Sunday, March 30, 2014

Art Is Confusing

He made a brilliant film, but he tortured his artists.
He tortured his artists, but he made a brilliant film.
Blue Is The Warmest Colour  

Friday, March 14, 2014


In a scene nearing the end of ‘Queen’, the camera homes in on Rani (Kangana Ranaut) as she says goodbye (probably forever) to friends she’s made on a life-altering European ‘honeymoon’. As viewers we’ve accompanied her on this journey of self-discovery and we’ve come to invest in her friendships – short and sweet as they’ve been. It’s as difficult for us to say goodbye to them as it might be for her. For a second, one hopes they’ll return because we worry for Rani, you know? But they don’t. Rani looks shaky for a moment and we hold our breath - Please be ok, Rani.

And then her face changes. Lightens. Something has shifted in her, not for a bit, not for a fleeting moment, but indelibly. She won’t just be okay, she will fly. The euphoria that comes from having made contact with her own power extends beyond her, permeating through the screen to reach us. We feel euphoric too because we know that with this film, something has shifted for mainstream Hindi cinema too.


Some reviews of the movie have called Rajkummar Rao’s character, Vijay, a ‘villain’, which is the saddest thing I’ve read in a while because this superbly-crafted obnoxious man is so bloody…normal. Who amongst us doesn’t know a Vijay? Some of us are dating him; some of us have him as a brother, a father, friend or boss. The guy, who needs to feel superior to you in order to feel good about himself. The guy, who really doesn’t care who you are as long as you serve his agenda. The guy, who struts around with such a sense of entitlement about his ‘property’ (and yes, you are his property, whether you like it or not) that he can’t fathom you’re an equal stakeholder in the relationship. The guy, who feels so small that he needs to make you feel smaller. The guy, who will fall apart, either grovelling or losing his shit if you ever realize your power. Vijay is not the villain. He struggles as much as Rani does – but unlike her, he hasn’t lost enough to put up a fight. In Vijay, I see the tragedy of so many men I’ve known and loved – men, who are as confused by their privilege as women are trapped by the lack of it.


‘Queen’ is extraordinary because of the male-female & female-female relationships it showcases. In Paris, Rani meets the free-spirited Vijaylakshmi, whose name shortens delightfully to Vijay, same as Rani’s ditching fiancĂ©. This Vijay, unlike the other, likes Rani just the way she is. She helps her loosen up but doesn’t inspire Rani to change overnight (nor does Rani convert her or show her the ‘error of her ways’ like in that other horrendous movie on female friendship: Cocktail) but teaches her that women can be all kinds of different shades. In Amsterdam, Rani’s character begins to understand how fun and liberating it can be to get to know men. Men are humans. And some of them think women are humans too! Ergo, men can be friends with women! These are touching friendships, based on affection and mutual respect (and yes, even a twinge of sexual tension).

In spite of this, I’m ashamed to admit that till the very end I kept expecting Rani to find a man. As though the thrill of self-discovery would be incomplete unless witnessed & validated by a man (like that other film about an Indian woman losing & finding her self in the Western world: ‘English Vinglish’). In that light, what a masterstroke by the writers/ director to leave Rani walking away in the last frame, alone & more joyful than any Hindi movie heroine’s ever looked at the end of a film (even Konkona Sen in ‘Luck By Chance’ looked underwhelmed about her future, as the film ended on her charting her path alone). Rani may find a man, she may not. Whatever the outcome, she now has the skills to create value for herself (like that other recently released film ‘Highway’ that ends on a mid shot of the lone & unexpectedly not-tragic heroine, clutching a copy of ‘Women Who Run With The Wolves’, looking hopefully into the horizon).


I don’t know if this happens to other Indian women who’ve travelled – particularly to the West. A pall of gloom descends on me whenever I have to return home. Even if the trip hasn’t been long enough to grow attached to the foreign country, even if my entire life is culturally rooted and thriving in India and even if love waits for me at home. It feels like I have to put back into a box, this version of ‘me’ that had momentarily roamed free – going where she wanted, at whichever time of night or day, in whichever mode of transport was convenient, talking to pretty much anyone she wished to, learning to smile at strangers and not spending an unnatural amount of time worrying if her shirt’s neckline is ‘too low’. And even though coming back to India means coming back home, it also feels like the loss of a person I really, really enjoy being.

‘Queen’ allowed me to relive the thrill of being free in ways I didn’t even realize I craved and the sweet relief of not having to constantly be ‘proper’ or 'careful' or 'watchful' (or 'disappointing', 'unsafe' or ‘stupid’ if you choose to act differently). Like Rani, I too have had catalytic adventures (some of which terrified me, forcing me to recognize my strengths). Like her, travel helped me relax into myself, without apologies. Like her, I carried this transformative new energy back to India with me.

The biggest gift ‘Queen’ has given its viewers, is a story about an Indian woman on an adventure alone. Of course, travel changes everyone. But Rani & ‘Queen’ show us how a fearless journey to foreign shores can lead the Indian woman back to herself.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

We Are All A Little Yo Yo - Part 2

So then this morning, this happened - a Twitter conversation between two women:

Assuming the plumber in question was male (or actually even if they weren't), this exchange made me uncomfortable.
I couldn't tell why. Like another itch I couldn't scratch.

Then I remembered something I recently read on The Last Cookie.
Please read the whole thing, but here's an excerpt:

"The 'comedy' behind male abuse is a result of the patriarchy, which is exactly what feminism is trying to destroy. The patriarchy mocks weakness in men, so when men get abused, it’s not taken seriously. It’s a joke, it’s funny, it’s no big deal. 'You’re a man, suck it up.'
That’s not what feminists want. If you think that’s what we want, then you you’re not talking to the right feminists. It’s about equality, NOT just reversing the roles, understand?"


Self chatter: I have to admit that for a long time I've used feminism as a repository of my personal anger and shame caused by patriarchal forces. This anger and shame is real and needs to be addressed. But I now see how it's a mistake to blur lines between this redressal and the principles of feminism. Feminism can give me the tools to understand where the anger & shame comes from and to prevent its mitigating situations from being repeated - as far as possible. But feminism does not give me the right to debase other humans in its name.

I don't know what this means for my future as a lustful female that might wish to covet a man's body parts in a lascivious manner but I'm sure I'll figure something out...maybe the guys can help me out with this one.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Baby Amte

"you are my baby amte."

This is the Skype message I get from my sister from halfway across the world, at 4 am. It makes me laugh at my situation for the first time in many days. After over a decade of dealing with bouts of excruciating pain in my lower back, I've finally been properly diagnosed with having a slipped disc - a scary sounding but way too common problem nowadays.

It comes in conjunction with other setbacks (ha ha - if only the back were set - ha ha) that have had me feeling most defeated. Unlike Baba Amte, I have not quite risen (ha ha - or laid down - ha ha) to the challenge and they will not be writing wikipedia pages about my courage in the face of adversity any time soon. I've spent most mornings weeping surreptitiously or watching episodes of Downton Abbey.

If there were a tagline to the epic sob story running in my mind, it would be: I am All Alone. Even as friends drop by in the middle of punishing schedules armed with truckloads of doughnuts & books on managing back pain, even if they send their drivers across town to deliver a pair of perfect walking shoes, even if people who barely know me send me messages inquiring how I am, even if loved ones take time out of their jobs to ferry me to doctors' offices, my standard refrain remains: I am All Alone.

This tragic heroine is a pain in my ass. (And it's not the kind of pain that my physiotherapist can banish with a round of delectable electric currents zipping across butt cheeks.) She's convinced that life is out to get her - an inconvenient fact since life is all around her and wherever she goes, she finds she can't avoid it. She is angry and thinks hateful thoughts. She feels sorry for herself constantly because everyone else always has it better. (Yeah, even that shivering kid that's approaching her car window, begging for a couple of rupees.)

She starts speaking of herself in third person and begins to realize the extent of her delusion.

Of all the stories I've told myself over the years the one that is least backed up by evidence is the idea that I lack support. Some books even suggest that my spine has given way precisely because of this belief (I think the terrifying speedboat ride I took a few months ago might also have something to with it but still...). Now lying here in bed, propped up on two pillows, I wonder if it's time to dismantle this thought once and for all. To question its logic every time it pops up and to blatantly mock it if it persists.

So last night, I tried with one hand to open a bottle of whiskey that I had a friend bring in. I was having a particularly tragic-heroine time and I kept thinking 'this bottle is going to break, this bottle is going to break' even as I dangled it over the bathroom sink (don't ask), trying to pry open the seal with my teeth, while hanging on to it for dear life.

this bottle is going to break this bottle is going to break this bottle is going to break this bottle is going to


I stood there for what seemed like forever, staring at my-only-friend-whiskey quite literally go down the drain. The strong waft of alcohol rose up to my nose along with a militant 'poor me' thought. Then as the golden brew slipped away from me, I thought: What would baby amte do? She'd probably laugh. She might even call her friend up and ask for another bottle. Then she'd get to work.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

We Are All A Little Yo Yo

So this happened on Twitter last night:

Following which the gentleman tweeter faced a fair bit of ire from a section of the Indian female population on Twitter.

And that's where the politically correct part of this post ends.

My first impression when I read the tweet was discomfort, like an itch you can't track the source of, that has you scratching the back of your left leg when the itchiness is being felt in your right ear.

So I stared at the tweet some more. This came to me:

We all know how problematic this is. I mean, I wish they'd just COMB THEIR HAIR!

So anyway, I thought some more.


I have never been 'beautiful' (except in a Maya Angelou/ My Mama Thinks I'm Beautiful kinda way). Therefore, I have pretty much always cared.

I have always cared because I have seen the more beautiful girls get advantages I never could, in spite of my sparkling personality and dazzling wit.

(Sidebar: Conversly, because of my sparkling personality and dazzling wit, I have had advantages that beautiful girls haven't - like a chance for someone to get to know me, a chance to be appreciated for who I am rather than what I look like.)

Inside me, live two people (well...more...but I'm only bringing two to the table).
There is a 13yr old fat girl who is trying SO hard to be validated by men because everything she's ever been surrounded by has informed her that men have the final word in how she measures her worth. Sure, she will also learn that getting a good job and having her own independent thoughts makes her valuable, but by and large she's figured out that she is not quite 'right' unless a guy tells her so.

Sucks coz guys never really end up telling her so.

What they do say is: she's too fat, she's too dark, they wish she'd dress up better, show her cleavage off more, trim her eyebrows, show her cleavage off less, grow her hair, wax her moustache, join a gym, smoke less, be cool and share a smoke.

Of course, they are stating a preference and what kind of a world do we want to live in if we can't let a human being state a preference? Besides, us women appreciate beauty too, don't we?  This Guy Vs. That Guy

I digress.

Point is, I wish this preference would be just that: a preference in a world of infinite choices. Just an opinion. Unfortunately, the 13yr old fat girl living inside has come to understand it as a form of 'quality control'. In fact, it's all so messed up that she can no longer tell the difference between a preference and QC.

Now, this pisses the 34yr old woman off. She thinks: I'm not an object dammit. I'm not on some assembly line! My whole is bigger and more complex than the sum of my parts. And 'preference'? Like seriously? There's no such thing as a preference anymore. You can sugarcoat the opinions all you like, boys & girls, but it will always be a bit like saying: "It's just that I don't like when a Dalit drinks from my well. Am I stopping her from going to Venkatachallapthyrajulu's watering hole? Hell no! Am I telling her not to hydrate herself? Hell-er no!"

Here's my politics (which, as we all know, is always personal): A 13yr old confused fat girl, who's been dealt with cruelly a LOT. And a pissed off 34yr old who has no patience for anyone telling her what constitutes 'beautiful'.

Even if that definition of beautiful implies not caring about being beautiful: like piling on truckloads of 'natural' makeup to look like you just fell out of bed.

So here's my two cents, fellas. Perhaps there will be a time in the future where we will not be asked to take a magnifying glass to each definition of female beauty. But today is not that day.

And I know it sucks, but if you could, just take a hit. Take one for the team.


Also read: Dark Spots and Confessions for a more nuanced explanation of the itch I was trying to scratch.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Girl In Box

“Wait…sir! Sir! Don’t walk away…here, sir, here! I have one last piece to show you, then you decide. Just one more, sir! I think you will like it.”


“Yes, surprising no, sir?”


“No-no, not GIB! She’s not a piece of hardware or management jargon.


“It’s alright sir. Everyone makes this error. Trying to simplify something that’s simple enough to begin with. But simplification is an art no, sir? Do it carelessly and you end up mistaking cutting-edge innovation for a glitch in the design, no, sir?”


“Of course sir! No time to dawdle.
What you have here is the very latest in downsizing. Yes. You thought ‘downsizing’ was a dirty word, didn’t you? But it’s really just making something smaller and smaller and smaller until it fits in your palm just so. That’s all this Girl is. Tell me, sir, what do you wish Girl In Box to do? Don’t hold back.”


“Yes of course, sir. This isn’t the only…she comes in many aesthetically delighting designs. Now I can see you’re a man of some taste – not ordinary taste. Give Girl In Box a chance. She will configure to your imagination.”


“Not too flashy eh? In your league, you say? Smart choice sir, good choice. Fully damage-proof, scratchproof. Toss it about & see. See? The ergonomics are just…I mean I still get a bit emotional about this product. I’m very attache--- yes, yes – you’ll need to do that...customized programming – I mean, that’s the whole point of Girl In Box.”


“Technology can be intimidating, sure. I understand what you’re saying. But there’s really no wrong you can do. Girl In Box has self-correcting features built in. Very little headache to you. Plus you look like someone who’s not afraid of reading the manual. Ha ha ha true, sir, true. We only read maps to pick a direction to point in – we choose the routes ourselves. You’re a man after my own heart…

“So as I was saying, Girl In Box is a highly intelligent machine. She has an advanced parallel computing system – multiple CPUs that splinter up complex problems…distribute the fragments to individual processors, get answers, put it all back together again like a giant puzzle made up of tinier puzzles made out of tinier puzzles made out of---

“No, no – it doesn’t matter how arcane your expectations are. Once programmed, you don’t need to spoon-feed Girl In Box with too much data. She can access your deepest needs, your expectations by - there’s an algorithm for that.”


“Oh no sir. Nothing is ever that! Too good to be true ha ha. Of course, the Girl In Box requires maintenance. But we’ve been trying to minimize it with each version. The version before this? It would send out periodic audible alarms – beeps – if it needed to be charged or if some part was failing. If its juices were running out, you know? But users felt it was too disturbing, too distracting – I mean, if something were wrong, it would beep loudly at regular intervals until the user addressed the problem. Maddening, am I right?

“So now we have a new feature that runs on Suppression Technology™. Sounds fancy, no?


“Basically, Girl In Box identifies what she needs before you’re even aware of it. Her motherboard takes necessary action to repair itself without alerting you. Business as usual, as far as you’re concerned. In a meeting? In a movie? Out for drinks with friends? Chatting with the mum? You won’t hear a peep. You’ll never need to concern yourself with all the circuitry inside; you have more important things to worry about, am I right? You see, we understand – leave the nuts & bolts to the geeks, let the user’s experience be smooth.”


“Well yes, ok, I won’t lie to you. This latest feature has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. There were some kinks with making the logic board compatible with Suppression Technology™. But I assure you – those kinks have been ironed out. Absolutely.

“How, you ask? Two revolutionary features:
Number One: we’ve put the power of calibrating her responses in your hands. If the battery needs charging and you haven’t kept track of it but you don’t want to be nagged every 5 minutes, you can click on the option to turn the reminders off. What’ll happen is, just before the battery discharges, she switches off with a brief warning…

“You don’t look too impressed. It’s a very popular upgrade. Market research has shown us that users prefer the temporary inconvenience of sudden death, over the persistent annoyance of periodic reminders.

Number Two: We’ve made the user interface so minimal, noiseless & efficient that beyond satisfying your immediate needs, you really don’t have to interact with Girl In Box at all. She betrays virtually no signs of her internal circuitry – not unless you desire to see it, of course. I mean, we’ve embedded icons in the display that could provide you with that information. Their invisibility feature can be turned on or off as you desire.”

“May I ask you sir, are you intrigued yet? Even remotely enticed?”


“Sure. Sure. I understand. Information Overload. Ha ha. Ok, let’s talk about something less tech-y. I hate needlessly convoluted chatter too!

“Girl In Box is constructed from highly futuristic materials synthesized for super-elasticity & durability. How does this make your life easier?
Answer me: How big or small is your life?

“Fit her in the tiniest corner of your one-bedroom apartment or expand her to suit the high ceilings of your bungalow. The bigger your home, the bigger Girl In Box gets. Your world is smaller? She squeezes up real tight too.”


“Now you’re just playing with me, sir! Why, you can do just about anything with her in your pocket (or wherever else you choose to install her). In fact I find it difficult to answer ‘What’s she really good for?’ not because she hasn’t a purpose…but because there are so many it’s difficult to mention them all.

“But let me try anyway. Everything you are, everything you want to be, everything you need, everything you like, every effort you desire to make, every effort you don’t desire to make – she will find a way to make it simpler, easier and more fun. She will calibrate herself to you, she will grow with you and she will fall with you. She will exist for you. She will perform her function and nothing more…but you can always rest assured that she could be bigger, better, stronger, wiser. If you so choose.”


Hmmm. Tough one to answer. Between you and me, sir? Nothing breaks Girl In Box. She learns and she learns and she learns. Just like a summafabitch, she learns.”


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Many A Slip

That moment before you lose your shit.
That moment before you censor yourself.
That moment before you cast your vote.
That moment before you take that bite.
That moment before you lean forward.
That moment before you walk away.
That moment before you turn around.

Take that moment and stretch it ouuuuuuttttttt as if you control time, as if you are the queen of making clear choices. As if your mind has always had the right answer and your body has always been poised to make the perfect move.

To enjoy the delusion that everything you decided was right for you in that moment. To squash the idea that you made a mistake.
Or the opposite.
To know what's done is done is done and everything else is spin.