8AM Metro: A treat for the soul

I had just completed watching Dahaad and particularly impressed by the acting of Gulshan Devaiah. I had watched Choked earlier of Saiyami Kher. The trailer of 8Am Metro showed trains and rains. All of it together, seemed like enough reason to go watch the film.  To get back to theatre since the pandemic, grief and loss.  

A sparsely occupied theatre often times is the sign of a really good, relevant, non-opulent movie. That’s my kind. Devoid of the pretence of a glittering glamorous world where good wins over evil by engaging in bloody battles, and they live happily ever after. I like films that go beyond the popular and the binary.

The film was an absolutely joy in its celebration of the mundane, of commonness, of the unpredictable sources of unconditional understanding that still makes us hopeful. Sprinkled all over with the beautiful poetry by Gulzaar saab. So many times I wanted to rewind back so that I could hear the poem once again.

This story is about the many faces of love. Our society burdens love. There are layers and layers of prescription on what, whom and how to love, what is acceptable, pre-fabricated expectations just like schooling, what to become in life, the successful images of a happy family where everything fits into pre-existing slots. The relationships become so stretched, subjected to litmus tests over and over again, that the radiation harms more than the disease, that it continuously snaps at the seams, resembling a worn out sheet, patched several times over. And worse still, it undermines friendship. Once married, that role assigns and dominates the place of all other relationships.

The story unfolds during the commute by metro train. The conversations happen openly in public, not exclusive or clandestine, as two strangers find solace in the supposedly temporary acquaintance, admitting their vulnerability, fears, and why admittance is such a struggle. Mental health, depression, panic attack, being suicidal, the story bares it all, for the society to open its eyes to why does it happen, why it must not be hushed, why it is not a dead-end, there is cure, there is help, there is understanding, there is empathy, if only we allow it to emerge from under the carpet and accept it as something that happened, accept the triggers and trauma and acknowledge our responsibility in making mental health an open topic of conversation.

Why do we feel we need to hide spending time with someone other than the spouse? Why do we make that relationship so fragile? It warmed my heart to hear the husband say “tell me only if I can be of help”, when the wife wants to bare it all, apprehensive that what she has done can be relegated to being deceitful.

But wait, before you think the climax is over and slot it as any other film and an un-common friendship bordering an extra marital affair, there is more. Wait.

It’s a film that pleasantly surprises by mentioning Verrier Elwin and other authors, indigenous communities who live non-judgemental un-prescriptive lives, drapes its characters in local sarees and simple cotton shirts, shows us tiny book stores in the alley where the store owner knows each and every book, gives us the pleasure of sipping coffee by the roadside in steel tumblers. A journey of Hyderabad, visuals of the bustling lanes around Charminar, Golkonda fort, Chowmahalla, Faluknama palace, the rocks, the buildings, the Irani chai, the reminder of our daily lives, as lived by the characters of the film.

Grief is both deeply personal, and as common as the air we breathe. We look for the lost person in the folds of clothes once worn, holding on to the scents of what it was once. We wish we had spent more time. What hits the hardest is the forever-ness of loss, the place of no return.

As I left the hall, it felt like someone just caressed your soul and told you that this is the truth of the world you inhabit. On the spectrum of happiness to sorrow, truth to lies, and many such binaries that constitute the book of rules, our lives in reality are more likely to be like this story that hangs out in your own backyard and moves in the neighbourhood with amazingly sincere lessons for life.

At this point of Time, where art is politicised and censored, this is a film that needs to be made tax free and promoted for its attempt to de-stigmatise mental health, trauma, depression and panic attack. It must be watched by more people and much talked about.


For someone not excited by expensive branded bags, perfume, jewellery and electronics, what is there in Singapore? I have been there once and transited several times. So, when an opportunity of spending one week at Singapore came-up, I dug into my memory for what had stayed about the place.

The comfort of being a woman on the streets. This is unbeatable.   The feeling of being secure, safe, un-ogled, un-groped, shutting the antenna that is ever alert for signs of ‘touching, snatching, asking, following etc etc is peace at a very different level. This was my the-most-loved thing about Singapore. I bought myself a tourist pass and went anywhere I wanted to go. Got off the MRT, walked around and came back. Not even one upsetting episode.

Walking. If you enjoy walking, this is one of the best organised cities. All the signages read easily and are aided by a picture. When they want you to use an underpass to cross certain roads, there is an arrow and a picture of the underpass. Very clear. No pushing, shoving and no vehicles honk.

The Botanic Garden. This one is my favourite. It’s a little too well maintained, true. But absolutely fantastic, free, open space to walk, to sit by the lake, to look at the many flowers, birds and animals.

The greenery in the city is noticeable. There are trees in every possible nook and corner, balconies, roadsides, houses everywhere. When you are tired from walking under the sweltering sun, the benches under the trees will come to your rescue. The buildings are experimenting with low-energy construction and design which is heartening to see.

I managed to see a batik exhibition at The Asian Civilisations Museum. Fantastic display, quiet, comfortable, you can take pictures, and there are benches to sit down and rest your legs. The traditional street ice-cream, a slice sandwiched between two crackers was the best thing when resting on the benches. I ate a Magnolia coconut and it was really good, soft, exact sweetness with pieces of coconut in it.

The most alarming thing, is the use of plastic. All shops continue to use plastic bags, even if some of them are recycled plastic. Very few people carry a bag for shopping. Food, drinks, are packed in plastic. Given that it’s a hub of vogue perfumes and clothes, the streets also radiate strong fragrances. And in that heat, most women wear stylish clothes, most of which are synthetic.  

We woke up to calls of the wild roosters’ early morning. The mynas come back to their trees at the end of the day and create a massive cacophony that won’t allow any talking on the street at that time.

Two golden orioles sang sitting on the tree opposite our balcony, mynas came and perched for the breadcrumbs. A very satisfying time.

Puzzle: The film

“Life is messy. It does not make any goddamn sense. Sorry to break the news to you. Life is just random.”

How would this come down on a woman (Agnes Mata, Kelly Macdonald) who lives each moment by routine? There are days marked for grocery shopping, for church, and for everything else. Life runs by the manual. So deep is the routine that it’s she who wakes the alarm clock.

She plans her own birthday party, cooks, cleans, decorates, bakes, even carries the cake by herself to the table, and asks her husband if he is having fun. She goes after the same chores everyday without fail; it’s like her limbs are programmed to go about the same thing, day after day after day. There are no misses, no surprises, nothing that may remotely upset the plan.

One of her birthday gifts is an iPhone. Her son excitedly wants to set it up for her. “There are apps for everything Mom. You can look up anything, recipes, church stuff, the weather.”

“I have a radio and a window; I would know when it will rain”.

That sums up her world.

There are brewing discontents in the family, but they are not about her, neither caused by her, nor intended for her. She is like one constant, the spirit of care and stability for the entire family that never goes wrong. But then there is nothing the family does specifically for her either. Her son’s essay for college application narrates their confined lives, and mentions with all honesty that his mother “doesn’t think of anything other than serving the men in her life”.

Until another gift, the jigsaw puzzle from an aunt who may have remembered her childhood fancies walks back into her life. This is, that one seemingly innocuous event in her life that will significantly alter its course.

On an impulse, she travels to New York to buy another puzzle for herself. She tells the ticket collector quite factually that there would not be another time when he informs it’s cheaper to buy the ticket at the station before boarding.

That train ride leads her to a professional puzzle solver (Robert, Irrfan Khan) a successful, wealthy man, who is frantically looking for a partner to participate in a jigsaw puzzle competition.

He is brilliant and intimidating, checks her ability, to realise quickly that she is a natural. He is taken aback by her puzzle solving which unlike her rule abiding life, does not follow the professional rubrics of the game.

“You are godsend. It was meant to be.”

Although she may have come to accept that for others, puzzles are childish hobby of bored people, when Robert places puzzle solving in perspective, “it’s a way to control the chaos. You go about the menial task because your mind is moving too fast”, here is finally a person who connects to her, who lends the perfectly matching words to her thoughts, understands precisely the contentment in finishing a puzzle, in getting all the pieces right.

“There is nothing we can do to control anything. But when you complete a puzzle, when you finish it, you know you have made all the right choices. No matter how many wrong pieces you tried to fit into wrong places, but at the end everything makes one perfect picture.


Their love is instantaneous. Its as if this was that missing piece of her life, a piece that not only does not fit in, but blows apart all the other pieces.

In her life so far, nobody has seen her as funny and beautiful and strange. Her humour is wasted on a community who lead equally mundane, scripted, scriptured, unadventurous lives. “Pack our sins into neat monthly portions” she humours as the church schedules confessions to once a month for lack of people wanting to confess. Does not even get a chuckle from the others.

In her seemingly settled life, her husband Louie, following typical gender roles, values her immensely as she cares for the family, she keeps everything running. Unwittingly he says once “someone always uses you”. Its accepted that a married woman’s life can be as good as this. In the daily rituals and routines, there is care for each other. Everyone is playing an expected role. The father brings the money, the boys, one who got good grades is aspiring for college, and the other one is pushed by the dad to help him in his garage as a mechanic, which the boy totally abhors.

She tells him “am finally doing something on my own. Am not asking you. Am telling you. You can support me or not. I will do it either way.”

As she travels to practice and begins to navigate beyond her immediate surroundings, she also begins to assert, to ask, to express. It rattles the accepted hierarchy in the family. As she recognises her passion for puzzle solving and what it means to be supported, she finds out about culinary schools for their son to back his calling.

The villain is not the husband, nor the family or the society, though they play their prescribed roles when it comes to how they treat women, the villain really is, not going after your dream, losing one’s self completely in caring for others.

Rhetorical, pretentious conversations make her uncomfortable. She asks basic, fundamental questions. It delights the heart to hear her simple, primal, un-skirted questions throughout the film. There is truth in her lies, and there is truth in her truth. When Louie asks her if she is having an affair, she tells him what it feels like to her.

But make no mistake, it’s the Puzzle that drives her. Their relationship tangos beautifully with a common purpose within a defined time. When they reach that point after having won the competition, they aspire for the future differently. For Robert it is going from one level of competitiveness to the next with a partner who fits perfectly. He loves the challenge. But for her, sitting down to solve a jigsaw puzzle is her intimate comfort, in happiness or sorrow. Puzzle is intrinsic to both of them but in different ways. She would not be tied to another’s expectations again.

A specific mention of Irrfan, an actor who personified the non-binary in his roles. He is often the space between love and hate, between courtship and marriage, between friend and lover, between good and evil. Irrfan disregarded the black and white to demystify the grey, sanctifying its existence.  This film is a celebration of the “different and the weird.”

“To getting all the wrong pieces right.”


Namma Women


With the lock-down, Times Of India had started a column and published how urban women are coping with being home. It appealed to me to share what I was doing and I sent them a write-up. It did not get published and with the easing of the restriction, they looks like have stopped the column.

Here it is. Written over three weeks ago, so I have much more to add.

I am seeking out what other women are doing, responding, coping….


I see the cooking, baking, painting, stitching, and other creative pursuits, try them, find them quite engaging. I hear of the inconvenience of not being able to live as we lived earlier, no beauticians, no gyms, no bridge sessions, no shopping, no travel and the miseries versus benefits of WFH.

I read in this very newspaper, the anxiety of house-helps whether they will have their salaries and jobs after the lock down is lifted. I over hear comments by women, justifying deducting their salary, “they did not come” they say, “but we are working from home’. I wonder since the house-helps had no role in causing this pandemic. Then how can we even think of cutting their salaries?

I see the picture of a migrant woman, one child sitting up on her shoulder and another in her arms braving the heat and the distance by foot to go back to her village, which is miles away. She even smiles at the camera recording her. I watch the video of a woman pulling a wheeled suitcase with a toddler sleeping on top of it. Another woman, I read, with a three-month-old child walked over thirty kilometres as her husband at home threatened to kill both of them.

I read about the women doctors and nurses who are going to the hospital and taking care of the sick. About ninety percent of nurses in the whole world are women. There are nurses who are sleeping on their desks, living in temporary accommodations, exhausted, overworked, slogging, working despite shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) being fully aware of the danger .  But isn’t it terrible that some of them are being ostracised, denied entry into their housing societies and stigmatised.

The Health Minister of Kerala, K.K. Shylaja, on the cover page of Vogue magazine, always calm and composed, carefully navigates the path towards recovery. Also in Kerala, Kudumbashree, a community network of women, is on the forefront and meeting several kinds of needs that have cropped up suddenly. They have prepared grocery kits, cotton masks, face shields, sanitizers, are running community kitchens, supplying cooked food to isolation centres, spreading awareness about elderly care and mental health. You name it and they are doing it. The preparedness of those women groups just amazes me.

New Zealand, led by a woman Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is the first country to call for thousands of new ‘green’ jobs for reviving the economy. She is one strong woman and how she responded to the Christchurch shooting was the hallmark of a great leader. This pandemic is her second crisis after taking over as the Prime Minister and she is certainly holding her head high. She says, “One of the criticisms I’ve faced over the years is that I’m not aggressive enough or assertive enough, or maybe somehow, because I’m empathetic, it means I’m weak. I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong”.

Closer home in India, there are many heart-warming stories of how women have risen to this difficult time. Gouthami, who has her own company to promote eco-friendly tourism, got a call from a group of stranded migrant workers, thinking her company to be a travel agency. They wanted to hire a bus to go back home to MP. She of course does not own buses or knows anyone in transport department, but she goes ahead and asks others, uses social media to reach out for advice and help, keeps in touch and listens to the worries of the migrant workers. Many phone calls and several back and forth, she finally manages to get permission for inter-state travel pass for them. “It is not as if home is easier”, they tell her, after all there are reasons why they migrate in the first place, “but we are relieved to have made it back”.

Manisha spots a group of workers in an under-construction building in her neighbourhood.  She reaches out to friends, the Residents Welfare Association (RWA) and organises food and other essentials. They however, leave the city when lockdown is relax11050174_667455300026220_8202474352935539380_oed, with their head held high, a journey of hundreds of kilometres, part by foot, part over trucks, and whatever else is plying. “We live with our income, and feel ashamed to live on charity and be a burden to others,” they say.

Chitra, a former colleague of my husband and her friend Indira drove to the nearest highway and distributed well thought out food packets, food that quenches thirst and survives the heat. They continue to help the migrant workers figure out logistics to go back to their villages. Bindu is feeding five stranded families near her home since the lock down. Divya a women restaurateur is distributing cooked food.

Ipsita, a friend’s friend is coordinating food at Medchal, the exit point migrant workers. Manshi is participating in a chain fasting to register her protest against the injustice of all that is going on.

My friends Sudha, Pavithra, Switha, and their teams who work with artisans in villages have distributed dry ration and driving campaigns to clear the piled up stocks as all exhibitions are cancelled and the artisans have nowhere to sell their products. Ambika Devi a Madhubani artist paints inside her house a depiction of lock down and stay home. DSS, an organisation working in rural Odisha is training adolescent girls in spreading awareness on the virus and the need to maintain hygiene.

A friend who has a garden says men in the neighbourhood are coming and working in her garden, raking, and digging, things they have never done before! Young teenage girls in my neighbourhood are giving cycling lessons to other small children. I see new friendships, offers to bring things when neighbour is walking to the nearby store, exchange of fruits and vegetables. A new kind of looking out for each other.

I feel my spirit rise. These are all ordinary people rising to the crises and helping others cope. This time of shared uncertainty has brought about a shared camaraderie.

May be we will go back to the same. May be we won’t. May be Nature would not let us go back to the endless frenzy of unending chase.

In reading and writing about these courageous women with souls full of love, care and compassion, I am choosing their kindness and courage to guide me out of this pandemic and for the rest of my life.