Sunday, November 24, 2013

In Memoriam

<<"I use Grammarly's free plagiarism check because it's a lot quicker than having to troll the internet all by my lonesome self!">>

I remember when I sat alone at home. Waiting for someone to walk through the gate and give me company while I finished threading the jasmines. The garden always changed shape and form. Each visit, it looked different. The plants this time around looked unfamiliar. It was so strange, expecting to come home to a crowd only to find no one there. And then a familiar face peeks from behind the door. A familiar smile, a familiar voice and a particularly memorable hug. We smile. I show you how much I tried to catch up with that string you'd left behind. You're happy with my handiwork. It's like I'd never left the last time to go back to Madras, and school and all the things I pretend to miss when I'm with you.

I remember our little walks along the compound wall. Talking about the little things we wanted to discuss. We could only discuss with sisters. Boys, the things we did in school. our friends, our hopes, our dreams, our academics, our lives. You were older than me by four years and it seemed to me like you were living a dream. Four years further from the drudgery of Class 8 algebra, four blissful years away from school and exams and horrid teachers and horrid boys. Four years away from all the things I loathed about being a teenager.

I remember that you kept studying. And such complicated things like Zoology. It seemed like you knew everything. And science was not a looming threat to your sanity. Your books were all over the house. Fat and overwhelming, they seemed to tell me that you were the fount of all wisdom and if needed I could call you and cry to you about failing science, because I was such a nitwit and you knew more than I could ever imagine. I never did. Because I had so many other things to talk to you about. So many things to share with you.

Our parents spent a lot of time fighting and arguing. They're brother and sister and my father is older, and for some reason I thought they hated each other. And yet, when it was time for lunch, it seemed like all those arguments were forgotten and my aunt went our of her way to make her brother comfortable.

I remember the time when we pulled a jackfruit from the tree and spread newspaper all over the floor, rubbed our hands with coconut oil and devoured it. All six of us. And spent the next day in a line outside the door of the loo.

I remember the games you orchestrated. Where each of us had a role to play and you led it all with your brand of discipline and fun. I remember the summer you spent at home, for the first time it was you over and my house and not the other way around. The way we had to push that irritating Fiat car in the sweltering Madras summer. The way you insisted that I learn how to make sambar so that I wouldn't have to come all the way to Palakkad just to eat sambar. I still don't know how to make it and I don't think I want to learn. What's the point if you're not there to nag me about it.

It devastates me to realise that the little side of the road where we walked is where you landed, head first, after a turn gone wrong. The corner of the compound where we played is now a house. That jackfruit tree is still there. The garden still changes every time I come around. But there's one change that I am not comfortable with and one change I don't want to deal with - your death and the gaping hole that it has left in my heart and soul.

You were one of the best parts of my family and now I don't know what I'll do without you. You were supposed to come visit me and make plans to travel across the country, to wherever I'd be going. You promised. And before anything could be done about it, I was at the gate, looking at your bruised face, swathed in that particular hospital white reserved for dead bodies, and trying to take it all in as they planned to leave with the freezer box to burn your body.

I hope you are happy wherever you are my chechi. I'll miss you always.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Nandini Krishnan speaks to Shruthi Padmanabhan

[I'm one of the lucky few women who has writers, published authors, as friends. It's great! I interviewed my dear friend Nandini, whose book I reviewed in my last post, for The Ladies Finger magazine. Here's the FULL interview. The version at TLF is much, MUCH shorter. Here's everything. To be clear, this is what I sent them initially. The editing and re-editing that occurred is too complicated to explain and put here.]

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How I Met My Husband
Nandini Krishnan's new book delves into marriage, as arranged by parents, the bride-to-be, the universe and other assorted elements!

By Shruthi Padmanabhan

As a statistic of the success of online matrimonial websites, I must say that reading Nandini Krishnan''s Hitched : The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage was an eye-opener. Yes, there are very similar narratives where young, independent, smart, educated, modern women are tearing their hair out at the prospect of having to get married to some random guy off the internet, there are also stories of decisions gone wrong, the plot not being quite it is and, yes, unhappiness.

What this book does is firmly divide the wedding and marriage. From the recently wed to the long-married, the women in this book have something to say, and all of it is relevant, and at times necessary, if you're a newly wed and don't have a clue about what you're doing with this new person you're sharing a toothpaste tube with.

Even though the men in the book are not the spouses of the women featured, their candid confessions is definitely something that needs to be read, especially without the accompanying snark about sexism and other assorted abuse that men often get when they try to have an opinion about anything.

And now, the author answers all my questions!

1) Take us through the process of how you found the women to be featured in this book. Any reason for them to remain anonymous?
I was looking for women who fit specific blocks in a grid within the broad description of “urban, educated, and modern”. I wanted people from across the country, across religions, and also who were in various stages of marriage – looking for a husband, newly-married, women with children, and divorced. Then, I wanted to speak to artistes, such as dancers, singers, and writers, whose professions and eccentricities and, umm, special needs the families they marry into will have to accommodate. And then there’s the other side – women who will need to accommodate their spouses’ professions – and this is why I’ve spoken to a woman married to an army officer, and one who is married to a mridangist. I wanted to look at both happy and unhappy marriages, and also issues like moving abroad after marriage, marrying across cultures, dealing with infertility, and whether there is such a thing as the right age to marry. Mother of god, I sound like a crazy scientist scouting for lab rats, no? Anyway, fortunately, I’ve worked in several industries across the country, so I knew quite a lot of these women personally. Then, I started asking around for women who fit the categories I hadn’t found yet.
There were two reasons for most to go with pseudonyms – one is that, however happy a marriage is, it is private. I was asking intrusive questions about intimate issues. Even if they were comfortable talking about these things, or all right with their friends knowing who they were, I don’t think anyone wants parents and in-laws knowing about their sex lives or fights or coping mechanisms or exes. Also, many of these women are my friends, who trust me, and who may forget that these stories are going to be published, even when I’m carrying a recorder, because they’re so used to discussing their personal lives with me. I showed them their stories before publication, but I was aware that seeing an email from me would be different from seeing the content of that email in a book on a shelf. In the cases of marriages that are turbulent or have ended, the husbands were not consulted, and so it was important for their identity to be protected. Even so, some of my interviewees did use their real names.
2) Have you met some of these couples? And what were your impressions of them? Did you, as an outsider, think “They're great together”?
I know some of these couples very well – I’ve met some even before marriage. There are those whom I haven’t met yet as a couple, and then there are those whom I met after the book came out. In some cases, I forgot that they had had arranged marriages because they fit so well together. In fact, with one of those couples that are so lovely together now, I remember attending their engagement and thinking, ‘They’re just so awkward with each other, how on earth are they going to live together?!’ But not all of them are straight out of Mills and Boon, you know. Some are still getting used to each other. With some, you can see that they’ve made adjustments. And, yes, there are some where the matchmaking has brought together a square peg and a round hole, and it’s obvious even to an outsider that they are barely able to tolerate each other.
3) A recurring theme is “the past” and this is an issue not just for married couples but for couples generally. I think except for the first relationship, every other romance in one's life has to go through this “can s/he handle my past” phase. Where do you stand on this issue?
It’s very hard to take a stand on this issue. It depends on you, your partner, your dynamic, and also the sort of relationship each of you has with your exes. If you’re not in touch with any of your exes, and don’t have any residual feelings for them (which is a tricky subject), maybe it’s all right to be open about it. But I think, broadly, it’s something of a Pandora’s Box. I doubt that anyone can handle one’s partner’s past well. At the most, we pretend we’re absolutely cool with everything, while hiding our insecurities and jealousies, and the fact that we’re constantly making comparisons, not just between us and them, but how our partners feel about us vis-à-vis how they felt about them. Aaaaargh! Maybe relationships work best when everything is on a need-to-know basis. That said, it’s not going to make your life easier if your ex decides to move in next door, and your partner has no clue.
4) At any point in writing this book, were you ever afraid that it might all read like a collection of 'samestories' gathered under one roof?
No. Is that the feeling you get? (Oh, dear!) I know most of these women very well, and while all of them are intelligent, and many of them are wilful, they have very different attitudes and outlooks. If I could meet Leo Tolstoy, I would tell him that was a very nice line, but he’s wrong – no two happy families are alike either. They may relate to each other’s happiness, just as unhappy families may relate to each other’s unhappiness; but they are not alike.
5) Each story has focussed on one aspect of finding a spouse and marrying him and the marriage thereafter and I keep running into bits of my own marriage in other stories. Was it a conscious decision to piece the book together like this?
Yeah, it’s all come together quite nicely, no? (Insert laugh) No, it wasn’t a conscious decision, really. The only part I assiduously planned was the sort of profiles I was looking at. And then, it worked like an algorithm (with a super-intelligent computer). It simply turned out that with each woman’s – and man’s – story, one aspect of the spouse-hunting took precedence, at least in their memories. I myself found that I could relate to a lot of their stories. I’ve never been married, of course, but things they said took me back to aspects of the relationships I’ve had. And then I thought, ‘It would be awesome if everyone can relate to this’. So, you’ve basically validated that wishful thinking. (Insert smiley)
6) There was one word that stood out in the entire book – train. It somehow made the whole process seem clinical, void of any kind of emotionality. Did you keep that in the book conscious of how it will read?
When the woman you’re referring to spoke the sentence – “You need to train your man like a dog with potential” – she said it in jest. When you put it the way you do, though, I see that it may have dark undertones, and sound cynical. I suppose that’s the problem with having just the words on the page, without the entire context that her face and voice would provide. I kept it in the book because I loved the sentence and her explanation for it – “See, I grew up with dogs. And the thing is, as long as they’re intelligent, you can train them. And because they’re intelligent, and so satisfied in their intelligence, they won’t realise they’re being trained. The key is to make them think they’re doing what you want them to out of their own accord.” She is hilarious, and says this sort of thing in front of her husband, who usually responds with a shake of the head or, you know, this long-suffering sigh. If I were to carry the simile further, I wouldn’t say training a dog, or even a baby, is void of emotionality, or even clinical. I think it’s quite cute how you can fool the brightest of kids and the brightest of dogs and the brightest of men, and yeah, the brightest of women too, into thinking they came up with something that you actually did.
7) Tell us a little bit about the stories themselves – why did you use so much variation – there's simple narrations of how they met and married, there are more nuanced tellings of life not having gone to plan – what was on your mind when you were writing these stories and piecing it all together?
A lot of these stories were in the women’s own words. My writing process is not that organised, you know. Sometimes, it’s whimsical. It depends on how I’m feeling at the time. So, the simpler narrations were inspired by less intense stories, and probably written when I was feeling light and happy, or in the sort of mood I’m in when these witticisms and tongue-in-cheek statements sort of roll out of my head. With the stories where life hasn’t quite gone to plan, I was drawn into a more melancholy and reflective mood. When I finally brought all of them together, I also had to pick out bits that each of my interviewees had said, which would go into the chapters that deal with particular aspects of marriage, such as living with in-laws, or changing names, or sharing passwords or deciding when to have children. It read all right to me, and I thought my editors would make sweeping changes and send me into depression. But they liked it, and it pretty much stayed that way.
8) There are women of all ages, faiths, and professions here, what did you think of interacting with such a diverse group?
Well, they all had one thing in common, and that was the socio-economic class they are from. I was curious about the extent to which the factors you mention here – age, faith, and profession – informed their choices, within the perspectives they had acquired through the way they were raised and their exposure to an urban lifestyle. While many of them might answer ‘Yes/No’ questions the same way, I found that each had very interesting insights into marriage as a whole, and this is probably because of the diversity of their labels, as it were.
9) The book has a “How I met my Husband” section and then divides itself into various other aspects – fights, language, culture, pasts – why did you structure the book in such a way?
Honestly, the book structured itself that way. Initially, I was planning to look at only specific aspects of a marriage, and use interviews as vox pop. But my first interviewee happened to be a divorcee. And she told her story so beautifully that I felt I was best off keeping myself out of it. With the next few people I interviewed, the same thing happened. So, the structure fell into place very organically. The book somehow became partly the stories of the women I spoke to, and partly what I had once intended to be the whole book – chapters on issues that come up in an arranged marriage. The ‘How I Met my Husband’ part also satisfies a certain voyeurism in all of us. Well, in me, at least. I like that sentence. I think I’m going to use it more often and pretend I knew exactly what I was doing all along – the voyeurism and then the self-help part.
10) You have also spoken to men and I found their confessions more candid – the words loo and gastric effluents come to mind. Why do you think this is?
For the same reason that men think it’s okay to, umm, spew gastric effluents in public, I suppose, while women pretend that having-to-go-to-the-loo is something that happens to other people. Generally speaking, men are just naturally less diplomatic and less worried about what others may think. Well, to be fair to them, I think they thought as much about marriage and the relationships they were getting into as the women did. Their turn of phrase makes it seem more light-hearted. Some are very close friends of mine. I’ve known the guy who speaks about the loo and gastric effluents for more than a decade now. And he says these things which sound hilarious, but are actually quite true. Another of my male interviewees was raised in the US, and he’s quite outspoken about what he likes and what he wants and what he doesn’t, and says as much in the book. He puts it down to the American way.
11) You've also featured your friends in this book, did you, at any point, think that it might dilute the objectivity of the narration?
I think objectivity is overrated. I wonder if it actually exists, because even your objectivity is gauged by someone’s subjectivity, no? God, I sound like a teenager on dope who’s just discovered Jack Kerouac. See, the only way you can be objective is to be duller than an NCERT textbook, and that’s the last thing I wanted. I think subjectivity makes things interesting. Some of the women I know were very open about their stories, and some jazzed them up a bit, I think, and some highlighted the better or worse aspects of their lives. So, it brought two levels of subjectivity into it – theirs and mine, which is obliquely reflected in the way I write about them, or the things I write immediately after putting down their stories.
12) Share one of your horror stories with us – who he was, what he said wrong, and why you almost murdered someone after having met him?
Well, I didn’t meet any of them, really. I only had four arranged-arranged long-distance encounters. And then there was this one guy whom I ran into at work, who said he was in love with me after three conversations about business, and I asked him to talk to my parents. That’s the sort of stupid thing 22-year-olds do. Thankfully, I moved cities almost immediately after, so that became long-distance too, and allowed me to discover he was a psycho on the loose. As for the four, I didn’t interact with two – I called them Toad and One-and-a-Half-Eyes, based on their photographs, and asked my mum if she would honestly like to see those wedding photographs and then the mutant babies. Another guy was nice enough, but we had absolutely no common interests, and wanted completely different things from life. My horror story would have to do with the one whom I stored on my phone as ‘Vijayakanth Lookalike’. His parents were sensible enough to not send me the photograph till my mum gave them my number. First, he’d plastered powder all over his neck. And he was wearing a blue silk shirt. And a porn-star moustache. I couldn’t bring myself to answer his first call. Then he texted, saying, ‘Hai. Plz tel ur convenient time. I shall cal u then.’ I called my mum (I was living in Delhi at the time) and said I’m turning lesbian. She asked me to be polite, call him and finish it off. Her exact words were, I think, “You’re a writer, di. Come up with some creative, believable lie and make him decide you’re incompatible, no?” I couldn’t bring myself to text, so I called Vijayakanth Lookalike back. He didn’t pick up, and texted saying, ‘Hai, sry, I’m gymming. Wil cal in 10 mts if dat’s ok wt u.’ Fail only. So, he called and asked, “So, you’re enjoying in Delhi-aa? I use to louwe Delhi.” He asked me if I read, and then said, “I’m a woracious reader.” I said, “I read, yes.” He asked, “What are you reading, actually? I’m a big fan of Taam Clancy. But my all time fawourite book is Alchemist.” I overcame my seizures, and managed to say, “Well, I’ve been reading Orhan Pamuk lately.” “Sorry, yaar?” he went. So, I repeated, “I said I’ve been reading Orhan Pamuk.” He said – wait for it – “Oh, I’ve never heard of that book.” Khatam. Khallas. Need I say more?
13) Why is your first full-length book non-fiction?
Well, after finishing some really terrible teeny-bopper books that make me recoil twice over now, I started writing a novel. It was a satire on marriage in the Tam Brahm community. I was telling Meru Gokhale, the Editorial Director of Random House, about it when I met her at a book launch. I’d just casually mentioned it. I was still plodding along with the novel, when she had this idea for a non-fiction book on arranged marriage among cosmopolitan Indian women. She asked me if I would like to write it, since I was already thinking about the subject, and I was quite thrilled – aside from the fact that she has been the editor for almost all my favourite writers, I saw that this would be my big chance to avenge the arranged marriage market ordeal I’d been put through. I put the novel on hold to write this book. Now, I’ve got three other ideas for novels, and I think I’ll do one of those first, before I become the person you go to for a quick sound bite on marriage. Your equivalent of Carrie Bradshaw for sex, if you will. Wait, you didn’t ask me what’s next. I should stop plugging myself like this.
14) After having gone through several 'fail' matchmaking attempts, and after having met and interviewed the women in this book, where do you stand on the new-age arranged marriage process?
You know, at some point, I realised that my idea of a perfect man would look like Arjun Rampal, write like Vikram Seth, have Jerry Seinfeld’s sense of comic timing, and behave like Kishore Kumar in Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (with the vocal acrobatics and finesse too, naturally). God, I start dancing every time I listen to, “Ek ladki bheegi bhaagi si.” Anyway, problem is, none of them is Tam Brahm. I think, for all its pretensions of modernity, the arranged marriage process has several antiquated parameters. The worst of these are caste confines and this obsession with horoscope-matching. Of course, two women feature in Hitched who broke both norms. But that’s not usually how it works. I didn’t see myself having an arranged marriage, ever, and it was something I half-heartedly allowed myself to be talked into between boyfriends. It isn’t for everybody. I think one really needs to decide whether an arranged marriage will suit one, based on what one wants from life. I’m not ‘between boyfriends’ right now, so I’ve sort of distanced myself again. Also, I’m 29 now, and even if I stay 29 for as long as Sridevi stayed 49, I think I’m pretty ineligible in the arranged marriage market.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

In which a book is reviewed

[[Uh, what? Two more followers? That's all kinds of awesome! Yay! And, welcome. And now, onto business :D ]]

I'm in a book reviewing spree.

Why?

I have a 4-month-old pup who's either tearing out the foam from my govt-issued sofas or trying to pee on my bed. That I get any reading done at all ought to be celebrated, and publicly too. Because my pup has now decided that hanging out in the balcony is a great idea because he can climb on the chair we've kept for him and watch as cars and trucks drive-by, the cows graze (I live in a village converted to an army cantonment, okay?) and people walk past our block and go to the front gate. Thankfully, his watching means I have time to read and write. So, here, for the followers of my blog is a post about Hitched – The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage.

Written by Nandini Krishnan, Hitched traces the “why?” behind the decision of independent, educated, urban women to marry a man chosen for them by their families. Now, I had an arranged marriage too and I have spoken about it extensively online, but I did not just say yes to the first goat my father introduced me to. There was a lot of talking/thinking involved, and that is precisely what Nandini explores in her book. How did these women arrive at the decision where you met a stranger and decide that you were going to spend the rest of your life co-habiting, procreating, money-sharing, secret-sharing, life-building, etc?

The women featured in Hitched have all lived life according to the rules they made for themselves, and each of the women in the book has her own reason as to why she married the man she married. Each woman owns the narrative of her marriage. Let me emphasise this – marriage, not wedding. For those who are confused about the two, kindly do a quick search for the definition and come back here.

Arranged marriages are a norm, in a manner of speaking, in this country. Now, those who are academic will talk about the violence exerted by patriarchy by still keeping this alive and the lack of choice and the fact that agency is robbed when a partner is chosen for someone rather than them choosing their partner. I would like to clarify that this book does not feature the women on whom this institutional violence in committed. They are in charge of the decision-making process, although the means to the decision is either a marriage broker, or meddling relative, or an online matrimonial website.

Now, the same category of women – educated, urban, independent – also existed a generation ago. Our mothers, I mean. They were the key veto in the whole arranged marriage process, but let's face it, if our grandfathers had insisted that a particular alliance go ahead, it probably would have. I'm also pretty sure that most of our mothers did not stay out till 3am and come back home to sleep off 10 tequila shots!

Back to Hitched. There's so much truth in here, and so much relevance that I was thinking about everything I've written online and shared with my friends about the morons I was being introduced to and asked to consider by my dad. And even though it might seem that this is a collection of identical stories, it's not. Even the people and their values are not identical. There are all kinds of women featured here – journalists, dancers, TV producers, divorcee, still-looking-for-a-husband – and each of them has her own way of talking about how her life panned out. And that's what makes this book complete, if you ask me. The fact that this is not a collection of “One fine day, I met this guy and we connected and just knew, and then we got engaged and discovered how right out choice was, and then we got married and are now living happily ever after. I was right, he is “the one” and I'm so happy, I'm vomiting rainbows every day.” There is crazy, there is poignant, there is also methodical.

Another plus for Hitched is that it is pieced together beautifully. First up are the stories – from the disastrous first meetings, to the frustrations and heartbreaks, et al – and following those are the questions “The wedding hungama”, “What do couples fight about in the first year?” and others. At some point, it might seem like you're reading a relationship how-to, but that's not the aim of the book. Let's face it, when you're talking about your marriage, it tends to go into “Yeah, we fought, but relationships are about compromise...” territory and that's something no one can really help. Especially in India, where advice can be got for free for just about any life crisis – from maths homework to childbirth! Let's also be clear about another thing - when people talk about their marriages, they will never tell you about the fights, the disappointments, the “did I make the right decision moments” to anyone, best friend or no.

I recommend that everyone read Hitched. Especially those who are from foreign countries. God knows you harbour a ton of misconceptions about us! I'd appreciate it if you understood that my country is a mix of people you make documentaries about, as well as people like me, who blog and whose blogs you read.

Why are you still here? Order Hitched. Like, now!


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Book Review and other things

I cannot believe that I haven't posted anything since July this year. Not that I have decided to neglect this blog, hell no, just that I'm too lazy and that laziness outweighs every opinion I have to share online.

Now, onto the reason I'm back to posting – a new book I read recently.

And it's in the category of books I've read in 5 hours – other books in this category include Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Hitched by Nandini Krishnan, Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and the topic of this blog post – Soldier and Spice, an army wife's life by Aditi Mathur Kumar.

Now, all of you know that I'm married to an army officer, so this book is of particular interest to me.

Let's begin, shall we?

The Army Wife's Learning Curve – A review of Soldier and Spice

The thing about the Indian Army is that it is never in the news for the right reasons – there's either a land scam, or an ex-chief who is making cryptic comments about government dealings, or the media pondering over the sustainability of one of the largest standing armies in the world. The other times the army is in the news, then we're either fighting a war or we're trying to stop incursions. There's a lot of mystery around the army and the only people who have a clue are officers and their families and frankly they are the last people who will talk about what goes on in the corridors of the many offices and conference rooms of regiments, brigades, corps commands, and HQ.

But that's a serious discussion, we're talking about army wives here, and army wives are a group who are known as the hep aunties in various small and big cities in the country or as the women who are the mothers of the most popular Miss India's since 1994. But what happens when a girl who is from a non-army background marries into this set-up of protocol and never set a wrong foot ever? 

Back when our mothers were getting married, minding your Ps and Qs was an inherent part of your education – both in school and at home – knowing how to cook was a given, and wearing a sari was the only clothing decision to make when one had to go to a party of any description.

Cut to the era of cable television and jeans and grunge and goth and rock music and you have a whole generation of women who didn't go to convents, studied all kinds of subjects and worked and are working across industries. What happens when these independent women are thrust into a life where moving is the norm, whipping up snacks at any given time is a given, and your career can take a long vacation because there's no scope for journalism to flourish in a little town in Arunachal Pradesh unless you're working for National Geographic? 

What happens is what is chronicled in Soldier and Spice.

Set aside a few hours of your weekend, grab a cuppa and let Pia Arjun Mehra take you into her world where you meet lots women who speak well, who dress well and who know what needs to be done and said at the right place and time, listen intently as they steer Pia towards being a better army spouse. And if you have the time, try out Pia's cheesy fries with red dip. She's not a gourmand, but that recipe is definitely worth your while. But Pia's is not an easy journey. She was in TV before this and the last thing she got called in TV was “aunty” and “memsaab”.

Her first encounter with anything army is the way her husband tells time (1700 hrs is 5pm, and so on) and then there are the giant men who walk in and offer to do her household chores, and frankly when you're an independent woman who is used to lugging around her own baggage this takes some getting used to! And then there is every young, cool woman's worst nightmare – being called “aunty” by some random child. That encounter is worth reading.

Pia doesn't mince words and every thought is articulated in a way that is completely Urban Dictionary and not at all some preachy manual on how to live your life. As an army wife, let me tell you, the first thing you'll learn is that life simply does not go to plan. Pia's strength as a character is that she's brutally honest and she does her best to cope with a whole new world. Everything she thought she knew is suddenly not what it was. She has to stop being a TV girl and be a wife, an army wife no less. Ladies meets, however boring, have to seem important. “Bloody” is no longer easily accessible. There's other women who are scrutinising every look and word and every fold in your sari, and if you're the kind that gets easily overwhelmed, then chances are you'll end up like Mrs.James.

This is a light and breezy book to read. And there's a lot here that fiancees of army men need to know, newly married wives of army officers need to know and once you've assimilated all the lists Pia has helpfully made for you, you can happily read on to know what happens next... because a LOT happens next!

If there was one small detail I would add to the book, it'd be more Arjun. Let's face it, us army wives have a lot to cope with, and you'll read all about it in the book, but the one thing that we don't talk about is our husbands. They wear a uniform to work every day and stand tall and proud and most importantly chivalry is an intrinsic part of who they are, not some idea they came by on BroTips! It's great being in this organisation and the life is not for everyone. Let's face it, not everyone can adjust to a life where being politically correct is an every second of every day thing and not a once in a social occasion thing.

But Pia sails through like a champ and with her pink lipstick intact, and that's the best part – there's chemistry, there's make-up, great clothes, great ideas, and a fun ride into the army world! There's also some great people, some not so great people, and nose hair! Read the book, enjoy it and laugh a little, Pia's adventures are just the dose of sunshine you need this rainy season!


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Love at First Sight

If someone told me they fell in love when they saw chocolate cake, I'd believe them without questioning the state of their mind. But when someone (read the film industry) tells me this about people, it makes me wonder what is happening with the world.

What is this love at first sight? Aside from being the most defined word, love is also the most derided word. Meaning it has both ardent believers and an equal, if not more, number of skeptics. So, why then, are we selling this idea that you take one look at a person and just know?

I've been reading a lot of content about Raanjhana, the recently released 'epic romance' that I didn't watch. And the premise of the love story is that the hero takes one look at the heroine and knows that she is the love of his life. And it isn't like she looks at him and knows right back. It takes her 15 slaps to share her name with him (this information I got from the trailer) and god knows what other violence was inflicted before she admits to loving him back.

She then falls in love with someone else and wants to marry him and any other things happen in the movie that don't involve the as advertised lead pair getting together.

One artile pegged this phenomenon as 'unrequited love'.

It's worrying. Or maybe I'm crazy.

I'm the weird one that wants to know why someone loves me. I don't ask my mother that. Well, sometimes I do, and she has an answer. So does my dad. But their answers are all variations of "You're my daughter, that's why".

Friends are a lot more forthcoming with their responses to "Why do you love/like me?" They dispense with the need for a question with some action or the other to affirm why they are  your friends.

In the case of romantic love, however, all reason is shot to the sewer.

To the point where people are baffled when this question is raised.

I, for one, think it's a good question to ask someone in love. Why do you love the person who is 'the love of your life'?

Do you think it's a good question?



Saturday, June 22, 2013

The reason I'm getting spam

My blog has been inactive for too long. I don't want the internet thinking this is some defunct website where they can vomit their trash and you know, get away with it. That's why I'm enabling word verification in all the comments.

Also, linking to an interesting post on my friend's blog - it's important reading material for those of us who go to theatres and watch movies. Also, plays.

I wonder what it's going to take for people to get the point that it's rude to text/whatsapp or whatever when you're watching a movie.

Being assholes in public places was never cool, it's never going to become cool either.

Anyway, sorry about the word verification.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Spammers have no place here

Something is happening to Blogger. A post of mine has been getting severe spam. I don't even know why! It was one of those bullet listed things. Could someone tell me how spammers find blogs and comment on them?

At one point I thought it must have been a really inspiring post, but one look at the comments and I know that it isn't. It's just spam haven. I finally turned off user comments for that one. Going to sit and dedicatedly delete every single spammer now.

Phew.

Also, what's with this summer. I'm losing bodily fluids at an alarming rate and I don't even go out in the sun that much. Fucking hell!


Saturday, April 13, 2013

The serious trouble with young writers

DISCLAIMER: I am all for young writers who are not Chetan Bhagat. I want to read what people who were introduced to the internet later than I was have to say. But if they talk about the same thing the same way and call it 'different' and 'mature', then the following blog post is but a natural consequence.



Your twenties, whichever part, are not the time for you to say you know yourself. Think I'm wrong? Well, here's an arithmetic question – how long from your twenties to your fifties? (We'll work with the assumption that you'll live that long, okay?) The answer is three decades. That is actually longer than the time that you've been alive, so, again, please don't assume you know everything about everything in your twenties, clearly there's a lot more of life to see, feel, experience.

The previous paragraph was purely to make a point, because I'm tired of all the young women writing things about marriage. As if they know what exactly to expect. I will only make an exception for those young women who have shared a room with their brothers. The shock of seeing damp towels on the floor or boxers being used for more than one day is not as intense as it is for those who grew up with a sister. Anyway, I was talking about marriage and what young twenty-somethings make of it.

Let's look at the recurring plots, themes and motifs of these so-called 'rants' shall we?

#1: The Parents
Now, I have spent an inordinate amount of time calling my dad 50 kinds of insane because he insisted on marrying me off to some random Malayali because our horoscopes matched and the family was a 'good family'. I called my dad 50 more kinds of insane when I was asked to meet these Malayalis whose pronunciation was atrocious, who did not believe in making eye contact, who spelled 'sense' as 'sence' in their online profiles, who thought the shape of my eyebrows meant money they had to spend on my trips to the beauty parlour, who had no clue about how to articulate themselves in English and so on.

The truth is, my father inherited this behaviour. He didn't come up with it on his own. He felt that the socially appropriate thing to do was to arrange his daughter's marriage, not because he wanted to see me married, but because everyone else was doing it and my younger cousins were getting there before me and his siblings were asking him questions. If you ask them directly, you'll find that parents don't have a self-formed opinion about getting their daughter married, they're just being sheeple in this context. So while calling them insane is one thing, actually believing that they are is a mistake.

I've found that having an open and honest discussion works well. At the time I was listed on matrimonial websites, I had to spend a LOT of time trying to make my father understand what I wanted from my life, and he told me one thing very clearly – 'it's your decision, I can only find the fellows, nothing else'. I would never have known he was on my side if we had not talked. Dissing our parents may be cool, but you need to put it in perspective after a while. We all have parents who behave the same way, and well, it's fun to call them mad and then watch the comments section explode with support, but leaving out the details about how your dad doesn't want you to be unhappy or sad for even one moment is unfair.

#2 The extended family

Ever since Vikram Seth wrote A Suitable Boy, and every third Indian English writer has talked about the husband-hunting process and Karan Johar and Yash Chopra started an entire industry around the “Big Fat Indian Wedding”, bitching about being harassed at weddings has always centred around that fat aunty who wouldn't quit interfering. If you don't have a close-knit family, I'm truly sorry for you. My maternal family would discuss my wedding after Sunday lunch, even before there was anyone in the picture. For them, it was a fun activity. The best part of those discussions was that they helped us document a lot of things before hand and in the six months leading up to my wedding, all the information was in one book.

As for that interfering aunty, she knows full well that she has no say in the wedding, but she's there because that's who she is. If she wasn't who the hell would you bitch about? Your mum? Think about it.

Every family in every culture, race, country, is overbearing. Please refer “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and all movies and TV shows starring Italians for more details on annoying families from 'the West'.


#3 Wanting to be different
Wanting to be different has become such a big deal that it's almost a fucking cliché! What different? How different? You're still having a show off wedding, right? You're still decking up like a Christmas tree and standing in front of people you have little to nothing to do with and posing for pictures no? You're still getting one of those 'candid' photographers to come to your wedding and 'capture those precious moments' no? Then how is this process different for you? Please explain it to me? SOMEONE!

If you, like two young couples I know, decide to get married exactly how YOU want to get married, then you can talk about different. For as long as your parents are at your wedding talking to other people rather than watch emotionally at their daughter getting married, you're not different, you're just like me and everyone else in this country who had a typical “Big Fat Indian Wedding”.

#4 Being modern
The next time I read this word in one of my articles or in anyone else's articles, I'm going to set fire to the internet! What bloody modern? What? You're young, you're getting married and submitting your rant about the fact that everyone's speaking over your head and not taking your opinion seriously since it is your life and your decision and so on to a magazine and the whole universe read it and put two claps. Congratulations, welcome to the modern world of modern people where helplessness is articulated in journalistic publications. I really do appreciate your modernity because having a traditional wedding with your family present and your participation in it being minimised to some puppet level is exactly how to be modern in life. Where is the assertiveness and so-called opinionated self that you're selling in your little piece? Do you think it comes from writing an article about it or actually taking a stand? If you're not taking a stand, please do the world a favour and shut up. Participation in life choices is the most important thing I can think of. If you can't do that, then don't sell it in an article for fuck's sake.

#5 Dreaming of fairytales
Um, are you a Karan Johar fan? Because you seem to be living in some delusional afterlife where everything is picture perfect. I'm not wrong, you said Disney, your fault. You don't see the minor details. You don't see the relationships in those horrid first couple of months following the wedding where you're having an existential life crisis and you can't share it with your husband because he's in shock at the loss of his bachelorhood and he doesn't know what to do with your constant pissed-off-ness at his amazing ability to tuck away bottles of water in the house, and all of his wet towels dropped on the floor and his annoying lack of ability to straighten out the toothpaste tube. The worst part? He thinks you're nuts for being sad about not being at home with your mother because he thinks 'well, you signed up for this 'being away from parents, it's what happens when two people get married, so what's the matter?'

The most sad part is the both of you wondering what the hell happened to the person you fell for because, well, they used to be different. Who is this new replacement at home who is taking over their lives and is not giving them any peace? God forbid if the food turns out to be shit, not only will you have a crying fit, the spouse will give you that 'this is an alien, not the love of my life' look. Yeah, about that Disney-perfect marriage, it exists in Disneyland. Far, far, away, and meant for an escape from reality. The moments you're looking for, you have to fight for sometimes. Sometimes they happen spontaneously. But they're never Disney-like. I can tell you that much.


Here are a few things I did not glean from the article -
1) arranged marriage or no?
2) why did you feel the need to write about it?
3) why do you think the world should take this particular opinion seriously? Is it because you find that your wedding and everything it entails is symptomatic of a society that is caring lesser and lesser about people and more about appearances?
4) you have nothing to say about getting married at 23?

Like I said before, I'm tired of content that has no depth and intelligence and takes the readers for granted. I'm tired of content that has no other thing to say except for surface details. I'm even more tired of all this being passed off as relevant journalism. And my guts are cringing at the fact that this is being taken seriously and everyone is identifying with it. In a way, I'm glad I'm no longer writing. I'm terrified of losing my love for this profession and the madness it entails. Being a sub-editor removes you from the immediacy of the process of news-making. It just gives you the time to ensure that the pieces you edit have some measure of depth, and for the moment that's enough.


P.S: I did, in this blog (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) and one other, write a six-part series about the husband hunt. I don't even read it anymore because I'm terrified of being the exact same person I've spent this much time ranting about. Shit. I'd like to go and eat some chocolate now. Thanks.

Friday, April 5, 2013

My future wife needs to be a cook.

"When I was engaged, A told my mother that I need to know how to cook mutton. The rest didn't matter."

That comment set off a trigger of unwholesome and truly troubling thoughts.

I have, since then, considered quitting the kitchen altogether and hanging a "the kitchen is closed" plaque. I cook. I don't like it. However, I like starvation even less, so I cook. It is only incidental that there is one more person eating my food.

I wish I didn't have to cook and didn't have to, by some calculated default, slip into the role of homemaker.

I wish my husband was my patron and I was lying around writing books that would always remain 'works-in-progress'.

I dislike the fact that young men in the 2000s are actually asking that their wives be domesticated. And I dislike it even more that us wives are becoming domesticated and then bitching about it.

What I want is that this whole culture of requiring domestication just stop.

No, it's not two families getting married. It's two people. And those who think it's more than that are just plain delusional and about 10000 degrees of insane. 


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A very personal kind of hell

If I remember correctly, there is a philosophical concept that exists which talks about heaven and hell as something that is highly individualised. I mean, a place that is known and understood only by the person concerned and therefore has value and depth of meaning to that individual.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I do remember it. As an example of this, I can only use the TV show Supernatural, which you should watch, it's hella fun! There is an episode in Season 7 when Sam is taken to a 'private' place to have a conversation with Castiel. Castiel is seen sitting in heaven, a beautiful place with a well-tended garden where a man is flying a kite. Castiel explains to Sam that for each person heaven has a different meaning and that they were talking in the heaven of an autistic man's favourite Tuesday. I found that concept interesting.

Let's go to hell for a short while shall we? For those of you who have read Dante's Inferno, you'll know that it is a place that was created in the imagination of the poet and hence has depth of meaning for him. In this post, I want to talk about my hell - allergies.

I have lived with allergies my whole life. What am I allergic to? It can only be best described as 'particulate matter' - that category of things in nature which fall under the following labels : dust, smoke, incense smoke, cigarette smoke, wood smoke, pollen, congress grass, perfume, petrol fumes, mosquito repellants like Good Knight, Mortein, Hit, etc, and others. I was picked on and made fun of, both by teachers and my classmates for having allergies. I have also laughed at my friend P for sneezing at least 25 times on the trot while our Math teacher was busy scribbling calculus on the blackboard. Mostly, though, I remember having runny green phlegm coming out of my nose and my mother buying handkerchiefs by the dozen just so I could carry a couple extra to school and blow my nose and come back home and soak them in dettol-mixed water.

I remember this teacher, Rani miss we called her, whose only job was to either point out that I was left-handed or tell me to get out of the class and blow my nose because my sniffling disturbed her teaching. I was in class 3.

I remember being called 'mookuchali' because it was a funny name for some people - no, boys. I remember a boy informing me that he described me to his mother as 'that girl with the runny nose' and his mother remembers me as such, even now. She has also never met me.

Right up to the time I was in class 12, when I had to start wearing glasses, this fucking mookuchali shit never left my cursed life.

I was surrounded by dust - a) I was in a school that used stupid, low-quality chalk. b) My school has this huge open ground which is filled with rather fine red sand that tends to fly around all the damn time. c) I grew up in Chennai.

My time as someone allergic to dust is divided into days of debilitating pain when my body aches because of the amount of times I sneeze, and my sinuses are clogged causing my head and neck to hurt, and getting out of bed is a chore because I'm doubled over sneezing, my eyes covered in this crusty layer because they're watery because of my allergies. The rest of the time, the pain and symptoms are not so bad. One that one rare, good day, I'm free.

This life of an allergic that I've lived until now is my version of hell, and you know what? It's a lifelong bloody thing.

To those of you who think that allergies are funny enough to crack a joke about, then please impale yourself with metal that's close to melting point. To those of you who think that allergies are excuses people make, then I would like you to please borrow my ENT system for a little while and live like me and then have a conversation. For those of you who understand, I have some really kickass chocolate chip ice cream with really big, chunky chocolate chips that's a dream to eat. Come home, I'll give you a HUGE helping.

On that note, goodnight and be well. You have no idea how lucky you are, you non-allergic.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Mosquito bites give me rashes

They do. I spent all of last night slathered in coconut oil (because, you know, I'm Mallu and Mallus use coconut oil as a magical cure for everything. EVERYTHING!) and trying the damnedest not to itch the stupid rash that self-manifested on my arm after a mosquito bite. Annoying bastards! Also, Maharashtra mosquitoes are HUGE and it takes the electric mosquito bat around 15seconds longer to fry them. Finally, there are two.. TWO obese lizards living in my house behind the heater. I would like to kill them. I'm installing the lizard trapping box near the heater ASAP.

Now that the domestic updates are done. I want to talk about something I read recently.

The 'article' like most articles by young Indian women was about arranged marriage. And like most articles on the subject it talked about how un-modern it is. Here are its salient points:

1) Most Indian girls like the author are 'independent' and 'progressive', and these two qualities make online 'dating' and 'hooking up' yucky.

2) Most girls who are independent and progressive have educated parents who ought to know better but don't.

3) Somehow, magiically most 'independent' and 'progressive' girls find themselves on the listings of an online matrimonial / matchmaking service, and even more magically meet a non-moron and this is the best of all... proceed to 'like' him.

4) Every single one of these stories ends with "and that's how I met my husband".

First - the article at no point speaks of the writer's marital status. I found out via a friend who had originally posted the article on Facebook that the writer is married. And that piece of information basically ticked me off. The thing is those of us who bitched about having to meet the crazies before we found our men - either through our dads or ourselves - are in relationships that require a lot of effort. It's a lot of work this marriage shindig. Especially if the person you've married is, essentially, a stranger. To be adjusting, accommodating and also domestic all at the same time is hard work. I have three degrees. My father's investment in my education has basically culminated in my status updates about paneer butter masala. The truth of having left everything behind to 'enter into a new phase of life' is more uncomfortable than all the pretty quotes on the Internet about marriage. It is also more uncomfortable than all your supposedly happily married female friends going on and on about how awesome their husbands are and so on. If I had, at any point in time during my engagement, had a vision that I'd update my status and mention paneer butter masala in it I would have either killed myself or called the engagement off. However, I am married. It's work, but I like the fellow I'm hitched to.

Second - there is absolutely no core philosophy in the article. What's the point of it? Is she saying that arranged marriages are wrong? If yes, why? Where's her factual understanding of the 'traditional' method of husband-finding? If no, why? Where's her factual understanding of the 'non-traditional' method of husband-finding?

Third - what is progressive and independent? Conforming to social expectations? Succumbing to social pressure and pretending that a life choice made under the aegis of free will is progressive and independent? Seriously? What are we doing now? Supporting double standards as a way of life?

If the goal in life is to find an 'eligible bachelor' and make him yours by means of a government approved, legally binding piece of paper then what's the difference between you and that other so-called uncool girl who got married at 18 and had two kids by the time she was 21? Really, what's the difference? Your life goals are the same. You just chose to get an education and be single for longer because your parents let you. Ultimately, most of these 'urban' (I don't know what the hell it even means, really), 'independent', 'progressive' girls who rant and rant and rant (I've devoted an entire series of posts here to the topic of arranged marriages) all get married. They are all, for a short while or for the long-term, domestic and wifely. Most of them move on to become parents also.

I'm tired of this shitty rut of a topic of discussion because it's shitting out some shitty writing and shitty content that makes runny poop look like a garden of roses! And you know what's the worst part? People will lap this bullshit up and be all like 'oh my god, you're me. this is my life story.' and I will silently vomit into a bag of stale kurkure and come to my blog and bitch and bitch and bitch. I will also have, while bitching, contradicted myself about 5000000 times and then silently vomit into the uruli on my centre table.

I want the publishing industry to please issue a ban on this topic. (If I send you a manuscript, reject it, okay? I don't need to be encouraged!)

I keep thinking the women in our country will come up with awesome ways to prove how we're awesome. But no, we end up producing tripe like this and everyone in this universe will go on about how 'marriages are arranged in India, how curious', and other such assorted BS.

Really, is that what we're reducing our fight for rights to? The fact that we spent most of our adult lives rejecting the idea of having our 'life partner' chosen for us by family elders? Did no one tell the rest of the universe that we said yes because we liked the fellows and no one was holding a gun to our heads at the time? Like I said, more to worry about than Western culture overtaking our 'tightly packed Indian morals'.

I'm going to make ginger tea and clean up my silent vomit. Bye.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Support settings

So,

My last post and the one previous clearly got a lot of vitriol. But it did get some support. Joe Pereira, this goes out to you and to S.

S, I got an email that your comment was published but I've been looking at the post and refreshing, and it's not showing up. Therefore, I am going to post your comment here.

"First,

To Ambarish Gopinath.

Thambi, unakku nallaa venum. Inimelaavadhu thevaiyillaadha vishayathula mooka nuzhaikka koodaathungaradha katthukka.

I know it sounds cruel, but the real world is very different from what it is indoctrinated to us. Everything is not black and white. And the first rule is to be open-minded. It is okay if you are judgmental, but you are not allowed to offend anyone with your judgments.

And no, you are again not allowed to be some sort of a champion of our culture "at the wrong platforms/spaces". You can be a champion - if I'm right, you already are - but this is not the place, neither is your target right.

As for morality, please understand that it is not a rigid thing. It is ever changing. Do not confuse something else with morality.

Last,

To Shruti.

I'm disgusted with you.

You repulse me.

Not because of your "loose morals" (I'd like to know what is a "loose moral", BTW, and if you have "loose morals", do others have "packed morals". Let me know when you find out what they are.)

No, I detest you because you eat chocolate cake alone, and without sharing.

Next time you are eating a chocolate cake, you should remember me :P"







S, I will tell you about loose morals. I have every intention of clarifying that to people. Also, there's always ice cream and cake for friends at home. Come over any time :)


Also, thanks for the support you and Joe. I'm glad there are people out there who get the point. As for the person who deleted the vitriol. I have that on record too. Just so you know.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

After a very long time

I promised a nasty post and then I disappeared.

Apologies.

I'm in Deolali at the moment. All settled in ad Wi-Fi'd up.

So, like I sad the last time, there are some people that need to be given a good, long, nasty blog post. This is it then. Let's start with the origins of this fight shall we?

It goes back to this post. Most of it was a rant about my dad's insane rules and regulations and my thinking it was BS (I still think it's BS). The responses it got, especially from a few anonymous donors and one Kalyan Subrtamanian, were a little ridiculous. Especially the ones that ventured into judgement and name-calling territory.

"you will talk all these "shit" that you say when you are a parent..yoou wanna be in America go there..dont sit in India and say these are shit... and in a few days you would be sharing posts that say "dont tell your girls how to dress.. teach your sons better"... instead of giving these shit first learn to understand why your parents say..
as far as the people i know living in america they have wanted to live our culture.. so plz exchange yourselves with them if you wanna whine !!"


His name is Subramanian Kalyan. There's more - this from someone called Ambarish Gopinath

"that sense of defeat a father feels when people talk bad about his girl...only those who've experienced it can understand it....if only he had brought u up properly with the right morals...right from the start,may be things would've been different...

anyway this is my blog:
ambarishgopinath.blogspot.in"


Who are you men? And why do you think it is your right to comment here because you believe that your moral compass is pointed in some "right" direction? And my "morals" are wrong because I think differently from what's been told to me is right? Seriously? What gives you the right to be a total and complete asshole on a forum like this without once thinking that there is another point of view and it doesn't necessarily have to coincide with yours.

Of course, to top it off is the cheap self-plug. Like, why would I even want to read your blog if you're a self-righteous dad who questions my morals and thinks that my father is some self-defeated soul who is wallowing in some form of private hell because people are talking shit about his daughter? Let me tell you this - not one person has come up to my dad and said his daughter is trashy and void of morals. Not. One. Person.

Also, my father has a brain and is not the type who will sit and listen to what other people have to say. He knows the world and has seen and experienced more things that most people. He's also been in a war zone. He has the intelligencce to know who his daughter is and what lines she will and will not cross. We might not have the easiest relationship, but he's my dad.

Let me just put this out there for posterity - for those men who believe that women 'provoke' assault and that 'Indian culture' is being invaded by the West and that the West is trying to ape our lifestyle - I would like you all to kindly please do some reading and some study. What you think of as Indian 'culture' seems to be some sanitised, Big Brother-sanctioned version of things - the fact that we have an entire chapter of our mythology dedicated to desire and the fact that our 'creator' Brahma fell in love with his daughter Rohini and chased her across the cosmos, should tell you that Indian 'culture' is not everything it is cut out to be.

Our fables, our mythology, and our history are full of instances that will tell you that 'culture' and 'morality' are the constructs of the people in power. They decided for us and those of us who could afford it, followed it. Today, the people in control of our freedom of expression seem to have the power to stop a film, already cleared by the censor board, from being screened. Today, people who don't eat beef have enough clout to shut down a beef and pork festival on account of it hurting religious sentiments and the masses will lap this bullshit up. We have a lot more to worry about than our daughters being Westernised.

If one person can bulldoze the government from shutting down it's own webiste, then there is something to worry about. And if you think that these people are right because they have the freedom to express dissent, then you have, in effect, justified every crime, every act of violence and stupidity.

And YES Subramanian Kalyan, our sons do need to be taught better, because other than women the only other human beings on this planet are men and if they don't know how to talk to us, respect us, and deal with us, then who will? The animal kingdom?