Monday, November 10, 2014

5 party games that need to be banned

(Published in The Friday Times, on November 7, 2014, retrieved from

Picture Courtesy: The Friday Times

I’m not sure why people have random house parties. Right, so maybe you want to show off your cooking. But, there’s Facebook and Instagram, right? Maybe you want to show off your clothes. But there are weddings every second week, right? Maybe you want to show off your friends to each other. But it can never be a good thing when worlds collide, right? So, maybe you want to gather people so you can have sparkling conversation...not.

Inevitably, a large group of people that isn’t bound by the commonality of having worked in a terrible company, having gone to draconian school or college together, or belonging to a religiously persecuted minority, or being of a generally self-pitying nature, runs out of conversation fairly quickly. The only thing left to do is break off into groups, or talk shop and then explain shop to the people who aren’t part of the shop, or – and this is the part I dread – play a game.

There are some party games that need to be removed from the face of the earth. Not only do they provide too much information that you would rather not know, in time you would rather not waste, but they also remind you that we desis fail to grow up after school. Here’s why:

Truth or Dare
The only circumstances under which this game should be played once one has graduated from school is: (a) The players are characters in a clich├ęd play that an author was pressured to submit in order to meet a deadline (b) The players are in a horror movie, and will all be killed, which is the best course of action to take against anyone who plays Truth or Dare. This is also worked into the desi version of Spin the Bottle, because, hey, we don’t kiss (and thank god for that), and therefore the most fun to spin a bottle is for the spinner to be dared by the spinnee.

I will forgive Bollywood for its rain dances and designer funeral costumes and sarson ka khet mayn reunions. But I will not forgive it for inflicting this terrible plague upon us. At every party, even the occasional conversation you may strike with the occasional person whose IQ is in three digits, is eventually drowned out by pitchy girls screeching Asha-Lata numbers and tone-deaf boys channelling Kishore. I don’t usually know more than a line or two of any given song, so I’m the one sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the braying to end.

Really, anything you can do with a pack of cards should be banned. First of all, if you have even the most basic knowledge of permutations and combinations, there is no way you can lose a hand of cards. Second, unless you’re a drunk businessman, the stakes at desi taash parties are so low that it’s the least profitable way of spending your time (aside from writing columns, perhaps).

Yes, all. Starting with “Never have I ever...”, at least in our side of the world and probably on all sides of it, the main point of any game – especially a drinking game – is to probe everyone about his or her sex life. This game can only leave you with enormous pity either for yourself, or for everyone else. Also, unless you’re an exhibitionist, you don’t want to be telling strangers things you haven’t told yourself, so there’s that.

I’m not sure whether this is a game, or this an art, but everyone in my circle – which is fairly obtuse, as shapes go – seems to have converted this into a self-oblivious exercise. First of all, they choose topics which ought to be banned from conversation – children, partners, workouts, skin, age, success...and then, they do their humble-brag thing.
“You know, nowadays schools are just so strict. My son gets maximum 95-97 percent. How about yours? Are they more generous in his school?”
“No, not really. His record is 98 percent.”
Awww. And you both get a 100 percent for obnoxiousness. How’s that for generosity?

“How do you keep your figure so trim, yaar? I’m like a whale. I look some 10 years older than you, and I’m 2 years younger.”
“Whaaa?! You’re only 2 years younger than me? I thought you must be at least 10-15 years younger.”
“Look at your skin!”
Wake up and smell the coffee. On a good day, you both look your age. On a bad day, each of you looks older than the other.

“You’ve lost so much weight! What have you been doing?”
“Oh, nothing. Just eating at the right times. I had to lose weight. I don’t have your metabolism, na...”
Right. Or her fat-burning pills. Or her eating disorder. Meow.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Ancient science: Angry letters from the Gods!

(Published in, on November 3, 2014, retrieved from

Image: Osiris and Re merged into a single body, from the Litany of Re in the tomb of Nofretari. (Wikipedia)

Disclaimer: The author wishes to assert that the opinions in this article are those she received from the gods in question, and not her own. As an Indian, she believes she has the support of all our politicians in claiming that the telepathic powers which enabled her to receive these divine messages should not be questioned, as there are plenty of examples of such telepathy in The Mahabharata.

For several weeks, We the Discarded Gods of Greek, Egyptian and Scandinavian Mythology, have been observing the enlightened politicians of India give their divine – and mortal – beings the credit for medical and scientific processes with prehistoric origins.

Thus far, credit for the mastery of plastic surgery has been given to the doctors who sewed and elephant’s head on to Lord Ganesha after he was decapitated by his father (by the way, +1000 for excellent parenting, yo).  The credit for IVF or genetic science or whatever it is has been given to the midwives who supervised the birth of Kunti’s son Karna. Stem cell research has been credited to the rishi Vyasa, for his intervention in Gandhari’s aborted pregnancy. The invention of the television has been credited to Sanjaya of the Mahabharata fame.

We are quite touched by the dedication which these politicians have shown. Equally, we are enraged that the countries to which we belong have ignored our various contributions to science. After an impromptu, high-level meeting among us, we have also realised that India’s claim is contentious, as we have evidence that some of our own deities and doctors and midwives, and other such eminent members of our populace, could claim equal credit to these inventions.

As we are not presently occupied with much else, we will continue to have these parleys, and send down regular letters to the governments in question. However, in order not to overwhelm the world, we have chosen three delegates – Zeus, Ra, and Thor – to represent some of our cases. Below are the relevant letters:

Dear Greece,

It is bad enough that your economy is a mess. It’s worse that most of the precious architecture of your country is sitting in museums in England and France. But must you also embarrass us by allowing India to take credit for plastic surgery?

The Indian Prime Minister has said that Lord Ganesha was attended to by doctors who were masters of reconstructive surgery, and saw fit to fix an elephant’s head on the body of a human.

However, we must remember that our own ancient doctors performed a much more complex surgery in creating the Sphinx. I must also add here, a creation that the Egyptians shamelessly plagiarised and are now more famous for on account of the architecture that symbolises this – really, will you never learn, Greece?

The Sphinx had the head and partial anatomy of a woman, as well as the partial anatomy of a lion, and wings to top it all off.

So, either there was a massive inter-specie orgy that would put all editions of the Penthouse Letters to shame, or we had some kickass plastic surgeons. Yet, you made no effort to stand up for this.

In my next letter, I will berate you for nor crediting Homer – as in, the writer of Odysseus, not the Simpson – with the discovery of sound waves. I have apparently crossed my word limit, so I would urge you to Google the story of the Sirens who drew Odysseus and his sailors to their island.

Here’s hoping you will fix the situation with our scientifically advanced mythology, whatever the hell you do with the economy.


Dear Egypt,

I won’t allude to your economic or political problems. The last thing I enjoyed watching or reading about you was The Mummy series of films. Yeah, the quality did go down over time, but...wait, hold on, I digress.

Right, so, I know you have a complex relationship with India. But, I think you should make a strong objection to the claims of its ministers regarding India’s superiority in genetic science.

If you go back to our mythology, you will find that Osiris was torn into pieces and sort of scattered across the country, leaving his missus, Isis, with the arguably harder challenge of first finding all the parts of the jigsaw puzzle, and then fixing them back on in the right manner, and – on top of that – bringing her husband to life.

You will see that this is far more complicated than simply fixing the head of an elephant on a human being.

Therefore, I insist that you – at the very least – summon a high-ranking official from the Indian embassy in our country, and make my offence known.


Dear Scandinavia,

I am aware that your laws about child safety and so on have caused considerable friction with India of late. What I have to suggest here may actually help you bond over something. You see, I am writing on my own behalf because none of the other Norse gods was willing to get into the fray. They are jealous because of the attention Hollywood has been paying me of late, I think. Anyway, this is not particularly relevant.

So, Indian mythology speaks about my counterpart, Indra, who is the god of thunder, though I think he may have outsourced the other duties that I hold sole responsibility for.
I know a day is named after me, and I’m grateful for that, really, but I resent the fact that my experiments with thunder have not been nominated for a Nobel Prize.

I was wondering if, maybe, you could speak to the government of India regarding combined credit for the invention of electricity, and sound, to me and Indra. The television is all Sanjaya’s.

If the Indian government proves resistant to this, then, could you at least get me credit for the invention of carpentry? It really is not easy to constantly carry a hammer, you know.

Okay, this letter is getting embarrassing. If I find no response from you, I will draw comfort from the fact that I am, at the very least, portrayed by a hunky man on screen – though, I’m told that the girls really go crazy for the other guy, the one who plays my nemesis, and I’m not very happy about that. Can you confirm whether this is indeed the case?


Saturday, November 01, 2014

Five Writers and a Festival

(Published in The Friday Times, on October 31, 2014, retrieved from

When I got an email in mid-August, saying that I was one of the five winners of a fiction contest conducted by the Writers of India Festival in association with Caravan Magazine, and that my reward was a trip to Paris, to attend a literary festival organised by Columbia University, my first instinct was that this was all a hoax – a social experiment of some sort, to figure out how young writers react on being told they will be flown to Paris on the merit of 3000 words they have written. First of all, I have rarely won writing contests. Second, I have never been flown to Paris, no-strings-attached (or strings attached, for that matter). Third, the first thing you’re told when you embark on a writing career is that you will make little money, and find less fame.

However, it turned out to be a genuine contest with a genuine reward – not only would the five of us be flown to Paris, but we, along with five students of Columbia University’s Creative Writing MFA programme, would read out extracts from our work to a panel that included Jeet Thayil, Vikram Chandra, Sudeep Sen and Geetanjali Shree.

The mascot for the Writers of India Festival turned out to be Mona Lisa photoshopped into an Indian costume in the fashion of Rajasthani miniature, her unironic smile in place. I named this creation ‘Monisha’, a sobriquet that caught on.

We trooped into the venue where most of the events were to be held, and saw several lines strung with clothing, high up in the air. Initially, we were lulled into the belief that France had gone all out to make us feel at home, but eventually discovered it was part of a modern art exhibition.

We were given sound advice by one of the staff of Columbia University, who was trying to humour our tourist leanings. “Go to the Seine, but don’t put a lock on the bridges,” she said, “Why would you lock up your love and leave it to be sent to a junkyard when the bridge gets too heavy? Set it free.” On our way to the bridges, in writerly fashion, we composed the beginnings of a rubbish poem called ‘Junkyard of Love’. The only line I contributed was “This is where love goes to die.”

Before the festival took off, the five of us decided to indulge a common interest – we went on a rather morbid excursion to the Montparnasse cemetery, to check out the graves of the writers and philosophers who had made Paris their home, or the home of their remains. The French have a rather macabre sense of humour, we discovered. Among the graves was one that had statues of lions playing football, and another that we deduced to be a zombie grave, because its inscription reads, “Dead? Not yet.” Finally, we found the graves of Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir. His gravestone was covered in lipstick marks. It fascinated us desis, because the last flat surface on which we had seen such vivid lipstick marks was Shah Rukh Khan’s chest in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.

I’ve always loved literature festivals. You meet some of your literary heroes, and spend days pinching yourself, wondering if you were really having that conversation with that person. An author of international renown sounds interested in your work, and you’re so touched and thrilled that you begin to sound like you’ve been pulling tricks with helium balloons. Every now and then, you find a spark with someone who was until recently a name on the cover of a book, and become fast friends. And there is no better place to hop in and out of eating places, sing ghazals by Faiz in the middle of the night, and get drunk than Paris. 

The only unfortunate aspect of a literature festival is the audience. Of course, there are the usual suspects – the aspiring author, the professor who wants to throw decasyllabic words at you, and the insistent person who believes his express purpose is to dazzle the audience and authors with a five-minute ‘question’ that eventually turns out to be a comment.

The Diaspora and the locals who are interested in world literature provide you with a bunch of new categories.

There are the exotica hunters, who want to believe in flying carpets and shimmering illusionary palaces and dark arts and dungeons. They will theorise that, just maybe, Baudelaire or Sartre was reborn as one of the writers your country has produced. And they will prove their love for your country either by doing the Bollywood snake dance step or striking yoga poses.

There is the benevolent Westerner who wants to rescue you from writing in English, clearly one of the traps of your colonised mentality and in no way your first language. Your ancestors have been wronged. In the case of the French, they see no reason why people from former French colonies in India – like Pondicherry – should not write in French, but they see no reason why people from the rest of India should want to write in English. Their chief aspiration is to convince you to write in a language which will ensure that you sell fewer books for less money.

Somehow, at every lit fest, you find people who take a fancy to you for no evident reason. In our case, there was a Tamil couple which began to bond with me on the premise that I speak acceptable Tamil – a fact they discovered when I asked Tamil poet Salma a question. Inexplicably, the couple decided to tack themselves on to us for the rest of the event – including the photo ops. When I finally asked them to allow us a single picture without them in the frame – the task fell to me, because they only spoke French and Tamil, and none of us had any French – they took offence and refused to comply. As a result, in every photo of the group, there is a beaming sari-clad woman whose identity none can fathom and presence none can justify.

The lit fest experience would not have been complete, naturally, without someone asking why there were no Pakistani writers at a festival of Indian literature – did that reflect India’s bigotry?

And so ended my little adventure in Paris, leaving me rather more in love with literature, more in love with festivals, more in love with my luck, and more entrusting of all humanity.

That last development was to change when I got back home. A relative asked how my trip to Paris was. Before I could respond, another relative said, “Why, what’s so great about a trip to Parry’s?” – this being an old neighbourhood in Madras, where the sugar manufacturing company EID Parry is headquartered, and in her mind, the limits of my wanderlust.  

Monday, October 27, 2014

Dear BJP: Show us the (black) money

(Published in, on October 27, 2014, retrieved from

It has been more than five months since the BJP swept to power, on the back of anti-incumbency combined with the Modi wave.

While the Congress pretty much broke a world record for maximum scams in which a government’s ministers have been involved, the UPA’s hemming and hawing on the black money issue was a crucial factor in its loss of the elections.

On the other hand, the BJP made the tall promise of bringing back the black money within its first 100 days in power. Theories were floated that the country could be run tax-free for three years, if only the black money stashed away abroad was brought back.

Worryingly, the BJP has begun to behave exactly like the Congress on this subject. While it had called out the Congress on its refusal to reveal the names of the defaulters, the NDA government filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court, seeking reversal of the court’s July 2011 directive. At the time, the UPA government had protested that it couldn’t reveal names under the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements (DTAA), an objection that the apex court cast aside.

In the face of this, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s reiteration that it was the NDA which instituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to look into the black money issue rings hollow.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had accused the UPA of “paying lip service” on the issue, before he came to power, has now acknowledged a “setback”. Just like the Congress did at the time, he has cited confidentiality requirements in an agreement with Germany, which precludes the revelation of a list of Indian account holders in Liechtenstein’s LGT Bank.

In a letter written by senior lawyer Ram Jethmalani, and signed by him under the title ‘Expelled Member of the BJP’, it is mentioned that this agreement is superseded by the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, which has been ratified by both Switzerland and Germany. In the letter, Jethmalani also accuses Modi of bypassing the SIT with regard to exposing the names.

All that the BJP has produced is a teaser, saying that a high profile former UPA minister is on the list of defaulters.

In the meanwhile, the Congress’ main pitch at the assembly elections across the country has been that the BJP is behaving in the same manner that the UPA did in office – a self-defeating argument for its cause. Congress leaders have alternated this cry with the defensive clause that an individual leader’s misdemeanour cannot be linked to the party as a whole.

Somewhat farcically, former UPA minister Chidambaram, when confronted with the issue in an NDTV interview, explained that the reason they had not drafted a written agreement about the disclosure of names was that the elections were announced before they could. Even more bizarrely, he said that any government that had been in power for 10-15 years is bound to face corruption charges, and blamed it on the “excesses of individuals”.

There is a danger of black money becoming a pure election issue.

And the figures are overwhelming, the stakes too high, for us to allow that.

Unofficial calculations estimate that nearly $ 500 billion has been stashed away by Indian taxpayers in foreign bank accounts. Washington-based think tank Global Financial Integrity put the figure at $ 460 billion.

The problem is not just money that has been stashed abroad. A leaked report of a study that the government had commissioned estimated that about $ 1.4 trillion, more than three times that which is supposed to be held in foreign banks, has been hidden in India itself.

Where is all the money going?

Why do we still have a tax deficit of more than $ 100 billion?

If political parties are to avoid accusations of wrongdoing, they must be willing to be accountable.

For one thing, I don’t see why all donations to party campaign funds are not made public. The current figure for donors’ names to be made public is ridiculously high at Rs 20,000. Most parties claim that the chunk of their donations is from individual contributions for less than that amount. If that is indeed the case, should the threshold for declaration not be lower?

It would be far easier for the government to track black money inside the country, since it doesn’t have any other country’s regulations to deal with.

But, is the government willing to search it out?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Season's Greetings

(Published in The Friday Times, on October 24, 2014, retrieved from

It’s bad enough when you’re South Asian and have a harvest festival to celebrate every couple of months. It’s worse when you belong to a secular country, and are considered part of the pseudo-intellectual liberal brigade. As it if were not enough to be Hindu, and have a festival for some god or the other through the year, you have to prove your liberal street-cred by keeping track of other religious festivals too.

And the time of the year I absolutely detest is when it draws to a close. There’s Dussehra, Eid, Diwali, Christmas, New Year...

Now, the reason I dislike festivals is not simply that I’m an unpleasant, misanthropic person, which I undoubtedly am. My major grouse with festivals used to be that I had to wake up early and stumble about, trying to win a race to one of the bathrooms in the house. Another equally major grouse used to be the fact that relatives tend to arrive with sweets, food and seemingly endless time to while away at our home.

However, over the past two decades or so, my list has expanded substantially:

The Cards

I don’t even know why people send out cards anymore. I don’t really care much about the environment, but I’d assume the sort of people who diligently note down addresses and waste money on postage tend to want to save trees. Unfortunately, though, you have these NGOs that have made a profitable business out of trinkets fashioned by people who are somehow disadvantaged or from materials that are recycled. And so, every year, I find myself at the receiving end of converted garbage bags and toilet paper, sent out with the vague legend ‘Season’s Greetings’ and a note about the NGO which manufactures them. I have a choice between being rude, and forcing myself to thank the senders. The former fosters unpleasantness, and the latter fuels their enthusiasm. So, I have taken to pretending my cards got lost in the post.

The Texts

Oh, god, those “We wish you and your family a happy, prosperous, fulfilling blah-blah-blah” texts! Someone should make those a capital offence. First, you’re flooded with texts from unknown numbers. Then, you’re flooded with texts from people whose numbers you have saved. The stingy ones send them out a few days in advance, so they won’t be charged at a premium. The stingier ones send their texts on WhatsApp, so they won’t be charged at all. As a result, I’ve become allergic to the words, “Same to you”, which remains my standard response.

The Cross-Religious Reach-Out

There’s just no way around this. When someone who doesn’t belong to your religion reaches out to wish you for a religious festival, you simply have to make sure you wish him or her back for at least one reciprocative festival. It doesn’t matter if the two of you are atheists. It doesn’t matter if you believe the entire tradition of wishing people on days that have little personal significance was a Western cultural construct imposed on our colonised societies. It doesn’t matter if you believe that the idea of exchanging calls and cards and texts and whatnot was a capitalist conspiracy hatched by Hallmark and telecom companies. You simply have to reciprocate the token gesture.

The Facebook Tag

All I ask is, if you must tag me on to the picture of a bursting firecracker or a Christmas tree or whatever, at least do me the service of making sure it looks nice. My ‘Photos of You’ page is filled with tacky images of lit diyas and random vegetation in primary colours. Aside from the fact that it hurts my eyes and speaks ill of my taste in both imagery and friends, this also ensures that I get a flood of emails, conveying that each of the other hundred people tagged in that image has wished everyone else.

The Begging Bowl

Whether it’s the watchman from the neighbouring block of flats, or the person who claims he cleans the street every day, or the postman, or the paper delivery boy, or the gym trainer, or the maid, or the gardener, or the auto-rickshaw drivers from the stand down the road, during the so-called “festive season”, they’re drawn to your door like maggots to a corpse. They stand outside, waiting to wish you. They introduce themselves – for they tend to make their respective appearances so infrequently during the rest of the year that your memory’s facial recognition system proves ineffective – and then wish you. The wish is essentially a demand for money. You are not sure what impact most of these people have on your lives, or vice versa. You are fairly sure you – or the government – pay(s) the rest a salary for the work they do. Yet, you have to fork out money if you want your paper and letters delivered, your road to stink a little less, and fewer thefts in the year ahead.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

You don't say...

(Published in The Friday Times, on October 17, 2014, retrieved from

Picture Courtesy: The Friday Times

When I was a child, my mother worried that I would not ever make friends. In kindergarten, I didn’t wave goodbye to people. “They pinch my cheeks,” I used to explain. In elementary school, I ignored people who called out to say bye. “All they do in class is talk,” I used to explain. In middle school, I was never recruited into a gang – now, these gangs were essentially groups of boys and girls who shared lunch and gave themselves ridiculous and usually alliterative names, like, say, ‘Back-bench Blazers’ or ‘Right-wall Rockets’, based on where they sat in the classroom. In high school, I managed to make conversation with a few people, and even invited them home – an experience which taught me never to be the host, because you spend most of your time fetching food and water. In college, I shunned the even more pathetic all-girl gangs, until I found myself banded into a pleasant lot of fellow-misfits.

I thought I was not made for friendships. I shudder at the idea of people double dipping into each other’s food. I balk at the idea of having to ‘plan’ outings to the movies, and wait for people to schedule it in.

But, then, I discovered that what I had was an allergy to Conversation Hogs.

These are people who will go on and on about themselves, even in a group of six. When everyone gradually gives up trying to get a word in, this grand, self-obsessed speaker will assume that it is not out of listlessness, but out of enthralment with what he or she is saying. It does not strike the Hog that no one could possibly care about what his or her nephew or pet poodle did, or why he or she had a fight with the spouse. It probably does not matter to the Hog who is punishing us with a long-winded, oral film review that he or she has already lost everyone at, “So, I watched Haider...”

Unfortunately, at some point in my adulthood, I began to make the acquaintance of Conversation Hogs, and have been spending the better part of a year trying to shake them off.

The problem with people like me is that our boredom is often mistaken for speechless fascination with the subject at hand. And, for people who like to talk, there is no company that is more agreeable than people who don’t like to talk. The fact that you don’t like to listen either is of no account, because – to them – as long as you don’t get up and leave, declaring “This conversation is too dull for me to continue”, or hang up the phone, you’re an audience for their monologues.

I avoid eating at restaurants. It’s become rather easy, these days, since everyone is so into health. “I don’t eat outside,” you can say, and, after your interlocutor indulges himself or herself in a half-hour homily on how he or she has become health-conscious too, you’re let off the phone.

But, it’s trickier to avoid phone calls.

Often, I pretend that I have a sore throat so that I don’t have to pick up calls. However, though my throat is fairly susceptible to infection, there are times when I am not ill. And, after a week of people anxiously texting to ask “How’s your throat now?”, I do have to maintain my credibility by assuring them I’m not down with a superbug.

The worst is when you return from a trip.

“Tell me all about London!”

“We have to meet and talk about Paris!”

“So, are you back from Dubai?”

You make the courtesy call. All is well, you say, you’re just jetlagged, and will talk in a while. The interlocutor has no intention of heeding that. He or she will take off on the last word you spoke – ‘jetlagged’, and tell you about how long the jetlag from each trip on which he or she has been lasted. An hour later, drained, you hang up.

Within days, there’s that dreaded message again: “Are you over jetlag now?”

Right. So, you think, you’ll speak about the Eiffel Tower for five minutes and get it over with. But then, you didn’t realise that asking you about Paris was essentially an excuse for the Conversation Hog to start pontificating on his or her visit to New York.

Not only am I reticent in the presence of a Hog, I also dislike interrupting almost as much as I dislike being interrupted.

Eventually, I worked out a solution. I would not stop talking if someone were to interrupt. I would go on and finish my sentence, and then search for something else – anything else, even garbled sentences – and yap so much that the Hog would become the Hogged.

So far, my parallel talking record has been two whole minutes, before the Hog gave up.

I am happy to report that I have not met a single person whom I did not want to meet in the last week, and I have had to screen fewer than ten calls.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Why the Yesudas-Kiran Desai duet is worrying

(Published in, on October 15, 2014, retrieved from

For some weeks now, everyone has been finding a stake in singer Yesudas’ comment about women and jeans. Did he have a right to say what he said? Should his celebrity status have made him think twice? Does he hold moral responsibility for encouraging the nincompoops who say women are “asking for it” by wearing the clothes they wear? Does his opinion have a bearing on the women in his family?

The tabloids and newspapers have been frantically approaching celebrities for their take on the singer’s comments. An FIR was filed almost as soon as he made the comment.

Around the same time, another article surfaced, one in which Booker Prize-winning Indian-origin author Kiran Desai spoke about how India is meant for Indian clothes, and – even more bizarrely – how it doesn’t make sense to wear sarees in the West, apparently because it is impossible to maintain a saree without a bevy of servants.

Of course, everyone – including celebrities – has a right to say what s/he wants to say.

But, what makes me cringe is the crudity of the manner in which both these celebrities – one of whom has won acclaim for her prowess in language – chose to word their opinions.

Yesudas is reported to have said: “Women should not cause trouble to others by wearing jeans....What should be covered should be covered.”

First up, the argument that women are “causing trouble to others” by their choice of clothing is the same one on which the mandate of the burkha – which to me is the most abhorrent of garments – is based.

Secondly, who died and made Yesudas the authority on “what should be covered”?

Thirdly, what do jeans not cover that any other piece of clothing does? Does a woman commit an obscene act by revealing the shape of her legs, or half her legs, depending on the style of jeans she wears?

As for Kiran Desai’s comments, I can only hope she was grossly misquoted in the Guardian interview. Not only does she say that one looks “awful” wearing Western clothes in India, an inference supposedly gleaned from the fact that “everyone comments on how awful you look right away”, but she also says that women in New York “have no pride” because they wear “little high heels” and “tiny clothes” that “look horrible”.

She spoke of how an aunt of hers was forced into jeans by her children after 9/11 – because, hey, why try beating a stereotype, eh? – and how she would ideally come up with a uniform for the whole world, because that’s the best solution to her theory that “fashions don't carry over, so if you fly between places you will inevitably look wrong in the country you're going to”.

The problem is not with celebrities holding an opinion, or voicing it.

The problem is that the opinion of a celebrity is often treated as fact. And it is not.

For instance, I don’t know of any women who painstakingly wash their sarees by hand, starch them, and fold them with the help of servants. I wear sarees at least three times a week, and I machine wash all of them. Ironically, I wore sarees to several events at a literary festival in Paris, at which I suspect Kiran Desai did the controversial interview, and I did not feel out of place.

As for Yesudas’ litany on what women should wear, his stature as a prominent artist in society immediately lends authority to his opinion.

Technically, his comments only make him one among several millions of perverts who believe that a woman’s clothing is to blame for her being at the receiving end of sexual harassment. But to all those other millions of perverts, the fact that a respected member of society agrees with them lends legitimacy to their views. The fact that he is respected for his art, and not for his beliefs, will not matter to them.

We live in a society where a newspaper that brands itself India’s leading daily, The Times of India sees fit to respond to Deepika Padukone’s tweet, which took objection to their posting a video of her “cleavage show”, by calling her a hypocrite.

This may well be the ugliest article I have read. The reporter who has written this piece accuses Deepika Padukone of having “flaunted her body while dancing on stage, posing for magazine covers, or doing photo ops at movie promotional functions”, which somehow makes her a hypocrite for objecting to the paper’s official handle tweeting “OMG! Deepika’s cleavage show!”

Even more crudely, the paper faulted her argument that male actors were not objectified the way their female counterparts are, with this gem: “Deepika, just for the record, we do not zoom into a woman’s vagina or show her nipples.”

Politicians regularly state that women are “asking for it” with the clothes they wear.

Under these circumstances, ideally, they shouldn’t find support in celebrities.

But, more importantly, when a celebrity does shoot off his or her mouth without thinking, it is crucial to counter them.

Parking Tips

(Published in The Friday Times, on October 10, 2014, retrieved from

Picture Courtesy: The Friday Times
There are only three reasons for a desi security guard, taxi driver or waiter to be polite to you – you’re a foreigner; he expects a tip; both.
Of all the people who want your gratitude on banknotes, the species that irritates me most is the security-guard-who-doubles-as-parking-assistant.
He makes his appearance right after you have eased your car into a slot. You could have done with his help in finding space among the cars parked across two slots. You could have done with his help in making sure you didn’t scratch a car on your way in.
But he manifests himself right as you’ve turned the engine off and are about to get out – he whistles in panic, striking out his free arm, his facial expression reminiscent of Sunny Deol in one of those films where he’s about to rescue the heroine from a fire (caused, of course, by a bomb blast, courtesy Kashmiri militants).
When he reaches your car, he positions himself behind your rear windshield, frowns in concentration and flutters one hand toward himself, while the other supports the whistle, which is working overtime.
“Back, back. Slight left,” he calls.
“Why?” you ask.
His whistle answers: “Puhishoo, puhishoo, PUHISHOOOOO!”
You sigh, and reverse. Before you’ve moved six inches, his eyes bulge and he bangs on your windshield to ask you to stop. He then runs to the front of the car, and wags his panicky hand at you. You edge forward and stop. He glares at you impatiently, willing your car to move a micro-inch forward. Then, his eyes bulge again and he bangs your bonnet in horror, because an extra micro-inch will end the world.
“The bonnet!” you shriek, “You made a dent!”
He ponders for a second, and then yelps and draws one knee to his chest.
Madam, you ran over my leg!” he moans, and then, adds magnanimously, “but it’s okay.” He limps off.
You meet him again an hour later, just as you’ve pulled your car out. Holding up his panicky whistle and panickier hand, he throws himself about your car and then grins ingratiatingly, while saluting you clumsily. “Good evening, madam.”
He then places his foot just behind your wheel – a clever reminder of the damage he has already accused you of wreaking, as well as a preventive measure, in case you intend to leave without paying him for his unsolicited services.
You roll down the window. “What?”
Good evening, madam.” Salute.
Now, you enter a battle of wills. You raise your eyebrows. He raises the obsequiousness of his grin. You smile and begin to raise your window. He raises the stakes by jamming his foot against the wheel.
Finally, he decides the games are over. He holds out his palm and demands, “Tea, madam.” He then points at his foot. “You even ran over my leg,” he says, as if he were indulging you in some kinky, sadomasochistic role play.
Having lost all my small change to the vandals of my car, I contemplated carrying around a flask of tea with me. However, an objective analysis of my driving skills suggested that my seats would consume most of the beverage, and I abandoned the idea.
I decided the only way to stop paying these self-appointed parking assistants to do what they’re paid to do was to outrun them.
Since then, my motto has been: “Carry on, regardless.”
I have lost a heel from my one good pair of party slippers. I have nearly lost my toe to a tip-demander who decided to prove his worth by banging my door shut before I had got in. I have nearly squashed the foot of another during a race that was headed to a photo finish until he fell over. I have left a few square inches of my sari under the boot of another.
But, one day, I met my match. He guided another car to halt right behind my car, blocking my way. He then marched up to my window and banged on the glass. Salute. “Tea madam.”
“What for?”
“One minute, madam.”
He did take a minute to whistle till I nearly went deaf, urging the driver of the other car to move till I had a whole micro-inch of extra space.
“Ask him to move some more.”
More, madam?” he gave me a long-suffering glance, and then hunched along to the other driver and said, apologetically, “Sir, move a little bit. Madam needs more space. Lady driver.”
When ‘Sir’ had sighed, shaken his head and moved his car forward another micro-inch, enabling me to squeeze past, the parking assistant banged my bonnet again. “Tea, madam.” With a flourish, he indicated the luxurious space accorded to me.
“What for? Isn’t that why they pay you your salary?”
“Madam!” he gasped, appalled at my grasp of corporate economics, “I could have just been sitting in my chair.”
As I parted with my last coin, I thought wistfully of the many appraisals at which I could have used that line.
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