Monday, 24 December 2007

Stars on the ground...

I've never been much of a Bollywood fan, but this weekend I went to see Taare Zameen Par (Stars on the Ground) an off-the-beaten-track Hindi film directed by veteran actor and debutant director Aamir Khan. Taare Zameen Par, released worldwide on the 21st of December is written by creative director and writer Amole Gupte.

I thought this was one for the kids; there's not a lot you can do in the mid-December weather in London - a movie would be a good way to entertain them for a few hours. Easy night out.

I had no idea...

The story revolves around Ishaan (played by Darsheel Safary), an 8-year-old boy who looks at the world with wide eyed amazement and wonder; fish, birds and the explosion of colour around him. Highly sensitive to the harsh emphasis on good grades, homework and achievment, Ishaan also happens to be dyslexic.

Rather than admitting his inability to understand letters and numbers, Ishaan refuses to comply, thinking that "I won't" will land him in less trouble than "I can't". It does however get him into enough trouble for the parents to send him off to a boarding school to be 'straightened out'.

Unable to cope with the trauma of being separated from his parents, Ishaan withdraws completely into himself. Life in the boarding school is no different and he is the subject of ridicule from teachers and students alike for being 'stupid' and a 'duffer'. Enter Ram (played by Aamir Khan), a temporary art teacher who recognises the child's dyslexia and takes him under his wing. There was not a single dry eye for the next hour of that film - my two kids, all of 8 and 13 years, sobbed uncontrollably.

Not a word was spoken during the drive back home. Once at home, over dinner, the awkward silence was broken. We had our discussion, making eye contact with some difficulty - no one wanted to let the others know their eyes were welling up. This is a first for us; we're usually a Hollywood blockbuster familiy - we learned a great deal about ourselves, parenting, dyslexia, art & expression and how we underestimate the intelligence of our children. I also learned that there's quality cinema coming out of Bollywood.

The main thing that struck me however, was the impact dyslexia had on Ishaan's development, his motor skills and his social skills. He was 8 years old, already withdrawing into a world of his own, shutting everyone out. Adults with dyslexia have had to put up with the trauma for longer. How would it have affected their life chances? Ishaan got help when he was little, but what about the others we deal with on a day-to-day basis as advisers? And not just dyslexia; what about other disabilities? How does it feel growing up with something that is not your fault?

The textbooks, Equal Opportunity Legislation and Company Policies simply tell us. And we understand - of course we do. We just don't feel. Taare Zameen Par makes you do that.

Click here for the film's official website.
Released in the UK with English subtitles.
The film may appear slow in the first half, don't hold that against me! The second half makes the wait worthwhile.

Monday, 17 December 2007

If he brings you to it...

It's been a crazy few weeks. Actually, two whole months of frenzied stuff and the proverbial's hit more than just the fan, several times over.

Firstly, two tragic deaths:

My dear friend Alan Davidson passed away following a heart attack while he was travelling to a meeting (I only found out two days later). Alan was the Head of Corporate Communications at Reed in Partnership where I worked a few weeks ago. I have had the good fortune of working directly with Alan and we enjoyed an excellent mentor-mentee relationship. I had nothing but the deepest respect for him, even though our politics were chalk and cheese. From working with Alan I have learned in 6 months what it would take me 6 years to learn from life. Alan's influence on my way of thinking was profound and I am sure he affected many people that way; the condolence messages on his Facebook page are testimonies to this. It did not matter that Alan was less than 10 years older than I was, but I did see him as a father figure. And I will miss him like I miss my Dad. I could blame it on fate, but Alan's taught me otherwise. My heart goes out to his family and I hope they will be how he would have wanted them to be.

One of my regrets will remain not being able to attend Alan Davidson's funeral. I would have liked to say goodbye in person. I think he would have liked that too. But there were other, equally serious events taking place...
If losing a good friend in his mid 40s to a freak heart attack on a train is tragic, then what happened next can only be described as completely unfair. My little 11 year old niece, who after battling a serious and rare heart condition, further compounded by an even more serious and rarer blood disorder, passed away in the early hours of the 30th of November. The same day as Alan's funeral.

Pearl had been a happy child throughout her 11 years and was very much loved - her parents catered to her every whim - she was the centre of thier lives. Her illness - detectable only when it's already too late - came as a surprise and shock to all. A week ago, she was this bubbly child, full of life and promise and suddenly the doctors at Great Ormond Street were telling us there was nothing they could do. As of today, some 3 weeks later the significance of what has hit us still shocks everyone. How could anyone without a shred of malice in her have to face this? The very ground on which faith stands begins to appear shaky. While my grief is nothing compared to my poor brother, his wife and thier little 4 year old boy, I could have used some 15 minutes with Alan. He would have known what to say.

Secondly, I was moving home during all of this. Rated as the second most stressful event in one's life, I think we did quite well, considering everything else that was going on around us. We have moved into a flat for the first time in our lives. This is going to take some getting used to - everything on one floor, nosey (and noisy) neighbours across the hall (as opposed to across the street), communal stairs, a tiny balcony facing the street(!), a living room the size of a bedroom, no garden, two flights of stairs before you're home(!) and two doorbells to gain entry.

The kids are of course, delighted. They have thier own rooms finally, and the great customization race has begun. My boy wants a Media Version PC he can hook up his games console to and watch Top Gear on. I'll start worrying when he puts up a Jermey Clarkson poster; I had Bananarama on mine when I was 13. My girl on the other hand, is on a pink things acquistion spree. There's a lilac Bratz television she's seen in one of the catalogues, "But Daddy, that would be the perfect size for my room!" How do you explain to a 7 year old that only a mug would pay that kind of money for a cathode ray tube? Anyone know where I can get a pink TFT?

And thirdly, there's the business, Effectuality ( Leaving it on the back burner was the last thing on my mind when I left the safety and security of a regular paycheck. But then that's exactly what happened. I turned away customers with deadlines and did a slippery job of my website - which was more than 20 days behind schedule. It's up now and I am back at work. I am today where I should have been on the 1st of November. Some serious catching up to do I have. I so need the Force to be with me.

Is there a lesson in any of this or is it just a long read fuelled by the weekend beer? Well I have learned one thing - and my friend Ayesha Kanji summed it up best when she said : "If He brings you to it, He will take you through it."
Either that, or as Alan would have said: "It'll blow over, my friend."