Wednesday, September 30, 2009

On Roman Polanski and Celebrity Rape Apologists

I read a number of blog posts over the last few days about how rape apologists are defending Roman Polanski and suggesting that he might be excused for raping a 13-year-old child because he makes good movies. I metaphorically shrugged my shoulders, because what's new about rape apologists? (Remember the support for Anand Jon, anyone, or the horror that Shiney Ahuja raped a maid?)

But then I read that the rape apologists include Salman Rushdie, Woody Allen and Whoopi Goldberg. I am shocked and saddened. And speechless, for once.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Effe and My Birthday

As I wrote here, Effe has a history of forgetting my birthday. It all started many years ago, when we were in college (the equivalent of 12th standard, or was it 11th?). Effe and I were barely friends then, at least not the kind of soul-baring friends we later became. So some days after my birthday was over, another friend was asking about my birthday party, and Effe excitedly asked when it was.

"Well, you're not invited anyway," I told her jokingly. "You didn't wish me."

"Oh, when was it?" she asked.

"See, you don't even know that. Why should I invite you?"

Effe pouted and protested I was being mean.

"Oh, I'm so sorry, Effe. I'm so sorry you forgot my birthday."

In Effe's defence, she wasn't in town on my birthday that year, and she rarely remembers anyone's birthdays. But the last two years, she has been exceptionally good to me in that regard.

Last year, she called me soon after the Guy and I got home from a late breakfast.

"Wow, you remembered my birthday!" I squealed. "I can't believe it!"

She was a bit miffed that I was so surprised. We chatted for a while. But I had this earthshaking piece of news I had to tell her, the kind of news that you can only get hyper-excited about when you're telling it to your equally uncool teenage friend from a small town.

"I saw Rishi Kapoor today!" I cried.

"Really?" She was as excited as I could have hoped. "Where?"

"At the Taj. We had gone there for breakfast, and there he was..."

"Why did you go to the Taj for breakfast? Just like that or is there some occasion today?"

You're right, I'm never going to let her forget this. (But you know I love you, babes.)

Monday, September 28, 2009

On Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol"

I am reading Dan Brown's latest. I quite enjoyed the Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons (though the less said of Digital Fortress, the better), so I picked this one up hoping for some hours "timepass", as we Indians say. I'm only through one-fifth of the book, but I had to share some observations with you. (I've only read a hundred-odd pages, so there won't be any major spoilers, if you're planning to read it.)

I wonder just how stupid the people in the book are. Robert Langdon (the hero, for those of you who haven't read this or the previous books) gets a voice message and a fax from someone he doesn't know saying that his very-good-friend-and-father-figure wants to speak to him at given number. He calls back and he speaks to the person who had called earlier (apparently secretary to said father-figure), who says said father-figure is too busy to speak, but wants Langdon in Washington D.C. to deliver a very important lecture the same evening. And oh, good-friend-and-father-figure also wants Langdon to bring very-important-package that he had entrusted into Langdon's safekeeping fearing it might be stolen. And our hero is so innocent and trusting of unknown people that he gets on a flight with very-important-package without bothering to insist on speaking directly to friend-and-father-figure. And he runs into the grand hall where he is to give his lecture and is shocked! to find only a few tourists there! He has been tricked! How is that possible!

The said father-figure's sister (Ms Solomon, who is called Katherine to distinguish her from the real Solomon, her brother) is worried because she hasn't heard from her brother even when he misses the weekly meeting he has never ever missed. The said very-important-and-wealthy-brother doesn't seem to have a secretary or an office she knows about, where she can enquire about his whereabouts, so she whiles away her time wondering why he hasn't answered her calls. She gets a call from a doctor she never knew he had, and goes to meet him, and is very suspicious when his home/office doesn't look like a doctor's home/office, and when she is told that her brother was undergoing therapy, which he would have told her about, because they were very close. And she is wondering whether her brother isn't calling because he hasn't figured out how to use his new iPhone, because of course he couldn't get access to any other phone even though he is such a very-rich-and-important-person. And then she receives a text message from her brother, who doesn't know how to use his iPhone, asking her to admit aforementioned suspicious-therapist to very-secret-important-place, and she is thrilled that her brother learned to use text messaging, and invites said suspicious-doctor (who, the audience know, has the phone all along! and who has very suspicious Islamic-sounding name!) forthwith.

Robert Langdon enters grand hall in the Smithsonian and sees that people are shocked and someone is screaming. He sees what looks like a mannequin hand (some call it a handequin, the author helpfully informs us) in the center of the hall. He wonders why everyone is shocked at the appearance of a fake hand. Then he notices that one finger and thumb are pointing upwards. He wonders why this fake hand looks so unusual, with wrinkles on its skin, and why there is blood on it. Then he realises! that it is a real hand!

Then our hero goes closer and sees the hand with two fingers still pointing upwards.Three chapters later, the security chief walks into the hall. He also. notices. the. hand. And if you hadn't been reading the first couple of times, you get another description.

The hand is pointing upwards. If that wasn't enough, Langdon has also been told (by the secretary-doctor-kidnapper) that he needs to follow the hand to do something-very-important. But upwards is just a tiny ledge with a railing near the ceiling of the grand hall. And inspite of a very helpful security-chief-type-person pointing out the obvious, Langdon (who has a fear of heights) refuses to admit that the search might actually be upwards. But we all know that, before the end, Our Hero has to get up on that ledge to conquer his fears and become A True Hero.

Oh well, I might as well go read more. But don't expect me to tell you if Langdon actually gets up on that ledge.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Online Shopping and Internet Marketing: A (Bad) Example

This morning I got an email from an online shopping site reminding me that I had sent a gift to a friend on 5th October last year, and did I want to send her one this year too? My first reaction was, "I'm impressed. This is smart marketing."

Then I remembered that when I actually asked my friend a couple of weeks after her wedding if she'd got the flowers, she said she hadn't. I had been sure she had, because I had got a delivery notification, so this was a bit of a shock.

I emailed the shopping site, and after a few days I received a reply that they were "investigating" the issue. After over three weeks of that email, I got another one saying, nstead of keeping your order on hold we have refunded the amount charged to you". (Emphasis mine.)

And they were kind enough to refund my money. My friend later told me that she had received a call from them to confirm that she hadn't received the flowers. As if I hadn't been embarassed enough when I asked if she had received my flowers and she said no, they had to embarass me a second time by asking her to confirm the same thing to them. She was a friend, so it didn't affect our relationship: what if it had been a boss or a client? It would have been very awkward, to say the least.

And this year they remind me that I had sent a gift to her. (I had, but she didn't get it!) They expect me to use their services again. I don't know if they're being extremely optimistic, or just stupid. (Actually, I can guess. Their database doesn't hold accounts of errors, or if it does, someone forgot to filter that... But that equals stupid, don't you think?)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How I Spent My Birthday

Just the fact that the Guy was in town this year was an improvement on last year. However, things combined to make this birthday, as I told the Guy, the... Best. Birthday. Ever.

My run of luck started the day before my birthday, with Siva replying to my appeal on behalf of this Friends of Children student, offering a donation. I had put up the post with few expectations (but a lot of hope), and to receive such a response within a couple of hours - well, it really made my day.

We had a party that night, and cleared the living room so all of us would have place to sit. I cooked spaghetti for dinner. The gang all work late, so they (including the Guy) started pouring in around 11. That is, two of them and the Guy turned up sometime past 11. Our de facto bartender mixed us drinks with a heavy hand, so that by the time the other two guests turned up just before midnight, I had had two drinks and was considerably light-headed.

In full disclosure, this was my first birthday party in (I think) seven years, and definitely the first in which I was drunk. There was even a cake! A chocolate cake with 'Happy Birthday Unmana' in white frosting. I clamoured for candles, and got one in a holder to blow out.

And then we ate, and talked, and drank some more. We broke up early, as everyone except the Guy and me had to go to work the next day. (The Guy had taken the day off in honour of my birthday.)

The Guy and I got up with backaches. We lazed around on the sofa for some time as we wondered what to do with the day. He made us scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast, and then we dressed up to go out.

We drove around aimlessly for a bit, arguing over where to go for lunch. We stopped at Koregaon Park to pick up shiny sandals. Then we went for lunch to this hotel. It was the Guy's idea all along - I had been demurring at first because that's where we went out for dinner last time and I thought we should go somewhere different.

I'm glad we finally agreed to go there. They had a pretty cheap lunch buffet. We started with tomato basil soup, which was okay. Then we chose from a variety of salads. There was a live pasta counter, and I ordered mine with white sauce. It came almost right as soon as I finished my salad, and it was without doubt the best pasta I have ever had. It was creamy yet spicy enough to not be bland. It was some flat ribbon pasta that I didn't catch the name of.

I thought I'd have another serving of the pasta if the main course wasn't appetising enough. I had another think coming. For the main course, we had the choice of baked corn and spinach, a variety of Indian dishes including dal and rice and roti, and Chinese: Schezuan vegetables and ginger rice. (And remember, I'm vegetarian so I didn't even glance at the non-vegetarian section). I tried to sample a bit of everything, and none of it was remotely unappetising.

There were six desserts on offer: fruit salad, gulab jamun, gajar halwa, creme caramel, tiramisu and chocolate ice cream. I tried all except the gulab jamun (which, however, the Guy vouched for) - and even had two cubes of tiramisu (which, in my defence, were quite small). It was a miracle we walked out of there. And I can't wait to go back.

It was, as I said to the Guy, the most awesome meal I have ever had.

And as if we hadn't eaten enough that day, we went out for dinner too. We went to a South Indian place and had nice light appam and idiyappam and neer dosai and vegetable stew and mushroom pepper fry. All excellent.

The nicest surprise though, was all the people who remembered my birthday. My sister called just before midnight. My mother of course, remembered - though my mother-in-law beat her to the call. The in-town in-laws called too. A friend who I hadn't talked to for months called, and we spent a nice while catching up. The man who helped the Guy send me flowers last year remembered, and messaged.

Effe actually messaged right in the morning and called while we were having lunch. Now you wouldn't think this was unusual, but then you don't know Effe. (Maybe I should put up a post on "Effe and My Birthdays".) The conversation went something like this:
Unmana: Hello?
Effe: Happy Birthday!
U: Thank...
E: So, you turned 28 too. (Her birthday was in July.)
U: Yes! I don't want to!
E: We're growing older!
Growing older seems worse when you see someone you've known most of your life go through it too. At least the Guy didn't know me when I was a kid and doesn't know how wrong this feels.

But the awesome birthday almost makes up for it.

And no, I didn't get a surprise this year. I got something better: I got to choose my gift. But owing to us ordering it pretty late, it hasn't arrived yet. (As you can see, the Guy isn't perfect. Pretty close, though.) At least, not all of it has... Well, I'll stop speaking in riddles and simply take a picture of it to put up here when it does arrive.

Update on Help for Law Student

Go down for latest update.

Within a couple of hours of putting up
this post, I got an email from reader Siva, offering a very generous contribution. I was both thrilled and humbled. It was my birthday yesterday, and this felt like the best birthday present I could have had. (Birthday celebrations post coming up soon.)

All of us at Friends of Children are very grateful, and I am proud to have a reader like Siva!

Siva is donating Rs 9000, which leaves us Rs 4000 short of our goal for this year. Do email me at if you can help our deserving law student pay his mess fees.
About the student: He is visually impaired, and has just got admitted to ILS Law College. He scored 80% marks in Class 12. Friends of Children has been sponsoring him since Class 11. I have met him, and he is a cheerful, gregarious young man.

Friends of Children sponsors his course fees, which the college has subsidised for him, and helps him with books. But Friends of Children's policies don't allow for paying students' hostel or mess fees, and he has mess fees of Rs 1,300 per month to pay. His parents are farm labourers, and he has no relatives supporting him. We are looking for people who are willing to donate his mess fees (or a part of it).

He's in the first year of a five-year course, and assuming two months of vacation a year, that comes out to Rs 13,000 per year over the next five years (Rs 65,000 in all).

Added at 2 p.m.: Pallavi very kindly forwarded my post to colleagues, and one of them (who wishes to remain anonymous) promptly wrote to me offering Rs 4,000.

I am humbled at how quickly we could raise the money for our student, and am so glad that I have such great readers!

Monday, September 21, 2009

An Appeal on Behalf of "Friends of Children"

I have written before about volunteering with Friends of Children. We work with college students (above 10th standard) that meet certain exam results and income criteria, supporting them with fees, training and counselling.

Today, I want to tell you about one specific student. He is visually impaired, and has just got admitted to ILS Law College. He did very well in his 12th, securing 80% marks. Friends of Children has been sponsoring him since Class 11. I have met him, and he is a cheerful, gregarious young man.

Friends of Children sponsors his course fees, which the college has subsidised for him, and helps him with books. But Friends of Children's policies don't allow for paying students' hostel or mess fees, and has mess fees of Rs 1,300 per month to pay. His parents are farm labourers, and he has no relatives supporting him. We are looking for people who are willing to donate his mess fees (or a part of it).

Edited to add: He's in the first year of a five-year course, and assuming two months of vacation a year, that comes out to Rs 13,000 per year over the next five years (Rs 65,000 in all). Either a monthly or a yearly contribution through FoC would be fine - and of course, we are open to splitting the cost among more than one donor.

Please email me at if you are interested in contributing towards his expenses. If you are in Pune, you could also come and meet him (as well as our other students).

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Impressions of Gujarat

Some pictures from the trip.

Street art in Ahmedabad
Some old gate in Ahmedabad
(Both the above two pictures were taken from a moving autorickshaw)
A lake at a dam in Rajkot

A heron or egret that let me close enough to take this picture
The bird of the previous picture flying away as I came too close

Monday, September 14, 2009

Book: "A Thousand Acres" by Jane Smiley

A friend lent me A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley. I am grateful, for otherwise I would have missed this truly wonderful (and Pulitzer-winning) book.

It is a family saga, universal and relatable like all great stories should be. I loved the book and finished it in one day. I didn’t even realise until I read the notes at the end that it was actually a retelling of King Lear, and that left me even more impressed.

I had never been wholly satisfied by King Lear, and this version of the story is definitely much more satisfying. Yet it is great even if you have never read a line of Shakespeare: it is at the most basic a woman’s struggle to find herself. She does, though she loses everything she had along the way.

The book touched me because I could relate it to some of my own experiences. It is also to an extent a political book: it touches on how the system promotes suffering and oppression, including themes such as pollution and child abuse within its span. Through the story of one family – or, in fact, one person, as the entire book is through the point of view of one woman – it hints at deep evils that exist throughout the world.

Yet that farm of a thousand acres is the center of evil for Ginny, and it is only by escaping it that she can at last find herself.

In a way, the book reminded me of The Color Purple, though it is a meandering river where The Color Purple is an intense mountain waterfall.

I don’t want to give away any more of the story: read it.

Sorry for the irregular blogging lately. My laptop is fixed and working faster than ever, so I'll be posting more frequently now, I promise!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

My Trip to Rajkot

I am back! This was the coolest trip ever to the in-laws. I’ve only been twice before, and was too stressed out about being a bahu to actually enjoy myself. This time around, we took flights that took us part of the way so that the journey up there was less tiring and I wasn’t complaining of backache or fatigue the entire time I was there; I knew everyone better so I was much more comfortable; I understand enough Gujarati to pick up much of the conversation so I don’t have to have conversations with myself in my head to amuse myself; and we did some touristy things like going out to a lake and shopping. Especially, shopping.

Our bus dropped us outside town on Thursday evening and we took an autorickshaw all the way across town to the Guy’s parents’ house. For some time, I felt like things were unfamiliar. Then the rickshaw bumped over an uneven road, I saw women nonchalantly walking on busy market streets dressed in nightgowns, horns beeped loudly, cattle sat splat in the middle of the road, and the smell of cow dung was pervasive. “Now it feels like Rajkot,” I observed to the Guy.

On Saturday evening , we took a ride on the sister-in-law’s scooter: the Guy, his niece, and me at the back holding on to both. I used to think Pune traffic was unruly... Ahem. My back didn’t exactly thank the bumpy roads either. The Guy though, seemed to remember what it was like to drive on those streets, for we successfully completed our long ride without touching any other person or vehicle. Which, if I were a praying person, is a miracle I would be thanking someone invisible for. (As I’m not, I can just thank someone visible who actually drove the scooter.)
We also took a bus ride once – it’s been ages since I got onto a rickety city bus. I love how the height gives you a better view of the streets.

My laptop is still refusing to cooperate, so I haven’t been able to upload the pictures I took on my phone. (Which is also the reason for the long blog hiatus.) Will post them later, I hope!

Also, pictures/videos I wish I had: of a line of policemen sitting casually on a low wall by a flyover in Ahmedabad, our auto weaving its way through large imposing-looking large-horned cattle to get to the lane the Guy’s parents live in, a herd of cattle (you’d call about fifteen a herd, right?) reposing in the middle of a busy street.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

In-Law Advice: What Wives Should Do

Based on the responses to this post, I decided to write a follow-up that addresses wives. What should you do if you’re an Indian wife and is likely to be expected to behave in a certain way (or rather, many different kinds of ways) by your in-laws? Here’s what.

First, be respectful but not deferential. Treat them as you might treat a senior colleague, for instance, or maybe a professor. That is, you don’t have to agree with them all the time, but you should be polite as far as you can.

Second – and most important: be yourself. Don’t pretend to be someone else hoping they’ll like you better. When they’re around, try to behave much like you normally do. You might want to give them special attention, spend time with them, show them around. That’s all great. But don’t try to be the perfect bahu you think they want. Believe that they’ve got a great bahu in you – and act like you do.

Third, talk to your partner. Don’t antagonise him by bluntly criticising his parents, but do let him know what you think of them. Talk about them and find out what he thinks about them. Just because they’re his parents doesn’t mean he thinks they’re paragons. Let him know if there’s any specific behaviour of theirs that hurts you. “I know Mamma means well, but when she asks me how often I make halwa and then looks at you like she’s sorry for you...” Also, let him know if there’s anything specific he can do to help. “Could you tell Mamma that we’re not trying for children right now? She keeps dropping these hints and it’s embarrassing...”

Fourth, always make it clear that you and your partner are a unit. By that I don’t mean you’re one person, but that you stand together and you make the decisions in your life. They’re welcome to offer advice, but that’s it. It helps if they see the two of you happy together, so try to confine the fights and even the sarcastic comments to when you are alone with him. If you look strongly welded together, it’ll be that much harder to drive a wedge in. Notice I say ‘look’. Appearances are important here.

What are your in-laws like? How do you deal with them when they’re pesky or interfering?

We’re going to visit my in-laws tomorrow, so why don’t you talk among yourselves till I’m back? See ya all next week!