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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Never the twain shall meet

At the MMRDA grounds, Mumbai, early this week.

Thanks to Anna Hazare, the rivalry between Delhi and Mumbai has just found itself a new front on which to play out: political apathy. The unexpected whimper with which his campaign petered out in Mumbai on Wednesday, 27 December, shocked both Team Anna and media watchers.

Anna’s team had ensured that all arrangements had been made to make supporters in Mumbai comfortable and the state administration too had also provided security but when push came to shove, very few people turned up at the huge MMRDA grounds, which was expected to be at the centre of the action. At the launch of Anna’s fast for a strong Lokpal, reports suggested there were 4,000 and 10,000 people at the venue. The figure dropped to about 300 people on the following day.

August 22, 2011, New Delhi.

Contrast that with scenes from the Ramlila grounds in New Delhi in the latter half of August this year. The grand old man of Ralegan Siddhi drew crowds of 40,000 people every day of his fast. Flag-waving citizens wearing Anna topis, caps printed with ‘I am Anna’, and shouting anti-corruption slogans were a common sight on city streets and there was even some absurd talk that the scent of the Arab Spring had wafted to Indian shores.

But those who know India’s two biggest metropolises aren’t really surprised. I grew up in Urbs Prima in Indis, the city by the sea where dreams go to flower and sometimes die. I now live in Delhi where nothing is as it seems, where the unspoken lingers like a powerful phantom and regulates every social interaction, where every choice you make is a political one, where you are evaluated on the basis of who your parent/spouse is as opposed to Mumbai’s straightforward WYSIWYG* way.

To me, Anna’s movement’s anti-climactic moment in Mumbai once more underlined the inherent difference between the two cities. Though the supportive parallel fast at Ramlila grounds earlier this week was also thinly attended – only 1500 people participated -- mostly due to the biting cold and the absence of Anna himself, New Delhi, the seat of power, has shown that it will always be an extremely political city. Mumbai, on its part, has reaffirmed its status as India’s no-nonsense business capital where work truly is worship.

“One should not just go by the number at the venue. If one had seen the number of people who marched from Juhu beach to MMRDA grounds, he/she will not say that the turnout is low. We have been successful in creating awareness among the people,” Kiran Bedi told reporters in Delhi in a rather sorry attempt to save face. Team Anna had clearly misunderstood the nature of Mumbai and to make matters even more shambolic refused to fully accept the magnitude of their miscalculations.

Of course, plenty of people were pleased.

“So will team#Anna call all Mumbaikars corrupt unpatriotic thieves for their measured reaction to the tamasha is that just for politicians??” tweeted Omar Abdullah, Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir.

Media man Nikhal Wagle chose to believe Mumbai’s non-reaction was a result of the country’s unwillingness to accept fascism. “India will always oppose dictatorial n fascist ideas, whether from political class or team anna. Don’t want police raj or kejrival-bedi raj!” he tweeted. A bit surprising considering Wagle was one of Hazare’s cheerleaders on twitter in August.

The events in the Rajya Sabha last night also reaffirmed that parliament proceedings make for the best reality TV. Who needs a Sunny Leone when there’s so much drama and when the supremely articulate lawyer brigade -- Jaitley, Singhvi and Jethmalani etc – are around to make you dizzy with their magnificent sound and fury that eventually signified nothing. Bigg Boss pales in comparison.

Does this mean the anti-corruption campaign has gone straight into cold storage along with the Lokpal Bill? We’ll know soon enough. As far as Mumbai and Delhi go, though, it’s clear that never the twain shall meet.

*What You See Is What You Get

Pics courtesy and The Free Press Journal

Saturday, December 17, 2011

50 years of Goa!

My father (left) taking a smoke break with a friend on the deck of the INS Delhi in 1961. The INS Delhi was one of the ships that liberated the Portuguese territories of Goa, Daman and Diu in December 1961. 50 years of Goa! Wish my dad, Cdr C Narayanan (VSM) (1931-1988) was here to see it :-)

Friday, December 2, 2011

In quadruped heaven

The Asswin Project in Gurgaon, run by sexagenarians Bob and Jean Harrison, treats injured donkeys and shelters the ones that have been abused and abandoned

(An edited version of this story appeared, this week, in a local paper called Friday Gurgaon)

Happy meals at the shelter

You follow Bob and Jean Harrison’s Maruti van and animal ambulance as it makes its daily trip to the Asswin donkey shelter at Kerki Majra on the rural outskirts of Gurgaon. Along the way, the British couple, who are in their late sixties and have lived in India since 1994, stop to load the vehicle with sacks of animal feed, shredded jowar and vegetables. Things look like they’re going smoothly and you expect to reach the shelter in good time when the van breaks down under the weight of its load.
“Oh, this happens quite often,” says Jean matter-of-factly as Bob unloads the van and prepares to fix the flat tire. When you eventually get to the shelter, comprising two well-ventilated structures with spacious stalls located on 35 acres of grassland, you are greeted by two workers Sonu and Raju and the small resident pack of rescued dogs who respond enthusiastically to Enid Blytonesque names like Ginger and Snowy. Next, Sid comes up and nibbles at your trousers. “Oh, our Sid likes the ladies to pay attention,” says Bob. Sid is a lovely little blue-grey donkey with such an adorable face that you just have to pat his head and murmur endearments in his long ears.

Bob and Jean preparing veggie treats

Everywhere on the plot, given to the project by the Gurgaon municipal corporation, the shelter’s 61 donkeys and mules and four horses nibble at the grass, flick their tails at the flies and bray happily to each other. Really, the shelter of the Asswin Project for Donkeys and other Animals in India is the closest thing to quadruped heaven in a country where animals are usually worked to death and treated merely as a means to a lucrative end.
Donkeys have always been used as beasts of burden in India but earlier generations perhaps had a more humane approach to the animals in their care. “Rudyard Kipling’s father, John Lockwood Kipling, wrote Beast and Man in India: A Popular Sketch of Indian Animals in Their Relations with the People about the country’s working animals where he mentioned that donkeys were used by washer men and potters to transport loads,” says Bob as he shakes the bran and jowar into feeding troughs, occasionally throwing in a juicy radish as a treat. Life as a dhobi’s donkey was probably idyllic in comparison to the horrors of Gurgaon’s building sites where donkeys are widely employed. Indeed, the whole of sparkling Gurgaon with its fancy malls and blazing towers that house the offices of every major corporation was built off the backs of these humble animals. Donkeys labour at the sites, at the brick kilns and in the stone quarries of nearby Chhattarpur carrying loads far in excess of the 35kgs mandated under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960. In a country where human life itself is so devalued, it isn’t surprising to learn that donkeys are beaten mercilessly, made to work endless hours with suppurating sores on their bodies and broken legs and that the labour often results in them dying of a broken back.

"Wait, baby," Sonu implores an impatient donkey!

Almost all the rescued donkeys at the shelter hobble. One, regally named Edwina, was abandoned after her hoof was torn off, others bear scars, a few have ripped ears and a white mare called Lily, who was once the star at numerous weddings, has a hip that juts out from being made to dance on her hind legs. “You just have to place a finger on the backs of some donkeys for them to collapse. The nerves have been so worn down by overloading,” says Bob, a former employee of the British High Commission, who officially set up the Asswin Project – named after the twin gods of medicine in Indian mythology – in July 2006. The project, which currently runs on about Rs 70,000 a month, is financed almost entirely from Bob’s pension and a few donations mostly from the UK. Indian donors are few and far between.

Edwina, her best friend Lily, the white wedding mare, and her foal Fleur

Perhaps it’s because donkeys are inextricably connected with labour and with rituals of humiliation – until recently offenders were garlanded with chappals and paraded on donkeys – that most Indians consider the donkey ridiculous and entirely overlook its loyal and hardworking nature. So, while there are many who are eager to protect cows, traditionally considered holy, there are few protectors of donkeys.
Whatever the roots of the Indian distaste for donkeys, it is a shame that we ill-treat this animal which continues to play such a crucial though unrecognised role in India’s growth.
If Bob has any fears it is that there will be no one to carry on the Asswin Project’s good work after they are gone. “We hope we can find someone who can take over so we can retire again,” he says as you leave.
For the sake of the hardworking donkeys of Gurgaon, you hope someone as capable, upright, and committed as the Harrisons turns up soon.

Number: 9810164214

Monday, November 21, 2011

The elevator diaries

How I learnt to make peace with the building lift


There’s something about lifts. Stepping into them is like giving yourself over to a malign god who takes pleasure in torturing you in unexpected ways. This is especially true when you live in a high rise building, a ‘skyscraper’ in Gurgaon. I live on the 19th floor of a fine tower. I love the view, I like that I can sit in my balcony and look down on the world, feel far removed from the tiny people walking on the road and can successfully pretend that I’m above it all, above the troubles, the complexes, the yearning and endless striving of the folk living closer to the ground. It’s a nice illusion.

Those people whose curry recipes I can replicate through faithful observation, whose washing I've watched flapping on rooftop lines, whose marriages I can observe unhindered through my sons' toy binoculars (I swear I've never peered!) actually have such blissful lives. They know nothing about the many terrors of taking the lift multiple times a day. Indeed, it sometimes feels like I spend a large chunk of my life travelling up and down in an enclosed metal coffin. I have nothing against metal coffins. They are spacious and clean enough and effectively move one from point A to point B. If I had been a more cheerful person, all sorts of nudge-nudge wink-wink sexual lift metaphors would have made me laugh. Instead, I'm the joyless type who thinks Sartre is great fun. So the building lift reminds me of death ceaselessly sliding up and down a string in a deep shaft. Seriously, this is the horrible claustrophobia-inducing image that leaps to my fevered neurotic mind every time the lights go off – and they go off many, many times in beautiful Gudgava -- and the lift noisily groans to a halt between floors.

The first time that happened, I immediately lost all my memsahib savoir faire and was reduced to a wailing nutcase comforted by an army of domestic help who tried every language to get me to shut up. Since all those languages sounded like a variation of Bengali, which I don’t speak, I continued to blubber uncontrollably. At first, I tried to cheer myself up by thinking of such fantastic mood boosters as Kamalahasan and Rati Agnihotri grooving in a stuck lift and romantically throwing Hindi film names at each other.
"Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram!"

But soon I grew convinced that I had approached the end of my life. What a terrible fate… especially when a whole unopened box of kaju katli was waiting for me in the fridge at home. Now, I’d never get a taste. I was about to hurl myself at the door, attempt to break through those reinforced metal sheets, which really seemed like the last chance in my state of delirium, when the lift started working.

Since then, I have become a veteran of the Stuck-In-The-Lift syndrome. The curious thing about SITL is that, like the Stockholm syndrome, it makes the victim sympathise with the captor. It’s all about perspective, see? When you have no choice you view your fearsome aggressor as a benign much-misunderstood person worthy of respect, even love. I have also introduced a certain yogic all-Indian mumbo-jumbo aspect to my relationship with the lift.

Now, when I step into the metal coffin, I give out good vibes; I exude love and positivity like some deranged baba. And voila, it’s worked! The lift now gets stuck between floors ONLY once a week. I can live with that.

These days, I don’t even look around fearfully at the others in that familiar death trap; I no longer jab the intercom and scream frantically at whoever dares to pick it up at the other end. Instead, I immediately sit down cross-legged on the floor, take a deep breath and chant silently to myself. This has had the not-unexpected result of making the other residents jittery whenever they are around me and the battalion of domestic helpers, that considered me a brainless bimbo after the first lift episode, now fairly bows when I pass.

To add a whiff of dangerous tantric madness to the whole mix, I sometimes also step out of home with uncombed hair and a fantastically wild look in my eye.

It works with the lift; it works with the super-competitive neighbours; it works with the suddenly obsequious domestic help. A memsahib cannot ask for more.

Note: The accompanying picture isn't mine. I'm too nervous to peer down the lift shaft AND click.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

High rise culture

The ultimate rulebook if you live in a Gurgaon tower

Welcome to the jungle...

Apparently, there’s something sacred called ‘high rise culture’. The term frequently makes an appearance on the notice boards of the gated apartment complex I call home, usually in the admonishing notes of the harried building manager. The poor man seems perennially aghast that residents should indulge in such unnatural activities as unknowingly pushing plant pots off balcony parapets and doing elaborate Suryanamaskars that involve throwing mugfuls of water onto the heads of unsuspecting early morning walkers below. Having often been terrorised by ardent Surya devotees, that note had me nodding in righteous indignation.

Well, the ultimate rulebook hasn’t yet been written but I assume the list of things that are also against ‘high rise culture’ include:

1. Accidentally bumping into someone’s parked car and then driving off without even waving at the close circuit cameras.

2. Using a piece of gym equipment for 21 minutes when the notice says you can use it for just 20.

3. Relieving yourself in the shower before you get into the pool; relieving yourself in the pool before you get in the shower.

4. Yelling obscenities during RWA meetings.

5. Running up a huge bill at the building grocer’s and leaving for a long assignment abroad without paying it.

6. Looking through your neighbour though both of you sit sipping your morning chai and gazing out at the world below in adjacent balconies at exactly the same time every morning.

7. Refusing to get out of the lift even though it began singing that protesting I’m-overloaded-tune when you stepped in.

8. Refusing to coo at sundry babies and pet dogs.
This last one particularly is a serious breach of ‘high rise culture’. Think about it: openly expressing your dislike for powdered babies or fluffy animals will mark you out as… as Hannibal Lecter’s sibling! It’s not a secret you want everyone to know. Really.

I have to be honest. I haven’t always been a properly, uh, high-rise-cultured person: I’m grumpy in the mornings and the thought of even acknowledging that familiar stranger in the next flat is sometimes too much to bear, and heck, I can’t help it if the lift likes me so much it has to sing a tune the moment I step into it. The only way to deal with that is to wedge myself in and accidentally-on-purpose displace some excessively polite or verbally challenged (same thing) other person. However, I can honestly say that I have never ever peed in the building pool or used gym equipment for more than 20 minutes. Indeed, it’s a miracle if I can bring myself to use either of those remarkable facilities at all.

Of course, there are paranoid days when I wonder if some grandmaster of high rise culture is keeping tabs on me. Like, did I commit some serious breach when I got loudly hysterical after the lights went off and I had to spend half an hour in a dark lift stuck between the 18th and 19th floors? Is it alright to always overtake the dawdling morning walkers more keen on gossip than exercise and was it okay to yell at the prayerful 10th floor Suryanamaskari who overturned a lota of water onto my unsuspecting head?

Yup, the rules of ‘high rise culture’ are tricky. One day, perhaps, I’ll induce the building manager to draw up a hardbound volume that lays them all out.
Without too much luck, it could be a bestseller in Gurgaon.

Note: This piece appeared in an edited form in a local paper called Friday Gurgaon //">

The picture is not the work of Manjula Narayan; it was sourced off the net. And, oh, in case you're a stalker, that's not where I actually live.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Exhibitionist

Is everything I do now driven by an exhibitionist impulse? Have I become the woman who lives to tweet, whose life is measured in Facebook status messages?

The mask of the emoticon :p

The delivery boy from the Burmese takeaway stood at the door while the husband scrabbled about the drawers for change. I turned my many bags inside out too – the jhola from Manipur, the upcycled rubber tyre bag from Green the Gap, the chindi tukda sling bag from Khadi Bhandar, the camel hide satchel from Pushkar, the Adidas backpack… yes, I am obsessed with bags but that’s not what this post is about - and discovered a few weathered Rs 10 notes. Eventually, we managed to find enough money to keep the khauswe. And all the while I was thinking about how I was going to tweet about the experience, how I’d frame a 140-word haiku about the incredulous look on the delivery boy’s face as I looked under the flower pots for stray coins and the man of the house stole all the five rupee notes from the younger son’s piggy bank.

It strikes me that I’ve become a social networking whore, someone who lives to tweet, whose life is measured in facebook status messages, who clicks pictures only to share them with the all-consuming amorphous beast-with-the-many-brains out there. Could it be that everything I do now, every action is driven by this exhibitionist impulse, by the need to appear cool, intellectual, smart, sensitive, sexy to that shapeless, infinitely seductive phantom?

Increasingly, I also find it difficult to compartmentalise my online life and the one off it. Sometimes the two merge in such imperceptible ways I can’t later recall if I’ve developed an aversion to Person X because of something he muttered in my ear or because of the smart-alecky comment he made in an FB thread.

Then, there’s the burden of confronting daily the ridiculous ghosts of my past – the girl who sat next to me in class five, my first boss, my first unfortunate boyfriend, the funny colleague from my fifth job, long lost cousins and aunts. Before I plunged so energetically into social networking, all of them had become mere caricatures recalled by their eccentricities, worthies in flaking black and white pictures with ornate borders who were destined to people the grand ‘fictional’ narrative I would one day write. Now that they’ve all been re-infused with life, I’ll have to torture myself and think up new characters.

As my virtual life flowered, I set down some rules for myself: don’t friend current bosses, people you’ve never met in the real world, people you disliked as a child (only the last rule is still in place). Rather stupidly, I didn’t include ‘Don’t talk too much'. As a consequence, I now meet people ITRW (In The Real World, ya noob!) who react to me as I appear to them online. This is a bit unsettling because my online persona is a glib self-possessed bitch. She likes premium Scotch, she uses ‘fuck’ only when she wants to be particularly insulting, she talks a lot about her kids and gets her kicks out of being acerbic about whatever appears in the Indian print media. In person, I am not a confrontationist, like almost everyone else I use 'fuck' liberally in some company and not at all in others, and can only have a conversation that lasts longer than five minutes if the talk is about work.

So what AM I? the real I, not just the glib bitch persona or not just this mass of flesh with blood coursing through veins, electrical impulses crackling through brain, marrow in bone. The self beyond the one who’s someone’s daughter, wife, mother, social networking demon. Could all the 24,391 tweets I’ve thrown into the void in the last two years give someone an accurate picture of the me-ness of me? Do even I know what constitutes that wondrous me-ness of me? The more I think about it, the more I find myself sinking into mental contortions, my idea of myself fragmenting into a thousand little picture pixels.

On insomniac nights this insecurity about my ‘me-ness’ makes me wonder if any of the 1990 people who follow me would really care if I leapt into the Ganga without a life jacket and was washed away. Then I think about my ‘real’ friends -- the ones with whom I experienced that magical falling-into-friendship feeling in early youth, the ones I haven’t met offline for years, but with whom I now regularly ‘talk’. This continuing conversation makes us feel like we’re in touch, though each is conscious of the absence of the warmth of meeting face-to-face. Does this add to the friendship or detract from it I wonder as I move on to my next fear: Will I wake up one day and in a fit of temper brought on by an old friend’s comment on, say, an inane picture of the latest flop cake I baked, suddenly cut her off my friend list, block her on twitter and stupidly eject her from my life with the click of a key?

I am aware that these are the sorts of faltu questions that only neurotics ask. I ask them all the time as I ponder about the extent to which my online self seeps into my ‘real’ self. Are they the same thing? Will I ever understand how different or not they are? And will my life be much better if I just shut up, stopped talking so much in etherspace and forcing everyone to know where I stand on Sonia Gandhi, Lady Gaga, Narendra Modi?

Ah, I have become a social networking whore, someone who lives to tweet, whose life is measured out in facebook status messages and whose adventures are driven by an intrinsically unattractive need to look hip online.

The realisation briefly fills me with self-loathing. Then I quickly frame a status message about it that’s guaranteed to get plenty of likes. People have an insatiable appetite for self-revelatory stuff. Like this.

Picture credit: Mask that's part of the collection of the Museum of Folk and Tribal Art in Gurgaon. By Manjula Narayan

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Two steps forward, one step back

Making a Difference: Memoirs from the Women’s Movement in India that was launched on October 13 is essential reading for anyone interested in Indian feminism. Writer, activist and publisher Ritu Menon talks about the volume of essays

(A version of this article appeared in Time Out Delhi )

It was your first job interview. Things seemed to be going well and the portly man in the dark suit who was conducting it was sweet and avuncular.
“But why should we take you on?” he asked suddenly, “You are going to get married anyway”. After a brief silence you mumbled something about being “just 20… not planning on marrying just yet.” Perhaps you were very convincing because you got the job.

In the decades since that irritating experience you have come across a fair number of sexists at the workplace – men who think it’s okay to make suggestive comments under their breath and men who try to have a serious discussion with your breasts. You don’t know if it’s the result of growing older and therefore more inclined to snarl than giggle nervously every time the office jerk makes an inappropriate joke, but you did notice that sometime during the early noughties, Indian men started behaving better at work. Perhaps it was the natural reaction to the influx of many more qualified women, women who were as articulate, aggressive and driven as they were. It was also the result of the growing visibility of the Indian women’s movement.

“The difference between when discrimination is socially acceptable and when it’s not is very major,” says feminist writer and activist Ritu Menon. “Today, there is no single political party that doesn’t have the women’s issue on its agenda. And as you say, no one can pass derogatory comments at work. These are huge changes,” she says.
Menon herself has experienced overt sexism of the sort that you have happily never had to confront. When she gave up her green card and her job in publishing in New York in 1970 and returned to India “infected by the idealism of the 1960s”, she had expected her life to become more meaningful. Instead, six months later she was bitterly regretting the decision. Madras, where her husband got a job with a firm of architects, was a conservative town and Menon, despite her excellent credentials, was unemployed. The oldest and most venerable paper in the city (no prizes for guessing which one) told her it had an unwritten policy not to employ women.

Menon went on to cofound India’s first feminist press, Kali For Women, but that memory rankles enough for her to mention it in her essay in Making a Difference: Memoirs from the Women’s Movement in India.

Brought out by Menon’s publishing house, Women Unlimited, the anthology includes essays by Indira Jaising, Vandana Shiva, Ruth Vanita, Ilina Sen and Menon herself, among others.

Quite naturally, the classic feminist idea of an individual’s experiences being shaped by political forces was the book’s guiding principle. “The big question in my mind was, ‘How do you write the biography of a movement?’ Because this business of the personal being the political is a major feminist contribution to analysis, I thought of doing a book of personal-political memoirs,” she says.

As it happened, 2009, when the idea began to germinate, was the 25th anniversary of Kali for Women, the publishing house Menon founded with Urvashi Butalia and with which Women Unlimited is still associated. “So the idea of asking women who had been active for a quarter of a century to do a “looking back-looking forward but through a memoir seemed like a good one,” she says.

The brief was to write about how many women’s lives had been transformed by their involvement in feminism and in the women’s movement. Since she wasn’t looking to create a hagiography of the movement, Menon actively encouraged the essayists to examine their doubts.

“Doubt is a very important part of any struggle, when you question something, not just the ideology but your own role in it, your own response to it. So there were contradictions, personal as well as ideological; there were differences; there were fallings out. I thought all that should form a part of this record,” she says adding that these sorts of personalised accounts are often completely erased.

“This is true not just of women in movements. No social movement -- the environment movement, the fish-workers’ movement, the right-to-housing-and-shelter -- has had, in my view, a satisfactory recounting,” says Menon who wanted the book to catch moments of transformation.

“Anyone who has taken part in a movement knows how significant that is. From the accounts you will see that everyone has made that leap into consciousness,” she says easily admitting that many contributors had to be coaxed.

“Some were hesitant: some didn’t have the confidence; others just didn’t have the time,” she says. “And to write a memoir which is personal… not everybody wants it all in print. Really, it’s not an easy thing,” she says.

Some of the writing is more personal than others. So while Ruth Vanita writes about the slow process of coming to terms with her sexuality, Gabriele Dietrich gives the reader snapshots of the different streams within the movement.

“Some essays have a subtext. They are ‘a curtained autobiography’ where you have to read between the lines. And some people are extremely forthright,” she says revealing that she left each writer to find her own thread. “It’s not for me to tell them how to write. Each one has written the way she wanted to present one facet, one partial part of the story, because it’s never the whole story, nor can it be,” she says referring to the near impossibility of condensing years of activism, thinking and reflection into a single essay.

Things have come a long way since she was refused that newspaper job but Menon believes the Indian woman is now caught in a “two steps forward, one step back” conundrum. Yet she remains optimistic about the future. “One has to be optimistic, otherwise you just give up,” she said, firmly. “You can’t do that!”

In Conversation

Menon spoke about the shifting power dynamic within sexual relationships, the difference between feminism and the women’s movement, women’s participation in communal movements and how difficult it is for a man to stay married to a feminist when you met her at her tastefully spare office in Delhi’s Hauz Khas Enclave.

In your essay, you say it’s difficult for men to stay married to a feminist. That was something that stood out for me.

It is very difficult to give up privilege. For men and women both. In a relationship like a marriage, which is extremely intimate and is a long term commitment, to believe and to have the conviction of equality and respect is not easy. It’s much easier for women because they have something to gain. It’s much more difficult for men because they have something to lose. And what are they losing? Privilege. To reconcile to that requires a great commitment. And to maintain that commitment in order to make that relationship sustainable is a very remarkable thing. That’s what I meant when I said that for men to be feminist in conviction is a very remarkable thing. It’s not that common but it’s not that uncommon either. One has seen, over time, that many of the men who have whole heartedly committed to it are also the ones who have some social commitment. There is a sensibility there which respects equality; it is something that they believe in as a value. It’s not easy; not everyone does it. I’ve always wanted to do a book of interviews of men who have lived with feminists. But there are very few men who are willing to be interviewed! It is very difficult to lay bare a personal life. And to speak about something that is so, so very personal, you have to have tremendous maturity and confidence. But it’s something that I think would be very worthwhile. So that’s a project. It will happen one of these days but it will take a little time.

What do you think about the great involvement of women in communalism? We’ve seen women being active in riots.

That whole idea of sisterhood being global, which was the slogan of the 1970s, which was part of the international women’s movement… that came up for questioning early on. The first people to question it were the black women in the US. They said this is not something which can be adopted wholesale; it has to be unpacked. And then, of course, once we started dealing with issues of caste, class, community, it became very evident that not all sisters are united across the board. With rising communalism and with the great involvement of women in such movements, it has always been clear that not all women were…
Women as women cannot be assumed to be united. It’s not just your gender that is the prerequisite. Some consciousness has to be there, some ideological persuasion, which is why we say there’s a difference between being feminist and being just part of the women’s movement. Anyone can be part of the women’s movement but being a feminist is a slightly different thing. It assumes a certain political or ideological awareness. And that is actually what lies at the heart of that questioning of that sisterhood being global, all women being united across the board, that there are disunities. Unless we recognise the differences and those distinctions, it won’t be possible to analyse and respond to the issues, whichever issues we’re dealing with. That has become clearer and of course, it hits home much more on certain issues than in others.
So, for example, we may all more or less be united on the issue of violence against women but when it comes to violence against Dalit women or against minorities, or against tribals, then you have to acknowledge that there is a question of dominance among women, between women. It’s that kind of understanding I think that has certainly made the analysis much deeper. And it has been refined I feel. The international women’s movement doesn’t have to address caste but we do. We may not have to address race in the same way as black women do. But many have said that there is a similarity between caste and race, because these are historical discriminations based on descent. They are not exactly the same but the outcome manifests in the same way. That has inflected women’s movements all over.
In Australia, it’s the aborigines. I’m saying is that this understanding has informed the movement as it has gone along. And I see it as a phase. I certainly think that one has to first recognise that there is subordination worldwide. The terms of the subordination, its manifestation, its specific attributes may differ. But the fact that there is subordination, there is patriarchy, that is universal. As one of our authors says, the first globalisation was the globalisation of patriarchy. That’s at the base. Then you build on that. That’s the difference between the feminist and the women’s movement. The feminist does acknowledge patriarchy as a primary contradiction, not class.

But it is.

Yes, but lots of the Marxist feminists don’t fully subscribe to that. They say its class and patriarchy. Of course, surely, but which comes first is the question. That’s been one of the discussions in feminism: Is it class or patriarchy?

Is it impossibly idealistic to believe women can break through the barriers that divide them?

They do on issues. There are a whole lot of issues on which there can be consensus, there can be agreement and there is ample evidence of that across the world. But I don’t think there’s any movement in which there is unity for all time. We don’t even expect it. So there’s no intrinsic reason why the women’s movement should not also have it. It’s a good thing. It’s a very healthy thing to have differences because it is only when those distinctions surface that you have more complexity and a much clearer understanding of what you are up against. No point being lulled into something that doesn’t exist.

Do you think things are getting worse for women? There has been, for instance, a higher reporting of honour killings.

This is one of those yes and no situations. I feel it’s becoming worse now than it was 20 years ago. I’m not sure that there are more honour killings than there used to be. We hear about them more; they are reported more. They were not reported earlier or so one can surmise. There’s no way of knowing for sure but I would say there’s a good chance that those killings we may not have known about. Now we do. On the other hand, look, there are a million women in the panchayats. It’s a huge thing. It’s a giant change. Can you imagine 1 million women?! We cannot even imagine the kind of change that will come about 10 years from now as a result of that. So I’m saying I can’t say it’s got worse; I’m saying there are many things that have got better. Women in the informal sector are now recognised; they are acknowledged; they are counted. They never were before. Violence against women has been acknowledged, legislated against, all of that. These are major changes, but yes, over the last 25 years there has been a greater commodification of women at the same time. I think that whenever there is a shift to the right whether it’s in economics or in politics, it has an impact on women that is detrimental. Many people will say, ‘But women are so much better off’. Yes, of course, there is a whole generation of women that are much better off, sexual mores have changed. But the mean age for marriage for women in India is still 15-and-a-half. What do you say about that? Among a certain section of women, age at marriage is increasing and going up to 27-29, but if we look at it across the country, it’s still two-and-a-half years below the legal limit. So it’s not possible to say categorically that it’s very much better or very much worse. It is really that two-steps-forward-and-one-step-back kind of situation. I think the amount of problems has increased across. Look at the increase of militarisation across the subcontinent. Surely women are going to be affected by it.

How does one react to women in Kashmir, and to those in the areas where the Maoists are influential?

Unfortunately, these things remain impressionistic. It would be a good idea to do some kind of serious inquiry into that. Instead, what we have are snap polls. Although the issues are of great import, somehow the response to them is less serious than it should be.

So you think there’s a dumbing down of the discourse about these things?

Either that or it’s given space in a very superficial way. Maybe it’s better that it’s given some kind of visibility… I don’t know. Sometimes I wonder: that kind of visibility, does it actually make visible or does it conceal more than it reveals? Both things can happen. Unfortunately, the situation is so complicated it’s very difficult to speak about it in general terms.

Is it possible at all to escape the power dynamics in a heterosexual relationship? Actually, in any relationship?

You’d have to ask a lesbian couple that.

I have and have been told power dynamics play out within lesbian relationships too.

Gender relations between the sexes are one thing and human relationships are another. One could say hypothetically, can a relationship between parent and children ever be equal? Of course, there are power dynamics in every relationship. I really think that it is very rare to have a completely equal relationship but it doesn’t mean that whoever has the upper hand or whoever is “powerful” is powerful for all time. It keeps changing. It’s a very fluid, volatile relationship; it’s not fixed in time. Things change, people become dependent; people become vulnerable; people gain confidence. All sorts of things happen in the course of a relationship. What we’re talking about is structural discrimination, those discriminations that have been given sanction, that have been given social acceptance… that it’s okay to beat your wife.

Surveys in India often show women saying they think it’s okay if their husband beat them.

Since the National Family Health Surveys began this has been established. That’s what I mean; those are the structural imbalances, discriminations, power equations that one is talking about. In that sense, I’m not sure there’s been enough work on lesbian relationships to see whether there is a structural foundation or whether it’s individual equations that are worked out. One should do an inquiry on that.

To get back to the book, what was the most difficult thing about it?

It was a wonderful experience. It was just so heartening to read and be able to look back and also to see where we are now. When some of the women weren’t able to write, that was disappointing… But I can’t say it was difficult. It was difficult to edit, to make sure everybody has equal space, that some are not very much more expansive than others because you don’t want that kind of imbalance. Mostly it was very heartening. Writing is a very cathartic thing and I think a lot of the women experienced that. It’s not easy but it’s also cathartic so I was happy about that. It had to be spontaneous; it had to be willingly done. I understood perfectly the ones who said they could not do it for whatever reason but the fact that so many did and the fact that it was cathartic, that’s something to cherish.
There are a lot of women who may not be able to write their stories but whose recollection may be very important. So maybe we’ll do one of interviews next. It’s on the agenda but when it will happen is a question of time and availability and people’s willingness to lend themselves to that.

Personally speaking did you ever face discrimination?

Of course, in so many subtle ways. And you internalise it a great deal. It doesn’t even come out as an experience as such of active discrimination but it’s there all the time. There are two ways of responding: either you allow it to overwhelm you or you can acknowledge it and resist it. Personally, I became aware when I went to get a job at this newspaper in Madras and I was told they didn’t hire women. They said it’s an unwritten thing; they would never have advertised it as such. But it was there. Very often, you are not surprised by it in a sense that it is so much a part of the general lie of the land. Just like when you put down your father’s name. It is a form of discrimination, isn’t it? It doesn’t change your life but it does establish a hierarchy. That’s what gender relations are about. It manifests in many ways; maybe harmless maybe not. There’s no way that you don’t register difference and difference that is to your disadvantage. I have met very few women who’ll say that we’ve never had such an experience. That’s how you experience it. Even if it’s not overt, concrete, that knowledge is there.

Then there’s the knowledge that the ‘honour’ of the family is vested in you.

You don’t go for a walk alone in a park at night no matter how liberated you are. It’s got to do with vulnerability and is entirely a consequence of your gender. Insecurity on the streets has become much worse, by the way. I’ve grown up in Delhi and I have never felt this vulnerable. There was never a time as a young girl when I was not running around, going to friends’ homes and walking back at 10 o’ clock as a teenager. Of course, some people tried to misbehave and they were roundly dealt with but there was none of that threat of violence, which is now a knife, acid… That’s become real now. People coming in a Qualis and picking you up, that was unheard of! There is much greater violence now. I don’t remember being afraid of going out after dark with friends. It was a simple life I have to say. That’s changed.

So, on the one hand, Indian women have greater choices and on the other, there’s increasing selective foeticide and more violence.

One doesn’t cancel out the other. It doesn’t mean that just because you have greater choices, the other doesn’t exist. If you look at the beauty business, for example, there are huge pressures. Sure, you have much greater choices, you can make a lot of money, you can be a public face… And then look at the flipside as well.

The objectification?

Yes, and also the pressures on young women. Though there are greater choices, is there a possibility of exercising that choice? It’s all very well to have lots of options but can you actually exercise your choice? There are lots of pressures as well that come as a consequence. People speak about the double burden: the choice to work is there but you still have to do everything else as well. But these are not either-or situations. These are negotiations and everyone negotiates them differently.
Making a Difference, edited by Ritu Menon, Women Unlimited, Rs.350. The book launches on Thur Oct 13.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Transfixed by these daisies in the vintage
china milk jug I picked up at the Jogeshwari
antiques market in Bombay years ago.
The stamp on the bottom says 1953.
I've been staring at this all day.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ceaselessly into the future

In The Beautiful and the Damned, Siddhartha Deb draws an unremitting portrait of a nation that’s struggling to remake itself

Patriots aren’t supposed to get enraged by the inequalities within Indian society… just as they aren’t supposed to care about the unmarked graves in Kashmir. They aren’t supposed to fret about the large scale depredation of the environment or think about farmer suicides. The good Indian shouldn’t bother about migrant labourers, the dispossessed and the starving, and the way the mainstream treats whoever is perceived as ‘the other’. That’s because the good Indian is none of those things. He belongs to that sliver of India shining with its gated communities and glistening malls, is upper caste, self-possessed, believes he is in charge of his own destiny, can mould his life to his dreams and make things work the way he wants them to. Still, good Indians need the dose of reality that The Beautiful and the Damned delivers.

The blurb describes Deb’s latest book as a combination of “personal narrative, travelogue, reportage, penetrating analysis and the stories of many individuals across a vast range of geographical and social circumstances” and it is all that. In its breadth and its insistent need to understand this disparate and increasingly desperate country, it, quite predictably, reminds the reader of VS Naipaul’s A Million Mutinies Now. But while the authorial voice in Naipaul is always somewhat distant, Deb comes across as accessible, sensitive, sad, humorous and angry all at the same time.

He talks to everyone. Embittered activists, desperate farmers, prosperous seed traders, and pimps. And each of them has a sympathetic story to tell. In a curious way, there are no real human villains in the book only the faceless government and the forces of globalization that have altered the way India lives and have transformed us from a people who were once intent on achieving social justice and focussed on intellectual progress to a rapacious nation eager to make a quick buck whatever the cost.

The book’s first chapter, which dealt with IIPM’s Arindam Chaudhuri, as everyone already knows, has been excised from the Indian edition owing to the defamation suit the management guru chose to file against the book in, of all places, Silchar. Clearly, Mr Chaudhuri can’t tell a sympathetic portrait when he sees one. The essay had been widely circulated on the internet after it appeared in both Caravan and n+1 magazine. Far from being a hatchet job, it showed up the snobbery of bloggers and IIM graduates who put Chaudhuri down as a social upstart. Alas, such nuance was lost on Chaudhuri and as a result, the Indian edition is missing its first rather interesting chapter.

But there is much incisive writing in The Beautiful and the Damned. Take this paragraph from Ghosts in the Machine: The Engineer’s Burden:
“Most of the engineers I know are very likeable people, but what I know of them as individuals clashes with what I see of them in the aggregate. The engineer celebrated for being clean cut and decent in public, especially in the West, is often also the one lurking on websites, filling cyberspace with viral chatter that is sectarian, sexist and racist, convinced always of his own meritoriousness and ready to pour invective on those who disagree with him. If there is a schizoid personality at work here, that seems to be furthered by the fact that the engineer is both a public persona and a rather enigmatic figure.”

Deb’s need to understand the Indian engineer leads him to Bangalore where he meets Chak with his devotion to a new age guru, SS, a ‘nano poet’ and Kartik, a raving RSS man. Through them and through a chance encounter with street toughs from the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike, he presents a sharp snapshot of life in Bangalore.
Then, there are the studies of the red sorghum battles of Andhra Pradesh, the plunder of its land, the vast armies of migrant labourers wandering the country in search of work and in a touching final chapter, a meeting with Esther, the girl from Manipur who works in a large restaurant in unfriendly New Delhi and with Luni, a sex worker in rural Manipur. Deb’s people are memorable and the reader keeps thinking of their aspirations, wondering if their dreams come true long after he’s turned the last page.
Unsympathetic reviewers have suggested the book is “more a reflection of an armchair leftist’s world view than a real assessment of the India we live in today.” (Business Standard) but then you would hardly expect rave reviews for a book such as this one from an Indian business paper. Especially in an era when only cheerleading chants and eulogies to Bharat Mata are deemed acceptable.

The success of Siddhartha Deb’s The Beautiful and the Damned; Life In The New India lies in how it makes the good Indian take a break from his ceaseless activity, his nonstop attempt to remake himself and reflect that perhaps he isn’t as different from that farmer in the hinterland, that migrant worker in the blighted factories of Kothur, that prosperous seed trader on the verge of bankruptcy, that he isn’t as cocooned as he thought.

The Beautiful and the Damned
By Siddhartha Deb
Penguin Viking
Rs 499

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Speaking Of Azadi

Currently reading Aman Sethi's A Free Man and enjoying it tremendously. It's about 'the life of an itinerant labourer' as the blurb says. Surprisingly, plenty of wisdom there for not-so-itinerant labourers too. Here, for instance, is Ashraf, the central character's take on work:

'Kamai is what makes work work. Without kamai, it is not work, it is a hobby. Some call it charity; others may call it exercise - but it certainly isn't a job. A job is something a man is paid to do - and his pay is his kamai. Many of us...' Ashram paused to stand up and take in the tea-sipping mazdoors, the gossiping mistrys, and the lazing beldaars in a smooth arc of his arm, 'many of us choose jobs only on the basis of their kamai. Six thousand rupees a month! A man could get rich with that kind of money! But they forget a crucial thing. What is that crucial thing?
'Azadi, Aman bhai, Azadi,' he continued without waiting for an answer. 'Azadi is the freedom to tell the maalik to fuck off when you want to. The maalik owns our work. He does not own us...'

Never a truer word was spoken. Taking this book nice and slow though I'm dying to chuck everything and just plough right through it.

Title: A Free Man
Author: Aman Sethi
Publisher: Random House India
price: Rs 399

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mean machine!

Antique sewing machine rescued from a junk shop and repurposed as the perfect laptop table. You can clank away at the foot pedal when you're particularly restless too!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Hip of the desert!

Can't get over the rugged beauty of this camelhide satchel from Pushkar!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Total overkill

Right, now I'm tired of hearing about Bin Laden, of the number of times people have mistakenly transposed his name with Obama's on Fox TV,

"Hey, Obama/Osama, same diff, right?"

of the theological debate among conservative Jews post Hillary being photoshopped out of the Situation Room pic, of Sarah Palin and her obsession with pussy (yeah, I know the expression includes 'footing' but…), of Osama's sexy young wife with the luscious lips, his cows and rabbits and all the chickens that came home to roost but are now probably a part of some Pakistani soldier's murg makhani meal.

This a recipe blog then?

I'm sick of reading about Navy Seal training programs that feature shots that would be perfect for the Bombay Dost centrefold, and of deciphering Obama's Americanese. I mean couldn't he have said: "Screw you, I'm POTUS and I'm not gonna show you the pix". Why all the spiking the football gyan, man?

Sick of that hideous Abbotabad poem too, though the one interesting person who's emerged out of the whole damn creep-into-a-sovereign-nation-and-steal-its-bargaining chip operation is Mr Sohaib Athar-live tweeter who's twitter bio suggests he was hiding out in the hills because he's some sort of techno yogi but was, for a whole week, the one person every journalist on the planet wanted to shake hands with. Careful, you know what techies do with their fingers during coding breaks. Two words: nasal cavity.

So the Navy Seals jumped into Pakistan, jammed the radars and shot the guy who was terrorizing dialysis machines in his quiet bungalow in the hills. Ah, but he wasn't, see? His young wife Amal al-Sadeh says he was a big strong man who was being treated with watermelon. This is why men must always marry virgins a quarter their age. They'll think any sex is good sex and they'll keep feeding you cut fruit too.

al-Sadeh: "All you need are nice melons!"

A cursory inspection of Bin Laden's medicine cabinet revealed that it was stuffed with medicines to treat boring conditions like ulcers and high blood pressure… and it contained a herbal Viagra, something called Avena syrup too, apparently an extract of wild oats - can't you just see some copywriter getting a hard on thinking of the lines he's gonna write for its campaign: 'Sow your wild oats with Avena'. Pure genius. Heeh. Of course, the sales of that thing are gonna go through the roof with or without corny ad copy.

Everyone at mall checkout: "Yes! TWO of those."

"Seems he was a family man," said the husband, who, I suspect, has great reserves of sympathy for anyone with a beard, no doubt as a result of wearing one himself. Anyway, I was watching the TIME clip of Osama watching himself on TV and thought, hey, the guy looks like someone's granddad, who was once a movie star, watching reruns of his old hits. Please, the pun is entirely unintended.

"Ah, those were the days. I was SUCH a killer."

And now, after Chomsky got into the act, I'm beginning to be a bit doubtful about Osama. I mean, was he really the guy who masterminded the bombing of the Twin Towers? Like, how do we know he was? We don't have footage of him like we do of Kasab sauntering around blowing up folks with that Kalashnikov he couldn't grab when the Navy Seals burst into his bedroom. Couldn't it all have been some diabolical CIA plan so they can eventually invade India. I mean that would be like completing Columbus' original mission, right? The guy lost his way and the Indians, the red ones including, ah, Geronimo, got fucked. Imagine what'd have happened if he had found his way. He'd have hung around here and started a whole new caste. All we needed. Brrrr.

"Damn those heathens!"

In between the wretched Osamafeva, the disappearance of the poor CM of Arunachal Pradesh went unnoticed. Right, watch the north east begin to sulk again: "Nobody pays attention to us. We don't even look like other Indians. They don't care about us. Irom Sharmila's been fasting for a decade but Hazare gets all the attention. Now Khandu dies and Osama gets all the attention!"

What can I say? Perhaps Manmohan Singh should call his buddy in the White House and plead with him to do some of that stealth operation stuff in this part of the south Asian neighborhood:

"Yo, Obama, it's the only way we'll get some unity in this country. Come na… plis?"

After all this, the one person I feel a strange sort of pity for is, no, not Osama, but Donald Trump.

Ah Donald, that birth certificate obsession was the reality show death of you.

Note: Manjula Narayan has, as usual, taken all the pictures off the net. She's shameless. She hopes, though, that the CIA won't storm her bedroom in revenge. Intimacy is hard enough with two kids in the house.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The afterlife of Ogha's innovation

So Norio Ohga, father of the compact disc, has gone off to meet the spirit in the sky. Will he find that the afterlife has perfect acoustics and its walls are decorated with the shiny discs that no one wants to listen to any more?

My own CD collection has survived through a tiresome number of house moves and the even more wearying stages of my life. Bessie Smith rubs jackets with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan who leans against Eartha Kitt who nudges the soundtrack of Julie who…

Right now, I am in the middle of one of those tasks on my 2011 to-do list -- transferring my CD collection onto my ipod, a copper coloured thing of wonder I bought as a birthday present for my husband but quickly appropriated for myself. That's the way with birthday presents for the spouse, you buy him stuff that you can wear, that you can steal, that suits your needs. Incidentally, this transfer-CD collection chore has been on to-do lists for the last half decade and I have a vague recollection of already having done this with at least one MP3 player that has since taken its place in a landfill somewhere.

I'm trying to remember the first CD I ever bought back in the 1990s when I had a collection of cassette tapes and LP records. I still have a lot of those tapes and records. I have no idea what to do with them though I refuse to throw them away. Now that they're making record players again, I can dust off that Madhumati record and listen to the songs that first enthralled me when I was 12. How I wish I could find a replacement for that heavy old shellac record - yes before vinyl there was the too-easily-broken shellac -- featuring the Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren duet my parents loved, that I smashed round about then. That was a bad time, all stewing hormones and splintered LPs. Through the years, I've scoured flea markets hoping to find another copy of Zoo bee Zoo bee Zoo with no success. Then, last week, I heard it again on Youtube. It didn't sound as sweet as I remembered it but it felt like I'd arrived at the end of some journey, like I'd restored a piece of my parents' shattered shellac coupledom.

I never felt quite so sentimental about the Ghulam Ali tapes they accumulated. A few of them are still lying around in a trunk somewhere waiting for the day when cassette players make their dubious return in a screech of chewed up tape. Perhaps I shall listen to them on my antique dictaphone, always a great ice breaker if I happen to be interviewing anyone over 35. They're immediately enthralled by the sight of me slipping a tape into the dicta. "My goodness, they still exist?" Yes, darling, they do and I prefer them over the digital ones because they are such good conversation starters.

But ah, my first CD was, I think, The Best of Cream. Naturally, I already had the cassette brought out by Magnasound, or was it BMG Crescendo? whose CEO, a young Mallu guy whose name I don't recall -- it's always like that with us diasporic Mallus, we forget each other's names but never, ever forget that detail about our shared ethnicity -- I later interviewed while I was heavily pregnant with my older son. This was towards the end of the 1990s when the world was at once fearful of the future and eager for the fantastic new millennium, and droves of Indian techies were rushing to the US of A to solve some mysterious Y2K problem that was supposed to blow up the universe if it wasn't quickly rectified. I was too busy being pregnant to bother with the details. Anyway, so there I was interviewing, for the now-defunct Gentleman magazine, Suresh Thomas -- hmm, it's all coming back to me -- who had built this company from scratch, when the baby decides to launch into a trapeze act. Mr Thomas and I continued to have a serious conversation about the music business and its vast potential, about emerging talent and the new music video trends -- it was still the age of MTV -- studiously ignoring my badly behaved fetus doing vigorous nonstop somersaults in utero.

So, yes, the first CD I ever bought was The Best of Cream, though it could as well have been The Best of Queen since Freddy aka apro Farrokh supplied the soundtrack to every major development in the lives of the last generation of Bombayites. I still have both those CDs and I absolutely have to transfer them. For someone who grew up in the era of the lovingly put together mixed tape, I find the super brief transfer of music from CD to computer to ipod strangely tedious. Perhaps it's because I'm certain I'll have to do it all over again with whatever shiny new better, brighter, beautifuller toy appears next.

Maybe my reluctance to transfer every last CD in my collection is a result of some residual sentimentalism for the dead age of the gleaming disc. Of course, during its hey day I never lost an opportunity to whinge about its tinny sound and bemoan the loss of the scratchy romance of the long playing record. Now, almost miraculously, the LP is back while fewer people are even glancing at CDs.

I thought of all this as I read about Norio Ogha's final swim out to those unknown shores where every wave must wash up with a original and distinct sound. I wonder what he thought about the quick death of his innovation. Did he believe the CD would ever become popular again?

Note: Pictures are not by Manjula Narayan and have been sourced off the net.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Madness at Mohali

OK, I gotta deal with this. The big event's coming up and Wednesday's already been declared a holiday in Pakistan. In India, where we do things more deviously, it's National Sick Leave Day. Those who just cannot manage to catch AIDS or a fleeting cancer in time for the match will have to fill applications in triplicate to be part of National Live Stream Day.

Warning: Do not tweet links to good live stream sites. They will collapse. Trust me, I know.

So, anyway, the good citizens of India are doing all they can to ensure victory:

They are breaking coconuts on their own heads.

They are taking vows not to cut their nails for another 20 years

... even if it means not wiping arse for as long.

They're refusing to trim their super luxuriant ear hair etc, etc.

All of which goes to show that we are a nation of nutters... that sometimes plays good cricket.

Our esteemed prime minister in a fit of March madness has invited his counterpart Monsieur Gilani to occupy really bloody good seats at Mohali. If either of them gets shot it will be by someone who's been parked in Chandigarh for the last week and still hasn't managed a ticket for himself.

"Where's the toilet, yaar?"

Other worthies who might be at the stadium include

LK Advani, whose been denied his er birthright,

Narendra Modi, Supreme Commander of, well, never mind,

and Rahul Gandhi, who looks set to be done out of his birthright

Aside: Sometimes God himself decides to throw on a turban. But mostly he wears his halo when he's playing so that's okay.

Also lurking in the crowd is Saeed Naqvi,

"I swear the knife in my back was that big"

Assange in Goldilocks avatar (He is Aussie, ok, he knows about cricket),

and Veena Malik and Ashmit Patel in burkhas so they can get boso kinar, whatever that means.

Meanwhile, in the press room, Chunnu and Munnu are putting on the show of their lives.

Both are of course, tattiing in their pants. If Pakistan doesn't win

a public lashing awaits.

If India doesn't win

some rioting, destruction of public property and general mc-bcgiri awaits.

The only thing that can save the ah honour of the two countries now is if some shady deal is done.

Oops, I didn't mean that. No, seriously, I didn't. PC was supposed to turn up in the list of peeps occupying the best seats at government expense.

Oh, OK, he's decided to stand throughout instead. Good show.

Meanwhile, Pak interior minister Rehman Malik is missing ALL the fun cos he's personally gathering intelligence on the Pakistani cricketers and the "position of their telephones".

What can I say, I'm shitting bored of the whole damn thing already!

Nope, nope, nope, Manjula Narayan hasn't clicked any of these pictures. She's shamelessly pulled them off the net and bunged in the words. Gawd knows, with this tension, she needs all the damn laughs she can get.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Fighting baby hunger

The strange thing about baby hunger. It can strike you anytime. I first had a bad bout of it when I was in my early twenties. The sight of an infant would transform me into a cooing, silly-face-and-sound-making idiot, a follower of new mothers in the street and a compulsive sniffer of baby scalps. Finding someone reckless enough to impregnate me became a full time preoccupation. And since I was one of those rare impractical young Indians who absolutely believed she'd never find true love within a tick-all-the-right-boxes arranged marriage, life was complicated for a while.

Eventually, though, I found a suitable someone who went shopping for pregnancy tests with me and pushed me into the local gynaecologist's waiting room. Pregnancy was an exciting project and I noted every change in my physical self with fascination: That first flutter in my womb, the way my taste buds changed, how my always formidable sense of smell now became a superpower (problematic while journeying over Mumbai's Mahim creek), the sudden mad urge for specific foods - bombay duck, jamuns, Nestle Milkmaid! Everyone seemed willing to fulfill my food fantasies. At 11pm one night, I had only to mention a craving for vanilla ice cream for a visiting relative to rush out and get me a bucket. I looked good too, in the dazzling shiny way that women do during a happy pregnancy.

The delicate perfume of the bombay duck

I can't say I enjoyed labour. When the pain kicked in there were times when I thought I would die. I begged the doctor, a wise old woman who'd brought a thousand wailing children into the world, for an epidural, a numbing injection to the spine. I couldn't read her thought bubble then but it would probably have said "What are you, a wailing whimpering MAN to ask for a painkiller?" Some women doctors are terribly macho.

Finally my son was out and I couldn't believe the minute perfection of him. The fully formed nails with their half moons, the shiny mop of deep black hair and the straight nose. I had never fallen in love like that before. But it happened again three years later when my younger son arrived.

I loved looking after the babies, singing them to sleep, feeding them, potty training them and making them their favoured gourmet meal, stewed fruit mixed with milky Marie. All thoughts of a career, even a thriving life of the mind vanished. I took on jobs that wouldn't require me to contribute too much of myself. I don't think I read a book through for at least five years. But I was happy. Babies are so helpless and dependent and so unconditional in their love. There's something heart wrenching about the way they look up at you with their huge clear eyes, how they hold tight to your finger, how they cry brokenheartedly when you leave for the grocery store without them and how absolutely delirious with joy they are when you return 10 minutes later.

As they grow older, your children surprise you with their personalities, with their new talents, their sense of humour, with how like you they are and how unlike. My sons have taught me to be more forgiving of men, to look at them without that white hot rage that used to sometimes consume me earlier in my life. They've taught me that some sorts of male behavior are intrinsic and that other sorts definitely need to be yelled and nagged out of existence. Every day, I learn something new from them about what it means to be a woman.

Recently, though, I've returned to that uncomfortable place I was in my twenties. I thought I was done with that messy procreation yearning but quite unexpectedly I find myself cooing at strange babies again. Every time I see one I feel afresh that need to have a little perfect person for whom I am the world. I can understand that Octomom, her greed. Having babies is fulfilling in an unexplainable instinctual way. But this time, my hunger is abject and hopeless. The Hum do, hamaare do family planning campaign was so successful in changing the way we think that it is now rare to find an Indian family of a certain socioeconomic background with more than two children. It doesn't mean, though, that all of us want only two, just that a whole generation has decided very sensibly to stop at that number even if we continue to be haunted by thoughts of a third phantom child.

My rational mind knows I shouldn't go back to that love hormone-suffused space of the new mother. I have important things to do, that college fund to build, the rejuvenated career to nourish. But on some days, it's difficult to convince my instinctual self of the real importance of those intellectual and economic imperatives, to not daydream about being a kind of modern day Venus of Willendorf.

All boob, no brain

Ah, it really is time for me to get a dog.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

It's a gas, gas, gas!

Dude, I was just hanging around giving the sexy Bong intellectual vibe

when this chicklet says she wants to "do serious cinema".

Er, I'm the sorta guy who likes the girls-who-read types. You know the Simone de Beauvoirs,

the Amrita Shergils,

the Arundhatis...

Basically, arty, tortured, hand-wringy feminists.

Oh, I can be all that, she whispered huskily.

So then we become buddies. No, no, not Bollywood 'good friends' buddies, just buddies, OK? She tells me about her broken heart. I tell her about my marriage. We bond.

No, not like that. I swear.

Soon, we're having these long-long conversations about feelings and stuff and we exchange secrets. I get a free extra therapist, she's trying for a role in my next flick. I think she'll be perfect as the sexy corpse who dies in Scene 1 and she's working hard to perfect her sexy-corpseness. And we're texting and chatting and poking on Facebook and all.

Oops, wrong picture.

Where was I? Ya, we were at the borderline sex-text ha-blah stage, whoops, did I say that? and one day, after she gives this brilliant performance as the corpse in Scene 1, I land up at her house and we gravitate towards the couch.

So I say to her, "Let me see your stomach ya... just to see if you'll make a nice corpse. I want a special sort of corpse, you know? Just any old corpse won't do.

But she had some stomach problem that day. I was wondering if I should offer her Digene or Pudin hara but then I had to rush off. The wife was calling,

my therapist, the one I pay shitloads to, was calling,

my personal assistant was calling.

Who the fuck invented the smartphone?

Then I'm thinking corpse in Scene 1 with stomach problems not happening, boss, so I cut chicklet from the script. Arre, I'm the creator, no? I'm the master of my universe, no? What's the point of being a big shit director if I can't drop a couple of corpses here and there?

Next thing I know, I'm the new Madhur Bhandarkar in town.

I hate the guy's movies.

Now, I'm afraid to go home cos the wife's pissed off ("Whaddya mean you can't stay faithful, jerk? Tell me all their names NOW!")

That is some serious shit, that sword.

And my mum's pissed off as well.

"I laabh you but I am bheri disappointed," she said.

But you know what breaks my heart? No intellectual babe's gonna look in my direction after this... for a whole damn week maybe.

FML, felled by a farting corpse, just when I really had it made!

(Nope, Manjula Narayan didn't take any of these pictures. She's not even the one talking in the piece though these are her words)