Saturday, November 22, 2014

Falsely Feminist

Recently, Emma Watson delivered a touching speech about gender equality at a UN meeting. For those of you who are living in caves, Emma Watson is the actress who shot to fame playing Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films. She's also considered one of the most beautiful women in the world, which I admit makes me suitably envious but has also given me a tiny Emma Watson girl crush to deal with. Yes, that Emma Watson. ever since the speech, the Internet's been buzzing with praise for the young thespian and much has been written about the UN's HeForShe campaign, of which Emma Watson serves as the face. It was the reaction the UN was hoping for. However, the speech made me think about certain things which are supposed to uphold the cause of feminism but, quite amusingly and confusingly, have quite the opposite effect.

1. Bringing pretty, young celebrities with shiny hair and designer handbags to endorse feminism. I understand that getting someone like Emma Watson does help feminism reach out to tons of people who care more about shopping than gender equality and trust me, that is a sizeable population. Also, I won't complain about how her UN speech didn't include anything that hasn't been said repeatedly for the past 40 years, or about how shameful it is to need celebrity endorsement for feminism as though it is a product, not a basic idea of human welfare. But look at this picture:
The article featuring Watson says, "This is what a feminist looks like".
 Hmmm. Now, Watson mentioned in her speech about how feminism is often misunderstood for man-hating or even manliness and the article may just be aiming to challenge those misconceptions by associating an ethereally beautiful, classy and feminine actress with the f-word. But this is NOT what a feminist looks like. In fact, no woman, feminist or not, looks like that. Even a beauty like Miss Watson needs makeup and Photoshop, not to mention the subtle glamour and visual appeal brought about by fame. Feminists have strived to destroy the white, blonde, skinny, made-up and most importantly, unrealistic ideals of female beauty portrayed by the media for decades now and saying this is what feminism looks like is like saying the real women with real bodies and faces and normal appearances are somehow not suitable to be the face of feminism. Of course, over the years many celebrities, like Beyonce, Jennifer Lawrence and so on, have declared themselves as feminists, making the idea if being a fethminist more acceptable than ever before. But these women, no matter how extraordinary or talented, don't embody feminism and have done much less for the cause of gender equality than women who have truly challenged notions of beauty, femininity and gender equality. It's time we accepted them as the new poster girls for the cause.

2. Making a huge deal about Women's Day. Remember those Women's Day adverts on TV which show females of all walks of life in a heartfelt montage accompanied by a soft background score, muted colors in the backdrop and words like 'mother', 'fighter' and 'goddess' flashing on the screen? The women in the advert always smile at the camera, each in her own way, as the advert goes on to try and show just how angelic these women are and how the world would stop spinning on it's axis without them. Really? Are we still buying into this brand of feminism that portrays women as the epitome of beauty, love, care and strength? Let me take a moment to roll my eyes. Look, we don't make a big deal about International Men's Day, so why is Women's Day such a special occasion? If men and women are equals, we don't need a special day. And why do we have to portray women as angels anyways? We're not angels. The point is that we are human  beings, just like men. We are not goddesses and we can be flawed in many different, individualistic ways. We don't need an advertisement on TV to show how good we are; we just need people to accept us when we are less than good. Besides, there's no point celebrating women for one day every year if we are going to forget all about it for the other 364?

2. Saying "She's one of the guys", and meaning it as a compliment. Do I even have to explain this one? When I was younger, I knew girls who proclaimed they were tomboys. For some reason the idea of being a boy appealed to them. It didn't matter they like pink and Barbies as much as the next girl. It took me a long time to understand their psyche. Have you ever seen those preteen Hollywood movies, where there's always a pretty tomboy who is sensible and kind while the girls wearing makeup and girly clothes prance around obsessing over boys and looks? Think about the show featuring the Olsen twins in which Ashley, the girlie twin, was always potrayed as a popularity obsessed airhead while her sister Mary-Kate was the sensible tomboy with the most clever comebacks. 

Or maybe think about the Sweet Valley books, with Jessica being the wannabe model with tons of boy problems and Elizabeth being the nerdy voice-of-reason. I mean, hello! These girls were twins so they looked exactly the same. Why would one be hot and the other not? What I'm trying to say here is that from a very young age, popular media teaches us to believe that there are two types of characteristics- girlish and boyish. Without a doubt, the second type is more worthy of admiration. If a guy tells me "hey, you're one of the guys," with a pat on my back, I'll confidently tell him, "No, I'm a girl and I'm happy being just that." It's not a compliment, because hey! Here's the breaking news! You have two X-chromosomes and you're female, so saying you're one of the guys and meaning it as a compliment basically goes against what you truly are because you're not a guy. It's like saying being a guy is an accomplishment, as though being one is better than being any kind of woman. Seriously!

3. Women trashing Other Women. We all know that one girl who always hangs out with guys and complains about how girls are so bitch and catty and lets the world know she's way above possessing those traits. Look around. You'll probably find one sitting in the same room as you, having a meal with her guy-friends. In The Disreputable History of Frankie Landeau-Banks, author E. Lockhart explains the different kinds of such women and the women who don't fall into any category at all. Now you can read what I've quoted below and the feminist you may scoff, but you can't dismiss what she says because you know there's some truth in it.

"Some, like Trish, will wonder what the point is, figure there
probably is no point and never was one, and opt for typically feminine or domestic activities such as crumble-making, leaving whatever boyfriends they have to “hang with the guys.”

Others, like Star, will be bored most of the time but will continue
attending such events because they are the girlfriends or would-be
girlfriends of said boys, and they don’t want to seem like killjoys or
harpies. If the boys are there, playing games on the Xbox (indoors) or letting off cherry bombs to make a big noise for no reason (outdoors), the girls will chatter among themselves and generally make a quiet display of being interested in whatever the boys think is interesting.

The third group aggressively embraces the activities at hand.
These girls dislike the marginalized position such events naturally put them in, and they are determined not to stay on those margins. They do what the boys do wholeheartedly, if sometimes a little falsely.They drink beer, play video games, light off the cherry bombs... They even buy the beer, win the video games, and show up with an M-80, just when the cherry bombs are beginning to get old....

Whether their enthusiasm is forced or entirely genuine, these
girls gain respect from the boys—who are not... cavemen, but enlightened twenty-first-century males who are happy to let females into their inner circles if the females prove their mettle.

As I said, most girls will engage in one of these three behaviors,
but Frankie Landau-Banks did none. Although she went home that
night feeling happier than she had ever been in her short life, she did not confuse the golf course party with a good party, and she did not tell herself that she had had a pleasant time."

It is the third kind of girls mentioned in the excerpt above that will be the first to tell you how inferior other girls are. But guess what? If they complain about how bitchy and catty girls are, they should not consider themselves to be exceptions to that rule. The complaining makes just like "other girls". They are not delicate snowflakes superior to others others of their kinds, they don't deserve extra respect from their male friends and they are, by no means, better than other girls. As women, the first thing we need to do is stand up for fellow women. Don't blame the victim in a rape case, don't badmouth a woman who can't have children and don't make comments about the character of a woman who likes to date. If you do, you're not one of us anymore, sister!

4. Making traditionally feminine attributes and occupations seem less important than traditionally male ones. Recently, I've encountered an increasing number of men who believe that women often use gender as an excuse to get out of 'real' work. They believe a woman can work just as hard as men, don't really require the privileges (like reserved seats on buses) that the government provides and are just too laze to go to work like men. Some even say that home-makers are basically women who are to lazy to earn for their family and leech off their husbands' wealth. Now, you may not believe such women exist, but they do. I won't be mean to them, because their condition may be a result of 1)  mental retardation 2) exceptionally small male parts hidden behind gigantic egos or 3) traumatic relationships with their mommies or 4) all of the above, and hey, I feel sorry for them. But think about this. Don't we look down upon housewives too? Don't we believe that a woman who looks after home and hearth is infinitely inferior to one who hires three servants and works at an MNC? Admit it, we do. It might have something to do with how women are portrayed in those horrifying Hindi soap operas, but I believe it's something more than that. The reason behind our viewpoint is the fact that we believe that traditionally feminie activity is inconsequential. 

Let's take an innocent example. Dancers are admired, but also laughed at and considered much less important that sports stars. hey don't have million-dollar endorsement deals, millions of fanpages, thousands of fans from the opposite sex cheering asking for their autograph and basically don't have a quarter of the fame a hure sports star enjoys. Why? I mean, dancers may have to practice their craft for upto 16 hours everyday. They require intense physical training and dieting, discipline, will power and an athleticism that most people don't possess. In many ways, they are quite similar to sports stars. But the fact remains that dance is feminine. No matter how much hard work goes into it, two men chasing after one ball and kicking it around like their life depends on it is much more socially respectable than a woman or even a man doing a perfect pirouette. 

Now let's move to more serious examples. When our mothers cook something nice and make our day, do we think twice about it. But if our dads work as the vice-president of a large corporation, that's something to feel proud of. Both contribute to our development and growth and love us with all their hearts, In fact, it was my mother who painstakingly taught me Math when I was young, not my father, and helped me out with homework. If I am engineering student at a prestigious university today, I have both my parents to thank for that. Neither of them was inferior to the other. Unfortunately, a lot of children today don't recognize this. It has become shameful to be a housewife and housewife associations across the world are changing their unions' names to dissociate themselves from the stigma associated with being a housewife. Children often respect their father more, thinking their moms have less consequence in society than their dads. I have a very important question for you guys. When you were a kid and your mother was pouring all her love and attention on you, did you complain? Did you think it was not worthy of respect that she, in spite of being an educated woman, didn't mind being surrounded by people her age and instead chose to spend all her time with your gurgling, crying, tantrum-throwing self? You know, the fact is, we expect women to do the same things as men in order to be respected. But do we expect men to take the roles traditionally performed by women the same way? The answer, quite truthfully, is no. Besides, we have forgotten that we need traditionally feminine skills just as much as skills of any other kind. Try going without them in your life for a week and then we'll talk.

That's all for now. I hope after reading this post, you'll reconsider the ideas of 'feminism'. Perhaps one day, something as basic as women being able to live freely won't need to have a whole movement behind it. 


Un-happy holiday

I'm taking a break from blogging as I am currently very busy. Note to self: do NOT study architecture in your next life. No, seriously. The pressure's mounting up & now I barely have time to shower, let alone blog. But I will be back next month and this is by no means the end of my blogging career. I still have loads to write and I will return.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Why I Like Shah Rukh Khan

We're an edgy, intellectual audience today. We claim we understand the 'unconventional', we say we hate sappy romances and impromptu song-and-dance routines in films have been reduced to substitutes for jokes. Gone are the days when colour and over-the-top emotions were enough to keep us happy. Basically, Bollywood is out. No, really. Even Bollywood movies shy away from being Bollywood movies. A film with some razzle-dazzle, a nice disco song and some old-fashioned love and affection is commercially successful, but God forbid if someone admits to liking it. On the other hand, a movie like The Lunchbox or Dev D needs to be praised, even though if the majority of the population really appreciated such film-making without being told to do so by critics and intellectuals, then Do Dooni Chaar would be just as big a hit as Queen. 

The critical victim of this newfound cinematic intellectualism happens to be the Badshah of Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan. He really is the critical victim because commercially he's doing just fine. i mean, he's the second richest actor in the world so it's not like he's struggling money-wise. It's the critical appreciation of the audience that seems to eluding him. How many times have you heard, "Shah Rukh Khan is old! What's he doing dancing with those young heroines!" or "Shah Rukh Khan only knows how to so romantic comedies" or "Shah Rukh Khan is so Bollywood" or just basic "Shah Rukh Khan sucks!"

Well, all of you SRK haters, I got news for you. You're wrong. Okay, so maybe I'm a die-hard SRK fan and wanted to marry him till I was six. But that does not mean the following justifications for Shah Rukh Khan's greatness don't stand true. Bear with me, folks, for I shall now tell you how someone goes from Jamia Milia Islamia Mass Comm student to the Badshah of Bollwood.

1. For all those who think Shah Rukh Khan only knows romance, think again. it wasn't romance that initially brought him success. It was his negative roles that endeared him to the audience and made him unforgettable. Yes, I did just use the words 'endear' and 'negative role' in one sentence because Shah Rukh Khan was capable of making that possible. He wasn't Mogambo or Badman or Gabbar. He didn't have a villanous laugh or strange costumes and he wasn't out to destroy the world. But he was evil. He was evil when he sang "Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhein" in Baazigar, he was evil when he sincerely mouthed words of affection to his lady love and later pushed her off the parapet wall, he was evil when he stuttered "K...k...k..k...Kiran." He was evil, but he did it with so much heart. Befor him, villainry was so evil, it was laughable. But once he arrived, it was so sweet, it was chilling. Shah Rukh Khan changed Bollywood villains forever, and even though his role in Don isn't as threatening as his previous work, it does show the 'bad' SRK still exists.

2. For all those who think SRK hasn't dabbled in the 'unconventional', here's a surprise: he's been doing unconventional films from the beginning of his career. He was in Hey Ram, where he played Jinnah. He was a Rajasthani ghost in Paheli. A lesser known example is Maya Memsaab, which although arguable in terms of quality, does prove an actor's willingness to take a risk.  Other titles include Dil Se, My Name is Khan and Swades.The most commercially successful example, I guess, is Chak De India. because nobody could have played Kabir Khan the way he did.

3. Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani was Ranbir Kapoor's 10th film. A popular daily printed a list of the first 10 films of top Bollywood actors, out of which I was surprised to find that most of SRK's first few films were commercially unsuccessful while Aamir and Salman gave bigger hits back then. However, although other actors's films were better received at the time, Shah Rukh Khan's flops are remembered today. Tell me I'm wrong if these titles are unfamiliar to you: Deewana, Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman, Chamatkaar...

4. Now, let's talk about romance. Now, this may sound strange to you, but the truth is that no Bollywood actor can go from 'actor' to 'star' unless he can be a 'typical' romantic hero. I mean, think about it. Irfan Khan is amazing, but he's not the star that Ranbir Kapoor has become. Same with Abhay Deol, Randeep Hooda, Kaykay Menon and so on. They don't have the success that one song gives Ranbir Kapoor, because they don't know how to look deep into an actress' eyes, spread their arms wide and be recklessly in love. They're...too realistic. Our audience needs a romantic hero, regardless of how much we try to deny it.

5. Another point about the romance. Before Shah Rukh Khan, there were two kinds of romances. One, where the hero literally stalks the heroine and then she falls madly in love with him. Two, where the hero is out on a mission and romance is actually just a sub-plot anyways. Shah Rukh Khan brought a much-needed vulnerability to the genre in Indian cinema. He didn't stalk anybody; he was charming. He wasn't afraid to star in a movie in which love was the primary theme. He didn't feel the need to sing cheap songs and verged towards the poetic.

6. Last but not the least, I'm an architecture student and here's something that made me like SRK even more. In his first film, SRK had an uncredited, wordless role. He just sat on the ground, a bottle of beer in his hand, listening to rock and roll at the end-of-the-year party in a smoke-filled role. Guess what he played? An architecture student! Yes, his first film was Arundhati Roy's telefilm, In Which Annie Gives It To Those Ones, based on Arunchati's experiences at School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi. He appears in only one scene, and who knew he'd go on to become more famous than any television actor the world has ever seen?

So that's why I like Shah Rukh Khan. He has something for everyone, and if you're done being cool, you'll know it's time to give him a chance to win our hearts again.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Why I Like John Green

A classmate of mine once called John Green the writer of "sappy love stories". I refrain from calling her an ignorant **** simply because I'm a nice person. How can one reduce a perfectly good John Green novel to the level of something published by Mills & Boons. It's outrageous!

Have you ever had that feeling in which you desperately want to defend your favourite public personality (perhaps a writer or an author) but have held yourself back as you don't want people telling you to calm down? Have you felt personally attacked whenever someone you don't know but still like is criticized or made fun of? Has being a fan ever been harder than when haters use your fandom as a way to tease you? Don't answer. I know you have. Everyone has. And I feel it every time someone says something bad about John Green.

So today, I will unabashedly do what I have kept myself from doing for a long time. I will defend John Green all I want, and no, this is a blog and nobody gets to tell me to calm down! Defending John Green is like defending a white, fluffy rabbit. It's easy. All I need to do is enumerate some of his merits to all the ignorant haters who'd know the merits themselves if they knew how to read between the lines.

1) John Green doesn't ignore his supporting characters. Each one of his novels has had a supporting character that has on several occasions outshone the main character. These characters would probably be annoying in real life, but in novels, they jump out of the page and shake you up. They're the kind of characters that's be called "breakout roles" if actors ever played them in movies. Take for example Tiny Cooper in Will Grayson, Will Grayson. He's an obese, gay drama-queen whose boisterous exterior hides a story and leads to a grand musical dedicated only to him. And Hassan from An Abundance of Katherines? He was a Judge Judy loving Muslim who understands protagonist Colin better than even Colin knew. Radar and Ben can give Ron and Hermione a run for their money, because they're just as loyal and understanding as them. I sometimes wish I had friends like John Green's protagonists and that's more than I can say for a lot of other fictional best friends.

2) John Green knows how to work in a degree of mystique into his novels without wavering from mainstream. His novels are philosophical, no doubt, and have good messages embedded in them. While Looking for Alaska spoke of the transience of life and searched for answers to tons of important questions, The Fault in our Stars was about living whatever life you have left to the fullest. Paper Towns was all about the future, does the future truly exist or is it an idea created by insurance and home loan companies? Meanwhile, An Abundance of Katherines is about carving a new identity for oneself once the old one starts sliding away. however, none of these novels come across as preachy, neither do they have the Paul Coelho disease, with the oversimplified language and a story which reads like a fable. They're just like all other YA novels, but there are more layers to them when you really read them with concentration.

3) John Green does his research. The reason I could never write something like Paper Towns is because I could never learn all the different meanings of the phrase 'Paper Towns' and use them to make a story. That kind of stuff needs research. I especially liked the tidbit about 'paper towns' being fake towns that surveyors put on their maps to keep an eye on plagiarized map (no original map would ever have the same paper town on it). An Abundance of Katherines was mainly about the protagonist trying to formulate an equation to make predictions in his love life, but it's also about what it means to be a prodigy. What most of us don't know is that a prodigy and a genius are two very different things, especially Indians who basically think a genius or prodigy is basically somebody who gets into IIT! However, John Green takes us into the mind of a prodigy and tells what exactly keeps him from being a genius. A lot of crime novelists do ll kinds of research regarding criminal psychology and the world they plan to set their tales in, and John Green doesn't do that. Instead, each of his novels speaks of one thing we really need to know about but never thought to d any research on.

4) Because I would totally love to switch places with John Green! I always wanted to be a writer, but I never wanted to be J.K. Rowling or Chetan Bhagat. In spite of their success, the genres they dabbled in didn't appeal to me. However, John Green is a writer who pens stories for young adults without venturing into cheapness or fantasy. Plus, he's rich and successful and that couldn't hurt, right? So, yeah. If I could give up my architecture course and become John Grenn, I would, and that's really saying something.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Book Review: Love, Rosie by Cecilia Ahern

Book Cover
Years ago, Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan uttered these famous words in the movie Kuch Kuch Hota Hai: "Pyar Dosti Hain" ("Love is friendship.") I didn't like Kuch Kuch Hota Hain much, but I remember this line. Love, Rosie is about this line. It's about childhood friends Alex and Rosie who are destined to be with each other but are kept apart by ordeals placed by faith.

I'm not a big fan of romances. However, this book really touched me. I really cried when Rosie got pregnant and couldn't join Alex in college. I understood the conflict between her love for her daughter Katie and the desire to be her own person. Her boring job, the shoddy accommodations she shares with her daughter, her failed marriage to a compulsive cheater, her lost dreams- it all made sense to me. If the book had been written in a conventional manner (instead the author chose to write it as a series of letters), perhaps there would have been more drama. But as it is, the format that seems boring in the beginning became a joy by the end. 

Alex's life as a successful doctor with two sons from two failed marriages is painful to read about. On one hand, he appears to have everything. On the other, he is empty on the inside, caught in failed marriages with women he doesn't love, a father-in-law who controls his careers and an emptiness due to Rosie's absence. I liked Alex. he's the kind of person I would like to be friends with. But at the same time I think he should have been a little braver in some parts. 

On the other hand, Rosie is a brave woman. She's been tormented by fate more than most of us but she tides over her life and never loses sight of her dream. Due to her fascination for hotels, she initially wants to study hotel management in Boston where she could also be close to Alex. Her plans are thwarted by her pregnancy. After a string of miserable jobs (including one in a Paper Clip company), she finds a position at a grand hotel. This position doesn't last long, but Rosie gather the courage to be get a diploma in hotel managment, folowing which she gets a job in a hotel with an ugly manager and even uglier rooms. Finally, when she's already crossed 40 years of age, Rosie starts her own business. I cheered for her all along. Had I been in her place, i would never have had the patience to hold on to my dream and fulfil it when I'm older. of course, she does this with the help of Alex and their friendship was believable to the very end. perhaps love isn't all about heat. Perhaps it's about warmth, like in this book.

The supporting characters are a riot, especially Rosie's best friend and obese salsa-lover Ruby and her former teacher and later boss Miss Big Nose Smelly breath Casey. Her parents and sister are supportive of her through her ordeals and her brother's aloofness is somewhat understandable. I kept getting glimpses of the lives of Rosie's family members and the book wouldn't have been the same without that. There's very little mention of Alex's parents and very small descriptions of his wives (most of it is in the subtext), which is why Alex didn't seem as well-rounded a character as Rosie.

However, my favorite character is Rosie's daughter Katie. Vivacious, honest and bright, she has her own friendship-love to boast of and has the quirk and sass to rival Rosie's. She's obviosuly her mother's daughter and a book about her would be so nice. Her correspondence with Alex's wives are especially funny.

A movie version is slated to come out this year, but the trailer give me the impression that it will be modified to suit younger actors.
Is that Rosie with Roby and Katie?

Rosie with Katie






Sunday, March 16, 2014

Across the Seven Seas and Despite the Fiercest Storms

Have you ever heard of Noah? Well, you've definitely heard of his ark. Basically, the weather forecast of his day said there was going to be a devastating flood, and this forecast was bound to come true because the weather reporter was Almighty God. So, Noah did the most sensible thing he could think of- he built a simple ark, put a male and female of every kind of animal he found on it, and let the arc sail in the flood instead of letting it wash over him. After the flood, the creatures in the ark were released and they went on to start a new world. Basically, every living creature you see exists because Noah built a boat.



Then there's the tragic love story of Sohni Mahiwal.  The heroine Sohni, unhappily married to a man whom she despises, swims every night across the river where her beloved Mehar herds buffaloes. One night her sister-in-law replaces the earthenware pot, which she uses to keep afloat in water, with a vessel of unbaked clay, which dissolves in water and she dies in the whirling waves of the river. She could have lived happily ever after if she only had a small boat.



And then there were the floods in Mumbai. So many people stranded, so many loved ones lost. At the time, I used to live in Delhi, so the floods were just something I read about in the papers. But three years later, when I moved to Mumbai, I realized I could easily have been one of those people who lost someone close to them or spent hours or maybe even days wondering if they were okay.

I could never let the apocalypse come in the way of me and someone I love. I could never let the replacement of an earthen pot (or a mean sister-in-law) decide who I should or shouldn't be with. And I would die if I had to lose someone to nature's fury. Fact is, if I love someone I'd sail across the seven seas and walk despite the fircest storms just to be with them. it's as simple as that. If you've ever had parents, children, siblings, boyfriends/ girlfriends or even friends that you've loved with all your heart, you'll understand what I'm saying.

Being an architecture student, I try to find the answer to everything through design. I wish there was some design that could keep relationships from falling apart, but unfortunately the only design that can do that is God's design. All we can ever do is try to protect our beloved people and if possible, do it as creatively as possible. See, everyone wants to provide for and protect the people they love, but only sometimes do we have the presence of mind and the creative faculties to know what to do. Ask a man whose precious wife is sinking in depression and therefore mentally going away to a place he cannot reach. Ask parents whose children are growing apart from and soon the inevitable will happen and the children just wont need the parents anymore. Ask someone who works abroad and only gets to see his family once a year. Ask these people and they'll all tell you that they wish things could be different, they wish they could have done something to modify the existing situations so all problems can be solved. But they just don't know what to do!

And it's when you're desparate that you should start getting creative.

I'm an educated girl. If everything goes according to plan, I'll have a stable life by the time I'm 30. But can I protect my family from terrorism and violence? No. I just don't know what to do. It's strange, but people not half as educated as us sometimes know how to protect their loved ones from enemies. Take for example the  the Korowai people of Papua New Guinea. They build tree houses 40 meters high to protect their children from people neighbouring headhunter tribes.

Treehouse built by Korowai people of Papua New Guinea





If they can do it, so can I. I'll design a house for my family where no harm can come upon them. I'm studying to become an architect, after all. I promise myself today that I will go the extra distance- instead of settling for a mundane house that looks like a cage but can be invaded by just about anyone, I'll design a house that's impervious to any dangerous element. And I'll do it just so no danger or enemy can ever take my family away from me.

Incidentally, growing up in flats and having to move from one metropolitan city to another has taught me something very important about distances between people. One you leave a place, home become just a memory and it's not a place anymore. And like all memories, home fades too. In today's lifestyle, we can never stay fixed in one place. So the idea is to make the memory of a place so strong that all members of a family will treasure that common memory in their hearts and ache to revisit it. Make your house a playground so all the children can construct memories in it. Remember when you fell down from that tree house? Remember when mummy papa used to teach us in the lawn? It's these 'Remember whens' that ultimately keep a family together, so make a house with infitie possiblities for 'Remember Whens'. Go that extra distance so you'll never be distant from your family in the future. Because distance comes not only in terms of kilometers but also in terms of mind-meters and heart-meters. Living in a adjacent flats in a fifteen-storied apartment block slows down the heart-meter and mind-meter, so take the same apartment block and pour some imagination into it so the 'Remember Whens' keep piling up.

Interestingly, I'm working on such a house at present. I have a site near Santoshpur Lake in Kolkata and I'm building a house which which will ensure memories. It doesn't matter if the occupants turn out to be a young married couple or a family of four or a retired couple in search of their last home. This house will incorporate the outdoors and indoors in such a way that it'll forever live in the memory of each occupant. Here's the bedroom:
A rough model showing interior of the bedroom. There's a garden within the child's bedroom. The phrase "Go play in your room", is now full of new possibilities. The small study area is also in the 'outdoors' part of the room, so that you can study in natural light in an semi-natural environment.
(It's still a work in progress. I'm also working on a cave-like prayer area, a completely open dining space and an island-ish drawing room. The whole house will be a play area for every child who grows up there)

So today I'll make another promise to myself- I will always create living spaces that will bring people together instead of caging them apart. This will probably cost me a lot of clients in the future, but I'm willing to go that far so I can get as close as possible to the one I love.

So that was all about architecture. At this point you might be wondering why I have such technical ways of solving such an emotional problem? Other people will probably say they will swim across the seven seas and climb every mountain, so why am I just proposing to build a structure to get close to someone? The answer is simple. See, the fact is you can never swim across seas or climb mountains unless you are Tenzing Norgay or something. Ultimately, it's innovation and technology that connects people. Think about Facebook and Skype. Now, that man I mentioned who lives abroad and only gets to see his family once a year can see them everyday via Skype! So maybe he didn't know what to do about his situation, but somoeone did, and that someone took an emotional problem of distance and came up with an innovative technological solution. Everyday, some effort is being made to connect people over thousands of miles. But thhe mind-meters and heart-meters? There's no solution for that yet, even though I know that ultimately this will bring larger distances between people that however many miles. So I'm just trying to stay close to my loved ones by reducing the mind-meters and heart-meters. The houses are just a beginning. As I grow in creativity and intelligence, I will keep going extra miles just to get closer to the people I love. And you know what the biggest promise I make to myself in this regard, the promise that will eventually make closeness possible? It's "I WILL NEVER SAY THAT I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO". It's the hardest promise to make, but if that's the one I have to make, so be it.

Lastly- since the designer in me has not yet stopped babbling- I'll create a house based of Archimedes principle so that if there ever is a flood or a storm, my house will stay afloat. I'll be a protector and a unifier just like Noah, I'll sail my house to my future boyfriend's house so I do't drown like Sohni and the Mumbai floods wouldn't be able to touch my loved ones.

If you are not an architect, designer, engineer or inventor, you probably don't have any idea of the work thatll go into executing my ideas and keeping my promises. But I don't care about the work. Just to be close to someone I love, I will swim across the seven seas and brave the fiercest storms, because as I've said before, I'm willing to go the extra mile.



(For more, visit http://bit.ly/1epU8Uj)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Mere Room Mein Condition Bahut Serious Hai!

I moved to Kolkata for college in 2012. I couldn't get accomodation in the hostel, so like a lot of Jadavpur University students, I got myself a room in a PG. I guess I could've looked for a single, but this PG was in a nice homely neighbourhood and gave good food twice a day, so I picked this one. Now let me tell, it was no easy transition for me. back in Mumbai, I lived in a fantastic (read 'expensive') apartment overlooking the highway. here, I had Indian style toilet (without flush), just one box bed to lie on and keep all my stuff and a complete lack of privacy thanks to three roommates who shared the tiny room with me. Their names were Sayoni (the bossy aunty), Payal (the pretty damsel-in-distress) and Mousumi (the seductress).

My roommates were nice, but unki condition definitely serious thi. I realized this on my first PG fun night. It started out with en exchange of ghost stories. Okay, so I made one up because I didn't want to be left out, but it wasn't the horror story narration contest that was the highlight of the night. It was the talk about relationships.

"Hey, don't you have a boyfriend?" asked Mousumi. I said no. i was utterly unattractive in high-school, kind of fat with lopsided eyebrows, and no boy would look at me. But Mousumi wasn't interested in my typical high-school outcast status story. In fact, she was shocked and said, "But everybody in this PG is engaged.”

Yep, you read that one right. They say they're engaged when they're dating in Kolkata. The minute she said this, my brain cried "SERIOUS ALERT!!" Because these girls are either really serious about their relationships or, well, unki condition bahut zyaada hi serious hai.

And then began the serious discussion about boyfriends, my first discussion of this nature.

Without any participation on my part, the discussion moved on to kissing. I know, all parents of teenaged or college-going girls reading this are probably squirming in their seats right now, but hey, weren't half of you married at my age? So, let us have our discussions in peace with no fear of your daughters getting out of hand. (And by the way, if your daughter in Miss Goody Two Shoes, I suggest you check her phone).

So anyways, there was some talk about kissing, when a girl from the next room got all serious and said, "You won't believe how naughty my friends are. They'd push me so I fall on him and then it would happen because our faces would be so close.” If you heard her, you'd think she really is sick and tired of her friends. huh! As if something like a kiss can really be that accidental. I mean, isn't there some intentional puckering involved? Then another girl from the next room said, "I had my first kiss in my class, in front of my friends.” She was very proud about it. And the first person that popped into my head was this woman:




Yep. Thank you Miss Mallika Sherawat for making kissing discussable. If you hadn't gone around doing it in all your films, the Censor Board would never have minded you, the papers would never have articles about the Censor Board minding you so people wouldn't talk about what you were doing, and therefore, they'd never say anything about what they're doing. I know that's confusing, but it's true.


Now here's a serious conversation that kind of made me feel I was going crazy. And yes, htis happened for real. All of you big city snobs who went to posh Delhi schools or work in fancy advertising firms or never really got out of the comfort of your privileged upbringing without bohemian clothes, I suggest ypu stop reading. You see, if you live in a mess in Kolkata, you meet all sorts of people jinki condition toh serious hai hi, par shayad yeh unki galti nahi. So they can be a little, well, crazy sometimes. Trust me, going for a world tour won't give you as much life-experience as living in a PG in Kolkata with three girls. 

So in this conversation, my lovely roommates were talking about kids. It was no surprise to me, because they talk about this stuff sometimes. They’re not like the girls I grew up with, you know. All we ever talked about were the other kids in school, studies, colleges and occasionally about books and movies. It’s different with these girls. They’re….homely. I’m sure they already dream about their weddings. My dad would call them ‘paaka’, which means over-mature in Bengali.

"I want just one kid,” said Mousumi in this really childish tone. Girls do that sometimes. I don't know who finds it cute.

"I want two. Two in one go would be ideal,” said Sayoni.

"No. I want just one. I'll love it forever.” Mousumi cute-pouted.

"You know, they say babies born by C-section are less attached to their mothers,” Payal suddenly said. And my brain went, "SERIOUS ALERT!!" because she looked really concerned, which is weird because none of us is going to get married or have children in the next half of a decade.

"It's very true,” said Sayoni. She straightened her back and stuck out her chest. Every time she does this, I hold my breath because I know she’s getting ready to dish out knowledge. She's quite a know-it-all, you see. "My mother was telling me about this lady at her hospital who delivered a baby by C-section. She didn't even want to hold her baby. Never go for a C-section,” she warned. A serious warning! 

I think the mother she was talking about had post-partum depression. I don't know if that has anything to do with a C-section.

"But you know what? C-section babies are always more intelligent because their heads aren't disturbed much during the delivery,” said Mousumi, nodding aggressively. SEIOUS ALERT!!

Sayoni nodded too and said, "Yes, yes. And babies born from natural deliveries are physically stronger because they have to struggle a bit to come out. They're born fighting and they are fighters for life. I know. My mother's a nurse.”

At this point I really wondered if medical science supports any of the stuff these girls were saying, but they were so damn serious.

"My doctor said said if I breastfeed a baby, my tumor will go,” Mousumi solemnly said.

"You have a tumor in your breast?!" I exclaimed. 

 "I'm not breastfeeding anyone right now, so my doctor asked me to get homeopathy treatment."

What kind of doctor tries to cure breast tumor with breastfeeding or sends his patient to a homeopath? Ab toh lagta hai is doctor ki condition patient se bhi zyaada serious hai!

I sat motionless and wide-eyed as the conversation turned to the wonders of homeopathy.

"Homeopathy is very effective. It can cure almost anything,” said Sayoni with utmost confidence, as if she has all the knowledge and wisdom in the world. She's my age, so I wouldn't count on her information. She went on, "I got a fish bone stuck in my throat once and homeopathy made it melt away.”

"Unbelievable,” I muttered under my breath. I've seen lots of banners advertising homeopathy in this city. There's a red board just outside campus advertising a homeopath-psychologist-astrologer. It's fine by me if someone wants to believe in something, but the thing is that even though people use a lot of Facebook and surf the Internet all day, they never try to find out if the things they believe in are based on facts. It’s like this country is medically divided in two. One half has people like me who won’t even take a pill for something as basic as a headache without researching the side-effects online, people like my dad who are doctors themselves and know fact from fiction and skeptics who think Western allopathic medicine and modern surgeries are the only answer. The second half comprises of people who just believe what others have believed for a long time. It’s like they make up their own science to justify remedies they can’t really explain and then these sciences become so widely accepted that everybody thinks they’re real.

I’m a responsible girl, so I told Mousumi, “Maybe you should get a second opinion somewhere. This could be something dangerous. I mean, what if it’s malignant or something?”

“I already got checked,” Mousmi said. “They say it’s not malignant.”

“Does your family have a history of cancer?” I said, as if I can be a doctor or something. Lagta hai iss room mein rehte rehte meri bhi condition kuch serious si hone lagi hai.

“It’s not malignant,” insisted Mousumi. And I really hope homeopathy works.


I mean, seirously! These girls re the future of this country, smart, independent yong women out of home in search of a career. Lekin itni serious condition! But then I thought maybe it's not really their fault and maybe all this is not all that funny. I mean, shayad serious condition ke pichhe kuchh serious kaaran bhi hai. Look, growing up, there were a lot of questions I wanted to ask and they went unanswered. And it's not just because I was a girl. I think this happens to boys too. And I lived in a posh neighbourhood in New Delhi and later a multi-storeyed and spacious apartment block in Mumbai, places where you'd think people are open-minded. But kahin na kahin hum mein or baron mein ek division hai. We're torn between science and old-wives' tales, between openly discussing kissing and actually telling our parents we're in a relationship, between then and now, between the age of information and total misinformation. Yaar, humari condition serious hai. Humari poori generation ki. We're confused. The most confused generation in the history of India. Toh ek kaam koro- ek Cadbury 5-Star khao aur kuch der ke liye apini seriousness bhulao. Bhul jaao bari buaa kya kehti hai. Bhul jaao Facebook mein kya pada tha. Bas bina serious hue kich serious chizon ke baarein mein socho. Shayad- bas shayad- kuch not-so-serious solutions nikal aaye.



(For more anti-serious baatein, visit and like the Cadbury 5Star Facebook page)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Knowledge is Great... Especially When Your Dreams Come True





I've always wanted to become a writer. I started writing when I was seven or eight years old and just never stopped. Somehow, I believe I would never have had this dream if Harry Potter hadn't existed. I can't say I was a big Harry Potter fangirl, but J.K. Rowling had everything I wanted. At the time, my father teased me, said I just wanted to make billions like Ms. Rowling, but the money or fame was never really the point. The fact that she told a story, made her life out of it, created a fantasy world that millions escaped to- I'd die to have all of that. I didn't care if people knew me, I just wanted people to read what I had to say. Eventually, my fascination with J.K. Rowling faded, but I never stopped writing. Not when time became scarce, not when people asked me to write things different from the things I wrote, not even when a lot of agents told me my works couldn't be published. I didn't care if I was a good enough writer or if I ever got published. All I wanted was to be with books and maybe write some of them.

But you want to know the truth? Even the seven-year-old me knew my dreams were probably meaningless in a country where being a doctor or an engineer look like the only feasible option to any student. I mean, even Chetan Bhagat had to go to IIT first, didn't he? I knew that becoming a writer- or at least the kind of writer I wanted to become- was impractical in India. I'm not saying India hasn't given me enough stories to write; it really has. But my dream? I could never imagine myself completely immersed in the world of books, thinking about Tagore, Tolstoy, Fitzgerald and Hemmingway. Everybody around me studied 'practical' subjects and had 'practical' jobs- engineer, doctor, chartered accountant, banker. At some point, my dreams became immature and whimsical even to me.

Looking back, I wish I could have done things differently. And I wish I could've gone somewhere where I could study the subjects I wanted to without being judged about whether or not I was being practical enough while making a choice. I would have loved to read books from every corner of the world and learn something from them, maybe write a few words myself when the time came. And so, if I wanted to study literature  across borders, across time periods, across languages, across genres, and if I wanted to do it where my role model J.K. Rowling started her fantastic life, I'd study Comparative Literature in the UK.
 
For those of you who are not familiar with what Comparative Literature is, here's a definition from Wikipedia: It is 'literature without borders'. Basically, it's everything I've ever dreamed of. The fact is, that writing is never just for writing's sake. It's a reflection of our experiences, feelings and expectations. To study writing thoroughly and passionately, I'd need a good faculty, state-of-the-art infrastructure and an opportunity to interact with students, and higher education in UK could offer me these things.

Of course, if I had to choose colleges I would have to go for SOAS, University of London. You see, I have recently found myself very interested in the ways of living in Asian, African and Middle Eastern cultures. It would be a dream come true for me to delve deeper into these cultures through literature. SOAS is a remarkable institution. Uniquely combining language scholarship, disciplinary expertise and regional focus, it has the largest concentration in Europe of academic staff concerned with Africa, Asia and the Middle East. It has students from over 133 nations which would help me interact with people from diverse backgrounds.

The truth is that even though I’m happy with my life and education in India, I would give it up for studies in the UK. Hopefully, maybe in the future, I will have an opportunity to get some experience with UK higher education.


(This post is for ‘Knowledge is Great’ contest. www.knowledgeisgreat.in)

Friday, January 31, 2014

Redeeming the Lost Decade- 1

Remember the music from the 90s? Before you shudder from the thought of lyrics like Tu mera hero number one and Tantanatan Tan Tan Tara Chalti Hai Kya Nau Se Barah, just spend one minute wiping off all those musical atrocities from your brain and embark on a new line of thought. These days, Indian music- at least the mainstream music that caters to majority of the population- is dominated by Bollywood. There are small circles of people who listen to or perform other genres, but they remain small circles. Oftentimes, a song is primarily good just because it fits with a scene in a movie. And isn’t a movie soundtrack fairly predictable these days- one club/ party song, one folk-ish song by the Sona Mahapatra club, one Punjabi/ sufi song, one emotional and poetic song with a mixture of dialects in it’s lyrics and one ‘quirky’ song with words that appeal to today’s generation. There. That’s your soundtrack. The predictability doesn’t stop us from buying it, but it makes me wonder if any of this songs- despite claiming to defy convention- are anything but pure formula.

Believe it or not, music wasn’t so Bollywood-controlled back then. Remember the indie music? If you can’t relate to the term indie, here’s a term you are sure to find more familiar- albums. I think the last one that really became a ‘hit’ was Atif Aslam’s Doorie, and even he eventually shifted to Bollywood. Given the present scenario, you wouldn’t believe albums could ever be classified as ‘mainstream’. And yet, they used to be.

If you needed a party song, there was Gur Naal Ishq Mitha. I mean, this song could have you dancing even today.

Then there were the awesome singers- Asha Bhonsle with Jaanam Samjha Karo and Shubha Mudgal with Ab Ke Saawan. Today, a fantastic singer like Shubha Mudgal would probably be relegated back to a position of ‘classical’ singer in film songs that are only meant to add a bit of ‘ethnic’ flavor. But in the 90s, someone like her could produce her own album and (even in the absence of Internet) the general public- and not just music buffs- would listen to it. Case in point- Asha Bhonsle’s last album didn’t do as well as expected.


Then there were the soulful songs. Yaaron Dosti by KK continues to be one of his best works till date, not to mention the only anthem of friendship besides Ye Dosti Hum Nahin Todenge (‘Sholay’). I have lost count of the number of student gathering I have attended in which someone or the other pulls out a guitar and Yaaron is sung collectively.



Another great song was Tanha Dil by Shaan. The lyrics, about being alone in life’s journey and having spectacular experiences while constantly reminiscing about old friends, is beautiful. The music is original, loaded with several instruments and nothing like the ‘digital’ sounding music of today. And the video? Well, that still intrigues me, especially the shot with Shaan walking backwards with memories of his old friends walking next to him.


And who can forget the invasion of the Pakistani artists, one invasion I don’t look back upon with regret. Just listen to this song- Sayonee by Junoon. It just shows that even though movie songs were hilarious, formulaic and sometimes bordering on insane, the public’s ears were actually open to all kinds of flavors.
And let’s not forget the folk songs. Whether youre Gujarati or Rajasthani, went to a dandiya or not, there was something for everyone.

My point is that good music existed in the 90s, maybe just not so much in the movies. Now, with Bollywood aspiring to be Hollywood and movies dominating everything, the medium of indie music is lost. Artists like Sona Mahapatra are getting typecast by singing the same kind of songs again and again, instead of being like artists from the 90s who had their own identity but kept reinventing themselves with each album. And you know what? 90s indie music was just so much cooler than what music today is, so much more modern, so much more hip. Even today, if I listen to each of the 90s songs mentioned above one after the other,  it really is a stimulating experience, because they’re all just so different from each other. They represent what ‘Pop Culture’ is supposed to be- quirky, varied and colorful. You can tell by listening to these albums that a lot of time and effort has gone into making them. Today, there’s a new soundtrack coming out every weekend and I’m sure most composers (ahem…Pritam…ahem) are getting a bit overworked to really come up with something unique.

In my opinion, after R.D. Burman, it was in the 90s that some kind of ‘good’ music was finally created. Today, long after the death of the 90s indie-pop scene and way into the time of high-speed music downloads and Sheela Ki Jawaanis and mindless remixes, I wonder if the sublime magic of 90s albums can ever be recreated. I guess until it does, we’re going to have to keep singing Yaaron Dosti Hi Toh Zindagi Hai… at every reunion, fresher’s party and get-together.