Monday, December 24, 2012

What Women Want

Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, Kavita Krishnan, speaks here.
Unrelenting and extremely stirring articulation of what many of us are feeling right now.

Also, not going viral in India is this: Arundhati Roy speaks.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

This Suitcase

This year I've packed a lot of suitcases because of work (no I don't work for a movers & packers company ha ha).
I've become quite adept at it now.

But this suitcase - it's quite another thing.
No sensible shoes. Two pairs of heels, one pair of boots and bright red sneakers.
No functional shampoo-cum-soap. Three types of hair products and a hair dryer.
I'm ditching my 'outdoor location' pants that have been through unimaginable, pan-Indian trouser trauma. The tight-tight jeans and skirts are in.
No serious kurtis packed for meetings. There's a special corner in the suitcase for my disco-ball, sequined, swishy top.
And SO MUCH make-up and dangly earrings.
No laptop bag full of research materials and power-point presentations. Just Steinbeck and a trashy magazine.
I'm finally going to listen to that loooooong podcast that's been slow-basting in my Ipod.

In what seems like an eternity, I'm finally going on vacation.

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? Booze. Lots and lots of booze.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Between Knowing and Unknowing

Tonight's (18th December) 'India Decides @ 9' on NDTV has been very interesting.
I highly recommend watching it once it's uploaded to the website. (Also, catch today's parliament proceedings if you can. I was riveted.)

When it comes to rape & India, anger, outrage and a deep sense of violation is pervasive.

But what stands out is the general state of confusion, how little we understand about violent crimes against women and how schizophrenic we are when it comes to codes of conduct between the two sexes.

The Indian news cycle in the last 24 hrs has gone thusly: Society point fingers at politicians. Politicians point fingers at policemen. Policemen point fingers at sick mindsets. Bollywood stars make statements of how the 'time has come' for change yet continue to feed off the sick stereotypes in the name of entertainment. Meanwhile us average joes & jills get our daily exercise pointing fingers at just about everybody. None of us seem to have a clue how we're contributing to the sickness. None of us seem very ready to look it straight in the face.


Things are simpler on international news channels like BBC World News, where the (Indian) reporter points out the irony of a burgeoning economy like India simultaneously treating its women with such disrespect. The report seems to pivot on the assumption that women are actually valuable and that a high incidence of crime against them speaks of an ailing society.
It does what no Indian channel does: air an interview of a Delhi citizen who breaks down while talking about being groped in a DTC bus and describing it as the 'worst moment' of her life.

I wonder if this type of shaming of India on a global scale will have an impact: to be disqualified from being a world player until we stop saying that rape is caused by Chinese noodles.

I won't lie. There's a part of me that would be very gleeful if that happened. Not gleeful...maybe just relieved that it's all out in the open now.


For some strange reason, I keep rewinding to 7-10 years ago, when Delhi's traffic system was transitioning from just another chaotic urban mess of inadequate roadways, boorish driving culture and a shocking disregard for the lives of not just others on the road but one's own safety. Then, very slowly - but perceptibly - things began to change. Things began to change in this 'north-Indian, immigrant infested' corrupt metropolis that everyone had associated with a deep-rooted aversion to order.

First, the government started to get serious about building decent roadways, immense flyovers and wider pavements. They started building the metro. Even before that they instituted the seat-belt law. I remember when that happened. We scoffed: "That'll never work. Can you imagine a Delhi cab driver wearing a seat belt? Who do we think we are? White people?" But then the thing took on a life of its own. Because at every street corner, there was a cop waiting to challan your ass if you didn't. Rinse & repeat with helmets, pollution checks, speeding.

I'm not saying Delhi's traffic has done a 180. Nothing as drastic as all that. But there's been a tangible transition effected by strict implementation of smart policy. And now most drivers in Delhi automatically strap on their belts when they get into a car. I'm not sure if most of us are doing it out of any deeper sense of our safety - we just don't want to get pulled over by a thulla.

The other day I returned to Delhi after a week in Hyderabad. It had been an intense week of being stuck in the most bizarre traffic situations I've ever been in. People rushing red lights right from under a cop's nose, drivers driving on the wrong side of the road as a matter of course, helmetless two-wheeler riders with death wishes and pointless traffic jams created just because people won't stick to the rules. Yes, the same stuff happens in Delhi too. But over the last decade, it's gotten much better. Now it's a relief to return home from cities like Hyderabad, Bangalore, Mumbai & Kolkata etc. & go for a drive here. Somehow the city's managed something even the widest eyed idealist had been cynical about.

I'm not saying there's a direct comparison between Delhi's traffic & its culture of violence - especially involving women. But there's a lesson here of some sort, isn't there?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Just One Little Fact

I live in a city where, everyday, I walk through crowds of men not knowing how many of them could be criminals.
A Could-Be-Criminal, who might never become aware that his desire to attack with brutality is even a crime. Whose brothers, sisters, mother, father, wife, lovers, friends, neighbours, local politicians and policemen might never realise that his actions are unlawful, inhuman or savage.

I live in a city, where I must assume that I will be raped
I live in a country, where I am expected to feel grateful if I manage to live out the rest of my days unmolested.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Political Statement

Went for the South Asian Bands Festival at Purana Qila this evening. 
A special event organized by the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, bringing together musicians from all the SAARC countries.

Lovely music.
Slightly suspicious stage design:

Call me paranoid but there's something ominous about so many Indian flags gheraoing the other SAARC countries' flags.

Maybe I'm over-reacting. I mean, we aren't such bullies are we? ARE WE, BITCH?

Speaking of bullies: 2011's highlights showcased a superb heavy metal band from Myanmar. You have to wonder what they're rebelling against. I mean, Than Shwe did let them out of the country, didn't he?

And then there was this band from Mumbai going to town about smoking ganja, while the Hon'ble Minister for External Affairs sat in the audience, pondering which one of his babus sanctioned a band that yells "Blow YOURSELF UP!!!!" every 6 seconds.

Finally there was Noori from Pakistan. They are gorgeous, they did a kickass version of 'Eik Alif' without Saeen Zahoor and therefore no amount of cynicism will allow me to diss them.
Not even Ali Hamza, who seems to have the same stylist as Ajmal Kasab.

Oh Hamza, you crazy coot you....reminding us how much India & Pakistan have in common. 
If only we'd all just get along.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

My Father's Thoughts On FDI

Sushma Swaraj: "Will Wal-Mart care about the poor farmer’s sister’s wedding?" 

My Father: "Will Sushma Swaraj care about the poor farmer's sister's wedding?"

Sharad Yadav: "How will a man on a cycle go to Tesco?" 

My Father: "On a cycle." 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Good Genes

I don't want to brag but some of the older men in my family are beginning to resemble the cast of a Wes Anderson movie.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Message To Boys Who Are Afraid

See? You don't need to be afraid of loving a smart, independent and liberated woman, who has your back.
If you play your cards right, things might turn out really, really well.
Barack & Michelle Sitting On A Tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G
(This photograph appeared on the front page of this morning's Hindustan Times. What a visual for us Indians to wake up to. What a visual to announce Obama's re-election as one of the world's most powerful men.)

Sunday, November 4, 2012


In The Dewarists' Episode 2, Rapper Akala recounts: 

"1997, I was 13 and an album called 'Wu-Tang Forever' came out and this album is definitely the reason why I write rap lyrics today. Here were these guys from the Park Hill projects in Staten Island, one of the worst neighbourhoods in New York. Many of them had been shot, many of them had been to prison, many of them had been through all the typical 'rap things' but they didn't seem to feel the need to sell themselves off of that. They were coming, using words like 'benevolent' or saying things like 'Behold the bold soldier/ control the globe slowly' know, just poetry. More than any other rap group, Wu Tang made it sexy to be intelligent. They were from the ghetto but they had an entitlement to knowledge and to me that was just revolutionary."


* "There are only two mantras... yum and yuk. Mine is yum." 
~ 'Still Life with Woodpecker' by Tom Robbins

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Miracle of Life

I struggle constantly with finding reasons strong enough to have children (besides 'just').

I think I may be getting a clue.

This kid is growing up. Now he walks in straight lines without bumping into stuff or keeling over for no good reason. His mother has brought him up to be a very charming young boy, who knows not to run into oncoming traffic.

Ah, but the miracle of life. Not only can he talk now, he can listen.

"Baby, Mausi ke liye chai lao na please."

And off Baby goes.

Tears of joy & bittersweet quiver of jaw.


Carl & I? Sameguy.

Monday, October 29, 2012

State of The Union

I have Jonny Lee Miller on my TV as Eli Stone.
During commercial break I have Jonny Lee Miller on my computer as Sherlock Holmes.
In between, I google Jonny Lee Miller to see who Jonny Lee Miller is.
And somewhere Jonny Lee Miller weeps for the best years of his adult life he spent honing his craft.

The Business of Acting: Serious Bloody Thing

Friday, October 19, 2012

Get A Better Argument

So I found this on Facebook, 'shared' nearly 44,000 times the last I checked.

Since Science is obviously a person, as is indicated by Gervais, I figure she must be weeping right now (because Science has feelings and is insecure and always needs to be one up on Religion - that pesky & incovenient cousin). She's probably distraught over how folks make such unscientific & simplistic arguments to defend her virtue (like arguments of Religion that folks use to defend the virtue of the ladies).

I can't be sure, but if Science were anything like me (and she's got to be, right?) she'd be wondering why these mullahs of Atheism forget this: the gun used to shoot the child in her head for wanting to go to school was created by Science, designed expressly for shooting at living things. In that sense, culpability - in varying degrees - lies with both parties.

Science doesn't like to be told things like this - especially when she's trying so hard to trump Religion using the platform of logic.

And because she knows there are plenty of great ones, she wishes these defenders of hers would get a better argument.


Carl Sagan on Charlie Rose (at 7:45 he talks about religion): 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

What Gives Us Mass

Growing up in classrooms where a brand of fascist physics held sway in the steel cold grip of NCERT, we never looked beyond Rutherford's atom. There was no such thing as the Standard Model and everything was particulate & unquestionably spherical. 
The electron was life of the party, hopping about in celebrity circles, making all the difference between one kind of compound and another.

Considering that we rote-learned the Periodic Table built on its back...
Considering its firstborn, Hydrogen, seemed to be 75% responsible for our existence (and the existence of Boyzone, whom we loved in those days)...
...No one really talked to us about the proton at all.

There's a light drizzle as we stand beneath the belly of the Globe. There's a lull in filming so we begin to chat. She's a revelation to me and she's mildly uncomfortable about it. "Everyone always wants to talk to me about being a woman scientist," she says, exasperated.

I cringe inwardly because, to be honest, that's what interests me the most about her. In spite of a higher voice trying to steer conversation to matters of scientific importance, I realise I'm starving to know how a young girl from smalltown India, grows up through the '80's to become (a) a particle detector hardware expert (b) a permanent employee at CERN and (c) the top honcho for all the upgrades of a CMS sub-detector. My mind is screaming "But you're an Indian woman!!" There's an urgent need to crack this code.

Don't get me wrong, I don't doubt her mind. Her remarkable intellect is above any discussion of gender or nationality. I'm not such a fool
I'm trying to understand what else sets her apart from me. Or what set her apart from me 25 odd years ago, when she emerged from an Indian university and earned a first-class ticket to this mecca of particle physics. I want to know if she ever hesitated. 


Experiments at the Large Hadron Collider are said to be 'paradigm shifting' landmarks of our times. Whenever they run, they perform profound feats like recreating conditions similar to the universe a billionth of a second after the Big Bang and attempting to describe the Higgs boson: that thingamijig that gives everything (you, me, Boyzone) mass, etc.

As the name suggests, the LHC collides hadrons to achieve these ambitious goals. Hadrons like protons. Two protons accelerated in opposite directions at 99% the speed of light, meeting along the 27kms tunnel only to smash up against each other. Much of this catastrophic rendezvous proves to be beyond our visual imagination and it will take mathematics to make complete sense of it.

Infact, before the LHC began its first run, there were those who panicked that such colliding protons would hasten the end of the world. Instead, they gave us new science.


On camera, she is vibrant and engaging when talking about her physics, her workplace and the exciting ventures she'll be part of in the LHC's next phase. It's hard not to look at her animated face and be very aware of her fate, inextricably bound with the most fascinating discoveries of our time.

I see an opening and take my chance. I ask her to tell our viewers what it's been like being Indian, female and making it big. "Tell those young girls watching that they can be scientists, physicists, hardware specialists even though they're in traditionally male domains. Tell them, tell them!" 

She falters, her confidence wavering. Like a bloodhound, I pursue my track relentlessly, egging her to talk about her personal story. But she needs a moment. She composes herself and then looks askance to the director, who nods yes. 
Her answer is a public service announcement. It's one I've heard a million times before, about believing in dreams and not giving up. The bloodhound's scent has run cold. 

Ok, I want to whine, screw the viewers. Screw gender or being Indian. Screw your smalltown upbringing and all that it came with. Tell me your secret: Did you ever question your talent? Were you ever ashamed of being the odd one out, did you ever regret your intellect? Did you ever balk at winning the biggest trophy in the room? Did you skip a beat before accepting your entitlement? Did you ever second-guess your worth?

On the 4th of July 2012, CERN holds a live webcast to unveil an astounding discovery. 
Director-General Rolf-Dieter Heuer announces: "As a layman I would now say I think we have it." 

'Bumps' in data from two LHC experiments show that the Higgs boson has finally been detected. Thanks to a bunch of enterprising protons, it has graduated from being a theoretical construct to a highly probable, experential reality.
There's mad applause. A snow-haired gentleman in the audience wipes his eyes.
We'd always known we had mass. But, I guess, it had been really important to know why.

Sidebar: Watch Sheryl Sandberg Talk About Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders

Friday, October 12, 2012


Move over Cumberbatch, there's a new Brit in town. He is at CERN (and no, I did not meet him. I did think I saw Peter Higgs, but it turned out to be the guy who cleans the bins).

But before that he did this:

 My imaginary life is so exciting, my real life can barely keep up.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


As the rest of us bumble about wondering how to make brave television in these times of manufactured reality and formulaic cowardice, BBC2 forges ahead.

Just finished watching 'The Song of Lunch'. If you love the English language, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson and moving pictures, do give this one a go.

Then, if you're anything like me, scour the internet for a free download of the poem by Christopher Reid (because that's exactly what a poet needs - someone stealing from him). It is an absolute joy.

I don't know what it is: the precise imagery of the text, an inspired screenplay that manages to have its own voice or the sheer pleasure of watching Thompson & Rickman (oh that voice reading those words!) act. I wish I could calibrate the exact mixture that creates such potent experiences. But I can't. Maybe that's why I enjoyed it so much.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Technology Down

Three years ago, when I'd just signed up on Twitter, the site went down. In a moment of bitchiness, I composed a tweet that was ready and waiting for when service would be restored: "Don't panic. Twitter will soon be up and we can all go back to our jobs at CERN."

Today Google went down for a bit. No Gmail, no nothing and I panicked. Because I...ahem...had to get back to a job at CERN.

By some twist of fate (an enterprising boss and a lot of swotting) yours truly, who has yet to miss a single episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, is going to be at CERN this time, next week.

Career high. Showing Off. Hell yeah.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Revenge of Middle Berth

In Indian trains, Lower Berth is king of time and space. Lording over window & leg room and deciding bedtime. Middle Berth is minion at the mercy of Lower Berth's whim. Middle Berth's back is stiff, boredom is there & Lower Berth is burping continuously. Middle Berth chants,"When will dinner come?" Dinner is game-changer.

"Thambi, my time will come - just you wait-aa."
Morning comes and Lower Berth has woken up all fresh & gone to Indian-style loo. Now fully ready for tea & veg cutlet. But Middle Berth is fast asleep. Actually Middle Berth is awake but not moving. Slyly watching Lower Berth trying to adjust head & neck like so and like so, spilling hot water on crotch, cursing in regional language. Middle Berth is also wanting to go to toilet but this is more fun. Lower Berth is looking up every two minutes, giving pitiful looks and massaging the aching back but no response is there.

Now Middle Berth is king.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Are you KIDDING me?

So now they give us Benedict Cumberbatch falling in love with a feminist? Kill me now.

A pox on you, BBC Two.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Books And Covers

My grandmother, my mother's mother, was a biologist. She did her MSc in an era when good Brahmin girls were reared to be good Brahmin wives. She was the Head of Department of Biology at one of Delhi's biggest public schools. She walked out of an unhappy marriage and earned her PhD at age 60. For years, I remember her taking crowded DTC buses (much to the annoyance of my mother) to go meet her thesis advisor. 

My aunt, my father's elder sister, is a biotechnologist. She left her only daughter in the care of her husband and went off abroad to study in an era when good wives gave up careers to raise good children. She returned to join the All India Insititute of Medical Sciences and went on to do remarkable work in the field of leprosy. Every time I visit her I'm drawn to the Padmashri hanging in her living room, awarded for her contribution to Indian science.

My mother is a doctor. Growing up, she was perhaps the only mum amongst my friends', who pursued a full time career and managed to be available to her family. I remember the few times she took us with her to the clinic. I was so proud to see her in action. She cured people. With science.

Today I attended a seminar on high-energy particle physics. A national meet to celebrate India's contribution to the experiments at the Large Hadron Collider. 

It was not until I sat through this session....:

Crappy Photos, Awesome Lecture

...that I realized how unprepared I was for the appearance of these women on this particular stage. 

The lady in the white sari is a key member of the India-CMS project. (The CMS experiment at the LHC detected the Higgs Boson.) In the picture, she's just finished schooling the audience on how the Higgs was discovered. The lady in the brown sari is one of India's leading authorities on S particles and Supersymmetry. (To quote The Hindu, 'she is in a panel that decides the specifications of the next big collider at CERN'). She's just finished schooling a grumpy 185 yr old scientist-bully in the audience on how it's really done bitch.

If you'd asked me to visualize what India's leading particle physicists look like, these ladies would not be it. Why? Probably because they look like my grandmother.

And that's where it becomes about my failings. Why shouldn't they be India's leading particle physicists?
After all, they look like my grandmother.

Must read: Lilavati's Daughters:The Women Scientists of India by Prof. Rohini Godbole

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Really, People...Part V: Do Your Research!

Much annoyance & frustration has built up inside me following this Sunday's 'We The People' (NDTV), which for better or for worse is one of few shows on news TV that doesn't try to shriek you into submission. That doesn't however mean that the level of discourse is in anyway elevated. 
Sometimes it's amusing. Other times like this week when it's a question of free speech and the damage it may or may not cause to society, it's disturbing. At least to me. (Because why can't they just say the shit I want them to say?....haha)

Remember when you were growing up and your elders taught you manners? Or didn't? And then you took your little bundle of good behaviours/ bad behaviours out into the world? Maybe your teachers whooped your little butt for saying a bad word, maybe you made your best friend cry by calling her fat. Maybe you decided to be nice to that shy guy in class, who no one ever spoke to and he turned out to be your best friend for life?
Then, when you became an adult, you decided once and for all who you wanted to be. You'd done the hard work, you'd made the faux pas', been politically correct, pushed on like a bulldozer, been sensitive to the pain of others. You'd figured out your balance. You'd figured out what worked for you. It was partly based on who you were in your gut, how you'd like to treat the world and how you'd like the world to treat you. 
Point is, who you are today is a consequence of research.

So when you talk to me about Free Speech vs. Censorship and ask me which one I think is dangerous, let's not debate decency okay? 
Let's not make grand generalizations about 'sentiments' or presume who can handle them and who can't. Let's not base the all-important decision of what to censor and what not to on what we kinda, sorta, assume or 'feel in our gut' will be the mass reaction. Let's be very sure if someone's words/art/expression are capable of intimidation, suppression or destruction of life & property.
Before we decide to be a 'hip & liberal' free speech advocate or a 'responsible & conservative' supporter of government censorship, I do hope we'll demand data.

Frankly, my research right now is shit. 
I don't know if social media is capable of inciting communal violence or not. I don't have hard facts or analysis to support either side. And when I turn to the the best of Indian news TV to help sort it out for me, I realize I don't even have someone to help me ask the right questions. No one is curious: How does dissemination of information through the internet cause mayhem? How does mob mentality work? And really, how many innocent lives has a parody Twitter account taken till date?

Help me do my research, people, and then we'll talk about decency.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Sometimes I feel like a raisin.
Sweet, but
Ready to be

"The graisin (or giant raisin) is a raisin which has been genetically re-programmed to grow far beyond its normal size. It was produced by Japan’s National Institute of Genetics, which is unsurprising given that nation’s love for large fruits of all kinds. And while they taste exactly the same as small raisins, graisins are sure to make dinner guests stare in awe!"

Friday, August 17, 2012

As far as confrontations between arch nemeses go....

Patrick Jane meeting (who he thinks is) Red John:

trumps Sherlock meeting Moriarty:

Bradley Whitford + Simon Baker + Great Writing > Benedict Cumberbatch + Great Writing - Andrew Scott (No. Just, no.)

I know, sacrilege right? What to do, it's been a day of brutal honesty, television & hiding from real life.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy Independence Day

Patriotism isn't it. Plus I'm going in to work so it's not about the mid-week holiday.
But I do like this day. How wonderful it is to celebrate freedom. How terrible it is to live in a cage.

Today's a good day then, to be thankful for the number of ways in which I'm free and to take serious note of the ways in which I'm not.

I used to get annoyed when I heard people taking their freedoms for granted, not being grateful enough or feeling entitled. But lately I've changed my stance somewhat. The best kind of freedom, methinks, is the kind where you don't even notice it anymore.

This gentleman, Ai Weiwei, helps put it in perspective.

As a corollary, I suppose the worst kind of enslavement is when you're trapped and you don't even notice it anymore.

Street Art by Banksy (London 2012)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

I'll Take It

I recently returned to film production after nearly a decade of being 'just the writer'. It's been scary and exhilarating to see all the little holes & high points of my script come to life. I'm in love with my subject and over the past 6 weeks, I've poured my heart, soul and last dregs of energy into editing the film.

Today we invited a senior editor to preview the rough cut. After the 50 minute viewing he slumped back in his chair and said, "If I didn't have to watch this film, I wouldn't."

This creation I'm so in love with has turned out to be the world's most boring film.
The heart is there, he acknowledges, but who cares?
I can feel my windpipe constrict and my hackles being raised. I can't understand how something so meaningful to me can be so meaningless to someone else. There is deflation, a moment of 'don't mind me, I'll go back to my writer's dungeon then'. Then there's something else. I'm not 21 anymore and I don't need to run away for another decade.

"What can we do to fix it?" I ask.
And he tells me. It is a singular, most magical solution - the kind that takes my breath away with its elegance. Just like that I'm a student again and I can see why this film needed to suck. I think to myself, Damn it, if this is what it means to make a shitty film, I'll take it.

A scene from 'Jules et Jim', which is not a shitty film

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Not Suitable For Adult Types

I was invited by the fabulous Miss Karina to contribute a Story For Thing.
I discovered that writing for kids can be life-saving - especially for curmudgeonly adults like me.

In the event that you start tiring of being a grown up, please take a moment to visit the blog.
It includes The Most Loved Girl In The World by yourstrooly.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Kya Picchar Hai, Baap!

Disclaimer: I am currently in the process of educating myself on the subject of social responsibility & the artist by googling 'Social Responsibility & The Artist'. Until then, below are my thoughts.

A couple of years ago, I joined Bollywood in its outrage against then health minister, A. Ramadoss, who tried valiantly to get Indian courts to uphold a ban against showing smoking & drinking in films and on TV. I believed wholeheartedly in the idea that art's 'job' (if there is such a thing) is to reflect the world we live in, not tell the world how it should be. (I'm very allergic to the word 'should' and am currently on steroids to deal with the matter). A. Ramadoss became a joke, an object of revulsion even. He was The Man and we had to band together and fight against The Man.
Perhaps the fact that I enjoyed my whiskey & occassional smoke had something to do with this.

Then in the last few weeks, two film experiences made me do a full BJP-style, double-standard turnaround. Both films also came closely timed with horrible incidents of criminality that have outraged & horrified the general public. One film made me plain mad. The other made me confused.

The first was Cocktail, over which I have expressed great anguish on Twitter and this blog. First, and importantly, purely as a cinema goer, I was thoroughly bored by it. At one point in the film, someone got hit by a car, making it the only redeeming moment in a dull screenplay (that the victim did not die, was a severe disappointment). This complete disdain, then, facilitated my righteous rage about the stereotypes it perpetuated. At first, these stereotypes were simply annoying (read: Spot The Slut if you haven't already). But after the Guwahati incident, they went from being simply annoying to dangerous.
What took me from a state of being offended to scared was this: The film is marketed and packaged as a hip, young, cool & progressive story of love and friendship that is actually built on highly regressive values. Dressed up all nice and fancy, it's difficult to notice what a sexist, lecherous & frustrated douchebag Saif Ali Khan's character is or what a potentially powerful and moving character, Deepika Padukone's could've been in spite of being scantily clad. I saw an instant connect between the values exhibited in the film and the terrible acts committed in Guwahati. I'll admit, I wished the film had never been made.
Perhaps the fact that I hated the movie and not just its politics had something to do with this.

Last evening I watched 'The Dark Knight Rises' and from the first frame I was hooked. Purely, as a cinema goer, I thought the grammar & symmetry of how its characters, technology, writing, cinematography & editing came together made it a fantastic experience I wouldn't have wanted to miss. Then came the first big shootout scene and I looked away from the screen, towards the exit doors of the cinema hall. "Was this the scene, where Holmes came in on those unsuspecting people in Aurora?" I thought. I quickly banished the idea and turned back to the movie. But how does one turn back from that? How does one disregard the glamorously brandished automatic weapons in the scene, the sexiness of the deranged bad guy? Or not wonder if one is losing ones mind? 
What made me feel torn between the two states of exhiliration & morbid terror was this: The film skirted dangerously between fantasy & psycho-social reality (in fact all Nolan-directed Batman films do). I am used to comic superheroes being exaggerated characters in exaggerated situations (perhaps created as a reaction to prevalent social issues of their time...Who knows? That's my next topic to google.). When I walk away from George Clooney's Batman, it's simple for me to distinguish between him and the real people I meet in the world. 
But the Nolan films aren't content to remain in fantasy land - at least not psychologically, socially or politically. For me, the lines often got too blurry, too rapidly. Maniacal characters like Bane (and the Joker) weren't just comic villains - but people with subtexts & stories I could relate to all too easily. If I were just that much more insane than I am, would I have wanted to emulate them? So I'll admit, even though I enjoyed the film thoroughly, I wish it had never been made.

I still don't know where I stand on holding art responsible for triggering society's ills. Through all my ire at Cocktail or discomfort with The Dark Knight Rises, I have never called for curtailing the rights of either filmmaker to create what they want. If I have a serious issue with them, I would rather bitch, moan, blog, tweet and text all my friends not to see the films. The idea of blanket bans makes me uncomfortable, because so much of who I am today is informed by art that's considered dangerous by someone else. At the same time, I've experienced the double-standards of my own subjective impulses to accept one artistic piece as admirable and the other, not.
So am I looking to unleash my inner A. Ramadoss on anyone? Not any time soon.

But here's what niggles at me: Perhaps the fact that I'm neither that girl in Guwahati, nor an unfortunate victim trapped in a cinema hall in Aurora, has something to do with it.
Read also: Stupid For Art by Mark Mann

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sunday Morning: A Short & Miserable Story

Last evening I went on a bender, which in old lady speak means I went to a nearly empty pub at 4 in the afternoon and after saying a couple of 'No no no, I can't drink - I have to drive. I can't drink - I've given up alcohol. I shouldn't drink because I'm trying to maintain my weight loss...', I gave in and had 6-8 pints of Budweiser.

Then I was punished for my lack of coolth by the stupidest hangover ever.
Of all the Sundays of the year, this had to be when my boss emo-blackmail-bullied me into attending a seminar that had nothing to do with work, just to suck up to the seminar organizer (who happens to a guy of immense coolth).
I'd been up for most of the night nursing my hangover (when you start drinking at 4 and end by 12, the hangover begins at 3am) and the head poundage and generally gross state of booze-sweatiness had succeeded in eliminating all traces of joie de vivre from my usually buoyant personality.

I staggered out of bed - not my bed, a friend's bed...I hadn't made it home (see I can still summon up some coolth) - at 7.30am, hoping to make a quick getaway and promptly bumped into friend's parents, who were happy to meet me after many months. Postponing plans of peeling off my grotty skin, I had to instead be nice & polite and talk to them. Meanwhile the humidity rose in proportion to the headache.

Made it out. Strapped into my vehicle, plugged in my ipod and Norah's promise of 'Happy Pills' helped me make it home in one piece. A quick shower & Ibuprofen and off I went to attend the lecture. At least the roads would be empty on a Sunday morning.

I got caught in the worst traffic jam ever. What kind of old lady hangover hell was this? Cars crawling like millipedes, creepy taxi-driver in the adjacent car trying to lean across and look down my shirt (for reals!), and the ever-exploding temples. By the power of Cumberbatch, I prayed, let me get out of here intact and un-hurled.

Intact is a relative term so let me just say, I reached, checked my pulse and was relieved to discover I was still alive. Onwards, warrior, onwards. And into a seminar hall with only 6 people in it! There would be no skulking to the back of the room and gently drifting off to sleep, while great science was discussed in the front of the class. Some pretense of attention-payment would have to be made. 

Luckily the speaker was the most boring sod in all the land. Not even my land, as it turned out. Japanese, with a thick Japanese accent and even thicker Japanese ppt slides ("I aporogize, I cannot make Engrish sride."). 

I tried valiantly to keep up - but not just in the interest of science. My boss, seated next to me, kept nodding off & sliding down his chair. Turns out there were two hangovers in the house and every so often, I would revenge-poke him awake with my pen. We strove on. The talk was all over the place but to my credit I managed to figure out its central theme of how mankind had smartypanted itself into hastening its own extinction and that if we were going down, we'd be taking everything else down with us.

As the clock ticked and the talk approached the 2 hr mark, I suddenly snapped awake and realised the purpose of this entire ordeal. This sequence of seemingly disconnected & pointlessly tortuous events was in fact leading up to a single moment of enlightenment. At first I thought it was God trying to show me to be stronger-willed, to push past the pain and emerge on the other side, having smashed through personal limits of endurance.

Turns out God just wanted me to know that when a Japanese person enunciates English words, chances are the Earth suddenly becomes the Arse.

It's On Amazon, Yo

Friday, July 20, 2012

Happy Birthday

There was a young man Cumberbatch
Who struck gold with a role perfectly match-
-ed. To his looks that could kill,
With mad Shakesperean skill,
Now even my Amma agrees he's a catch.

On Cynicism

I'm fascinated by cynicism. My own as much as that of others.
When I think about it I realise I'm most cynical about things that I've been upset about or suffered in a very real way (yes, you rapey people, I'm looking at you) but not actively participated in changing.

Then there are other projects of change I've actively participated in. For years and years I've pegged away at them, moving an inch when I 'should' have moved miles. I've been frutrated, exhausted and very dejected along the way. But now that I think about it - they've never made me cynical. I've never thought it was pointless just because I wasn't getting expected results.

Which makes me then think that being cynical has got to be the most boring thing on the planet.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What Is A Guwahati? What Is A Goa?

Guest Post By Maya Ganesh

Today I walked down a lonely and very beautiful village road somewhere in Goa. On my left a quiet cove went shhhhhh, and on the other, the jungle rose like an iridescent fungus on the back of a red earth monster. I felt like I was in a magical forest of the kind you find in children's storybooks – anything is possible here and everything will enchant you. Houses lay hidden behind dense foliage lining the rain-slicked path through the magic forest. Stray dogs defended their territory like cowards do: all sound and fury. Old ladies in wrinkles and faded flower prints clutched their rosaries and smiled.

I'm muttering something to myself. Thoughts arise and vaporise. I think about how what we pray for changes. I'm praying to the jungle to bless me with fecundity of spirit. I ask to mirror the ritual of the sea in my return to writing every day. I pray for an awareness of beauty, which endures like the thin, grating whine of a window creaking in the night.

I think about friends who have moved here and what it means to live here, as opposed to just dropping in for a holiday. What is Goa, really? Where is it, what is the here that a tourist will never see?

My dusktime reverie is interrupted by the ache of an engine in the distance, one that becomes acute very quickly. They zip by leaving plastic fluttering and dust rising. Roughly three minutes later they speed by again and then come to an abrupt stop, swerving in the gravel in front of a shuttered 'Rock Roof Bar & ChillZzone'. I hear them but cannot see them for there is a bend in the road. I'm calm but aware that I'm going through a drill in my head.

Be alert.
Assess distance and speed of bike.
Assess pace, by comparison.
Try to remember where the houses and shops are along this windy, quiet road.
Locate phone in bag. Feel reassured that phone is in outer flap and not buried in voluminous but trendy Ladies Holiday tote.
Locate keys in bag for eye-jabbing if required.
Prepare adrenaline to R U N.

Don't be ridiculous, nothing will happen, I tell myself. I square myself and amble along. I have fought off and attacked attackers in a New Friends Colony park. I've spat at and clawed my way out of a mob of Holi-bhanged-up boys in Egmore. Nothing will happen that I cannot deal with. Thing is, I just don't want to have to deal with it. What I was actually feeling was monumental annoyance and peevishness (more than fear, actually) that the burden of management of this crime rested on me and that I'm supposed to be good at it. Prepare for the moment, manage it, manage the outcomes. By now I am very alert and grumpy, like I've had four espressos.

And then they come by again, this time grinning, the wind in their hair. Nothing will happen. A stray dog, a stray car, something will come roaring out and establish that I am not alone. Nothing will happen. They dismount and walk around seemingly aimlessly. They don't pull out their cellphones. They aren't really talking but they are looking at me. They fiddle with the drawstrings on their raincoats.

I know I'm being paranoid. I try to push away the headlines. Single Indian woman traveler found dumped in forest in Goa. Identified by tattoo and ridiculous T-shirt.

I'm writing this because of Guwahati, Gurgaon, Pune, Mangalore and Whereverpuram. I'm not particularly distressed by what happened in Guwahati, in a sense. I am fairly accepting of the fact that shit does happen and it stinks.

What does bother me is how we think about violence, not that we don't think about it enough, and how what we think about it informs how we consider responses to it. I tire of the breastbeating (no pun intended), the story-sharing and feel like there's something being pixellated out.

When yet another Gurgaon gang-rape occurred earlier this year, they pointed, as usual, to 'Jat culture' 'mall culture' and the predictable 'Western culture' bogey. Here is the thing. It is all also about Westernisation and Jat Culture but not in the way the blind brigade of the law, bigotry and bureaucracy see it. Westernisation as a reason for violence is fairly specifically sketched out as being made up of short skirts and late nights and bars; the oddest thing about this idea of Westernisation is that it is actually intended to serve as an antonym for something rarely articulated, something we seem less sure of:  Indian-ness. So Indian-ness is something that exists as an Other – if you are not a short-skirt-wearer then you must be Indian. Substitute short-skirt with bar/club/burgers/blender cocktails.

I'm talking about another version of Westernisation that lies uncomfortably with our Indian-ness. Gurgaon [Hinjewadi] [Electronics City] [Salt Lake] is the crucible where our rapacious (again, no pun) aspirations for 'development' have been forged, where our snaking desires for modernity and globality entwine with far older ties to create a knot of distress. How do we begin to understand what Gurgaon  is and the politics of its construction, physically, as a child of concrete in a land of toothless old farmers,  in the imagination and in public and urban aspirations? The hand that wants to tug at your hemline is the one that lovingly runs its precious-gems-to-ward-off-Shani encrusted fingers across the nameplate of a building called Mayflower or Oxford Greens. What are the multiple, confused and intersecting micro-economies of desire growing out of the plastic debris? How can you not expect that to transplant some San Diego lifestyle into the middle of Whitefield or Wherever is not going to have implications for what you think and feel your identity is? You may want to think I'm saying one thing is the cause of the other, but I'm not, actually, if you stop to think about it. There is a difference between correlation and causation. Neither am I saying that you shouldn't have some version of what some people tell [sell] you is a San Diego lifestyle. (“The only way I knew it was India was because of the servants”.) I think there is a particularly Indian brand of Shame Cream we smooth over all our desires. If the 1990s were about an excessive use of the word 'fusion' then it's time to actually think about what a tragic move that was, for we are, and always have been, hybrids.

Violence against women has always been around, it does however take on slightly different dimensions in Gurgaon, Guwahati and elsewhere. Think about the vast stretches of fairly empty road (at night) leading to and from Gurgaon, for one. How many bars are there in Guwahati and since when have women being going outside the house to drink? What kind of public dialogue do we have in this country around sexuality or alcohol or even just eating non-vegetarian food at a restaurant and hoping your parents and grandma won't find out? (There is an entirely different thread possible here about the first generation meat-eater and its collective responsibility for the irksome popularity of chicken everywhere).

'We demand justice for the victims and punishment for the perpetrators.' Who are these victims and perpetrators and what do they really want? Where does a sense of justice lie? How do we start to name and c0nnect with the girl who is clearly uncomfortable with her short skirt but has to wear it for work?  In today's Times of India Page 3 supplement I see Rinki, Gina, Tommy, Aseem, Riccie, Anamika flash-photographed at a party with drinks in their hands, looking sheepish, constipated and just downright uncomfortable. Who are these people and what is that combination of excitement and shame they're going to feel the next morning? Who are the boys in their scuffed, wheezing Maruti Zens pumping out Himesh Reshammiya remixes through their tinted windows? Who is this brazen gay boy in his tight pink t-shirt and zircon ear studs (three!)  flaunting his hypersexuality?  Who are these uncle-auntys who want their children to bring in call-centre/medical transcription firm/telemarketing salaries? What will this mean for their marriage prospects? Who is this Dalit boy who wants to conquer the world but is made to feel he has a place at the table? What does it mean to be urban, to share space, to experience difference? What is a Guwahati? What is a Goa? We have not even begun to unravel these questions and they're all connected to how we think about violence in public spaces.

We must know ourselves in these Goas and Guwahatis even as we learn to identify victims and perpetrators. Most of us in these public spaces are desiring, and desirable, consumers, and citizens. Some consumers are also 'the masses'. Not all of the masses are citizens. Our identities are complicated enough by caste and class and religion and now we must also negotiate a new set of identities borne of our aspirations, the market, globalisation and geopolitics. We have some fluffy notion of agency in our cities, our marketplaces, our voting booths and in front of our mobile phone cameras. We want our sushi and we want Mika remixes thudding off our mojitos and chili paneer manchurian crostinis. We like our short skirts and big AC cars. We want Crocs and iThings. We want our mod-cons, our glittering Karwa Chauth parties, we want urban efficiency, clean streets and clean politicians. We feel like we have choices. And yet we do not feel that we have enough of a sense of entitlement to question to what these choices are about, who served them up and what it means to actually choose. 

I spent the first seven years of my career at a Violence Intervention Centre and in retrospect I feel like we rarely reached out into a broader sort of imagination around talking about violence. Our advocacy tended to be reactive and involved demands to be heard. No one was listening. Our words didn't connect. We were sometimes shrill and that is because it was all incredibly frustrating and dispiriting. A language of rights is no place to begin when you ignore one set for another, or when you fail to see that rights to multiple rights exist within the body of the same person. 

Last night my friends brought up Harassmap and there's something new in Delhi that has been inspired by it. I've profiled and spoken with the creators of Harassmap and initiatives like it form one part of my work at Tactical Technology Collective. I have to disagree with an Indian spinoff of Harassmap. I don't think a crowdmap is enough. In Cairo there was an unwillingness to acknowledge street based violence so Harassmap was something of a revolution.  In urban India, we need something beyond Harassmap. Delhi is not Cairo.We know what happens here, we even have shaky, ridiculous laws about it that have been around a long time.  A map is a flat representation of something discovered and known. I believe that there is a psychological and cultural landscape we're traveling but haven't begun to really explore.

Maya Ganesh (@mayameme) is the Evidence & Action Program Director at Tactical Technology Collective. Views expressed here are personal. 

Other things to check out:

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

It's a great day on the internet when something this ridonkulous:

...leads to something this lovely:

*music by Sebastien Tellier

Monday, July 16, 2012

Imma Stop You Right There My Friend

Have a look at this very interesting PSA on women's safety sent out by the Delhi Police via the well-meaning Farhan Akhtar:

For simple folk like me who'd rather not hit 'repeat play' on videos of sexual violence committed in this country (specially since a sizable majority of us have experienced such horrors in varying degrees in our own lives), it's easier to focus on smaller matters.
Like when Farhan makes this case for us: Woman are, by virtue of being daughters, mothers, sisters and wives (but not mistresses, whores or bosses), exempt from being assaulted. 
And as daughters, mothers, sisters and wives (but not mistresses, whores or bosses) women must also take charge of their own safety. 
Because, you know, shit happens.

Watching this ad (during a welcome break from the film 'Cocktail', where the 'broken', alcohol drinking, pre-marital sex having, white-man kissing woman doesn't have a hope in hell of securing a happy ending), riled me up a bit. Well, more than just a bit. More, even, than that disgusting Guwahati video doing the rounds (it's funny how we're uncomfortable listening to a woman talk about being raped or assaulted but we'll have the video of it go viral in 2 days).
Because here's the case I'd have preferred Farhan to make: Woman are, by virtue of being human (and not inanimate objects), exempt from being assaulted.
And as human beings (and not inanimate objects) women must also take charge of their own safety. 
Because, you know, sexual violence is vile and absolutely unacceptable in civilized society.

Deepak points out (I'm guessing with regard to lines like 'Zulm karna ya sehna, dono gunah hai' line): "If I were in your shoes, I'd bring up the point of false equivalence: That perpetrating sexual assault is nowhere the same as being a victim of it."

Also check out this fun, fun, fun anti-street harassment video: Shit Men Say To Men Who Say Shit To Women On The Streets  

Then if you have the time, do read Natasha Badhwar's gut wrenching piece on sexual violence here. It truly struck a chord.

And finally, if you must know, read why Cocktail pissed me off so badly


After nearly a lifetime of experiencing and surviving some very unpleasant instances of sexual harassment & violence, I've come to the conclusion that I want to focus on the little things now: PSAs like the one talked about above, a seemingly innocuous mainstream film, a comment here, a grope there, the gentle banter of 'this happens, yaar' passed along like a frisbee at a picnic - it's here, in the tiny details that I find the seeds of the biggest crimes. To me, it's all connected and I can't just chill out about it. It might make me unfun for a while but you know what's really unfun? Molestation.