Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The Shitstorm That Is 2013

I haven't blogged in ages. I don't know if I can anymore either.

I've had one of those years. One of those years that you feel you can't really write about and do any justice to, that you rhetorically ask yourself what the point would even be.

I've been kinda frozen this year. Haven't written, haven't painted, haven't got on my metaphorical cardboard box like I usually do and said, hey guys listen up I have something to say. It was quiet, like folding a paper in on itself, so quiet that nobody really noticed.

I think I'm blogging about it because writing to an imaginary audience used to be therapeutic. So maybe it'll help. Even though every part of me is writhing in protest against the idea of sharing this with people.

I think the first blow and the only one that mattered was the racist movement back home. I am so sick and tired of hearing about it and talking about it so I'm not going to now. I will say only that it altered my perception of reality, and that that can be very uncomfortable. It was like being told your mother is actually a cyborg (except not even remotely as cool), there was so much incredulity and doubt, and then the recognition of this thing you'd been blind to, but had been there all along, hiding inside your own house. I think I'm still in shock and will be for a while at least.

Some other crap happened around this too, nothing phenomenal. Just the usual stuff that you mustn't be a whiny bitch about. I lost some very close friends. The children I used to teach at a slum were relocated and their education neglected, because nobody cares. My belief in religion has wavered like never before. These things happen, it is the way of the world (or at least those are the words you say to try and make sense of it). I guess in a sense, I grew up this year. I'd been living in a state of naivety housed by certain unshaken beliefs about reality and purpose and the goodness out there, and the bubble had broken and I'd seen that no, things can be horrible and senseless too.

In my first week in Sri Lanka during summer holidays, I was on edge. On a bus to Kandy I looked around and wondered if there were any people in it who hated Muslims. I was afraid to look people in the eye when I was strolling through Bamba. I stopped enjoying social outings. I was taciturn and irritable with my parents. I spent weeks at my grandmother's because I felt safer there. Most importantly I couldn't talk to anybody about it, or didn't want to. I was hypersensitive, like something had created a wound but the scab hadn't grown over it yet.

When you see things things you wish you hadn't, when ignorance is literally bliss and the opposite is torture, but you also know opening your eyes is inevitable, I think the most important thing is to not let it dominate you. I'm not talking about seeing your friendship fall apart or not getting cake on your birthday, I'm talking about seeing a fourteen year old rickshaw-driver get fifty rupees a day to support his homeless family, seeing women being attacked for nothing short of having a vagina, seeing crippled children lie on the pavement of a crowded affluent street, seeing people proud and shameless about their hatred, and seeing the smiling complacency in everybody else, which is uglier than all of it put together.

The important thing is to be able to shut your eyes and take a time-out. To listen to a song or listen to somebody making a joke or telling a story, to divert yourself, and block everything out for a while. Then tackle the bad stuff in short spurts in-between. It's important to not indulge in your own feelings, they are not as momentous as you think. It's also important to realize you're still learning, that you don't know everything yet, and probably never will, so maybe your conclusions are all wrong and so there's always still room for something new, that nothing is fixed so it makes no sense to fret over what can and probably will change.

I'm babbling.

Anyway, maybe I'm a glutton for punishment, but I'm glad sometimes. Not because 'light at the end of the tunnel' or 'you come out in one piece' or anything, but because shitstorms are fascinating things. You don't really know what's coming your way, you don't know how you'll get over it, or if you will, and that not-knowing is a great feeling. I think it takes balls to face the unknown and the uncertain, and if the whole thing is worth nothing else, at least there's that freedom you possess in making the choice to keep your head up and confront it. 

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Happy Father's Day.

So it is the day that all our feeds are filled with status updates and cheesy posts about our beloved fathers, and cafes and restaurants proudly advertise discounts in the name of Father's Day on page 1 of the Sunday papers. 'You're my role model', goes one update gushing with emotion, while another one goes 'You taught me everything I know, I'm so proud of you, dad.' What do those of us who don't feel the same way about our dads say on Father's Day?

Happy Father's Day, dad. Growing up I had to listen to you losing your temper a lot, I learnt my first swear words from you at age ten because you were yelling to nobody in particular about something stupid like the curry at lunch, it wasn't cooked well. I used to run to the garden and lie on the grass and stare at the sky because the house was too noisy with all the shouting. It was years till I realized you were so angry all the time not because of anything or anyone in your present, but because of things and people in your past. It was years before you realized that yourself and finally calmed down.

Thank you for not being a perfect dad, for being far from perfect actually. It taught me very early on that people and experiences are not ideal, and that's what life's about, being OK with that. It made me a very strong person because you have to be to survive that. It taught me incredible empathy because I learnt you were a product of bad things that had happened to you before I was even around. And that taught me that we mustn't ever let our bad experiences define us, we're worth more than that.

I thank you for the genes, because I probably I owe my artistic inclinations to you. Thank you for the jazz music playing on your stereo and the water-colour paintings in your drawing book that I loved to look at as a child. Thank you for changing; I love you for becoming a better, kinder person, and I appreciate how hard breaking that cycle must have been for you. Thank you for leaving fruits and a vegetarian cookbook on my table the other day when I said I wanted to be vegetarian, I know random little acts like that is how you love people because you're not the best at expressing yourself.

You're not the best dad in the world and I'm not proud of everything you've done. But I've become who I am because of who you are, and that is worth a lot of love and praise. 

Friday, 24 May 2013

Anna Karenina & 21st Century Asian Women

This post is for the movie-buffs, the theatre enthusiasts and especially for my female readers.

In my last semester, we studied an essay by Tolstoy, which inspired me to go hunting for a few of this Russian fellow's books at the Delhi Book Fair. I found Anna Karenina, one of his most notable pieces of work, an intimidating three-inches thick. It is a story about a Russian aristocratic woman of the 19th century, married to a politician, and her rise and fall in St Petersburg society as she finds herself entangled in an extramarital love affair.

I know this is usually considered the Cardinal sin in bookworm-society, but I am going to say it anyway: I enjoyed the movie better than the book. Cue the collective gasp.

In a time when Hollywood is constantly churning out 3D-overkills that assault the senses, or comic-book-themed remake after remake, or endless stupid sequels - I realized I had not seen a great movie in a very, very long time, and since the 90s I'd say the number of truly great and original cinema productions are few enough to count on my fingers. Then I watched Anna Karenina yesterday.

I'm going to try to hold back on spoilers in this review because I'd hate to give you too many details - I want you to watch it and experience it for yourself. But I will say that the movie was beautifully executed: it was a movie, pretending to be a play. The characters walked on and off a great wooden stage, fake screens were put up and removed to change scenes, the soundtracks were in the style of extras walking through the scenes with trumpets and accordions, spotlights dropped on main characters to cue a dramatic moment. Anna Karenina the movie may have had its storyline borrowed from Tolstoy's book but as a whole, the movie is in a league of its own; it is a different experience from the book entirely.

My favourite scene was when Anna - now openly in an affair with the young military man Vrosnky, now openly cuckolding her politician husband who is considered a 'saint' and 'the savior of Russia' - is seated in her box at the opera. The music suddenly drops, the dramatic spotlight hits her face, the heads of the ladies in the hall are all turned towards her, and among the hushed whispers as they point and stare are little loud snippets of conversation as one aristocratic lady after another commits character-assassination. Anna can only bite her lip and burn beneath the caustic stares and the glaring spotlight.

The best part about the movie is the fact that none of the actors, at least to me, are extraordinary. Keira Knightley, Jude Law, John Cusack, and the rest perform suitably, but are ordinary in their performances - and that allows the dramatic stage-styling of the movie to do half the work; powerhouse performances along with the dramatic format may certainly have ended up in overkill, and the focus on any one actor's performance would have taken away from the movie's success in drawing out the theme of the story (more on that soon) with such precision.

Now what does any of this have to do with 21st century Asian women? Readers of the book probably already know, but for the rest of you - the book and the movie, in very distinct ways, address the issue of loveless marriages. The movie is a treatise on the arranged marriage based on 'wealth' and 'family name' -- a phenomenon still common to people today predominantly in Asia. That society has a lot of parallels with a 21st century Sri Lankan or Indian one: the patriarchal power system, the restricted sexuality of women, the commercialism of the marriage arrangement. The microscope plunges deeper into the issue as it focuses on women in this complex cultural setting. There are three relationships running through the length of this 19th century Russian tale: and two to me are most significant in this discussion -- the one in which Anna has an extramarital affair, and the one in which her brother has an extramarital affair. Tolstoy chooses to have these two tales running parallel - to show us the obvious differences, between a man who has an affair outside marriage, and a woman who does the same. While Anna must face the growling monster of St Petersburg aristocratic society, that condemns her for her loss of virtue (19th century slut-shaming) - her brother barely gets even a rap on the knuckles.

Some people might say the whole point at the end of it is that 'hey, women should have the freedom to have affairs outside marriage too!' but I think that's over-simplifying it. I think the movie is doing less to preach about what should be the ideal, and is doing more to simply show us the ugly underbelly and the chaos within a society riddled with hypocrisy and gender bias. The scenes reach a climax as Anna's children, both by her husband and her lover, are pulled into the mess. At one point her husband threatens with divorce - which he predicts will result in inevitably 'driving her to the streets' (Anna's brother meanwhile continues undisturbed in his sexual liaisons outside marriage). At another point, when Anna is settled down with her lover, she is racked with guilt and insecurities, because she knows she has done 'wrong' - she is a woman who has 'acted against god' by breaking her wedding vows, and the society around her is a constant reminder of it, and she clings on to Vronsky, constantly expecting him to leave her, for her upbringing has taught her that a woman who has done what she has done is wretched and undeserving of love and happiness.

For women and especially for women who think of and discuss female issues, Anna Karenina the movie is an absolute gut-wrenching must-watch (and of course, get the book too, though like I said, that would deserve an entirely different kind of review). What is the nature of individual human freedom? How far do society's norms have the right to play a part in it? What is 'duty' in marriage - duty to one's children, to one's spouse - and how does it interact with 'love'? Is love superior to duty or vice versa? And the most important topic of all the questions posed in this story - the agency that women have over their own lives, and the traps laid out by women and men of our own society today (and once upon a time in Russia) to desperately keep women from exercising that agency. As opposed to simply throwing around the very over-used statement 'give women equal rights and freedom!' - Tolstoy, this movie, and its contextual release in the 21st century, may inspire you to look beyond the rhetoric and see just how complex and intricate our system of gender bias is, how many layers there are to it - political/ religious/ cultural/ economical - and to truly begin to strategize on how best to dive into the deep quagmire that is organized-oppression, and start cleaning up this monumental mess we have allowed to fester. 

Friday, 10 May 2013

Pants Are So Passé

As I rummaged through my daily dose of rubbishy Facebook/blogosphere news, it struck me, upon seeing several images of today's top fashionistas and world renowned celebrities, that I had been living under a rock for years, as the revelation suddenly hit me: are pants a thing of the past?

If the idea comes as a surprise to you, you should be ashamed of yourself for being so damn retrogade. From Gaga to Madonna to Jessie J, style icons are proudly sporting the new pantless look.


Had I, then, along with the pants-wearing conservatives around me, been living in a backward world these past years, blind to the growing cult of progressiveness that pantslessness represents in a new world order? I had to find out.

I had to get to the bottom of this.

I searched the city for a forward-thinker, for a person who was not afraid to look society and the world in the eye and say 'HEY MAN. I'm not wearing any pants!'

I finally met one: Raj, the old hobo at the end of my street (who has occasionally been accused of throwing betel nuts at pedestrians and yelling at pigeons, but they used to call Einstein a madman in his time!). I asked Raj what pantslessness meant to him, what kept all of society from embracing it as the future, who was his inspiration?

Raj looked me right in the eye, and he told me he did not wear pants because he did not like pants. He enjoyed the airiness of his boxers, he said.

I asked him if the airiness of his boxers was indeed a metaphor for the freedom that the openness of his mind now experienced. He looked at his feet for a moment, and saw some pigeons nearby and ran away chasing after them.

The profundity of the interview was overwhelming.

But I wasn't satisfied, my research was not complete. I wanted to talk to a pants-wearing conservative, and ask them: why do you wear pants? Why are you shackled by these bonds of old conventions? What is keeping you from pantsless freedom?

I approached a few middle-aged women with these riveting questions. One told me she wore pants because otherwise it was too cold (ha! a likely story!), another made a sound of annoyance and walked away muttering expletives (a predictable response from the deluded, close-minded sheep of our pants-wearing society), and the third said to me, 'can you stop this silly nonsense and go and study' (surely an attempt at diverting my attention from my tabooed investigation into the earth shattering phenomenon that is pantslessness! - no matter that the third was my mother).

The search for answers continues. In a world that is slowly gravitating towards eventual pantslessness, led by the wardrobe of obvious forward-minds of the arts and music industry... Are pants, really pants? Or are pants, so much more than they seem?

I never met Raj after that day. Perhaps he is out there now, at this very moment, somewhere... pantsless... And free, truly free.  

Sunday, 5 May 2013


Hey, internet. Long time no blog.

Probably because the past two months have been more or less crappy, which has turned me into a bit of a sourpuss, which in turn makes me post really jaded humourless crap like my last blogpost.

So I'm going to stop being a little bitch now and shan't bore you with the details of aforementioned crappy events. I'm going to look at the bright side instead.

Bright side #1:
I am going to eat prawns in 14 days. 

ZOMG I love prawns, don't you? I haven't eaten prawns in five months! Because I live far away from the shore, in Delhi (where only rich people can afford prawns at super fancy restaurants where they 'import sea food'). But I'm flying home in two weeks (PRAWNS!), which is like a million bright sides by itself.

Bright side #2:
I'm not puking my guts out anymore.

I was, a few days ago, because when the weather in Delhi changes in Summer, it's so bad that it makes people literally sick. But I'm getting better.

Bright side #3:
I have the awesomest flatmate in the whole world. 

He's not even three yet, but he can play my tabla set like a pro, and we have deep philosophical conversations (Me: But what if the universe is just the physical manifestation of our collective conscience, man? Him: *giggles and runs away*) and he enjoys throwing my hairbrush at people and repeating my name to remind me what it is in case I forget (he yells 'SHABAAAAA' when he sees me, which is close enough really).

Bright side #4:
I am a big fat nerd.

My attempts at 'exam preparations' were derailed lately with a full-on return to internet-style procrastination, whether it's Facebook or this blogpost or just lulling about on Cracked or xkcd, I have failed to muster the energy to give a shit enough to study. But I took out my books today to help a friend with her exam preparations and discovered that I already knew my material despite the lack of formal preparation, because the dork is strong in this one.

Bright side #5:
I have a debit card and access to Amazon.

OH SHI- you know what that means. (I'm sorry, mother, but you should have known better than to trust me with a debit card and the interwebz). Yep, time to get some randomass cool shit that isn't available in this here part of the world. Got my eye on some amazing pop-up books lately.

Bright side #6:
I met Johnny Depp at the market. 

And we did a choreographed dance together after which I asked him why he wore those stupid hipster glasses which obscured his beautifully chiseled face. Then I flapped my arms and flew into the sky while making bird noises. Well I dreamt all that, but still. It counts. 'Cause it was amazing.

Bright side #7:
I'm going to hug this in two weeks.

Caesar has turned into an asshole, he doesn't like being petted anymore, and he only comes near you when he wants food. But I don't care. He's SO FLUFFEH I could die.   

Friday, 5 April 2013

Concrete Jungle

Months ago I watched as somebody confessed that she had killed her baby by placing a wet towel on its face. A few weeks ago a friend told me she was harassed on a bus for being Muslim and everyone watched on. Last week a teenage friend of mine told me she'd just been to the clinic for an abortion. Today as I walked home at 10.30PM in Delhi, I had my finger tight on the trigger of a can of pepper-spray and flinched every time a vehicle passed by.

Is the world getting weirder to live in or am I only just beginning to notice its true colours?