Monday, February 22, 2010

Trimatrimonophobia - The Triple Fear Factor

(Published in Zeigeist, The New Indian Express, dated 20th February, 2010)

There was a time when weddings were a social event, and the only one people dreaded was their own. The proximity to smoke, the hours of standing, the troupe of strangers that materialises in the bride’s room every time she has a costume change scheduled, and finally, the wedding video that has five images of you superimposed on the petals of a flower…shudder! But those times have passed. Now, three species of human being have turned weddings into an endurance test that requires great physical, cognitive, psychological and emotional strength.

The first of these is the Beach Bride, who may be characterised by:

“I want to get married on the beach!”

Every bride thinks the idea is so charmingly original. At first, one wonders whether it is a brainwave to minimise attendance at a private event, but then it turns out the Beach Bride genuinely wants everyone to fly/ride/drive/railway a few hundred kilometres to a bustling tourist resort with a view of the beach.

Now, let’s think this out. The Beach Bride wears a designer dress and gets her hair done, the Beach Groom is buttoned into a custom-made suit and has his hair moussed up, and then they expose themselves to the elements. The Beach Bride’s party walks with one hand stretched out, to catch the first warning drops of rain and run for the covers to save the food. The Beach Groom’s party decides sniffing the air suspiciously for the scent of extra moisture is more fun than smirking at jewellery. Most of the attendees gape in horror or curiosity at the bikini-clad holidaymakers standing a few feet away from the wedding area. And then, one is bound to get a panic call about ten kilometres short of the resort.

“Can you buy bananas? And veththalai? And some mallippoo?” an anxious voice says, “Nothing is available here! Why do you people want to get married in these places, ma? Why not at a wedding hall?”

Then there’s the second category – the Naysayers. “No gifts or bouquets” screams the wedding invitation. What they really mean, perhaps, is “No tea sets”. It is my belief that the same eight hundred tea sets have been in circulation over the past half-century. I even received one as my memento for judging a singing contest at a school. Right after the photo-op, the teacher who had held it out to me hastily tore away a ‘Happy Married Life!’’ card with a firm hand and an embarrassed smile. But what if you’ve interpreted this anathema to gifts and bouquets incorrectly? What if it’s like the, “no, no, please don’t trouble yourself to make coffee!” line? What if you land up empty-handed and find brightly-coloured boxes climbing up the stage? Maybe those of us who have been the victims of this dilemma should take a stand and change this trend. Maybe we should send out invitations that read “Monetary gifts only. A/C Payee cheques, cold cash and all credit and debit cards accepted.”

The third fear factor at weddings is The “Theriyardhaa?”Clan. I’ve never figured out quite how these sixty-to-eighty-year-olds, who have last seen you as a toddler, manage to place you. But they grasp your wrist, pull your close to their dentures and demand, “do you recognise me?” You smile and nod, but before you can make a getaway, they insist on embarrassing you and themselves with, “tell me, let me see…who am I?” You could have been honest to begin with, but then you run the risk of their saying, “I saw you when you were a baby. You would do your potty all over the house, and go cry under the table. Hehehehe…”

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Tribute to the Yov Brigade

(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, on 6th February, 2010)

I’ve always been an elitist. I like combining an Epicurean lifestyle with Victorian manners. I exaggerate my horror at the thought of eating ‘street food’, and usually refrain from dancing to ‘item numbers’ at weddings. Having had my hair plastered with coconut oil till I was old enough to object, I was quick to categorise my former kind as the ‘Coconut Oil Brigade’ in school, and found a new genum, ‘The Synthetic Salwar Brigade’ in college. At work, it was the ‘Sirrnnhh Category’ – people who couldn’t use first names without suffixing them with ‘Sir’.

But recently, an experience threw me into a conundrum and made me review my prejudices. It was an encounter with the ‘Yov Brigade’. The Yovs are the male counterparts of the ‘Paw Brigade’ (the women who say, “ei, this tops is looking nice, paw!” when they like your kurta, and who sport orange contact-lenses). The Yovs start every sentence with “yov!” and are usually found in abundance at the beach, in movie theatres and outside colleges where the Paw Brigade gets its education.

On the fateful day this incident occurred, my brother and I had gone to see a much-hyped Tamil film, which turned out to be an amalgam of ‘Titanic’, ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean’, ‘Apocalypto’, ‘10,000 B.C.’, ‘The Mummy’, ‘The Gladiator’ and ‘300’. Apparently, the director has promised to give up his profession if anyone can prove his movie is influenced by Hollywood, and I hope someone does. But the truth is, we would not have survived if it hadn’t been for the remarkable creativity and timing of the ‘Yov Brigade’ sitting right by us.

From yelling ‘Lakalakalakalakalaka!” when an anachronistic king gives one of the skimpily clad female actors the once-over, to drawling, “technology had improved very much!” when the remnants of a purportedly ancient Tamil kingdom began firing machine guns at the army of the anachronistic king, they kept the audience entertained enough to make me watch the film again, just to trip on it.

As we walked out of the theatre, one of them turned to his friend and said, “yov, did you understand the film?”, to which his interlocutor replied, “yov, the director himself didn’t understand the film. How do you expect us to?”

Those three hours, which I would have regretted forever if it hadn’t been for the Yov Brigade, have left an indelible mark on my life. You might curse them for keeping up a running commentary when you’re trying to lose yourself in Tolkien’s world, but there’s nothing you wouldn’t give for their company during a movie that spoofs itself. You might wish them off the face of the earth when they whistle as you walk by, but the lack of a filter between thought and action is what makes for ‘a wholesome family entertainer’ when the director fails at his job.

As a fitting tribute to the men who had rescued our afternoon, my brother and I addressed each other as “Yov” and “Paw” during our ride home. We also promised each other that the next time we see a man with the front of his hair coloured pink, a Hawaiian shirt tucked into formal trousers and belted up, wearing Dike, Reebak or Odidas shoes, we will send out a silent salute through the airwaves.

Donkey Know Camphor Smell???

(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, on 23rd January 2010)

Of about fifty cities spread across six countries I have visited or lived in, the one place in which I know one can get along just fine without knowing the language is Chennai. Well, there’s Bangalore, but there one usually can’t finish a sentence without using English, Hindi, Tamil AND Kannada. In Chennai, though, not only do you not miss out on things you want in on, you can’t avoid things you desperately want out of, using linguistic acumen.

It’s like the city finds ways to engulf you in its cross-cultural dialogue by whatever means it can find. As someone who would lead Misanthropic Pride Parades, if that were not quite so oxymoronic, I always do my level best to avoid conversation – and usually, the easiest way to do it is to pretend you’re an NRI who doesn’t speak any language except English. You could, at a stretch, resort to “Lo siento, pero no ingles”, but you’re likely to be asked what the difference between “te amo” and “te quiero” is.

And the reason you’re never allowed to feel comfortably out of place is that there is a brigade out there, a very unsecret society that specialises in Tamil-to-English literal translation.

Take the man we called Mr. Walk Inglis, a former colleague of mine. I was working with a radio station, and no one knew quite how to deal with an RJ who was on loan from our Mumbai office. She would complain that the song selection wasn’t comprehensive enough. Finally, Mr. Walk Inglis closed the case with, “see ma, this is the problem. You are not knowing how to dance, and you’re saying the stage is not proper.”

Then there are the sabha mama-mamis. They are about as frequent an occurrence across the Mylapore-T.Nagar stretch this time of the year as a poet in ancient Persia. They begin by observing your clothes, your jewellery and the twitch of your fingers, and then ask whether you learn music or dance. In the interest of avoiding an analysis of the performer’s prowess, you reply in the negative.

“Are you from Chennai?” they ask in disbelief.

“My parents are. I grew up all over the place,” you say apologetically, with a fake accent that’s apparently convincing enough.

“But it is soaked in the blood,” they say proudly, “see, you have come back to the same mud.”

Once, while watching the daughter of a famous Odissi dancer perform, a rasika leaned over to me and asked, “what do you think of her?”

When I nodded approval, he said, “that’s what! Will a tiger give birth to a cat? But that said, even a crow thinks its chick is a golden egg.”

And it’s not limited to the realm of delusional crows. Back in school, I remember one of my teachers saying, “please don’t be cashew nuts and exceed the word limit on your essays.”

Mr. Walk Inglis has been known to comment ironically, “you know, ma, I will stand up for what I believe in, in front of any boss. I will say four words like snatching out their tongue. But there is no one I am more scared of than my wife. If she asks me four words, I will go catch her pallu and follow her. It is true what they say. A tiger outside is a mouse in the house.”

It’s all very well to grin at this city’s ways from the outside and put it down with a smirk. But I knew I needed help when I caught myself calling my brother a filtered fool.
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