Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Kids Are Funny

Dear Amit Shah,

I want to tell you a funny thing that happened at this place where I work in Delhi. It's a small library and on Mondays I go in to hang out with the members (mostly kids between the ages of 4 and 18), help them check out books and every so often read books aloud to them and have chats.

Every Monday is funny, because kids are funny. Even when they're not trying to be. They have a funny way of observing the world that grown ups built. I'm convinced they've got a whole standup routine running in their heads about the absurdities they experience on a daily basis.

This Monday was no different. Actually it was. Half a world away, an angry man had opened fire on a nightclub full of people, overwhelmingly from the LGBTQ community. They were just there for a good time, but by the end of the night 50 of them didn't make it out alive. Because of that angry man with a gun. So we spoke about it, funny kids and grown ups.

Why do we fear the things we don't understand? What kind of responses do we have to the fear? Do we have a choice in how we respond? Do certain groups of people deserve to live more than others? The funny kids and grown ups decided to make a list of all the different kinds of people that are targets of hate, mockery, disrespect & oppression. The list was long and had all kinds of folks in it: weird shapes & sizes, weird skin colours, weird family names, weird ways of dressing, weird choices of romantic partners, weird ways of speaking, praying and eating food. Just weird, you know?

Finally, when the list was complete the grownups wondered: If we choose hatred as a response, what would happen to these groups?
Kids: They'll all be killed!
Grown ups: If they all disappear who'll be left?

And then an unsure but gravely serious voice offered: "Mmmm...Modi?"

I told you, Amitbhai, kids are funny. You should come hang with us.



Saturday, May 14, 2016

Damn Girl, Your Feminism Is Showing

I can’t speak for other professions but being feminist in Indian television is a weird science, practically inexplicable like quantum theory. In TV one can, at the same time, be and un-be a feminist. One can, simultaneously, benefit from & destroy the very foundations of feminism that generations of women (and some men) built with blood, sweat and tears.

…which is precisely how my boss prays I won’t speak as we walk into the conference room to present a “wow kickass jhakaas idea for TV program” to a group of suits.

Subconsciously I brace to be institutionally ignored by men in positions of power. If you’re a proper feminist, you’ve read up on all the ways in which you can be disregarded and made to feel small in such situations – you’re talked over, sometimes you’re loomed over by big-dick body postures and very often you’re subjected to half-smirks as dudes pretend to listen.

Where people sit at such events is key. My team is represented by myself and two men. One of them is my boss and he, automatically, takes the seat that would put him at the head of proceedings on our side. The other side is represented by three men and a woman. So far so #everydaysexism.

But then a slight woman with a big presence walks in and introduces herself as the high chair priestess. She parks herself bang in front of me, across the conference table, upsetting patriarchy's seating chart. She's a marketing suit and she takes lead (yes children, if you thought your television was made by creatives birthing sexciting ideas, think again – the head honcho is always the salesperson looking for profit). Off we go.

I don’t need to turn towards my boss to know that he’s straightening his back to up-talk our company and the work we do. She listens for a second and starts looking bored. A mousey guy to her right interrupts my boss and says, “Yes we know your work. Tell us your idea.” It’s over to me now.

I’m so excited, I tell them, to be presenting an idea that’s part humour, part emotional drama and always ‘life-positive’. Off we go, let’s present the fuck out of this. Three slides in. What wow. Such amaze. Look at their rapt---

High Chair Priestess: “I’m going to stop you right there. I think we’ve got the point.”

Me: Umm ok. (Initiate Sequence – Control ‘HELLNAW YOU DINT JUST INTERRUP MAH GRINDIN’ Face.)

HCP: This is great and all but it’s not right for our channel.

Me: Ok…?

HCP: There are women in each of your episodes.

Me: Yes.

HCP: And your anchor is a woman.

Me: Tr00 dat home gurl.

HCP: Our channel is more inclusive of other genders.

Me: Oh yay, like the whole spectrum of LGBTQ? (This was more a ‘face expression’ than actual words.)

HCP: No, I mean – shows that everyone can watch. And feel happy about.

Me: *nodding head vigorously* You do mean LGBTQ! (Again, face-expression)

HCP: Have you seen that Brooke Bond ad?

Me: Nuh-unh.

By this time, the world around us has dissolved, like in West Side Story, and there’s just me and her in the room looking meaningfully into each other’s eyes. 

and mouths a little less agape

I can hear background dude-murmurs (‘yesyesyes') every time she says something. But not once has she made eye contact with anyone besides me. She ignores the men, she assumes the big-vag body posture and she resolutely interrupts any dude who pipes up from time to time. I’m a little bit in love with her.

HCP: There’s a young couple. And she asks him to make chai. Her mother in law comes in and there’s this cute tension you know because she expects the daughter in law to make tea? But then she takes a sip and approves of her son and daughter in law. Like that.

Me: Huh? (Initiate Sequence – Remove CONTEMPT from face)

HCP: We are not looking to push women’s programming. Or be perceived as ‘male-bashing’.

Me: But but but these are fascinating stories that happen to have women in the lead. We’re talking about women who do great things. There’s no male-bashing at all.

HCP: Exactly, there are no males.


HCP: If we get a branded slot like ‘L’Oreal Presents’ we’ll explore this further. Thank you for coming in. Keep in touch.

I reel out of the room, not quite sure what happened. I’m still high from having HCP engage with me so completely, to not be talked down to as is the norm. I’m appalled at my own desperation to not come off as a ‘card-carrying feminist’. I’m shocked at how this woman, whose talent & determination has allowed her to rise up the corporate ranks, is doing her job so well that it destroys any chances of non-cis-male narratives making it to the mainstream. I’m even more aware of how the ‘market’ is patriarchy’s bitch.


My boss is incredibly supportive. We’ve bombed, yes, but he believes in the idea and immediately starts making a list of other places we could pitch it. My other colleague is mostly quiet.

Then he says, “I’m sorry to say – and don’t take it the wrong way – but women in channels are like this only.”

Me: Like what?

He: Poor listeners. They interrupt constantly.

Me: So do men, yaar. All the time.

He: No they don’t. Not like this.

Me: Sigh. Ok.

He: And, anyway, did you see her body language?

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Conversations With Boys


Mid Life Problems
Just as it’s time to leave, he leans in and asks like it’s a secret, “Are you happy?”

I lean back. My brow knots up. “Wrong question. Ask me if I’m excited about the future.”

“Are you excited about the future?”

“Yes. Even if the happiness comes & goes.”


“You? Are you excited about what’s up ahead?”

“I don’t know. I’ve checked all the boxes – degree, job, marriage, money. I expected something more than this.”

“More than what?”

“More than…vanilla.”

“Talk to your wife more. Be vulnerable. You’ll be surprised how meaningful it can make your life to share like that.”

“I think I’ll start a band.”


They meet after more than decade but one might say they’ve never met before because this is the first real conversation they’ve ever had.

And she says, “I used to be so scared of you back then.”

He looks surprised: “Why??”

“Oh I was scared of everything in those days.”

“No no. I’m pretty sure it was me. I used to be an asshole.”


Body Issues
He texts me from an out-of-town wedding: “God everyone is *so* fat here. The women are cows.”

I text back: “I’m fat too. You seem ok with it.”

“You’re different.”


“You change. Your face changes.”

“In bed?”



She is half a country away from home and from him. It’s a lonely hotel room, where the TV only plays Tamil channels. She has an early morning but sleep won’t come.

“Why not?” he asks on the phone.

“I have trouble. Insomnia.”

“I can sleep anywhere, any time.”

“Lucky you.”

“I’m going to help you sleep.”

“Best of luck. You won’t succeed.”

“Oh I will. Are you in bed?”




“Listen to the sound of my breathing and breathe deeply with me.”

She inhales and exhales with him. For a good ten minutes.

“Are you asleep?”


“Ok. I’ll keep trying.”


The Turning Point
I dream of forevers with him.

But he says, “I’m only going to be a chapter in your autobiography.”

“Impossible. Only one?”

“Yeah, I’ll be the one after the assholes. Just before the love of your life.”

“You’re the love of my life.”

“No. I’m the turning point.”


Wah, mazaa aa gaya!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Diet

Doctor, can you help me shed this weight?
Oprah says it’s all the feelings I ate
But it might be the opposite
I didn’t
Digest it all

I heard my voice the other day
Played back to me
It played so different from what I’d hoped
It was crushed under a house
Reaching out
As if
It knew it had a chance


If I open my throat out a little more
Sound out
Round out the words a little more
Maybe I will hear myself
And feel my weight
Instead of eating these things to remind me
I am here
I exist

I am heavy

click them heels, you wicked thing, we know you're in there

Monday, April 11, 2016

Every Goddamned Morning

Moments from your past are picked up and thrown back at you, unsolicited, unwanted, unasked for. Moments that may or may not have been significant to your story but in their popping up, take you back.
When all you've been struggling to do...
In the books you read...
In the prayers you pray...
In the act of war you perform with your will power...
In the resigned surrender of your heart...
Is to return to the current, to stick your feet in the moment, to not look left or right or up or down or even straight ahead or directly behind - to be okay with the hysterical blindness it brings.

Your goal is to know that 'this-here-now' is not a trap, even if it feels like it. That it is the looking back, the sudden recurrence of a feeling, a look, a whispered breath on your neck that's the trap.

And so, every goddamned morning - would you please stop?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Your 30s Are For...

...realizing that while you possess the intellectual capacity to contemplate the deeper puzzles of life and pursue them to their artistic, philosophical or academic conclusion (on or off social media), you actively choose not to, instead devoting much of your free time to constructing penis & fart jokes.
Until you are confronted with a situation that demands you summon your highest self and act from a place of reason, nuance, kindness and empathy. In which case, you influence outcomes as positively as you can (from voting mindfully in an election, to helping an old person cross the road or being kind to a telemarketer) so that you can go back - as soon as possible - to your raison d'être i.e. constructing penis & fart jokes.