Thursday, November 19, 2009

To long days and mosquito ridden nights

Found this random piece on my comp after a long time. Don't care for it too much but just reminded me of ACJ and the people there. To memory!
48 students and a large room. "A list has appeared on the server". Laptop owners preach to their congregations.
The word or The sentence?
“Let’s change the name of the paper”
“Suggestions anyone?”
Silence. The WORD stands.
Helvetica , Georgia!!!
Copy/paste these fonts everday. College computers have selective amnesia.
Harsh realities
Lectures in Tamil. Sources on world trips. A week is technically only 4 days long.
Friday afternoon flurries
Who said Friday. We always thought Monday. The last person and piece becomes the scapegoat to push deadlines.
Homage to the language
Fill as many blanks and pages of the grammar exercise as possible two hours before the deadline.
Rewriting become the prerogative of a few
Caspar is a friendly ghost
Who said that deprivation was scary? Enlightenment dawns in unfamiliar terrain
Hell breaks loose but the valiant finish the race. All pages of the deprivation issue are pdf-ed by 9 pm
Daily war
Engagement columns are man’s greatest gifts and missing reporters the greatest bane.
Nightmares at Nine
Pages in gestation. Intensive labour begins.
You are Shakespeare
Unfettered creativity and onomatopoeia rule the roost. Let the words flow
Information for future students: New police patrol cars are more comfortable than hostel rooms.
You are the future of American journalism!!
Tomorrow goes...
For the first two weeks. But the glossy pages of the tabloid finally appear to be loved and cherished from this time forth and forevermore.
Q and no A
Tracking news and fielding off ignorance is essential only on Friday morning.
The decision of the quiz master is meant to be contested.
Rest conferences
We asked and we got. But who said simulated was hot? Your eyes take a sleepy gleam.
New verb: Dissertate
End of your tether in rough weather. Missing books are your greatest foes.
5000 down, 2k to go. 8000, would be a dream come true.
IP: Information Please
Rouse a few to chase some clues. Raise a hue, the IP is soon due.
Omega and Alpha
A sigh and a cry.
We’d didn’t realize, the year had flown by.

Time hurts

Today I found what time could do
To me
To a trio
To banns of friendship
To comfort in silence
To the taste of hot/cold coffee
To long chats in a parked car
To the tussle for a comfy couch
To lazing on a sports field
To photocopied Chaucer notes
To buying Levis jeans’
To Barbara Ann
To shedding tears over marks
To discussions on life
To deciding on a half plate of chowmein
To weight loss/gain
To seven pups and Dirty
To misunderstandings
To a heart full of promises
To the yearning for a phone call
To speaking our minds out
To unuttered/unattended wounds
To believing that we loved each other’s company
To the best memories
To who we are and where we go
Today I found that TIME hurts

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Beyond nostalgia

So I've been reading this book called The Hindi-Bindi club ( yes, it is chick-lit and I have no scruples admitting that I enjoy the genre thoroughly. It doesn't deem me less intellectual in any way) on the lives of three young women born to Indian parents and brought up in America. And as expected, shadowy images from Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake and Unaccustomed Earth were creeping into my subconscious, urging me to make comparisons. So what the heck, I indulged myself and here's the verdict, in points.
This is the first time, in the books I have come across, that the protagonists have a heritage that isn't solely Bengali. There is a Marathi family, a Punjabi family and yes, a Bengali one too in the group, so it doesn't appear as though only the Bengalis have a yearning to get back to where they grew up ( I refuse to use the word 'motherland' coz i don't essentially believe in the land and mother correlation that Indians tend to draw). For all those fans of Jhumpa Lahiri who jump at me when I say this, trust me, I'm one of your ilk too and I understand that she probably writes about the community that she knows best. All I'm saying is that you need to occasionally acknowledge that nostalgia isn't only an all-Bong feeling and there are quite a few Indian communities which were represented early enough in the US. As for the aspect of cultural inclusion in the current book, I've heard that the author Monica Pradhan's parents migrated from Mumbai , which by all means has been a cosmopolitan melting pot, while being Marathi heartland and will continue to be so, despite the Sena's efforts.
The second observation is that there is in the book an acceptance of the fact that the second generation is American-Indian and not Indian-American. No doubt, all the mothers in the book at some stage or the other acknowledge that their daughters would be way different if brought up in America, but there is a definite shift towards acknowledging that they are products of the American way of living. In fact, this is validated in the marital choices of all the three daughters Kiran, Rani and Preity. The author actually explores different permutations and combinations vis-a-vis marriage. There is Kiran, whose marriage and subsequent divorce, to and from respectively, a rock musician, draws the ire of her parents not because of his ethnicity but largely because of his profession. Then there is Rani, whose wedding to a foreigner could be explained away, thanks to the fact that Rani is only part Indian anyway (Her mother Uma is Bengali though and teaches English at the University but married a firang in the early days when it was unthinkable). But even the so-called ideal daughter in the book, Preity is also wed to a firang. And when Kiran remarries at the end of the book, despite all the matchmaking that she has submitted herself too via the matrimonial sites online, she marries a foreigner, something that even her father ultimately comes to accept. And mind you , the book clearly delineates that this was something that was not acceptable a generation ago and Uma's act is occasinally brought up as an aberration. And here's another interesting change, unlike the usual novels, where the mother is the repository of culture in a alien land, the mothers in this novel seem to be much more open to being adaptable than the fathers, but I also think that is largely because the book is about mother-daughter relationships. And the fathers still largely subscribe to the code of the highly intellectual fathers who got to the States based on their exceptional performance in studies or work.( You don't need to read much of this genre to figure out that the fathers are always at MIT, or Stanford or have at least studied there) Rani's firang father being the only exception to the norm.
The third and final aspect deals with an element of comparison between those who emigrated to America in the early stages and those who came later, which I haven't seen before in any other book. And while Monica Pradhan doesn't elaborate on it too much, there is a scene where Kiran, Rani and Preity look at the young girls dancing in saris at the New Year's party and comment that "They must be the new immigrants". And while it isn't exactly evident what the feeling are between these groups, this scene firmly establishes them in the role of the pioneers, the early migrant, who were there when too many Indians weren't around.
However, I tend to think that Monica Pradhan had tried to weave in one-too many threads in the narrative when she goes through the long passages on the description of the Indo-Pak partition through the eyes of Saroj ( Preity's mother). These sections seems a bit disjointed and appear to me as the result of research, though I may be wrong here.
There is one more thing that I like the book for, which is its limited mention of clinical depression. You feel the pain when you hear Uma's ( Rani's mother) mention of her mothers' early suicide that probably resulted from a sickness that wasn't identified as depression. You can understand her fear that Rani, has inherited it genetically and may be prone as much to suicidal attacks. I also vividly recollect a scene where Uma's husband takes her to a punching bag and asks her to take her frustrations out..( I've seen this before but there is something different that i can't exactly seem to identify, probably it's to do with an element of guilt that resides somewhere in Uma's mind particularly with regard to marrying a foreigner and being disowned by her father). There are also the funny but poignant passages about Meenal (Kiran's mother) who is dealing with living without her breasts (after breast cancer) and even after years of having lived in the States, is still uncomfortable about lingerie shopping in the open.
I do say that the end is predictable, but yeah if you want a fresh idea of what happens in Indian minds across the Atlantic, this is fun. Though I don't think it would be exactly true of the third generation ( they are almost all American and very little Indian.)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Halfway abandoned

Tell me of those with dreams fulfilled
Of hopes and goals achieved
Of winners on life's racing track
Never impeded by speed

Of those who managed year after year
To wake to those shrill alarms
And worked from dawn to dusk
Sans facebook and the coffee machine

Of those do-it-alls
Who juggled work and applications on time
And rested assure that the call would come
With the passport to a life sublime

Of those who balanced life and love
And managed straight A's in both
Or those who took the early plunge
And made homemaking their fame

Tell me of those who didn't leave the fight
Halfway abandoned

The Mass Mindset

What are you doing now?
Seemingly innocuous question
Only two permitted lives
The Medicine/Engineering way

Strike a tangent
Judgment blankets you
Condescension smothers you
Sympathy kills you

Did you survive?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Fallen idol

It's a not a person but this thing called compromise that I've begun to hate recently. Till a few months ago, I venerated this quality, pitching it as the solution to world's problems and mine. So whether it was the question of the Israel and Palestine conflict, or how long I could keep the light on in the room i shared with my cousin , there seemed to be a way out... THROUGH COMPROMISE.
So how did my idol get depedestalized (if that word does exist)? I don't know. But what I do warn you against, is the disguise that compromise comes veiled in: practicality. And guess what? I fall for that one because I think of myself as a practical, pragmatic creature.

So here's how it works:
Well meaning X says how long will you be able to continue with journalism and come home late at night?
I respond with a shrug and a quiet "I don't know".
So X goes on : You know once you are married and you have kids, it just isn't practical? Who will after all take care of the kids while you're away at work till midnight? You really need to look for something that will give you time with the family.
I'm practical enough to know that no husband (even if it is one that returns home at 6), no matter how adaptable and easy-going, is going to be willing to spend the entire evening tending to the needs of bawling toddlers or toughie teenagers and that apart from India (where there are still a few maids available), there are hardly any places where you're gonna be able to keep a full time maid or nanny or whatever.
I shrug again and say to X, "I know what you mean".

The conversation ends there but the thought doesn't.So what will bring me back home early enough to maintain a healthy balance between work and a family (that I'm very sure that I want to have). I'm racking my brain for all the options and again the practical bit of me emerges with the solution: academics. That's the only way im going get back home in time to be with the family, get some time to myself, get summer holidays at the same time as the family and still be economically independent. And after all, I have considered academics in the past...the only difference being that then that was something that I had reserved to do after I was bored of a media job ( in about 10 to 15 years) and wanted to settle down and I mean really settle down (my equivalent for that stage of a man's life in the Vedas when he was meant to be with the family before he procedeed for Sanyaas). And if I were to continue in India, the Sixth Pay Commission has made it more alluring to take to teaching.
"So what is the issue?", asks my pragmatic self. The problem is that at 22, I have to be practical enough to compromise on my dreams for a family that I may or may not have in time. Where I can go and what I should do today is already being defined by that shadowy illusory vision of what my tomorrow could be like? I'd like to know how many guys out there think of when they will be back home or who will tend to the kids, when they decide on what they want to do in life?

But guess what? Even if I don't compromise today ( thanks to my ultra-supportive family), I know I will eventually because I am what you call a 'Practical' person.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Privately public/publicly private

As a child, when I occasionally wrote down stories or poems, it was on scraps of paper and stored away in a flat Vochelle tin under my bed. I wonder why I left it there, considering that it wasn't the best of hiding places. Or maybe it wasn't meant to be hidden. It was left there to be discovered by anyone who really wanted to see what was in that tin.
Similarly, the many serialized stories that I wrote were stored away in a folder with my name on it. It wasn’t really secret but more in a not-in-your-face sense. It was never password protected. (More so, because I guess because I didn’t know how to.)
Few months ago I found myself writing down my thoughts in a folder, which I labeled hidden. Yeah right…hidden in such a way that anyone who scanned my documents could find it.
Who was I trying to delude but myself? Everything that I wrote was a personal note, personal to the extent that I didn’t want to publish or publicize it but public to the extent that it was left available to anybody who wanted to see it or appreciate it. Privately public in one sense, but publicly private in another. Still doesn’t make complete sense to me. After all, where does the private end and the public begin? Any thoughts?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The creations of a bland afternoon

A dead afternoon in the Mylapore house. Sitting by a little window at the bottom of the steps, watching ‘the disco’ lights playing on the black and white chess-board floor, watching Neerja hammering away at her laptop keys, occasionally interrupting her to share my fanciful thoughts of what the rooms looked like during the dance-school days. Somewhere, I can already hear the talam, the dance masha using gestures, clicks and claps, while a dozen little eager eyes look on. Six and eight…the long rooms for the beginners making their way into this enthralling realm. Seven, the storage and make up area for the performances. Somewhere on the ground floor are the older girls and companionships that have sprung up over efforts of moving arms and hips gracefully. A warm oil lamp stands in one corner of the other room, the muslin covered veena occupies another corner, a mridangam close by, the recorder with classical rhythms stopped halfway. The next room is the shrine to the rules of dance, the haven of the sacred classical texts. And then there is the a language that I cannot feign to recognize…Tamil probably. And then the owner of the voice…the white hair framing the face, the soft wrinkles developing around the corner of the eyes, the fair pallor displaying a heritage different from the language she uses…she steps in from the patio where she has just dried her silvery hair through the glass door of room 1. The voice sounds again..she emerges enquiring about the missing pair who are expected to perform that evening. Silent whispers exchange between these two truants who are hidden away in the little room accessible only from the outside, the hidden entrance only a few have discovered. The contents of their conversation remain a secret muffled by the sounds of the veena.

The scene shifts, the voice is heard again....only this time in a house by the sea. You can hear the pride in her voice as she takes you into the in-house theatre created according to the principles of the Indian classical texts. A pride equally evident when she comments on the 75 neem trees in the garden she created from nothing .

Creator of beauty
May beauty follow thou, wither thou goest.

I’ve never met her but somewhere it is the image of Chandralekha that i associate with that of the danseuse who ran the dancing school.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Little known tales

For most Muslim girls in Thiruvarankurichi, a small village near Trichy, menarche marked the beginning of a cloistered existence. For Rokkaiah, it began even earlier, on the day when she and her friends sneaked into a cinema hall to watch a Malayalam movie, which happened to be pornographic. In a small community, opinion is formed as quickly as news spreads. The judgement was pronounced soon after. Rokkaiah was to discontinue her education and stay at home, while her brother who accompanied her to the movies was let off after a thrashing.

This was Rokkaiah’s first revelation of the unwritten un-explained impositions made on a woman. More questions followed, with no answers except “Because you are a girl”. Her loneliness and the many books her brother brought from the lending library fuelled her thoughts and provoked her to start writing. But when her name appeared with her poem on a magazine page, it brought about what she calls “ a culture shock”. Writing by a woman was unheard of and even more radical were poems which talked of a woman’s life and loneliness. Criticism flowed from all quarters. Her fiance's family were known to have second thoughts about the marriage owing to her writing. They reconsidered their decision later, saying “How long will any girl continue to read and write?... only until the birth of two children”. Despite Rokkaiah's protests, the marriage took place. It was the family honour that was at stake. In her husband’s home, she was constantly under supervision, which irked her endlessly.

I could not understand the mystery of the thali around my neck which seemed to have the power to transform my entire life. I wanted to snap it, hand it over to my husband and go back to my parents... but they only harped on the justifications for continuing the marriage.

For 10 years she continued to write late in the nights in the bathroom and hid her works between her clothes. To avoid verbal and physical threats, Rokkaiah adopted the pseudonym of Salma. In 2000, the publisher of the magazine Nizhagal offered to publish a collection of her poems. Salma attended the book release in Chennai under the pretext of seeking treatment for gynaecological issues. The book was published with no pictures or any details about the author.

The year 2001 saw Salma in a very different role. Salma was nominated for the post of panchayat president by her husband, who was keen on the post but was unable to get it as the seat was reserved for women. Her pictures appeared on walls and leaflets, she regularly appeared on public platforms making speeches accompanied by male family members. By then her poetry had won her recognition in the literary circles in Chennai. On the day that Rokkaiah won the panchayat seat, a TV channel used the situation to interview her, the poet Salma. For the few people who realised that the interview was not about the election, Salma had a ready answer. “If you are willing to accept me as President, why won’t you accept me as a writer?” Increasingly, Salma has begun to see and use power as a shield, even against the many accusations from her family. But with the increasing publicity that has surrounded her in recent years, they have come to believe that women’s writing isn’t useless.

Salma contested the elections to the Tamil Nadu state legislative assembly in 2006 but lost by a narrow margin. She was then appointed Chairperson of the Tamil Nadu Social Welfare Board and relocated to Chennai in 2007. She, however, regrets that she has not been able to do enough for the women of her community, who she feels are exploited. There are very few NGOs, if any, run by Muslim women and you need the permission of the Islamic organisation in the area to get access to the women. While a few women in her village are now receiving education till Class 10, she doesn’t see this as a larger trend. “The condition is almost the same in rural pockets of Tamil Nadu. As long as the men remain ignorant, the chances for the empowerment of women are almost negligible. We can only hope that the recommendation of the Sachar Committee will make a difference.”
Her literary works are still committed to the cause of the women in her community. There is a poignancy with which she addresses issues regarding crises in the bedroom or of sexual desire of women.

By recording the murmurs of my inner emotions and the extraordinary aches of my body which are fobbed off as taboo, I try to create tiny ripples in the frozen silent space. My writing depends on me and I depend on my writing.

Her work has brought her a degree of independence, still denied to most women in conservative Muslim pockets of rural Tamil Nadu. She is regularly criticised on both her work and appearance. On being asked about her stance on the burkha she quips “ I find it inconvenient to work wearing a burkha but I don’t wanted to be quoted as being against the burkha”. Some fears live on.

(The italicised words are from Salma’s address at the Norman Cutler Conference on South Asian Literature at the University of Chicago in May 2007)