitely better. Since moving out of Kerala, I’ve noticed from my personal experience in Mumbai and Delhi that eating (rice) with your hands is frowned upon. A professor at IIFT went so far as to say, ‘Eating with your hands is dirty. These South Indians do it though.’ This really ticked me off and I retorted, ‘Haan, sir. Aap toh roti spoon se khaate ho na?’

The movie manages to breach the topic of cannibalism in a delicate manner. Never at any point does it feel even remotely gimmicky or over the top. If it’s okay to donate a liver or kidney to someone that you love and care about, is donating your flesh all that different? At the same, these parts of the movie made me feel extremely squeamish but isn’t that the whole point? A movie should be able to make you feel something!

These scenes reminded me of The Lunchbox in some ways…

One scene that really stayed with me was the scene in which Nirmali repeatedly uses mouthwash in an attempt to get rid of the taste in her mouth. It reminded me of the famous line from Macbeth, ‘All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.’

I’m not sure if certain aspects of the movie draw inspiration from the story featured in the folk song ‘Paar Chanaa De‘. As described on, ‘Mahiwal, at this point in his life, was poor. He did not have enough money to properly feed his Sohni. On one such night when Sohni was going to come, Mahiwal realized that he had no food to feed her. Without thinking, he carved a piece of his thigh. Without telling his beloved of his pain, he swam a part of the way to her wearing dark clothes so the blood would not show. Sohni ate the meager banquet laid before her with great relish that he prepared this meal out of love for her.’

I love watching movies in a language that I can’t comprehend. It forces me to look out for non-verbal cues more.
When the movie ends, you are not surprised. It was always obvious that this wasn’t one of those movies with a happy ending…

To conclude, I would recommend that you watch this movie for the chemistry that blossoms between Sumon and Nirmali and for that shell-shocked feeling that it leaves you with.

You can watch Aamis at by paying Rs. 99.

It’s not a joke, da! It’s my life!

Since 2015, I’ve described myself as ‘an aspiring stand-up comedian’ to my close friends and on my Tinder bio. During my first trimester at IIFT, I even spent a couple of sleepless nights making a video in which I try to convincingly lie about how stand-up was my lifelong passion – all in an attempt to land a summer internship at GCPL. (I never landed the internship though…)

To be honest, I have tried my hand at performing stand-up whenever an opportunity came up while I was doing my undergrad at CET. Back then however, opportunities in Trivandrum were few and far between.

(The above video is from an event in 2017, when I was cooling my heels in Trivandrum, before moving to Bombay for work.)

I have tried my hand at a couple of open mics in Bombay (without much success). And given how the lock-down doesn’t look like it’s going to be lifted anytime soon here, I thought I might as well put up some random jokes/observations up on this blog. I have nothing to lose, am I right?

So here goes nothing…

During my placement interview back in college, I made it very clear to the interview panel that I wasn’t interested in a conventional nine to five job. They seemed keen on hiring me and said they’d be willing to give me some amount of flexibility with respect to working hours. Things are good now. I work from nine thirty to five thirty instead.

I find Hindi extremely tricky. I find the whole ‘gender’ concept extremely confusing. The other languages that I can speak (English and Malayalam) have done away with such pointless frivolity. To highlight just how difficult Hindi can be at times, a moving scooter would be described as ‘Scooter chal raha hai’ whereas for a motorcycle, the equivalent would be ‘Motorcycle khadi hai’. In an attempt to recall this better, I force myself to picture scooters with dicks and motorcycles with boobs. It’s probably not the best system but it totally works.

I love reading. I read everything that I can lay my hands on – such as ingredients in my shampoo, the nutritional benefits of eating 15 grams of Lays and the instructional booklet that comes inside a box of condoms. Sometimes people write the most fuck-all things like the folks who think it’s important to print ‘This is not a toy’ on plastic packaging. But sometimes, people can write the darndest statements. I once used a urinal which had this written right above it – ‘The future of India is now in your hands’. So fucking profound, so many interpretations.

Engineers are shmucks – they almost never do any real engineering. All that education gone to waste. You know who I respect? Doctors. What they learn is real. And moreover, they can carry over whatever they learn on the job to their daily lives as well. Take for instance, my paediatrician friend. When scared children visit his clinic for vaccinations, he has this way of reassuring them. “Don’t worry, I’m going to poke you with a tiny needle. You will barely feel anything and I’ll be done in a minute.” Coincidentally, this is what he tells his wife as well.

I love Bombay. It’s such a cosmopolitan city. ‘It is a veritable melting pot of cuisines from all over India. There is something in here for everyone.‘ Once you’ve been to Bombay, it’s so hard to live anywhere else. I was recently travelling long distance by train – going back to Trivandrum. The train had one of those new-fangled, eco-friendly bio-toilets, in which the poop isn’t just dumped onto the tracks. Instead, it has been efficiently designed so that a pool of sewage collects around your feet. And it’s funny how that bio-toilet reminded me of Bombay. ‘It was literally a melting pot of cuisines from all over India. I’m not sure if it had something in it for everyone but it definitely looked like there was something in it from everyone!’

That’s all, folks!

(The title of this post is inspired by my friend Abhishek, who would get offended whenever we laughed at the comical incidents that he would narrate. And he’d remark in exasperation, ‘Don’t laugh, dude. For you, it might be a joke. For me, it’s my life’.)

CureFit: Gamification during the lock-down

Mathilukal: Not Exactly A Movie Review

Growing up in Kerala, I always knew that Adoor Gopalakrishnan was a big deal but somehow, I never took out the time to watch any of his films. Mostly because I thought they’d be dry and beyond my comprehension. Interestingly, I once met Adoor Gopalakrishnan at Chaitanya Eye Hospital, Trivandrum when I was around 8 years old. He smiled at me and remarked to my mother, “Mon sherikkum vaayikum, alle?” (Your son reads a lot, doesn’t he?)

Recently one of my friends on Twitter (not exactly sure who it was, think it must have been Brutu) shared a scene from Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s movie ‘Mathilukal’. In the scene, Basheer (played by Mammooty) is informed that he has been released from prison and that he can return to the ‘free world’. Mammooty scoffs and replies with disdain, “What free world? You’re just shifting me to a bigger jail out there. Who wants freedom?” My curiosity was really piqued by just this one scene. I felt like watching more especially since those lines really seemed to hit home, given how we are all locked up at home right now because of the Corona pandemic.

In my opinion, one interesting aspect of the movie is how the character Narayani is never shown on screen. (Narayani is a female prisoner with whom Mammooty’s character strikes up a friendship (or a relationship of sorts). They have regular conversations with each other even though they are physically separated by the walls of the prison compound.) I think leaving Narayani to the viewer’s imagination is a masterstroke because the viewer creates an image of her according to his/her ideals of beauty. This reminds me of how some stage productions of Macbeth choose to have Macduff’s children killed off-stage to heighten the gruesomeness and depravity of their murders. In cinema and theatre, I’ve noticed that leaving things to the viewer’s imagination has a very strong effect if executed properly. Another scene that comes to mind is a scene from Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, where a young Milkha Singh hears his elder sister being assaulted at the refugee camp. The act isn’t actually shown on screen, but we hear what happens. This is one of the most disturbing scenes I’ve ever seen in a mainstream Bollywood movie.

While watching Mathilukal, I couldn’t help but wonder how absolutely endearing Mammooty’s character is. This caught me by surprise, because you would expect a prisoner who constantly receives preferential treatment would come to be hated by his fellow prisoners. But somehow, he manages to win them all over with his affable manner. To conclude, the movie is a delightful watch and I would highly recommend it, especially since the lock-down is in place.

‘Train rukne ke baad utroge kya?’

I’m sure it takes time to find one’s bearings in any new city, but Mumbai is a tough nut to crack. I’m assuming that in most other cities, knowing the name of a particular area ought to be enough to find your way there. But not in Mumbai, where each and every locality is suffixed with either an East or a West. And these four letters could cost you a couple of hours in traffic. Unfortunately I learned this the hard way, as I tend to do whenever presented with an opportunity.

Everyone you meet in Mumbai will ask you (the outsider) a set of questions to calculate your GQ (Gullibility Quotient) – which in turn, determines how much of a chutiya you are. Some popular questions include “How much rent do you pay? What is the area of your flat? How far is the local station from your flat? How much do you pay your maid?” I have been told by certain people that I have a fairly high GQ. I beg to differ though.

Travelling in the local trains is an extremely empowering experience. During rush hour, when I get a thorough full body massage, I console myself thinking about how much money I saved by taking the train instead of Uber. It helps immensely if you have the ability to hold your breath for three minutes – to deal with the stinky armpit that your face is inevitably going to get shoved into. Just don’t forget to take in extra deep breaths of fresh air when the train halts at stations.

I like danglin’ out of slow trains
‘Cause it doesn’t remind me of anything

To establish your presence as an alpha male, never forget to ask the following question to anyone standing between you and the door as the train pulls into the station, “Train rukne ke baad utroge kya?” It is best delivered in a menacing tone which subtly hints that you have been known to shove people off the train at the slightest provocation. I haven’t had the opportunity to deliver this dialogue yet, in real life. (I have practised it to perfection, in my head though.) I don’t think I can either. Not with a straight face – because, as radical as it may seem, in my hometown, it is considered absolutely normal behaviour to wait for the train to come to a halt before attempting to disembark!

I have noticed that hairy old uncles standing at the train door have this annoying way of muttering, “Yeh first class hai” when I board the first class compartment in my ratty t-shirt and tracks. At first, I used to get a kick out of saying, “Pata hai” but maybe I should do one better. “Sorry uncle, I was in a hurry. Aapko dekh ke laga ki yeh second class compartment hai.” Or maybe I should stand at the door and give out PSAs myself (“Uncle, yeh first class hai”), especially to the well-dressed ones.

Six months into life in Mumbai, and I feel like a proper Mumbaikar. I can now find my way in the city on my own. I’ve reached a stage where I’m thinking of uninstalling m-indicator. Isn’t that the litmus test for judging if one is new to the city?

Related Reading: Check out Suketu Mehta’s ‘Maximum City’. A nice read on trying to fit into Mumbai. You can also take a look at Shantaram.

Book Review: Americanah | Extremely relatable on many levels

I just finished reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘Americanah’ this morning. It’s one of the many books that I bought off a sale at Flipkart. Before buying it, I had never even heard of it, but decided to go ahead with the purchase because it was being sold dirt-cheap.

On some level, I found the book similar to Murakami’s works in the sense that the central theme explored human relationships and how they change, especially as you grow up. However, several other themes come into play in this book – most notably, race.

I found the book and its principal characters (Ifemelu and Obinze) extremely relatable. On some level, I could understand Obinze’s obsession with America and his dogged determination to experience the American life. Very often, I feel frustrated with life here in Mumbai and wonder what it would be like to experience life as an expatriate in some other country. In my case, my attentions are focused on China for the time-being. (I am learning Mandarin at the moment!)

Ifemelu encounters race when she moves from Nigeria to America. For the first time in her life, she realizes that she is black. When I moved from Trivandrum to Delhi for my MBA a couple of years back, I felt something similar. From being surrounded by Malayalis, I went to being a ‘Mallu’ in a so-called cosmopolitan city. Everyone that I met measured me in terms of my Mallu Quotient. “You don’t have a Mallu accent. Did you grow up in the Gulf?” “Can I borrow some of your coconut oil?” “I like Mallus. I had many Mallu friends back in engineering college. They all smoke up a lot” I found most of this amusing. What bugged me was how nobody seemed to know anything about the geography of South India! (“You’re from Kerala, na? Which part? Are you from Chennai? I’ve been there” )

I could also relate to how Ifemelu feels like an outsider, both back home in Nigeria (where she is considered an Americanah) and in the US (where she is an American African, rather than an African American). I sometimes feel like I don’t truly belong either in Mumbai or Trivandrum. I’m stuck in limbo, somewhere in between – neither here nor there.

All in all, Americanah was an extremely enjoyable read. Highly recommended! I’ve decided to give Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s other books a shot as well.