Thursday, February 16, 2006

Hatred

"I think anyone is capable of anything."

"I cut my fingernails, they grow back."



It is the ugliest, strongest and most passionate word in the English language - hatred - and a movie I saw today, and heard those two lines in, brought it to my mind constantly.

My last post was about burgers, and this one is about something much, much more dangerous and potent than a calorie-packed fast food item. Hatred is an emotion that can infiltrate the cells of any brain, empower the blood in any vein and sluice away every other motivation, replacing everything with cold calculation buoyed by a feeling that the end is right, and therefore the means don't matter.

An Afghan friend of mine showed me some pictures secretly taken by the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (www.rawa.org), of the brutality exercised by the Taliban. But the pictures were not of the Taliban alone. They included pictures of the victims of the 'War Against Terrorism'. Innocent children whose arms and legs and eyes have been blown off, as part of 'collateral damage'.

Every day, the inside pages of any Indian newspaper would have a news item that carried the effects of religious and communal hatred. People forced to eat excreta, people chopped to death, women's faces being destroyed by acid - things that make one shudder and close one's ears just by mention. What sort of force could possibly motivate someone to actually do these things??? Hatred - infused into the impressionable young minds that grow into the focused, blind ones that perpetrate such violence.

There is no one on the earth who hasn't killed. Even the most gentle of human beings has crushed a mosquito at some point of time. Why not simply swat it away? How old was your child when you taught him or her how to squash a mosquito, simply so that it wouldn't bite him or her? A butcher slaughters an animal and tears it to shreds. A little while later, people boil the animal, throw spices all over it and relish it at a table.

In another part of the world, the same is being done to humans. Jack the Ripper may have receded into myth, but short of the pickling and the spicing and the eating, this and much more is being done to human beings.

It seems violence is inherent in our blood. Hatred becomes an indelible brand on a surface waxed smooth, soft and warm by this inborn property of violence. We often speak of where one must draw the line. But is there really a reason to debate? Is there any situation when violence may be classified as right? Must an eye be avenged with an eye? Should someone be killed for murder? Why not life imprisonment? Aren't there non-violent alternatives for every violent action?

The "world leaders" who preached non-violence pass into history as icons - people who must be admired, but people who are far removed from the present-day world, and who belong in the annals. People who come into significance only when one needs a quote to throw into a Statement of Purpose or Mission Statement, or whatever section of an application form requires a quote. Proverbs and adages have been overused to the point of cliche.

One is tempted to ask: what is really relevant today, if everything belongs somewhere else? If every positive emotion is dismissed as 'idealism', is realism about killing as many organisms as one can? There is a theory that God keeps score, but the more pertinent one seems to be that Darwin is God, and there are infinite interpretations of his theory - 'The Survival of the Fittest.'

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Larger than Life - That BURGER!!!!!

Yesterday, I watched 'Supersize Me'. It's enough to make anyone paranoid - 25.5 lbs, about 12 kilograms in a month from eating fast food three times a day...that's how much weight Morgan Spurlock, the writer-director-actor who made the project put on! I was amongst those who rolled their eyes at the idea of school lunches becoming more healthy in England. What is the big deal about what canteens should sell and what they shouldn't, when kids get to make the choice anyway?

I sort of drifted back into my schooldays when I was watching the documentary. We had a canteen, and i used to buy the occasional fried food - samosa, usually - and soft drink, but my mother, like all the other mothers, used to pack lunch for me to eat in school. What is it in western countries, that allows parents to trust schools with providing nutritious food, and not bother about packing a good, homemade lunch for their kids? When I came to the University of Westminster, one of the first things I noticed was what there's hardly anything to cater to someone who does not eat animals and nothing to cater to vegans except for french fries. And no mothers around to pack lunch for graduate and post-graduate students. For a while, I fell back on the easy option of eating these high calorie lunches. With a million deadlines to meet, a lot of studying to do, and not enough sleep, one does not have the inclination to make the time to cook.

It's a vague memory that working out used to make me feel really good. Having weighed 85 kilograms at the age of 15, I panicked and got into a regular regime of exercise, hardly missing a day. By the time I was 19, I was maintaining my weight at about 52 kilograms. And that was when I decided I might as well chill out a bit and eat junk and let up on the exercise. Besides which, working 24/7 doesn't really allow much incentive to work out. And before I knew it, I'd put on some 10 kgs. And I simply could not get back to working out. I've read somewhere that it takes 21 days to form a habit for life. You work out for three weeks on a regular basis, and you stick to it. You drop it, and you never take it up again. And that's exactly what happened with my five-year habit of working out.

After coming to London and putting on another 5 kgs in a few weeks, I decided it was about time I put a stop to this. Out went the flapjacks, the nutella and all the other high fat eatables I was living on. I started cooking my own vegetables (out with the frozen foods) and making rice in the mornings, and having soup for dinner. I also began a good regime of exercise. But I did indulge in the occasional burger/fatty vegetarian eat.

Watching 'Supersize Me' is scary, though. It just screams out how easy it is to depend on food for everything, and what a vicious cycle it all becomes. You start eating high fat foods, and find yourself becoming less healthy and mroe depressed. Then you start getting addicted to it, and find that downing these calories lifts your mood (just like the endorphins in chocolate do) and you start pigging out all the time. Before you know it, you're gigantic and decide nothing you do is going to change things. That is NOT a good place to be!!!

So I've decided I'm done with fast food for the next six months. I know a friend of mine's going to ask me this evening whether I want the four cheese pizza melt while the rest of them eat chicken kievs. And I should probably pass the 'Supersize Me' DVD on to her!

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Real High...Up in the Clouds

Ask any five-year-old child what s/he wants to grow up to be, and the answer you're likely to get is "I want to be a pilot" (with the child's acquired quality of beginning every sentence with the content of the question). Lying on the roof of the sky-blue Ambassador in my grandmother's garden as a child, I would watch the clouds stroll leisurely overhead and wonder at how quickly they actually disappeared. The high point of those evenings were the sunsets, when the sky would be streaked with auburn and then slowly melted into the gloaming. I never tired of them, but there were occasions when the beauty of the sunset escaped me - those were the occasions when I saw something even more beautiful - the aeroplane streaking across the sky.

I was seventeen when I first sat down in the pilot's cabin and felt the controls of the glider I was about to fly. I was a Flight Cadet in the National Cadet Corps (NCC) and the engine-less glider was going to be my first step. The officer who was to teach me to fly spoke on my headset "do you think you can handle this yourself?" and I answered "yes, sir."

"Sure?"

"Yes, sir!"

"All right, then do it."

"Sir??!"

"Watch how the controls move. Once we're up in the air, you take over. And you bring us to a safe landing."

"What if I can't control it...sir?" And I realised what a stupid question that was.

"Then we're in trouble, aren't we?"

I could hear the smile in his voice, and I myself was smiling. Of course, he had a second set of controls! We went up into the air, and suddenly, I heard "you're on, lady!" My hands should have been trembling with excitement, but they were steady. From somewhere inside, I knew this was what I had been born to do. To fly.

The sensation of being up in the air, controlling something that refuses to obey gravity, and knowing that it is two simple pieces of metal that control the whole thing, can never be broken down into words. It needs to be felt. The same day, we shifted to a Microlight, and I was up in the air, among the clouds I had been so in awe of as a child. I was level with the clouds, and flying faster than any of them.

"Are you making these bizarre turns with any purpose or simply for fun?"

"For fun, sir."

"Hmm...you'd better find some purpose, or it might not be fun for either of us much longer."

"Sir, may I ask a question?"

"Mm-hmm."

"Have you ever not had fun while flying, sir?"

I heard a chuckle over the headphones. The aircraft straightened out, and we came out of the clouds.

"Sir, was it me who did that manipulation or you?"

"It doesn't matter, both of us were having fun, weren't we?"

The man who taught me everything I knew about flying when I was in the NCC passed away on the one day that I did not go to the Tambaram Airport to fly. He was in a glider with another cadet, when the rope that binds the glider to the ground and should be disconnected, wrapped itself up on the underside of the glider, locking the controls. The cadet passed away immediately. This was a girl I had been in parades with, and whose only ambition was to be in the Republic Day Parade, the highest honour an NCC cadet can dream of. I recalled my conversation with the retired Group Captain on our way back to Madras as we knew it, from Tambaram. His only ambition had been to have fun while he lived a clean life. He had become a teetotaller, a vegetarian and was planning to give up smoking. "Something changed in me when my mother died two months ago," he had told me, "I see a sense of the pure in everything I do. It's not me, but how I feel. And I fly twice as much as I used to."

Does flying have something to do with that sense of purity? When you're up in the clouds, as close to the cosmos as you can be, disconnected from any particular entity within it, you feel like you are the only one who matters, and society and everything else left far behind in terms of physical distance, melt into insignificance in one's mind. What do I want to do? How focused am I on getting there? Those are the issues that seem to matter. Perhaps the Group Captain was telling me he felt more healthy and flew twice as much as he used to as a result of that. But my immediate interpretation before the more mundane one occurred to me, was that the flying was a cause for and not an effect of his sense of well-being. When I heard the news of his death, my first thought was the cliche - at least he died doing something he loved. But it meant something deeper, more relevant in his case. It was almost a transit point to the Beyond - like he had no more births to go through, no more reincarnations and janmams, he would go straight to his last destination. Pure and free.

It is hard to identify completely with The Aviator if one has never flown an aircraft. It is hard to understand why one feels the compulsion to fly, and not be flown by someone else. I love the high one gets when an aircraft takes off - the momentary weightlessness that sends a thrill through one's whole body. The first few times I flew an aircraft myself, I was concentrating so hard on the controls that I couldn't sense the weightlessness at all. But sitting in the plush interiors of the passenger area, and waiting for the moment that takes my breath away, I feel a momentary sense of impotence.

Is it only to flying that this sense of impotence applies? Every train journey I've gone on in India is inseparable from a group of strangers finding a common topic in politics - why the country is going to the dogs and how should it be run. When I think of that, I realise everyone knows what it is like to be the impotent passenger in an aircraft.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Violence and Vegetarianism











When I decided to watch a Rajnikanth movie tonight, it was because I wanted something light and funny and entertaining to watch - a movie where i could leave my brains safely snuggled down to sleep inside my skull. But less than an hour into the movie, a fight sequence made me start with horror. This sequence involved the hero being chased by hundreds of villagers, all in horse-drawn carriages. What made me scream while watching the sequence was that every two or three seconds, a horse goes down with its chariot. The movie is fiction. But the horses are real. The trauma is real. The anguished neighs are real.

My decision to turn vegetarian was taken nearly nine years ago. It's not usually an in-thing to be religious, but I have always believed in God. If God created every creature on earth, right from the shapeless amoeba to what is hailed as the highest form of creation, the human being, surely He didn't equip each with defence mechanisms and bodily functions for the purpose of serving as food for the "most intelligent" of these forms, the human being! Why does the amoeba have its pseudopodia? Why do hens incubate their eggs with so much love and care? If anyone's heard a hen laying an egg, the pain it goes through is very, very similar to the pain a woman in labour goes through. How many women would surrender their babies to be skinned and eaten and made tikka or curry of? An elephant's term of pregnancy is longer than a woman's. Nothing is more maternal than a cow nuzzling its calf and feeding it, eyes shining with love. The excuse I hear all the time is "ecological balance". And the question I ask is this - the world is overpopulated; my own country houses a sixth of its population and has much, much, much less than a sixth of its area. Should we turn to cannibalism in the name of ecological balance? Is ecological balance our God-given right? The response I usually get is "it's different". How is it different? When you take an animal's life, you take it. When that animal happens to be human, why does it make a difference? Then I am told that plants have life too, and scientists have supposedly proven that plants have feelings too. But if you were to cut off the branch of a tree, it would grow back. If you were to pluck a fruit from it, the fruit would be replaced. A limb of an animal does not grow back. The heart of the animal does not beat again.

Even worse is the use of animals and the indiscriminate claiming of their lives for the most trivial needs of ours - entertainment, for instance; why should horses fall down repeatedly for a fight sequence in a movie? Game-hunting for another. I watched a documentary very recently, on the shooting of elephants in South Africa. It's a rich man's game, and an elephant can supposedly fetch $13,000-19,000. The elephant that was shot was skinned alive and eaten and his tusks torn off as he moaned. Another elephant was transported from a jungle to the game hunting area, where he would be shot to death. The magnificent creature struggled with his delighted captors, as they pranced about, tying ropes to him, shooting darts at him from a helicopter, and then loading him on to a truck which was hardly big enough for him. When the elephant staggered out of the truck in a drunken stupor, his ears were torn to shreds, and huge sores were slashed across his great sides. He would be nursed back to health only to be shot.

Weddings in India are synonymous with silk sarees. Silk worms are boiled alive, and the thread that painfully peels off the skin is treated as auspicious during weddings. Out of about Rs. 6,00,00 (approximately £8000) spent on an Indian wedding, about a third is spent on silk sarees for the bride and miscellaneous relatives. The PETA website has visuals of foxes being skinned alive for fresh, high quality fur in China. Why would anyone think s/he looks classy wearing dead animals on himself or herself?

Crocodile farms breed crocodiles to be killed when they are about two years old, in limited numbers, to avoid indiscriminate killing of crocodiles. These two-year-old crocodiles are used to make handbags and belts. The life expectancy of a crocodile is thirteen years. Snakes shed their skin often enough. And yet, they are killed to make high quality snakeskin shoes.

Animal testing is the cruellest practice of all these - if a grading system is necessary. Every medicine, every antibiotic is tested on animals. Innocent little animals are infected with the most ravaging diseases, dissected, cut and killed, operated on for no reason and then thrown away. While testing cosmetics, rabbits' eyes are clipped open and then tthe cosmetic is poured into them a few drops at a time, at regular intervals for three days. If the rabbit goes blind or dies, you find this notice:

"WARNING: Very harmful to the eyes. In case of contact, rinse immediately with water."

Does it take a rocket scientist to figure out that cosmetics are dangerous to the eyes? The patch test involves repeatedly peeling off the subcutaneous layers of a guinea pig's or rabbit's skin to see whether the chemical causes irritation there. Several other tests of cosmetics involve burning holes into the animals, imprisoned in laboratories, their timid eyes appealing for help.

We speak of racism when the subject of wars in Asia and the Middle East comes up. What -ism is it that makes us think it is all right to inflict such a degree of torture on animals?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Propaganda and Perceptions

It was one of those bizarre days when you actually talk to someone whom you've known for a while. There are random occasions when someone whom you know really well, you and someone whom you know but don't really know happen to get thrown together and decide to hang out together for a while. Very recently, one such occasion presented itself to me. My friend and I were talking to this girl whom we sort of knew. We'd heard a lot more about her than we knew from our interaction with her, and not much of it was complimentary. The evening that we spent with this girl, though, we all had a wonderful time talking, and she came across to us as an open, honest person who had no qualms about voicing her likes and dislikes, and even talking about her failings. When we all said bye, and my friend and I were walking back to our rooms, we looked at each other and went "she's really nice, eh?", "Yeah, she is...wonder why they keep bitching about her!"

We all do that. When you have a sort of group to hang out with, there's always a misfit...someone who doesn't really belong, and slowly gets edged out of the group, and no one wants anything to do with him or her. His or her negative qualities are exaggerated by repetition and discussion, and everyone's cold to him or her. It happens in college - it used to happen a lot in the convent college I did my undergraduation in. There were always whispers about how some girl was a "slut", how someone else slept with all the right people to move forward in her chosen future career, how someone would pretend to be your friend and "use" you when she needed to...the list is pretty much endless. And very, very few people can resist rumour. You decide what to make of someone before you meet that person, simply by what you hear. You might even spice up your received report a bit before passing it on, still before meeting this person. And when you do meet this person, you have this pre-conceived notion about him or her; or if you have interacted pleasantly thus far, you decide what distance you want to keep from him or her. There's something about a rumour that begs one to swallow it and then spread it.

Think of how much harm all of this does at a micro-level, and then expand it to a macro-level. When you look at fields like Marketing, Strategy and PR, you're always looking at selling. Selling a product, selling a brand, selling an idea, all with the ultimate goal of establishing a reputation. Take a look at what is being sold in the world today. When India and Pakistan were fighting in 1999, it was the "Kargil War" to Indians and Pakistanis. But to the Western World, or even all the nations save India and Pakistan, it was "The first outright war between two nuclear powers". There were daily discussions in school over lunch whether the United States would start bombing one of the countries involved. What would happen to us in case of a direct attack? What would happen to us if yet another artificial divide was made - an alliance between Pakistan and the NATO countries? Was more fuel to be poured into the Line of Control? Whether it was prayers or pragmatism, both were averted, and India-Pakistan relations are better now than they have been in a long time.

But propaganda continues everyday, and probably finds its most contemporary relevance in the Iran nuclear debate. What does anyone know about Iran? I pride myself a bit on my general knowledge, having been a quizzer for a while. I knew the capital was Tehran, the currency was Rial, and it was worth a lot less than the million other Rials and Riyals in the Gulf. And I'd read and heard that the nation had been bullied by Saddam Hussein for a long time, before Kuwait. Of course, there was a revolution there in the 1970s and Ayotollah Khomeini was something of a dictator there. And yes! Iran was the country that declared a fatwa against Salman Rushdie. But it was only after coming here and speaking to an Iranian on my course that I discovered Iranians are not Arabs - they speak Farsi or Persian. I'd thought Persia was an ancient, dead empire, whose remnants had escaped to India and called themselves Parsis.

A few months ago, Iranian President Ahmedinijad said Israel should be wiped off the map, shocking everyone in the world, inclusive of Iranians. And now, when the country wants to develop nuclear energy not nuclear weapons, his thoughtless remark has been recalled in every article in the papers about Iran. It strikes one as playing with the perceptions of people. Where are the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq today? In a "sexed up dossier" exposed by Andrew Gilligan. Where is the man who spoke out? David Kelly, may he rest in peace. The mass destruction is being staged in Iraq, on a civilian population that is repeatedly hit by confused smart bombs. Smart enough to play truant. When the Big Brothers of the world are killing each other by accident in "friendly fire", and bombing refugee camps by accident and bombing television stations because of "significant military activity" (viewing rushes of shots from the war front???), why is it that certain countries are not allowed to harness nuclear energy? If Asia has its spoilt brats (one of them being India, which refused to sign the CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty)), the Middle East is perceived as the villain of the developing world (or whatever it is politically correct to call the erstwhile Third World now). Perhaps the world should recall now and then who made the first nuclear attack...a Little Boy and a Fat Man, was it?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Hare Krishna and the Houses of Parliament




"Who're those people???"

"Aw...Hari Krishn-uh punks."

You say "The English" during a word association game, and you're likely to hear one of two phrases: "stiff upper lip" and "prop-ah". The Parliament Square in London, with the Victoria Station, St. Paul's Cathedral, Big Ben, the Winston Churchill Museum, and Westminster Bridge might as well embody the two. It also has this rather surreal appearance of a life-size (correction: larger-than-life-size) Tourist Attractions exhibition.

On the 31st of December 2005, three of my friends and I decided to go watch the fireworks over the Westminster Bridge, in the Thames. Our plan was to get there by 9:00, so we'd find ourselves nice spots by the side of the bridge. But all of us being Indian (and therefore, devoid - except in my case - of a sense of time, and a biological clock - I'm no exception here - that frequently announces meal times), we decided to have some Chinese food before getting there. Mistake.

When we finally got out of the Embarkment tube station, there were police cordons everywhere, and we could not get on to the bridge. All of us were drawn, however, to the very Indian sound of the dhol (the Indian drum, with its unique beats). So were a couple behind us, and the woman went "Whah's thah? Who're those people???" to which the man said "Aw...Hari Krish-nuh punks!" and we four all grinned at each other. Then we followed the sound to its source. Four white men, some of them tonsured except for a tuft of hair (like some Indian temple priests), and wearing Indian traditional clothes - dhotis and veshtis - were singing "Hari Krish-nuh, Hari Krish-nuh, Krishni Krish-nuh, Hari, Hari..."

We began to dance in our little corner (this was suggested by one of my friends, a girl called Bhakti, who's usually even higher on life than she is on alcohol), and the next thing we knew, two of the "Hari Krish-nuh punks" had grabbed us by the arm and drawn us into a circle. Out of nowhere, the millions of Asians in London had joined us and we were a fifty-strong crowd dancing the bhangra in the Parliament Square, as Hari Krish-nuh soon got corrected to Hare Krishna. The Big Ben showed 11:10 p.m., and the cops were getting rather nervous. Some of us waved at them and finally, a few began to crack smiles. All around us, white and golden-brown buildings with their Victorian architecture stood austerely staring at the punks dancing in the middle of the Parliament Square. And the incongruity of it all, dancing in wild circles in the space between the disapproving looks of the British Houses of Parliament, and Winston Churchill, will always be a story for the grandkids.

My grandma never tires of telling us all how she and my grandfather, an Accountant General, were present at the hoisting of the Indian flag on 15th August, 1947. And all through the events of the night, which included two drunk screaming women being bundled into straitjackets and carried away by the police - as a cop said sardonically "there's something you don't see every day of the year!" - I could only think of the face she would pull when I told her "yeah, whatever, Patti, you never danced to Hare Krishna in front of the British Houses of Parliament!"

Monday, February 06, 2006

Life: "Uh-huh...now, take that!!!!"

I just finished wiping my tears after watching American History X. When my friend gave it to me tonight, or last night, or whatever 1:48 AM, about five hours ago, qualifies as, she told me "you'll like this film, watch it!"

To me, the most poignant scene of the film was the two kids on the beach. The little toddler looking up excited at the sea gulls...it's hard to remember a time when those little pleasures of life were all that mattered. You could be planning a trip to the beach, and then your dad comes home late from work and is too tired to make it - and then you'd run to your mum crying. Then your dad would go out and get you some ice cream (Choco Bar was my favourite back then) and everything would be perfect again. It's weird when you think of how little has changed in the last ten years of your life, and then think of how much had changed in the previous ten years of your life. What is it that makes us who we are? What is it that changes us? And why is it, when we're on the brink of something really fresh and new and clean, that life deals you a slap in the face.

Sometimes, I think it's a test. At every step, you have a choice. When something happens, you have a choice of two reactions. The film need not have ended where it did. But that's what the story is. And when Derek screams "what have I done?", you know he has a choice in future. All the hatred could come rushing back and he could go back to the lifestyle he moved away from, or he could be who he has become and clean up his act. Maybe it's inherent optimism, or maybe it's logic, but there's a line in the film that makes you think he'd choose the latter. Danny writes "if you ask my brother when it all began, he'd say it was when our father died. But that's not true. It began much earlier than that." Using the converse of that logic, you get the feeling Derek will choose to clean up his act.

Most, if not all, of us have been in the sort of situation when we wonder which option to choose, what to do. You think you've made the right choice and then life does that cruel little "haha!" Do you roar with anger or get crushed under by anguish or cry your tears and then carry on doing what you know is right? Not every moment is one of resolution...but what matters is what we do with those moments when they confront us.

"Maybe he's GAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYY...!!!!"


As the topic suggests, this one is a lighter post than the ones I've already put up. One of my close friends argues about everything in the world. You could say "the sky's a nice blue today" and he'd launch into a lecture on wavelength and perception and whatnot. So, this one day, this guy, another friend of mine and I were chatting about a couple that had broken up. And I said "you know, the boy's 21 and you know what guys are like!" and while my female friend nodded, our argument-maniac goes "what the hell do you mean you know what guys are like? Why do you women generalise so much? A guy would never say you know what women are like! I mean, if we do, it's about shopping and superficial things that don't matter! You women go on about things that do matter, like our feelings, man! I mean, you go into a bar and find a group of chicks and one woman's crying because a guy doesn't like her, and then all the rest go "maybe he's gaaaayyyy!" and..."

That was when we two women began to laugh. "We don't say that, come on!" "Yeah, have you ever said 'No, he's gaaayyyy'???" "NOO!" And Mr. Argument goes on "no, you women do! Oh my God, shit man, I've gone into so many bars and heard so many of these conversations!" And we both kept laughing at him.

Mr. Argument got a laugh back when we went to watch 'Just Friends', though. We sort of happened to watch it, the initial plan had been to watch 'Jarhead' and we had the timings wrong. Well...so this guy doesn't make any move when the woman's sleeping in only a shirt next to him, and the woman's whining to her friend the next day and the friend goes "maybe he's gaaaayyyy!" We both get a quick nudge from Mr. Argument. Fiiiii-iiiine!!!!

I was speaking to a friend of mine, a journalist I met during the India-Australia series, while we were waiting for three hours for Saurav Ganguly to come in and make an announcement about the team selection for the next test, and we got to talking about types of women. And I told him there were some six types, and he asked me to mail him so he could put it up on his blog, which is incidentally, http://indiauncut.blogspot.com/. I kept putting it off, and eventually, am putting down the categories on my own blog. We women usually can't accept the fact that a man is simply not attracted to us. He has to be gaaaayyyy, if you're throwing yourself at him and he doesn't want that. Whereas if a guy's throwing himself at you when you don't want it, he's just "horny". Sometimes, I think, we women really are snooty bitches!

As for the categories, there's the universal "Dumb Blonde". They're the kind that look dumb, so most men feel secure and intelligent around them, but they're so hot and sexy (and maybe easy) that the next guy who's nice could have them. So these Dumb Blondes have evolved to be very clever when it comes to handling men in relationships. So you see a guy who's got the best job in the world, is the most talented at what he does, and so intelligent he could talk about anything. But for some reason, he's with the Dumb Blonde. This topic, obviously, will be analysed in greater detail eventually. The Dumb Blonde has some sort of hold on a guy. She could even say she doesn't want to spoil her figure by having kids, and he'd agree to it. Okay, there may be subcategories involved - Dumb Blonde Bitch, who'd flirt with just about anyone and refuse to have kids, and perpetually have this guy running circles around her little finger. Then there's Dumb Blonde Ex-Beauty, who's going to get married to this guy, have three kids and become a typical housewife with all its negative connotations, so the guy starts looking for Dumb Blonde Bitches outside of marriage. And then comes the ugly divorce, and the non-graduate Dumb Blonde Ex-Beauty starts looking for a job that will support three kids. Alternatively, Dumb Blonde Ex-Beauty might not be married to our Who's the Dude. She might be married to Hot Guy in College, who's now a slacker who lives off her.

The other obvious category is the "Independent Woman". She lunches alone, is a feminist who'd feel insulted if a guy opened the door for her, would hold her own with most men in debates and drive her point in till they decide to avoid her. Because, usually, men like women staring at them now and then with an "oh, I didn't know that, it's so fascinating!" look, when they're holding forth on extremely complicated subjects like the stockmarket (which women can't understand...ask any man!) or politics (hohohohoho, women don't talk about why the country's going to the dogs and therefore don't know anything about it!) or some impossible scientific concept, like why one should wear glasses while skiing (come on, women are not supposed to know about snow blindness). Anyway, the men call this sort of Independent Woman a Know All, and would smirk when she's mentioned. Of course, there are certain types of the Independent Woman.

There's the Charming Independent Woman, who'll get married to Who's the Dude if she plays her cards right. She's got men falling for her all over the place. She's the kind who knows when to say "oh, I didn't know that, it's so fascinating!" and she smiles when a guy opens the door for her. She can also occasionally get away with saying "you know, this whole deal with the gilt securities thing - creating more of them to satisfy the liabilities because of the pension funds - is just crazy because it's only a vicious circle. There's so many of them, there are going to be more liabilities!" And Who's the Dude thinks "whoa, this girl understands stocks and shares!"

There's Obnoxious Independent Woman, who's also a Man-Hater/Eater. She thinks men are rubbish, she doesn't need a man in her life, no man's ever going to tell her what to do and what not to do, she won't ever think of changing her name after marriage, and most probably not of marriage. And if she ever sees a guy who expects his wife to change her name after marriage, she'll give him such a punch in the stomach he won't ever want to look another woman in the face and suggest such an outrageous thing to her.

Then there's Pseudo Independent Woman, who's afraid to admit she'd rather have the lifestyle Dumb Blonde Ex-Beauty has. Without the mistakes Dumb Blonde Ex-Beauty made, because she's not dumb, remember? This woman agrees with all her Obnoxious Independent Woman friends, and secretly wonders why men don't find her independence attractive. She's going to be the Old Maid Bitter Aunt, whom everyone's sort of scared of and makes fun of in secret.

Then there are Child Woman and Mature Woman. Child Woman is a cross between Dumb Blonde Ex-Beauty and Charming Independent Woman, and is usually lost in the middle. Dumb Blonde Ex-Beauty would pinch Child Woman's cheeks and go "oh, you're sooo cuuuute!" while Charming Independent Woman would smile at Child Woman and then make fun of her with CIW's male friends. A lot of men would be happy with Child Woman, but these are the sort of men that would buy the cuddly teddy bears and other Valentine gifts and cards that Child Woman expects on February 14th. She can get really annoying, because she's not as immature as she pretends to be.

Mature Woman grows up hoping to be considered older than she is. There are, again, two categories here. One is Tomboy Mature Woman and the other is Maternal Mature Woman. The Tomboy Mature Woman has more male friends than female, and yeah, more male friends than boyfriends (the period of count being a lifetime). She's not daunted by ribald jokes, laughs at a whole lot of people and things, and can get guy jokes and not be put off. Occasionally, there's the pressure to go "eeeeewwww!", but hey, that can be dealt with. Maternal Mature Woman's the sort one could take home and get married to, and have a pretty decent life with. She's probably the kind who's decided she's okay with being a schoolteacher or something, where she can actually get to exercise her maternal instincts constantly, or to be a housewife, but it's a conscious decision.

There are tonnes of other categories, and I will probably cover some of them in a while, when I have nothing else to do that seems more pressing than categorising women. I'm sort of still wondering in which category to place a woman who recently said to me, "you know, there's no point in being beautiful...it's a headache...trust me on it", at which point, she placed her hand on mine and nodded sadly.

Black-Eyed Peace...Racism and Hatred in Multicultural London



"Hey, Nandini...can you do me a favour? Can you tell my teammates I'm ill?"

"What the fuck happened to you? You look like you got beaten up!"

"I did get beaten up."

That was the beginning of a conversation with one of three friends of mine who got beaten up recently on university campus. They were walking back from one of the bars on campus, and all of a sudden, a couple of guys approached them. British Asians or British Middle-Easterners, from appearance. One of them put his arm around this friend of mine and asked "What's your name man?"

And the guy told him.

"Where are you from? Hanh? Where you from? Pakistan, eh?"

And that was when he got a black eye. And at that minute there were some twenty more anti-Pakistan racists on the spot, joining in the beating. When another friend tried to interfere, she got beaten up too, and according to the third one, who had a breathing attack, she had blood all over her face, and had to be taken to hospital.

They're trying to identify the attackers now, but how three not-quite-sober people will identify a crowd of twenty they'd never met before, I'm not sure.

The point though, is why is there so much racial intolerance? What do people learn about a particular race that makes them hate them so much? There was the incident of Anthony Walker a while ago. Recently, a friend of mine from Kenya and I were walking to her place, and we were rather wary of a couple of teenagers on the tube who kept giving us dirty looks and got out at the same stop that we did. They were playing with large metal baton-like instruments, and I was freaked.

A lesbian friend of mine told me once that teenagers are the scariest phenomenon in London. She was walking to her hairdresser's, when two girls outside sneered "uggghhhh! Look at that thing! I can't stand dykes!" She hurried into the hairdresser's. When she told me the incident, she glared and said "If it had happened back in my own country, I'd've boxed their ears! But here, I was just so scared!" Another time, she and her friend were on a bus and a girl in front of them was vehement in her hatred of lesbians, to the guy travelling with her. "We thought she was going to turn around and hit us or something. We were so frightened we got out at the next stop."

Why???? When you leave countries where you think you've seen religious or communal racism, where homosexuality is illegal, and you move to London, you'd think you've left all that behind. But here, you see two different extremes. People either don't seem to notice where you come from, except for the occasional "how come you Indians speak English so fluently?" (which only requires an explanation of how the medium of education is English and we learn our own mother tongues as a second language), or they hate you for not being something you should be. Hatred one can deal with. But when hatred transfuses into threats and beatings, one cannot.

Fear is the most frightening thing, we're told as kids. Fear of going into a dark room, fear of going out after 9:00 p.m., for fear of the "eve-teasers" who sexually assault women in India, fear of violence. But fear is also the most humiliating thing. It makes one feel inadequate, and angry at oneself. I could twist that bastard's arm in a minute, you think. But at that moment, you can't. There've been enough times when I was assaulted back in India, and I always thought I should have hit out at all the scrawny men who initiated the "eve-teasing", but I was simply paralysed at the time. When I came here and could walk alone in the middle of the night without being "eve-teased", I assumed I was safe. But now, I doubt it.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Cricket and Curry...and Cracking India



"Whah ah you cookinh?"

"Um...Indian food."

"Is ih a cuh-ry?"

"Umm...yeah, sort of."

"Whah's ih, though?"

"Umm...vegetables...it's called sabji, I guess."

"Whah sauce ah you puttinh in?"

And that's when I usually sigh. It's bad enough to have everything Indian universally referred to as "curry". It's sort of worse when you're in a minority of some six Indians in London who know Tamil, and have to explain to a bewildered European (usually a curious Brit), what you're cooking. Yeah, they've heard of a few Hindi names, of which the most familiar is "curry". And after three years of third-language Hindi in the deep, dark, long-buried 6th, 7th and 8th standards (where the savaal-javaab were "Akhbar ke dharbhar mein navratan kaun-kaun thhey?" [Who were the nine gems of Akhbar's court?] and "Akhbar ke dharbhar mein navratan Birbal ... (etc. etc.) ... thhey." [The nine gems of Akhbar's court were Birbal, .... (etc. etc.)..."]), I'm just learning actual Hindi now, thanks to the multitude of North Indians in the University of Westminster, and the plethora of Bollywood films they've brought along! In Tamil, what I'm cooking would be kai or poriyal. But even understanding that Tamil is not a dialect of Hindi, or that all Indian languages are not dialects of each other, is a hard-to-grasp concept for a non-Indian. Understanding that we eat different kinds of food depending on where we come from is an impossible one!

I woke up at two in the afternoon today, and after chatting to my family on Skype, I'm sort of wondering whether I really want to go and make my cuh-rry now. So I opened http://www.espnstar.com/ and checked out Gavaskar slamming the Indian cricket team on its performance against Pakistan. A friend of mine once said "why do Indians stop one step short of perfection?" And that was when I wondered whether we do, really. Sometimes, it's like we are so unused to luck, we don't know what to do with it when we get it. If Australia had a team at 39-6, they'd be having them for tea. And India let Pakistan climb to 245 and then eventually win the test by over 300 runs.

I was watching Lagaan a few days ago and I was thinking "it's a good thing this was a movie." In real life, we all know how the game would have turned out, with tikouna lagaen, as the Brits say it. When something's in easy grasp, we slip up. You could have a steep rock face, jutting out to sea, to climb or be drowned in a whirlpool, and just before that final grasp, you'd probably just swoon and let go. Is it that we relax when things are just within arm's reach? Do we start planning the next step too soon? Were the cricketers thinking of the garlands and the celebrations in the street when they pounced on each other at the fall of the sixth wicket?

And then, I think of the last laugh the British had before they quit India. Cracking India. It was on the brink of Independence. The Swadeshi Movement began when Bengal was torn into two, so that children still ask, "amma, why is it called West Bengal though it's in the East?" But Project Crack India had much, much more far-reaching consequences. Forget the Kargil War. But think of the thousands of soldiers who have died of frostbite in the hostile India-Pakistan border. Think of the jawaans who swallow butter and then gasp, glugging down alcohol to keep warm. Think of the men who rub their hands and get as close as possible to fires and grates, eyes brimming over as they think of wives and children at home. The gash torn into the flesh of India has left a scar that can never heal - too much blood has spurted out from it.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Taunting and Terrorism


When we relive our childhoods through the eyes of adults, we laugh at the silly things we did, we laugh about the stupid fights we had, and we even laugh about the mean little tricks we played. Children, how much ever one may love those whom s/he knows, are the cruellest of all human beings. With the same curiosity that they touch a flame to see what it can do, they needle other children at their most vulnerable points. The barbs of childhood brand such a memory, as indelible as that of the flame when one first touches it. The taunts of childhood and the nascent feelings of vengeance, hatred and revenge, sown in that fertile, eager mind are never forgotten. TAUNTING.

That's what I find the most potent weapon of mass destruction. I hadn't touched a blog for about two years, because the beauty of handwriting is something I feel can never be replaced by the keyboard. But something I read in the Financial Times today made me decide to find a quicker, more immediate outlet...something not just for me, but for everyone to read and share and comment on. I'm talking about the "blasphemous cartoons" - those of the Prophet Mohammad, that appeared in the Jyllands-Posten and were then splashed across all the media. The result? Danish flags being burnt all over the world. My first reaction when I saw pictures of a flag being burnt, splashed across the front page of the Financial Times, was horror. I'm Indian, and like every other Indian, I would rather see anything than my flag burnt. I cannot even think about such a thing. What did all the millions of Danes looking at the Financial Times feel? What was it that caused a group of people to do something so awful?

I scoured the web for the blasphemous pictures, and finally found them, and a few more. I scanned them, trying to see the point of their publication, and the only question I was left with was "Why????" Why did those cartoons have to be published? What point did they have? What does the Prophet have to do with bombs or terrorism or anything else? I even came across some anti-Islamic, and certainly malicious, pictures and cartoons on websites, but not published in newspapers. I could put a link here if anyone wants to see them. My friend and I were looking at the pictures, and I could feel the sting as she, a Muslim, saw them.

Why is a particular religion being targeted and everything about it mocked and/or feared? Why is there provocation and then blame for retaliation? So, people want to dig for oil. They decide that the easiest way to do it is to neo-colonise. They need motivation for it, and they find motivation for it. But all that aside, how can it ever be justified that anyone's belief system is mocked at?

I'm not saying that the dictates of a religion should not be questioned. I've met Salman Rushdie, I've read him extensively, and I think he's genius, one of the most original, creative minds, ever. I don't think the murder of Theo van Gogh over his film, Submission, could ever ever be justified. I think it's unfair for Taslima Nasreen to have to flee from country to country. It's not the fact that I'm not Muslim that makes me say this. One of India's most celebrated artists, M.F. Hossain, once painted Hindu Goddesses in the nude, and there was a huge uproar over it. One may call it artistic experimentation, one may call it blasphemy, one may call it a publicity stunt. I think it's all right for people to condemn something if they want, but I would never support someone's life being endangered over something s/he has done for a reason, or from personal artistic motivation that comes with a reasonable knowledge of the subject. But taunting someone, needling someone, hitting where it hurts most, playing with the feelings of a large group of people...that can never be justified, can it?

Wars win nothing for anyone...when I see dismembered bodies, children shying away in fear from empty futures, people victimised and dismissed as "collateral damage" - which might as well refer to a cricket ball getting worn out in a test match between cricketing giants - I cry, as do most people who see them. When I see prisoners being humiliated and tortured, I cringe. When I see hostages pleading for their lives, I feel sick - when will this game end? Why is religion being used to manipulate it? Patriotism and Faith are personal - to prey on those aspects of a person's life is worse than to tear gashes into that person's flesh. They're intangible, inerasable scars. Scars that itch and make one want to hit back. The picture gets skewed when Salman Rushdie and a Danish newspaper out for a kick of its own are thrown into one big bolus of offensive material. Some things can be frowned upon, some things can be forgotten, some things can even be appreciated as lone voices speaking out with courage. But taunts...they only sour hearts and minds, plant hatred where neutrality used to be and dissect the world into its constituent, tiny, narrow minds.
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