Saturday, December 31, 2011

Bad Zoke

This happy new year I want a happy new yaar.

Have A Good One

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Grow A Pair

Three women got together one evening and through a fog of marijuana teetered down a dangerous path. They found themselves recounting their tumultuous adventures with unsuitable partners.
Towards the end of the evening, they converged upon an idea of spending their twilight years together in an Old Hag Home.
Then one friend said: And there'll be a sign outside that says 'Yay Boobies!'
To which the other one added: No entry unless you grow a pair.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pause For Reflection

Yesterday something unsettling happened to me. I was at my friend's home and her sister's son came bounding in. He and I have a cordial relationship. We greet each other when we pass in the hall and generally wish each other well. Yet, neither of us has really taken the time to create lasting bonds with the other.
I accept my fault, being inept at relating to the younger generation, just as he must own responsibility for being one year old.

Anyhoo, the little man came bounding along. I was lounging on the bed with my friend (his aunt) and we were debating the importance of woollen socks in winter. Generally, the child tends to shoot in & out of rooms at random so I didn't think much of it until he began to climb my side of the bed. I enjoyed watching the struggle for a while (the little bum attempting various wriggle-based techniques to make the ascent) until I realised that life with babies is not a mere spectator sport. I helped the boy up.

He was generally in good spirits having just eaten a boiled egg and taken a hearty dump and was feeling, I suppose, at one with the universe. He decided to jump on me and envelop me in a big hug. I was taken aback. While he wrapped his ridiculously tiny hands around my neck, my own arms were limp at the sides. What is the protocol in such situations? Does one say 'awwwww'? (I did.) Does one pat the child's head in validation? (I did.) Does one attempt to return the honour? Yes, it seems one does.

And so I hugged the little fuzzball back.

You know those National Geographic documentaries with the 3D animation of how neurons behave, with the whooshing of electrical impulses across the central nervous system? Something like that ensued and suddenly I had a vision. No, not of me cradling a brood of babies (it's surprising how many babies one can cradle at the same time in ones imagination), but of my mother saying - "See, doesn't that feel amazing? Don't you want some of that for yourself? Don't you feel the urgency of your biological clock ticking? Have some babies, won'tcha?"

I had to take pause for reflection.

To my vision I answer: Yes. No. No. No thank you.
I won't lie. The babyness of babies is a narcotic high like no other and I'm not immune to it. I'm down with babies. Babies are fly. I can even accept how becoming a parent could impart meaning to people's existence. I just doubt it would, my own. Of course, were I to have children I'm sure I wouldn't remain untouched by the experience. But must I invite this experience into my life when I feel no compelling requirement to? No argument extended so far has made me change my answer of Oh Hell No.

And there've been several arguments.

1. Perpetuation of the race: A relative was an insistent advocate of this argument. He didn't mean the human race either, he had narrowed it down to our specific Brahminical stock. On pressing him further the conversation entered the murky zone of how we Harvard-going, Padmashri-winning types (see how I inserted a show-off bit here?) needed to outnumber the plastic-bag-picking, garbage-collecting types. To which, I responded - I neither went to Harvard, nor does my barely-scraped-through-college intellect imply I'm winning the Padmashri anytime soon. So if he was refering to how valuable my genes are, they're at best Meh.
His argument may hold water if I were to meet & conjugate with a Harvard PhD-cum-Padmashri awardee, who also happened to belong to my gotra. I haven't met any so far, but if you fit the profile & possess a high sperm count, please contact me. Meanwhile, do excuse me, I have to take out the trash.

2. You'll regret it once you hit menopause: The sword of menopause has been hanging over my head since I first started menstruating in the 8th standard. I was told to expect the maternal urge in my mid 20's. It didn't happen. Then they said - wait till you pass 25, it'll happen. It didn't. Ok, talk to us when you approach 35 and realise you're dangerously close to the finish line. Nope, still nothing.
Because here's the thing: If at age 55, I truly wish to be a mother, there are wonderful options to adopt a child that someone else didn't have place for in their lives (Because guess what? Babies aren't a gift to everyone on this over-crowded and over-burdened planet.) In which case, if I indeed wish to keep the option of parenthood open, my only obligation is to stay fit & disease-free so that I can run after the little terrors even when I'm 65.

3. You are incomplete as a woman unless you give birth: Perhaps. But then you're also incomplete as a woman if you don't follow your passion, if you don't travel, if you don't invest in relationships, if you don't indulge your desires, if you don't perform selfless acts, if you don't possess an education and don't build a professional life.
I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted just reading that list (and it doesn't even include the requisite number of hours one requires for time wastage). I'm guessing all of us have dropped the ball on some of these items in order to pursue the others.

4. But babies are so cute!: This is the most persuasive argument so far. It's true that most babies are kinda awesome (even when they're cranky or poopy) and some of the older ones will say things that'll make you re-evaluate your life. Still, the basic problem I have with this argument is that babies grow up and their cuteness declines rapidly. They become, shudder, these things called individuals and tend to become their own sodding people with shocking alacrity.

5. But your mother needs grandchildren: Sigh. The ultimate diss. What a failure you are as a child to not spawn your own child. It eats me up inside, this selfishness I possess. I have tried to make it up to my mother by being a peace-loving citizen of the world and a generally happy person. When that didn't cut it, I offered to buy her a baby. This overture too was spurned.

The pause for reflection having run its course, I snapped back to reality. The boy had dispensed his share of love and was now squirming to get away. I released him after one last squeeze and cheered on as he ran off to chase a fly.


Also read: With Apologies to Nike by @chronicusskeptic

Covered In Love by Chidi Okoye

Friday, December 16, 2011

Death Be Not Proud

Everytime someone like Christopher Hitchens dies, I panic as though the world is running out of seering intellect & fearless folk.
That seems illogical.
Maybe I panic because in the absence of people like Hitch, I'll have to think & be fearless for myself.

Christopher Hitchens 1949-2011: Click here for a reading list

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Here's To The Asshole In All Of Us

...or maybe just the one in me.

December's not been very kind. I've had one health related mishap after another. First my back gave out on me. Then, a mysterious illness that had my mom sticking needles in my bum (it's ok, she's a doctor), a Masterchef-inspired finger massacre with a butcher's knife and finally a sprained wrist caused due to incorrect techniques employed in hooking a bra. I tried gaining perspective on my troubles by reading Christopher Reeve's autobiography 'Still Me' but since physical setbacks don't frequently occur in my life, suffice it to say, I was not a happy camper.

Of course there was the discomfort. But I was also frustrated because every evening I spent in bed was an evening not spent outside. I'm not a terribly physical person (by which I mean, I'm a sloth) but I do love walking. Summers, terrible as they are in Delhi, aren't feasible for long walks. So each winter day is extremely precious.

(The above is a prologue that, I'm hoping, will justify the upcoming telling of my assholey-ness.)

I didn't wait for the back to heal. I did a pilates class with a friend, experienced temporary relief and decided I was cured. A few evenings ago, I hobbled across to the colony's walking track and began a gentle round. Within minutes an elderly gentleman caught up from behind. He must've been in his 80's and was quite sprightly. As we walked shoulder to shoulder, he smiled at me. I smiled back but inside I was seething. The old guy hadn't just caught up, but would soon overtake me. What was that? A pity smile?! I pressed my aching bones into action and made a few feeble attempts to increase my pace. It was tragic, really.

For about five minutes, I pretended to be in a race with the gentleman, who by now had decoded my insanity. He wasn't looking for competition, he was just out for a walk. Now here was this crazy lady trying to out-walk him. There was a bit of a dance, a dialogue without words as our respective speeds did the talking. At some point the wiser one (not me) prevailed and he began peeling off to the right as I veered left. Unfortunately for him, in order to successfully complete this maneuver we'd both have to cross each other.

I should've let him pass but I was still raging in my mind. So I decided to turn left before he could turn right and cut him off sharply. In trying to avoid a collision, he stumbled slightly, then regained his step. As I sped away, like a renegade Salman Khan after mowing down innocents, I looked back shamefaced & mouthed an apology. The octogenarian, who'd reverted to his nimble stride, gave me the kindest 'It's ok, don't worry about it' grin.

This was hardly the first time I'd been an asshole. This summer something weird happened. Something shifted the value system I'd built carefully over the years. A situation presented itself & I wanted to be an asshole. I wanted to be selfish & uncaring. I no longer wished to see the larger picture. I was in full control of my mental faculties. I made a decision to be bad.
The joke was - I did unto others as I'd had done unto me (which had then undone me for a long time). I did the same thing. It was a decision, cold & calculated.

What made me do it? A sense of entitlement that I'd earned the right to be bad after years of being good. Or maybe, I got too impatient with internal debates. Perhaps I thought - 'If I could survive that, others would survive this.' I was definitely greedy.
I deluded myself into thinking that the past justified my present. It was a scary moment and in many ways it burst my little bubble of moral uprightness. Once the bubble burst, I had to question everything I'd been so sure about. If I wasn't good then what was I really? Suddenly words like 'sensible', 'silly', 'intelligent', 'dimwitted', 'honest', 'cruel', & 'thoughtful' seemed too lofty. They needed to be broken down into terms that were less loaded.

So in the spirit of keeping things simple and hoping I don't go rogue again, it's important to say this: I'm a woman who likes to trip up old men to feel better about her trivial problems.
I'm an asshole but I promise I'm trying not to be.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

What Would You Do?

I'm very excited about the Discovery Network's new series 'Curiosity'. They're doing some brilliant & inspired work in popular non-fiction. As someone who's worked in the Indian non-fiction industry for over a decade and is severely jaded, this series gets me energized. So of course, I'm going to plug it like crazy.   

Writer-Director Eli Roth hosts the second episode of Curiosity that asks - 'How Evil Are You?'
It's a topic I'm captivated by - acts of evil (especially mass destruction) and how evil-doers reconcile themselves to their actions.
Not all the answers can be found in this film, which focusses primarily on a famous experiment from the '60's called the Milgram Experiment, but it's still a fascinating watch.

The film's basic premise (as I understood it) is:

In terms of biology, evil isn't as far removed from 'good' people, like you & I, as we'd like to think.
And that critical moment when you decide between right & wrong action? It's not quite as straightforward as we'd imagine.

Turns out that at crunch time, it's not so much our moral beliefs we employ but those of the top dog who controls our environment. Nearly 65% of us will act, not in accordance with our conscience, but in accordance with the accepted 'code' of that time (Sounds a lot like Twitter, doesn't it?).

Turns out that even if women ran the world, the Holocaust could still have happened. (Sigh. There goes my favourite unsubstantiated theory.)

Turns out that decades of widespread 'sensitization' & awareness about things like genocide, murder, torture etc. have had very little effect on our collective sense of right & wrong.

Turns out empathy is one of the most difficult emotions to feel and even more difficult to act from.

Turns out that you & I will commit acts of evil even as we bury ourselves under excruciating guilt. That we, in the words of Eli Roth, are willing to be 'the torturer & the tortured all at once, never quite comfortable in our own skin'.

This isn't a comfortable realisation: because not only does this mean that you & I could plausibly run death camps, it also means that we can't be quick to judge or distance ourselves from those who do commit acts of evil.

But don't be sad. Turns out that the reverse is also true: that if someone intervenes with positive role-modeling, you & I will suddenly grow balls, rebel against provocative authority figures and refuse to commit evil acts.

To this I'd like to add my own little theory (which is based on little to no research data): I think empathy is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. At its strongest, it can overcome the compulsion of cowing to authority & prevent you from becoming part of the mindless herd. At its best, it can return to you, your sense of self.


John Steinbeck's work touches frequently upon themes of good & evil and what makes us act in one or the other way. His epic novel 'East of Eden' is a generational story that suggests evil is a genetic predisposition (as do certain segments of the Discovery film) but eventually hinges on a biblical word 'timshel', which is a game changer.
In the latter half of 'East of Eden', various characters debate the correct English translation for 'timshel'. One translation of the Bible interprets it as 'thou shalt' but deeper study reveals its true meaning lies in the phrase 'thou mayest'. 'Mayest' offers man a choice in his actions that the word 'shalt' doesn't. Out go any notions of religious compulsions, out goes the excuse 'I commit this act in the name of God'. Steinbeck makes a powerful suggestion that free will exists in holy scriptures and there is no basis for using religion as justification for doing evil (or good, I suppose).

In another of his famous works 'The Winter of Our Discontent', the 'good' protagonist grapples with a critical choice. To commit an act of evil or not. He is torn straight down the middle and, as a reader, one doesn't know what he will decide to do. But once he (and a very likeable 'he' he is too) goes down a path, he commits to it in its entirety. In the final chapter we get a glimpse of the price he's had to pay to make his choice. It's beautiful and devastating and to be frank, even though I've read the book several times, I'm yet to fully grasp it.

Also read: Does Evil Exist?: Neuroscientists suggest there is no such thing (as evil or free will). Are they right? (link via @culdivsac)

The Test

The above video is a popular test to guage which parts of your brain you're most likely to employ in the course of your life. Take a look and note your responses. Now match them to the analysis below:

1. You can't tell which way the figure is turning: You have a minor disability that causes you to insist automobile drivers turn left, while you gesticulate frantically to the right. At best, you will be the butt of humilating jokes. At worst, you will be involved in a terrible car crash. Either way, insist on medical insurance.

2. You think the visual is incomplete without a dancing partner: You are ready for commitment but only if you give up the nasty habit of sobbing 'I'm going to DIE ALONE!!' into your pillow every night.  

3. You wonder what the figure looks like when not in silhouette: You are perpetually horny and frequently channelize your productive energies into abusing yourself. You have a bright future in the porn or banking industry but must reconcile to a future where no one wants to shake your hand.

5. You're glad the figure is swathed in black from head to toe: You are a misogynist i.e. lady-hater. Don't worry, this does not mean you're a boobies-&-cooch hater. You just wish they wouldn't express any thoughts, feelings or opinions and stopped serving you cold paranthas dammit.

6. The figure makes you dizzy: You're either stoned, low on blood sugar or need an MRI. You may not live too long or prosper much but you can always switch to watching this.

7. The video makes you mad. You want to kill all videos: You're probably a high-ranking official in the Indian government and enjoy using the word 'sentiments' frequently. Congratulations, you must be rich.

"My dong this long. How long your dong?" ~ Kapil Sibal, Hon'ble Minister of Communications & Information Technology, Government of India