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22 February 2021

Alvida

Picture: Courtesy Wallpaper Cave

Death is inevitable. It comes to all of us, some time or the other. The only difference is whether it comes quickly or lingers; whether it is peaceful or filled with agony; whether it comes at the end of a long, productive life or whether it cuts short a life in its prime.

Death is inevitable. And for those whom it folds in its embrace, it is all over. They are free from the stresses, the pains, and yes, even the joys of life. For those who are left behind, however, there’s grief; there are questions; there are regrets. It is they who feel Death’s sting the most.

And so it is, for me. In the last 12 months, I have lost a dearly beloved aunt, my father, and now, a very dear friend. Barely do I reclaim some semblance of normalcy over the grief I feel for one loss than comes another. Sometimes I wonder at the words we use to describe death… ‘lost’, for instance. That makes it seems like I misplaced them somewhere, and if only I would look harder, or know where to look, I would find them again. This is what grief does to me – makes me ruminate over silly things. It interrupts, for a moment, the grief of losing the ones I love. 

When I first began reading Hindi film blogs, it was Bollyviewer’s ‘Old is Gold’ that caught my eye. The humour in her reviews, the silly but extremely witty captions under the screenshots that accompanied them, the irreverence in her commentary captivated me. Soon, I became a ‘regular’, and got to ‘know’ Bollyviewer well enough for her to encourage, nay, exhort me to start my own blog. If it weren’t for her, Conversations over Chai would not exist.

As we continued to chat and email, we realised how alike we were in many ways – backgrounds, tastes, views. In fact, our paths had criss-crossed each other in many cities in many years, but like star-crossed lovers in the Hindi films we both loved, we had never met. Bollyviewer lived in Toronto at the time, and I joked that one day, we should stand on either side of the Niagara Falls and shout ‘Behanaaaa’ across the waters.

It was through Bollyviewer that I was introduced to Greta at memsaabstory.com, and my other masala soul sister, Madhulika at Dustedoff. It was uncanny the ways our reviews mirrored each other’s, or how our song lists overlapped so much. Coincidence or not, it appeared we were really, at heart, ‘teen jism, ek jaan’.

Our readers, who also overlapped, commented on our similarities. But it didn’t strike us just how much we mirrored each other until we decided to do a ‘masala fest’ – review three films with a common theme.

Bollyviewer suggested ‘lost and found’ as the most appropriate theme for us. Initially, we were just going to review whichever film we wanted, but I wondered amusedly, “What if, given our propensity to do similar things, we all chose the same film?” Bollyviewer was sure that wouldn’t be a problem – the ‘lost and found’ theme was the staple of so many Hindi films that she was sure we wouldn’t overlap. Madhu shared my reservations – if we did choose the same film, our readers surely wouldn’t want to read three – mostly similar – reviews of the same film. We agreed to give each other a heads up.

When we emailed each other with our choices we found Madhu was considering Yaadon ki Baraat, Amar Akbar Anthony or Johny Mera Naam. (She had already reviewed Waqt.) My choices? Yaadon ki Baraat, Johnny Mera Naam, or Waqt. (I'd already reviewed Amar Akbar Anthony.) And Ira? Her chosen options were Yaadon ki Baraat, Amar Akbar Anthony or Waqt. (She eventually reviewed Seeta aur Geeta.) What’s more, the introductions to our reviews were uncannily familiar. We had established our masala sisterhood!

Bollyviewer not only insisted I write my own blog, she was also my most regular reader. So when she stopped visiting, I wondered. Initially, it was because she was travelling, and work pressures interfered with what she loved to do – watch movies, write about movies and discuss movies on other like-minded blogs. We commiserated with each other over life interfering with fun.

I regularly checked on her blog, now renamed Masala Punch on a new platform, to see if she had posted anything new. But her writing fell by the wayside as well. But we kept in touch over email, and an occasional watch-along. I vented to her about my life being turned topsy-turvy in 2017; she ranted about the state of the nation. She shared her employment woes; we bonded over damning the then-WH-incumbent. Then, she went to India on a break – searching for a job was a job in itself, she told me humorously. I grinned. I knew something about that struggle myself.

Some years ago, she had visited me at home, along with her sister. We pigged on masala dosa and other goodies, yakked about films and our blogs, talked (and imbibed copious quantities) of wine, and laughed till our sides hurt. Bollyviewer was like that – you couldn’t help but laugh when you were with her. As Madhu wrote, “Her warmth, her sense of humour, her knowledge about so many things... all made her a very special person.

Indeed, she was. It is difficult to speak about her in the past tense, but Bollyviewer passed away on 12 February 2021. (My mind wanders again – why do people ‘pass away’? Where do they pass away to?) Her death is a devastating loss for her family and loved ones, and my heart goes out to them. I speak for myself – and Madhu – and, I daresay, the thousands who read her blog and ‘knew’ her through that; for all of us, whose lives were brightened by the warmth and humour she infused into her writings, and who, in reading those silly (‘sillier the better’, she would always tell me, with a grin) captions, couldn’t help ourselves grinning from ear to ear – for all of us, the loss is immeasurable. For me and Madhu, the loss is also incredibly personal. 

I cannot but be glad that she’s not suffering any more, and knowing Bollyviewer, I’m sure she’s up to some mischief wherever she is. She had always insisted Hell was where she was headed because she was not a 'good' woman by masala film standards, so I hope she’s up there making Old Nick laugh. And if by some mischance, she’s in the other place, I hope she’s raising Hell. Wherever she is, I hope she's enjoying a good meal, and toasting us with a glass of the finest Cabernet.

Alvida, masala soul sister. You’re missed. You’ll always be missed.

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