Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Wedding Bells Part 2: The Arranged Route

Part 1 here.

S called last Saturday, bright and early Pacific time.

Moi: Hello?

S: You still sleeping?

Moi: What? At this time? I woke up, read for sometime, then I went to the gym, attended two classes, did groceries and now I am back at home cooking.

S: Great. I wish I am as motivated as you are. I can't seem to do anything right.

Moi: If it makes you feel better, I am still in bed. So what are you upto?

S: Oh okay. I came to work to finish up this thing I am working on. I am going to LA this afternoon.

Moi: LA? How come?

S: My sister's flying down too. To meet this guy.

Moi: What guy?

S: He came here last week. He is nice and stuff.

Moi: Really?

S: Yeah, so I figured I will go see him this week. Also get sis to meet him.

Moi: So you like this guy?

S: What do you mean like this guy? He sounds all sensible. I said Yes.

Moi: What?

S: Yes, that's why sis has to meet him now.

Moi: Hang on. Back up now. You met this guy over a weekend and decided to get married to him?

S: We have been mailing each other for sometime. So it is not just a weekend thing.

Moi: But how? How can you do this? You know nothing about this guy.

S: Not true. You are just mad because you I didn't tell you.

Moi: That too. Actually, good point. Why haven't I heard about this?

S: Because I did not any want input.

Moi: Wow, that makes me feel so much better.

S: No, seriously. I wanted to make this decision by myself. If I start talking to people, you all will come up with hazaar questions and issues.

Moi: Right. So the solution is not to raise any issues at all. Awesome.

S: Stop being mad. There are no issues here, okay?

Moi: Okay fine. So tell me about this guy.

S: He is a couple of years older and he sounds very mature.

Moi: Hmm..

S: Which I think is what I want. Something clicked between us, so I said Yes.

Moi: Okay...

S: He is quite independent too. Think he will help out with cooking and housework.

Moi: Really? How nice.

S: Yes. Cut that sarcasm, will you? It is not a given, not in arranged marriages at least.

Moi: If you say so.

S: And he's lived in different places though he is from a small town. Just like me.

Moi: Okay.

S: So the wedding will be in May sometime.

Moi: Oh cool. So he lives in LA?

S: Yes. Don't think I will move there anytime soon. Not this year for sure. He sounds very supportive about my career.

Moi: Really?

S: Yeah. He is very serious about his career too. So he told me its upto me what I want to do.

Moi: Oh..

S: What are you mumbling?

Moi: Nothing.

S: Go on, tell me.

Moi: Well, I was thinking that I wouldn't marry anyone who tells me that it is upto me.

S: Yeah?

Moi: First of all, someone who would be okay with me sitting at home is someone I would definitely not want to marry.

S: That's you. My priorities might be different. It might change.

Moi: Obviously. And second, ofcourse it is upto me what I want to do. How stupid is someone telling me that?

S: See, see why I did not talk to you before. Listen, this is an arranged marriage. We have to talk about all this so that our expectations are clear.

Moi: Of course.

S: Why? Why can't you be positive about this?

Moi: But I am. I have enough faith in your judgement to be extremely positive about this. Its your priorities that I have a problem with. But I can do nothing about that, can I?

S: Nope. People are different. And it is time for you to grow up.

Moi: Yep. So when do you have to leave?

S: I need to leave now actually. Will talk to you after I get back tomorrow evening.

Moi: Okay

S: Bye then

Moi: Hey S..

S: Yeah

Moi: Congratulations.

S: Thanks, I thought you will never get to it.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Wedding Bells Part 1: My Big Fat Church Wedding

Over the last two days, two of my dearest friends called me to tell me that they were getting married soon. [No, not to each other.] These two friends are poles apart and the two conversations went in completely different directions, so I figured I would post both of them here. The first conversation follows, it is sort of long so will post the second one later in the week.

Received a call from AF this morning.

Moi: Hello.

AF: Hey, I am getting married.

Moi: Who is this guy?

AF: He works with me.

Moi: Same guy who used to call you up hazaar times when you were at my wedding?

AF: Actually no. This is his friend.

Moi: But I thought you were all serious about him.

AF: No, no. This is the guy I like. Plus he wants to get married.

Moi: Oh, I see. Did S meet him while she was there?

AF: Yeah, she knows him. She likes him fine. He is all very cool and stuff. I was trying to set up S with him at some point.

Moi: Good show. So she didn't like him?

AF: Na, I just happened to like him more.

Moi: Ah. Your mom's all okay with this guy?

AF: Yeah, no problem there. She just wants me to get married.

Moi: That sounds familiar. What about his parents?

AF: They are all cool too.

Moi: So you sure he ain't psycho?

AF: What?

Moi: Well, you know, your taste in men tends to go over the top sometimes.

AF: Yeah right. Of course I was the one who went after the dude who used to frequent graveyards and memorize the names on the tombstones.

Moi: I didn't marry him, did I? Anyway, he could name any Tolkien character in his sleep. It was worth it.

AF: Of course, that's the perfect test for marriage. You wake him up in the middle of the night and ask him to name some imaginary hobbit.

Moi: Hey, I said I didn't marry him, okay?

AF: are you admitting that the man you married cannot name Tolkien characters in his sleep?

Moi: When I did say that? He can if I manage to wake him up. Which ain't exactly easy. And anyway, why exactly are we talking about me? When is the date?

AF: We have to figure out all that. I want a church wedding so dates aren't that easy.

Moi: Man's a true believer too?

AF: No, he is Tam Bram.

Moi: You mean Tam Brams aren't true believers? Don't let S hear that now. She will come after you with a broom.

AF: She is bonkers. Anyway, this man ain't religious.

Moi: So the church is all cool? I remember some vague comedy at least in Malluland about how you have to be Christian to get married in the church. Doesn't work that way in your part of the world?

AF: That is there. So we are getting him converted.

Moi: You are what?

AF: I told you, he isn't religious.

Moi: Exactly. So you are converting him?

AF: It doesn't matter to him and I want a church wedding. I want my gown and my flower girls and my bridesmaids and stuff. So I figured what the hell.

Moi: This guy agreed to this?

AF: Yeah. Told him he could kiss the bride and scandalize whole of Tuticorin. He agreed immediately.

Moi: Hmm...but won't he have to go change all his certificates and stuff?

AF: Na, its just the church records.

Moi: So you are cheating God now?

AF: Just the church since God doesn't care one way or the other.

Moi: So when you have a kid, would it be baptized? And brought up as a Catholic?

AF: What? Haven't thought about that but I guess so. Why are you asking all these strange questions?

Moi: I don't know. Remember A? Her Dad is Hindu and Mom is Catholic. When she and her sister were kids, parents asked kids whether they wanted to be baptized. Kids figured that if they go to chruch every Sunday they can't watch the Mahabharat, so they said No. I thought that was funny.

AF: I don't think its that funny. My mom wants the kid to be all Catholic.

Moi: Ah, see. And your in-laws want it to chant Gayathri mantram every morning. This is all fun.

AF: Dude, there's a reason why are discussing the religion of my unconceived kid right?

Moi: No, I can't think of any really. Btw, do you know for sure it is unconceived? Birth control doesn't work all the time you know.

AF: I give up. Enough. Just tell me whether you will make it to the wedding.

Moi: Are you paying for the bridesmaids dresses?

AF: Only if I choose the dresses.

Moi: Doesn't work. Can't fly all the way there and then buy my own dress.

AF: Okay dude. As long as you don't look like the bride, I will pay for it.

Moi: Don't worry. I won't steal the groom. Not like you were planning to steal mine.

AF: I was planning to steal your groom? Dude, you begged me to steal him remember? The day before the wedding all drunk on that stolen bottle of that wretched rum? You were sure you were going to run away from mandap and you wanted a standby bride.

Moi: Yeah, should have gone through with that. What to do now? Anyway, gotta go now. Bye.

AF: Bye, take care. Talk to you soon.

A test worth taking

Talking to a friend yesterday, I realised that the Implicit Association Test(IAT) isn't common knowledge as I thought it to be. So people, here are the links, go forth and take the tests. The tests measure your conscious and unconscious preferences / biases across a wide variety of topics. And its not even like you need them to tell you your attitudes once you have taken the test - every question you take an extra second to answer tells you all you need to know.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Chick-Lit Pandemic

Indian chick-lit makes it to the NY Times. Here. Next you will see Sex and the City types running to bookstores to buy Indian chick-lit.

In countries "where feminism hasn't fully taken root, chick lit might be offering the feminist joys of freedom and the post-feminist joys of consumerism simultaneously," said Mallory Young, a co-editor of "Chick Lit," a collection of academic essays on the genre. Take India, for example. In Swati Kaushal's breezy "Piece of Cake," the 29-year-old heroine juggles her marketing job at International Foods and the suitors who appear after her pushy mother lists her in the matrimonials section of The Hindustan Times — under "miscellaneous." The book has sold about 4,800 copies, a respectable figure in India, though it doesn't compete with the work of traditional pulp romance writers, said Diya Kar Hazra, Kaushal's editor at Penguin India. A recent novel by Shobha De, considered the Jackie Collins of India, sold 44,000 copies. Another popular chick lit title is Rupa Gulab's "Girl Alone," about "a pseudo-intellectual (named Arti) who deals with her disappointments in love with cough syrup, rock music and existential literature," as the author told The Mumbai Mirror last fall.

Looks like its either Chetan Bhagat or Swati Kaushal all the way. Sigh.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

And you thought regression was cool?

Falstaff, this one is for you. And for millions of others who need questions about their future lives answered. You asked here not long ago:

"What's the point? I mean I've already lived through that life, right? Why would I want to live it again? Personally I'm much more interested in my future life. Will I be pretty? Will I be rich? Will I need warm clothes? Will my Amex still work? Should I be taking Spanish lessons? That's what I want to know.

Come to think of it, if it's Past-life REGRESSION, maybe once could fit a line and project into the future."

I am happy to inform you and the world that yes, you could fit a line and project into the future. And guess what? You do not have to go to class to learn to do this; you can be your asocial self and read a book or listen to tapes to figure out your future life.

The book: Same Soul, Many Bodies
The man: Brian L Weiss

From Dr Weiss's website:

We have all lived past lives. All of us will live future ones. What we do in this life will influence our lives to come as we evolve toward immortality.

Dr. Weiss knows this is true because recently he has not only regressed his patients into the past, but has progressed them into the future. And what they have discovered is that our futures are variable, so the choices we make now will determine the quality of life when we return.

Using dozens of case histories, Dr. Weiss demonstrates the therapeutic benefits of progression, just as he has proved that journeys into our past lives can alleviate or cure our physical and emotional wounds in the present.

This is a revolutionary book, building on Dr. Weiss's discoveries about the past, which will take his millions of readers into an individual and collective future which they themselves will create.

Regression therapy or Progression therapy? Take your pick. No candles needed.

PS1: Special thanks to dear friend AI for bringing this to my attention.

PS2: Falstaff, once you have figured out your future life, could you let us know if you will be pretty? There's this really cute skirt that I saw in the outlet mall that would be perfect for a pretty you.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Kannagi on my mind

"In the street of the singing girls
where so often the tabor had sounded
with the sweet gentle flute and the tremulous harp.
the dancers, whose halls were destroyed, cried out:
Whence comes this woman! Whose daughter is she?
A single woman, who has lost her husband,
has conquered the evil King with her anklet,
and has destroyed our city with fire!'"

I could hear the loudspeakers when I called home yesternight. For a minute, I thought it was May Day already, then I realised that these were devotional songs I was hearing. Okay, well, devotion to a God who ain't Marx. Attukal Pongala, my mother tells me. Of course. Its March. End term exams and Pongala. Perfect excuse for not studying - its too loud. How could I possibly study? Yeah, I want to come with you for Pongala. No, I don't mind the smoke. Yes, but I can't study anyways na? I know but this is not about God, this is about making you happy. Yes, he might be there but they won't let him in as this is an all-woman thing. So no, this is not about meeting him. I can come too? Cool.

Na, what happens at the Pongala is another post. This one is about Kannagi, to whom the Pongala is offered. This is about the shining beacon of Tamizh karpu(karpu = chastity), the Goddess of marital fidelity, the symbol of feminine courage and a hundred other epithets that only we Tams are capable of making up.

I was introduced to Kannagi pretty much the same way I was introduced to Vandiyathevan – between mouthfuls of sambar and rice. While Ponniyin Selvan was my mother’s favorite, Silappadhikaram was my father’s. Not for him Kalki’s serialized period romance that the masses couldn’t get enough of; my father preferred something more classical and more poetic and though he hates to admit this, something a millennium and half older. And so there was Kannagi and Kovalan in old Poompuhar, (or Kaveripoompattinam) that ancient city that lies under water today, two miles off the coast of current-day Poompuhar.

Poompuhar, the port capital of the first Chola empire [not to be confused with the second Chola empire of a thousand years later, my father never forgot to mention] was a flourishing seaport where on any given day, traders from as far as China and Rome could be seen haggling with the flower sellers. If you were an ambitious young citizen of Chola land in those times, then Poompuhar was the place to be. Kovalan, the son of a rich merchant of Poompuhar is young, handsome and impressionable. He is married off in great aplomb to the beautiful and dutiful Kannagi. After a brief period of marital bliss, Kovalan promptly falls in love with Madhavi, Poompuhar’s prettiest courtesan. Kannagi pines away for wayward husband while Kovalan and Madhavi become the talk of the town. Soon, after squandering all his inheritance, Kovalan realizes the folly of his ways and returns to Kannagi. Kovalan and Kannagi decide to leave Chola land forever and move to Pandya country. After a long, eventful journey, they reach Madurai, the capital of the Pandya empire. There, Kannagi sends Kovalan to the goldsmith to sell one of her anklets. The evil goldsmith who had just stolen the Queen’s anklet accuses our unsuspecting hero of the crime. The Pandya King, without a proper investigation into the matter, judges him guilty. Kovalan is beheaded. Meanwhile, our distraught heroine rushes to the King’s palace and in a dramatic scene that’s been the inspiration for many a Tamil movie, breaks the anklet and proves Kovalan’s innocence. She then proceeds to give a long speech about truth, justice and the Tamilian way. The Pandya King dies when he realizes that a travesty of justice has occurred in his court but Kannagi is not to be calmed. She tears her left breast from her body, throws it on the ground and curses that the city of Madurai be destroyed. The fire God obliges and Meenakshi’s Madurai burns. Then of course, the Goddess of the city placates Kannagi and the curse is withdrawn. Soon after, Kannagi attains salvation.

This is the gist of Illango Adikal's fifth century magnum opus Silappadhikaram(the tale of the anklet). The work is considered to be one of the most important works in Tamil literature. Its written in poetic, classical Tamil which means that there is no hope of me ever reading it in its original form. So I have been reading a translation that I picked up while I was in India. While I do not think the translation does full justice to the original(very subjective, based on listening to my father reading the original and translating it to contemporary Tamil that I can understand), it has been a pleasure to read nevertheless. In an era where most works were about royal families and their power struggles, this is a story about common people from the commercial class. Other than the petty thief, there are no villains in this epic - only ordinary people with ordinary virtues and vices. Kovalan, the confused hero of the story is forever caught between the two women he loves. Madhavi is an extremely talented dancer who is also virtuous in her own right. Kovalan and Madhavi break up because of a misunderstanding and not because Madhavi is "evil" as I originally imagined her to be. The Pandya king is potrayed as being just and when he discovers that he condemned an innocent man to death, he dies. Kannagi is the dutiful wife who unleashes her pent-up fury when scorned. Silappadhikaram not only tells this story well but it also takes us beyond the world of Kannagi and Kovalan - the Jain monk who accompanies them on their way to Madurai explaining to them his worldview is to me one of the most interesting characters in the epic. [Illango Adikal himself was said to be a Jain.] The epic is also a wealth of interesting information about Tamil society and customs in ancient Tamland; no history book that I have read comes close.

In recent times, Kannagi seems to have captured the Tamil imagination like no other woman in Indian mythology. Not for us the helpless Sita who has to wait for her husband to rescue her or the manipulative Draupadi who seeks divine intervention in her hour of need. We have Kannagi who is very much capable of taking care of herself. Kannagi, over the past 50 years, has been hijacked by every side - she is the first Tamil feminist, she is the feminazi who burns Madurai, she is the model wife who waits patiently for her wayward husband to come back to her, she is the woman scorned who is capable of anything. Kannagi temples adorn the land extending even to Kerala where every year, the Pongala event at the Attukal Devi draws hundreds of thousands of devotees. Songs have been sung about her though you are better off not listening to them. [Karthik - Time to do one of your Tam lyrics posts? Here's an idea: songs that mention Kannagi. You can always start with "Kannagi silaidhan ingunddu, seedhaikku thaniyai silai edhu?"] Movies have been made about her - the black and white Poompuhar made way before I was born being my favorite. [Diversion - M. Karunanidhi, for all his faults, has written some excellent screenplays in his time. His screenplay for Poompuhar is one of the best that I have come across in Tamil. Remind me sometime to write about Parasakthi - another of MK's screenplays, this movie shot a young Sivaji Ganesan to instant fame.] Kannagi statues in Madras cause huge, political scrambles. Amma decides to take it down, yeah, she hates Kannagi stealing her limelight; MK erects the statue somewhere else. Every speech, every debate(remember the Khushboo controversy) on culture and politics is never complete without mentioning Kannagi. Its almost as if we don't have any other woman, real or otherwise, to talk about or to draw inspiration from. I like Kannagi as much as the next person, but really, it is very telling that this 13-year old kid who waited for ever for her husband to leave the other woman and then burned down an entire city because he got killed should be our shining beacon of womanhood. Especially since the wonderful epic which gave us Kannagi also gave us another woman that we can celebrate. Talented, intelligent, practical Madhavi. But no, she didn't burn down anything. Scorn is all we have for her.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Professors will be boys too

Posted as part of the Blank Noise Blog-a-thon. Technically, this does not deal with street harassment but I think it is relevant enough.

Circa 1997. Third semester. AF and I are on our way back from the movie theater. We stop by the bajji kadai by the hostel gate and order some molaga bajjis. We see a bunch of our classmates making their way back from the Pillayar(Ganesh) temple. Not surprising given that the Circuits and Machines Lab exam is scheduled for the next day. AF and I decide to have some fun at their expense.

"Hey, did you hear about this experiment that the EEE people got in their exams?" I ask them.

"No, no. What is it?"

AF promptly cooks up some complicated version of a Machines lab problem which is guaranteed to get junta all worked up. Or so we think.

"Machines lab? That will be okay."

What?! That most of us preferred Circuits over Machines was no big secret. Even people like me who weren't really meant to study engineering thought that Circuits were all cool.

"I just hope I don't get anything in Circuits."

"Yeah, that was what I was praying for. No Circuits please."

"But hey, the Circuits ones are real easy. What are you talking about?"
I get all flustered now. Is there some bloody conspiracy going on in Circuits that I wasn't aware of?

"You guys didn't hear? Apparently Machi turns up for these Circuits lab exams."

Machi, as he was known as, is a senior professor at the department. We have heard stories about how he gets all excited around women but he's never taught us anything and he's never turned up for any lab hours until then and so we had no clue as to what to expect. At least AF and I did not.

"So what? I mean how bad can it be?", AF asks.

"So you haven't talked to the seniors. It is really bad."

"What are you talking about?"

"He walks around the lab harassing all the girls."

"What do you mean harassing?"

"Well, he will brush his hand across your body types."


Now, let me make something clear here. Even then, it wasn't surprising to me that a well-educated man, a senior professor at that, could stoop so low. I was never under the impression that education had anything to do with civilization. No girl who's grown up in God's own country will ever make that mistake. Don't get me wrong here, there are so many things about my home state that I am very proud of and yes, that includes their electoral choices but the way they treat their women - in public or otherwise - is not one of them. When I spent a few months in Madras later in my life, I would tell my native friends to stop complaining about their buses and trains - Madras is not half as bad as Trivandrum, not even close. But Coimbatore, that sleepy town across the border with the 1008 universities, now Coimbatore is heaven. My first year at Coimbatore, I was mighty surprised. People are super polite and public harassment just does not happen. Of course, the city had issues but street harassment just wasn't one of them. And so you can see why both AF and I were in complete disbelief hearing about this esteemed professor from this town harassing his students.

"He usually turns up at regular lab sessions. But seniors say we are pretty lucky. That girl S in our class, her dad is a friend of Machi's, so he doesn't bother us usually."

AF and I rush back to the hostel, catch hold of some third year students and demand the whole story. They come out, one by one. Machi brushing against someone's breast, Machi rubbing someone else's back, Machi failing the guy who told him to take his hands off his classmate, Machi getting beaten up in the bus once.

"But why doesn't anyone complain?"

"One, most of us are afraid. We just want to get done with all this nonsense and leave. Two, do you really think that no one ever complained? And that other faculty or senior management know nothing about this?"

"Hang on. You mean people know about this? Not just you and me - the HOD and the Principal and the warden and whoever. And they all don't do anything? But how could they not do anything?"

"Oh, they can and they will. They will only tell you and me to dress modestly and not invite attention. As if that solves anything."

"But we can do something. We can complain and if that doesn't work, we can go on strike or something."


"This is not your Kerala. Strikes don't happen here. We pretty much do as we are told. Or else get screwed."

"Looks to me as if you get screwed anyways." I couldn't resist.

"Can you please get off the high horse and face reality? How is this different from any time you go out? What has Machi done that a million other men did not do? Just because he is a professor doesn't mean anything. Why do you expect higher standards from him? He is just another man alright, just another man. Get that into you head and deal with it."

And so we did. I was lucky - got something in Machines. I didn't do well, the machine wouldn't start for the longest time but I was happy. Some of my other classmates weren't so lucky. A few of them stepped out of the lab crying. People thought that they didn't do well in their exams. But the rest of us knew what must have happened. But we didn't ask them. We didn't do anything. We just dealt with it.

The only one I remember who showed courage that day was AF. She got an easy experiment but Machi come over and started feeling her up. She told him to take his hands off her. She was ready to go complain to anyone willing to listen. But no one else was willing to go with her. No one was willing to take the risk. And finally, I, yeah me, convinced her not to go ahead. I told her to deal with it.

AF passed that exam, but barely. Machi went on to become the head of the department. We hear that he is the Principal in some other college nowadays.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The H vs. The Ex

The H word is everywhere. It lurks below the surface of every conversation, ready to make its appearance at the first possible opportunity.

"Do you have these turtlenecks in red? I am looking for one for my err..friend."

"You are having a party this Saturday? Great. I might be able to make it. Let me check with my um..Bill. He is coming to Chicago tomorrow."

"Yes aunty, we just got back. How is my who? Oh..him. He is fine."

"For Prague, yes, two people. Me and my um...fellow traveler."

"This is Bill, my mm...uh..weekend roomie."

So you see why I have been looking for a replacement. A word, that is. And I am happy to announce to the world that the word has been found. It wanted to be found of course, it has a mind of its own. It sounds nice, is cool and pretty accurate. Over the past week, I have tried it everywhere - I can say it so easily and it clicks with other people. The search is over. And I am going to celebrate. With my ex-boyfriend. He is in town this weekend.