I am Pizza Rat

If you haven’t heard of Pizza Rat, you’re probably living either under a rock or a dark subway stairwell – not unlike Pizza Rat herself*. Pizza Rat went viral yesterday when someone took a video of her dragging a large slice of pizza down cement steps leading to an underground subway station in New York. The video is hilarious, and was instantly shared and viewed millions of times by the social media generation loud-and-proudly proclaiming, “Pizza Rat is me!” – mostly because who would waste a slice of pizza? (Probably me.)

But Pizza Rat spoke to me in a deep existential way. Maybe it’s because I, much like other millennial twenty-somethings like me, am also trying to drag a “slice of pizza” to satiate a hunger of some sort. Pizza Rat is the epitome of millennials, stuck in their post-college quagmire of limitless – yet somehow limited – opportunities.

I was born to parents who didn’t have the opportunity to choose their future. Two engineering degrees and one arranged marriage later, they decided to raise their daughters with an overdose of choice. My sister and I got to choose where we went to college, what we studied, and whom we married/dated. One of us went on to live a well-adjusted life, studying a sensible vocation and settling down in good time. One of us, and you know where I’m headed with this, ended up “following my dreams,” making my way through an artsy bachelor’s degree and an MFA that rendered me, in my mid-twenties, lost and confused, and to a great extent, unemployable.

At the time of this writing, Pizza Rat has over 2.5 million views. I myself have contributed about a hundred views to that video. But while my friends and boyfriend, and probably all of the internet, watch that video and LOL, there forms a lump in my throat that I find impossible to swallow. I watch as she drags the slice determinedly down two stairs, each time the slice proving too heavy for the tiny creature, but not insurmountable. Until finally, she gives up and disappears down the bottom. But something happens in the final second of the video. The tiny, pointed nose and beady eyes reappear behind the cement stairs. She stares hungrily at the slice, that unattainable goal. In that millisecond, I picture myself in that rat. Staring at my dream of being fulfilled and happy, the dream that I dragged down two college degrees and countless sleep-deprived nights, the dream that suddenly feels too big and too heavy and too impossible to drag down the side of the subway stairs into the darkness of my soul.

Then suddenly, the video ends and I’m thrown back into my real life. The countless versions of my overqualified résumé stare back at me. I feel my heart sink. I close the windows and gaze at the generic sunset scene on my laptop screen. I re-watch the video. After about another twenty views, I begin to wonder about that abrupt ending. What happened after we were cut access to this rat’s story? Did she disappear, leaving her dreams behind? Did she come back and take another go at it before abandoning the slice forever?

Or did she take a little break and return, rejuvenated, to grab at her slice with both sets of teeth, giving it all she had in her soul no matter how tough it got, and make it all the way back to the darkness of her home, where she enjoyed the whole slice, relishing every single bite, knowing that she had been knocked down, she had been stepped on, but she had earned every single bite of savoury success?

We will never know if Pizza Rat was successful in realizing her dream of a hearty meal, but I know that she taught me a lesson (which I mostly made up because, let’s face it, she was just a hungry rat), that will stay with me long after she stops being viral.

*Yes, I think Pizza Rat is a she.

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Lost & Found

Year One.

I was lost. Literally. It was my second day on campus. I had attended the international students’ orientation which, on the map, was less than a mile from my apartment. I stood at an intersection, debating which way to go, knowing I had a terrible sense of direction (literally and metaphorically), without a smartphone to guide me because I had just landed in August and wanted to wait until Octoberfor the new iPhone. I played a little game of “you first” with a driver at the intersection, the concept of “right of way” still so alien to me, the alien non-immigrant in this country. I shouted out, “Please go, I have no idea where I’m going.” I was rewarded with an annoyed sigh and a whoosh of tires. I obviously hadn’t met Los Angeles drivers before.

My first screenwriting class went pretty much the same way. Having been raised on a solid dose of bad Hindi movies and worse Hindi television, I was clueless. Everyone else had either been in the industry for a while, had been writing screenplays since they were teenagers, or had been obsessed with Hollywood for a long, long time. Me? I had written short stories, watched Friends, and coolly decided I could write for Hollywood. It was a harsh wake up call. I spent a rough night googling every name mentioned that day, trying to cram everyone’s résumés and credits into my still-jetlagged brain. I didn’t even think about the fact that I had literally no idea how to write a screenplay. I was lost, again.

I thought about home a lot the first few weeks. About how easy it was to just walk up to a stranger and ask for help. About how it had been so easy to do well without trying too hard. About how everyone had expected me to be successful, but I still felt like a fraud in my heart. About how I didn’t want to let anyone down. There may or may not have been one too many tearful nights. But I pulled through. Don’t give me any credit though.

Just after I had sent off my application on November 1st 2011, I started prowling the internets, looking for clues about when I could expect to hear back. I stumbled upon the studentfilm forum and joined a thread following the application process for the UCLA MFA programme. It was thrilling to be a part of a secret group with a shared experience. To those that don’t know me, I’m not the most social person and I’ve always had trouble making friends. But in that group – strangely – I felt at home. It is no surprise to me today that the people that I met in that forum, online, before I knew any of their names or what they all looked like, are some of the best friends I have ever made in L.A., and in my life. These are the people who defined my life at UCLA, and in Los Angeles. These are the people who pulled me through – one word at a time, one script at a time, one piece of life-affirming advice at a time.

studentfilmforum support system + honorary member Kiley.
studentfilmforum support system + honorary member Kiley.

There is something about having friends who have gone/are going through your same journey. I didn’t feel the need to explain. I didn’t feel the need to hide. My “weirdness” was appreciated and understood. I spoke to people who finally understood the vague abstracts in which I had always thought my whole life. Through them I learnt the fundamentals of friendly competition, of generosity of spirit, of creative compassion. I learnt that writing is a lifelong struggle. That “kill your darlings” wasn’t just a cute, quaint expression. That being truly helped is opening myself up to questions that I was maybe not prepared to answer. That I will have to tear apart and stitch back pieces of myself with every word I wrote. That it was all okay when I had amazing friends who always, always, always had my back.

Of course, I still felt alien, I still missed references, I still don’t really “get” Beyoncé. But, surrounded by these guys, I no longer felt lost.

They made it easy to be found.

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Dreams, drama, and one too many drinks. Spring Break ’13, Malibu with my most favourite people of all.
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‘Repeat after me, “I am not suckatude.”‘ My writing therapist.

Cloud Atlas – an analysis

This analysis of Cloud Atlas (my favourite film of 2012) was written as an assignment for my Film Structure class at U.C.L.A. taught by Professor Emeritus Howard Suber.

‘Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others,

past and present. And by each crime and every kindness,

we birth our future.’

Cloud Atlas is an epic story of love, kindness, and the circle of life. It is the story of how our actions in the present resonate for years to come, and how our lives are bound to others not just at this point, but in the future. The movie deals with this overarching subject by exploring the lives of six groups of people over six eras – through the Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing, the letters by Robert Frobisher to Rufus Sixsmith, Half-Lives – A Louisa Rey mystery, The ghastly ordeals of Timothy Cavendish, Revelations of Sonmi-451 and the story being told by Zachry to his grandchildren. Each story, while bring physically connected through books, letters and stories, is also inexorably linked to the other by a bond of compassion and human suffering. While they don’t realise it then, by their effort to challenge the existing social order, they inspire each other. Adam’s Journal keeps Frobisher company and gives him the courage to complete his composition. Frobisher’s letters and music inspire Louisa to fight for a man she barely knows. Louisa’s story inspires Cavendish to go against the establishment, who in turn powers Sonmi to refuse being subjected to ‘criminal abuse’. Sonmi comes to be revered as a Goddess, whose revelations become the tenets that the valleyfolk live by.

‘There is a natural order to this world, and those who try to upend it do not fare well.’ Each story begins with a description of the world it is set in, a world with a pre-existing social order. From slavery at the time of Adam Ewing, to ‘replicants’ serving ‘consumers’ (purebloods) in 2144 – every human era has one social order – the strong rule over the weak. Even in the years after The Fall, the Meronyms are considered a higher social order over the valley folk, which live in fear of the cannibal tribes, the Kona. (Not surprisingly, in this story, the more advanced race are dark-skinned, reflecting the idea of circle of life.) The Hero in each story, in the beginning, understands this ‘natural order’ and complies with it, quelling all internal doubts. Adam Ewing pretends to understand the ‘natural order’ of slavery in spite of being uncomfortable with the idea. The rebel, outcaste musician, Robert Frobisher understands the laws of his society that is governed by reputation and does not approve of his sexual orientation. He knows that the only way for him to gain credit is to work with a master musician. Louisa Rey lives in an era where her sex resigns her to report for gossip magazines instead of serious journalistic work. Timothy Cavendish is forced into Aurora House, where age and strength are all against him – is they were in the outside world as well. Sonmi-451 understands the governing catechisms of the replicants’ lives and is an ideal server at Papa Song’s. Zachry, tormented by the devil and terrified of the Kona, allows his brother in law to die at their hands.

‘Just trying to understand why we keep making the same mistakes, over and over.’ All the characters realise fundamentally the uneven balance of power. But they are all reluctant to be the catalyst for that change. They have a seed of compassion, however, that leads them to the inevitable trap. Adam saves Autua and allows him to hide in his storage cabin with him, thus forging a forbidden friendship between a white man and a black slave. Robert begins work on his own composition, braving the future and a potentially harsh society. Louisa decides to explore the mystery surrounding Sixsmith’s death in spite of knowing that this mystery was probably the cause. Cavendish decides to join the alliance with some other inmates and makes plans to escape. Sonmi-451 does not report her friend’s transgressions as a replicant and instead keeps them a secret. Zachry offers to take Meronym to the mountains even though he believes the devil lives there, so that she would save his niece.

‘The weak are meat, and the strong do eat.’ Eventually, they all find themselves trapped between their own actions and the social order, where the strong hold power. Adam is trapped between his act of compassion and the men on board, as well as his friend, Dr. Goose. Similarly, when Vyvyan forces Frobisher to allow him to take primary credit for the Cloud Atlas Sextet, Frobisher is trapped between his dream and his reputation in society. Louisa is trapped between the need to expose the dangerous truth behind the Swannekee project and her life. Cavendish is trapped within Aurora House due to his former misdeeds and by the dictatorial staff. Sonmi-451 is trapped between staying behind and getting discovered, or escaping to the outside world illegally. Zachry is trapped between his fear of the devil and his curiosity and promise to Meronym.

‘I am not genomed to alter reality.’ – ‘No revolutionary ever was.’ Through reading and knowing of each other’s travails, our heroes begin to question the so-called natural order. They realise the innate cruelty within the order, the skewed reality and misconceptions that abound. They begin to face and conquer their fears. The creation of an order has been an oft-repeated mistake over generations, but if the order had changed before, it surely could change now. Adam’s life is saved from the clutches of the man he considered a friend by the slave Autua, changing his perceptions of the man he considered barbaric. Frobisher accidentally shoots Vyvyan and runs away with his composition, finishing it alone in a hotel room. Louisa overcomes the attempts on her life and goes in search of Sixsmith’s niece. Cavendish, along with his mates, plans and executes his escape from Aurora House. Sonmi, having realised the cruel nature of her existence, decides to reveal the truth and to lead the revolution. Zachry overcomes his fear of the devil and the cannibals, fighting and killing them in the woods.

‘What is an ocean, but a multitude of drops?’ Each hero understands that his actions alone may never make a dent, but even if it affects all but one other person, their act of rebellion will not be in vain. Adam knows he alone cannot end slavery, but his action will count towards it. Frobisher knows that many may not hear his music, ‘I’m a spent firework, but at least I have been a firework’. Louisa knows that her attempts may kill her, but also that if she did not try, thousands would be killed. Cavendish knows he can never go back to the city, but now understands that ‘it is attitude, not years, that condemns one to the ranks of the undead.’ Sonmi knows her mission is bound to fail and people may not believe her truth, but someone already does. Zachry is aware that Meronym’s call for help may never be answered by the offshore colonies, but he moves with her for a better life and future and away from what remains of his home.

10 Things I Must Do Before I Turn 25 (or my resolutions for the second half of 2015)

[I gave in. I made a listicle. Gah.]

It’s easy to say, “I need to get my shit together.” It’s a lot harder when one has no idea what that shit even is. I have no clue. Sure there are the usual things that every twenty-something wants. A job, a partner, an identity, an apartment, I don’t know. Vague and ephemeral buzzwords that you hear as a child and think, “I won’t have to worry about that until I’m a grown up.”

Well, now I am. And they still sound like buzzwords.

The point of all of this is, when I sat down to write this, I quickly realised that what I truly needed wasn’t any of those buzzwords. Wait, who am I kidding? I definitely need a job and an apartment. But what I also need, is a sense of Identity. Who am I? Who do I want to be? What do I want to do in order to be who I want to be?

So in service of that, things I Must Do In the Next Six Months that will further the cause of my Self Identity. (This listicle changes titles every paragraph. It’s amorphous like that.)

1.     Read the classics. Not the usual suspects, your Jane Austens and your Shakespeares. But the ones that should have been introduced to me/us in school, like Virginia Woolfe, Thoreau, Proust, Hemingway.

2.     Start writing my dream project (more on that when the time comes). I don’t need to finish a draft – besides, when is a draft ever finished? But start it. Love it. Nurture it. And NOT GIVE UP ON IT.

3.     Educate myself on things I care about. Read up on feminism, socialism, economics, the Middle East. Have an intelligent conversation with knowledge to back me up as opposed to emotions. People always take you more seriously when you appear logical instead of tearily saying, “but look at how sad this is!”

4.     Be more focussed on a healthy lifestyle. I’m not overweight and I’m not skinny. I don’t suffer from body image issues, necessarily, but I do suffer from low self control (I type this as I tear into a box of Häagen-Dazs), and it’s probably time to work on that.

5.     Stop comparing myself to other, more successful people. Everyone has their own journey, their own paths. My choices and decisions have brought me this far, but worrying about others’ life choices and decisions only serve to derail my purpose and direction.

6.     Travel. I have gotten myself out there a lot this past year. I took a solo trip through the big cities of North East America and I loved it (check out #EastCoastShenanigans!). I want to do more of it. I want to travel places. Eat different cuisines. Experience the world – and by extension, experience myself.

7.     Learn how to make gifs! And learn how to find them in the first place. Gifs are hilarious and amazing and while cute-cat humour is totally lost on me (I’m a dog person, obs), I love anything that makes me feel like I’m looking at the Daily Prophet! (If you don’t get the Harry Potter reference we can’t be friends.)

8.     Watch all the movies on my Netflix list! Catch up on the TV I’ve missed. Be able to actually contribute to a conversation about Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, and EVERYTHINGELSEEVER without having to politely excuse myself.

9.     Get back to acting/dancing/performing. I don’t care if that means joining a hip-hop class in the neighbourhood or a play on-stage, or The Groundlings, or even singing on a street corner. Just get the hell out there and BE.

10.  Find the thing I love. See, over the past month, I have done quite a bit of soul searching, and I realised something. There are a lot of things I like. In fact, I like everything. But I love nothing. I read everything, I follow nothing. I’m not passionate about any cause, activity, sport, or hobby to want to devote my time to it – and isn’t that an incomplete way to live?

Six (seven-ish) months ‘til I turn twenty five. Here’s to nothing.

Going Home

There is no feeling like the countdown to going home.

‘Home.’ It’s a conflict-ridden word for me. Is it a place, a situation, a state-of-mind? When I am in Madras, I long to go back ‘home’, Mumbai. But I don’t really love Mumbai. Not in the way normal Mumbaikars do. I have all the qualities that can be found in a typical Mumbaikar – a crazy sense of punctuality, the do-or-die mentality, the ability to wriggle myself through any situation – pretty much like wriggling oneself through a quarter-inch space in the crowded ladies compartment in a local train. But I don’t feel ‘at home’ there. I can’t keep up with that pace, with that lifestyle. The rush always makes me feel something deep inside. ‘I want to go home’.

So, in that respect, Madras should be home, right? I love Madras. It has given me enough reasons and more to love it extra every day. The smell of medu-vadas on the road, the beach bajjis, the buses-that-take-you-anywhere-anytime, the theatre elite, the kutcheri season vayira mookuthi mamis, the Tam Brahm tamash’s and the Non-Brahm biriyanis. But no matter how much I love Madras, I don’t have a home here. Irrespective of whether I am at my grandparents’, my Amma-like dance teacher’s or at the awesome Jyashree’s, I still get that feeing. ‘I want to go home.’

All-in-all, one might conclude that I am, to put it mildly, homeless. Or perhaps going through a spiritual crisis.

However, someone then told me, ‘Pea. Home is where the heart is. -And if the heart is not sure, then where Amma-Appa are.’

It was so simple, I was surprised I hadn’t seen that earlier. Home is where Amma-Appa are. Where I can run into their warm hugs, where they can awkwardly push me away while I try to plant wet, sloppy kisses on them publicly, where we can fight about them unfairly usurping my room while I was away, where we can have long discussion about the future, the country, the universe and life – and then try to find logic behind my intense dislike for Okra. Home is where I can sleep at 3AM and not have a bath, not answer the door, not clean my cupboard, not look minty fresh all the time. Home is where I can be me – because Amma-Appa are the only people who will love me unconditionally in spite of that.

There is no feeling like the countdown to going home. I’m coming home, Amma-Appa. Leave your arms wide open.

Stories

‘Like mirrors, stories prepare us for the day to come. They distract us from the things in the darkness.’ – Neil Gaiman


I don’t understand the world too well. No, forget the big things like war and violence and love and disagreements – not that they aren’t important. But I feel like I have never really even understood the world in its most mundane, everyday self. Why does it function like that? Like… clockwork. People are born, they die, empires are built, dynasties are wiped out. But the world still keeps moving on. We still drink our morning coffee, leave for work, come back, kiss our loving partners, sometimes for special occasions do special things and just keep moving on. When did it learn this resolve, this fortitude?

That’s why I write stories. So I can try and understand the world in ways that miss me when I look at it in passing. For in stories, I can break everything down into little bits. I can explore, explain, exploit every single doubt and feeling that I had in my mind from the day I began to understand that the world was not just through my eyes. It was through the eyes of the mechanic at the end of the street, and the woman knitting garlands at the roadside – even the multimillionaire reading a self help book in the toilet.

Stories create questions. Do you see something the same way I see them? Has your world given you a different perception of this? But we live in the same world, don’t we? Do we?

‘Fairy Tales are more than true. Not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be defeated’. – G. K. Chesterton

Why

Its odd how you think of the most life-changing things only when you are stuck in a crowded local train with no space to move or breathe – and there’s a man’s hand placed very inappropriately on your backside. No, there isn’t even enough space for you to kick him in the shins. You wonder if there is a purpose to life, to existence and to survival. Why exactly do we do what we do? Why do we put ourselves through so much trouble to study and work and earn? Why do we make ourselves labour through relationships that have the lifespan of a goldfish, and try and build up a social circle? Why do we work at, well, anything?

Then your stop comes and you get off, along with the sea of humanity that pours out of the tiny opening of that train, everybody moving away and moving on; working towards their own goals, their own dreams, their own needs. And, just like the awkward touch of the man’s hand fades away from memory, so do your thoughts. You walk ahead, planning for the rest of the day, responding to your relationships and social obligations, moving towards that unknown goal, bracing yourself for another day’s living. Or is it survival?