Monday, December 19, 2016

Books I read in November and half of December

I meant to do this in early December, I did. And here we are and it's Christmas week. So I might as well do this now and do the next one early Feb.

It's a tiny bit embarrassing how much of my reading is romance, even though I say it's not my favorite genre. Nice to have found out something about myself. Also, I read less in November but I'm beginning to cover up for it now.

Clear Light of Day by Anita Desai
I hadn't read any Anita Desai except the Village by the Sea when I was in college, and the last few pages of that book were missing (I still remember my disappointment). This book did not disappoint me, meandering around the lives of a family, going to unexpected and still familiar places. Our two protagonists and point of view characters are Tara, the younger sister, the baby of the family who was supplanted by the arrival of their brother. Who was unambitious and only craved a normal life, which she got and seems vaguely dissatisfied with. And Bimla, the older sister, friend and closest companion of awe-inspiring older brother Raja. Raja declares he wants to be a hero when he grows up; Bimla promptly follows suit. Tara says she wants to be a mother, and invites the others' ridicule. Yet as her aunt consoles her, Tara is the one who gets what she wants most unambiguously. Though I found Bimla pretty damn heroic in her determined singledom, her stubbornness, her fierce protectiveness of her family.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
I had started this a few years ago, but I was depressed at the time and couldn't somehow get on with it. Thankfully I kept the book, and this time I was pulled in by its power. The book is an uncompromising attack on beauty standards and racism, especially internalized racism. It's a feminist look at how young girls are stripped of their self-esteem and victimized. And all of this in Morrison's beautifully poetic language.

Just William by Richmal Crompton
I heard of the William series on Twitter a few days ago, and was skeptical. How can a British schoolboy be anything but annoying? But this book was actually great fun. William is like an older British version of Dennis the Menace -- only more interesting. And it's free for the Kindle, so try it out.

Coolie by Mulk Raj Anand
This is a longer novel than Untouchable, following a young boy who is sent off to town to work, and moves from one job to another. It's more of a story, and reads a bit like the episodic sagas of Dickens. But I found Untouchable the stronger story, maybe because I really liked the protagonist Bakha, and he seemed a fully realized, interesting character. Munoo remained a bit elusive for me, even though I spent more pages with him.

Hold Me by Courtney Milan
Milan's latest novel is probably her best so far.  We have an Asian American hero, a Hispanic heroine, and a sensitive portrayal of trans people. But most importantly, we have a hero who is interesting and flawed and good. The heroine is as awesome as all of Milan's heroines -- rather more so.

The Dagger in the Desk by Jonathan Stroud
This short story is part of the Lockwood series and is available free on the Kindle. It's just an episode where Lucy and her companions go ghost-busting, and is a fun, light read.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Things to do when the world seems especially scary

Hide from the world. Opportunely be sick through the apocalypse, so you are behind on the horrifying news, and have less energy to care about impending doom. Take your time getting better, watch lots of Gilmore Girls and Elementary and Jane the Virgin.

Spend time with friends. Argue and try to make sense of the world that has stopped making sense. Or just breathe in each other's company. Do something together and be glad that you have this. That you are not alone.

Have sex. Masturbate. Revel in your imperfect body. Derive pleasure that is forbidden to those incapable of understanding consent or love.

Read. Read think pieces, read how things went wrong, read how bad they are going to get. Face your fears. Hold them in your hand and look at them. But also read the funny stuff. The jokes that maybe aren't so funny, the ones that make light of serious business. The enemy is too scary to laugh at, but we can still laugh at ourselves.

Build solidarity. Learn about how it's affecting others, even if due to a combination of laziness, illness, and selfishness, you do this mostly by reading online. Shake off your usual curmudgeonliness to ask your household help if she has enough money and food to get by. Give her the one Rs 100 note you had (with a 500 and the promise of more soon as you can get some) and rummage through your packed food to find stuff she can use. At the ATM, after you and your partner finally get some cash, offer some to a woman standing in line with you whose card didn't work. She refuses, and you continue to worry about her. You feel guilty again for your luck and privilege.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Gilmore Girls is the only show I’ve ever wanted to live in

(Minor spoilers for the first four seasons)

I didn’t watch Gilmore Girls back when it first aired. I remember watching a few scenes back when I had a TV (some six years ago), but I found it a bit boring and never got hooked. But it kept popping up as a pop culture reference. A few weeks ago, after the umpteenth tweet by people whose judgement I respect, I decided to give it a try. 

I started at the beginning, and have been binge watching my way through (season 4 episode 18, so you know not to spoil me). And while the show still gets boring at times (I don’t bother to hit pause when I get up to get food or do the laundry), it is probably the nicest thing I’ve watched on TV, in a long time. (Jessica Jones was the best, but I wouldn’t call it nice.)

It’s boring enough that I don’t obsess over it. But when I’ve had a bad day at work or I’m sick, it’s perfect. (Boring might be unfair: but there are lots of episodes when nothing much happens, just like life! Lots of times when the main characters are being even more self-absorbed than usual, and you don’t care that poor Rory might actually not be the best in her class for a few episodes!) 

I usually don’t bother to read about the show either (compared to when I was watching the Good Wife, and would obsessively read everything I could find about it), but did read a couple of recaps recently, and the reviewer said something about how the Gilmore girls don’t treat their men well: that is, Luke and Dean. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Books I read in October (and the last week of September)

This month had a vacation, so I got lots of reading done. Much of it was frivolous.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

A Harry Potteresque fantasy but with more interesting protagonists (gasp, my blasphemy!) A school of magic, a "chosen" hero, a supervillain, a rival in school, a smart girl best friend, a love interest that slowly devolves into a love triangle, it's got it all. A thousand times more fun than the Cursed Child.

Lockwood and Co.: Four books in the series by Jonathan Stroud

Another fantasy YA series by this author, this one lacks the brilliance and depth -- particularly the class consciousness and social commentary -- of Bartimaeus. However, it's a fun set of books. Our very young protagonist, Lucy, and her team (Lockwood and George; the three of them form the firm Lockwood and Co.) find and eliminate ghosts. The characterisation is a bit lazy (Lucy is Kitty from Bartimaeus, Lockwood is a nicer Nathaniel -- or Nathaniel who had a loving family and is therefore less screwed up, George and another character make up Bartimaeus), and there seems to be little personal growth: the main characters behave and speak much the same as they did in the first book (even though they were tweens in the first book and should have changed a lot by now). But hey, girl who fights ghosts and has no personal demons (these belong to the eponymous Lockwood), fights with swords, and is brilliant at what she does. Also, as the series is for children, the ghosts aren't scary (I can't read actual horror). If you are interested, start with the first book.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

The announcement of Roy's second novel and some related tweets praising this one made me want to reread it. This time (my fourth read, probably), I really slowed down (I read really fast and often skim through and miss stuff). This time, I noticed how outrightly feminist the novel is. I also noticed how very fatphobic and generally appearance-focused it is. Good people are beautiful. Bad people are ugly. It's actually that simplistic. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The atheist at the festival

What's the etiquette around being an atheist during Diwali or Durga Puja or any of the big Indian festivals? How do you handle it?

I'm not friendly with the neighbours and have no family around who would want me to visit or do something special on a festival. But there's so much minor stuff to deal with, so many ways in which you always feel like an outsider, whether you're an atheist or a religious minority (I assume). Like having to refuse prasad when a kind colleague offers it (I have dietary issues and need to be extremely careful what I put in my mouth). Or wondering if you should dress up in Indian clothes because everyone else is or dress extra casual, just to signal you're not celebrating?

We always stay home, never visit family during the season. We don't want to participate in the rituals, and it would be rude and awkward to be there but refuse to participate. (I have once or twice made an exception for Bihu, because the few God-worship-type rituals around it are easy to avoid: Bihu is mostly about eating and meeting family and buying or gifting clothes.)

In any case, that doesn't matter because if I'm in Mumbai, no one else around me celebrates Bihu, and the two of us aren't home alone wondering if there's something better we should be doing. Even reading or watching TV is difficult because of the noise (I'm not sure which is worse: Diwali crackers or Navratri music).

I have more or less solved Diwali by staying home, lighting candles, and sitting in the balcony for a while to watch others blow up their money in fireworks. (Hey, as long as we can't avoid the pollution and noise and exploitation of workers, might as well enjoy the pretty.)

But sometimes, I wish we had more people to do this with. I think of families gathering and then snuggle closer to my one-person family. Even friends are all too busy with their families at this time. So I guess we'll just go in, turn on Netflix with the volume way up, and decide to make plans with our friends soon, once they are free.

Or maybe this year we could go to Marine Drive and watch the fireworks from there. I've heard it's beautiful.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Friendship, Writing, and #inktober

I can't draw to save my life. Or that's what I always used to say. I always wished I could draw, even a little bit, and I look at people's sketches and water colors on social media with wonder, and wish someone would gift me one.

Now I've finally decided I'm going to try. I'll be bad at it, but who cares. I don't want to be an artist, I just want to have fun.

So I'm participating in Inktober. Where you make ink drawings through October.

Recently, I've been putting up handwritten drafts of poems on Instagram, so starting today I'm going to try and do one a day, and do a bit of drawing around it.

Here's the first. Don't mock me.

Follow me on Instagram for more.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Books I read in August and September

I was so late  I thought I might as well combine these, even though I expect to read a few more by the end of the month.

Changes (The Magic Jukebox Book 1) by Judith Arnold
You know what I thought of this one.

A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer
I reread a bunch of Heyer, because I wasn't well for a few days and a Twitter conversation sparked some nostalgia. I have reread this book at least twice because I didn't remember reading it earlier, which is not much of a recommendation. I get Heyer's going for how some life partnerships can be reasonable and practical rather than romantic and passionate, but fuck that. As usual, the heroine is much better and smarter than the hero, and she deserves a man who's wild about her, not one who is vaguely condescending and thinks she's not pretty and doesn't have the right background, but after all she's really nice and her father gave him a lot of money so he could continue the upper class life he's used to and even become a gentleman farmer because he's not one of those idle rich. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

On A Magic Jukebox and Other Romance Novels

I am constantly disappointed by romance novels. I want to love the genre, and I really love a few -- Georgette Heyer's Cotillion, PG Wodehouse's Jill the Reckless (don't tell me that's not a romance, it totally is) -- but most make me want to throw it across the room (which is a problem, because I read on a Kindle).

This one had so many things wrong with it:

a) The hand of fate: a magic jukebox that plays what someone needs to hear and changes lives. Here's the thing: I like having control over my life. It's the thing I've fought hardest for: the right to make my own decisions, even if they are stupid. And falling in love with someone because a magic jukebox made me: that's the stuff of nightmares, not dreams.

b) Conflating love and lust. Just because he's a good kisser -- yeah yeah, it's the best kiss you've ever had -- doesn't mean it's *true love*. You can lust after someone and not want to marry them. There's nothing wrong with enjoying sex with someone you don't want to spend all your life with.

c) Moving fast: a few days is all it takes to fall in love? Who are these people? I bet they spend the rest of their lives convincing themselves they are in love, after all magic jukebox matched them. (If they don't split up in a few weeks, which the author wouldn't allow.)

d) Why can't a woman break up with her boyfriend/fiance just because she's bored of him or had fallen out of love with him or doesn't want to spend all her life with him? Why does the author need to stack on evidence for why she's awful -- he's a snob, he's domineering, he's boring, he doesn't listen to her, he doesn't kiss well... And then, finally, he is violent towards her. His only positives: looks, wealth, success. Is our heroine that shallow or that lacking in self esteem? Seems like the latter, but then it seems a poor decision to jump headlong into another relationship, especially with a man she barely knows.

d) Where are their friends? Why does she have no one to call but her fiance when she's had a success at work? Or anyone but her sister - who she doesn't seem close to - who she feels safe telling about her decision to dump her fiance? If they don't have any (or more than one between them), maybe that's something to fix first instead of diving out of one engagement and into another. (Did someone say rebound?)

e) Given that the characters don't value friendships, it's maybe less of a surprise that they don't try to make friends with each other. And this really annoys me. When you decide to be with someone, it's both the really little things and the really big things that matter. Big things like - does she want kids? Does he believe in equal rights for everyone? Is she homophobic/racist/transphobic? Is he a saver or a spender? And little things like, is he a morning person? Will he understand her need for alone time? Will she expect him to accompanying her on runs? Is he tidy or messy? Will he do the chores? Does she like going out or staying home? Who will cook breakfast? What kind of food does he like? What kind of music does she like? All the things which seem unimportant at first but are essential to peace in the home.

f) How do things get resolved magically? One conversation, that too instigated by and in the presence of an outsider - isn't enough to change a parent-child relationship that's been screwed up for decades.

g) This is almost like asking why the sky is blue, but why do romance protagonists have to be good-looking? Less good-looking people deserve -- and find -- love too.

But here are a few things I loved about this book, though it's hardly enough, given the other problems:
a) the hero is working class and works with kids, trying to give them the support and opportunities he lacked
b) both have really flawed, even horrible parents

I get that fiction isn't always supposed to reflect reality. That this is escapism. Or maybe I don't really.

Because you know what, many of us do draw lessons from fiction into real life. The best literature - whether it's fantasy or romance or some other genre fiction or highbrow literary fiction -- helps you learn more about life. And romance books like this - and I'm talking about books that are supposed to be well written, and read by intelligent, feminist women (since those are the only ones whose romance recommendations I heed) -- can teach all the wrong things. That lust and love are synonymous. That you don't need to know someone to fall in love for them and change your entire life to fit around theirs. That you need a man to change your life and make yourself happy. That adult children should always make peace with their parents, even if the parents don't care for them or were abusive.

In contrast, the very few romances I have read that I've truly loved, have featured protagonists I respect and who get to know each other before they decide they are in love. Yes, decide. Because however swiftly you're swept off your feet or however overpowering your lust for the other person, deciding to share your life with someone (even if it's not for forever) is always a decision. And it's most romantic when you make it willingly, wholeheartedly, with your eyes open.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Thoughts on the movie Akira

 Threading together some tweets about the movie, which the Guy and I saw last night and quite enjoyed. (I don't watch many movies on the big screen -- this was the first after Udta Punjab.) The formatting might be a bit wonky and some tweets might appear twice -- you can view it on Twitter instead.

I meant Sonakshi, of course.

*reversal, not reveal. My phone really needs to stop messing things up.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Thoughts on Raksha Bandhan and this time of year

Last week, I wrote about my true feelings about Raksha Bandhan for the Ladies Finger. I envy those of you with siblings you are close to, and ooh-ed and aah-ed over the fun subversive rituals some people celebrated with. But the original festival makes me want to run (as do most religious rites for that matter).

Janmashthami today, Ganesh Chathurthi around the corner, Durga Puja and Navratri and Dussehra and Diwali not far behind. This is not my favourite time of year. In some ways. Especially the noise.

But in other ways this is a great season. Bombay is awfully hot and humid, but it'll be my birthday next month, and even though I'll be officially middle-aged this year I have plenty to celebrate. Two weeks after is our wedding anniversary, and we'll have made it a full decade.  I've got plenty of fun stuff planned with the Guy and friends, so the next two months should be fun!

You have fun too, however you choose to celebrate.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Books I read in July

Can you believe it's August already?

I got more reading done this month, in spite of two short trips (Goa again, yay!) and near my new-normal level of socialising.

The Madwoman in the Attic by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar
I've read about this book for years, and finally got around to reading it. It's a seminal work in feminist literary criticism, and examines how classic women writers - Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Emily Bronte, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Dickinson -- subverted and shaped literary conventions. If you're interested in literature and feminism, it's fascinating, even though some chapters are somewhat dry and academic.

The Professor by Charlotte Bronte
I had read this years ago (as I had Villette) but I was tempted to revisit it based on some paragraphs in The Madwoman in the Attic which shed a new light on my recollections. It's interesting and fun, and not quite as subversive as anything written by Jane Eyre's author should be, being a more straightforward hero+makes+his+way+in+the+world+and+wins+the+love+of+a+good+woman, but it has its moments (and The Madwoman in the Attic had some fascinating suggestions on how to read it as more subversive than it is).

Thursday, July 28, 2016

More thoughts on having been married for nearly ten years

Click through to read the thread.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A love story, in tweets

I shared this long true story on Twitter a few days ago.

And here's more love stories from other people:

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Monday, July 18, 2016

Salaam Bombay

The Guy took me to a screening of Salaam Bombay yesterday afternoon. It was a really good movie, yet left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied. As I confessed to the Guy when we were two-thirds of the way into the movie, I was even a little bored.

I haven't seen many of Mira Nair's movies, though I think I've seen the most famous ones. I was blown away by Monsoon Wedding and Missisippi Masala, and quite enjoyed Vanity Fair; I was less enthralled by The Namesake and Kamasutra (though I think I only saw a part of this last and can't make a fair judgement).

I loved the first few scenes of the movie. They were so spare in dialog, so rich in visual storytelling and the use of sound (but not exposition). It took so little for us to sympathize with little Krishna, our protagonist and point of view character, who's been abandoned by the circus he worked at and finds his way to Bombay.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Doors don't just keep others out -- they shut us in too

There was some discussion on Twitter a few days ago about a Flipkart courier sexually assaulting the woman he was delivering the package to. The conclusion was: latch your door. Don't let the courier guy in.

I am not embedding the tweet because I don't want to call out anyone specific for this. It's conventional wisdom, after all. Our mothers and sisters and friends have always told us what to do to avoid getting raped. But there are several reasons why this didn't sit well with me, and I want to share them with you.

It's not the victim's responsibility to prevent rape. This is not a new thought, it's one of the things feminists have been saying forever. Yet I see women who identify as feminist also giving other women "safety tips". Often, it seems like a fine line. We want our sisters to be safe. But opening the door to a courier guy is a very normal act that we should be allowed to perform without getting assaulted. Chains on doors are often flimsy and ineffective - and what if you have to take in a big parcel?

Rape isn't committed only by outsiders, or by lower class men. I'll be honest, I see a whiff of classism here. Middle class men rape. Upper class men rape. Relatives rape. If a courier person asks me for water on a hot day - and he otherwise doesn't seem skeevy - I don't want to say no. They have hard jobs and don't need unnecessary suspicion.

We don't need more advice on what to fear. Indian women are taught from birth to fear men they are not related to. I spent much of the last few years trying to unlearn fear. The Gift of Fear was an eye-opener for me. De Becker points out that our constant fear dulls our instincts (and also makes our lives less joyful). We need to learn to trust our instincts, and to learn to say no when something feels wrong. If the courier guy acts creepy, if something seems off, definitely don't let him in. But being suspicious of every courier guy is not the answer.

When I was barely a teenager and used to take public buses to school, I'd get molested and harassed every day. It was traumatic for a naïve kid who was already low on self esteem. But I never told my parents, because I was afraid their answer would be to not let me go out alone.

Remember your Atwood. There are two kinds of freedom: freedom from and freedom to. I want freedom from harassment and assault, but I've fought hard for my freedom to live as I want, and I'm damned if I'm letting that go.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Books I read in April, May, and June

Damn, I'm almost two months late with this 'monthly' post. I haven't been reading as much lately, so this is more like one or max two months' worth of books. But there's more non-fiction here than I usually read.

A Passage to India by EM Forster
This was a rereading, and a surprisingly enjoyable one. I like Foster's Howard's End also, and in both novels I am impressed by his empathy toward people who are so different - women, Indian men - and whom other male white writers of the time had so much trouble treating as human.

The question I'm finding it difficult to answer is, is the novel misogynistic? It tries hard not to be, but I'm not sure it succeeds, just as it doesn't quite succeed at being anti-racist. But I give it points for trying very sincerely, and it's definitely a thought provoking read.

Hatred in the Belly by the Ambedkar Age Collective
I wrote about this here, but skip my review if you like and read Tejas'.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

In defense of "adulting"

I am in my mid thirties. I moved out of my parents' home for good thirteen years ago. I've lived in hostels, with roommates, and alone, though for most of the last ten years I've lived with the Guy.

I followed the approved script for becoming an adult, toeing the line to meet with both liberal and patriarchal approval. I got married two weeks after I turned 25, and it's always been just the Guy and me - though it helps that we live far from our parents.

So, in a way, adulting came easy to me, and I've been guilty in the past of mocking friends who seem to have a harder time figuring it out. But the older I grow, the more I realize that it's not easy, and I have respect and compassion for all of us who are making it, to some extent or the other.

Because at least for urban India right now, we seem to have torn up the script. And that's pretty fucking amazing. We're not living our parents' lives, we're living our own.

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 fiancé 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.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

In praise of Aligarh

Last night, I watched Aligarh. I don't watch many movies at the cinema, but I had been really looking forward to this one, after seeing the director speak last month. And it delivered fully on my expectations.

Based on real events, the movie follows the story of a professor, Siras, who is filmed, without his consent, having sex with another man. He is then suspended and publicly rebuked by the university officials, and thrown out of his apartment.

Every bit of the movie is brilliant - every sound, every frame, every bit of scenery, every silence seems to fit just right (which reminds me of Manoj Bajpayee's Siras talking about poetry and saying "It's not in the words, but in the pauses, the silences.")

Bajpayee is as excellent as ever: his Siras is dignified, gentle, introverted. His bearing, his clothes, his speech scream "professor" (my dad was one, and I'd mostly grown up within colleges, so this made him even more endearing to me).

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

How we killed Rohith Vemula

Till recently, I was very unaware of my own caste privilege. And I have been trying to come to turns with it, trying to understand, to learn.

I mourn Rohith, and I feel guilty for his death.
We forged the scythe of our hate and fear
In fires of contemptuous fury and flaming prejudice
We cooled it in bitter callousness
And pretended it wasn’t a weapon. 
And we cut the grass, instead of burning it
We saved it and let it dry
And strand by bitter strand we wove it
To help our victim die.

Read the rest here.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

I'm a Ladyfinger!

I'm thrilled to have a piece published on the Ladies Finger. It's a very personal piece about my grandmother's death and my visit to my relatives, which turned out to be a much happier event than I'd anticipated.

I very much admire the Ladies Finger -- it's my favourite Indian website/publication! If you're not reading it already, you should.

Bonus: here are a few pictures of the trip.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Books I read in January

I'm going to copy Aishwarya and keep a monthly tally of the books I read, with a few sentences on what I thought about them. 

One Point Two Billion, a book of short stories by Mahesh Rao: I attended the book launch, which featured an interview of the author by Jerry Pinto, and was immense fun. I brought both Rao's books home, planning to put them aside to read later, since I had other books I'd planned to read. But I couldn't help looking inside this, and was quickly drawn in. Each story has a very distinct point of view, and each was intriguing, some incandescent. It's rare that I don't dislike - or like less - at least one story in a collection. Each narrator/protagonist was sympathetic even though some of them did awful, and in one case, horrific things. Each one managed to surprise me. The writing is beautiful, with some radiant phrases that you learn to look out for, much like a treasure hunt.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Feeling less alone, and discovering art that echoes my life and feelings

I have identified as a feminist as long as I can remember, since I was a little girl and discovered the word and realised it applied to me. But for a long, long time, I never knew anyone else who was feminist. I was too timid to embark on a crusade against the whole world. But I was never entirely silent, and I hoped to grow up and discover my tribe.

I grew up and moved to a bigger city, but I seemed as alone in my feminism as ever. It was only years later, when I discovered blogging, that I found other feminists. Feminist blogs have therefore been responsible for my feminist education. I read only a couple of feminist books, and only discovered those due to blogs. But these blogs — all international, because if there were regular Indian feminism sites ten years ago, I failed to discover them — taught me so much, both the theory and the practice (how to be a better feminist, how to be an ally to other marginalised groups). I also discovered other feminists in India who blogged (they blogged about their personal lives, but were staunchly feminist) and made friends. I met some of them in real life — most of my friends in the last few years have been made online.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

I sing a song

Hello, people.

I've told you I've rediscovered music last year. I've been singing, and the Guy recorded a few things, and I was too embarrassed to share it.

But here goes. This is part of an Assamese song that I sang in public when I was a kid, once in an impromptu performance on the radio (long story) and once, an old classmate recently informed me, in a school competition.

The song is about nature -- trees and flowers and bees.