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Akademy 2012 Talk Transcript – Localizing software in Multi-cultural environments

The following is my talk transcript from Akademy 2012. During the talk I wavered quite a bit from this script, but in the end I managed to cover most of the major bits that I wanted to talk about. Either way, this is the complete idea that I wanted to present and the discussions can continue at other places.

Good morning. The topic for my talk this morning is Localizing software in Multi-cultural environments. Before I start, I’d like to quickly introduce myself. For most of my talks, I include a slide at the very end with my contact details. But after the intense interactive sessions I forget to mention them. I did not want to make that mistake this time. My name is Runa and I am from India. This is the first time I am here in Estonia and at Akademy. For most of my professional life, I have been working on various things related to Localization of software and technical documentation. This includes translation, testing, internationalization, standardization, also on various tools and at times I try to reach out about the importance of localization and why we need to start caring for the way it is done. That is precisely why I am here today to talk about how localization can have hidden challenges and why it is important that we share knowledge and experience on how we can solve them.

Before I start the core part of the discussion today, I wanted to touch base on why localization of software is becoming far more important now. (I was listening to most of the talks in this room yesterday. And it was interesting to note that a continuous theme that reappeared in most of the talks was about finding ways to simplify adjusting to a world of growing devices and information). These days there is a much larger dependence on our devices for communication, basic commercial needs, travel etc. These could be our owned devices or the ones at public spaces. It is often assumed to be an urban requirement, but with improvement in communication technology this is not particularly the case. Similarly, the other concept is that the younger generation is more accustommed to the use of these devices, but again that is changing – out of compulsion or choice.

The other day I was watching this series on BBC about the London Underground. And there was this segment about how some older drivers who had been around for more than 40 years opted out of service and retired when some new trains were introduced and they did not feel at ease with the new system. Now I am not familiar with the consoles and cranks in the railway engines but for the devices and interfaces that we deal with, among other things localization is one major aspect that we can use to help make our interfaces easy. We owe it to the progress that we are imposing in our lives.

The reason I chose to bring this talk to this conference was primarily for the fact that it was being held here, in Europe. In terms of linguistic and cultural diversity, India by itself perhaps has as much complexities as the entire continent of Europe put together. However, individual countries and cultural groups in Europe depict a very utopian localization scenario, which may or may not be entirely correct. I bring this utopian perspective here as a quest, which I am hoping will be answered during this session through our interactions. I’ll proceed now to describe the multi-cultural environment that I and most of my colleagues in India work in.

Multi-cultural structure:

Firstly, I’d like to tell here that I do not use the term multi-cultural from any anthropological reference. Instead it is a geopolitical perspective. Present day India is divided into 28 states and 7 union territories, and the primary basis for this division is … well ‘languages’. I’d like to show you a very simple pictoral representation of how it essentially is at the ground level.

The big circle here is our country and the smaller ones are the states.Each of the states has a predominant population of the native language speakers. Some states may even have multiple state languages with equally well distributed population. At this point, I’d like to mention that India has 22 languages recognised by the Indian constitution for official purposes, with Hindi and English being considered the primary official languages. The latter being a legacy from the British era. The individual states have the freedom to choose the additional language or languages that they’d like to use for official purposes and most states do have a 3rd and sometimes 4th official language. So the chances are that if you land up at a place where Hindi is not the primary language of communication, you’d see the public signs written in a minimum of 3 languages. Going back to our picture, I have marked the people in each of these states in their distinctive colour. They have their own languages and their own regional cultures.

However, essentially that is not the status quo that is in place. So we have people moving away from their home states to other states. Why? Well, first for reasons of their employment in both government and private sector jobs. Education. Business. Defence personnel and various other common enough reasons. And given its a country we are talking about, people have complete freedom to move about without additional complications of visas or residence permits. So in reality the picture is somewhat like this.

The other multi-cultural grouping is when languages cross geographical borders. Mostly due to colonial legacy or new world political divisions and migration, some languages exist in various places across the world.

Like Spanish or French and closer home for me, my mother tongue Bengali that is spoken in both India and Bangladesh. In these cases, the languages in use often take the regional flavours and create their own distinctive identity to be recognised as independent dialects – like Brazilian Portuguese. While sometimes they do stay true to their original format to a large extent – as practised by the Punjabi or the Tamil speaking diaspora.

While discussing the localization scenario, I’ll be focusing on the first kind of multi-cultural environment i.e. multiple languages bound together by geographical factors so that they are forced to provide some symmetry in their localized systems.

Besides the obvious complexities with the diversity, how exactly does this complicate matters on the software localization front? To fully understand that, we would need to first list the kind of interfaces that we are dealing with here.

In public spaces we have things like ATM machines, bank kiosks, railway and airline enquiry kiosks, ticketing machines, while on the individual the front we have various applications on desktop computers, tablets, mobile phones, handheld devices, GPS systems etc. If you were here during the talk Sebas talk yday afternoon, the opening slide had the line devices are the new ocean. Anyways, some of these applications are of personal use, while some others may be shared, for instance, in the workplace or in educational institutes. In each of these domains, when we encounter a one to many diversity ratio the first cookie that crumbles is standardization

Language is one of the most fundamental personal habits that people grow up with. A close competitor is a home cooked meal. Both are equally personal and people do not for a moment consider the fact that there could be anything wrong with the way they have learnt it.

Going back to the standardization part, two sayings very easily summarize the situation here, one in Hindi and the other in Bengali:

1. do do kos mein zuban badal jaati hain i.e. the dialect in this land changes in every 2 kos (about 25 miles)

2. ek desher buli onyo desher gaali i.e. harmless words in one language maybe offensive when used in another language

So there is no one best way of translating that would work well for all the languages. The immediate question that would come to mind is, why is there a need to find a one size fits all solution?

These are independent languages after all. While it does work well independently to a large extent, but there are situations where effective standardization is much in demand.

For instance, in domains which pan across the diversity. Like national defence, census records, law enforcement and police records, national identity documents etc.
Complications arise not just to identify the ideal terminology but a terminology that can be quickly suited to change. The major obstacle comes from the fact that a good portion of these technonological advancements were introduced much before Indian languages were made internationalization-ready. As a result, the users have become familiar with the original english terminology in a lot of cases. There were also people who knew the terms indirectly, perhaps someone like a clerk in the office who did not handle a computer but regularly needed to collect printouts from the office printer. So when localized interfaces started to surface, besides the initial mirth, they caused quite a bit of hindrance in everyday work. Reasons ranged from non-recognition of terminology to sub-standard translations. So we often get asked the question that when English is an official language and does cut across all the internal boundaries, why do you need to localize at all? It is a justified query. Especially in a place like India, which inherited English from centuries of British rule. However, familiarity with a language is not synonymous to comfort. A good number of people in the work force or in the final user group have not learnt English as their primary language of communication. What they need is an interface that they can read faster and understand quickly to get their work done. In some cases, a transliterated content has been known to work better than a translated one.

The other critical factor comes from an inherited legacy. Before indepedence, India was dotted with princely states and kingdoms and autonomous regions. They often had their own currency and measurement systems, which attained regional recognition and made way into the language for that region. A small example here.

In Bengali, the word used to denote a currency is called Taka. So although the Indian currency is the Rupee, when it is to be denoted in Bengali the word Rupee is completely bypassed and Taka used instead. So 1 Rupee is called ek taka in Bengali. When we say Taka in Bengali in India, we mean the Indian Rupee (symbol ₹). But as an obvious choice, Taka (symbol ৳) has been adopted as the name for the currency of Bangladesh. So if a localized application related to finance or banking addresses the term for currency as Taka, a second level of check needs to be done to understand which country’s currency is being talked about here and then the calcuations are to be done. To address issues of this nature often we have translations for the same language being segregated into geographical groups, mostly based on countries.

Mono-cultural structure:

This is where I start describing the utopian dream. I do not use the word mono-cultural as an absolute, but would like to imply a predominantly mono-cultural environment. As opposed to the earlier complexity, a lot of places here in Europe are bound by homegenuity of a predominant language and culture. Due to economic stability and self-sufficiency the language of the land has been the primary mode of communication, education, and administration. There does not arise a need for a foreign language to bind the people in various parts of the country. If you know your language, you can very well survive from childhood to oldage. The introduction of new technology in localized versions completely bypassed any dependency on the initial uptake through English. Without a baggage of inherited cross-cultural legacy and bound through a commonality of technology intergrated lifestyle, the terminology was stablizied much faster for adoption. So if you knew how to use an ATM machine in one city, you could most likely be able to use another one just the same in another city. Thats probably the primary reason why various applications are translated much faster in these languages with a much higher user base. Regional differences aside, a globally acknowledged version of the language is available and not difficult to understand .

How do we deal with the problems that we face in multi-cultural places:

The first thing would probably be to accept defeat about a homegeneous terminology. It would be impractical. But that doesn’t stop one from finding suitable workarounds and tools to deal with these complexities.

1. Collaboration on translations
2. Tools that facilitate collaboration
3. Simplify the source content
4. Tools for dynamic translation functionalities
5. Learn from case studies
6. Standardize on some fronts

Collaboration on translations – When translating if you come across a term or phrase that you personally struggled to translate or think may pose a problem for other translators, it would be reasonable to leave messages on how to interpret them. Often highly technical terms or terms from a different culture/location are unknown or hard to relate to and instead of all translators searching for the term individually , a comment from another translator serves as a ready reckoner. The information that can be passed in this way are: description of the term or phrase, and how another language has translated it so that other translators of the same language or of a closely related language can identify quickly how to translate it.

Tools that facilitate collaboration – To collaborate in this manner, translators often do not have any specific tools or formats to leave their comments. So when using open source tools, translators generally have to leave these messages as ‘comments’. Which may or may not be noticed by the next translators. Instead, it is beneficial if the translation tools allow for cross-referencing across other languages as a specialized feature. I believe the proprietory translation tools do possess such features for collaboration.

Simplify the source content – However, until such features are intergrated or collaborative practices adopted, a quick win way to easier translation is to get back to the source content creators for explanations or requests to simplify their content. The original writers of the user interface messages try to leave their creative stamp on the applications. Which may include cleverly composed words, simplified words, new usage of existing words, local geographic references, colloquial slang, analogies from an unrelated field or even newly created terms which do not have parallel representations in other languages. Marta had mentioned the a similar thing yesterday during her talk – where she said that humour in commit messages should ideally be well understood by whoever is reading them. If taken as a creative pursuit, translators have the liberty to come up with their version of these creations. However, when we are looking at technical translations for quick deployments, the key factor is to make it functional. So while the translators can reach out to the content creators, the original content creators could also perhaps run a check before they write their content, to see if it will be easy to translate.

Tools for dynamic translation functionalities – Before coming here to Estonia, I had to read up some documents related to visa etc. which were not available in English. The easiest way to get a translated version of the text from German was through an online translation platform. Due to the complexity of Indian languages, automatic translations tools for them have not yet evolved to the same levels of accuracy as we can otherwise see for European languages. But availability of such tools would help benefit societies like ours, where people do move around a lot. Going back to an earlier example for a ticket booking kiosk, lets assume a person has had to move out of their home state and is not proficient in either of the two official languages or in the local language of the home-state. In such a case, our users would benefit if the application on the kiosk has a feature so that interfaces for additional languages can be generated as per requirements, either from existing translated content or dynamically. This is from interface display. The other part is to allow simplified writing applications like phonetic and transliteration keyboards for writing complex scripts quickly.

Standardize on some fronts – However, standardization is a key element that cannot be overlooked at all. As a start, terminology related to the basic functional areas where content is shared across languages need to be pre-defined so that there are no chances of discrepancy and even auto-translation functions can be quickly implemented.

Learn from case studies – And ofcourse nothing beats learning from existing scenarios of similar nature. For instance a study on how perhaps the Spanish and Italian translation teams collaborated while working on some translations may be applied somewhat effectively for languages with close similarities like Hindi and Marathi.


Whether in a multi-cultural environment or otherwise, localization is here to stay. With the users of various applications growing everyday, the need for their customizations and ease of use will simultaneously grow. And like any other new technology, the importance lies in making the users confident in using them. Nothing better to boost confidence than providing them with an interface that they can find their way around on.

In Agustin’s keynote yesterday afternoon, he mentioned that there is a need for patience to instill confidence during these times of fast moving technology. At a discussion some time back, someone had suggested to do away with written content on the interface and to only retain icons. Ideally, written content can never be completely removed. But yes they can be made easier to use. Sebas had shared a similar thought yesterday that technology should be made functional for user’s need and not because it was fun developing it.

A few months back the Government of India sent out a circular to its adminsitrative offices that in place of difficult Hindi words, the usage of Hinglish or a mix of English and Hindi could be used to ease the uptake of the language. I wholeheartedly shared this view and had followed up with a blog post on this where I mentioned that:

Familiar terms should not be muddled up, and Readability of the terms is not compromised,

primarily to ensure that terminology is not lost in translation when common issues are discussed across geographies, especially in the global culture of the present day that cuts across places like multinational business houses and institutes of higher education.

যাহা পাও তাই লও, হাসিমুখে ফিরে যাও।
কারে চাও, কেন চাও– তোমার আশা কে পূরাতে পারে॥
সবে চায়, কেবা পায় সংসার চলে যায়–
যে বা হাসে, যে বা কাঁদে, যে বা প’ড়ে থাকে দ্বারে॥

হ য ব র ল – Level up

A couple of days back the following announcement was made by the Government of India through the PTI:

In a bid to overcome problems posed by difficult Hindi words, Government has asked section officers to use their ” hinglish” replacements for easy understanding and better promotion of the language.

official circular here.

Excuse me while I whoop with joy for a moment here. Reason being, its a clear endorsement of something that I have forever followed in Bengali (India) Translations. I have argued, fought and have been ocassionally berated for not coming up with innovative Bengali words for the various technical terminology that I have translated. My steady answer has been something to the tune of – ‘don’t fix it, if it ain’t broken’.

At conferences and other places when I used to interact with people who had suddenly taken an interest in localization, they were often pretty upset that things like ‘files‘, ‘keyboards‘, ‘cut‘, ‘print‘ etc. were simply translitered in Bengali. (I am sure they did not hold very high opinions about the bunch of Bengali localizers.) So we got suggestions like – “you could consider translating ‘paste’ as ‘লেপন’ “(similar to গোবর লেপা, i suspect), or “you need to write মুদ্রণযন্ত in place of a printer“. There were more bizarre examples, which were more like words constructed with several other words (for things like URL, UTC etc.). I held my ground at that time, and hopefully this announcement has at last put my doubts (well, I did have second thoughts about whether I was being too adamant while “compromising authenticity for practicality“) to rest.

After getting the necessary i18n bits fixed, Bengali localization for desktop applications primarily came about around circa 2000. However, computer usage among the Bengali speaking/reading population has been happening for decades before that. By the time the first few desktop applications started to peek through in Bengali, there already were a good many users who had familiarized themselves with the various terms on the desktop. Users were well-familiar with:

  • clicking‘ on ‘buttons‘, or
  • going to a link, or
  • printing‘ a ‘document‘,
  • cutting‘ and ‘pasting‘,
  • pointing‘ with a ‘mouse‘ etc.

Subjecting them to barely relatable or artifically constructed terms would have squeezed in another learning phase. It just did not make sense.

In response, the other question that creeped in was – ‘then why do you need to localize at all?‘ It is a justified query. Especially in a place like India, which inherited English from centuries of British rule. However, familiarity with a language is not synonymous to comfort. Language has been a hindrance for many things for ages. Trying to read a language, one is not fully comfortable with can be a cumbersome experience. For eg. I can speak and understand Hindi quite well, but lack the fluency to read it. Similarly, there were a good number of people who did not learn English as their primary language of communication[1]. Providing a desktop which people can read faster would have gotten rid of one hurdle that had probably kept away a lot of potential users.

There were also people who knew the terms indirectly, perhaps someone like a clerk in the office who did not handle a computer but regularly needed to collect printouts from the office printer. This group of people could mouth the words but did not read them often and if the language on the desktop was not the primary language of everyday business, they probably did not even know what the word looked like. When getting them to migrate their work desks to a desktop, it is essential to ensure that the migration is seamless and gave prime importance to the following:

  • Familiar terms should not be muddled up, and
  • Readability of the terms is not compromised

Point 1 is also required to ensure that the terminology is not lost in translation when common issues are discussed across geographies and locales. For eg. in institutes of higher education or global business houses. Getting it done by integrating transliterated terminology for highly technical terms that were already in prevalence seemed like the optimum solution. It has not worked badly for Bengali (India) localization so far. We have been able to preserve a high quality of consistency across desktop applications primarily because the core technical terminology never needed to be artificially created, which also allows new translators (already familiar with desktops in most cases) to get started without too much groundwork.

Note: it is not unusual to find people in India speak fluently in 2-3 languages and not always in a pure form of any. Mixing words from several languages while conversing is quite a prevalent practice these days.

The Little Room by Opal Whiteley

I had never heard of Opal Whiteley before today. With my newly found interest in verses, I may be reading her more often. Here’s a poem I found to go with the swirlings inside my head:

The Little Room

In Man’s heart is a little room.

He has named it



And things are arranged along its wall

That he does not wish

To think about.

Every time he pushes something in there

He closes the door very tightly.


But in hours when he is weary,

In the hours that walk around some midnights

When high fires have burned

To a low flicker

Then the little door swings on its hinges.

And no thing

Will make it stay closed

All of the time.


When he is near death

All the Velvet-footed Wanderers in there

Join the throng around his bed,

“We will not die,” they whisper

To one another.


While Beauty waits with drawn lips,

And dry eyes.

But, there is heard

The patter of a little sad rain

In her heart’s garden

Where some little flower buds

That were once thinking of the sun

Will never open

Because man keeps a little room

Of oblivion in his soul.


Bas itni si, tum se guzaarish hai…Yeh jo baarish hai…Iss mein teri baahon mein marr jaaun…Bas itni si, chhoti si ik khwaish hai…Yeh jo baarish hai, dekho naa…Iss mein mere sang gunguna naa…Kal radio pe aaya tha jo wohi wala gana…Gaate gaate baahon mein marr jaana…

Listen to this beautiful song

I also found a wonderful review of the soundtrack and putting up the relevant part here.

The singers own this soundtrack. This is really crooning of the finest kind, with ample attention paid to feel and phrasing. In the title track, Bas itni si is rendered as Bas itniiiiii si. The words tell us that the singer has the tiniest of requests, to die in his beloved’s arms, which, upon reflection, is not really a tiny request at all – and the elongation of itni hints at the eventual magnification of this request. In Tera zikr, which exudes an incense-shrouded air of spirituality, the singer lingers a few extra seconds on ki in the phrase paagal ki tarah, and you catch a glimpse of his pained madness. In Saiba, the female voice slips in like a sigh at the end of a robust male chorus, and the parsing of paala saalon se leaves you in little doubt about the fervency of her heartache. In Jaane kiske khwab, whose opening lines come closest to pure recitative, note the smallest of pauses between jaagti and aankhon mein bhi, or in Keh na sakun, consider the indulgent wallowing in seh na sakoon main. We form a unique relationship with music when we listen to it, like how we form pictures in our heads when we read.


When I was growing up in Kolkata, there was this bunch of kids in the colony who used to play together in the nearby ground. One of them was a little older than the rest and was not very welcome to join the group, for reasons I don’t remember very well now. So one day he was watching the cricket teams being formed from the distance and sauntered into the ground when it was obvious that the teams were uneven and could do with one extra player. But neither team was willing to take him in. It fell upon a smooth talking chap – lets call him A – to get rid of him. A, coolly takes him by the shoulder and tells him – ‘Dude, know what? Everyone has some friends to play with and some friends to fight with. You are my fight friend, so go home now’. (সব্বার বুঝলি কিছু খেলার বন্ধু থাকে আর কিছু ঝগড়া করার বন্ধু থাকে। তো তুই হলি আমার ঝগড়া করার বন্ধু। তাই এবার বাড়ি যা।) Well, the episode sounds a little harsh now, especially coming from 13 year old kids. But it was not too bad then, when getting rid of a pesky kid was of utmost importance to maintain the equilibrium in the playground.

What reminded me of this episode was an article I saw yesterday in the TOI while gobbling down cereals. It was about the different kind of friends a woman “should” have. (They made it sound like those articles about the essential elements for one’s wardrobe or picnic basket.) The list includes the following and my summaries from the description:

1. Lifestyle buddy – A person with whom you would share much of your elementary lifestyle zones – grocery store, supermarket, child’s school.
2. Comfort blanket friend – A friend whom one has grown up with
3. 9-5 friend – A close friend at the workplace
4. All-weather friend – A later life version of the comfort blanket friend
5. Man-mate – Non-romantic close chum.

Probably most of us have friends whom we could identify in the roles above and into some more. But never have I thought of categorizing them so explicitly. I don’t have any siblings and most of my cousins are way too old to have been considered of any importance or coolness when I was of school going age. The feeling was mutual, although its a different story now. My funworld centered around my friends – from school and the neighbourhood. I never understood why some silly kids used to bawl at the school gate, wanting to go back home. duh! I lost touch with most of my friends (read ‘nearly all’) from my first school because we had to leave the town urgently due to a medical emergency wrt my mum and since we were planning to move bases anyways in a couple of months, I never went back. As luck would have it, my blog brought me back in touch with a couple of them and we are very much connected now. From second school onwards and up to my present workplace, I have always had one very close ‘comfort blanket friend’ (as per earlier description) to grow up with at each stage. These days they are across oceans, in different continents, and have perhaps not met me in half a decade. But we never require a ‘hello’ to start off a conversation. We have our own set of greetings and pounces that are considered good enough. We may not even be aware of the goings on in each other daily life, unlike earlier times. Yet the spontaneity persists in the relationship, which keeps the bond going on without any visible hiatus of time and distance.

And then came along the boys. Creatures from the unknown world. Somehow it wasn’t too difficult getting along with them either. Once the initial hiccups of figuring out civil interactions were overcome, their vulnerabilities were revealed too. Their career decisions, heartbreaks, vanities and uncertainties were no different from ours. As a result some more bonds were made. These created comfort zones, where insecurities could be shredded to bits. Each side revealed the others perspective about things that we encountered, which helped us understand how the other half of the population functioned. Also, this established that men and women can be ‘friends’. Friends who can love each other affectionately, without any trappings of a romantic relationship.

Every other day I come across some kind of a forwarded mail or blog or some other cotton candy fluff promoting the virtues of ‘true friendship’ in rhymed verses and 10 point lists. Probably it works for a lot of people. Personally, I believe its the honesty of intent, spontaneity of actions, and respect of personal space that go a long way to establish faith and affection between people who value each other as friends, and keep them in their thoughts.

Endless Wait

I finally managed to get myself into a movie watching mode and watched this bengali film called ‘Antaheen‘ – which literally means ‘Endless’, although the english title is probably ‘Endless Wait’ which is more in tune with the storyline. Well, I quite liked it and imho its probably a big deal, worth a blog post….really. I grew up when the only good enough watchable fare from Bengali cinema were the classics from the black & white period of the 60s-70s. Anything after that and in colour was utterly disgusting, crass and totally out of sync with any kind of sensible or relateable bengali social structure. There were little pieces of jewels like 36 Chowringhee Lane, Paroma, Atanka, Kharij etc, but considering the mature content nature I never got to venture that side until much later.

Well, from the 90s onwards, the alternative stuff started pouring in, primarily led by Rituparno Ghosh’s ‘Unishe April‘. Most of these films were based upon stories surrounding upper-middle class households and explored the dynamics in the relationships between the main characters – women occupied in some kind of art related field and involved with wimpy men seeking emancipation and men who smoked like chimneys & worked in media houses. They could be in various stages of relationship maturity – dating furiously, about to be married, married, married but living apart, about to be divorced, divorced yet dating each other furiously, divorced and married to other people and still wanting to get back… whatever gets them to put their relationship status as ‘complicated’. The dialogues were stretchy and laced with abusive language to bring in some kind of contemporary flavour, the scenarios pretentious, and the characters contrived to carve in complications. And they all looked the same. Compounded by the fact that there were a handful of actors who kept rolling by in all these films.

Whether it was the street-fare commercial stuff or the alternative films, both lacked money and it showed. The finances started pouring in, when rich production houses from Southern India started investing in the Bengali film industry. However, it also started an era when commercial Bengali cinema garbed itself into a mode which was always associated with the over-the-top action movies from the Southern shores – elaborate sets, cavalcade of vehicles, baddies, violent fights, dances (the horror!), facial gymnastics, everything that could alienate them even further.

Perhaps, this also led to a second round of alternative set of cinema being churned out. These had a much richer look than their earlier cousins, but somehow the pretentious facets still haunted them. I mostly shied away from them as well. Anuranan being one. The last film that I really liked was ‘Dosar‘, a black & white film by Rituparno Ghosh. It was stark, with effortless performances from most of the cast members. Antaheen (from the same director as Anuranan) just got added to my list of liked movies. It is the story of a television journalist & police officer, who strike up a friendship over the internet as strangers and seperately in real life as well. Parellely, goes the track of an estranged middle aged couple who still rely on each other as old habits, yet prefer the distance between them that allows them to be close without stepping on each others toes. There are a few other tracks as well, which bring in their share of resonance to the story. There was a small one with Mita Vashist. This lady is a bombshell and made the minor character of Mrs.Mehra the most profound of them all. The sets and costumes were contemporary, dialogues mostly pert and very very normal, actors looked their part and the music… oh beautiful! (And apparently Shantanu Moitra did it for free.) Some of the trimmings looked a bit forced though, as if to bring in a touch of the exotic. But then these can be comfortably overlooked for an evening well spent.

The following are the lyrics of the song Pherari Mon (Wandering Mind) that got Shreya Ghosal a National Award this year. Even if you can’t read bengali, you can go ahead and listen to the song here

আলো আলো রং, জমকালো চাঁদ ধুয়ে যায়
চেনাশোনা মুখ, জানাশোনা হাত ছুঁয়ে যায়
ফিরে ফিরে ঘুম ঘিরে ঘিরে গান রেখে যায়
কিছু মিছু রাত, পিছু পিছু টান ডেকে যায়
আজও আছে গোপন ফেরারী মন
বেজে গেছে কখন, সে টেলিফোন
চেনাশোনা মুখ, জানাশোনা হাত রেখে যায়
ফিরে ফিরে ঘুম ঘিরে ঘিরে গান ডেকে যায়
আজও আছে গোপন ফেরারী মন
বেজে গেছে কখন, সে টেলিফোন॥

ছোট ছোট দিন আলাপে রঙিন, নুড়ির মতন
ছোট ছোট রাত চেনা মৌতাত, পলাশের বন
আহা, অগোছালো ঘর, খড়কুটো মন চিলেকোঠা কোণ
কথা ছিল, হেটে যাবো ছায়াপথ
আজও আছে গোপন ফেরারী মন
বেজে গেছে কখন, সে টেলিফোন॥

কিছু মিছু রাত, পিছু পিছু টান অবিকল
আলো আলো রং জমকালো চাঁদ ঝলমল
আজও আছে গোপন ফেরারী মন
বেজে গেছে কখন, সে টেলিফোন॥

গুড়ো গুড়ো নীল, রং পেনসিল জোছনার জল
ঝুরো ঝুরো কাঁচ, আগুণ ছোঁয়াচ দেখেছে আঁচল
ফুটপাথে ভিড়, জাহাজের ডাক ফিরে চলে যায়
কথা ছিল, হেটে যাবো ছায়াপথ
আজও আছে গোপন ফেরারী মন
বেজে গেছে কখন, সে টেলিফোন॥

আলো আলো রং, জমকালো চাঁদ ধুয়ে যায়
চেনাশোনা মুখ, জানাশোনা হাত ছুঁয়ে যায়
আজও আছে গোপন ফেরারী মন
বেজে গেছে কখন, সে টেলিফোন॥

Dance with all your heart

The other day while waiting to collect my order of idli-sambar at the neighbourhood food court, I noticed on the television above the counter the news of Sania Mirza calling off her engagement. Thankfully, the telly was on mute and except for the cheesy graphics I was spared the horror of the reporter’s agony and angst ridden repertoire. Later I came across the news again in the paper and liked what the lady had to say about the break up. Something to the tune of – “We were friends for years, but found ourselves incompatible as fiances”.

Every relationship has its own tale. Like the opening lines of Anna Karenina:

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way

It often takes a lifetime to realise that relationships do not always work out the way they were expected to. There are the ones which take off like firworks and then fizz out. Or the ones that start burning like a slow fire with wet wood and then glow bright, spreading a comfortable warmth. Often relationships come a full circle and don’t know where to go next. Especially when people have known each other for a considerably long time, that by the time they come together there is nothing new to discover about each other (#notmyquote). They become partnerships or just households. Secure and staid, but without any heartaching emotion. Often leading into territories where dilemmas, questions and justifications of faith raise their heads.

People come together with myriad yearnings – love, compassion, physical bonds, security, freedom, and sometimes even impassioned calculations. Some things work out, some others don’t. The ones that don’t, need attention. And without resolution they stay on, like the throbbing of an age old migraine. Painful, yet ignored by a practised habit. Most often than not (especially here in our country), people carry on with their long-dead relationships for the sake of societal norms, ranging from family pride to the stigma of being homewreckers or just as their own personal choice (a nice post related to this here).

I was drawn into a discussion the other day about two films – When Harry Met Sally and The Notebook. Both were extremely enjoyable, but I had my own reservations about them. The first assumes that men and women can never be friends and eventually ends with the protagonists getting together. While the latter has the female lead returning to her first love, leaving behind a fiance at the last minute. Both were ideal solutions to seemingly complicated situations, which would make most of the audience happy. While Harry & Sally effectively seal the ‘fact’ that other than lovers there is no possibility of men and women to have any kind of non-romantic-but-emotionally-caring-buddies relationship (*), ‘the notebook’ on the other hand dilutes the complications of the quagmire that the lady finds herself in. On one side is her memory of a whirlwind teen romance which was nipped without a closure, and on the other end was a mature romance between two people who have seen more of the world and had connected at a stage of their lives when moving towards a stable and mellow bond would come with the least of regrets. In anycase, the fall guy had hardly spent enough screen time for the audience to feel much sympathy for him and he made way for the first love. I would have liked to know how this couple overcome the awkwardness that generally creeps in due to the time spent apart, or how the lady gets over the guilt of cutting short her second relationship that must have been at an extremely intimate state (perhaps the book deals with it better). Or how Harry & Sally settled household matters and other mundane stuff. Well, these are perhaps the least of the worries that cinegoers would like to indulge in.

People shape their perpectives from what they see around them and then nurture them with their own experiences. Cinema is a primary source for a lot of young people to form their opinions of ideal relationships. And these mostly end up in monochrome. Binaries of extremes, that churn out moony eyed expectations. Imho, relationships have so many vivid and nested shades. Even when things seem to have come to a stop, there are the hidden undercurrents that makes it easier to share and care for each other. Some call it habit. Probably, it is also a mix of guilt-ridden sense of responsibilty that one is unlikely to desecrate. However, these shades are generally not visible, unless a person shares a relationship into a considerable depth. It is unfortunate that the monochrome visions often miss these lines in between and by the time they figure it out, the depth sucks them in. A possible solution here would perhaps include widening the horizons from personal experience, but then that brings with it, its own set of complications. And honestly, I don’t think our society is liberal enough (not just in patches, but entirely) yet to handle such lifestyle changes.

Moving on, these two lines from the song ‘Uff- yeh ada’ (Karthik Calling Karthik) have stuck into my head.

pyar agar hai mujhse pyar jataa ke naach
jaan-o-dil jo hai teri mujhpe luta ke naach

Roughly translated they read – if you have love for me in then show it while you dance, give all you have to it while you dance. I believe this is true for every kind of relationship – not just romantic ones. Whatever you feel in your heart for a person (friend, lover, sibling) don’t hold any of it back and give all it takes to make it honest and worthwhile.

* apparently if it hurts to share a friend then its definitely not friendship any more… #notmyquote, but that was a convincing argument during the discussion that can perhaps measure when people can no longer be ‘just friends’ and have moved onto the next stage.

Red Hot Chili Peppers – Under the bridge

This was playing in my head since morning….

Sometimes I feel
Like I don’t have a partner
Sometimes I feel
Like my only friend
Is the city I live in
The city of angels
Lonely as I am
Together we cry

I drive on her streets
‘Cause she’s my companion
I walk through her hills
‘Cause she knows who I am
She sees my good deeds
And she kisses me windy
I never worry
Now that is a lie

I don’t ever want to feel
Like I did that day
Take me to the place I love
Take me all the way

It’s hard to believe
That there’s nobody out there
It’s hard to believe
That I’m all alone
At least I have her love
The city she loves me
Lonely as I am
Together we cry

I don’t ever want to feel
Like I did that day
Take me to the place I love
Take me all that way

Under the bridge downtown
Is where I drew some blood
Under the bridge downtown
I could not get enough
Under the bridge downtown
Forgot about my love
Under the bridge downtown
I gave my life away

Video Link

Soldiers of Serenity

Spending one’s early youth in a place like Kolkata, brings with it an undeniable share of staidness. Which unfortunately does not kick into realisation until long after, especially until the time one decides to move out of the city. And when it does, it comes with the added eye-opener of deprivation and time lost forever. Everyone I went to school/college with, or played with in the evening, led a more or less similar lifestyle. No one did anything out of the ordinary. Depending upon the age, people would be going to an appropriate educational institute, play or have long chat sessions with neighbourhood friends, go to some nearby touristy place once a year with the family, wait for Durga puja all year long, eat a cake on Christmas day and generally take an imprint of the whole year and paste it over as the template for the next one on New Year’s day. Now that I look back on all those years spent and share stories from the past with friends from other parts of the country, its easy to mark the diffs.

Anyways, what brought me to this post was a general chat earlier about yearnings. And the sometimes unsatiable longing to chase after unknown bearings. I remember my parents were pretty happy that I was not a fussy child. What probably they or even I, did not realise is that I was unaware of things to ‘fuss’ about. During the aforementioned ill-spent years,there were no hills to trek up to, no bikes to ride around, no street theatres to play a drum in or walk around aimlessly discovering the streets of a city. However, unlike most of my other friends, I used to read. Mostly about escapades. By normal people in their daily life. Yet, they were still stories, because I could never reconcile these settings with what I saw around me.

I moved out of home at a considerably late age. And walked straight into a reality check. The fantasy world from the books did not seem so fantastic after all. It was pretty much around me. One just had to jump on to the bandwagon. The bandwagon can lead to the known territory or the wide unknown expanse. Probably bucket lists are drawn up from the former (I have mine). Yearnings are the free baggage that comes with it all. Especially, when the numbers from the lost time/age keep poking.

On the other hand, there are the lucky people who don’t need to try too hard. They gather the berries from the roadside as they trudge along and fill their baskets. And I find a serenity around them. Like a floating kite. Calm. In peace. High above the mortal evils. Never ruffled by cravings and satiated by whatever comes their way. They can allow themselves (often unknowingly) the privilege to make choices and draw limits and stick to them. The makings of a monk perhaps.

Probably that is a reason, why we end up in conflict after our conversations. My restlessness is beyond their comprehension. I chase any microscopic will-o-wisp that holds within itself an opportunity to lead me onto my yearned path. Most of the time, the chase ends in failure. It takes along with it the resolve to chase on. Only to make me return back to the staid waters, with a whirlpool running within the dark hidden depths. A chimera of hope lives on. It raises it head from time to time, with wicked intentions. To make people like us go on a well-trodden path yet again, and then laugh the last laugh when we falter and fail.