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.