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.


Friday, April 28, 2017

Holy crap!

Growing up in India, I have met and interacted with many 'holy' people, since my mom, out of fear and desperation, sought out those who promised that their influence with the Gods would make desirable things happen. I still remember 'Sami ma'. Mom would travel great distances to go meet her. I went once. She was this middle aged lady with visible health problems- overweight, arthritic ... she'd sit down and start rubbing the floor with one hand, murmuring some chant. In the end, she'd open her hand and reveal a palmful of holy ash.
Many questions ran through my mind when I saw this-
Isn't that a fairly simple magic trick?
How can a holy person have health problems? What influence, exactly, do you have with the divine, if you cannot even help yourself, for something as material as the flesh?
Why do you need money from other people if you have truly renounced desire?
If you are God's child, and so is everyone else, why do you allow people to bow to you? Or else, why don't you bow to them too? And fall at their feet like they do?

This last bit is what especially enrages me when I see it on TV. It's not a matter of pride- I understand that falling at a person's feet is a matter of interpretation. Even at its spiritual best; as a gesture of acknowledgment of the divine, why is it one sided? Why do these so called holy people set themselves apart? To sit on a higher dais or chair, to allow themselves to be anointed with perfumed concoctions, flowers, prayers...


Here is an excerpt from an article written by journalist Manu Joseph-
"There is a spiritual movement among the urban affluent to understand life through a guru who is differently dressed but is not expected to do magic. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has filled this slot through entrepreneurial brilliance.
A few years ago I interviewed him at a Malabar Hill house (of course). On the floor were seated Vinod Khanna, Nagma and others like them. On a throne was Sri Sri. I was supposed to interview him in front of his devotees, some of the most influential people of Bombay. As I sat in a chair facing Sri Sri, there were gasps. I was expected to sit on the floor (a journalist before me indeed had sat that way). But then I am such a boor."


I'm not going to go into the debate of why an all powerful entity requires a flesh born mouthpiece. Let's let that one slide. Say you are a channel, a divine messenger- won't that make you even more aware of His design, His creation of all things equal, ahem, including you? 

And the people! The people! What do you really believe, if you can fall at the feet of a fellow man and believe he will make things happen for you? What kind of God do you hold in your heart, if He favors a few above others and lets them perform the miracles that he denies to you? Why is your faith so shallow and unthinking? 

If I saw an enlightened person, I'd be inspired by them. To better myself, to do more to uplift my wisdom and awareness. I cannot imagine anything more pathetic than to grab at their feet and pray fervently that some of their energy will rub off on me simply by physical contact and desperate prayer. Where is the personal responsibility in that? The basic lesson - to face one's good fortunes and bad with the knowledge of one's own will power and force of thought? 

My mom never asked Sami ma the most important questions- What is happiness? What is my purpose? How can I attain peace? Like most followers, she just wanted to know when she'd get her desires fulfilled. Don't give me knowledge, just the outcomes. It took years of being duped for her to finally realize the truth. I watched with horror when a Saibaba picture made its way into the puja room, to be adorned with flowers and lamps. "Who are you praying to, ma? What is he?" I wanted to scream. It's gone now. I'm glad. 

What a beautiful thing faith is, when you think about it. It's like trust. Like handing your child over to your best friend and saying, 'Take care of her for a day.' It's a kind of peace. And like most things, it can be bastardized. A man or woman can rise up, tweak their appearance, say wise words and just like that, can command the faith of thousands. 

If you want to find a truly holy person, here's how you can recognize one. He'll say just two words- 'question everything'.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A wonderful trip to see a truly handsome 'adiyogi', very artistically rendered, then I come back home to Salem and down the road is this goddess put up for a local festival, designed by some man with... repressed tendencies. Both made me smile :)

 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Mulch!


Even though the sweltering heat is trying its best to incinerate all life, the plants are hanging on and so are we humans. I've stopped planting seeds, but I stumbled upon the technique of sheet mulching this month which got me excited.

"Sheet mulching is a layered mulch system that nurtures the soil and replaces existing lawns or other vegetation, eliminating the need to remove unwanted plant material. The first layer is a biodegradable weed barrier—usually cardboard or multiple layers of newspaper—placed directly on the ground.

Sheet mulch has important advantages relative to conventional methods:

Improvement of desirable plants' health and productivity.
Retention of water and nutrients and stabilization of biochemical cycles.
Improvement of soil structure, soil life, and prevention of soil erosion.
Avoidance of potentially dangerous pesticides, especially herbicides.
Reduction of overall maintenance labor and costs."

Sounds great! So, I decided upon a patch of land in the garden below. Digging and emptying a 1 feet pit took three days. With hot water baths, I managed to avoid both calluses and back aches. After that came the best part- layering the pit.

In order,
neem cake, castor cake (Kottamuthu punnakku, veppam punnakku)
cardboard
cow dung
paper
more cake
hay, dried leaves
earthworm compost
soil
coconut husk
banana tree leaves and stem
ash
soil
coconut husk
Plant the seedlings.

Now it's resting. In a month's time, as the mercury lowers, and the soil is well on its way to enrichment, I'll add the last layer- another layer of coconut husk on top and plant seedlings of vegetable plants. I can hardly wait to see how it goes! :)

Images:

Digging the pit

Powdered cakes added

Cardboard, topped with dried cow dung

Paper, then more cake
Hay

Earthworm compost

A layer of soil

Coconut husk

Banana leaves

Banana stem


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Tropical Beat

In my opinion, the term 'tropical belt' is a double entendre*. Apart from the area around the equator, it's a perfect term for that region on your body just above the hips. They have a lot in common. Both have a tendency to bulge, and in summer, you wish they didn't exist. If you're not a nudist, you know what I mean. You sit down, get up and there's this horizontal stripe of sweat running around the front of your shirt or top. See? Tropical. Belt.

In India, we like to say we have no seasons. We can handle it. We don't need snow. We're tough. We chew iron and stare down lions. We walk through fire. In reality though, we're little bitchy kids. We know we have seasons. Mild summer, Hot summer and Sterilizing summer. We walk around in December (mild summer) with a smile but by mid March (hot summer), we start crying. Year after year, we talk about how much hotter it is and we look at each other in despair as we moan, "Oh my God, what's it going to be like in May (sterilizing summer)?!"

Somehow, we survive. The men start walking around the house topless, and the women stare at the men with hatred. Everybody sweats. Almost everybody, actually. But I'm not going to talk about the minority here- they don't deserve it.

Some of us are blessed with scalp sweat. This is when needlessly overactive sweat glands on the scalp produce so many liters per minute that, like Moses parting the sea, the sweat literally parts one hair in a few dozen places and rivulets stream down a person's face. What activates these glands? A hard hour of toil in the field? A hike up a steep hill? No. Turning my head 45 degrees to the right is enough. Instantly, my hair is plastered to my head, my face acquires a ghastly, ghostly complexion, my clothes crumple themselves and my posture is roughly concave, with my shoulders looking at my feet. I'm picturing this refreshing scene as I write it, and it strikes me that this should have been in my 'Why I'm unmarried' write-up. It explains a lot.

These days, I exit the shower like I'm a low-life trying to convince a cop that I'm not dangerous. No sudden movements. Walk slowly, hands spread out. Look straight ahead. Preserve a neutral expression. Even a twitch of the mouth might set things off. Just be cool. Don't be a hero.

When I see these people who look cucumber fresh after a day out, I don't feel bad. Really. I'm perfectly fine with the fact that the life is unfair. But it's hard not to take it personally. That's why I try to avoid standing next to them or talking to them. When your fingers are constantly working on your face like windshield wipers, it's annoying to have to talk to someone who sits there calmly with one bead of sweat daintily glistening on their cheek. That drop is a mockery to your very existence.

This is also why I love animals. Look at dogs. No sweating, just panting. Look at pigs. No sweating, just wallowing in mud. Or elephants. Just a bit of ear flapping. Now that's smart evolution. I could do all that, you know, instead of sweating. Pant, wallow in mud and flap my ears. Really increase my market value. Now you know why I call this summer 'sterilizing'.

*double entrende: a word/phrase with two or more meanings

Friday, March 31, 2017

Zoom...

A speciest, like a racist or a casteist, is someone who believes in the superiority of their own species. Like cats, for example. They have no doubts- they rule. Most of us are speciests. Even the ardent animal lovers like me, who kill ants or mosquitoes without remorse, exhibit speciesm. It's not just that we place a higher value on our lives than we do on, say an insect, we also actually value our comfort more.

There's an ant epidemic in my house. The fiery tiny red ant with a bite that's worse than an injection. The chalks and the pastes have proved ineffective; they simply take a different route. Once they got into my clothes cupboard, I bought a can of bug spray and unleashed it with all the fury that only a person with itchy bumps in unmentionable places can muster. I felt better, for a while. But you see, I stood and I looked at the surviving ants running around later that day. I remembered everything I've read about ants- their highly social nature, their dependence on each other, their hard work and commitment to their colonies. I also remembered why I killed them; the seeming impossibility of coexisting with these creatures who invaded my food, clothes and bed sheets. I kept zooming in and zooming out. Let me explain what that means-

The thing about human beings is that we not only evolved intelligence, we evolved perspective. This gives us the unique ability to 'zoom out' or to see the big picture, as some would say.

What happens when you zoom out? The details become unimportant and invisible, the edges begin to blur and fade, generalizations become easier, priorities jostle each other and a few emerge victorious. Zooming out is the single most used technique to sway entire populations into following propaganda. That Hitler could create an army of wanton killers was because of his skill in helping them zoom out and see what he saw. That empires flourished at the cost of mass killings, slavery and oppression was because men and women, with families, with love in their lives, zoomed out and saw a form of twisted success that they wanted.

That's what zooming out can do- it can absolve you of responsibility, of having to think about your power and the individual you wield it over, of his pain, her anguish, its freedom. If you zoom out far enough, you can justify anything. You can be selectively numb. And you can be very dangerous.

When the jallikatu (bull-taming) issue swept over Tamilnadu, the media guided the people beautifully into zooming out. Suddenly, even animal lovers were supporting the cause, citing the dastardly evil intentions of foreign corporations. What the media neglected to mention is that the species, which existed in about 30 different varieties had already dwindled down to just a handful of surviving strains, mainly because the use of bullock carts- the horrid cruel practice that the same afore mentioned animal lovers hate with a passion- have dwindled due to vehicles. Almost all villagers today utilize artificial insemination to impregnate their cows. So the extinction was already happening at a fatal pace, thanks to the altruistic attitude of our brave and glorious Tamilians who don't keep things around if it serves them no purpose. But let's gloss over all that- it's a detail that becomes invisible when you zoom out. The foreign 'milk invasion' theory may very well have been true. But in that issue, as in others, what about the individual in question?

So, let's do what I did with the ants.

Zoom in.

You're an animal with five senses. You eat, sleep, procreate. You are capable of giving and receiving affection. You feel fear, you feel love. Suddenly, one day, you're guided to a wooden enclosure. All around you, you smell the sweat and adrenaline of hundreds of humans. You hear their noise. You are agitated. You are slapped in the rear and in an instant, you are engulfed by this mass of humans pressing against you, hands grabbing your body, some not letting go. You run in fear, terrified by your inability to understand what is happening to you. Are they predators? Will they hurt you? Will they kill you? You try to shake them off your body- you don't like being touched and grabbed like that. You try to protect yourself, swinging your horns this way and that. You are violent, because you are so very afraid...

But all that is okay. Because the solution to shutting down those evil corporations lies only, only, only, only, only with continuing this practice. Big picture! The feelings of the individual don't matter, especially when they're of the four legged kind. You see - it's for their own good. Not the individual, but their species. It's for their own good. Big picture, see? Congratulations. You've zoomed out.

I think we would have a very hard time living with ourselves if we zoomed in all the time. We'd all have to be committed. If we could feel the anguish of an ant that walks over the ruins of it's entire colony, going from one body to another to see if someone, anyone survived; if we could feel the pain of a chicken that has never touched soil, sitting in a coop so tight that it cannot move, injected with hormones, eggs whisked away even as they fall; if we could feel the helplessness, the hunger and misery of the homeless and the destitute....

...if we allowed ourselves to zoom in, I think then, and only then, would our evolution continue. Until then, as we have daily proof, we are all numb. And dangerous.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Unfolding



Sci-fi isn't a far-fetched genre. Most of it is becoming fact. We see the seeds in technological advances and inventions, a few of which have already left the drawing board and are in the prototype stage. Too many unrefuted, credible reports of alien existence have been making the rounds for people to scoff with any certainty. There is a growing sense of interconnectedness that humans are waking up to. Besides all this, I am fascinated by the cultural, socioreligious aspects of this as well.

Many of the sci-fi plots that touch on this dimension envision a society of the future that have elements of what we have today, but that have morphed and combined with each other in numerous ways.

As Wikipedia so beautifully puts it-

"Science fiction will sometimes address the topic of religion. Often religious themes are used to convey a broader message, but others confront the subject head-on—contemplating, for example, how attitudes towards faith might shift in the wake of ever-advancing technological progress, or offering creative scientific explanations for the apparently mystical events related in religious texts (gods as aliens, prophets as time travelers, etc.). As an exploratory medium, science fiction rarely takes religion at face value by simply accepting or rejecting it; when religious themes are presented, they tend to be investigated deeply.
Some science fiction works portray invented religions, either placed into a contemporary Earth society (such as the Earthseed religion in Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower), or in the far future (as seen in Dune by Frank Herbert, with its Orange Catholic Bible)." 
I've read these books and others which touch on this, and I cannot emphasize enough how much they expand the mind even as they fascinate it. When I stated in the beginning that these concepts are not far-fetched, I meant it. Not only does our past provide innumerable examples, our present itself is proof. I am thrilled to be able to see an example of this for myself, which is what prompted this write-up.

It's a phenomenon that's creeping into the poorer sections of the population. A religious amalgam of sorts. These are 'recent Christians', if I may call them that. Usually, this is how the conversion happens- These people are traditional Hindus. They go through a tough time and a neighbor tells them to go pray in the church. 'Good things will happen,' they are told. They do happen. Full of gratitude and relief, the family starts going regularly and begin to identify themselves as Christian. However, generations of Hindu customs and rituals cannot be given up in a wink. They follow them to the tee. But ingeniously, they tweak it just enough so that both Gods have no cause for offence. Also, the extended family is usually still Hindu.

I've seen many families who have 'converted' in this fashion. My family usually employs individuals from them in some capacity. When they say they've been to the temple on Sunday, they mean the church. The word 'church', you see, is still too new and full of diagraphs (ch, fl, tr) to be comfortable. They still wear holy ash on their foreheads in a decidedly Hindu style. Most of the women wear a bindi and their marital symbol is still the thali, though they do exchange rings.

I went to a funeral recently. The father had passed away. As the relatives started pouring in from remote villages, they brought with them garlands, plates of rice, legumes, coconuts and other offerings, clothes for the family- all according to Hindu custom. Then right at the end, a Christian priest turned up, did his blessings etc. and they put the body in a coffin and buried it in a Christian graveyard.



If this isn't sci-fi turned reality, then I don't know what is! A 100 years, 500 years down the line, these religions are going to be so blurred, it's going to be hard to differentiate them. It's what's happened throughout our civilized history.

Alchemy was practised for centuries before science evolved. They co-existed for a long period of time before science, having absorbed the most logical parts of alchemy, discarded it completely. Shamanistic magic, similarly, was assimilated into festivals and branches of medicine, and then shunned.


Touching on custom in this context, no other example is as powerful to me as the evolution of the Indian sari. Let's pretend civilization started with women covering their torso in some fashion and begin there. Down south, the sari was worn over bare breasts. My grandma still refuses to wear a blouse. Let me tell you, however securely she wears it, it bunches up or loosens from time to time... which means she flashes the world occasionally. Even if she doesn't, her arms, her stomach area and most of her back are still uncovered. Funnily enough, not one 'traditional' man bats an eyelid at all this, and yet tank tops, evening gowns and such 'scandalous' Western clothes have 'degraded' 'Indian culture'. Decades from now, I predict it will be seen as primitive to want to cover oneself completely. Full circle. Let's repeat that for effect. Full Circle. Human memory is that easily corruptible, and that short.

Granted, times are different. Our history was more malleable to change because it could be conveniently forgotten: a universally accessible database of rules did not exist, nor did a reliable method of recording facts or customs. Even the most sacred religious texts have been obviously modified at different stages.

Today, though, we have the Internet. However, I think that even with the internet and it's factual, almost unforgiving recording of what is and isn't, change of this nature cannot be arrested or prevented. Time WILL create change, for as much as human stubbornness seeks to retain belief systems as they are, progress will push through and open too many windows. Inter religious marriages and the children they produce, conversions that are incomplete (retaining the flavor of both religions), people who wish to rise above the restrictions of a single religion and embrace more than one faith, people who create their own path by borrowing from established ones... The present that we live in is not just the 'now', it's a fascinating, breathtaking unfolding of the future, where anything is possible. Let's savor that.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Yada yada yada...

My favorite sitcom (ever) is Frasier. This clip would most definitely feature in my list of the top 5 scenes in the show.


Hilarious! Though I find Friends and The Big Bang Theory to be brilliant shows, this is the one that I would want playing on loop if I were marooned on a deserted island. It's unique in both its humor and its depth, and it's actually helped me through a few rough patches. I cried when I saw the last episode :D Why do such good things have to come to an end?!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Why I am unmarried*

Indians prefer the term ‘unmarried’ to ‘single’ because it sounds more damaged, and insulting; just the way we like it! ;) So moving on,

According to the astrologers:

The Family Curse!
My grandfather was a stalwart fellow, a man of the soil with muscles of steel. But he wasn’t the best of men. He married twice. His first wife, my father’s mother, was an imposing woman with the worst luck. We were told my grandfather’s roving eye decided she was too much of an obstacle.  She was found dead, and he married again. Though my relatives accept it as fact, no one has actually come forward and corroborated the story, but astrologers do say that she was killed and that in her final moments, she laid a terrible curse on her husband, one that had to do with his progeny. Hence, I am unmarried.



According to astrology:

The Flaw!
My horoscope is hilarious. It’s like the cosmos couldn’t decide whether I should suffer or not. So in one of the ‘houses’ they placed the dreaded Saturn, which would automatically make me ‘flawed’. For those of you who know, it’s called Chevvai Dosham. But hold on! They went ahead and placed another planet, our lofty neighbor Mars, in the same house. So yippee-yippee-yay-yay, the evil has been negated! Or has it?! There’s no consensus on this. Some of the learned pandits scratch their heads and say I’m good to go. Others look at me with a piercing eye and shake their heads- it’s hopeless. Hence, I am unmarried.



According to my late father:

No Daughter of Mine!
My father was a tortured soul. He had one of the lousiest childhoods a person can have. He emerged strong in some ways and weak in others. He wanted to be a ‘good’ person, in the deepest sense of the word. He mostly managed to, with his generosity, integrity and kindness. But he was still a man of his times. Women could not and really, should not aspire to be equal to men. Which basically meant our relationship was doomed. When one of the ‘grooms’ he lined up reported back to his parents after talking to me, he said that I was ‘not fit for family’. My dad agreed with him. Hence, I am unmarried.
According to my mom:

The best!
“When will you get married? No one is good enough for my Poorni.... There must be a guy out there....Are you looking?...Who will be with you in the end?...If you don’t marry and have kids, where is the proof of your existence after you’re gone?..... Understanding is important....You must also adjust...Look at that couple on TV- such a good relationship....When will you get married?”

She tries so hard, my mom. She’s a darling, the very best. But she was miserable throughout her marriage and I never could save her. Hence, I am unmarried.



According to my relatives:

Does not compute!
There are two main reasons why I am unmarried, according to my relatives.
  1. Thimuru – this is a unique Tamil word that marries headstrongness with pride. I have plenty of it, they say. I want to say they’re wrong...but hey, when I extend my eyebrows to their fullest height and look down my nose at them when I’m telling them I’ll take care of my own business, I can’t really blame them. They’re not used to this weird thing called ‘independence’.
  2. Valarpu- basically, faulty upbringing. I can’t count the number of times my parents have been told, “But she can’t say no if you insist. Just fix the marriage and tell her.” It’s shocking that in this day and age,  there exists a large section of the Indian population who think their kids are to do with as they please. Like possessions or pets. “What kind of girl is that, who won’t listen to her parents?” The kind that has a brain, folks, the kind that has a brain.
So, summing up, thimiru and valarpu. Hence, I am unmarried.


According to my siblings:

Hell Spawn!

My sister's nickname for me is 'Cinder-villi' as in a Cinderalla who, granted, does her chores but is too villainous for words. She believes I was spawned in the cesspools of hell and I searched for her through the worlds before finally finding her and orchestrating my birth. My brother wouldn't go that far, but he wouldn't exactly protest it either. Sometimes, I believe it all. Hence, I am unmarried.



According to my friends:

Baffling!
“It’s a shame, really. Come, let’s go eat.”
And they say they care! Hmpf! Not one accidental encounter with an intelligent, well-read guy they just happen to know. Hence, I am unmarried.



According to my pets:

Yay!
“Stay with us forever and ever and ever and.....” The lights of my life. I would give up everything for them. People say I love animals more than I do humans. They’re right. With every fibre of my being, I do. Hence, I am unmarried.



According to me:

BS!
Dealbreakers. I think that when you have an actual list, it grows as you age. A less fancy way of putting that would be- the older I get, the less bullshit I’m willing to put up with. Hence, I am unmarried.



Actually:

Seriously though, it isn’t the easiest question to answer. I’ve always shied away from an ordinary life. Not that it is less, but simply because I wither away when I try to conform. Also, no one can say I’ve made a success of anything- I don’t have anything tangible to show for having lived the way I want to. I am not even deliriously happy. But I am at peace- which is the only thing that really matters to me (in my internal world, that is.) Finding a partner, a marriage that doesn’t destroy that peace, that only adds to it, implies a compatibility on so many levels that, to me, this question of why I’m not married yet is not really puzzling at all. I’m astonished instead, that so many people are!

So much so, that I think that should be the new question for this era- why are you married?

I think I’m onto something here!  ;)