Kids these days

25 May 2015

There’s a little kid who seems to live on the stairwell of my apartments. He’s not the only little kid; across from me is a four-year-old and below me, in the house where his mother is employed, are two others. But this little kid is unique because unlike the others, who occasionally nod at me and say hello before being ushered indoors by their parents, this kid will ring my bell a lot and when I open it, he’ll look at me with big hopeful eyes and say, “Didi can I get you anything from the market?”

It gets irritating, especially when he wakes you up from a sound nap, or when you were right in the middle of that perfect sentence and there’s this child, demanding your attention. You just want to shout at him to go away. But he has big, hopeful eyes and a rare smile that lights up his whole face when he chooses to use it. And I can’t help thinking how many people must have already shouted at this kid, destroyed some hope or another and how many more he will have to face and let me not add to that list.

But the problem is, I have no errands for the boy to run. I manage to pick up groceries the night before (once in a rare while, I might ask him to get me some milk, but not enough to warrant the daily doorbell ringing), I have everything I need: a maid who cleans and cooks and a guy to clean my car. Also, I want to be politically correct about this — I want him to go to school and do normal childhood things (what do they do these days? Cricket?) rather than worry about money and what little tips he can earn from this door-to-door soliciting. In my building, it is only us and one more flat downstairs that don’t have full-time help and we don’t have anything for him to do. He is not a beggar, I can’t just hand him money and be done with it, but at the same time, I don’t feel right sending a child out to do my work for me.

I wish I could say the same about the local shop, that periodically uses a young boy (about 12) to cycle around the neighbourhood dropping off groceries. Or even the employers of my little kid’s mother, who use him in a pinch when they need to. Sometimes I’ll go to a fancy mall and there’ll be this kid — obviously not one of the family by the way she’s dressed and behaved — looking after another kid. Sometimes I’ll be surprised by a child when I go to a friend’s house and a young person brings me a glass of water.

I was thinking about this kid and the others in the same state as him while reading the recent news about India’s child labour laws. The boy in my building goes to school, but often he’s rung my bell during school hours — hiding from his mother —so that he can earn a little extra. What can I tell him? No, go to school, you’ll earn some more money when you’re grown? What is the point of future money when the present is so urgent and pressing? At the same time, I’m fully in agreement with the fact that kids should be kids: get an education, play, frolic, be kids for as long as they can, because adulthood and all its pressures will knock on their door sooner or later. But how do you argue with cold hard cash available right in front of you? I suspect the issue is knottier than what we can see on the surface.

Domestic help is the biggest employer of child labour in big cities, as far as I can tell. Little children sent from their villages to big cities, where they live alongside other more fortunate children and learn to work in a home. Their impoverished parents are happy to have one less mouth to feed and one more earning member for their family. Tell them about school and they’d likely tell you that they can’t afford it. In a country where every mouth is a liability, you want your liabilities to be off your plate and earning you money as fast as they can manage it.

The only way we can fix this is by going to the root of the problem. Help the people with the children so that their children don’t have to. And I suspect this will take more than just an amendment of a law.


(A version of this appeared as my column in mydigitalfc.com)
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Some thoughts on Salman Khan, drunk driving & rich people

12 May 2015

Drunk driving in India is a peculiar thing. For one thing, it usually happens to the rich: it’s someone flush with daddy’s cash taking their new toy out for a spin, or someone deciding that that getting home in five minutes is more important than following traffic rules. I’m not speaking of the truck drivers who take drugs along the way to keep themselves awake. That’s a different kind of under the influence altogether. But as far as I can tell, if you crash your car because you’ve had one too many shots, you’re usually rich and have been brought up in a life without consequences.

The very first drunk driving incident that registered on my radar has probably gone off yours a long time ago. It involved a young man called Sanjeev Nanda, a BMW and mowing through six people including cops, back in 1999. Once he had killed them, he hurriedly drove his car to a friend’s house and had the bonnet and bumper cleaned of blood. Nanda captured everyone’s imagination —even in that long-ago pre-Twitter age — and most newspapers reported the anger and hatred people had for that Rich Person Entitlement he carried with him, almost waving it before him like a flag. The car was a BMW (strike one), he killed policemen on duty (strike two), he had a friend’s servant wash off the car (strike three), that friend lived in Golf Links, Delhi’s poshest neighbourhood (ding ding ding, you’re out!) If Nanda had turned himself in, if Nanda had maybe gone to the cops and paid them off, if, if, if, who knows, maybe we wouldn’t even have heard that story.

I’ve been thinking of Sanjeev Nanda since the Salman Khan verdict came out. I’ve never understood the blind hero worship of Salman Khan — he’s muscle-y, yes, but he’s not that talented an actor, he’s known (publicly!) to have beaten up his ex-girlfriends, some of them Bollywood’s most loved leading ladies, his reputation as a thug exceeds his reputation for fine cinema, and yet, “the fraternity” as I suppose we must call the opportunistic, much made up stars of Bollywood were behind him to a letter. “One mistake should not define a life,” one of them definitely said. But in this case, one mistake was a big, huge mistake. It’s not “one mistake” when you kill someone, it’s a choice you made to take someone else’s life. And by driving drunk, you’re indicating exactly that: I don’t care very much for my life, and your life is laughable. Plus the better designed the car, the less likely it is that the driver will be injured in all this. No, it’ll be the humans he chooses to mow over like they’re characters in a video game, plowing on till there’s blood everywhere and screams, and yet, the people you work with, the people you work for will still defend you, still call you the greatest human being since Mahatma Gandhi, and am I missing something here?

On the other hand, if Salman Khan’s car had bumped yours, loyal fan, would you still think he was amazing or would you be ready to go, an iron rod in your hand?

It was entirely his fault for driving drunk and people who argue that other people shouldn’t have been sleeping on the footpaths anyway, are barking up an idiotic — not to mention elitist — tree. As someone familiar with Mumbai, you’d know there are people everywhere. If not asleep, what if it was someone taking their dog for a walk? Or someone who couldn’t sleep going for a stroll? It’s not unheard of in Mumbai for people to be out at all hours of the night, and it’s not their job to mind the footpath for any crazy drivers who might decide to run all over it.

If I sound angrier than I normally do, it’s because I am. In two years at college, I lost two people (one a very dear friend) to drunk driving. One was because of one of those above mentioned truck drivers, plowing through city streets and into a car full of people. The other was a passenger in a drunk driving incident. Such a waste and a loss to all of us, and how we mourn them still. All because people like Salman Khan and Sanjeev Nanda think the world is theirs without consequences. Lock them up, put them away. Make it impossible to drive a car when you’re over the limit.

Maybe if you’re one of his supporters, you’ll think a little more about his crime now.


(A version of this came out in mydigitalfc.com)
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Mingling Singles: Attending A World Alike Party

9 May 2015

A few weekends ago, I went to a singles mixer.

Not because I'm single--I am eternally grateful in the words of When Harry Met Sally to "never be out there again" but because it was run by a friend, and because I was curious and they were like, "Hey, can you come and write about it?" I live for new experiences.

A World Alike is an upmarket event company a "curated network of well-educated singles" that puts together like-minded singles across Delhi (and coming soon to Bombay!) in fun situations. The event I attended was at Pan Asian, and they had a psychic tarot reader and drinks and music.
Pretty Pan Asian party room


To be honest, given my allergy to a certain kind of Delhi person, I wasn't sure how much I'd enjoy it. {You know the kind of Dallyite I mean. They're entitled, they live off Daddy's bucks, in Daddy's house and they don't seem to have any ambition beyond their next good time. People like that make me seriously itchy.} But, thanks to the vetting system they had in place here, I actually met a bunch of really interesting people. (My friend does intense interviews to make sure each member is a proper fit.) 

"The point is not to meet the love of your life," my friend and co-runner, Devina Badhwar assured me, but I did a very unscientific poll, where I spoke to some of the people standing next to me and asked if they were hoping to meet their person. "YES" said the ladies, "NO" said the gentlemen. So there's that. (Later my data got a bit mixed when the ladies said no and the gents said yes, but hey!) From which I surmised that there are always people looking for their next big date, and there are always people looking for a good time. Neither of which is a bad thing. I like dates. I like good times.

But what struck me most was the atmosphere. It felt like an upgraded house party. People shifted from group to group chatting, and if I were ever alone in a corner (as I get sometimes when I get the Shys) someone would wander over to me and ask me about myself. It was nice. It's definitely something this city needs. Imagine if AWA had existed when I moved back to Delhi four years ago, looking for new friends. It would've been awesome.

WHEE NEW BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE!!

Listen, it's really hard to make new friends--especially in a city like Delhi, especially when you're in your 30s and everyone around you seems to be all about marriage and babies--sometimes you'd just like to kick back with a few people who are in the same place as you, thinking about your career, hoping to meet someone, yes, but not making that the entire focus of your life.

It's a really good thing they're doing--and if I were single myself, I'd join and go to a bunch of their parties. Sometimes you've gotta do things for yourself. That's the biggest lesson I learned when I was single: doing new things opens up the door for others.

As for the tarot reader? She predicted I will never be rich, but I will hit Big Fame by the end of next year, so, um, watch this space?
Terrible photo of me and the lovely Devina

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My feminism: a spoken word rant

8 May 2015

My feminism is not your fashion accessory.
My feminism is not your catch-all statement to the press where you try to please everybody but wind up pleasing nobody.
My feminism is my great-grandmother who hid on a roof to keep from being married at 13.
My feminism is my grandmother who was a grandmother when she was my age.
My feminism is my other great-grandmother who was a Sanskrit scholar and very admired.
My feminism is that I bear her unwieldy name.
My feminism is not scary, because it has nothing to do with you, it is my own personal and political view and why am I threatening you?
My feminism is short and feisty, and mostly soft-spoken.
My feminism will burn you with a cigarette if you attack it.
My feminism is tired of seeing you use it to sell things all the time.
My feminism is up and down and quiet and loud but it never goes away.
My feminism is really puzzled how you can't see equal rights for women as a basic human right.
My feminism is inclusive, I want to fight for me and I want to fight for people who are not me.
My feminism is surprised that your feminism is only about you.

(Inspired by seeing this truly aggravating Chanel clutch that says Feminist but Feminine. Seriously, fuck off Chanel.)

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Me wan' girl to make me roti

30 April 2015

I was with a gay friend—this was before the whole 377-debate, and while gay-ness was not “illegal”, a lot of people still didn’t come out—and we met another couple, also gay. One of the men in the couple took a liking to me, and spent the rest of the evening telling me his secrets over wine. One of them was: “I can never tell my parents I’m gay, so I’m getting married.”

This was both shocking and saddening to me, but as the years went by, and I met more people, both openly gay and not, I heard similar stories over and over again. I hesitate to pass the blame on to anyone, because I think this is a many-pronged problem.


For one, consider the parents. You have a kid, but you don’t have ownership of the kid, if you know what I mean. You have created a person, and you have to eventually let that person go into the world and do what they do. Sometimes you can try and stop them from actively harming themselves or others (parents of rapists, parents of drug addicts), but at the end of the day, your kid is a fully formed individual who will have to follow his or her own path. Too many people believe in the “emotional manipulation” school of parenting.

Let’s recap: you can’t force your child to do something you want him to do by claiming a) illness, b) I want to see my grandchildren before I die c) you are ruining your family’s good name. Be a good human being, parents, and let your kids be who they are and unafraid of telling you.

For two, consider the men themselves. I’m going with the assumption that they were forced or coerced into a heterosexual marriage against their will. Men, I know the stereotype about Indian men wanting to be perfect for their mummies (and daddies) but you need to learn to be honest about yourself. If you don’t want to get married, just say so. 

I know it’s easier said than done, but I lead by example: I’m in a committed live-in relationship with no immediate plans to get married. Granted, mine is a heterosexual partnership, but there is still an amount of pressure for me to take the plunge. Marriage is overrated anyway, but that’s the subject of a different column.

Imagine this: by making your parents happy, you are making a stranger, a person who never did anything to harm you, very unhappy. Is that the way you want to live your life?

For three, the women themselves. We do not know what goes on behind closed doors, what mental torture someone must have undergone to take an extreme step like suicide, but before it gets to that, please leave. Leave. Slam the door shut behind you. To hell with the consequences. The only one capable of living your life from inside your brain is you, and this is not the way you want to spend it.

It’s very hard to leave an emotionally or physically abusive relationship. You have years of building up feelings like “this must be my fault” or “this is my fate.” Most Indian women move in with a whole family once they’re married, so it’s not bad enough that their husband is cheating on them, there’s usually the unsympathetic mother-in-law, the absent father-in-law and a whole lot of relatives you have to put a brave face on for.

And finally, we’ve got to blame India’s draconian laws in the first place. They are capable of evolving—I watch with interest as live-in partnerships are given more and more legitimacy—but on this one subject, they refuse to move, forcing people to spend a greater part of their lives in darkness. We need to be able to love who we love, embrace who we wish to embrace. In other countries, gay marriage is moving forward in leaps and bounds, in ours, we can’t even acknowledge that such people exist.

Let’s move forward into a world where gay marriage doesn’t mean you marry off your gay son or daughter. 


(A version of this appeared in my column for mydigitalfc.com)
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Living The Bachelor Life

29 April 2015

The Good Thing has been away for almost a month now trying to get a new visa, and while it has been quite lonely without him, it's also forced me to get out and meet people more. (Which is also why I have a mild hangover on Wednesday. This is what socialising gets me.)

So, I've made a few new friends and done a few new things.

ROUND OF APPLAUSE FOR ME
* KARAOKE has returned, and guess where? GUESS WHERE? TC!! Full on old-school now, and on Tuesdays and Sundays they have karaoke night. None of the old staff is there, the basement is gone and now all the "regulars" are people I don't recognise, but I've been going for the last three weeks--so often that the waiters now say hello to me when I walk in. TC is also perhaps the only place in the city that lets you smoke inside so by eleven, you're surrounded by a fugue of smoke, and you have to wash your hair the next day.

* A lot of this socialising has been done under the tutelage of my friend at Fifty Dates In Delhi, who I will call just 50 for brevity's sake. 50 and I were already well on the way of becoming close friends before the Good Thing left,  and now we hang at least once a week, if not twice, so YAY SO NICE HAVING NEW GIRL FRIENDS!! I made another new girlfriend too, but it's early days yet, so let's not say anything.

* I realise I am talking about friends like I would about boys, but here's what happens when you're in a serious committed relationship in your 30s: you don't make any new friends. You TRY, oh god, how you try, but you never get around to actually following through on your plans. The only exception to this rule is if you've both just moved to a new city, and then of course, you're bringing your friend game to the table and leaving with a new BFF if you die trying.

* I think I prefer the word "bachelor" to "spinster." A) I do not wish to spin, so thank you. And b) bachelor just has a lovely, swingy sound to it. I'm claiming it.

* Since you been gooo-hoo-ne.. I have eaten at Cafe Lota TWICE and it is amazeballs. At the Crafts Museum. Go go, run don't walk.

* SO MUCH TV! My favourite discoveries have been: the short-lived Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. The longer but harder to obtain Everwood and the super-drama-OMG-rubbernecking of Big Love. All excellent. Please watch.

* At 50's suggestion, I read Bet Me by Jennifer Cruise Crusie (thanks commentor!) which is awesome, but I wish Cruise didn't keep describing her main character Min as "soft" or "round" or "lush", I'm like, "Ok ok, I understand, she's not a skinny girl, let's move on." But is hilarious and warm and lush and oh god I'm doing it now. Read it anyway.

* SHOPPING IS AWESOME. I do so much online shopping I forgot how much fun IRL shopping is too, and I bought loads of things.

I still miss the Good Thing terribly though. I wish he'd come home. I feel somehow unmoored, even though I am a strong independent woman of the twenty first century. Are you allowed to miss your boyfriend and wish he was around to be with you and help you and support you and still be a feminist?

HELLS YEAH.


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Why am I still blogging?

28 April 2015

Dooce, one of the blogs I've been following for the last ten something years, has quit to focus on other stuff. Back when we used to do this thing regularly, when blog meet-ups meant you actually knew everyone's URL, I had a lot more people I knew here. Regular commenters, I commented on other people's things, we met, we talked, we had an Indian blogging community.

Does it make sense to keep writing on this thing? What purpose does it serve if you're going to read me on other forums anyway? My blog gets the least amount of engagement now, if you consider all the other social media I'm on.

It's not about the money, it was never about the money, but we live in an age where if you have an opinion and an intelligent way to put it down, you can publish it pretty much anywhere. So all the stuff that you could save for your own blog, you'd put on other forums. And get paid for it too.

Why am I still here? Partly because I'm holding on with my fingertips to something that was once awesome, and that I believe can be awesome again. Partly because this is the only space which is all my stuff all the time, unlike Facebook or Twitter or Instagram which has other people's thoughts as well. Partly because after close to eleven years of doing this, I've grown accustomed to this place.


This may not be the future, in fact, I'm fairly sure this is the past. The blog as we know it is dead and it's time for those of us that are left after the great social media shakedown to see what new things we can do with it. If you're listening, talk to me.  

UPDATE: HOLY SHIT, THANK YOU GUYS! I am so, so touched with all the outpouring of good wishes. You're the best and you've convinced me. :) This blog isn't going anywhere: I'll stay if you will. 


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Titty Woman: Five Rants For The Big Boobed

20 April 2015

UGH. Being large chested is hard and not in the smug-hard way when you look at your lesser-chested friends and you think, "Oho, look at how stacked I am." I'm fully aware that in my thirties, the road is only downhill from here for my ladies. I envy people who can walk around without a bra, and in this summer, I have constant sweat marks on my tops for the section between the bottom of your breast and your chest. Not to mention whenever I gain weight I gain it right up there on my chesticles, and this means all my clothes are straining at the top but don't ever fit right around my waist. Seriously you guys. It's a CURSE.

Anyhow, here's a rant I did for PopXO a while ago, annotated with notes.


I learnt how to put on a bra the right way as late as two years ago. I developed early, and developed a bad habit of hunching forward to hide new growths, and ever since then, my bra become My Enemy Number One.
In school, I put my bra on front to back, so it was around my stomach, and hooked it that way so I could get it over my back. Later, I perfected the agile hands-behind-back movement that looked so easy when done in the movies. But it was only at 28 that I learned to lean forward, breasts in cups, so that the bra properly fit. 

***
  It is a truth universally acknowledged that a person in ownership of breasts must endure loads of chatter about said breasts. It doesn’t matter if they’re big or small, your breasts are the elephant (or the mouse) in the room, and the sooner people bring it up, the sooner you hope (fingers crossed) they’ll stop. 

 ***

 
The ever popular androgyne look just doesn’t work for anyone with more than an A cup. Hard as it is to find clothes that make you look nice, but not slutty, it’s even harder to find a button up shirt that won’t gape sadly around the second or third button. Further problems? The buttons snap in the middle of a meeting and you’re left flashing the whole office. This literally just happened to me the other day, wearing a shirt dress. I had to tell my friends to look away while I put the ladies back where they belonged. Gah. Also, I bought the most beautiful dress in a sale, and it doesn't zip up the side, no matter how many times I envisage a small chest and breathe out and wiggle, so now I have to have the tailor put a panel in it made out of the belt of the dress, and it won't be the same. {sad face}

***

Ever had that awkward moment when you go to hug someone and don’t want your breasts to touch them? You’re not sure how much gap to leave, so you put your arms up with an elbow shield and wind up elbowing them in the stomach instead. That. 

*** 


I’ve realized that I can walk around in short-shorts all I like, but the minute I throw in even a little bit of cleavage, I have a crowd following me. Your average Indian man is a boob guy. It’s true. The answer? A modesty scarf. I have several. Also it kinda sucks being constantly sexualised (from the time I was only a kid), just because your t-shirt tugs a bit more in the front than other people's.

***

Like the full moon, your breasts too will undergo considerable changes each month. There’s right before your period, where everything hurts, there’s right after your period, when you feel you could run a marathon without a sports bra, and there’s weight gain, which sometimes makes even a modest B cup turn into a double D. How do you keep your ladies from changing? You can’t, but that’s just the way with ladies.  Pro tip: buy a few looser bras with no underwire just for that time of the month. Hey, if you can have period chaddis, you can have a period bra.



 
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Nizamuddin: a meditation

12 April 2015

I've lived in Nizamuddin West for four years now. Four? Maybe a little longer.

My first house had an outside bathroom, but it's where I fell in love. It was a great house. I remember it still with fondness. There were so many rooms! And a false fireplace. And crazy retro tiles and switches. I loved that house. I'd be there still if they hadn't broken down the house next to it and the cupboards which were joined to it fell apart. (A 'bhai behen' house as the construction people called it.) Oh, also the outside bathroom got old in the winter and when I was drunk.
From the back terrace. Look how many trees!

[Speaking of, I've been drinking an inordinate amount lately. Not inordinate if you consider the archives of this blog, but if you think of my last few years, coupled and with someone who doesn't drink that much, then rather a lot. Tonight I am returning from Le (La? French something) Bistro Du Parc, in Def Col, which is very nice for wine and french fries, just what I was in the mood for anyway.]

[My friend I was out with and I have this thing where we dress *very nicely* for each other and tonight it kinda backfired as the two of us were all nice dress-lipstick-heels and everyone else was traipsing in with gym clothes. Delhi! Please dress nicer when you're going out for dinner. No one wants to see your hairy legs, boys, unless it's under a pair of linen shorts.]

Anyway, Nizamuddin. The posh people are in the East. It's like I'm in Bandra East in 2007, and everyone's in Bandra West and I was trying to sing the virtues of my side. Except there are many things I love about Niz East too, but primarily the parking. I don't care so much about the tomb (it's right across the road if I want to look at it) or the green (I'm surrounded by several trees) but I do envy them their parking sitch. The Nizamuddin Basti has grown over the last few years and now everyone there has a car with nowhere to park it so they park it within the colony.

Which, I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry for sounding elitist or whatever, but I strongly believe if you don't have a space to park your car RIGHT OUTSIDE YOUR HOUSE you shouldn't park it anywhere else. Orrr, I wish every neighbourhood had one large central carpark and it was safe to walk from there to your home.

I also like that I've been here so long that when I go to the market, everyone says hi to me. Fruit guy. Both the  veggie guys. The electrician. The tailor. The guy I once had cleaning my car and now I have another guy. They all say, "Hello madam" and I say, "Hello!" and we belong for one second to the same place.

The other day we had a party where we called people from the "Greater Niz" area. Which turned out in the end to not only include Niz East but also Jangpura and Def Col. My friends from Greater Niz introduced us to Kabul House for kebabs and biryani, very Persian, so Persian in fact that the Good Thing said we would order from there every time we wondered where else to get food from. 

"Nizamuddin isn't South Delhi!" said a friend's date one night. He turned out to be a total tool, so we can ignore whatever he said, but another friend called my address "Central Delhi." I'm not sure. I'm spitting distance from Khan Market, yes, but also Ashram. I'm twenty minutes away from everything and still the cab drivers ask me where I am. "Nizamuddin station?" "No, West!" "But.. the station?"

Let me tell you: that station isn't as close as it appears. Too close for an auto, too far to walk with a heavy bag. I try and take all my trains from New Delhi Railway Station.

Let me tell you: we have a posh grocery store and Cafe Turtle and we also have beef tikka and the best biryani you'll eat in Delhi.

Let me tell you: we're in one of Delhi's oldest neighbourhoods. I love it. I'm so glad we stumbled upon it.
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Not just a silly love song

7 April 2015

I think I can trace it all back to 1992.

Like a lot of you, I think my first glimpse of real TRU LUV was the romance between Aamir Khan and Ayesha Jhulka in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander. We didn’t speak Hindi at home being a weirdly all-over-the-place Indian family whose only common language was English, and I didn’t have very much in common with any of the characters, but Pehla Nasha (which I am playing again right now as I’m writing the story) still elicits in me this feeling of great, growing excitement, butterflies in my tummy, and the innocence of first love. How adorable is Aamir Khan flinging his 90s pattern sweater around? I was 11 when the movie released, and for me it promised a glittering shining adulthood: love would conquer all, a man would skip through tea plantations because I loved him, and all would come right in the end. 


This was also the same year that I became fully cognizant of The Sound Of Music. I loved that movie for the middle bits—the bits between the nunnery and the Nazi shadowed romance—the bits where she makes clothes out of curtains and they all sing Do A Deer. 1992 or thereabouts, was when I began to stop drumming my heels waiting for High On A Hill Was A Lonely Goatherd and pay attention to the romance between Maria and Captain Von Trapp. Sure, even my young mind could fathom the romance between Liesl and Rolfe, but Liesl was the silly character, a side-note to make the film’s interludes more entertaining. I took her sixteen-year-old love affair as seriously then as I would at any other age but when I was sixteen, rolled my eyes, and enjoyed the song. However, Maria and Captain Von Trapp, now there was a romance. The beautiful Baronness sent packing, the children who finally had a mother to “manage” them, all that sounds very prosaic, but they too got one song, set in the same gazebo as the younger lovers, but this love was true and mature, and he cups her face as they sing to each other. Love will conquer all, even the Nazis. 


Maybe I’d be a different person today if I had grown up on a diet of cartoons or Star Wars or something. But these were the 80s and the 90s, even our Disney movies had romance in them: deep, lasting romance, romance that was the reason for people doing things. We tended to watch movies with songs in them—blame Bollywood—and all the songs featured pyaar in some sort or the other. In 1995, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge released, and with it, that other song of yearning: Mere Khwabo Mein Jo Aaye. The man who comes into my dreams. I was 14 by then, and that movie was all it took to urge me closer to wanting the kind of love I had been watching. I dreamed about various floppy haired boys in my class, doodled their names up and down the pads we kept next to the phone for taking down numbers, and hoped that every blank call was them declaring their love in a sort of silent love song. 


And even as I grew, and became more aware of the different kind of love songs—both in movies and outside them—a little part of me stayed faithful to the Pehla Nasha school of thought. The first intoxication of love. Is that bad? No. I like that life still has the ability to give me butterflies just by the first chords of a movie soundtrack I was crazy about when I was young. I like that the butterflies represent romance, and even though I know that real movie-style romance doesn’t happen unless it’s scripted, my delight when my partner’s romantic move IRL pans out perfectly is totally dedicated to that preteen I used to be, all awkward angles and buck teeth.

I’m still thirty three going on sixteen.
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Yes, as a matter of fact I AM menstruating as I write this

6 April 2015

A photo flashed around my social media last week, showing a fully dressed girl lying on a bed, with her back to us. The caption underneath said Instagram had removed the photo, and for a moment, I couldn’t think why: it looked perfectly appropriate to me. And then I saw the spot of blood on the girl’s bottom and the other smudge of blood on the bedsheet behind her. The photo had been removed because it showed menstruation—something that is as natural as having a cold, except it’s not a disease, it’s just this quirk of biology, it’s what prepares women to keep propogating the human race, it’s what reminds me when I’m healthy, it keeps me going month after month, my body’s messy, sometimes painful calendar. Because yes, I get my period, and this is not a secret. One day I won’t get my period anymore—that’s not a secret either. So why do we act like it’s this shameful, horrible thing? Is it the blood? Is it the association with sex? It’s not even that dirty compared to some of the things we touch on a daily basis (a bus handle, a public toilet flush, stroking your pet’s fur).


Also see: ink on school skirt
The photograph was by Rupi Kaur, a Sikh poet living in Canada and she responded to the take-down by saying on her website: ““I will not apologise for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in an underwear but not be ok with a small leak when your pages are filled with countless photos/accounts where women (so many who are underage) are objectified, pornified, and treated less than human.” Eventually, after much media furor, Instagram apologised and put the photo back up claiming it had been removed “accidentally” but the message was still sent. We do not want to see the biology of what makes you a woman. In the past, the social media platform has removed pictures of women breastfeeding claiming that it “violates community guidelines.”

Out of curiousity, I do a search for “body” on Instagram to see what they allow you to keep. I see a woman yanking down her tank top to show off her nipples. I see a man displaying his penis. Breasts, stomachs, women in bikinis, women mostly naked except for a strategic hand placed over their privates,  men unbuttoning their pants, all of this is acceptable to Instagram but a fully clothed woman with blood on her sweatpants is not. Part of this is because we as a society fetishize the body, we like to think that it exists separate of the things we make it do, unless the thing you make it do is “beautiful” and can be shared. For example: photos of a growing baby bump will meet with lots of likes and acceptance, but photos of a generally fat stomach will earn you abuse.

Closer to home, students at Jamia Milia University in Delhi have taken to using sanitary towels to spread a message similar to Kaur’s—i.e. that menstruation is nothing to be ashamed of. It all began with 19-year-old Elona Kastrati sticking pads to poles in her German university with messages on them, saying things like, “Imagine if men were as disgusted by rape as they were by periods.” #PadsAgainstSexism was born, and the students of Jamia Milia took it up on their own campus as well.

Would you be shocked to see a sanitary napkin on a pole? I might still be and I’m a card-carrying feminist. In fact, until only a few years ago, I was a bit embarrassed by having to buy my monthly supplies at the chemist. Much like condoms, pads and tampons take on a whisper quality—and it’s no coincidence that the most popular sanitary towel company in the country is called Whisper, because that’s how you ask for it.

People’s reactions to menstruation, much like breast feeding, should emerge from the dark ages. I’m not saying advertise it on your social media—or hey, do it if you want to, proclaim on your Facebook status: “I’ve got my period today” and then it will be as common as any other body function. These are the bodies we’re born into, imperfect, bleeding, snotting, places to make babies, homes to viruses and germs, and home to us. Let’s get rid of the way we use a million different euphemisms to describe our state: “down” or “chums”. You’re a woman. You have your period. That’s the way life is.  

(A version of this post appeared as my weekly column in mydigitalfc.com)

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Television freak show cops and robbers everywhere

1 April 2015

We need to talk about zoos. That’s right, the big compound in your city that you probably don’t pay attention to unless it’s wedding season and a huge hoard of relatives have descended upon you and you need to figure out how to entertain their squalling brats. Zoos. Short for zoological parks, places that should be full of awe and wonder and summon up images of the Sahara or the Australian outback or the deepest Antartica, and instead only remind you of depressed animals.

Most of India’s zoos are pretty pathetic. The Delhi zoo actually is housed in an absolutely gorgeous piece of land right inside the Old Fort, and is really good for a long winter walk, if you just stick to the trail by the migratory bird area, which isn’t caged in, and which most people find very boring. The further on you walk, the more your nose will tell you that you’re hitting the big animals—that and the sound of a hundred schoolchildren ruffling chips packets, and that one adult who is about to make a bad decision. Sometimes, these adults will poke at an apathetic bear or monkey with a stick. Other times, they’ll try to shout as loudly as they can, so the depressed big cat who is taking a break from pacing back and forth and back and forth will look up and roar back. The chimpanzee will stop poking the ground with its stick and look up briefly. There is a stench of animal and that animal’s toilet and that animal’s food all mixed up. You hold your breath, you gaze for a bit and you move on. But the lion is still there, his patchy mane speaking of malnutrition, his nose forever filled with the stink of his own scat, his whole life—a life meant to be lived wandered thorn forests, with a harem of his own—narrowed down to this enclosure, which has a few trees. With my three cats—panthers made miniature—I can guess that the lion, the tiger, the jaguar all have their own favourite tree worn low by scratching, but my cats have been bred to domesticity for their entire species and so don’t worry about favourites. They have no desire to go on, beating on through the forest, establishing new favourites, sniffing the wind for their next safe destination, they have no essential tiger-ness, which you’ll note the minute you see one in the wild, which makes them hold their heads high and tell you with one uplifted whisker: Lo, look it is I, it is Tiger.
L'oreal. Because I'm worth it

I mean, it is sort of our fault as well. The only reason we’re all talking about the zoo now is because some poorunfortunate leaped over a low boundary wall and was subsequently cornered and killed by the white tiger. The papers and TV showed the man cowering in the corner while the tiger examined him, “What is this? A diversion?” the tiger asked himself, before he was distracted by security guards throwing stones at him, and then it was “Predator! Kill!” and before anyone could do anything—like, as an article in Quartz India suggests, remove the tranquilizingequipment placed only 350 feet away for just times such as there--a tragedy unfolded and the man was dead. The papers didn’t say that the tiger ate him, only that the man’s neck was snapped in two, to disable him from the stones, from the roaring outside, from the cries.

The same article mentions that in the year 2013 to 2014, 80 animals that were placed in the care of Delhi zoo have died. These include—so you can feel even worse, five Bengal tigers. The zoo is killing the tigers, whether by negligence or by design, the tigers are killing themselves, perhaps, just to be free of it.

Not all zoos are bad zoos. Conservationist Gerald Durrell spoke of his plans for his own private zoo on the Jersey island in England at great length in several of his books. Zoos for him were a place to help animals—to breed species that were dying out, to help people observe these species, and at the very last, to allow people to watch the animals in their natural habitat. He begged for land and funds to be able to ensure his animals were in places they considered safe and home—and fed them special treats. Gerald Durrell was involved in his zoo, and like a chef-run restaurant, a naturalist-run zoo is the best kind.
 
So don’t kill the Delhi zoo. What is going to happen to the animals if it is gone? What is going to happen to all the humans who don’t feed the animals chips packets or tease them or jump over ledges? Those humans exist. I was one of those humans. I watched the deer, I watched the tiger and I watched the bears, almost every week. It gave me great joy, mixed with great depression at how unhappy some of them were. Instead, hand over the zoo to new management, a naturalist or a private board interested in conservation and let them run the zoo like the place it is supposed to be: a private haven for lovers of animals. A safe home for animals in danger in the wild.

(Wrote this when the Delhi zoo incident happened for my column in mydigitalfc.com)
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