All posts by Jabberwock Online

The online magazine of the department of English of Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi.


“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”
– Mario Savio. University of California, Berkeley.

[This article is loosely about the Pinjratod protest that took place at Lady Shri Ram College for Women on 5th November, 2018, in the wake of a series of such protests in institutions all over the country against the unreasonable hostel rules in place for women students.]

Protest is an organism with one brain. Strands of various voices come together as a thick rope in the late evening air, in order to bind what has been binding them. Protest is important. From walking out of prescribed realms to dancing on the junctions of multiple heavy-tarred roads—protest is important. There’s the quintessential beat of the drums, there’s the nervous shuffle of feet and there’s the timed clap of x dozen girls. Protest is important. Standing defiantly, hand in hand, in the face of a restlessly moving traffic of the metropolis. Protest is important.

There’s a journey from angry to empowered, as the unconscious process of feeding off of each other’s energy unfolds. Taking care of yourself need not always mean pleasant affectations that completely override your wants and needs; it may also mean overriding the affectation. Protest is important.

Girls’ hostels across Delhi University, across the country even, in recent years have acquired a reputation for being unreasonable and unaccommodating of the wants and desires of its inhabitants. There has been a general tendency to disregard all attempts at change, resulting in the continuation of decades-old rules and regulations that were deemed ‘fit’ for female students back then. LSR, a place that is sold all over the country as a leading feminist college, requires its feminist girls to be back inside the hostel by seven-thirty sharp. On 5th November, at 5:30 pm, the student body of LSR launched a protest at the front gate of the college. They demanded abolishment of the unreasonable curfew. They demanded abolishment of certain rules of the hostel, like the process of gating students out of the hostel as a form of punishment for breaking curfew. Most of the hostel students are essentially outstation students, with no place to go to in the city in the face of such a punishment. They demanded abolishment of the day-slips system, which requires first year students to get signed permission from the warden to go out even during daytime. They demanded the fulfilment of OBC reservation guidelines, along with infrastructure-accessibility for PwD students. There was also an attempt to understand how funds are utilised by the college and what have been their reasons for non-expansion of the hostel for the longest time.

The Protest continued throughout the night and dispersed in the morning around nine–thirty, after which a GBM took place in the hostel lawns where some of the teachers verbally addressed the demands of the students.

We, human beings, are conditioned into looking at the positives. We try to stay happy with what is given to us. We always look for the silver lining. We look for the sunny spots, because going through life from one day to the next, from morning to night is hard. This unfair competition for air, water, food and jobs in a system that supports some more than the others can be physically and psychologically taxing. For every person who’s richer than us, we will find one who is poorer. If someone’s taller than us, we will look for someone who’s shorter. We are all usefully taught the legend ‘if winter comes, can spring be far behind’. We all learn to live by the maxim ‘the darkest part of the night gives way to the morning’. So it hardly matters if you have a smaller house than them; at least you live in your own house. It doesn’t matter if you live in a rented apartment; at least you can afford a permanent roof over your head. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a roof over your head, be thankful that you are not dead. Many younger and far more innocent have succumbed.

Likewise, they tell us, “So what if your hostel curfew timing is 7:30? In our times it used to be much lower. We never went out partying during our college years, we didn’t even touch a liquor bottle and yet we still had fun.” Of course, the length and breadth of what girls want to do at night outside of college is partying and drinking liquor.

The curtailment of freedom and mobility of women in the name of safety and security is not the lesson we ought to be teaching our young feminist women. By no means is this a tradition that should be upheld. Girls’ hostels all over the country have been getting away with these draconian rules under the pretence of safety and some other things north and south of that, for the longest time. This only means adhering to and being a part of the age-old institutionalised oppression of woman-kind. Teaching Feminism in classes is not fighting the battle.

The truth is, we do not protest half as much as we ought to. Our immediate reality is fractured with disjunctions and deep fissures that we choose to be unaware of. A constant interest in understanding each other’s reality at every level, which is vital for protest culture, is missing. One of the finest liberal arts colleges in the country is also one of the finest examples of Social Darwinism; it’s a traditional jungle of the fashionable and the loud, while the rest are pushed to the sidelines.

We are fed theories, we are marked on memorising. We need to break that cycle ourselves. We need to be careful of who we are when we carelessly go about our days, and therefore be mindful of who we are not; we need to be mindful of what are they like, the people who we are not. Life is not a personal matter. We need to speak to people in order to make the speaking out, when it happens, more meaningful. We are somehow made accustomed to and comfortable with the idea that we are completely responsible for ourselves, that we are enough for and by ourselves. We are made accustomed to the idea that if we try hard enough for long enough, we will get to the place in our minds without breaking any rules and that it’s the same for everybody. But life is not a personal matter. We need to be more aware of our immediate realities. We need to protest more often and protest under one name. We need to strengthen it by being consciously unified.

For many students, this was the first protest they participated in at LSR. Even for those it wasn’t, it marked a starting of something. I went around asking various different people if they also felt a strange exhilarating satisfaction while protesting like I did. I went around asking various different people if all of what was happening meant something to them as it did to me. I went around asking various different people if this made them more liberated in a way they did not know, yet they could feel. They said yes, yes, yes, it did.

Since then, a solution has been offered to the hostellers in the form of major fee hikes and the division of single-seaters into double-seaters. It has been said that with the hostellers’ permission, all or none—ALL OR NONE—of the demands will be in place before January 1st, 2019.

Written by Faryaal

Edited by Eshna Gupta
Photograph taken by Sukriti Lakhtakia


Just Some Cardboard Boxes

High noon. I see you again, like every other day, walking down the street with unhurried, measured steps towards your destination.

You look like you know this place, and yet you don’t. Have you ever looked around this familiar street you pass by, so mellow in the afternoons?  Had you not been so linear-minded as to walk the path indifferently to your haven, maybe you would have noticed these cardboard boxes kept aside, lining this street.

Don’t you want to peek into them sometimes? Think of it as a birthday present. Your birthday present. Don’t you want to just rip open the cellophane tape and throw the wrapper away, scrunched up somewhere while you view the contents inside? Well, I like to un-tape the present ever so gently, save the gift wrapping paper for later, tucked safely under the mattress. I’m talking about the classic gift wrapping papers which are slippery and smooth between your fingers, glittery and shiny, not those fancy paper ones you have today. Seems like I got a bit carried away with the prospect of unwrapping gifts there. Remind me where I was, would you? Oh yes, you see, it’s the same as unwrapping a birthday present, except, it’s not your birthday. It’s something equally special.

The idea here is that of curiosity. Don’t you just want to know what lies inside those boxes?

Cardboard boxes are different. They have a different storage demographic. In very simple terms, they are boxes wherein you keep things which you don’t need right now, but might want later. They store objects, such as your old photo albums, or maybe old books with yellowing pages and a crisp scent (with an equally old and carefully pressed rose stuck somewhere in between, if you would allow a small cliché in here?). These cardboard boxes contain things which aren’t, well, things. And if you look around, there are so many of them, just like right now, right to your left and to your right, each preserving stories. Some of those cardboard boxes are sitting somewhere forgotten, some are even walking around here and there, talking with each other but never disclosing their true contents. Or maybe they want to but they can’t!  Isn’t it dangerous? Maybe, maybe not! Maybe it’s just cardboard nature…

If you have observed cardboard boxes like I have, you would notice that sometimes the massive brown tape which holds the box together is somewhat loosely stuck, it doesn’t take much to peel it off. But most of the times, it is stubborn, and when it is, little cardboard fibres come off as well, leaving the spot a lighter shade of brown. Do be careful while you uncover, do so with care and a lot of affection, for each box deserves it.

If you get a hang of my words, you would understand by now that every other thing is a cardboard box. That dining table is one, or that new sofa set that your family got only recently. Look inside it, would you? You’ll see the day when you all were quibbling at the mall about the colour of the sofa, your father pushing for a stoic brown, your sister insisting on a flamboyant yellow, your mother telling you all that you didn’t need a new sofa right now, how you all settled for a classy grey in the end, and went off to have some pizza – one thing that the family agreed upon. Opening these cardboard boxes every once in a while feels nice, doesn’t it?

So after about five hundred and seventy two words about cardboard boxes, I would be disheartened to see you without an urge to look through them. Maybe after a month of looking around, searching, exploring, maybe you would know this street that you pass by everyday, a little better. Maybe it would even make you smile, and what’s more heartwarming than a smile? Let’s begin, shall we?

Look around, they are not that difficult to come across, these cardboard boxes. I know I am one! And you must know for a fact that, come a little closer, so are you.

Written by Pakhi Pande

Edited by Shriya Kotta
Artwork by Parul Nayar

Paper Refugee

What I see is not what you see,
And what you see,
Is not me.
It is what I could be.

My shadow that walks behind me,
Makes me grateful that at the back I cannot see.
And yet heavy with decisions I made unknowingly,
It pushes me forward forcefully.

What you wrote in time,
Had left me alone in my mime;
Hoping my silence would be a sublime
Representation of your crime.

But the audience couldn’t pay a dime,
And all I got was sympathy filled limes.
Despite this suppressive regime,
I found place in this location prime.

This place, on me it grew,
A world of paper offering me refuge.
It may look fragile to you,
But its members, including my shadow, are now my crew.

In its glory now I rejoice gratefully,
Because it makes me feel complete.
Irrespective of whether I have you in this hour of glee,
Or you choose, finally to set me free.

Since it dawned upon me that for you,
I was nothing but a cue
To let go of the only few,
Who kept you from becoming new.

For after all, it is me who needed to decide,
If Within it was a safe place to hide.
And now in this paper I confide,
About the journey that taught me to take you in the stride.

Written by Zoya Bhargava

Edited by Sukriti Lakhtakia
Artwork by Himangi Shekhawat







“You have 200 unread messages” . . . Tanya’s phone buzzes with another notification. Her ever-smiling face, in a picture from her twentieth birthday, set as her screensaver, springs to life. But she makes no response. She lies still, as still as the mist that sets upon a window pane on a winter morning. A screeching silence pervades her room, interrupted by the rhythmic noise of the fan and the notifications from her phone. Without a filter on her face, she looks tired, weary of life. The blood on her left wrist has clotted; the blade in her right hand has put everything to rest. Her phone buzzes again. The countless notifications still call out to her as if trying to wake her up from her eternal slumber.

Looking gorgeous”, “a shining star “, “Pretty girl!”, her account is flooded with a million comments. Why wouldn’t it be flooded—she did spend almost over an hour trying to think of a good caption for her latest picture. Well, not so latest—it was almost a day old. For a girl who updated the whole world with her life every hour, this photo was redundant. And yet, she had to perform the courtesies, replying with a heart emoji for every comment, a personalised thank you note for her best friends, and ignoring the casual unwelcome comments. “800 likes” – that was enough to bring a 1000-watt smile on her face, probably her only feature which had not lost its charm to the filters.

That looks yum!” the phone buzzed. Ritz349 had commented on the stills of a baked mushroom-and-pepperoni pizza that Tanya had posted last night. Ritz349 — Ritika — was her neighbour. She was better acquainted with Ritz349 than Ritika. They had met once or twice at each other’s door while leaving home, their conversations hadn’t lasted for further than a short “Hi!” on the lift. After all, tagging a person was easier than knocking on their door.

That did not perturb Tanya. She was not a social person; she was a social media person. Most people who follow her were mere acquaintances at best, else strangers. They are nameless, faceless people with intellectual, pretentious or sometimes, cringe-worthy internet names. But they did matter to her. They gave her immense happiness. They sent out hearts to her, they liked her, they admired her. It was a world that celebrated her existence. She had become an inhabitant of the virtual world, a refugee of the real.

In that world, she was no less than a celebrity. She had the charm that attracted everyone. From the time she woke up to the time she slept, there was something so picture-perfect about Tanya. Her profile picture itself showcased perfection, in which she is standing on the beach, with her auburn hair flying where sky meets sea, her eyes looking high up towards the sun: #HelloSunshine!

They noticed the sunshine, but not the eclipse that was approaching. If only her friends could scan through the million filters and meet the real Tanya—desolate, vulnerable, craving for social validation. She had opened the windows to a digital world behind the closed doors of her room. If only someone had noticed the emptiness of her eyes on her ever-smiling face. If only someone had hugged her and asked her, “Are you ok? Is something wrong?”

As the world in her 5.5 inch smartphone breathed life, with every notification, 21-year-old Tanya Gill, singer, writer, wanderlust-er with 5k+ followers, lay still in the lonely world of a 10 x 10 feet box in a high-rise apartment.

Written by Aaheli Jana

Edited by Eshna Gupta
Artwork by Kajol Tanaya Behera

Lost Ghost


It started with looking in the mirror.

That’s when she came back to me.

Just like that, just that one morning, just when I was fine.

It was a fairly normal face to me, till lines appeared on the scene and began to merge and undercut each other, till I could decipher dark pit-falls spreading all over the place, creating holes, till a touch impressed the coldness of my face to my body, till her head got stuck on mine and after a while it was hard to pull it off.

Yes, it definitely began with looking into the mirror.

Yes, that’s when she came back to me.

The questions started to emerge in my mind as I was wearing my jacket and putting on my hat. They commenced at a snail’s pace but were shooting high with great velocity by the time I reached the road. But there were three of them that especially wounded my insides,

rendering it irreparable forever,

because they will remain unanswered forever.

“Who am I?” was the first one. Now I am on the street, walking. It is 10pm and Life outside has not died yet. It is comforting. The yellow and red lights, the bustling food centres, the metro, everything. I feel hope, I feel like I can still make a connection somehow, somewhere. Everything’s not lost yet. Can someone save me from the calamity that is sure to fall on me like lightning. Anyone, please?

I am standing in the middle, looking through the crowd and I see a girl, I see her with her long hair and a smile which I can feel, and I see her coming, yes, come closer, closer, but, alas, she moves past me, like a cold wind that gently slaps your face.

Can I still tell her I love her? Can I still tell her about myself? I remember her smell now, distinctly. I see her face, clearly. I can even feel her smile,

just like the girl that passed me by three minutes ago,

just like nothing had happened three years ago.

She was always so beautiful, but I never complimented her enough, but c-can I still tell her?

The yellow and red lights are suffocating now; I can feel their hands around my neck about to wrench it off. No, no, someone has to be around, someone who will give me all the answers and if not, at least some relief. I desperately look around, however –

“Where am I?” was the next question that arose. I am standing alone; I am surrounded by no one, only houses that are made up of empty cardboards for some reason. They make me want to vomit, I can’t stand them. Was I dreaming? Had I been alone this whole time? But what is this place, then? These empty cardboards are my insides and I am a wandering ghost amongst them.

I have been walking for two hours now, thinking about only one thing: how do things happen? Just like that, with a shrug of a shoulder.

I was born just like that, I fractured my leg at eighteen just like that, my parents passed away just like that, she got lost just like that and I am alone, as always, just like that.

Flora Cash music starts playing in my head and I feel suicidal:

Well you look like yourself
But you’re somebody else
Only it ain’t on the surface
Well you talk like yourself
No, I hear someone else though
Now you’re making me nervous

I am nervous. I have always been nervous since she left. I start walking with my hands in my pocket, with my head down because my hands are cold and my head hurts with strain. Don’t think, don’t think, don’t think, I murmur to myself, constantly and desperately. I think about those yellow and red lights again and how they were about to choke me. I think about the girl that went past me.

I think about the number of times I looked into the mirror.

I go back to all those times times when my life didn’t look so blurry.

But her smile, it has pulled me into her living, into her dead. The smile that I can feel. And then I think about those people and disgust boils inside me with those creatures who were dressed up, who were going out, who were talking loudly. You’re not real, I wanted to shout. I wanted them to contemplate just like me. I wanted them to feel just as petty. I wanted them to tell me that they have done worse things. I wanted them to be surrounded by these houses made up of empty cardboards.

The sun is shining brightly and I shudder. I draw my coat closer to my body.

It has been 8 hours since I have been walking, but the sun does not seem to go away. I evoke the past multiple times in my mind, because there is no present, because this all is a lie, because this is not me. I chuckle and my cracked up heart whimpers. Can she still come back? Why do these questions never get answered? I will be a good person this time. I promise.

I will live here amongst the empty cardboards, my darling, if you are with me. Yes, that’s it. But — “What is the meaning of all this?” came the last question; last because that’s when I lost hope.

Because there was a wall in front of me telling me it’s a dead end.  Because my body had become numb, my brain exhausted, my heart stabbed and fragmented. Because the sun was still there and the cardboard houses still empty.  But at the corner, I see the dog. I see its brown, and I see its wagging its tails.

I stumbled up to him, and I knelt. And just like Love Story’s Oliver, I did what I had never done since she left me. I cried.

Written by Shanna Jain

Edited by Sukriti Vats
Artwork by Nehal Sharma

Cardboard Houses

“All those paper people living in their paper houses, burning the future to stay warm.”
John Green, Paper Towns

We are but marionettes
With our strings entangled
Between the obscure scrawny fingers
Of our dismal unyielding hunger.

Dwelling in residences made of paper
We are the generation incognisant of a home’s leisure,
Hollow lids trussed with tapes over shaky houses
Are but scrapes of withered dreams, hanging meekly against time’s currents.

On the periphery of our cardboard boxes
Tread a couple of lonesome aged birds;
With their live carcasses draped with black smoke,
They haplessly seek an antique blue sky, now painted with coal.

What once used to be green,
Wrapped cosily in the warm blanket of trees
Is now a desecrated land, robbed of every inch of its fertility,
Rich ironically in only an abundance of toxicity.

Squared cartons, bountiful economically
Shards of the very same seducing currencies
Are sewn on the walls of these volatile residencies,
Offering glimpses of impoverished ivory streets.

With every step that we took in the direction of realms of ‘modernity’
Ignorantly we slew our very roots, grounded in nature’s pristine felicity
And of each hectare’s plundered flora, fauna and forestry,
We headed towards our own fatality.

Now our roads are empty, akin to our hearts
And an unforgiving shadow,
Reminiscent of our tampering with earth’s ecology
Looms ever-so-large over us perpetually.

In a land that’s no-one’s and inhabited by no-one,
The last Man roams in a white coat, walking heavily pocketed
Empty hearted, empty headed;
Yet his hands hold on to the money jingling in his pockets.

All because, we are but marionettes
With our strings entangled
Between the obscure scrawny fingers
Of our dismal unyielding hunger.

Written by Rashmi Chakravarty

Edited by Tinka Dubey
Artwork by Ayushi Kapoor

Sweet Remembrance

It’s in bits and pieces that I collect them. I don’t always like to remember all of it. I put the pieces in different cardboard boxes, seal them with scotch tape and put them away; I then stack them into piles, some never to be found, some to be opened again and again and again.

On some days, when the weather outside is gloomy and the sun seems to be shy, I take a stroll down those streets. At first my eyes are closed, afraid of what I might find, and when I look up, I see them: instead of houses, I see cardboard boxes. . .sealed with scotch tape. Sometimes, the tape is so worn out that it puts up no fight whatsoever, while some are shut so tight, gathering dust, that even the windows seem to lock me out. The streets have disappeared and I’m left all alone down this memory lane.

I walk not knowing where to stop. I let my feet carry me and my feelings guide me. I take a right turn, then left, then a right once again. My eyes travel through the boxes, incandescent and impatient. I catch a glimpse of every moment I had lived. I see myself laughing when I tripped while trying to skate unsuccessfully; I see myself putting a blanket over him and smile; I see myself, leaning against the bathroom door, eyes red, staring into hopelessness; I see myself looking into the mirror, resolution in my eyes with a knife in my hand. I see myself sitting on a chair in a room, sitting across a woman – looking at her for help. I see the joyful faces of my family when they see me after years.

My feet come to halt. I find myself standing in front of a cardboard box which seems to be new – its scotch tape is intact but its door is flung open, almost as if welcoming me in. A sweet light picks me up and carries me inside. As soon as I enter, a warm gush of wind brushes across my face and the scent of lavender fills my head – my feet feel warm against the summer soil. I hear the chirping of the birds perched up on a tree, singing to me the tale of two lovers. I feel someone take my hand and draw circles on it. I giggle. I turn around and see two beautiful eyes gazing into mine, reading me. Her eyes, alive as the morning Sun, tell me a story I already know; her chapped lips curving into a smile. I feel myself smile as I lean in and kiss her.

As it runs across my mind, I don’t feel any joy or sadness or pain. All I feel is peace. My eyes take it all in like a routine medicine to keep going. My lips don’t tremble. My chest doesn’t feel heavy anymore. My mind remains a boat of satisfaction, afloat in a sea of calmness.

Written by Athira Raj

Edited by Sadhana Gurung
Artwork by Najma Shamim

The Gaze on Women

This is a story common to all women in varying degrees of similitude, but a particular little girl enjoys the limelight in mine because she had a painting to look at. It was a painting her mother had painted, which her father also looked at. Though it was not often that she got a glance at it, anybody else hardly ever did.

This was not the only painting her mother had painted. There were many, most of which were painted during the mother’s maiden days. Her paintings had been valued as mere decorative pieces to complement the furniture in her maiden house, she felt, so she folded them up and took them to the new house when she got married. The new house already had some decorative pieces to complement the furniture, so the paintings were folded up and kept away in the store room.

Once a year, they were taken out, only to be cleaned up and put back again. One such odd day on one odd occasion, the little girl caught sight of that painting. As her mother sat dusting it with a piece of cloth, her eyes followed her mother’s hands tracing the shapes with clean, wet strokes, and she gazed at it from behind her mother’s shoulder.

She had a better look afterwards. There was a sylvan setting, nothing short of a dreamscape, with heavy flower-speckled foliage and butterflies fluttering above. Amidst it were three women with flowing robes tied loosely around their petite curves and patches of flowers tucked in their hair here and there. They were involved among themselves, busy in their passive plays by the waterside, and a light chatter flowed through the scene, it seemed. They were not painted to perfection, but they were beautiful.

Three Fairies by Beena Agrawal (Eshna’s mother)

There were several others—a portrait of bani-thani, one of a sringarika, some floral still lives, and a few landscapes—in the lot but that one had an unrivalled appeal for her.

By the time her father came home, she had selected the wall which was good enough to be graced by it, had decided to remove the wall-clock to clear the spot for it, and had fancied complementing curtains in the background to go with it. She fancied the painting in the limelight of everyone’s gaze, and thought of the appreciation it would earn its artist. Excited, she rushed to the father and announced her plans to him.

“Which painting?”

“Oh,” she dragged her father to the large canvas, unrolled the heavy sheet and pointed to it, “this one.”

Her father instantly gave a confused, unimpressed look which subsequently turned into a frown. He raised an eyebrow, shook his head, and told her to choose some other painting.

“Such a painting belongs in the bedroom,” he said. He looked at it for a good two minutes before busying himself in other work. The little girl could not understand what he meant but did not like the idea at all. Yet she knew her father’s judgement was final and binding—it was always final, whatever he said—so she started considering another painting which might be good enough as a replacement.

She chose the bani-thani and her mother said that she found the sringarika pretty. The father thought them appropriate enough to be exhibited; his gaze approved of their aspects. They were beautiful, undoubtedly, but she found it unsettling what had made the father approve of them and dismiss the first one. The two portraits depicted women thoroughly adorned with specks of alta, veiled in gold-inlaced drapes, and wound in coils of pearls. Pearls after pearls in coils after coils were painted as perfect rounds, kept apart at measured distances, never touching the next pearl yet seemingly stringed together by the sheer force of discipline. The women stood far removed from any discernible background. They stood perfectly still. They stood perpetually silent. They stood only to be looked at.

Then there were The Three Women who were always too busy frolicking among themselves to acknowledge any gaze that the father had been trying to protect them from. She could not look at them very often but she heard their chatter, distant and unintelligible, whenever her mind wandered off to them. Quieting them at intervals, she could also hear her father’s words about “such a painting”, “such a girl”, and such others.

Their chatter and those words rang together in jumbled dissonance until they turned into an incessant babble, a constant disturbance. As the babble started making sense to her, the disturbance deepened; she came to understand why that canvas was folded up and kept away in the store, why the bedroom was otherwise the only safe place to keep those women, why their bare skin was made unavailable for the gaze that relished it; she came to understand why her mother had not wished to exhibit her own paintings all these years, why her father had more say in how and where those paintings were to be exhibited, why everything her father said was final and binding; she understood that her father had looked at the painting for a good two minutes before dismissing it as inappropriate.

The babble still keeps ringing but now she can decipher distinct notes of the disturbance. The painting still sits folded away but now she sees it in shades and tones of understanding.

Written by Eshna Gupta

Edited by Shriya Kotta
Images provided by Eshna Gupta

What’s in the Box?

I was riddled with apprehension about my selection of genre for this issue. There were two jutting reasons that relentlessly nagged at my conviction, of being able to successfully undertake the choice, I had made. The first was my own obsession with this genre – Psychological Thrillers. The two most inviting words to have ever been used together. I had never previously been able to put into words, the experience of watching these films, except for some fanatically repetitive Oh-My-Gods, which thoroughly vexed the listener. The thought of expressing them now via long-form in a coherent, sane fashion to a knowledgeable audience made me jittery.

Second was simply the sheer infiniteness of the genre. Multitudes of films have been produced since the nascent stages of cinema that pride themselves upon belonging to this particular category. Compressing their genius in a mere line or two seemed a task too Herculean. But I was given to try, since this would be my humble attempt at a tribute (of sorts) to all the films that boggled my mind for weeks, replaced my sleep with wild theorisations, and made me fall head-over-heels in love with cinema.

I was inducted into the realm of psycho-thrillers by the guru himself; the man, the myth, the legend – Alfred Hitchcock. As per the rite-of-passage every cinephile is obliged to initiate, I too, began at Psycho. Frankly, and strangely, the first screening did not cinematically impact me as much as the subsequent ones did. It was only after multiple viewings when I was able to discern the subtle nuances of Bates’ terrifying demeanour, that I could better appreciate the movie. It goes without mentioning how iconic the profoundly twisted end is. The suddenness with which it springs on you can leave you unsettled for days. To this, I can positively testify. I followed up Psycho with other Hitchcock classics – Rear Window and Strangers On A Train. Murder plots overbore the psychological aspects in these, but the pioneering themes of cynical self-doubt and turpitude championed the cause of the psycho-thriller genre.

The next few films were definitive of this genre for me, as they are for the rest of the world and IMDb. They are deemed to be the worthiest prototypes, majorly due to their surprise endings, warranted by delusional characters and distorted storylines. Filmmakers have made use of a plethora of psychological afflictions, to provide their stories with convoluted dimensions that transcend time and reality, in a manner reflective of postmodern trends. Memento comes to mind as the prime proponent here. Scenes are never static, and time constantly correlates between the past and present to build up enough momentum for the big reveal.

It is safe to assume that nothing can be taken at face value in this genre, because your perception is being surmounted only to be upended in the climax. Films by David Fincher familiarised me with this formula, thus bumping him up to first place on my list of favourite directors. His decision to recurrently cast Brad Pitt in his movies was one more incentive for me to watch them.

With masterpieces like Fight Club, Gone Girl, Zodiac, Seven, and The Game under his belt, Fincher is a master artist with a masterful mind. While the former three directions are based on books of the same respective names, the latter two are his own mad creations. The Game, especially, is a wild coaster aboard which the plot twists just don’t end. Filmmakers find it imperative to intercut the dominant psychological context with other contentious themes, layering their films with complex ideas, so as to explore the deep trenches of things more sinister than the human psyche. Fincher did it with religion in Seven, by amping up the elaborate murder plot with the seven deadly sins. M. Shyamalan introduced elements of the supernatural in The Sixth Sense, and a futuristic sci-fi aspect in his most recent, Split. Jonathan Demme interposed cannibalism and transsexuality in The Silence of the Lambs. It is this very rounded storytelling that proves layering in films only stands to augment, and not derive from its central subject.

By this point I was binge-watching psycho-thrillers. Routinely, I fixed myself at one spot and gulped down two, sometimes even three of them, back to back till unholy hours. It is only now that I realise the great blunder I was committing in all this addictive revelry. I was rapidly extinguishing the reserve of movies that were supposed to be savoured slowly, watched sparingly, intermittently, to quadruple the mind-blowing effects of each successive film. Dear reader, do not repeat my mistake. Go slow!

In my pursuit of watching every psycho-thriller available, I came across a few obscure gems which haven’t received as much global recognition as their counterparts, despite being sufficiently at par with them. From these, I distinguished my top three. Identity was the first one I watched. A tight film with a small budget, it is set in one location throughout. I vividly remember being bowled over by its heady mix of grounded simplicity and the ambitious premise it so adeptly saw through till the end. Prestige was another, its thrilling disposition increased manifold by a plot revolving around magicians and their illusions. The last one was Prisoners, which was equal parts disturbing and equal parts hypnotic, basing itself off the fears and faith of a distressed father. For me, these films worked far better than the likes of Mulholland Drive and Black Swan, which were too superfluously riddled with symbolisms.

It all depends on what appeals most to your sensibilities, and which medium overwhelms you best. For me, reading a psycho-thriller can be as fulfilling as watching one, something I realised after experiencing Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island and Mystic River both literarily and cinematically.

So, Dear Readers, it is on you to find the streak of derangement you prefer within the orbit of cinema. Choose your poison. Unshackle yourself and plunge into it wholeheartedly. And remember, try to retain your sanity amidst this insanity.

Written by Tanvi Akhauri

Edited by Sukriti Vats
Featured Image edited by Tanvi Akhauri
(A still from “Psycho”)

Was the 9/11 Attack An Inside Job?

Disclaimer: This is in no way meant to hurt the sentiments of the families of the people who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks.

The 9/11 attack was one of the biggest attacks on the United States in the modern era. Two commercial planes flew straight into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York, one flew into the side of the Pentagon, and the other crashed into the ground.  All these commercial planes were apparently hijacked by people who “seemed Arabic”, who acted as kamikaze pilots and were on a suicide mission. The attack caused the death of over three thousand people and destruction of property exceeding ten billion dollars in the World Trade Centre alone. Hundreds of firefighters and police officers lost their lives in an attempt to save those stuck in the buildings or under the debris. But if one carefully examines the event, there are a lot of loose ends. Things don’t exactly add up and there are details about the whole incident that seem quite sketchy. Family members of some of the victims have also expressed their dissatisfaction with the report released by the US government.

One of the biggest conspiracy theories is that the US government – the Bush administration – knew about the whole thing beforehand and might even have orchestrated it in order to have a reason to go to war with Iraq and Afghanistan. Several factors contribute to this theory.

Theorists claim that the buildings were destroyed in the same way as that of a controlled demolition. In a controlled demolition, bombs are placed in multiple layers of the building and the building collapses on its own footprint. This makes sense because if a building falls standing straight, it may fall in any direction and cause a lot of destruction to the nearby buildings and environment. The videos of the attack clearly show that the building collapsed layer by layer, onto itself, and there were explosions out of the sides of the buildings that were far from the spots where the planes hit, making it believable that there were explosions that at least aided, if not entirely caused, the buildings to collapse. Some witnesses claimed that they heard explosions even before the plane hit, but the source lacks enough credibility to base our entire theory on. Another factor that is taken into consideration in favour of this theory is that commercial planes, like the ones that hit the WTC, are made of very light aluminium (considering the fact that they have to fly through the air); it is hard to believe that such planes could cause entire structures of over 100 storeys to collapse just out of sheer force.

Another plane hit the Pentagon, and this was even fishier than the one that hit the WTC. Firstly, the aircraft that supposedly flew into the Pentagon was over 120 ft long, but the hole in the building was only around 60 ft. long, which makes one think it might not be an airplane but a missile that went into the Pentagon. Moreover, if a plane or a missile travelled in the vicinity of the Pentagon, the air force would most definitely have been on high alert and done something about it.

Flight 93 was the flight that was hijacked and headed for an unknown location but crash landed into the ground when the passengers revolted. Firstly, the site of the crash was just a crater with no debris bigger than a phonebook. Actual debris was found 10 miles from the crash site, which brings in the possibility that it was actually shot down and exploded in the air causing the debris to be so spread out. Secondly, several passengers aboard the flight called their families and loved ones to say goodbye, which might seem normal, but if you think about it, phone calls were definitely not possible mid-flight back in 2001! Many people who received the calls claimed that the people who called them introduced themselves by their full name and may not actually have been their family members. Who made the calls? Were they dropped off at a separate location after which the plane was deliberately crashed into the ground to say that the 80 or so people on-board lost their lives to terrorism? Were those people executed? Are they still alive?

In any major event like this when the government doesn’t respond appropriately or reports are contradictory to witness accounts, conspiracy theories are bound to arise. The 9/11 attacks are no exception as we see that in a survey conducted where people were asked if they believed the government report on the incident, over 30% said they didn’t.

I can’t tell you what to believe, but I can tell you not to believe everything. Until next time.

Written by Himangi Shekhawat

Edited by Tinka Dubey
Artwork by Himangi