Wonder

I raise my hands to the sky

card my fingers through this

showers of meteors 

flashing by

 

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For Interesting, Intelligent, Complicated Women: An Interview with Tammy Riley-Smith

Absolutely FANTASTIC. Best interview I’ve read in a year; I was very moved by the director’s honesty. And Mary Jo Watts is a wonderfully intuitive, cleaver and decisive interviewer.

Cinemavitas

by Mary Jo Watts

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 9.17.54 PM Tammy Riley-Smith directing Louise Brealey on the set of Delicious. Used with permission.

Delicious, is an extreme rarity. It’s a micro-budget independent film written, directed, and co-produced by a woman, Tammy Riley-Smith, starring a woman, Louise Brealey, about a woman named Stella who suffers from an eating disorder.

In 2013 only 6% of the directors of the top 250 films were women. A paltry 11% of readily identifiable protagonists in those films were women.

The interview that follows is largely about a film that both Tammy (obviously) and I both know well. Before you read further, I strongly encourage you watch Delicious. I’ve included a plot summary of the film below, but fair warning: it’s full of spoilers!

-MJW


Delicious Plot Summary

Following his mother’s death, aspiring French cook Jacques (Nico Rogner

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The Colour Purple

Its August, and jamun season. Or maybe jamun season comes twice and the first time passed by unnoticed? I’ve always been a city ditz about seasons, and I always sleepwalk through a particular season and panic-edly relish it the next time it rolls around. I’ve done that for monsoons, bhutta season and jamuns. 

So, oh, yes. To begin again – its August, and jamun season. The cracks in Delhi’s badly-made streets are filled with crushed green seeds and wrinkly purple skins. In Lutyen’s Delhi, where the faraway benevolent overlord planted fruit trees along the boulevards, the overhanging green canopy rains fruits. Their black bodies bounce onto and roll along the pavements. So many that I wish the municipal corporation strung up nets to catch them before they got smashed under tires and feet. I could eat this one, and this one and this one, I think, as I carefully step around them, like a child avoiding the joins in the paving. I wonder what makes them so damn tempting. It could be the simple rightness of fruit on trees. The fact that I can see them hanging there, magically appearing almost overnight; a reminder that fruits don’t come from carts or industrial freezers. Yet I don’t have the courage to bend down and pick up the fruit everyone else appears to disdain. I allow myself to be restrained by unspoken social propriety in not jumping at the shortest branches. This is the hardest to do in North Campus – peer pressure is strongest, naturally, when surrounded by one’s peers.

The smell of jamuns, unlike that of neem fruits, is more an undercurrent than an assault. One part is slightly sweet; only just enough. The rest is a watery, sticky sort of smell. I love it. The reason for this bias, I think, is that I used to pluck the meager harvest from the jamun trees that lined my school’s playground. From the time I hit puberty and began gaining height, till the time that everyone else shot up while I remained a 5’2″, I realised I could reach the lowhanging branches, or maybe climb up a small gnarled knot, and know the pleasure of eating fruit I had picked with my own hands. There were a few incidents of other girls pointing out that my underpants were showing in my singleminded quest for jamuns, and a few incidents of said jamuns staining the monogrammed breastpocket of my school shirt a deep, permanent purple. I remember putting to good use a tall boy who had a misguided crush on me. (A small selfishness, I believe – I did offer him half the pickings).

Last year I bought jamuns – the large, market variety, not the small, berry-sized rain from the roadside trees – thrice. I regret not buying them every day; I’m a terribly lazy fruit-buyer. I can’t even be bothered to cater to my own tastes. While this has caused me to lose interest in mangoes and litchis, my regret is the strongest when I fail to consume adequate quantities of jamuns. So if you’re planning to see me this season, bring me a packet (without the salt, please). You shall be refunded, of course. And you shall have my thanks.

No One Ever Seems To Write About Their Cats

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Perhaps cats belong more properly to photographs and videos. It does seem a little ridiculous to wax lyrical about them; one can project neither mute wisdom nor aching loyalty onto their feline persons, and a cat’s usual mode of complete indifference lends itself ill to any romanticisation.

But I am hard pressed not to whip out my diary (every literature student’s ratty binder of drawings and quotes and 2 AM poems) and scribble on about love and trust and things like that, whenever my kitten stands up on her hind legs to butt her tiny head against my giant one. Or when she meows until I pick her up and then proceeds to settle into the crook of my legs, laying out her limbs like the Sphinx. Or when she looks and looks and looks at me with her pupils wide, ultimately opening her mouth in a silent meow. Yahoo tells me that is the highest honour a cat can bestow. And I feel sufficiently honoured.

Cats are strange creatures. And all my life my love for them has been met with either an even stronger professing of love for dogs, horror at my bad taste in animals (?? can there be such a thing ??) or a condescending declaration that I am thoroughly misguided. I’m not spared this anti-cat propaganda even at the vet, whose assistant tells me while I cradle my sick, 2-month old kitten “Madam, billi na hi rakho toh achha hai. Billi kisi ki sagi nahi hoti” (Its better never to keep cats. Cats belong to no one) I wouldn’t say I ~own my cats, but they definitely love me, and respect me (or my territory), and I take that as proof enough. It’s definitely an ego boost being loved by an animal that doesn’t love indiscriminately, but loves fiercely and insistently. Don’t get me wrong, dogs are AMAZING too. I can’t resist petting a dog regardless of time, place or situation. But cats? Cats are special.

My kitten lets me “manhandle” her paws and ears and even her tail, lets me turn her on her back and nose at her soft tummy – and all this runs counter to my expectations, according to everything I have heard and read. I should be trapped into a whirlwind of claws and teeth and yowling, but my cats are impatient, and a gentle nip is the roughest they’ve ever gotten. “Cats are big baby nerds”, says a friend on Tumblr. My parents and their Bengali friends would be taken aback at this description of what, according to them, are the fiends on the streets of Kolkata. A hate for cats has dictated even the city’s architecture, with grills on windows and balconies being of such design that cats can’t slip through. My grandmother shakes her head over the telephone on my folly. 

The thought of giving her up for adoption is painful. Of the kind that makes me clutch her tight and sob and sob in a rictus of panic while she squirms in my grasp, unable to understand what is wrong. For now, as my kitten finds new joy in the same cardboard box that’s been lying around the room for as long as she’s been here, I wonder at her athleticism, grace and utter gullibility. Ten minutes later, tuckered out from chasing her tail, she will leap silently into my lap and nibble at my jaw. Its cat for ‘Hello, large hairless cat, I tolerate you well’. For now, all is well.