Upper Crust and Pie Crumbles

And what will the lady have?’- (Gentleman who works at the restaurant)

‘A Vegetarian Red Thai Curry please’-(Me)

‘Oh my so much food! Their servings are quite big, you sure you can finish the whole thing’ (Man)

–Gentleman brings a medium size bowl of red curry, Man buts in with comments like most Indians who have arrived (financially and socially) and can’t control their tongues-

‘This big bowl can feed your entire hostel (with big animated eyes as if he saw a pot of gold instead of the Thai curry) Where did you go to law school in India? Bhopal right? That tragedy struck city right?’

-Man starts talking to others on the table-

Felt like vomiting the thai curry on the Man  (Me)

Yes, the above conversation happened around 3-4 years ago on a rainy afternoon in an ambrosial Thai restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen (Don’t get me started on the terminology!) in New York. The monologue made me lose my appetite and took me as usual to my writer’s universe. Whenever I encounter such people who cannot get over themselves, I start to doodle and caricature them in my head. The Man was a top-level, polished and highly educated international diplomat. He belonged to the Lutyens Delhi breed of humans and wore this accomplishment on his suit. I am positive his suit must have costed the earth. He was in my lingo, the ‘Upper Crust Indian’! This is the highest level of crusts that an Indian can achieve. Solid education, solid ‘phoren’ education, solid marriage to a woman with incredible assets (financial and the not-so-financial bit), the solid oxford accent and of course the solid life in the Upper East Side. The only thing I felt wasn’t solid enough was his lack of awareness and sensitivity in the description of Bhopal and the gas tragedy that struck the beautiful city on the spine chilling night of December 3, 1984. Also, for some strange reason he thought we didn’t get enough food in my hostel. Anybody who went to my law school and stayed at the Girl’s Hostel are well aware of the quantity (not necessarily quality) of food that was available (they were stingy when we asked for second helpings of desserts). The fact that he worked for an organization that espoused peace, equality, rule of law and human rights was a contradiction to his nose-sniggering opinion. This isn’t uncommon and we Indians pride ourselves on climbing a mountain and mercilessly cutting down the ropeway for others.

How many of you have faced persecution at the hands of your own countrymen/women? I bet most of you. It was only while reading Giriraj Kishore’s Girmitiya Saga about the underpaid and overexploited laborers in South Africa in the early twentieth century that my flickering belief was confirmed. The moving book is poignant account of the journey of the Father of my nation from Mohanlal to Mohandas and eventually to Mahatma. The author without mincing words explicitly points out that Gandhiji’s establishments in South Africa such as Tolstoy Farm and Phoenix are in a shameful state of ruin and that the inter-squabbling among the Indian community in South Africa prevents any actual constructive work from taking place. This beautiful facet of ours welcomed invaders with open arms to ransack the country. We quite haven’t learnt the lessons of divide and rule.

On a deeper level of contemplation, the unhealthy competition and the constant ‘monkey minded’ urge to crush each other, is due to the survival instinct ingrained into our DNA by the incessant flow of invaders into the homeland. The need to survive is so ferocious that we are ready to root out any teeny-tiny possibility of healthy competition from our midst. It is not restricted only to the elusive phrase of healthy competition, it goes to all levels of the pie, whether you are a part of the ‘cherry’, ‘cream’, ‘cake’ or ‘crust’ you face a tempestuous level of psychological warfare. Readers might think it is a far too exaggerated account but trust me, anybody who has been desirous of being a somebody (a rather significant one) has faced the maximum backlash from their own countrymen/women and community. As a result brain drain isn’t a problem it is a consequence of the above mindset. This mindset doesn’t fortunately take one to an exalted level of being. One is left occupying either the upper crust or becoming a pie crumble, not an originalist who pushes for change for the better.

What would you pick? Part of a yummy dish or coming to terms of making the world a better and harmonious place to live in? Lets leave you with this.

Go to Matilda, She Knows.

Here it is, Nigel said.
Mrs D, Mrs I, Mrs FFI, Mrs C, Mrs U, Mrs LTY. That spells difficulty.’
‘How perfectly ridiculous!’ snorted Miss Trunchbull. ‘Why are all these women married?’

The above scene takes place when ‘the Trunch’ decides to teach Miss Honey’s class a lesson for putting a newt in her glass of water. Matilda, the book’s protagonist makes a spectacular show of her power of telekinesis and swoops ‘the Trunch’ in mockery and fear in front of the whole class. Miss Honey, like her sweet and feeble name, urges Matilda to control her powers so that she doesn’t end up in the ‘choky’, where all the ‘despicable’, ‘lilliputian’, ‘rugrats’ go for punishment.

Matilda is a beautiful and intelligent tale of a precocious child (6 and a half to be precise) gifted with extraordinary powers, who is not valued and loved by her own family. She finds comfort among books and wishes to meet people and have friends like the characters of her books. Mind you, it’s more than you read when you were 6 and a half. By the time she reaches 6 and a half, she has read and re-read most of the English classics that you forced yourself to rummage through in your reading class (provided you had one). Matilda goes to ‘Crunchem High’ (what names!) where Miss Trunchbull is the Headmistress and the lovely Miss Honey her class teacher. In the end Miss Honey and Matilda find an affectionate family in each other, with Miss Honey deciding to adopt Matilda, and both of them getting their happily ever after. Since Mr Wormwood was involved in the business of illegal spare car parts, the Wormwoods abscond to Guam for fear of being caught by the authorities. They happily agree to hand their ‘different’, ‘weird’ daughter to Miss Honey. Miss Trunchbull haunted by Matilda’s powers disappears into oblivion and never attempts to darken the corridors of her student’s lives again.

This wonderful story was made into a motion picture by Danny Devito (Yup! the same wiseacre from Batman Returns, The Rainmaker, Tin Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and many other prominent movies) in 1996. I remember it being screened in my school. The famous child actress Mara Wilson portrayed the role of Matilda Wormwood and Devito himself played the role of her father, Mr Wormwood. The movie is a stockpot of laughter, wisdom, humor and love trimmed with a great screenplay and perfect editing. Whenever I am down in the pits, I end up watching this movie, just to find solace in the fact that all of us have a hidden power waiting to be triggered. One just has to wait for the right moment. The seed that triggers Matilda’s telekinesis is the harsh way in which she is treated by the Wormwoods. A bibliophile like her is scolded for not watching adequate television, for reading ‘too much’, for wanting to go to school and obviously for being smart. Mr Wormwood’s retort- “I’m right and you’re wrong, I’m big and you’re small, and there’s nothing you can do about it,” wrenches Matilda to such a degree that she finally discovers her faculty to move objects (even people) as per her will. Armed with smarts, intelligence and telekinesis, she sets out to make right most of the wrongs in her life and in the lives of the people she loves.

The movie still crinkles my lips to smile and exude a homey feeling. How wonderful is childhood! you play in the mud, get yourself dirty and dream of the zillion almost impossible things that can happen in your make believe land. When you grow up, life is about a ‘suit’, aspirations are tailored to ‘suit the world’ and not yourself and life’s meaning is also ‘suited’ to those around you. There are many lessons to learn from the bright and affectionate Matilda. She believed in the stories she read and acted upon the lessons of goodness and bravery learnt from the classics. Matilda stood up for what is right and formulated her own sense of justice (Atta girl!). In a time when moral science has only become a subject taught in kindergarten without relevant application, such movies/books inspires kids and ‘grown-up-kids’ like me to think the unconventional and go the distance. In fact talk of being good and standing for what is honorable has become a laughing matter (No, I am not starting a sermon). Instances like these make me wonder that the reason the world has a vast repository of such charming parables is because the authors are unable to live those experiences in reality. I started this blog for my love of writing as it allows me to paint my own universe with multicolor hues. Most importantly, I hardly care whether somebody likes my universe or not.

  There are several reasons why I can relate to Matilda’s distaste for authority. I wasn’t a very obedient kid myself and would often end up in trouble at home and in school likewise. My parents have often been called to the Principal’s (she is the sweetest lady in the world) office on a number of occasions, primarily for telling them that their daughter is a chatterbox and that she could run her own talk show, without a guest that too (how I wish!). I was pathetic in mathematics in school (family gene) and barely passed the finals. Once the Principal told my dad that my relationship with numbers is rocky and needs severe mending. During a Physics viva for a final term paper, I peered through the physics lab onto the auditorium and kept staring at the stage (I had recently directed a play which was a mix of all the Grimm’s fairy tales) when the teacher, glared at me with a murderous look and chided-“My dear you don’t know the difference between a concave and convex lens because all you want to do is sing and dance all day”. With the cheeks turning into an embarrassed shade of crimson, I  hereon became watchful of curious eyes whenever I wafted into the creative universe of song, dance and theatre. The gang of trouble makers that I commandeered, were made to sit in different corners of the class as far away from each other as possible. Of course that never stopped us from flouting authority. I guess the tradition continued in law school and even in my career per se. Had I not been a lawyer and had we been living in medieval times, I am positive I would have made an excellent explorer or a legitimate vagabond (if there is such a term!), discovering new land and traversing limitless oceans. Aha! what a splendid life of discovery that would have been. I would have been a Marco Polo in my own right, peppered with a wee bit of our very own Ferdinand Magellan.

I turn to Roald Dahl for most of my answers in life. His statement espousing the importance of frivolity and nonsense rings a bell for the light hearted spirits. In a time when maturity and adulthood is becoming more of a headache than an answer to life’s problems, ‘a little nonsense now and then, ought to be cherished by the wisest men (and women)’. Roald Dahl himself was a trouble maker and lived with relatives who were greatly annoyed with him. All his famous stories such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr Fox, The BFG and Matilda have been my most cherished childhood stories. Even now, when I feel clobbered up in the stupidity of adulthood, I go to Roald Dahl to add zing to the mundane existence of donkey-hood survival. I took up law as a profession because I don’t have superpowers like Matilda to get justice. Law infact is more liberal and gives the felon a benefit of doubt to prove his/her side of the story. Matilda was merciless in meeting out punishment. If only I could twitch my nose and twinkle my eye to wrestle and arm tie the offenders, I am positive I would have turned out to be a bigger trouble maker than Matilda herself.

Before I end this midnight literary sojourn, I will quote a couple of my favorite lines  (almost a para actually) from the book-

From then on, Matilda would visit the library only once a week in order to take out new books and return the old ones. Her own small bedroom now became her reading-room and there she would sit and read most afternoons, often with a mug of hot chocolate beside her. She was not quite tall enough to reach things around in the kitchen, but she kept a small box in the outhouse which she brought in and stood on in order to get whatever she wanted. Mostly it was hot chocolate she made, warming the milk in a saucepan on the stove before mixing it. Occasionally she made Bovril or Ovaltine. It was pleasant to take a hot drink up to her room and have it beside her as she sat in her silent room reading in the empty house in the afternoons. The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She traveled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.

Go grab a copy of Matilda and discover the enchanting world of conviction, uprightness and telekinesis. (“wink”)