Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Unmentionable

The F word cropped up in my writing unbidden. Now I was only getting under the skin of the character – urban, Indian male to who my best ‘Saala’ is an endearment. ‘What the hell’ sounded insipid and rendered it punch-less. Guess who should protest? Urban, male friend. The one whose sole mission in life seemed to be ‘to desensitize’ a timid, small-town girl thrown into the ugly (read obscene), harsh (read more obscene) working life of Delhi. Yeah, c’est moi. I was a prude who couldn't breathe for a few minutes after hearing the s- - word hoping no one would notice I existed. The s - - word was used JLT, as in, s-- road, s-- pakoras, suchlike.

We grew up calling our period, ‘ahem’. We blushed if we had to use ‘naked eye’ in science class. The convent provided staid answers to big girl dilemmas such as ‘What should I tell a boy who asks me why I am not swimming during those days?’ ‘Say no, he will understand.’ There was no boy, no male in sight for miles except the PT teacher who had many daughters in many classes in the school and could not for anything replace the boy in swimming trunks in the brochure who spoke in a bubble. But equipped we were with the answer. The Sister recommended we keep a safety pin handy while travelling in a bus and if a male were to come ‘too close’, poke him quietly. That too never came to pass.

In our timid times Karishma Kapoor’s s--- song was ‘repaired’ and we saw her mouthing ‘baby, baby’ while the ‘s---, s---' synchronized perfectly in our heads. When Mr Orange Pants came dancing and singing about his sprayed-on pants and other belongings being s---, the radio and TV were promptly turned off or everyone started talking all at once about something ELSE. There was also a song starting, ‘tutak, tutak…’ for humming which a friend’s little brother was slapped hard by the father.

The girls in office were smoking, drinking, dancing and more. And I was struggling to keep a straight face when WORDS were pronounced. Slowly I graduated. I could manage to lift my hand to my hair and tuck the already tucked strand of hair behind the ear when such was spoken. Then the loo upstairs began to leak and became unusable. So the girls went to the five-star hotel across the road in groups two-three times a day and the boys just used the bushes. I hardly stepped out of the office all day and left for home only when I was sure that every male colleague, and peon and chowkidaar included, was present inside the office.

Now more than a decade later, I used the F word. Naturally it flowed. So what’s his problem with the F word, I ask him. It’s not me who’s saying it, it’s my character, I explain. I hate obscenity, he says. Obscene it is. Chastised, I replace it with a demure ‘Hell’.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Carefully Casual

I am always for substance over style but I cringed when I saw Aamir Khan in jeans on a public platform with Ms Clinton. It’s another thing that Madam was dreALL red – I mean, the only thing missing was red hair. But then Hillary Clinton is not Michelle Obama. Though I admire both for different reasons. It would be nice to see style and substance meet in one person. Now Aamir Khan according to me made a real faux pas. It wasn't just about showing respect towards a State Guest but towards a lady. And to say later that he doesn’t EVER dress formally isn’t correct. Here, at the premier of Jaane tu…
To me clothes and dressing ARE about showing respect.
When we invite people home and sit in our pajamas, it tells them we don’t care enough. Same when we go out with others. We convey that they are not important enough for us to be dressed up for the occasion or for their company (I see sister # 2 nodding approvingly).
We lose a lot of sleep (and waking time too) thinking of what to wear and still  end up in a bright orange shirt for an animal safari!!
I remember meeting a friend's wife for a Sunday lunch. I dressd up nicely only to find her track pants with haldi stains and oiled hair – the former perhaps to let me know how busy she’d been cooking for me and the latter so I remember she’s waiting for me to leave so she can leisurely shampoo her hair. Point noted.
Another incident that stays stuck in my heart for the anxiety it created for some time (for like 20 years?) was when a friend and I, as students went to Bharat Bhawan to see a French play (Antigone?) dressed in formal tussar sarees. We were dismayed to see that almost everyone else was in jeans. We got by telling ourselves that WE were the ones appropriately dressed.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Don't leave your x-rays behind...

Three people always have views on my writing. I always listen to them. Sometimes half-listen. On the previous post Total Eclipse of Reason written in haste (so excuse some blabbering) as visitors were expected and in a slightly angry mood too, the youngest of the three, daughter’s view was that it was too direct – translating into hurting others feelings. Friend’s opinion was slightly bald and ‘don’t fret’. Sister said it was honest like ‘Sach ka Samna’. The latter two take the sting out of the first. Yes, one has to be direct sometimes, beti.

This news item in Deccan Herald today was heartening as well as…unusual (?)

Breaking the shackles of superstition, the grandchildren of an orthodox man, who never allowed his children to witness the solar eclipse had their bit of freedom on Wednesday…Almost thirty years later when his father is no more, Sarvesh with his wife and two children came to Lalbagh to see the celestial event with the dead man’s X-ray film, which was cut into four pieces.

Although I have imposed no such restrictions, I think I shall take my x-rays along and deposit them at the pearly gates locker for safekeeping.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Total Eclipse of Reason

Some schools declared it a holiday. Some will start late. Apparently to facilitate the watching of the total solar eclipse of the century. I don’t just have doubts, I’m hundred percent certain as any of you is that it is to facilitate ritualistic baths and purification.
Not a single morning walker was seen till 7.15 AM. The teeming crowds of school kids on bus stops had dwindled. Schools where we send our kids to learn and question, rhyme and reason, get to the bottom of things and get a more rational/scientific view of life and world tell them to stay at home because it’s a solar eclipse! Come on, you just taught them in class 2 that it’s but the shadow of the moon.
Everyone is free to keep their faith. But please do it quietly. Don’t impose. Don’t propagate. Don’t influence and don’t create hysteria around normal, scientific occurrences.
I am a traditionalist, make no mistake. I follow tradition from sheer regard for the logic and thinking that goes behind it and from the fear of not losing beautiful things. I will do a million Surya Namaskars. I will visit temples and other places of worship because of their positive energy which makes me feel peaceful. But I will not bathe, clothe and feed my gods every morning. If I can do it so can HE. But I have no grouse against those who do. It can have a very calming effect as any repetitive, mechanical task and daily routine can. Also, chanting and meditation have benefits far beyond our estimation.
If you have older people at home who would like things done in a specific way, please oblige. It’s difficult for them to come out of it in a hurry. Because when the skies grew dark at midday and the sun was very systematically getting eaten up by the darkness; the birds grew restless and the cows mooed; they prayed and kept themselves half dipped in holy waters and asked pardon for their sins. Lo and behold! The gods heard them, forgave their sins, the sun was restored and life returned – all because of their faith and prayer. So it continued. Now don’t we know better? But the insecurities in the human heart tug. Rituals are a small price to pay. Kya jata hai? I will bathe in milk if it gives me shanti. Fair. Do it but do it in private. Schools that declared a holiday must have about ten percent or fewer students who would have stayed behind at home to follow rituals. But by declaring it a holiday they have made the other ninety percent rethink. What’s a bath? A few tulsi leaves? Let’s do it for the peace of our minds.
Insecurity. God forbid if anything was to go wrong this day – like say, a total all-day power shutdown, I would be taunted for sitting on the pot while the morning was turning night.
Do what makes you feel good but for goddssake don’t draw the impressionable minds into regressive rituals. It would have been so heartening if a school had organized a sighting and a session about the eclipse and made students come in early. Even if they had to close early afterward so they could go home and catch on the sleep, food or even the turmeric baths.
For a week now, I’ve shut my ears to all dos and don’ts and those nonsensical TV channels that have proclaimed doomsday and adverse effects on my rashi. But I have listened to the advice of not looking at the sun directly – it may damage the retina. Fair. Good. Thank you for reminding.
I hate confrontation. I do what I want to do – what I think is correct – logically, scientifically. I’m not strong on any - logic or science (sisters will comment that I don’t know why the roti puffs up because I never did study science). So tell me what the eclipsed sun does to my food and water how the tulsi will purify? Tell me how the early morning eclipsed sunrays will enter and spoil food that is not covered? Tell me how my chanting mantras will save the sun? Tell me how the bath will rinse away my sins? Tell me HOW?
The stories will come in all day today – I toh did not let anyone touch food! We stuck tape on our mouths afraid a word may slip. I am ready to turn my deaf ear. You didn’t know I had one? Good.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Gluttony is a s..port

Conversation with friends over lunch veered to some eating competition and to some two guys who ate up to 60 rasgullas. They reached a point where they had to eat the rasgullas with chutney.

Eating competitions are held at all levels - impromptu to professional. The most famous being the July 4 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest in NY with a cash prize of $10,000. But these are for pros. Idiots. Who indulge in a sport that has adverse health effects. Then there are the amateurs – those with their eyes on Nathan’s. Idiots-in-the-making. And finally there are those who do it for fun and won’t go beyond 5 rasgullas. They are gluttons. Good. Sensible people with love and respect for the food, for their bodies and the machinery within.

There is no dearth of incidents where people die eating. What a way to go! I mean you go to a beautiful place and say I could die here! or eat a beautiful meal and say I could die now! but you never think I will participate in this rasgulla eating race and choke on my vomit and die, do you? Among recent instances, a student in Taiwan died during a steamed-bun-eating contest. Closer home in Gurgaon a young techie died during a pastry-eating competition and more recently the winner of a pancake-eating contest dropped dead after gorging himself on 43 of the cream and banana stuffed pancakes. I feel sorry for the last guy. The others died of eating something nice, at least.

When I was small a school in the neighborhood hosted a Jalebi race to mark the end of the annual fest. It was the most awaited event. Jalebees were suspended from strings tied to a rope held by two tall teachers who swung it continuously. The participants had their hands tied at the back and had to constantly jump and eat as many jaleebees off the string as possible. I don’t think the winner ever mattered there, it was such fun way to eat jaleebees and funnier to watch. (I have some heartbreaking news for India’s jalebi lovers – what you thought was yours, isn’t. Wikipedia with all her matter-of-fact tells me that our beloved Jalebi originated from Middle East and North Africa!)

I like going for buffets not because we can eat all we can but because as a family our tastes are varied. So if it’s a Chinese-continental-Indian buffet, we don’t have two sad faces in the car on the way back. Before even sitting at our table we just go off in our three different directions. No one tells the other your noodles or your dal-roti – uff!

When one day we were going out for one of these, a very straight talking neighbor familiar with our miniature appetites remarked that if we were indeed going to the place we were going to ‘bada loss pad jaayega’. That got me thinking. How much people eat when the food is free. They don’t mind falling ill because they have eaten at every stall at the wedding – from chats through chole bhature and chowmein to rabdi – I did not miss anything (now I’m dying of dysentery). When ordering, they will count rotis per person (embarrassingly pointing finger and asking ‘you?’ ‘how many?’ and you mumble 2 less than you want because everyone’s eyeing you) and even the addha or chappa left behind will be doggy-bagged but they will waste mounds at a buffet or a wedding.

Never count your roties, said mummy. It was blissful. But I talk like an old hag now. Because those who remember, remember. At age 10-12 yours truly sat on the patta (wooden plank) on the kitchen floor and downed at least 10-12 chapatis with a katori of ghee on the side and whatever curry, mostly aloo. It was a life lived cycling and running and the 12 chapatis went down without a rumble. Most importantly never showed up anywhere on the anatomy in the form of love handles.