Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Honk honk!

The Earth travels on its orbit around the sun at a speed of 30 kilometers per second.

The Sun's orbital speed is 200 kilometers per second.

The Solar System itself is moving about the center of the galaxy at 230 kilometers per second.

Our galaxy, along with others, is moving towards a region of space called the Great Attractor at 1000 kilometers per second.

Kilometers per SECOND

And those are the speeds at which we are hurtling along in space.

Suddenly, I don't feel so smug no more.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Mess-merized.

I found myself mesmerized this week. It's a word I rarely use. Yet now, I have three instances that caused this adjective to come true,

First. Hayabusa-


This is a guided spacecraft released by the Japanese Space Agency JAXA. It's mission? To travel to asteroid Ryugu, collect samples and return to Earth. It's a six year journey. Launched in 2014, Hayabusa-2 is slated to return in the end of 2020.

Now for the interesting part! The geniuses in JAXA have created a website that shows the location of Hayabusa in space! I tell you, it's hypnotic. The numbers of the bottom of the screen show how far it is from Earth, how close to Ryugu and how long it's been since the launch. These are constantly changing numbers and as I stare at them against the backdrop of a twinkling map of space, I find myself hypnotized. I can imagine this craft hurtling through the blackness of space. Of space!!!  The numbers themselves are mind boggling (9 digits!) and make it all too real just how unbelievably vast these distances are. Growing up with a scaled down map of the solar system in text books and Picard shooting everywhere in seconds at warp speed, this is an eyeopener. I stare at the dot that is Hayabusa and I can almost imagine being there, on that lonely journey surrounded by a near perfect blackness.

Second. This Little Girl.


I can't help it. It's like some mental illness, watching this child. I can't stop if I start. Late last night, eyes burning, I watched Youtube videos of her for at least an hour. She goes from dish to dish, chomping away without a break, without judgement - all foods being equal to her. I don't know if I envy her or not. As a foodie, I want to eat like her, but as I watch, spellbound, I can't help wondering if she actually tastes it all. It's still fascinating. I feel like she's doing the right thing with her life. I want to too.

Xiaoman is her name and Paris Mina is the Youtube Channel posting her videos.

Third. This conversation.

Me: "So what kind of books do you like to read?"
Guy: "Fiction. And non-fiction."

Coming at the back of a long line of teeth-rattling conversations, this one answer (that I henceforth dub 'The Last Straw') did for me what I imagine a million tons of rocket fuel can not - it stripped my mind blank and launched me into a space so black, I think I'm catching up with Hayabusa.

My re-entry will be mesmerizing.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Bleaky.

Writing has become catharsis for me. It's the only explanation for the bleakness of my recent posts. Or I'm slowly losing my mind. Very likely. Still bleak.

I got seriously pissed off today. I saw a scene on tv and it triggered a memory. It was in school back in Kuwait. I had a group of friends. We were diverse people but we got along well. Except for this one girl who I really disliked. I never said anything because she was part of the group and that's that. But by god, I disliked her. I used to watch her in wonder because she seemed like the most fake person in the world to me. Even when she laughed, I'd notice her watching people. Her beady eyes always gave her away, to me at least.

Once, my friend S and I were studying together in an unused classroom. That's when DQ (for drama queen, not very original, but oh so apt) flounced into the room, plopped in an empty seat across from us and started parroting everything I said. Why do people think that's funny? Let me rephrase- what kind of people think that's actually funny? Anyway, she kept at it long past when she should have stopped. We had a big test coming up and after what seemed like hours to me, I raised my voice and said, "Stop it!" That's it. DQ stood up and flung herself out of the room. Within minutes, someone came and told us that she was crying in the room next door.

What amazed me was that slowly, one by one, my friends left me to console her. As if she were a victim of some great attack. That female milked it. She was apparently inconsolable when I finally (tired of waiting) went to see what was happening. She was still sobbing, with a large cooing crowd around her.

The thing is, people do this. And other people inexplicably fall for it. That instance and a few others over the years has shown me that people are strangely susceptible to tears. It's like, you can be a complete bitch but if you turn on the waterworks, people will support you. I've seen people who are hysterically emotional and delusional make use of this factoid to come out on top of a situation. On the other hand, if you want to become an instant villain, have an argument with a person like that. Within minutes, people will be like, 'Gasp! You made her cry?! You devil spawn!' And if she happens to be pretty, forget about it. You might as well tie yourself to a stake and set yourself on fire.

The sheep mentality, the illogical placement of sympathy, the complete lack of fairness and justice, the shallowness... I could rant about this for pages. It's blatant manipulation, and when learnt at an early age, creates monsters who look like people.

Recently, a 'friend' on Facebook started a conversation with me. She disagreed with one of my posts. I think I got one sentence in right at the beginning trying to clarify what I meant. After that she carried the entire conversation herself, typing at a furious pace, jumping from one opinion to another without letting me respond to anything, until in the end, she finished with a 'I could be wrong. Bye.' I unfriended her. I'm sure that if this conversation had been happening in public, she would have finished in tears, as if I'd just slapped her for having a dissenting viewpoint. She's that type. As much as I am sympathetic to whatever hardships she's going through, I don't want people like that in my life- it's just downright disrespectful.

What eats me is- why can't I cry on command? Let me tell you- it would have gotten me out of a few sticky situations. I just looked it up and there are numerous youtube videos that promise to get you teary in tens seconds- an acting technique, I suppose. I'm not going to watch any, but it amuses me to imagine myself using it. But not successfully. You see, the manipulator (is that a word?) has a plan B. If you end up crying before she does, she'll become the all-knowing condescender (definitely not a word). "Hey, don't be so emotional." "You're really over-sensitive." "Just relax! You have to learn to take life easily." "You shouldn't take everything so seriously." and the real insult-  "Just look at me." Then comes the injury- she'll go around telling people about how you lost it. I've seen it happen to decent people. They usually lose the will to live and become zombies.

I'm not a zombie. I know how to handle these types- I fully embrace my role as witch and enjoy it. As long as she's crying, why not give her a real reason to do so? It's a wonderful way to release pent up feelings and practise those dusty curse words you've kept on the shelf too long. I may be bleak, but hey, you can't say I'm repressed. Wink wink.

Oh, and DQ? I understand her life is a drama filled mess. I won't pretend- I think she got what she deserved, in general. But a more enlightened way of putting it would be what I said in my previous post- More than anything, who you are determines how you live. So if your life is bleak, you need to take a good long look at yourself. Which is what I should be doing right now, instead of ranting. Off I go.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Or.

When I was a kid, my parents used to let me sleep in their bed for a few years until I was old enough to have my own room. I remember that I was asked, quite often, 'Do you like amma or daddy?' It was a silly question, one which I always answered with 'Both.' Even as a kid, I knew it was one of those ridiculous questions adults asked kids, like 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' But little did I know that it would be the theme which shaped my entire life.

My mother raised the three of us physically, but I like to think that we raised her emotionally and mentally. By protesting and simply talking things out with her, we taught her how to parent, how to live. Over the years, she went from being a doormat, a.k.a, an ideal Indian housewife to being a gradually freer spirit. She never taught herself enough to truly liberate her thinking, but what change came about was enough- my father and my mother fell out of sync.

He was a traditionalist, a man who proudly proclaimed that he would never change. He expected that his wife would remain the girl he married. Home became a place that went from being largely silent to a place where the silence was heavy with disappointment, anger and resentment.  My mother could not strike back at him with the hurtful, sharp tongue that he possessed, but she nagged and glared at him. Her most powerful weapon, as it turned out, was me.

My siblings, much elder, left home to pursue their studies. From the age of six, I was an only child. I don't remember much- just being afraid and painfully shy all the time. But around my twelfth year, my mother started whispering in my ear. The things my father said, and did, and oh, how unfair, unfair, but never ask him, never. That was when the rage started. Anger, always smothered because she was afraid he'd know she told me, built in me and became my defense mechanism. Reacting with anger and hiding it was the only thing I knew.

Over the years, as he tried harder to clamp down on her, she retaliated by telling me more. I was a miserable person because I loved my father but hated him, and I loved my mother but felt burdened. There was hardly any laughter in my life except when I was at school. In my twenties, I tried very hard to be more than what I was, and I knew that being my mother's champion was a terrible unfair role that I'd been pushed into. But she couldn't stop. And I couldn't abandon her. Even when I almost begged her to, she kept roping me in. I pushed her to fend for herself, but she was too used to cringing in the shadows. By that time, I was fighting with my father outright. He knew what was going on and he told my mother to leave me out. She pretended she had nothing to do with my attitude.

My father died when I was thirty three. The last few months of his life, we were barely talking. I hadn't called him 'daddy' in months. He died from liver cancer (the Hep-C virus), but I also know that he died because he had given up. He was living in a home that was a war zone and he felt that change was impossible- within him and without.

I won't be narcissistic and take all the blame for his death. It was largely him and his unwillingness to live and let live. But I knew better. There was a line and I was on the other side. I sat in his chair on the terrace on the eve of his death and sobbed 'daddy, daddy' over and over again because I hadn't said it enough. My heart broke again and again in the following months; I knew he hadn't confided in me about how sick he was because we were almost estranged. I relived every moment of the nightmare that was the last 15 days of his life.

There are no clear victims in life- was it my father , a rigid man with an abused childhood and unrelatable family, or my mother, a weak woman with a dominating husband and desire to be more than a role, or me, a child who was constantly put between two people she loved and asked to choose? 'Do you like amma or daddy?'

What have I learnt?

I think the most important thing I've learnt is that 'More than anything, who you are determines how you live'. It may sound simple, but it's a truth that is lived, yet not often realized.

Also. I've learnt to always fight my own battles. I've learnt to embrace peace far more than anger. I've learnt patience in thought, word and action. I've learnt that sometimes people shouldn't be helped because they don't really want help, or cannot be helped. I've learnt that children should never be deprived of their childhood. I've learnt that it takes years, decades to reprogram your life and some of the steps are very difficult. I've learnt that you cannot truly love someone unless you accept who they are. I've learnt that it's both easy and not to give up. I've learnt how to connect to a person instantly, and let go just as quickly. I've learnt that it's okay to make your own rules. I learnt that my choices impact my life in far-reaching, unimaginable ways. And I've learnt that the right answer to the question, do you like amma or daddy?' is 'Just leave me be so I can like myself.'


Monday, July 10, 2017

What's in a name?


"OMG, child, you're going to have to change your name when you grow up coz your parents seriously f-d you up. Never step out of India. And if you see a foreigner, run away."  As a teacher, I've said this to quite a few students. Not out loud, though. I figured they'd have enough material for therapy without adding an abusive teacher to the list. Russell Peters has only grazed the tip of the iceberg.


I beseech Indian parents- when you're thinking about names for your baby, please say it out loud a few times, put it in sentences in a few different languages, do some research. Do not unleash your unsuspecting child on an unsuspecting world.

All this reminds me of a humorous blog writer named Sidin Vadukut that I used to follow many years ago who wrote about why South Indian men 'don't get any' :D An enjoyable read-

"Why south indian men don't get any..."

Yet another action packed weekend in Mumbai, full of fun, frolic and introspection. I have learnt many things. For example having money when none of your friends have any is as good as not having any. And after spending much time in movie theatres, cafes and restaurants I have gathered many insights into the endless monotony that is the love life of south Indian men. What I have unearthed is most disheartening. Disheartening because comprehension of these truths will not change our status anytime soon. However there is also cause for joy. We never stood a chance anyway. What loads the dice against virile, gallant, well educated, good looking, sincere mallus and tams? (Kandus were once among us, but Bangalore has changed all that.)

Our futures are shot to hell as soon as our parents bestow upon us names that are anything but alluring. I cannot imagine a more foolproof way of making sure the child remains single till classified advertisements or that maternal uncle in San Francisco thinks otherwise. Name him "Parthasarathy Venkatachalapthy" and his inherent capability to combat celibacy is obliterated before he could even talk. He will grow to be known as Partha. Before he knows, his smart, seductively named northy classmates start calling him Paratha. No woman in their right minds will go anyway near poor Parthasarathy. His investment banking job doesn't help either. His employer loves him though. He has no personal life you see. By this time the Sanjay Singhs and Bobby Khans from his class have small businesses of their own and spend 60% of their lives in discos and pubs. The remaining 40% is spent coochicooing with leather and denim clad muses in their penthouse flats on Nepean Sea Road. Business is safely in the hands of the Mallu manager. After all with a name like Blossom Babykutty he cant use his 30000 salary anywhere. Blossom gave up on society when in school they automatically enrolled him for Cookery Classes. Along with all the girls.

Yes my dear reader, nomenclature is the first nail in a coffin of neglect and hormonal pandemonium. In a kinder world they would just name the poor southern male child and throw him off the balcony. "Yes appa we have named him Goundamani..." THUD. Life would have been less kinder to him anyway.

If all the women the Upadhyays, Kumars, Pintos and, god forbid, the Sens and Roys in the world have met were distributed amongst the Arunkumars, Vadukuts and Chandramogans we would all be merry casanovas with 3 to 4 pretty things at each arm. But alas it is not to be. Of course the southIndian women have no such issues. They have names which are like sweet poetry to the ravenous northie hormone tanks. Picture this: "Welcome, and this is my family. This is my daughter Poorni (what a sweet name!!) and my son Ponnalagusamy (er.. hello..).." Cyanide would not be fast enough for poor Samy. Nothing Samy does will help him. He can pump iron, drive fast cars and wear snazzy clothes, but against a braindead dude called Arjun Singhania he has as much chance of getting any as a Benedictine Monk in a Saharan Seminary.

Couple this with the other failures that have plagued our existence. Any attempt at spiking hair with gel fails miserably. In an hour I have a crown of greasy, smelly fibrous mush. My night ends there. However the northy just has to scream "Wakaw!!!" and you have to peel the women off him to let him breathe. In a disco while we can manage the medium hip shake with neck curls, once the Bhangra starts pumping we are as fluid as cement and gravel in a mixer. Karan Kapoor or Jatin Thapar in the low cut jeans with chaddi strap showing and see through shirt throws his elbows perfectly, the cynosure of all attention. The women love a man who digs pasta and fondue. But why do they not see the simple pleasures of curd rice and coconut chutney? When poor Senthilnathan opens his tiffin box in the office lunch room his female coworkers just dissappear when they see the tamarind rice and poppadums. The have all rematerialised around Bobby Singh who has ordered in Pizza and Garlic bread. (And they have the gall to talk of foreign origin.)

How can a man like me brought up in roomy lungis and oversized polyester shirts ever walk the walk in painted on jeans (that makes a big impression) and neon yellow rib hugging t shirts? All I can do is don my worn "comfort fit" jeans and floral shirt. Which is pretty low on the "Look at me lady" scale, just above fig leaf skirt and feather headgear a la caveman, and a mite below Khakhi Shirt over a red t shirt and baggy khakhi pants and white trainers a la Rajni in "Badsha".

Sociologically too the tam or mallu man is severely sidelined. An average tam stud stays in a house with, on average, three grandparents, three sets of uncles and aunts, and over 10 children. Not the ideal atmosphere for some intimacy and some full throated "WHOSE YOUR DADDY!!!" at the 3 in the morning. The mallu guy of course is almost always in the gulf working alone on some onshore oil rig in the desert. Rheumatic elbows me thinks.

Alas dear friends we are not just meant to set the nights on fire. We are just not built to be "The Ladies Man". The black man has hip hop, the white man has rock, the southie guy only has idlis and tomato rasam or an NRI account in South Indian Bank Ernakulam Branch. Alas as our destiny was determined in one fell swoop by our nomenclature, so will our future be. A nice arranged little love story. But the agony of course does not end there. On the first night, as the stud sits on his bed finally within touching distance and whispers his sweet desires into her delectable ear, she blushes, turns around and whispers back "But amma has said only on second saturdays..."

In one last effort here we attractive young men have taken on alter egos which may interest some of you women:

1. Gautam Kumar Raja, will now be known as Joshua Perreira
2. Sidin Sunny Vadukut, henceforth will be known as Dev Chopra
3. Ashwath Venkataraman is now Vijay Desai
4. Sudarshan Ramakrishnan no more, from now he is Barath Sharma
5. Gautam Chandrasekharan will now respond to Alyque Shah

Do mail me any time for a meeting with one of the above. One week notice if Italian or Chinese food is involved, or if the individual is expected to dance."

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Oh brother!

When you lift up something to question it, against what light do you hold it? I've been quite vocal about the importance of questioning everything; our thoughts, actions, intentions, beliefs. But I've come to realize that our conditioning is so deep, that it seeps through even when we break something down to analyse it.
I recently saw a post that had gotten many admirers. It ridiculed the Tamil practice of calling strangers or acquaintances 'anna', 'akka', 'amma'. (brother, sister, mother) I was saddened. When I use these words or hear them used, I don't see it as frivolous. It is not done out of fear, or to manipulate. More than anything, I see it as the remnants of a culture that was so steeped in human connection, so open and willing to recognize the invisible bond between us that our language simply reflected this. It is as an acknowledgment, as natural as calling someone by their name. In an instant, it cuts through a few layers of the formality that we've cloaked ourselves in.
In mocking it, I saw behind the writer's words something that has been weaving itself into Indian culture aggressively; westernization.
In the west, it would be ridiculous to walk up to someone and call them 'brother'. Neither the language nor the societal framework make allowances for it. You would have to be eccentric, or trace your ancestry to some tribe for it to be received without surprise. Basically, you'd have to be wearing a feather in your hair.


Indians seem to have failed in recognizing the difference between modernization and westernization. I cannot bear to switch the television on to regional channels today. Soap operas, reality shows, award shows- all very poor, cheaply done copies of American television. Anchors in stuffy costumes shouting at the audience and the cameras, the stage covered in glitter and horrendously mismatching backdrops, glorifying fame, desperately trying to project the image that is the pinnacle of success and happiness. It's like the media is determined to embrace the very worst of what it sees from across the oceans.
I've been to a therukoothu- a street drama performance that was common before TV exploded on the scene. They begin with an introduction. The person who speaks then does not shout- they know the art of voice projection. The actors actually act, the subject material actually says something of interest, the people who watch are free to interpret what they see. They did not kill art for the sake of entertainment.
An iconic actor, a lover of art, who protests any smoking or alcohol warning message that appears on screen in his movies because it insults his art, in now hosting our first ever season of Big Boss. Even when we were swinging from the trees and defecating in the open, we were more civilized than the people depicted in that show. The intention behind it is sickening.

I've heard arguments that media is an art form and should not be burdened with social responsibility. As good as that sounds on paper, it's not so straightforward. You're not dealing with a bunch of enlightened masters who know what to to take and what to dismiss. A vast majority of our masses have no access to education or are being educated in a system that leaves them with very little analytical skills. They are learning from what they watch. And what they watch and idolize, of late, is scary stuff. We can all see it happening. I see my maid's adult son sporting a cool hairstyle, refusing to find employment and taking pride in being 'street tough'. It's like seeing Dhanush stepping out of one his movies. You can't keep sending the same message, over and over again, and call it art. You can't just blindly tear out bits from other cultures and present the mess you've created as art. And importantly, you can't pretend that that mess does not influence life.
It may be that the West, in its new age spiritualism and embracing of practices like meditation and Yoga, eventually goes on to use 'brother' and 'sister' on the street. I wonder- will it suddenly be easier to swallow then, for our modern Indians? Will it then carry the seal of approval that has become so necessary?
"Hey man, how much do those bananas cost?"
"Dude, lend me a few bucks."
"Hey gal, how's business today?"
Translate any of those into any Indian language and savor the utter ridiculousness of referring to people using their gender or their species. And now tell me, how can it possibly be better than the warmth and instant connection that you get from 'anna', or 'amma'.
When you lift up something to question it, my beautiful brothers and sisters, be sure to look at the light that you are holding it up to.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Soc it!

Socially Acceptable Emotional Display - I heard that in a video today. And it wasn't about something extreme like falling on the ground and beating it with your fists, it was for simple things like being loving, crying or even joyous.

I remember this trek I did years ago, along the Niligiri range. It was organized by the YHAI and as is typical, consisted of a guide leading a group of about 20 or 30 people. In one of the camps where we halted for the night, there was this session where we all sat around in a circle and a few displayed their talents. This one guy recited a moving poetic piece from a movie, one that I was an ardent admirer of. It never failed to create a lump in my throat. So, as he recited it, I closed my eyes and I found myself smiling. When I opened my eyes, mid way, there was this other guy who pointed at me and said something to the effect of 'You better stop before something overcomes this girl". He said it in the most mocking, sexist way possible; I knew what he meant. It was like I was so impressed, I'd jump on the fellow and tear his clothes off. It was one of the most powerful examples of shaming an emotional response that I'd ever experienced.

When I heard the phrase 'Socially Acceptable Emotional Display', I was reminded of that night when I came back to the ground with a thud. The guy was obviously a jerk. He probably subscribed to the 'boys don't cry' creed. But he succeeded in making me self-conscious. I became cautious about the degree of my response to people. I closed up more.

Now, I think I'm way more open. I went through a period best described as a personal crusade, a mission that focused on building my self-respect grain by grain, and in this process, I learnt to be more of who I am. But it still falls short by leap and bounds.

And that's what repression does- it makes you less of who you are. It's why I'm so horrified by the social norms we have. I touched on this on a post I wrote earlier about dignity, but in a light hearted 'cheeky' manner. This is a more serious look.

As a child, say until 4-8 years of age, there's very little we can do wrong. We can throw our bodies into the air in exuberance, run in circles when we feel energized, jump in excitement, mess up our clothes in play, pretty much use our bodies as tools of expression. Once that age bracket passes, we start cuing in socially- by picking up what the norm is, from disapproval, judgement, shaming, advice, admonishment...we start learning to 'act our age'.

I think the key word in that phrase is 'act'. ACT! It isn't 'be' your age, it's 'act' it. Isn't language such a powerful indicator sometimes? I'm blown away by the word and all its implications. Act.

As a female, as an adult, as an Indian, I am familiar with repression. If you envision the culture here as a stack, then repression is a layer that glues every layer to the other. It is an indoctrination that is  so seamlessly, thoughtlessly transferred to our psyches. "You should not" becomes "I can not."

I can't remember the last time I ran outdoors. Not jogging or training-for-a-marathon running. The kind of running that you do because you want to. Just a headlong rush at the end of which you clutch your tummy and pant. I don't think the desire to do things like that reduces with age; I think we say 'no' so many times, it doesn't make itself heard anymore.

I would understand if it were only the inconveniencing others kinda stuff- like shouting in a movie theater because you feel like it. But it isn't. It's the harmless stuff that is just pure expression and communication, that troubles no one.

I remember this video I saw online of a man playing a musical instrument in a subway. It was a catchy tune that gathered a crowd. A little girl suddenly stepped forward and started dancing. Slowly, one by one, awkwardly, people joined in, just moving their bodies to the music. Some of them let loose, many were so self-conscious - you could see how hard they were trying to just do it. Many others stood in the sidelines, arms crossed. It was like the child, who didn't have to follow the rules, had to lead these adults into something so natural. I'm sure no one would have danced if she hadn't.

I can envision this clearly- a tribal village. A cloudy, cool evening. A man darts into this hut and fetches his drum. Boom-bada-bada-boom. He jumps about, creating music that gets the heart to beat faster. People jump up, they smile and whoop as they pump their arms and legs into the air. Men with butts bouncing, women with breasts swaying, children with hair falling over their eyes. No one's thinking about anything except the sheer enjoyment of their vigor, their power, their freedom to move, resonating with the beat of the drums.



What a study in contrast! So this is what civilization has done to us. It didn't stop where it should have. It kept going until we made invisible prisons for ourselves. And now, with overpopulation and smart phone addiction. no one barely moves anymore, not even the kids.

Why do I keep going on and on about this? Why don't I just move to some remote country farm, run through a field, roll down a hill, jump headlong into a stream and sing off-key at the skies to my heart's content? I could. But it disturbs me. I think humanity is harming itself in a way that very few are really talking about, putting aside our efforts at self-destruction through environmental means for a moment. The devil within, to be dramatic. I think I want freedom to mean what it does. I want the difference between 'childish' and 'child-like' to be clear. I want the relationship between human connection and physical communication to be acknowledged.

I want to see a woman to sit with legs splayed out and not be considered uncouth, unladylike. I want to see a guy splash into a rain puddle and giggle with delight without being thought soft in the head. I want to see a group of adults play at catching each other in the park without being labeled juvenile. I want freedom to be visible, tangible, physical, real. Oh, and for no reason at all, I'd like to have the word 'social' struck from the English language. I think we've had just about enough of it.