Monday, September 29, 2014

Morning People

(Published in The Friday Times, on September 26, 2014, retrieved from http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/morning-people/)


It is often said that the night belongs to poets and prostitutes. This pronouncement is usually made by poets. Though I cannot say with certainty that I have a legitimate claim to either title, I do like the night. Recently, there has been a spate of articles, likely based on random and possibly unscientific research, which suggest that most geniuses work late into the night.
Nothing makes me happier than reading such articles. Part of the reason is, perhaps, that I like those relatives who harangue me about my nocturnal wakefulness to feel that they are more incompetent than I am. But, the most important reason is that I have always disliked people who look after their own health, and it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy to have seemingly definitive proof that they are intellectually inferior to the rest of humanity.
There’s something repulsive about people who avoid certain foods, try to protect their livers from lubrication by alcohol, and exercise for any reason other than short-term gains, such as fitting into a new designer dress or playing havoc on the hormones of a crush.
And these people are out in numbers before the night has given way to the morning, and the poets have gone home to write about the prostitutes.
Motivated by the honourable intention of wanting to look ravishing enough in a Size 6 dress to seduce a prospective boyfriend, I joined a running club and a cycling club. I believed I would meet people who are as shallow as I am.
Now, the first thing that is wrong with these clubs is that they meet early in the morning – around 5:00 am, which is often earlier than my bedtime.
The second thing wrong with these clubs is that they are teeming with people whose motivation is the idea of fitness and good health.
There is nothing more depressing than staggering sleepily out of one’s car to see a bright-eyed runner doing push-ups. Well, except staggering sleepily out of one’s car to see a bright-eyed CEO getting ready to cycle, three hours after he landed in the country.
“I got picked up by my driver from the airport. I had some khana-vaana there itself. You know, at the Business Class lounge. I went home. I told my wife I am going to the shower, and then I changed into these things, picked up by sneakers, and took out my cycle. She calls me ‘maniac’,” he laughs boisterously to the admiring engineer who is hoping to be hired by him someday.
From the tone of his voice, you would think ‘maniac’ was his wife’s codeword for ‘George Clooney’.
There is always that woman who realised after putting herself through childbirth that her true calling was running. She hopes that women’s magazines and newspaper supplements across the country will send rookie reporters in search of stories to her, so that she can start a trend. She also hopes that sycophantic 20-year-olds will gasp when she casually mentions her children, and yelp, “Oh my GOD! You have a child?! I would never have thought! I thought you were younger than me! I thought you were in school or something!”
There is also that guy who is something of an evangelist for the morning masochism. He will corner you as you yawn and stretch and try to recall the face of the man or woman for whom you want to shed the extra pounds.
“You know, I used to weigh 90 kilos. Now, my weight is 62,” he will say, and then beam.
Chances are that you will miss your cue to trill, “You?! You were 90 kilos? Okay, wait...you, you mean actually you? NINETY?! Tell me your secret!”
If you don’t say that, in those exact words, he will look at you, nod, raise his eyebrows and contort his lips. “Ninety. Imagine. Me.”
You finally mumble, “Really?”
“Yes. Nobody believes me. You can’t imagine, no? Me, ninety?” he laughs. “I used to find it difficult to climb one flight of stairs. Now, I run up all six floors to my office. My secretary – she’s this chit of a girl, just out of college, and I’m 45, you won’t believe – she looks at me and says, ‘How do you do it, sir?’ I tell her it is all willpower. I feel so much healthier now, so much happier, so much more...”
“Loquacious?” you want to ask.
For my part, I gave both the running and the cycling clubs a fair try. I showed up once for the running, and managed to hurl myself through roads whose pores exhaled the odours of sewage. I even set my alarm on another occasion. I borrowed my brother’s cycle, pedalled from the start point, went home, had coffee, and returned to the start point after an hour. When everyone thought I had completed the 15-kilometre trail, I knew the researchers were right.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Vacation blues

(Published in The Friday Times, on September 19, 2014, retrieved from http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/vacation-blues/)

Every few months, I put up a cryptic status on Facebook: “Won’t be reachable for a month and a half on phone. If you need to contact me – which you shouldn’t, since I’m unemployed, misanthropic and reluctant to help anyone with anything – use email or Facebook.”
For a while, the response was satisfying: concerned messages about my well-being and my family’s, usually brimming with thinly-disguised curiosity – “Heyyyyy...Hope all well...your post got me worried...family and everyone okay?” – which could be ignored with, “All well, thanks. *Smiley*”
Eventually people figured out that this meant I was going on vacation.
If you’re from this part of the world, and you’re going “abroad”, this can mean only two things – souvenirs and courier service.
Suddenly, you’re bombarded with messages from people, asking where you’re headed. Whether you’re headed to New York or some deserted part of Mongolia, someone who is connected to you on Facebook will know someone who is a janitor, or student, or both, in your destination. He or she will beg you to take something. Why not send it through FedEx? Well, that doesn’t have the “personal touch”, you see. In other words, they can save a few hundred rupees by swallowing a valuable chunk of your vacation time.
And then, there are those students and janitors who will ask you to fetch something from home.
“Hey! Can I ask you for a teensy favour? Do you think you can fit in my sweater / bra / phone / iPod / hard drive/ shoes? I left them behind last time!”
First of all, all these commodities are available across the world. In fact, they slowly made their progress from the West to East over the last century.
Second of all, someone who is stupid enough to leave any of the above behind deserves to live without them for the rest of his or her miserable life.
Or, they ask: “Hey, I really miss aam papad from the store near my parents’ house. Pretty please, bring?”
A friend told me that she knew someone who had posted about his imminent return from the US, saying: “No I will not carry a parcel or buy something for you. Thanks for missing me, guys.”
I was inspired for a few seconds. But, knowing the basket cases I have on my Friends list, I’m fairly sure that someone will post, “Hey, gurl, t hel wit d ppl who don mis u, u r awsum n remember it, luv u, muah. <3 font="">
I will not know how to react – should I be deeply embarrassed about knowing people like this, because this could estrange me from the Facebook friends I actually respect? Should I be angry? If so, should I be more annoyed by the use of quicktext, or by the content, or by the run-on sentences? Should I delete the comment, and then the commenter?
Another consequence of being on vacation is that people relentlessly follow your posts. Now, I don’t put up many pictures when I’m on vacation. If you feel the need to Facebook your every move, you probably don’t like either the place or the company, or you’re desperate for people to know you like the place and/or the company.
Yet, when I last returned from Europe, someone I know said, “Hey, I saw you were posting from your phone though you said you weren’t going to be using it. What sort of data plan did you get? And do you have the SIM card? I can save a few euros if I take it from you instead of buying a new one. We’re going in two weeks.”
About a month ago, I was selected as one of five winners of a fiction contest. We are being sent to Paris to attend the Writers of India Festival, which conducted the contest in association with Columbia University and Caravan magazine.
Somehow, people interpreted this as: “I’m going on a sponsored sex romp to Paris and, of course, it will be my pleasure to satisfy your liquor and liqueur needs, flouting all customs regulations. Also, I exist solely to bring back fridge magnets.”
God. I cannot tell you how much I despise being asked for fridge magnets. To begin with, I think it is the lamest idea that ever became a success, IQ no bar. Second, I don’t see what the point of a souvenir bought by someone else is. Isn’t the whole point of a souvenir the memory of a moment or a trip? Third, all these collectors of magnets have specifications – they want “something funky, not the clichéd Eiffel Tower types that you get in the souvenir shops.”
Really? Why don’t I get a mould made of my middle finger with the Notre Dame Cathedral on top? Or how about I get a mould made of your butt and stick the Eiffel Tower where it belongs? Are those funky enough to merit a place on your fridge?
And then there’s this vicarious voyeurism: “Hey, let me know how good Frenchmen are in bed.”
Whoa, how did you figure out my life’s ambition is to walk around Paris with a placard that says: ‘TOURIST. RESEARCHING SEX SKILLS OF FRENCHMEN. VOLUNTEERS PLEASE APPROACH’?
The silver lining is that about three out of the five hundred people on your Facebook will send you a list of must-see places and tell you how to navigate the public transport. For those three, you can walk into a souvenir shop and buy knockoffs of the Mona Lisa, feeling no resentment.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Digital Pains

(Published in The Friday Times, on September 17, 2014, retrieved from http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/digital-pains/)



Remember when we didn’t have email and Facebook and mobile phones? We couldn’t pretend we were on important calls to avoid relatives. We were forced into long conversations on the landline before the era of caller IDs and blocking options. We had to actually go to birthday parties, instead of tagging old pictures with sappy messages and writing on Facebook walls.
If you were born in the Eighties, you know what this is like. And if you’re misanthropic – which is really just the politically correct term for ‘anti-stupid’ – you know why you thank the multiple inventors of the internet and social networks every day, for minimising the obligation of face-to-face interaction with people.
If you have a reasonably good memory, you also remember the days when you had to book a trunk call to reach people who lived in other cities and countries. Everyone had to yell on the phone, and then wait for the sound wave to travel to the other person, so that conversations usually went like this: “Hello?...Hello?...Are you there?” “Hello?...Can you hear me?...Yes, you can!” “Ah...I thought I...Yes, what?” “Sorry?...Can you hear me?” “Hello? Helloooooo?” “HELLO!” “Yes! Finally!” “What? Final exams, did you say?” “HELLO! PAH!”
Some of your relatives still tend to yell over the mobile phone when they make long distance calls.
Now, all was well when the generation we think of as ‘adults’ – the generation which is anywhere between fifty and ninety now – thought Viber was a sex toy. However, a combination of émigré children and affordable smart-phones has awakened them to the financial advantages of ‘getting tech savvy’.  Nothing excites a middle-aged South Asian more than the prospect of saving money. Except the prospect of ‘actually seeing people in America!’
And so, one day, I stumbled out of my room for coffee, and heard an aunt holding forth on how she speaks to her daughter, while the others listened in fascination and asked intelligent questions like, “Spike is the same as Viber?”
“No, no,” the aunt said, patiently, “Not Spike. It’s Sky-pee. That’s for the computer. Viber is for the phone.”
“I think it’s Skype, not Sky-pee,” another relative interjected, “And the best is Google Hangouts. You can use it on both phone and computer. My son installed everything in my phone before he left.”
Who would grudge a loving mother the chance to ensure her offspring are eating roti every day, and also using the pressure cooker she sent along, undeterred by the prospect of her kids being questioned by the FBI in case there was another cooker bomb explosion?
However, I take issue with the confidence they gain from this. Next thing you know, they’re on Facebook. Thankfully, I don’t have a Facebooking mum. When she was contemplating it, I said, “Obviously, all my friends will add you. And then, there’s this socialite circle. And your patients.” She shuddered and refrained.
Unfortunately, not all ‘adults’ are asocial.
When uncle-aunty types add me, I tend to put them on the Restricted list. But, every now and then, I write a Public post, so that people will not figure out they are on Restricted. Every time I post a quip under Public, they read it and diligently counter the flippancy with aspiring wisdom.
One day, I quoted Seinfeld: “I'm tired of pretending I'm excited every time it's somebody's birthday.
What is the big deal? How many times do we have to celebrate that someone was born? Every year, over and over. All you did was not die for 12 months. That's all you've done, as far as I could tell.”
Pat came the response from a friend’s father: “Imagine living a life where every day is just as joyous and you receive gifts, cards (not any more in these days of email) and good wishes from friends and family. As well as a day of celebration, a birthday is also a time for reflecting on your life and reviewing what the intervening years have brought you. In the meantime, why not live each day as your birthday? Why miss out on an excuse to celebrate life? If it sounded philosophical, it was not meant to be!!!”
I’m not sure what irritates me more about the last statement – its inherent contradiction or the multiple exclamation marks.
Worse, they poke. How do you react when you find the biology teacher of whom you were terrified in school has poked you? And how do you react when you find your aunt has gone and poked your father-in-law, who has poked her back, and they are now playing Candy Crush Saga with each other?
The way I see it, we only have two choices – either all social networks need to set an upper age limit; or, we need to stop young people from crossing the seas.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Kashmir floods: Of prejudice and petty politics

(Published in Sify.com, on September 13, 2014, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/kashmir-floods-of-prejudice-and-petty-politics-news-columns-ojnj17ibfjfaj.html)


Every day, even as the newspapers carry reports of the destruction wrought by the flooding of the Jhelum river, they also carry heart-warming stories of rescue.
So far, the Indian Army, Indian Air Force, National Disaster Response Force and Indian Navy have managed to evacuate and save tens of thousands of people. Across the state, Kashmiris in unaffected areas have opened their doors to strangers. Volunteers are using the social networks to source as much help and donation as possible, and ensuring that they reach the victims of the flood.
However, there are several virulent posts in the social media that make me wonder whether we cannot leave our petty politics behind even at a time of disaster.
Of course, there have been several condemnable incidents in the Valley – of army vehicles being pelted with stones even as they carried supplies, of boats that were kept on stand-by for soldiers being grabbed by mobs, of helicopters loaded with relief material not being allowed to land at the governor’s residence, of an NDRF trooper being attacked by flood victims.
A local Kannada newspaper, called Vijayvani, carried a story about a family of nineteen people who were reportedly stopped by a mob and forced to shout “Pakistan Zindabad” before being allowed to cross over to safety.
In disaster-hit areas, people are bound to react in panic. Publicity-mongers will take advantage of a situation to get themselves noticed, and sadists will take advantage of people’s despair to get their kicks.
However, I am worried by the anger I see on internet forums where the situation – or the stories emerging from Srinagar – are being discussed.
One of the most common sentiments is that the people of Kashmir are being rescued by the Armed Forces, against which they have railed for so long, and that there is some sort of poetic justice in this.
Now, it is undeniable that the Armed Forces have done a stellar job of rescuing as many people as they can, just as they have done time and again, every time a disaster has struck anywhere in India. They have formed human bridges, taken out boats to almost inaccessible areas, and there have been individual feats of supreme mental and physical strength, such as the case of Wing Commander Abhijit Bali heading out to save his family and neighbours, and swimming 20 kilometres back to his base.
However, we must recognise that the heroics of the Armed Forces in responding to a crisis situation are completely unrelated to the debate over the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The AFSPA is frightening in its provisions, which ensure immunity to the men in uniform for a vast range of quite horrific acts.
In any conflict zone – Kashmir, Sri Lanka, parts of North East India – people are often caught between the authorities and the militants. In most cases, they are resentful of both, but more outspoken about their resentment against the authorities.
To connect the rescue operations with the protests against AFSPA is as unwarranted – and bereft of all logic – as the justification of the forced migration of Kashmiri pandits on the grounds that atrocities are being committed against Kashmiri Muslims by the state.
Facebook posts about the family that was allegedly stopped by separatists were followed by disheartening debates – disheartening because they show that even at a time of calamity, we cannot leave behind our prejudices.
In a country like India, which was forged out of hundreds of little kingdoms, and where people have various identities based on religion, ethnicity, language, caste and culture, we must accept that we will never truly be free of conflict.
Several separatist movements have been successful, evidenced by the fact that most of our states are fragments of what used to be larger administrative areas.
However, the ugliness comes in when we refuse to allow each other’s opinions and insist on an absolute truth.
The fact is, there is rampant militancy in any conflict zone, and stringent measures are often necessary to curtail them.
But, since it is impossible to identify with certainty in all suspected cases whether someone is a militant or affiliated with militants, there are bound to be ‘mistakes’. Unfortunately, these so-called ‘mistakes’ cost human lives and livelihoods.
There can be no doubt that an act with draconian provisions should, at the very least, be revisited regularly. The consequences of the act should be analysed, and the relevance of its stipulations determined.
The relationship between the Armed Forces and the people of Kashmir is a complicated one.
It is unfair to both the people and the Forces to see it in the context of the rescue operations during the ongoing flood.
And for us to focus on politics at this time rather than show basic human compassion for victims of the flood is reprehensible.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

My Madras

(Published in Soul Connect, India Today, on September 5, 2014, retrieved from http://indiatoday.intoday.in/technology/story/soul-connect/1/381067.html)

How does one describe a city that is part of one’s soul? I grew up in Madras, and was drawn back to my home every time I moved away. The sound of lapping waves is as familiar to me as the popping of mustard seeds in cooking oil. The moisture-laden air is ingrained into my skin, which bursts into scaly webs when I leave the coast.

Madras is often associated with conservatism, Mylapore mami-mamas, filter coffee, idlis, the Margazhi Season, silk sarees, gold jewellery, Bharatanatyam and Caranatic music. But how does one capture the shades of each aspect? How does one explain that the men who sing Carnatic music during the Season will jam with keyboards and guitars during Novemberfest, and you don’t know whether their earrings are a tradition or a style statement?
To me, Madras is not about its sabhas and beaches and once-avaricious autos. It’s not about a donor heart being transported in an ambulance in record time – a triumph for the traffic police rather than commuters, who are as nasty as they are everywhere. It’s not about the Bridge-playing ‘Club aunty-uncles’, IIT Saarang, The Hindu, Theosophical Society, Egmore Museum, Vandalur Zoo, Guindy Park, or the beach-house parties along East Coast Road.
Madras, to me, is the place which allows people to be. You could go to a Bengal Association pujo or an Iranian restaurant’s Sunday brunch, and forget you live in Madras. Other cities slot people into pockets – Malleswaram for the Mandiams, CR Park for the Bengalis, Chembur for the Tam Brahms. But Madras opens its arms to you – it pours itself into you, and absorbs you into itself.
Religion and ethnicity don’t matter. You could buy a dosa outside Columbia University, and its famous seller will grin at you and ask, “Madras-aa?” The Uncle who owns an Urdu bookstore will yell in Dakhani to his daughter, “Main aatoon, so!” and turn back to his conversation with the priest from the Parthasarathy Temple, and the Marwari owner of the sports goods shop, about the annoying one-ways in their Triplicane. Malayali Christian students of Kalakshetra will speak Brahmin Tamil. You giggle with your Bengali friend as his mother speaks about taking the “Adyar Breeze” to “Besant Nagar Bitch”. You collapse with your Sindhi friend when her mother bursts into the broken ‘Madras Tamil’ she has picked up from her maid. You explain to the American who greets your friend with, “Vanakkam, sandhichadhil mikka  magizhchi” that she doesn’t understand him because she’s from Delhi.
This is a city where you could sit with the same person, and bond over a hilarious T Rajender video, discuss a Bertolucci film and laugh at a Gabbar meme. This is Madras.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Why is the onus on women to protect themselves?

(Published in Sify.com, on September 7, 2014, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/why-is-the-onus-on-women-to-protect-themselves-news-columns-ojhkVGcffjbei.html)


Picture courtesy: Sify.com

Yesterday, I read an article by a young woman about how she was molested on the Delhi metro. She had felt something repeatedly bumping into her. She turned around, to see a man, who carried no baggage and whose hands were on the railing. It turned out he had unzipped his trousers and was leaning into her.
When she began to yell at the man, other commuters remained silent, and some even smirked, she says.
The woman in question managed to drag the man out of the compartment at the next station, give him chase and file an FIR. But two aspects of her experience trouble me intensely.
One is that people asked her why she chose to take the general compartment, rather than the ladies’ compartment. This immediately puts the onus on the woman to look after herself, by essentially avoiding all possible contact with men.
The second is that, when the man who had sexually harassed her said he had touched her with his hand, one of the policemen asked, “Why would this girl lie? After all she is taking the blame on herself.”
Somehow, the woman has made herself culpable by telling the truth about the fact that a man committed an obscene act, through which she was victimised.
Our ‘euphemisms’ for sexual harassment range from ‘eve-teasing’ to ‘outraging the modesty of a woman’. In the vernacular, they have to do with stripping a woman of her izzat (Hindi-Urdu for ‘honour’) or karpu (Tamil for ‘chastity’).
Every day, women encounter instances of people asking them to ‘protect themselves’ by refraining from either taking on a group of men who bother them in some way, or from dressing in the way that they want to.
Several times at the cinema, when gangs of men hoot and whistle and comment through the dialogue, I have asked them to shut up, and called in the manager when they refuse to calm down. Instead of supporting me, most people around me tell me it is not a good idea to “provoke” them, or ask what I will do if they were to follow me and attack me after the film.
 A woman can “ask for it” simply by being confident, simply by assuming that people in a civilised society will adhere to the law.
The worst part of it is that it is often women who reinforce this idea.
One day, at a reputed gym, I was accosted by a woman, who said, "Can I tell you something? Wear a longer top, because, you know...guys".
I wanted to tell her that the only person whom I have noticed staring at me was she herself.
I wanted to tell her that I would rather have the "guys" stare at me because at least they would only be evaluating my appearance, whereas she was evaluating my character.
I wanted to tell her that I felt far more violated by her comment than by any man or woman who had ever checked me out.
I wanted to ask her whether she thought I should also wear a burkha while working out and carry pepper spray, “because...you know...guys”.
What is the point in asking society as a whole to respect a woman’s right to go about her daily life without being violated in some form when even women can’t respect each other’s right to do so?
Recently, following the mass leak of nude pictures of celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton and Kirsten Dunst, through an iCloud hack, the big argument on the internet was that these women ought to have been more careful.
Basically, if you don’t want people looking at your naked pictures online, don’t take naked pictures.
Now, a contemporary artist who goes by XVALA wants to display the leaked images on canvas, as some sort of subversive statement against invasion of privacy.
Some years ago, Disney forced Vanessa Hudgens to issue an apology for her “lapse in judgement” when nude pictures of her were leaked.
Women are constantly hemmed in by a combination of our voyeurism and misguided ideas of morality.
Even mainstream media outlets routinely put up pictures of ‘wardrobe malfunctions’ that actresses have, often throwing in catty comments about these women’s choice of clothes.
It is only now that we have come round to accepting the idea that what a woman wears is irrelevant in case of a sexual assault.
It is about time we acknowledged that a woman is not “asking for it” when she uses the general compartment of a metro, or takes pictures of herself to be seen by those whom she chooses to show them to.
It is about time we stopped putting the onus on women to ‘protect themselves’ by staying sheltered in every way they can think of.
Because that is the only way we will stop hearing murmurs that the victim of the Delhi bus rape should have “been more careful”, and chosen to take a taxi rather than risk public transport at that time of night.
In a society that is truly free, a woman should be able to walk on the road, wearing what she chooses, at any time of day or night.
And if she were to come to harm, the blame ought to be on the perpetrator, and not on the victim.

Friday, September 05, 2014

“We regret to inform..”

(Published in The Friday Times, on September 5, 2014, retrieved from http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/we-regret-to-inform/)


Picture Courtesy: The Friday Times

For a little over a week now, my dread of being nominated for the ice bucket challenge has been superseded by my dread of being nominated for that ten-book challenge on Facebook. The fact is, this new challenge has made me reconsider several friendships. How can you respect someone who says the drivel written by Paulo Coelho or Khaled Hosseini or – horror of all horrors – a book like The Secret ‘stayed with’ him or her? Those are the books I gift to people I intensely dislike.
So, before anyone could nominate me, I set myself a new challenge, and nominated five friends of mine to take up the chain – books that I struggled to finish, and wished I hadn’t read. On my list were God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, the Harry Potter series by J K Rowling, The Complete Works of Jane AustenFive Point Someone by Chetan Bhagat, Autograph Man by Zadie Smith, The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitav Ghosh, Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and several random books that had landed up with me for review.
Encouraged by my friend and nominee, humour writer Tazeen Javed, I decided to pen a series of fictional rejection letters that would have rendered my years of studying literature – and later, reading books – somewhat less traumatic.
Dear Miss Austen:
I wish I could thank you for sending us your manuscript. However, I find that rather hard to do under the circumstances that I have put myself through two hundred pages of manipulative women line maro-ing conceited jerks (whom they perhaps thoroughly deserve) into marriage. Therefore, I shall tell you that I find your sense of irony underdeveloped, your skills of observation mundane, your characters stereotyped, and – most of all – your use of alliteration exceedingly annoying. Your books are essentially about gold diggers causing inexplicable transformations in haughty men. We feel your time would be best spent painting, playing music, sewing and pursuing men, much like the women in your novels. If we happen to hear of suitablebachelors moving to your county, we shall let you know, so you may – at the very least – write from experience, which would render your future novels less hollow.
Dear Miss Emily Bronte:
I have just finished your complicated story of a family of tantrum-throwers whose main preoccupation appears to be marrying each other. I have three main issues with the book: First, this Catherine woman is so silly, flaky, passive-aggressive and conniving that any man who falls for her must be quite the masochist; therefore, I am in a quandary over whether to feel sorry for Heathcliff, or pleased at the pleasure he must draw from the suffering. Second, how did he make all that money? I’d like to point you to The Count of Monte Cristo, which makes it clear that the pauper got rich by finding jewels and drugs in an Oriental hangout. Perhaps you could incorporate something similar in your next draft? Third, the name ‘Heathcliff’ is absolutely ridiculous. I find it rather more suitable to a cat than a man.
Dear Mr Joyce
Greetingingsandsomesuch broogadillooogawanging. My mynde is riddledaddledabung with a mix of wurdsendemoshuns going kashoomgrushplunkferlunkwadoongibinkelliblurbs. Oops. Did I confuse you? Your Finnegans Wake has made me forget why I became a book editor. I have resigned my job, and plan to write pornographic novels for the rest of my life.
Dear Mr Coelho
I was quite fascinated to rediscover that the Middle East is a magic land of flying carpets and secrets buried in pyramids and whatnot. I only regret that you didn’t include a genie in the lamp – or was it a stone in your book? – and a witch who can turn into a bird or some such thing. That is the sort of enlightening, innovative fantasy in which I like to lose myself. Also, alchemy has been a quite successful career choice, as you must know from the many millions of people who turned stone into gold. I am not entirely sure you can detect sarcasm, so here is some straight-up advice for you: Step 1: Become a spiritual guru. Step 2: Move to America. Step 3: Negotiate with Hollywood.
Dear Ms Rowling
Having read JRR Tolkien, Philip Pullman, and Tom Brown’s School Days myself, I am surprised you couldn’t string together a more coherent and readable mish-mash of all their work. I do believe there are more adjectives than nouns and more adverbs than verbs in every page of every book. No one stops when they can stop abruptly. No one whispers when they can whisper softly. I don’t see why you needed quite so much time to come up with characters who are shadows of the originals. I feel I have wasted too many words on this letter already, perhaps the aftermath of trawling through your bulky tomes (oops, adjective-alert). So, let me express this mathematically. Gandalf > Dumbledore; Sauron > Voldemort; Gollum > House-Elves; Saruman > Fudge; Ringwraiths > Dementors; Daemons > Patronus (yep, I read Pullman too).
Dear Mr Rumi
I am sure your poetry reads quite wonderfully in the Persian original, but dude...you sound like a boy band in English, man. I’ve got to make a living, yo. Maybe I’ll peddle this stuff outside a girls’ college, or put it on Hallmark cards, or better still, at the end of Bollywood films. Your soulful 140-characters-or-less sentences are kinda cloying, bro. Here’s some advice: if you know people who play the guitar, keyboard and drums, you could send a sample to MTV. Maybe you’ll be the next One Direction. Or, better still, keep that band and get someone to sing the Persian lyrics on Coke Studio.

The Gym Chronicles

(Published in The Friday Times, on August 29, 2014, retrieved from http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/the-gym-chronicles/)


Picture Courtesy: The Friday Times
A few months ago, I moved out to a writer’s pad, somewhere along the coast, with a window that looked out on to a coconut grove and another that faced the sea. I spent most of my time peering out of the two windows, swimming in the very nice pool in the apartment complex’s club house, and occasionally visiting its rudimentary gym.
When I was commissioned a play, and later cast in one of the roles, I had to move back to the city for rehearsals. There’s something about easily accessible coffee shops and hangouts – and also about food that appears magically on the family dining table – that makes one reconsider returning to one’s writerly haunt.
The downside of moving back into the bungalow with a 4000-square-foot terrace and no club house, with lots of food and no need to cook, is that one tends to pile on the pounds. And so, I decided to succumb to a trend I have resisted for years, and signed up for a six-month membership to a well-equipped gym.
The main outcome of this on social media was that people started forwarding me an article about how bored women in Bombay were leaving their rich, busy, industrialist husbands for their gym trainers. I’m not sure why they sent me the piece. For one, I am not married. For another, my South Asian classist tendencies have always taken precedence over my cosmopolitan privileged guilt.
My tryst with the gym started off with an ego massage. I ran into a couple who had watched my play, and had loved it. Even more wonderfully – for it is a rarer occurrence – I met someone who had read my book. There is nothing more flattering for a writer to hear than, “You’re...[first name]...[surname]?” Third, my assigned trainer – perhaps in the hope of my opting for a personal trainer package – asked whether I was a film actress.
But then, I discovered several categories of people who made the experience less pleasant:
The hitters-on
I am not sure what would motivate a man to make small talk with a woman when she is grunting and crouching, or panting on treadmill.
Perhaps they joined the gym in the hope of meeting insecure women who will eventually become hot.
Perhaps they think sweat on a man is sexy, deluded by American dramas (though even those largely acknowledge that the sweating man must be Latin and hot to merit any charm).
Perhaps they think it would be romantic to get in shape together, until you can eventually squeeze comfortably into a love seat.
Whatever it is, someone forgot to tell them that a woman would not be wearing lycra and working out, with her hair plastered to her head, and cellulite jiggling, if she were seeking male attention.
The unsolicited advisers
It’s only from their vocabulary that you can tell whether these guys are trainers or customers.
They’ve been regulars for years, have shed every micro-inch of flab, YouTubed every work out video ever made, and are waiting to share their pearls of wisdom with you.
You’re screwed if they catch you getting through hip abduction or lat pulldowns in the wrong position. They will make you move aside, show you how you work out – cue the titter – and then tell you what you should be doing instead.
They keep an eye out to make sure you don’t hold on as you run on the treadmill – and this is the deal breaker, because, I mean, there’s only so much one can do to get through 20 minutes on a moving surface while listening to Tum Hi Ho fromAashiqui 2 (which is always on loop in my gym.)
The conversation duds
These people roll around the gym, trying to make friends. Unfortunately, they don’t understand that conversation is an art; what they provide is imbecility.
These are the people who ask you questions such as, “So, you’ve joined to lose weight?”
No. I’m here to check out your legs, you want to say. Someone ought to send you to a geisha school.
The competitive uncle-aunties
They look at you with that odd mixture of jealousy, admiration and camaraderie of which only gym uncle-aunties are capable.
Then, they ask you which Level you’ve set your EFX or cycle at, and how many kilometres you run at what speed on the treadmill. When you tell them, they sigh and say, “That’s so difficult. You’re going to hurt yourself. I go at Level 3, max 4.”
But...I don’t have arthritic knees, you want to say.
The former crush
The worst thing that can happen to you is to discover that someone you had a crush on when you were in early adolescence is now an overweight, balding father of two, who pants on the treadmill next to you. Well, it’s the second worst thing. The worst thing is to discover that he works in the IT industry.
I suppose it’s like that moment when the kid comes out of a mall in New York to find Santa Claus munching on bagels at a pushcart.

Why the ice bucket challenge worries me

(Published in Sify.com, on August 31, 2014, retrieved from http://www.sify.com/news/why-the-ice-bucket-challenge-worries-me-news-columns-oi5kmTaebjfec.html)



It has been a while since the ice bucket challenge went viral, so we already know the main criticisms against it: that people may be doing this for the fun factor without really caring about ALS; that this is “slacktivism”, allowing people who are too stingy to donate for a cause to douse themselves with cold water and feel they are doing something constructive; that it is all a waste of good water, while people are dying without access to water; that the money donated for research may not be channelled towards it by the ALS Association; that there are other causes which are equally deserving of the money, but which haven’t merited a stunt which went viral on social media.
However, there are some other aspects of the challenge that do worry me.
While it is perfectly all right for adults to choose to do what they do, I am shocked by the number of videos that show people dousing their children – and pets – with water.
What happens to the children may be the parents’ lookout, though it is rather surprising to me that the authorities in various countries have nothing to say about it.
But to take the ice-bucket challenge with your pet dog or pet cat, which not only has no clue what ALS is, but also no clue that you’re about to dunk him or her with a bucket of ice and water, is outright cruelty to animals.
Besides, several videos of the ice bucket challenge gone wrong, which do seem hilarious when they’re viewed in a series, also show just how stupid people can be. Why would you want to ask someone to tip water over you from a tree house? Shouldn’t it occur to one that the situation is begging for the bucket to fall on one’s head? And why would anyone want to fill a heavy metal bucket with water and attempt tipping it on oneself?
The stunt can be dangerous. One of the videos shows a dog which is tied to a post running away in fear when its owner empties a bucket over himself and the dog. Thankfully, the post was flimsy enough to break when the dog ran. If it had been a stronger post, the dog would have ended up getting strangulated.
Obviously, it didn’t take long for celebrities to get involved, and start nominating each other.
The problem with that is, for one, the publicity stunts have begun. There’s Matt Damon, for instance, speaking about how he has decided not to waste water, and has therefore been dunking himself with water he collected from the “various toilets” in his mansion. For one, I’m not even sure what he meant by “collecting” toilet water. Second, it’s probably best we don’t find out.
Of course, the comedians got into the act, spoofing the ice bucket challenge with their own versions. Ricky Gervais started a ‘Feeling Nuts’ trend on Facebook, apparently in support of testicular cancer check-ups, shouting out to Ben Stiller, Aaron Paul and Will Arnett to do the same. So far, Will Arnett has responded.
The problem with an issue that needs awareness being associated with a stunt is that the latter can often swallow the issue, or belittle it.
It also tends to lead to spinoffs. While some can be useful, such as the ‘rice bucket challenge’, which has been taken up in Hyderabad, it is far more likely that the ice bucket challenge – having proved such a phenomenal success – will now become a means of fundraising for more issues. In fact, ALS research is not the first for which this fundraising method has been used, though it has been the most successful.
Once the challenge runs its course, it ends up becoming an irritant.
The fact that it has already invited spoof, and also a fair amount of scepticism with respect to where the money is going, makes me wonder whether a stunt is the best way to go about fundraising.
More importantly, it makes me worry that ALS – which is a terrifying and debilitating disease – will become associated with this one viral challenge.
People who suffer from ALS require tremendous financial and emotional support. What can be worse than losing all control of, and eventually all use for, one’s body while one’s mind is intact? The wheelchairs that patients will need in order to be mobile are expensive.
One of the most brilliant men on the planet, Professor Stephen Hawking, has been in the public eye for decades, allowing us to see how the disease progressively impairs him, even as he travels the world, giving lectures with his trademark humour through his computer-based communication system.
It is not a disease that should be dismissed as something that kept the social networks busy for a couple of months.
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