Feminist Grandpa

Note to Dad: Read at your own risk and do not panic, okay? Actually, no. Don’t read. Really. Mat padho

 

My grandfather is mercurial, nit-picky, temperamental and a bit of a hoarder. In other words, he’s 80.

 

He is also a rockstar.

 

He’s lived with a heart condition for over 50 years, when on initial diagnosis he was told that he didn’t have more than 4 years to live. He’s lived in Chennai, Delhi, Pune, the UK and Norway. He can cook up a stellar pepper rasam. He can quote the Gita as well as Shakespeare with admirable ease. He is well versed with English and Hindi and Sanskrit and Tamil and German and a little bit of Spanish. He knows Operational Management from A to Z. He’s also a fine(st) civil engineer. He’s 80 and he still travels for work every single month.

 

Yes. I told you, he is a rockstar.

 

But today he won himself a Grammy. Topped the Billboard Chart. Let me explain.

 

Earlier this month, I turned 27. And it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single woman aged above 24, must be in want of self worth, i.e., a husband.

 

Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But the point is, I have inevitably entered that age where I must either find a boy for myself or enter the scheme of an arranged marriage conundrum. I don’t like most people I meet. The men I’ve met and seriously considered dating have sooner or later proved themselves to be Sir Patriarchy’s favourite babies. And Tinder, as you all know (from this and this), has been a disaster. So it’s come to the latter option by default.

 

I remember telling my mother once, “If I must share my bathroom with someone for the rest of my life, he’d better be worth it.

 

I have nothing against the institution of marriage. And I’m sure it’s wonderful when you find the right person. What I cannot stand, however, is marriage for the sake of marriage. Chumma (in Tamil, please. Not Hindi)

 

Marriage undoubtedly comes with more baggage, responsibilities and expectations in India than elsewhere, because you marry into a family and not just a person.

 

Some months ago, I came home after a long day at work. It was a painfully hot day. As soon as I came in I requested my mother to turn on the air conditioner. To this, she said, “Don’t get used to this. What happens if you get married and your husband and/or mother in law don’t like air conditioning?

 

To her credit, this was said in jest. I know that. But it made me furious.

 

This is my seventh year educating myself after completing high school. I’m slogging my ass off to land myself a good job. Become a lawyer. Finally find that space where I enjoy my area of work.

 

How is it okay that I do all this, purchase an AC because I have earned it, only to be unable to switch it on in my own house because someone else doesn’t like it?

 

Don’t get me wrong, I understand fully well that families work on mutual understanding and compromise. And family is more important than anything else. But the expectation that the daughter-in-law of the house must always be the one to make that compromise sets my teeth on edge.

 

This is exactly the mindset I’ve seen in a majority of the men I’ve met. They start off well and somewhere down the line, the deep set patriarchy and ingrained sexism rear their ugly heads. And maybe I set the bar high. Maybe my tolerance for everyday sexism is terribly low. But I don’t see why that is wrong. Or why I need to change that just to find a partner.

 

It is NOT okay to simply assume that my work is somehow less demanding and/or important than his. It is NOT okay to use the word “obedience” when it comes to the dynamics of a relationship. It is NOT okay to try and pass abuse for passion.

 

I have always enjoyed my own company. I grew up a single child with little to no friends. I was alone very often, yes. But I was rarely lonely. I like spending time with people, of course. But I don’t feel desperate for company.

 

Another argument made in favour of marriage is children. I am not a fan of children. Even if I was, am I the only one who thinks that it’s problematic to have procreation as the sole reason for marriage?

 

As I mentioned earlier, I have entered the convoluted mechanics of Project arranged marriage. However, my mother has one challenge she must complete before she officially starts with the groom hunt.

 

She must make one convincing argument in favour of marriage.

 

Arguments of companionship and children have been rejected. The former, because I do not believe companionship is worth it if it means sabotaging individuality (not individualism). And the latter, because I don’t enjoy migraines just yet.

 

And DO NOT tell me motherhood is essential to womanhood. It is NOT. They are both sanctimonious and wonderful and amazing. But they are not synonymous.

 

Here’s where Grandpa comes in.

 

My mother thought it would be smart to delegate this challenge to the man with an intimidating disposition and a panache for debates – her father. Old and glorious with all the classical heritage.

 

I suppose she forgot that this was also the man who did not approve of her marriage before she completed her Doctoral thesis and got herself a lucrative job. The man who sent her off to a hostel to study engineering while his colleagues prepared their daughters to be ideal wives. Who pushed her to prize independence over all else.

 

What we discovered today, or rather what was reaffirmed today, was that my grandpa, for all his diatribes on the beauty of Hindu traditions and Vedic learnings, is a feminist.

 

Because his response to my mother’s request — give your granddaughter a convincing reason to marry – was, “There is no convincing reason. There is no reason. Unless, of course, it makes her happy.

 

YAAASSSSSS.

 

Broad City GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

 

Mother facepalmed and gave up. For I know, she agrees with me. Dad does too.

 

They won’t say it, lest it encourage their stubborn daughter to become even more hard headed about this shaadi business. But they’re with me on this.

 

For now, I have a degree to complete. A lot of books to read. A job to find. A life to enjoy. And if a bathroom-share-worthy companion comes by, one might give it a go.

 

But for now, my Tatha deserves an applause

applause

 

Advertisements

On (The) Guide

I’ve decided to earmark 2017 as the year of non-fiction. However, the first exception to that was R.K Narayan’s The Guide – a book that has been on my reading list since I was in college, and one that landed RKN the prestigious Sahitya Academy Award, the highest literary honour in India.

 

Back in the 1960s, the book was adapted into a Bollywood movie (and an English film, which appeared and vanished without a trace in the history of cinema), a brainchild of the superstar Dev Anand.

 

The film is remembered even today for its terrific setting, stellar performances from Dev Anand and Waheeda Rahman, and the subliminal music by the legendary S.D. Burman. It was also supposed to be rather bold for its time – a story about an extra marital affair and an un-heroic hero in the lead was far from a foolproof formula for a superhit movie, notwithstanding the popularity of the lead actors.

 

But the risks paid off and Guide turned out to be a massive hit, pleasing the critics and the masses alike. Yet, RKN penned his displeasure with the film in an article published in Life Magazine, titled “The Misguided Guide.” I haven’t been able to get my hands on the article. However, having read the book now, his displeasure with the movie is hardly surprising.

 

I watched Guide some years ago and quite enjoyed it; not a favourite by any means but much better that most of the stock we produce. But now, viewing it from the lens of an adaptation, Vijay Anand’s Guide is a gross disappointment.

 

R.K. Narayan’s bravest, most commendable achievement in The Guide is his ability to question and ruffle the feathers of long established societal notions of “morality” and “culture”. Some would call this the highest duty cast upon any writer, and RKN accomplished that with nuance and aplomb. He does this through his protagonists – Rosie and Raju, both of whom fail to inspire any adoration or sympathy from the readers.

 

Rosie – her name itself is a middle finger in the face of all traditional notions of a “respectable” girl, something Raju observes at the very outset. He is discomfited by the fact that her name doesn’t quite gel with her appearance – that of a traditional South Indian girl, dressed modestly in a saree and married to a man of (presumably) high standing and pleasant disposition. Later in the novel, this name is changed to erase traces of her past and give to her an identity that would appease her target audience.

 

In the book, she allows herself to be seduced by another man, fully understanding the implications of her actions. Her behaviour oscillates as she tries to cope with her moral dilemmas; the war between her individual desires and her orthodox upbringing. But her adulterous tryst with Raju is not driven by her husband’s infidelity. Marco (her husband) is entirely disinterested in her life, and more importantly, disrespectful and disdainful of her cherished love and passion for the art of dance. He is emotionally and physically distant, and she is reduced to a trophy wife who means less to him that the furniture in his room. This emotional and spiritual void is what makes her accept the advances of a mere tour guide (Raju) and find comfort in his arms.

 

In the movie, however, her motivations are justified by showing that Marco indulged in an adulterous affair himself. Rosie, now a “wronged” woman, finds love in Raju. This tool of convenience is the first of the many ways in which Vijay Anand stripped the novel of its novelty. Why, is the thought of a woman leaving her husband for reasons other than infidelity so terribly incomprehensible to our sensibilities? This convenient shortcut is a sign of cowardice in a filmmaker, and to be honest, a disservice to the courage of RKN’s story.

 

Even as the novel proceeds, the audience is free to form their opinion of Rosie – to view her as a victim or a seductress, a selfish schemer or a helpless woman who was never afforded a chance by society. She is 50 shades of grey and then some. Her passion for dance supersedes all other obligations and she refuses to be constrained to the role of someone who is incomplete without an associate/partner. When Raju’s mother calls her a “serpent woman”, it is on its face a negative connotation. But when you really think about it, is it wrong to be a woman driven by individual passion and dreams that don’t involve other people? What is art to her is wilful seduction to others.

 

This psychological nuance is entirely absent from the film, which portrays Rosie as a woman who’s morality is largely unblemished despite the fact she indulges in an extra-marital affair. Her flaws are attributed to misunderstandings and not conscious choices. Every facility that moulds Rosie into a more obviously “acceptable” female protagonist is employed, diluting the rich layers so lovingly woven around his Rosie by RKN.

 

RKN’s Raju is, over and above everything else, an innately selfish man. He is further characterised by his vanity and his prowess at manipulating any situation to suit his needs. And he does so without a trace of guilt. Despite all of this, he is neither evil nor conniving; an anti-hero but hardly the villain.

 

He is bewitched by Rosie at first sight, and from that point his obsession with her is the only thing that drives his actions. What is for the longest time merely a carnal desire, blooms not into love but food to serve his vanity and puff up his ego, making him believe that he is both her saviour and protector; the benevolent charioteer of Rosie’s life without whom she would be lost and destitute.

 

To his chagrin, he discovers in time that Rosie is not someone who needs a saviour; she has the ability and the intent to find happiness even in his absence, and she isn’t remotely emotionally dependent on him as he had once assumed. His male ego is deeply bruised, driving him to act recklessly, which ultimately lands him in prison.

 

The catalyst behind this final act that leads to his conviction is again starkly different in the film and the book. RKN’s Raju acts out of pettiness, jealousy and insecurity – there are no tender feelings involved. In the movie, however, it is implied that Raju’s act is that of a helpless lover who absolutely cannot bear to lose Rosie’s affection for him.

 

RKN’s Raju is not a man to be liked by anyone, let alone by Rosie. Vijay Anand makes him out to be a hero that he is not. Whether this was a reluctance to acknowledge the evils of masculine egotism or just an attempt to make the protagonist more likable, or both, one cannot tell. But the fact remains that the filmmakers chickened out of exploring the complexities of human nature, choosing instead to romanticise every aspect.

 

In the last leg of the story, Narayan’s Raju is trapped in the web of fiction he has created for himself as a God-man; his greatest weapon (almost) becomes his greatest threat. His decision to fast is for the longest time not a voluntary choice, but a (bad) hand dealt to him by fate. Only gradually does he show empathy to the suffering of the villagers – people who literally worship the ground he walks on and who have placed utmost faith in him even in trying times. He is moved by their naivety more than anything else. This, coupled with the complete absence of an alternative, is why he decides to make a sincere attempt to help them out of their misery – even if it is blind and superstitious and whimsical. In the last few pages of the novel, Raju’s journey hits its zenith as his actions are, for the very first time, not driven by his ego or in an attempt to make the best of an opportunity or to fulfil a selfish desire. This is the first, (and presumably the final) selfless act on his part.

 

However, at no point does RKN even suggest that this final act is meant to be anything resembling redemption. There is no remorse, no magical moment of self-realisation or nirvana, no effort at absolution. It is merely a culmination of the game of destiny. Adaptation.

 

Vijay Anand, however, succumbs to the typically Bollywood temptation of giving the audience a perfectly ideal and happy ending – the hero rises to the occasion and saves the day, reunites with the love of his life and his family and emerges as an epitome of goodness and truth.

 

I have two issues with this.

 

Firstly, this oversimplification takes away the essence of the original Raju of RKN’s creation. Of course, the director enjoys artistic liberties and he had every right to treat the character as he pleased. I am just saying that in doing what he did, Vijay Anand managed to use cinematic tools not to elevate the story to a higher level, but to reduce the same to a simple love story which lacks any ingenuity or chutzpah.

 

Secondly, considering this movie was released in the 1960s when India was fiercely trying to uproot long standing superstitions and build a scientific temperament in the public, Anand’s choice of ending was socially irresponsible. R.K Narayan was careful to leave the ending ambiguous, and that was a smart thing to do. His tone throughout he novel is that of a mere observer, giving free reign to the audience to make their deductions.

 

Anand on the other hand decided to entertain the audience with happy miracles; Raju’s sincere penance leads to the end of the long drought, bringing joy and happiness to all in question, including himself as he reunites with his mother as well as Rosie. Back in the 60s, this would’ve reinforced in the minds of public the idea that God-men indeed have the ability to work miracles. Modern irrigation could go to hell.

 

My final gripe with Guide in my gripe with almost all of Bollywood. It has decided that India consists only of a few northern states, while the South of India only exists for comic relief in the form of caricatured sidekicks. As a friend of mine, in her review of the book said, “…the truly South Indian flavor which is so richly scattered in the pages of the book (you can almost smell the coffee every time it is offered to someone, you can almost taste the bonda that the holy Raju so craves!) was completely marginalized in the film.”

 

I couldn’t agree more with her observation. RKN’s Malgudi might be a fictional town but there is no one who will dispute the fact that he infused such life into it through his writings that it is perhaps more real than any city one has lived in. He sketches life in that small town with such loving detail, rich with culture and language and history – all of which has been almost cruelly ignored in the movie. Because South India is not quite pleasing enough for Bollywood. (But South Indian actresses are just fine. As long as they are fair skinned, of course)

 

Yes, Vijay Anand’s Guide is visually spectacular, and was a brave story that broke some cinematic barriers in its time. Dev Anand did as much justice as he could to the character of Raju given this severely diluted version of RKN’s original, especially in the scenes leading up to the climax. And Waheeda Rahman brought a depth and personality to Rosie that was nothing short of stunning, something even RKN acknowledged.

 

However, all said and done, when viewed solely as an adaptation, the movie is virgin mojito to the premium scotch that was R.K Narayan’s masterpiece.

 

Sources:

http://www.letstalkaboutbollywood.com/article-19103838.html

http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/hindi-movie-guide-was-a-super-hit/article7379477.ece

On Tinder-ing #2

A little over a year ago, I wrote a post about my attempt at online dating via Tinder. Which  never really went much beyond downloading the app and trashing several drafts of limericks for “description” on my profile page.

Last week, I was reinitiated and re-encouraged by my friend (let’s call her N) to rethink that decision. It worked because she struck while the iron was hot – we were at a mutual friend’s wedding and N herself can see matrimony in her near future. I am the only vertex in that triangle without a Y chromosome-d partner.

So, I did rethink.

Apparently, when you’re sitting in a corner while your friends are busy smoking pot, creative inspiration comes without effort. I did manage to scribble a few decent lines to be put up on that dreaded “description” box. I nearly included something that would constitute an unsubtle innuendo with scope for a great deal of desi sex jokes, but decided to ditch that. Still too wary of online dating to get into those comfy PJs.

Men will have to wait a bit to witness my tendency to make crass jokes and say inappropriate things.

A little over a week into Tinder, I’ve learned a thing or two. And not just about online dating.

  1. Tinder is fantastic for my fat-girl-ego. Nearly everyone I swipe right turns out to be a match. It assuages the hesitation of the girl in me who asked N – “Why would any man want to date someone who is fat?”N was uncharacteristically patient with me and said, “Because not all men are so shallow that their prime concern is how a woman looks. There are men out there who are good people looking for companionship.” 

    I must admit, I was ashamed at my own cynicism regarding men. So much for my ideas on body positivity and my efforts not to generalise. Sigh.

    Anyway, now that I am on Tinder and all these men are “matches”, they act like power boosters for the ego. Which is something I could really use once in a while.

  2. Men might not be shallow, but turns out I am. I find myself itching to swipe left for anyone who is:- Unemployed (I am even tempted to read “self-employed” as “unemployed”)Who uses bad grammar in their description

    – Who has attended a college/institution I have little to no respect forOh and that is not all.

    A man posing with his Mercedes is a snob. But anyone with a job I know doesn’t pay squat also doesn’t seem attractive. Techies are boring and “freelancers” are jobless.

    In retrospect, I am a terrible person. Not to mention shallow. And a snob.

    Sigh. Either I change how I think about things or I stop expecting men to show more depth of character than I am capable of. I like the former option better.

  3. Having admitted my own failings, I can now go on to laugh at the many ridiculous things one sees on Tinder 

    – Men with spouses or partners in their profile pics. Dude – what the hell are you doing? Either you’re an ass looking to cheat or you think having multiple partners somehow makes you a stud. Or you have no idea what Tinder is about. Either way, you’re getting swiped left without a second thought.

    – So much patriarchy – I once got a request from a guy whose description said “Hope there are some sanskaari girls here; most girls these days either smoke or drink.” I experienced the ultimate pleasure of cheap thrills when I asked the guy to fuck off.

    – There are also ones with memorable quotes like, “Men will be men; what do you want them to be – donuts?” or “I am who I am because you are you.” or men who’s current employment is as an “Individual.”

  4. 9/10 profiles have something to say about the love of travelling or some *insert wanderlust quote*. Is this the new fad? I’d like to see a man honestly admit that he’d rather just sit at home and binge watch movies.

Anywhooo – I never did expect Tinder to send me down the introspection route but it did and maybe I can learn to unlearn some things. We’re conditioned to prize academics and career prospects over all other “unimportant” things during the formative years of our life. Love-life and matrimony are things that belong to the “future”. Now that the “future” is here, how do I reorganise and reshuffle my priorities?

I feel guilty every time the presence of IIT/IIM on the description bar makes me instinctively give the profile a closer look. It’s something I always dissed others for. Clearly, I am not immune to it.

But I need to be. When did I begin to look at degrees before people? Or is that just how you filter profiles in a country where being one in a million counts for nothing because that only means you have 1000000 others in the same spot?

I’ve now started to be less flippant about my Tinder “swipes”. I actually read the entire profile before taking a call.

But the bad grammar is a total turn off and that’s an immediate no. That’s shallow alright but I refuse to apologise. We’re all allowed one vice, right?

Remembering her…

It was my late grandmother’s birthday last week. She was (and still is) the strongest, funniest, most inspiring woman I’ve ever met in my life. It’s been over a decade since she passed away and yet not a day goes by without us thinking of her. And they’re all fond memories.

  1. She was only educated upto 10th grade. And yet she was more learned, talented and progressive than all of our other relatives put together. My grandpa often jokes that had she been allowed to study further, she’d probably be making twice as much money as he did. She taught me basic English, Hindi, Mathematics and Science. I still remember her pushing me to recite multiplication tables as she lovingly oiled my head and braided my hair.

  2. She has two biological children, yes. But the number of people who consider her a mother figure is endless. We saw that for ourselves the day she passed away. And the days leading upto it when she so valiantly battled with cancer. They were there – all of her children.

  3. She was well versed with Tamil, but knew little Hindi and almost no English. And yet, when grandpa was in the UK in the late-1960s, she flew to London all alone. She got a job. She made friends. They even gifted her a small necklace as a goodbye present when she left to come back to India. [For the rest of her life she’d envy the firmness of breasts of women in the West compared to our relatively saggy ones that could never do without a bra 😀 ]

  4. She could make anyone laugh. Crack anyone up. And her jokes could put the proudest creep to shame. Because perverted jokes are the best ones. I’ve been told that I inherit my love for crass jokes (and Shahrukh Khan! and an obsession with cleanliness and punctuality) from her. Am I delighted or what! I wish she were alive today. We could joke about Trump, the Kadarshians and Fawad Khan’s butt. I’d have company to watch SNL.

  5. She inspired everyone to move forward in life and understand the worth of independence, especially for women. She wanted my mother’s first pay cheque to be in her maiden name. And it was. It may sound simple, but for the era and the place that she came from and lived in, she was way, way ahead of her times. [Let me also take a moment to give some credit to my grandpa here. He pushed my mother (and still pushes me!) to get an education and a job before entertaining any thought of marriage.]

  6. She cooked like a dream. And with enough love to embrace the world. I kid you not. The last meal she cooked for me was less than a month before she died, at a time when cancer had already eaten through parts of her vertebrae. She cooked because I was her beloved granddaughter and was craving Aaloo Tikki.

  7. She knew how to love. She taught us how to love. Unconditionally.

Miss you, Paati. I hope you’re having fun and kicking ass wherever you are. And if I could ever be half the woman you were, I’d be proud of myself.

 

On the Farcical Notion of “Health”

Last few weeks have been eventful for anyone (in India) who has ever been concerned about rampant fat-shaming and body image issues. Let me enumerate the highlights:

 

  1. A “fat” customer who visited a designer store in Mumbai received unwarranted advice from the salesman to hit the gym instead of asking for plus size ghaghras. She didn’t let that bring her down, and refused to accept such treatment. Her friend took this up on Facebook, she received a whole lot of support from the online community, and eventually the store manager apologised for the disaster.

  2. Parineeti Chopra, a fine actor and one of the few celebrities I have seen speak openly about periods, launched a weight loss campaign on Twitter. Titled “Built That Way”, it features her in athletic wear, doing squats in stilettoes with quotes about her “journey” to this new avatar. It doesn’t really talk about any fitness tips or a workout regime. It does, however, emphasise on this – “Four years ago, a chubby, childish girl was introduced to the world. Four years later, I am closer to where I want to be.

There is little I can say about this drama that hasn’t been articulated here.

I came across that article when a friend shared it on Facebook. And because I was so glad I wasn’t the only one who thought this “Built This Way” business would do more harm than good, I shared it along with my two pennies worth on the matter.

This is what I posted along with the link: “Thank you, Parineeti, for reinforcing the most harmful stereotype for women already struggling with body image issues. As if there wasn’t enough of this shit in the market already, you are here to jump the bandwagon. Thin = Pretty = Confident = Worthy. Brilliant.”

I didn’t quite expect a lot of thoughts on it because I have noticed not many on my FB circle are interested in this issue. I did get a few nods but then, unsurprisingly, there was that one crusader of good health who had to make an appearance to talk about how there is nothing wrong with being “fit” and “healthy”.

Let me not get into why that argument makes no sense here. It’s faulty on so many levels that I just… never mind. I’ll just mention that Parineeti says nearly nothing about fitness. She feels accomplished about not being “chubby” anymore, and describes herself as a “work-in-progress” on her way to “look better”.

That aside, such conversations always set in motion a never-ending chain of thoughts in my head. I’m going to try and enumerate some of them, just so I can get it out of my system.

  1. Since when did we start equating size with health? I don’t deny that it can (sometimes) be an indicator, but it’s silly to generalize that. Firstly, can one really say that every “thin” or “skinny” person is healthy or has “good” eating habits or leads an active lifestyle? Or that someone overweight is always on his/her couch with a bag of fries? You cannot look at someone and draw inferences about their life – their habits, their lifestyles, their “laziness”, their “unwillingness” to control their diet, their “irresponsible” attitude towards their bodies. We are made to believe that “fatness” is a problem, that one is to be blamed for his/her “problem” and that this problem needs to be fixed.

    Is it not possible that someone is happy about how they look regardless of what you think is “pretty”? Or that someone has made a choice to enjoy culinary delights rather than fret over calories? Don’t we all have that one friend who can eat and eat and yet never put on any weight? Wide hips could be genetic. A bulging belly could be a battle scar for someone who has been fighting with PCOS for years.  No one has a right to judge another, let alone just looking at their body type. You can’t read character into a person’s weighing scale.  

    If someone is big, they must be lazy. If someone is thin, they are sickly. One can never really get it right, isn’t it? “Normal” is that imaginary utopia we are all told to strive for, and we allow ourselves to be driven by that illusion.

    I know I have felt uncomfortable telling the saleswoman that I’ll need an XL size. I know my “thin” friend has been asked to buy push-up bras by just about everyone she knows. My other “lanky” friend has been advised to take protein supplements and hit the gym so he can look “masculine”.

    A person suffering from anorexia is reprimanded for eating very little. But an overweight person is encouraged to follow such extreme diets. At the end of the day, starving oneself is unhealthy. But who cares about that, right?

    It is so easy to lose sight of the fact that weight is simply a number.  And that life is beyond that number. We are beyond a number. It says nothing about us, our choices, or our stories.

  2. Let’s talk about “health”. What is health? What does it look like? What do we know about it?

    When I really think about it, it seems to me that “health” has come to be a societal construct as a result of production, media and marketing. In short, a product of Capitalism.

    A standardized body size is conducive to mass production. It has come to a point where we no longer want clothes to fit us. Instead, we want us to fit into clothes. So you have an expected chest-waist-hip-thigh size with respect to your height. The only time I’ve managed to buy a pair of jeans without having to get the length altered is when I shop in the “Petite” section in some of the stores in the US.  The point is, anything outside of this prescribed body size is considered abnormal – something wrong that has to be changed.

    What does size really have to do with health anyway? What does anyone mean when they say “healthy”? To me it encompasses a lot of things – but the starting point and the end result has to be one – happiness.

    Instead, what I am sold is a tangible, physical ideal of health. To look a certain way rather than feel it.  To be honest, I feel that the general discourse on health is deeply flawed.

    The media is asking me to aspire to be a certain way they call “healthy” so that I am what can be called “attractive” or “desirable”. Men are expected to be “masculine”, dominating, “macho”. I am reduced to an object that pleases the eye alone; something that’s palatable. I am expected to have priorities as prescribed by the media – which probably starts with the color of my face and ends with how far my legs can resemble Beyoncé’s.

    I remember reading about Aishwarya Rai’s weight gain right after her delivery. These were stories that mocked her chubby arms and her plump cheeks, not one of them sparing a thought to the fact she was probably breastfeeding at the time. And what her body said about her was not that she was fat, but that she was healthy, and that she was a mother.

    If the health industry (including everything right from gyms to supplements to “health” magazines) gave a damn about my health, my mental health would not be so categorically neglected. Health is now a commodity sold to me that’s supposed to transform me. Right all that is wrong with me.

    I am told that if I somehow manage to achieve that idealistic body, I will be rewarded with happiness and love and confidence. This is pretty much the crux Parineeti’s “Built That Way”. Unfortunately, I believed that for the longest time and treated myself cruelly. Not any more.

    I know now that what the media tells me is bullshit. What they are trying to sell me an illusion. But I worry about those who can’t make that differentiation – children, teenagers. I see my young cousin cursing her genes for her wide hips. My friend’s sister worry about her breast size at 13. And it scares me. I can tell them what I know, but I wonder if the media will let me succeed at drilling that point into their heads? Because they are constantly bombarded with images and objects and temptations that will make them believe that they are imperfect and need fixing. In the summer holidays, they will have relatives comment on their weight gain or the unwanted tan or the zits.

    I try and tell my cousins to come to me or call me every time they are unhappy with what they see in the mirror. I hope they will not put themselves through what I did when I was their age.

  3. How does one define “fatness”? And why has that come to mean a bad thing? At what point do you draw a line between “curvy” and “fat” – and tell people which one is desirable and which isn’t?

    We demean the diversity of body types by slotting them into categories with names like apple and pear. Every body is different, and each one of them is to be celebrated. Not desecrated. And body type or shape is not a one-stop indication of one’s health. There is health in every size – both physical and mental.

    That aside, is “fatness” or “thinness” the only thing that defines a person? Let me for a second think of someone who is morbidly obese. Let me also presume that this obesity is a result of his/her lifestyle choices, and that this person has treated food as entertainment and indulged too much with little to no exercise.

    What then? Does this give me a right to be mean to them? Does it say that that person is a bad human being? Does that make it okay to say hurtful things to this person? Absolutely not. Kindness to others cannot come with terms and conditions. You just be kind – to everyone. Is that so difficult to understand?

    There are always those who try and explain their comments on fatness by saying that their words reflect their “concern” for such a person’s health. That there is nothing wrong with asking someone to get fit.

    Firstly, no body owes it to anyone to look pretty or be fit. Secondly, the media, and in turn the society, is already telling this person to “get fit” (read get thin), so your advice is really unnecessary. And lastly, my “fatness” does not reflect my attitude to life or my health.

  4. The media tells us that our worthiness as a person is linked directly to how we look. That prettiness is synonymous with worth, love, confidence and happiness. And we are told this so often that we have nearly no option but to believe this to be the reality.

    There are several industries that feed on us hating ourselves. Because, if, god forbid, we actually begin to love ourselves, they won’t be able to sell us a thing. No lightening creams, no plastic surgeries, no health supplements, no magic pills, no super-expensive gym memberships, no breast enhancements. Even glamour magazines would lose their appeal.

    They earn their bread when we are convinced about having to starve ourselves. So a person is objectified, commodified and sexualized till that is how we also begin to see ourselves. As objects that need to be perfected in order to be accepted.

    Here’s the thing. The media is lying to us. It’s a tool for marketing and it’s doing someone else’s bidding. And as difficult as it is, we need to remember this. We need to be kind to ourselves and to others.

  5. Fitness. Stamina. Energy. These are wonderful things. Why taint them with this negative, insensitive discourse about it?  Why not encourage positive thoughts about fitness – one that makes one feel happy and love themselves, rather than get sucked into an endless vortex of self-loathing and diffidence? To encourage people to embrace a lifestyle that brings peace and harmony to the body and the mind.

    Fuck the media. Fuck size zero. Fuck apples and pears and guavas. It took me a long time, but I have gradually conditioned myself to not let these things affect me. There are bad days, of course. I don’t like to dance because I once saw a picture of myself dancing and thought it was ugly. There are days when I lie to the saleswoman about my waist size, because I am too embarrassed about it. But these have now become exceptions, and not how I feel about myself all the time. Parineeti might disagree, but I don’t care. Chubby is not something that needs correcting. Chubby and pretty are not mutually exclusive. I am chubby and proud.

 

On [Classic] Young-Adult Literature

Young Adult Literature has changed dramatically over the years. When you think about what was considered YA even a few decades back, the shift in writing style and the content is shocking.

It interesting to note the differences – the progression and the regression in the genre:

  1. It speaks volumes of the transition in culture and sentiment over the years – the change in priorities, the ideas of proprietary,  in what is considered attractive, in the attitude/openness of women in accepting their sexuality, etc.

    Of course, in that last aspect, contemporary YA is miles ahead of what it used to be. And that is reason to celebrate.

  2. I think the focus on language and overarching themes has lessened; instead the thrust is now on characters and the relationships between them. Of course YA still deals with themes, but I guess the writing in the early to mid 1900s was more meaty in this regard as society itself was undergoing a massive change and people were still coming to terms with it. That change and conflict is often evident in the writings of the time. Even today YA is a reflection of society, but there is little conscious effort to do so.

    Today, characters and their experiences seem to be the focus. Perhaps because now there is room to explore. The men and women are no longer confined to the dimensions specified by society – of goodness and rightness and masculinity and proprietary and class distinctions and race. (Well, at least they don’t need to be confined. Let’s forget about Twilight, shall we?)

  3. Where things seemed to have moved forward with respect the expression of female sexuality, aspiration and ideal – I think there has been little progress (overall) when we speak of body image. The quintessential good girl may not have been size zero back in the 1930s, but she was still whatever fit the male fantasy at the time – voluptuous, relatively short, golden haired, blue eyed, elegant finger-ed and all things delicate.

    And today, when these women are thin and pale and blonde with big breasts and narrow waists and firm derrieres – this also ends up setting unrealistic ideals for body image that cater only to men.

    And if a woman/girl isn’t any of these things, she is described then as one who is “different” or a “rebel” or any other polite term for “abnormal.” What is common and real is made to look rare and unacceptable in society. It’s a shame.

    [However, a few hours of internet trolling told me this is slowly but surely changing. Especially because a lot of female authors are finding a voice in this genre. I really hope that is true.]

  4. Here’s the thing. When YA lit was gaining popularity in the mid 1900s, it was specifically marketed to schools and libraries and recognized as something that would encourage kids to read.

    Over the years, in academic circles, people have begun to understand that this is something that is catering to young adults and allowing their sentiments and problems, which are usually sidelined by society, to come to the fore. Culturally, over the years, YA lit has become significant.

    However, while it is still serving its original purpose – getting kids and teenagers to read – there seems to have developed a biased against the literary merit of the entire genre. I get why Twilight and the likes would make someone want to puke. But it’s not like you don’t have any bad writing in adult fiction.

    I do admit that a large fraction of YA lit is basically full of useless love triangles with unexplained teenage angst with the major issues only lurking in the background. But then there is a huge load of crap churned out in the name of adult fiction as well. Why this prejudice against YA ?

    The genre is much more than teen-romance. It often deals with real and troubling issues such as the impact of divorce on children, child abuse, bullying, sexual curiosity and awakening, jealousy, peer pressure and many more. In fact, now people seem to have come up with an all new genre called “new-adult” – where the protagonists are not in school, but in college —- basically meaning license for sex.

    It’s ridiculous to not to accept its merit in the field of literature and its contribution to a society that rarely spares a moment to empathize with teenagers.

    [To be frank YA is not my favorite genre. Not even in the top 5. But it’s not because YA is bad, but because I tend to enjoy the others more.]

  5. Theories on language have evolved, I get it. Structure, grammar, vocabulary – all has been challenged. I get it. Language literally holds a mirror to society now. I get it.

    Yet, I enjoy the richness in the writing and language that was used to weave stories and tales in classics such as those mentioned below. It adds another realm to the pleasures of reading. And that also makes them excellent options for re-reads.

So, for those who sometimes wish for a simple romance, for subtlety in emotions and carefully crafted writing, some of the older writings have a timeless charm.

Harry Potter will never be forgotten. And though personally I quite disliked the Hunger Games series, I have a feeling that will also be remembered for a very long time. And some others of the like.

But I would like to list some classic YA novels, ones I think are charming and warm and have a timeless quality to them. I read a lot of these as a teenager and they hold a special place in my heart for that reason. They may or may not be considered better than the stuff that is currently popular, but they are magical 😀

I love these books because they connected with me – the characters, the moments, the relationships, the emotions. And they also got me interested in reading, so I am grateful for that. At the risk of sounding dramatic, let me also add that some of them changed my life. Here we go:

  1. Heidi by Johanna Spyri: It made me imagine the idyllic European countryside – something I had only ever seen on TV. More importantly, despite the exotic setting, here was a young girl I thought I could relate to – one so real that we could perhaps even be friends. It was simple and touching and I felt grown up because I had read a book and the girl in the book lived in Switzerland.

    Years later when I re-read it, I felt the pleasant sense of warm nostalgia waft over me. A delightful read.

    [PS – Yes, this could very well be called Children’s Literature. But it’s in between that and YA, don’t you think?]

  2. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith: This should be no surprise. Pretty much the ultimate YA novel out there. It’s the best. No debate.
    Wonderful characters, beautiful writing, spectacular setting, a touching love story and the coming-of-age of a lovely young woman.

    I cannot say enough good things about this book. If you haven’t read it, please do so now!

  3. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery: Gilbert Blythe. NEED I SAY MORE?

    This series somehow manages to find the right balance between idyllic and real.

    Also, for those who have already read this, check out The Blue Castle by Montgomery. Not as well known as some of her other works, it’s an independent book and is just as wonderful as the Anne series. Really.

  4. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce: Easily the most well written book on this list. It’s Joyce we’re talking about, of course the writing is spectacular!

    It takes you through the ideological, intellectual and artistic evolution of the protagonist, Stephen Dedalus.

    It may not be as enjoyable as most YA lit tends to be, but it is definitely worth a read. It has some moments that just hit you so hard – you feel like you’re close to a life changing epiphany.

  5. And now – feminist YA! So we also have The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley.

    Aerin is one of the greatest heroes of all time. She breaks all stereotypes and fights for her right to be treated equally with men. Her gender will not decide her destiny. She finds her voice and makes sure she is heard. She is badass.

Here we are –  some wonderful YA lit with awesome characters, great writing, and that special charm that lends them a timeless quality.

P.S – No, Little Women will not make it to this list. I may have loved it when I read it first, but as of today – I pretty much hate that stuff. Nope, Alcott isn’t for me.

On Rape Jokes and Artists

I had a problem with a few things/incidents. I made a “status” post out of some of them on Facebook. The responses weren’t always pleasant. Some examples:

  1. The “balaatkar” joke in 3 Idiots 
  2. Germany having “raped” other teams in the Football World Cup
  3. Anushka Sharma being the butt of accusatory jokes after Kohli’s dismal performance in the CWC Semi-Finals
  4. The casualty with which rape is treated in TV and cinema. For instance Badlapur, and…wait for it… Game of Thrones. There, I said it.
  5. AIB’s nasty little Roast. It wasn’t really offensive but it was definitely unfunny.

I don’t really mind being called a prude, a nitpicker or a spoilsport. It’s okay, people have a right to say anything as long as it isn’t an attack on my character. Thankfully, none of the responses to my posts ventured into those dark places.

But time and again, I do end up questioning myself. Am really taking things too seriously? Am I making a mountain of a molehill? Am I failing to take things in the right spirit?

Over time, I have accepted that it doesn’t matter to me – whether or not I’m ruining a joke made with or without malice towards women. Because –

  1. Languages are rich – you don’t need to “rape” things to bring out the meaning.
  2. I don’t really care for the “right spirit” of the joke. Rape isn’tfunny in any situation. [However, the reaction to it, from some ends, if often absurd.]
  3. One has to draw the line somewhere. I have made my peace with people using “bitch” as a positive adjective at times. I refuse to make my peace with making rape look like a joke. Or a glorious adjective.
  4. If there is a comedian who’s comic spirit is crushed because he/she cannot use ‘rape’ in their jokes, then he/she is a worthless comedian. I agree with their right to argue for “freedom of speech.” Nobody is against the use of the word “rape” in comedy. But I think a talented comedian would use comedy to point out the evils of it, perhaps use satire to show just how unfair it is that rape is the one crime where the victim is relentlessly blamed. Or something else more innovative. If they are using the word rape casually just because they cannot think of anything else that’s funny, they aren’t worth anybody’s time or money. [Example – this comedian who thought it would be funny to tell a woman in his audience how funny it would be if she were gang-raped right there]
  5. Crack sickening rape jokes in the privacy of your home. Even if it’s the kind that would make most women want to vomit their stomachs out their nostrils. Even in public, it’s still okay if you do this in personal capacity, and not as a public figure. But when you’re in public and this public has paid money to listen to you/watch you, (and its safe to assume that you wield some level of influence on people and pop-culture), you better watch your tongue. I’m thinking you want to be fair to all of your audience and not just the men in it.
  6. Aside: To be honest, I don’t even like people cracking rape jokes or using the word “rape” casually in everyday life. How did we allow it to percolate into everyday language?  “Hey, I raped the shit out of that exam!” “Hey, you got raped on the field today!” It suggests just how “normal” something this serious is taken to be, like it’s an everyday occurrence and totally okay. Well, it’s NOT. Raping someone or something doesn’t make you a hero or a stud. It makes you a criminal.

Being responsible in public is not the same as not having/exercising the freedom of speech.  Rape jokes are simply not funny.  It’s not censorship. It’s more like vacuum cleaning. You’re gutting the shit out.

Things go both ways. People are PAYING to watch you. They have the right to have opinions. You don’t get to ask them to just not turn up. Women are not some tiny fraction in your audience. They are half of it (Maybe a little less than that in India, but lets not get into that now) It’s not a fraction you can afford to ignore. Else just say that yours is a “Men Only” show. Or a warning, “Women may come in at their own discretion.”

To quote an article from Jezebel, “This fetishization of not censoring yourself, of being anequal-opportunity offender,” is bizarre and bad for comedy. When did “not censoring yourself” become a good thing? We censor ourselves all the time, because we are not entitled, sociopathic fucks. Your girlfriend is censoring herself when she says she’s okay with you playing Xbox all day. In a way, comedy is censoring yourself—comedy is picking the right words to say to make people laugh.”

Now lets talk about female comedians cracking such jokes. [Why, it isn’t just the men who do it.]  When I think about it, it can be done in three ways –

  1. Totally casual. Mostly thoughtless. A joke for the heck of a joke. [I dislike. Others can decide for themselves]
  2. Those who talk/joke about it because they feel it HAS to be talked about. How long can women be expected to shy away from talking about rape? It happens, it’s awful, and no ever was ever “asking for it.” In short, they are trying to break the taboo around it. Especially the shame that is associated with women when they talk about their experience of rape.   However, they need to tread carefully. If they end up dismissing or belittling the gravity of what rape entails, it kind of beats the purpose. (Assuming they had a purpose to begin with)
  3. Satire. Quoting an article from the fantabulous Bitch Magazine, “their [women’s] position as individuals in a group that clearly understands how real the threat of rape is adds a layer of complexity to any joke they tell. Every female comic I spoke with understood (as much as one can without having been through it) how devastating rape is. Unlike male comics, the majority of whom do not have to worry about rape on a regular basis (although men do, of course, suffer rape), women tell jokes from a position in which they are very much aware of their own vulnerability, a fact that automatically changes the nature of the joke.”

I have nothing against comedy or the right to free speech. I don’t. But I do believe some amount of self-censorship must come when you are living in a society, if you actually care for your role as a member of that society, and the sentiments of those around you. Especially those who have already experienced some of the worst things humanity has to offer. If your actions have no (potentially) detrimental consequences for others, by all means go ahead. But if they do, at least spare a minute to think it through. Consider for a second – what if you have a victim of sexual assault in your audience? What if your female friend on that couch experienced sexual abuse at some point in life? How would your words affect them? A friend of mine posed an even more interesting question – “‪If a rapist was to be there in the room where the comedian makes a rape joke, will he feel validated?” Think about it.

It might sound hypocritical on my part to argue for freedom of speech on one hand and yet expect people to censor themselves in public (and private!) on the other. But we are not just talking opinions here. We are talking art – commercially produced art – art that is meant for the masses and often produced by influential people. A profit-making venture.

I am all for “art for art’s sake,” but if you are also looking to make money from your art, and if you want people to enjoy your art, then you had better work knowing that you are no isolated entity. Once the art is produced for the masses and they have paid for it, it is no longer your own. It is theirs. Once you demand money for people to watch it, it is a commercial product. The artist in you is speaking directly to the public. Public is society.  Their opinion had better matter to you. The effect of what you say/do on them better matter to you. Else you are most welcome to paint the walls of your little room at the bank of a river far removed from the rest of the world.

Check out Patricia Lockwood’s stellar poem ‘Rape Joke’ here

And this

PS – I speak only for myself. I am not urging anyone to agree with me, or challenging those who disagree. However, I do welcome a healthy discussion.