Humour by Rehana Munir: Bright sparks of 2021
Day 2 of 2022. We’ve crawled out of our hangovers, found homes for all our leftovers, and renewed our vows to be model pandemic citizens. The past year was unsettling, and I for one have my foot on the pedal, but not without one last look at the year’s highlights.
There was some stress about Messi leaving Barcelona (note to self: try and develop sympathy for football clubs’ financial difficulties) and Ronaldo’s sensational transfer to Manchester United. More recently, Lewis Hamilton lost the F1 to one Mr. Verstappen, with an equal number of manly men on my social media feed defending and criticising the Brit. New Zealand’s Ajaz Patel, who spent the first few years of his life in Mumbai, took all 10 wickets in an innings at the Wankhede. Poetic. But what gave me the most joy was seeing the 18-year-old British tennis star, Emma Raducanu, radiant with glee after winning the US Open final. Post-victory, she joined the audience as they sang out loud to Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline. Sweet indeed.
Arts and entertainment
Danish artist, Jens Haaning, has set a gloriously dubious precedent. The Kunsten Museum of Modern Art gave him $84,000 in the hope that he would submit two original works of art; what he presented to the museum, instead, were two blank canvases cheekily titled ‘Take the Money and Run’. Back home, I was blown away by ‘Caput Mortuum’—Varunika Saraf’s solo exhibition at Chemould Prescott Road. In her fantastic and fearsome world, the state and its machinery are a constant threat to humans and the ecology. Dangers lurk in idyllic forests that stretch out on lightly woven fabric; national maps are bordered using red oxide, calling to mind unhealable wounds; embroideries tell chilling tales of resistance and oppression. And for voyeuristic thrills, there were those perfectly staged candid shots from the Katrina-Vicky wedding, while Ranveer Singh & co. provided a celebratory end to another downbeat year with Kabir Khan’s 83.
The year gone by has left a delicious trail of breadcrumbs. The fleshiness of the A1 Bakery pao on Hill Road, Bandra. The infinite possibilities that the hollow centre of a Goan poi offers. The flakiness of a croissant from Suchali’s Artisan Bakehouse, eaten on a Sunder Nursery morning in Delhi when the AQI is merely toxic and not life-threatening. Cruffins from Mag St. Cafe in Colaba, whose vanilla custard filling takes you back to childhood, but with much higher production values. Frightfully expensive loaves of sourdough bread from twee patisseries. And after all that, the humble sliced bread from the kirana shop, tavaa-toasted and sloppily topped with salty butter, too-sweet jam and processed cheese. Tastes like rebellion.
When I feel the earth slipping from under my feet, I read books grounded in science. The one that stood out for me in 2021 was When We Cease To Understand The World by Benjamin Labatut, a firecracker of a non-fiction novel (translated from the Spanish by Adrian Nathan West), a genre pioneered by Truman Capote with In Cold Blood. It’s a breathless account of scientists often driven to madness by their momentous—and destructive—inventions and discoveries, peaking around the two World Wars. In particular, the great divide in the physics community caused by quantum theory, with its refusal to obey the laws of general relativity, is illustrated with such urgency and intensity. High praise indeed coming from a flaky arts major.
We’ve all responded to the second consecutive year of pandemic-tinted dystopia in our own ways. I found myself turning into a frenzied experience-seeker, eager to latch on to whichever freedoms could be enjoyed between waves. It was a privilege to stand shoulder to shoulder with the farmers at Tikri Border before the second wave hit—a lesson in courage, dignity and generosity. Post the second wave, I looked through a telescope on a chilly Kumaon evening to see Jupiter’s red spot, Saturn’s rings, and a host of constellations that have very little interest in the sordid goings-on on the blue planet. And as the year ended with news of a third wave, I drowned my foreboding in a glass of excellent guava-infused gin, Perry Road Peru (limited-edition), getting into the mind of The Beatles via Peter Jackson’s docu series, Get Back. I wish you all good health, interesting thoughts and forgiving friends in the new year. Here’s to a kinder world!.
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From HT Brunch, January 2, 2022
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