Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Thoughts on Udta Punjab

Wow, I've been away a long time. How have you all been?

I watched Udta Punjab and wrote about it for Feminism in India. Some spoilers there, so read only if you have watched the movie (or aren't planning to). But do watch: I thought it was brilliant.

I was especially amazed by all the class and gender commentary (made without preaching, unlike the preaching about drugs). And obviously, we need it -- though apparently those of us watching in a multiplex in a posh mall in south Bombay don't need it any less than residents of small town Punjab.

Towards the end of the movie, one of the obvious villains makes an obviously misogynistic joke about Mexican and Punjabi women's bodies, a joke obviously intended to rub in how vile these people are: they have already been established as violent drug mafia who imprison and repeatedly sexually violate a young woman -- of course they make misogynistic jokes. It's a powerful comment on rape culture.

And the grey haired, respectable looking man on the seat next to me laughs.

I squirmed, trying to get away from him. That laugh seemed to mark him as the enemy. How clueless, how callous, do you have to be to laugh with the reprehensible criminals after sitting through a movie that's almost a treatise on male violence and rape culture?

I cried and shook while Alia Bhatt's character was repeatedly -- and realistically -- violated. Isn't this most women's worst nightmare, to be at the power of such me and have no power, no agency whatever?

But for Mr Respectable Man, I suppose this was entertainment.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Pictures of My Travels: Qutub Minar, Delhi

I visited the Qutub Minar for the first time since I was a child, and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Pictures of My Travels: Goa

This will be cliched. Just lots of beach shots.

Okay the first one is of the resort where we stayed, and the next three are from our bike rides.

Monday, May 02, 2016

A bulleted list of stuff that happened on my travels

Some of the things that happened to me while I was traveling (all from the last few weeks, except one old story), in no specific order:

  • A Rottweiler puppy bit me (no blood, but she got hold of my leg and it was difficult to get her to let go. She was so cute, too.)
  • A woman sitting near me on the flight walked off with my bag. I had to walk out of the plane and across the airport and find the airline desk and then see her walking past and very politely ask her to check her bag.
  • (She barely apologised, but I got my bag back on my own and felt like a fucking hero.)
  • A beer bottle fell on the dance floor and cut my toe.
  • I went back to my seat and my friend asked me to put my foot up on a chair and I hailed our waiter -- who had been extremely friendly all night and politely laughed when I knocked over glasses and my friends asked him to get me a disposable glass next time -- and the waiter promptly removed the cushion from another chair, placed the chair by me, and asked me to move my foot.
  • (Yes, I was bleeding.)
  • (My other friend got the hostess and she bound me up and I was fine.)
  • (It didn't hurt much, but it was an experience to be bleeding all over a restaurant.)
  • (It was better than the time my elbows were stinging and bleeding a bit on a flight because my then-boyfriend, who was dropping me off at the airport, and I had a minor bike accident but I was late for my flight and didn't have time to do anything to my wounds. The flight attendant - this was Indian Airlines, back when - got me one. single. Bandaid.)
  • I met an old bschool friend one night and we reminisced about old times. I brought up one of my best friends from those days and mentioned that he seemed busy and hadn't responded to my message; I'd have liked to have met him on this trip.
  • Next day, I ran into him at the airport.
  • I visited a friend who had just moved into a new house and I locked myself into the bathroom and couldn't get out until her little boy shouted instructions at me.
  • I had a weird, unpleasant experience when I took a Uber to go from Gurgaon to Delhi. The cab driver drove badly and illegally to avoid the toll, asked me to lie for him, and when we were caught and I sat in the sweltering heat in the car because one of the intimidating-looking men threatening the driver had taken the keys, I finally pressed Uber's emergency button and walked out. He then followed me and tried to get me to come back, threatened me, and then called me on my phone. Thankfully, the Uber customer service person who called in a few minutes (that's emergency response for you!) was polite and apologetic, and it was the middle of the day, but I was still stranded on the highway on a very hot morning till I finally managed to hail a passing cab. Oh and the Guy was informed that I was in an emergency and understandably freaked out until he could finally reach me. Fun times. (Everyone move to Mumbai, we have lovely black-and-yellow cabs with polite drivers.)
  • My colleague and I were at the Qutub Minar exclaiming over the architecture and eagerly taking pictures. Two different security guards came up to us to give us photography advice. My old Delhi lessons in being rude and snotty came in handy. (I said "thank you" to one with my hand up, signalling "stay away". He got it.)
  • I got on the Shatabdi Express at 6 - in the morning! - after being up partying all night and was clumsier than usual, so I spilled tea on the man sitting next to me dressed in white collar work clothes. Then I said "Fuck" loudly. Among all the vacationing families with young children.
  • My friend and I were at a pub in Delhi and he was encouraging me to talk to strangers and then decided to teach me how and we played dumb charades with these young women for half an hour and it was lots of fun.
  • Basically I have cool friends and I need to travel more.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Pictures of My Travels: Uttarakhand

I visited Chicu and her Mian's beautiful home again last month. Some pictures of my trip.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Circumscribing "Fun" for Adult Women

"You're on a roll."

"You're a bad girl."

"Where's your husband?"

"Why did you have to go?" (This was my mother.)

These were some of the reactions I got to my recent solo traveling, from people I consider friends. In the last month, I have been in Delhi, Uttarakhand, Goa, then Delhi again (this time for work, but I managed to get quite a bit of fun in).

But what made me stop and think was that I subconsciously agreed with them. That I was having "too much fun". That I should stay home - even though my husband wouldn't be around for much of the time himself. That I should have less fun. That partying with men friends, not just one night but several nights in a row, was a bit too much.

Over at the Ladies Finger, I sort through these reactions and my feelings, and explore why we even have such a concept as "too much fun". How can fun, when you're not hurting anyone, be a bad thing?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Books I Read in March

I had a busy month (as you can see by my posting this in mid-April)! Here are the books I've read, as far as I can remember.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
Miss Jean Brodie is the antihero, the teacher who teaches beyond the classroom, tries to inspire her students, but is narcissistic and self-serving. It's an interesting novel, though I found it rather depressing (so many stories about schoolchildren - barring the ones about midnight feasts and adventures around the countryside - are; it seems so easy to victimise children).

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma by Trenton Lee Stewart
This is the third of the series, and an extremely fun children's adventure book. I borrowed it from Chicu's neighbour (please be advised this word is used loosely here) when I visited her, and it's a great vacation read. Four kids have adventures and stop the bad supervillain from getting away with a superweapon. What I loved best was that the older girl, Kate, is the most physically adept of them all and the boys are often like, okay, Kate will go fight the bad guys and we'll sit here and wait for her.

Pulchritude by Ana Mardoll
A more realistic retelling of the Beauty and the Beast - one that keeps the magic but makes the characters more realistic. It was interesting but not engrossing - I liked the author's notes at the end more than the actual novel.

Mahesh Rao's The Smoke is Rising
Between this and his new book of short stories that I read in January, I've become quite a fan of Mahesh Rao. (Also, I met him at his book launch and he's charming in person.)

This book starts a bit slow, and the frequent shifts in point of view - every few pages - was a bit disorienting. Especially because I read this over a week while I was traveling instead of all at once, I found myself forgetting the characters and where I'd last left them.

But I found myself more and more drawn in. The characters are so well drawn, realistic yet interesting. And the novel spends much space on its women - the elderly, lonely widow Susheela, her lonely young housemaid Uma, the young unhappy wife Mala. And while there are no outrightly happy endings (and I was rooting for them, yet I admit this is more realistic), there is some validation, some vestige of dignity, and a lot of sympathy for these women.

Mahesh Rao is a feminist, and that's a compliment.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Not a Review of Ki & Ka

Dear Mr Balki,

This is not a review of Ki & Ka: after all, I didn’t even sit through the whole movie. I left during the interval: and would have left earlier if I wasn’t wary of disrupting the experience for other viewers. But much as I tried to forget the part of the movie I did watch (like Kia near the beginning of the movie, I even downed a drink in frustration), I am still full of questions. 

a) Was there a script for this movie? Because there didn’t seem to be any plot, and no characterization. I suspect the “character sketches” must have read something like this: 
  • Young son of rich man who has no ambition, likes trains, and wants to become a housewife/husband. Oh, he also works out and can beat three men up because he’s not effeminate. He’s definitely not gay also. We have to make him say so because his lack of interest in men is not obvious enough. 
  • Ambitious young woman.
  • Controlling rich industrialist father of Kabir.
  • NGO-wali mother of Kia who’s really cool, you know, asks her daughter and her fiancĂ© if they have had sex yet, thinks marriage is stupid, that kind of thing. (Actually this was the one character I liked and would have liked to know better, but she was as much a cardboard cutout as the others.)
And that’s it. After spending over an hour with the characters, I couldn’t figure out what motivated them. For instance:

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Books I read in February

Let me start with a retraction. In last month's roundup of books, I had mentioned the reasons why Ankush Saikia's Red River, Blue Hills didn't quite work for me. All of those were true.

Yet since then, I've found myself thinking more of that book than any of the others I read recently. I kept remembering the protagonist, Varun, and bits of plot from the book. So I have to admit the book worked better than I thought it did. There was something about Saikia's writing that made the characters and the scenes really stick with me. I keep thinking of that book -- even random less important bits like Varun's visit to his friend's restaurant and his restlessness at his brother's anniversary party -- for no reason at all.

I haven't read many books this month, though I've been doing a lot of other reading. Two of the books I did complete are both non-fiction and are in fact written by partners. Jeanette Winterson's Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal is about many things, but mostly about growing up with an abusive mother. I was amazed at Winterson's spirit and determination, at the upbringing she had lived through and overcome to become such a celebrated author.

Susie Orbach on Eating is a wonderful little book about improving your eating habits. It was mentioned in Winterson's memoir, so I wanted to check it out. It was shorter than I expected, and didn't tell me much I didn't know from reading about Health at Every Side, but it has some useful practical tips that I'm going to try.

I loved Nick Hornby's Funny Girl: A Novel, so I picked up Everyone's Reading Bastard. It's an interesting little novella on the rise of the personal essay in the era of blogging. The protagonist's wife (or nearly ex or newly ex-wife, depending on how you define it) is a writer and starts a newspaper column called 'Bastard!' in which she publicly enumerates his shortcomings. All his acquaintances of course, know it's him. It felt a bit like it was veering towards misogyny (crazy ex-bitch who thinks she has power!) but the end revealed it to be much more self-aware than that.

I read TS Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral for the first time, and it seemed very current, in the light of recent events. Ostensibly, it's about religion vs. the monarchy -- an archbishop is killed by four knights sent by the king -- but it's about standing up to authority, about the poisonous culture of oppression.