Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Tell Me Your First Love Story

Hello, everyone.

Before you read any further, let me tell you that I'm not feeling especially romanti today. That's not what this is all about.

This is about a short series of drawings I've been planning to make. It's titled 'First Loves' and I'm collecting everyone's first love stories in order to compile it together to make a novel. It's gonna take a long time, but I'd be really happy if you guys shared your stories with me.

Leave your stories in the comments section along with your email. I'll choose the stories I find most interesting and contact you when I have made the drawings.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Some Things I Don't Understand Simply Because I'm a Woman

1. If a woman wants to wear a burqa, how is that anyody else's problem?

Remember when French president Nicolas Sarkozy was all for the ban on burqas and face-coverings? I would've understood if the key argument here was the matter of safety as not being able to see someone's face makes it difficult to identify someone. But the key argument was that of individual freedom. The freedom of a woman who is covering her face.

A few months ago, my friends expressed remorse after seeing an exceptionally adorable girl of about three years of age wearing a hijab. And I simply didn't understand why. Kid's wearing a hijab. How is that any different from a kid wearing a yellow sari on Saraswati puja or a Brahmin boy having his head shaved during his thread ceremony? Isn't the little girl, by wearing a hijab, only representing Islamic tradition? And she was smiling and happy, so why did my friends (who were men themselves) so upset?

Is it because we've long been conditioned to believe that a burqa is a system imposed on a woman, and it is a symbolic equivalent of suppression? Is it because we subconsciously believe that Islam itself wants to keep it's women from being free? Is it because our brain's really are that discriminatory even in a world where we have the means and the freedom to interact with any religious group in the world and lean their point of view?

So here's what I don't understand: why are men so free about expressing their opinions on the burqa, when, like menstruation and childbirth, they can never fully understand it? Why don't women- especially Muslim women- equal participants in this world? If burqa wearers impose bans on non-burqa wearers, how is that somehow worse than the ban that is placed on them? How is this ban truly secular when it clearly inhibits the freedom of one religious community from upholding their traditions (it must be noted that face coverings are actually nowhere mentioned in the Qu'ran, and are more of a community-based tradition)? And if men in power go about deciding whether or not a woman should wear a burqa....well, what women's liberation are we talking about?

I guess I don't understand simply because I'm a woman.

2. Why is watching a 'chick flick' considered the same as being an emotional fool?

My father watches action films. They are films where muscular men with no discernible acting talent go about shooting people, blowing up buildings, chasing each other and driving insanely expensive cars (and occassionally downing shaken, not stirred, martinis).

My mother watches soap operas. They are TV shows in which people come back from the dead, villains enter families to turn everyone against everyone against everyone, the men never actually go to work an are always present to deal with kitchen politics, and women are always decked in gaudy, traditional saris.

I can't help but see the similarities between the two.

Both focus on the bravado and struggles of one man/woman. The villains are almost always just evil for evil's sake. They're both highly improbable- you can't just turn over cars in the middle of the road (at least not without serious legal repercussion) and you can't fool a whole rich family into believing you're pregnant with their heir (at least not without serious legal repercussion, because don't rich families have lawyers to make this kind of stuff go away?). Watching men chase each other is no brain food, same as watching women backbite against each other isn't exactly intellectually stimulating.

Yes. Both my parents watch dumb television from time to time. And I don't judge either of them for being worse than the other.

Then why does everyone else? Entertainment mainly targeted towards women is obviously panned by society. Why is the term 'chick flick' offensive? It's a movie for chicks. So what? Just cast Meryl Streep or Deepika Padukone or whoever's the leading Bollywood gal at the moment and you've got a smash hit! It's as if people think that if you are a woman, and you like a book or a movie that doesn't push any feminist agenda or intellectual thought, and is only just fun, you are clearly doing something very wrong.

On the other hand, Pyaar ka Punchnama is clearly not wrong.

I guess I don't understand simply because I'm a woman.

3. Why can't we talk about periods?

When I was thirteen, a very unfortunate incident took place in our school. A couple of boorish boys opened a girl's bag without her permission, found sanitary napkins, held them out to the whole class to see and most of the boys just treated it as a joke and laughed. The girl was traumatized. She was new to our school and this was the welcome she got.

Yeah. Girls get periods. If you're a guy, you probably found out all about this when you were fourteen and by now it's common knowledge to you. And if you're girl, well, it's happening to you. So why is this such a hush-hush secret?

I mean, we're talking about everything else. Pornography masquerading for film is running successfully in a theatre near you. You can talk about terrorist attacks, rapes, murders, everything! But not menstruation.

Okay, so maybe you don't like to share your bleeding calendar with men because it makes you uncomfortable. It's going to take a while for us to get over that, and I understand if some of us want to keep some things women's only. But why can't we discuss these things among ourselves? Why can't we be loud when we're discussing it instead of speaking in hushed tones? Why can't mothers teach their sons about menstruation and a woman's privacy instead hiding everything from them?

This one I really don't understand.

4. Why are only beautiful women considered to be the ones who can do no wrong?

Aishwarya Rai is frequently called The Most Beautiful Woman in The World. Emma Watson is one heck of a gorgeous ex-Hermione Granger. Both of them can't act.

I mean, seriously. They're beautiful but they can't act. Aishwarya Rai was never the best actress around. Emma Watson barely has five minutes of screen time in movies like This Is The End and Bling Ring, but she's advertised as the main attraction. I almost feel sorry for these women. Oh, the pressure of impressing when you really are just a mediocre actress!

My point is that it seems to me that the most conventionally beautiful women in the world can never go wrong.  They're the one's with all the perks. On the other hand, it's not the same with men.

It's not just film stars. Even sportswomen suffer. Only the pretty ones gets endorsements, which is partly (or maybe wholly) the reason behind the unpopularity of women's sports. if you're a tennis player, a badminton player, a gymnast or a hot swimmer, you can be the face of any brand you like. But not if you're not aesthetically blessed or into sports that don't allow for flattering (often revealing) clothes on field.

Why is this happening? Why does Lena Dunham have to write and direct and act and basically have to spend a lot of time being awesome when when Blake Lively can be just as famous without having to do as much?

I guess I don't understand because I'm a woman. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Warning: This Movie Contains Just About Everything Offensive to Women

Have you ever seen Pyaar Ka Punchnama? Even if you say you haven't, you probably have.  It was the kind of movie that did less at the theatres than at torrent download sites, and publicity was mostly word of mouth. I saw it last year with a couple of my roommates and let me share with you what happened that particular night.

The movie is about three young men and their girlfriends (or rather, women they claim to be in love with). The first, Rajat, falls in love with a girl, Neha, and while everything is okay in the beginning, she soon turns into a controlling, possessive person. The second, Nishant, likes his colleague Charu, who already has a boyfriend and is only using him. The third, Vikrant, has a new gilfriend, Riya, who is yet to get over the last man she was with.

Because, yeah, all women are jerks and all men are victims.


Sometime towards the end of the movie, during a scene depicting Rajat's frustration with Neha and Neha's ignorance towards it, one of my roommates began sobbing. She didn't tell us why right away, but later she said, "What if my boyfriend feels like that?" She had been in a relationship with her childhood best friend for four years, a relationship longer than any of the characters in the movie seem capable of sustaining, but she was a sharp-shooting, sometimes dominating girl and she was afraid that her boyfriend would end up feeling about her the way Rajat feels in the movie. We all laughed at her reaction, told her it was just a movie, but looking back on the situation, I think her reaction was valid.

Yes, this roommate was mine was a dominating person. She liked getting her way because it was the right way. But she wasn't a manipulatve girlfriend, like Neha is in the movie. Her flaws were part of her nature, and she was that way with everybody, not just her boyfriend. They had their arguments, but at the end of the day they always made up. And unlike Neha in the movie, if they ever broke, she wouldn't find a new guy to hold her shopping bags.

As for the other two relationships depicted in the movie, well...why are the men wasting their time on women who are so not worth it? They're adults, but they act like lovestruck schoolboys.

I will not deny that a relationship can go any number of ways and it could be the woman's faults that eventually brings them down. But here, it is shown that all women in the world are manipulative witches who are only out to use men. Never mind the fact that statistics show that cheating rates are much higher in men than in women. Never mind the fact that the heroes' mothers are also women. Never mind that the men here seem more infatuated with the girls in question than in love. The film shows that all men are victims and relationships with women are impossible.

As an extra bonus, there's a five-minute monologue from Rajat about what the heck is so wrong with women. He doesn't talk about one woman in particular, but about women in general.

And it hurts.

Are we really living in an age where a movie like this can come out without angering women? The movie claims to be about the difficulties of relationships, but it end up being about how horrible women are. And the fact is, most men enjoyed it. Most men felt deeply sympathetic for the protagonists and enjoyed the heavy criticisms of women. Because, yeah, we are totally ruining your lives!

Here's the thing: I would never date any human being resembling any of our three protagonists in character. Why? Because they're the kind of men who fall in love too soon and for all the wrong reasons. They're the kind of men who refuse to take responsibility for what happens to them; it's always someone else's fault. Somebody needs to tell them that high school is over, and they're adults now.

For that matter, I would never be like any of the women in the film either. I may be a lot of things, but I wouldn't be oblivious if any of that were hurting my partner. I wouldn't be unfaithful, or use anybody for money. These are things that good people just don't do. It doesn't matter if they are men or women; all that matters is that they are good people.

Besides, this is a movie that stereotypes and looks down upon women, and turning it all into a big joke. How is that any different from making fun of Muslims or Sikhs or whatever other religious community, but really just criticising them underneath all the jokes? How is it any different from making fun of the disabled, or the elderly, or any ethnic community? How is it any different from a movie that says that all gay men love to go dancing with girls in flashing clothes and punctuate their sentences with their hips? How is it any different that if a woman were to make a movie about how all men are liars and cheats/ commitment phobic/ impossibly immature? Tell me. How is it any less discriminatory?

And if it really is that discriminatory, how come nobody realized that before laughing at the jokes? How come this became a mainstream Bollywood movie, and nobody cared what message it sends out?

Something to think about, isn't it?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Sunday, October 11, 2015

What You Should And Shouldn't Learn From Fairytales: Beauty and the Beast

The Deal: Merchant has three girls, youngest is named Beauty. Beauty is kind and pure-hearted, also the underdog. Merchant goes abroad, girls want gifts upon his return. Beauty only wants a red rose. On his trip, merchant gets lost in the forest, takes shelter in the Beast's forest. He plucks out a rose from Beast's rose garden. Beast is not very happy. Merchant is scared, offers to give Beauty to Beast in return for his safe journey back home. Miss Goody Two Shoes Beauty willingly goes to Beast's Castle. Beast falls in love with Beauty and asks him to marry him, but she refuses because she's stubbornly friendzoned him. Beauty goes home for a week, and her sisters (those mean girls!) are jealous that she lives in a fabulous castle and beg her to stay. Beauty agrees, but feels guilty about abandoning Beast. She finds out that the Beast is dying of heartbreak, she rushes back to him and admits her love for him. Her tears fall on Beast and he is transformed into a prince. And then, well, happily ever after.

What You Shouldn't Learn From It: 
1. When your father basically pawns you off in exchange for his own safety, do not go wherever he's trying to send you. Just...run off to the Himalayas or something.
2. Not all sisters are mean and jealous. Most of them are your best friends for life. So don't let this story give you an idea of what sisters are like.
3. If your sisters really are mean and jealous, and they want you to stay home with them, well, just say you can't but you'll send emails all the time!
4. Don't fall in love with someone who has basically held you captive. That's called Stockholm Syndrome. And just because he looks like a beast doesn't mean you need to feel sorry for him. I mean, he's held you captive for God's sake, instead of, say, taking you out on a date. I understand the writers didn't think like this because the story was written ages ago, but it's been a while and we're smarter now.

What You Should Learn From It:
The way Beast turns into a handsome prince? That's just a metaphor for how the plainest of people can became beautiful in your eyes when you admit to their being good people and fall in love with them. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ideas for Mr. Prime Minister

It's great that the current central government is giving so much impetus to Internet accessibility for all. Today, all our information comes from the Internet. Access to Internet can easily divide the population to haves and have-nots, because one side is so dependent on it and uses it just as much as other essential resources, while the other side barely has any idea how to use it.

There's a lot that can be done for the development of this country. I'm no economics graduate. My ideas are obviously flawed. Nevertheless, I'd like to share some of my ideas for the progress of India, and hope PM Modi takes note. (Yeah, right!)

1. Solar Power for all Urban Households

India under-utilizes the solar power available to it. That's not an observation; it's a fact. According to Wikipedia:

With about 300 clear, sunny days in a year, India's theoretically calculated solar energy incidence on its land area alone, is about 5,000 trillion kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year (or 5 EWh/yr).[1][2][3] The solar energy available in a year exceeds the possible energy output of all fossil fuel energy reserves in India. The daily average solar power generation capacity over India is 1.0 kWh/m2, which is equivalent to about 1,500–2,000 peak (rated) capacity operating hours in a year with the available commercially-proven technologies.

How many fo us actually use solar power? Do we have it in our homes? It takes money to install, but many of us can afford it. And once it's installed, we get electricity for the rest of our lives without paying lofty bills. It all sounds good, but the fact is that the use of solar energy hasn't been promoted as it should be. Newspapers and blogs are questioning whether it will reach rural areas soon, but my point is that given the hundreds of thousands of housing societies and houses in major cities, and the out-of-proportion large quantities of power they use, wouldn't it make sense to make it mandatory for all of them to use solar power. The cost of the solar panels plus installation can go up to 3 lakhs, but how much is that when you consider that flats in Delhi and Mumbai these days can cost more that 1 crore these days? So maybe, if we start with upper-middle to high-class residential areas, major office complexes and commercial centres, we can reduce our dependence of fossil fuels to a great extent. I mean, one of the major reasons why solar power isn't widely used is the initial cost it entails, so why not start with people and places that can afford it. Whatever money is saved by doing so can be used to give away solar energy to the next economic strata at a lower price, and this tier-based approach to make solar power available to all can continue till we reach the lowermost economic strata. It might sound discriminatory, but it might just work.

An interesting fact: Gujarat (the state which has Narendra Modi as it's former CM), is the leader in Indian solar power generation and usage. Gandhinagar may soon become a solar power city. Gujarat is also home to Asia's largest solar park at Charanka.

2. Make compost toilets cool. 
Most of my non-architect friends can't believe that an average Indian uses approx. 110 L of water in 1 day. In case you're wondering, yes, that's a lot. However, it is the minimum. One of the major culprits for this high demand of water is flush. Flushing once can cause a loss of about 5L of water, which is basically more than we need to drink throughout the day (think about a thirsty kid in a desert somewhere before you flush next time.)

A compost toilet doesn't need you to flush. It separates solids and liquids and decomposes them separately without the use of water. Check this out:

It might seem a bit gross at first, but it's not. In fact, it's very hygienic if you think about the fact that no blackwater is produced here. However, it doesn't go with Indian habits. We are more comfortable with flushing and we don't use toilet paper that often (most people aren't comfortable with it). So how about fund all the IIT's to design a compost toilet that flushes and allows for our tendency to wash and not wipe? It all sounds funny, but each person can save upto 30L of water per day. Think about it.

Once an appropriate compost toilet is designed, maybe it can be marketed and popularized, and we all know Mr. Modi's great with that.

3. Biogas isn't just meant for rural areas.

We talk about biogas like they belong to the villages, but there's no reason for why urban areas cannot use them. We can use biogas at least to cook food, but the simple DIY types of biogas generators are messy and hard to maintain. We need proper plants at key locations that can supply biogas to a number of homes. Might take some time, might not even replace LPG completely, but it's a start.

For information on biogas generated electricity, check this out.

4. Double-use schools.
Instead of building new structures every time we need to a vocational training centre or community hall, just use school buildings in the evenings. School's out by 4, and after that, the building just stands in it's place. It would be much more useful if we could have adult education classes there, and the building should be designed in order to be used for various purposes. Even tutoring services can be provided. If a school is a temple of learning, let's make sure it's open to all 24/7. And this goes for private schools too. If nothing else, the school courtyards and corridors can serve as sleeping areas for the homeless at night.

5. Solar power the buses.
When I was young, Delhi decided to embrace CNG buses and autorickshaws and, yes, it did make a difference. It's been almost two decades since then, and we're still running on CNG. It's about time we started using solar transportation. And don't talk about money. We pay taxes when we earn and more taxes when we spend. Use it wisely, and very soon each and eveyr bus will be solar-powered.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Why Sequels Are Worse Than The First Movie

I really like Pitch Perfect. It's a fun slapstick comedy, and most of the characters are girls, and I sort of wish I was one of them. For those of you who have no idea what it's about, here's the deal- It's about a all-female acapella goup, which is sort of like a band which uses no instrument and produces music using voices and body beats. It's pretty cool, actually, except for the part where there are very few original songs.

Last week, I saw Pitch Perfect 2. And I didn't even have any expectations of it being as good as the first one. Sequeals are hardly ever as good as the first movie and today I'm going to tell you why taking Pitch Perfect 2 as an example.

1. The sequels where everybody goes glam all of a sudden.
In the first movie, everybody's dressed simpler and you almost believe that they're just normal people like you and me. If the first film's a hit, the style squad goes crazy. that's when the highlights, fake eyelashes, hair extensions and (obviously) designer clothes come out. It all look better...or does it? The cast definitely stops being as relatable.

The cast's look in the first movie

The cast's look in the second movie. Not your average collegiates anymore.

2. The second installment's where the desperation sets in
Pitch Perfect didn't need racist jokes to be funny, but the sequel was too desperate to please. So, they threw in jokes about every ethnic community out there and it's all supposed to be in good jest, but you can tell that the writers were just desperate to churn out another hit and they'd do anything to achieve that.

3. Sequels are over-produced.
Sequels are full of over-produced soundtracks, cameos, gimmicks and all that stuff that's really not required to make a good movie. Think about it. If those things could garner a hit, how did the first one do well in theatres?

4. It's not inspired anymore.
Nobody makes a second movie just because. They make it to make more money, to bank on the success of a previous film. And how can that ever be inspired? It's not like you had a eureka moment late one night and said, "hey, I  have to make this movie, man!"

But when all's said and done, when you fall in love with a movie, you hope the characters keep coming back, and that's why even though I'm writing this post, I'm definitely looking forward to Pitch Perfect 3.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Art of the Week-4

Abhyam Shukla is back! This is a self-portrait with our University in the back, something he made to mark his beginnings as an architecture student at Jadavpur Univeristy

European Juniors

This post is all about the little friends I made during my trip in Europe.

This little model is a German girl I met in Istanbul. Can you deny her panache in front of the camera?  She even did a little leg lift you can't see here. I'm sensing the next Heidi Klum here, aren't you?
This little girl had a very protective brother. When he saw how fascinated she was by us, he tried to cover her eyes. But the girl slapped his hand away and jumped off her pram. She took baby steps towards me and grabbed my hand, staring unblinkingly. She wouldn't let go even when I was ready to do. Her brother, on the other hand, wanted to have nothing to do with the people who were playing with his sister and preferred suspiciously keeping an eye on us.

I met these girls at a park in Istanbul. The one in the red sweater was the smiley one. She was kind enough to give us a solo photoshoot afterwards, waving to our camera and smiling joyfully.

I met this little girl at a station in Salzburg and trust me, she just wouldn't stop talking. My father saw her first, introduced her to me as 'Most Beautiful'. SHe was more curious than happy when we asked her to pose for a picture, and began leaning towards the camera till she lost balance and almost fell head over heels. Then, she walked away, asking her mother questions (or at least they sounded like questions), her voice echoing through the hall. Most talkative (and perhaps really the most beautiful) kid I met in Europe.
I met this kid in Innsbruck, and he couldn't really respond to us because, well, he was tiny.

I met these twins in Vatican City. They were there with their parents, hoping to get a glimpse of the Pope. The light-haired one was friendlier. She kept pointing at her sister, introducing us to her in baby gibberish. The dark-haired little girl was quieter. Later,when we tried to take pictures and turned their prams to face the sun,, one of them started crying. The other one looked around as if assessing the situation and then, she followed her twin, letting out a baby cry that only made us laugh because it was so adorable to watch. Their parents were proud to have not one but two beautiful baby girls. Their father told us in broken  English that he wished he could speak fluent English, but he did no who Mahatma Gandhi is and that he's called the father of the nation, and was fully aware that Sonia Ganshi (of Italian origin, just like him) is, in fact, not Mahatma Gandhi's daughter. You'd be surprised to know how many so-called elite Indian teenagers get confused about that.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Art of the Week-3

Over the past two years, I have had the good fortune to sit in a class with lots of good artists.

The first picture is a portrait of me made by my friend Sounok Sarkar. He complained that he can only make male figures, so I challenged him to make a portrait of me. It's not too bad for a guy who can't draw girls, but trust me, I don't look as androgynous as he's shown me to be.

The second one is a portrait of me by my friend Tanmoy Koley. Tanmoy is an amazing artist, with years of training under his belt. He drew this on the train, and I was a terrible model, moving and fidgeting every few seconds.

Both artists can do a lot better, something which they proved to me with a multitude of artworks I have seen from them. But the fact that they drew me at all made me feel like Mona Lisa for a few fleeting seconds.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Art of the week-2

This is a drawing by my friend Abhyam Shukla, blogger, artist, occasional costume designer and only sometimes an architecture student. He's my go-to guy when it comes to all things creative and you can hope to see a lot more of him here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Top 7 YA Heroines

I like books which has lots of girls in them. That's just my personal choice. YA is one of those genres which is driven by a strong female following. Girls get a chance to shine in these novels, and female readers get to cheer them on. So it's no surprise I spend a lot of time thinking about my favourite YA heroines.

Here I've listed my top 10 YA heroines of all time. Of course, the list is not exhaustive by any means, because I am yet to read all the YA novels out there. But at the same time, I've read more YA than most people, so you can trust me.

So, we begin the countdown with number 7:

7. Sam
(Novel: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Author: Stephen Chbosky)
Sam: Our past doesn't define who we are.
Sam is one of those girls who has made her mistakes and is now looking to start over, and that is very honorable in my eyes. We shouldn't let our past dictate who we will become, and Sam knows that. In spite of a trashed reputation, a history of molestation and a series of bad boyfriends, she proves herself by being a good friend and getting into a good college. Success isn't about achieving fame or money or anything like that. Sometimes it's about overcoming your circumstances and exceeding people's expectations. I think Sam did just that.

6. Juli Baker
(Novel: Flipped, Author: Wendelin van Draanen)

Remember when you were a kid and fell in like? Juli Baker could remind you. She's the kind of person who is so good at heart, she can't spot the darkness in people around her. The hilarious way in which she always assembles her thoughts to read 'Bryce Loski likes me', even when the opposite is true, had me rolling on the floor laughing. I think the fact that she keeps embarrassing herself is testament to what a lovely person she is, and like a lot of lovely people, she probably won't have her goodness recognized till she's out of high school. I wish more people were like Juli Baker (I also wish a boy would plant a sycamore tree for me, but that's another story.)

5. Katniss Everdeen
(Novel: the Hunger Games series, Author: Suzanne Collins)
True Hero

She's heroic, brave and the face of a revolution and how many people can truly say that. However, she's the heroine of a series about a tyrannical society in which a reality show is based on kids killing each other, so of coure, she's all that. What I like about her is that when she says that she doesn't want to lead a revolution, when she says she doesn't like cameras following her around, I believe her (unlike characters like Bella Swan, who seem to secretly enjoy being the centre of attention). She's a pragmatic young woman with a lot of weight on her shoulders and truly an inspiration to many.

4. Bridget, Carmen, Lena, Tibby
(Novel: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, Author: Ann Brashares)

This series of novels was what got me hooked to YA in the first place. I think it was the realistic portrayal of four teenaged girls that drew me in. The four best friends had completely different set of challenges to overcome in each book, but I could relate to each and every one of them. Bridget's story mostly had to do with overcoming her mother's suicide. Carmen dealt with her parents' divorce and later with living in a blended family. Lena primarily had a love story. Tibby's story in the first book was about finding unlikely friendships and the sorrow of losing a true friend, and later she dealt with finding her identity. Not much happens in the books. Most of the paragraphs describe the characers' thoughts and my favorite are the ones in which they think of absolutely random things because I do that too. Also, I never can resist a story about female friendships, and this is by far the best such story I have read.

3. Elanor
(Novel: Elanor and Park, Author: Rainbow Rowell)
If she were my girlfriend, I'd live for her too.

Okay, so she's a chubby little girl who's madly in love with her first boyfriend. She's one of those girls who pretends to be tough as nails and has had a hell of a life, but is sweet and adorably innocent on the inside. She's aware of her flaws, but she's not one of those girls who pretends to be surprised when someone calls her pretty. And the way she fears running out of time with Park? What makes Elanor number 3 on this list is that she's a real person, with real concerns and feelings and looks and goals, and the fact that she's flawed doesn't matter at all because that's what makes her who she is. As a girlfriend, she was simply adorable, especially the part where she picks up fights with Park just because she's bored. I think every boy should aspire for a girlfriend like Elanor and if they already have one, they should never let her go.

2. Hermione Granger
(Novel: the Harry Potter series, Author: J.K. Rowling)

Hermione has the capability for logical reasoning as well as strong emotional articulation. She's a girl, through and through. I was glad Rowling didn't turn her into some kind of tomboy with killer moves. Hermione made being a bookworm seem like a good thing, being a nerd seem cool and in spite of not being a conventional beauty, had one of the cutest romances in YA history. Her gender doesn't define her. She sucks at both quidditch and cooking. I think what really drew me to Hermione was the way she freaks out over marks and exams and all that and isn't afraid to show that she's tense about these things. A lot of girl don't want to let people know they're smart or serious, and I think those girls should learn something from Hermione.

(Okay, so I know a lot of people will have a problem with Hermione being no. 2. For all the Potter fans out there, she deserves to be No. 1 on any list. But bear with me. I couldn't give away number 1 to anybody except....)

1. Frankie Landeau Banks
(Novel: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landeau Banks, Author: E. Lockhart)
We need more Frankie fan art ASAP

The reason Frankie is no. 1 on my list is because Frankie is me, with guts. All the thoughts in her head? I have the eact same thought wreaking havoc in my mind all the time. I share her questions about feminism and feminity, I have the same doubts regarding boyfriends as she does and throughout me life, I have searched for meaning in teenaged fun like her. She's one of those girls who goes to a party, looks around her at people having 'fun' and acting silly and says, "Why do they look so happy? Are they really happy?" Guess why I'm a no-show at parties. She doesn't lie to herself. She knows who she is, she knows who people want her to be and she resents her inconsequentiality. At the end of the day, Frankie is not a bad person. She's just a strong girl, something that is way more controversial in a teenager's world than we care to admit. She's my hero (I mean, bras on all the male founders' portraits? Seriously? I wish I had the guts to do that.) I know that she's a brilliant person, not just a brilliant girl, and if she were real, she would've gone on to do great things in her life.

(After writing this post, I realized how white it was. I mean, seriously! There are no colored faces on it. We need more books with women in color, especially in YA. Of course, there are such books in the market, but they are labelled 'multicultural' instead of blending with all the other YA novels, and to me, that's just unfair. I want to read novels about girls from various cultures, but not when their ethnicity/nationality/cultural background is treated as their only identity. Also, when will we have a full-fledged YA market in India? I think it's high time we started writing novels about our own culture, and that too for all demographics.)

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Gay in YA

Recently, while watching my new show The Fosters, I witnessed what was probably the youngest homosexual kiss in the history of television. Thirteen-year-olds Jude and Connor share their first kiss in what was a natural progression to a sweet, youthful love story. It took me by surprise when I realized that the portrayal of LGBTQ community in media is somewhat strange─ we’re taught to believe it’s an adult thing, as though it’s something people transition into, not something people are born into. To make matters worse, the video was age restricted on YouTube, while racier scenes featuring heterosexual characters are given a free pass.

This got me thinking about the portrayal of LGBTQ characters in YA novels. Thankfully, literature has seems to have embraced characters from the community with open(er) arms than television. It’s not that I have read tons of novels featuring gay characters. Most of the books I have read featured straight people. However, I have come across some wonderful portrayals that I believe played a role in shaping my perception of the community.

First, let’s talk about a novel that was primarily about being gay.  When Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden first came out, being gay was a much bigger deal than it is today. This is a story of a girl falling in love with another girls. It starts out as a friendship, as the protagonist are still confused about their sexuality, but turns into a love affair that is no different from any other love affair, but is still condemned by society. Of course, I didn’t really relate to the challenges because I have never faced them myself, but I enjoyed the book and treated it like any other love story in which the leads are struggling to stay together.

There are some writers who focus on the LGBTQ community. David Levithan is one of them. His novel, Every Day, is about a soul that lives in a different body each day, was an attempt to show how we fall in love with people, not sexes. I didn’t agree with the philosophy completely, because at the end of the day, even gay people don’t fall in love with straight people, but I understood it. Recently, I read his short story Your Temporary Santa and fell in love with it. In the story, a gay relationship was treated just like a straight one, and I found it to be the best in a collection of short stories. Another memorable David Levithan book is Naomi and Ely’s no kiss list, about a young girl who has loved her gay best friend ever since she can remember and is faced with the need to move on.
The Perks of Being Wallflower had Patrick. What I liked about Patrick was that he was a vibrant, colorful character who wasn’t defined by his sexuality. He was, first and foremost, a good friend and remained so even through tumultuous periods of his life. I felt his pain when his relationship with Brad came to a brutal end. What happened to them, I wouldn’t wish it on any couple.

The last book I read with a gay protagonist was Ask the Passengers by A.S. King. It made me realize that even in a country like the US, which is supposed to be much more liberal than India, being gay is still a taboo for a lot of people. The truth is that homophobics are not villains. They are people like you and me, with families and friends and jobs to go to, and as long as you are straight, they’re probably going to be very nice to you. They’re not evil monsters. It’s just that they have a rather straight and narrow mindset, venturing out of which scares them. Not just people, but whole neighborhoods can be homophobic, which is especially true in more conservative cultures.

I’m a heterosexual female and perhaps my opinions regarding this matter are not entirely agreeable. But the truth is that I have never met an openly gay person in my life, which saddens me because statistics show that it’s impossible never to meet a homosexual, which basically indicates that millions of men and women are still in the closet. What’s sadder is that I have heard stories of closeted Indian homosexuals living lives as married men/women. These books have, in their own small way, helped me see that the LGBTQ community consists of people who are not very different from me. I think if more such books were written in India, we would be able to understand each other better. Maybe by the time my children are my age, people will just be people and won’t carry labels like ‘gay’ or ‘queer’ and neither will books.

Art of the Week-1

This is a portrait of my friend Ipsitha, and the artis is Rounok Ghosh. I believe it's one of the most touching portraits I have ever seen. When my father saw it, he said it was probably a digitally edited photograph. After Rounok died last year, we visited his parents, who showed us the original painting. We lost our best artist, and a good friend. We still miss you, Rounok.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Some of the Best YA Novel Covers in Recent Times- Part 1

I continue writing about YA. Home Sweet Home.

Today, I'm reviewing some of the best YA covers of recent times. Not all of them turned out to be great books, but I discovered sometimes a book can be judged by it's cover and other times, you'll be cheated out of your wits. However, i maintain cover design is an art in itself and needs to be reviewed and celebrated just like books.

1. The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman

This was not a good book. It blurb drew me in, but as it turns out, it lacked the one thing that makes a YA romance worth reading- likeable characters. But in my opinion, the cover is awesome. It almost looks like an alternate poster for 500 Days of Summer (fantastic film) and when I saw it, I thought it was about the different seasons in a relationship- the warm summery beginnings, the chilly fights, the autumn of separation and fragrant spring of rediscovering each other.

2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I explained this in my previous post, but if you haven't read it, here we go again. Diane Arbus was a photographer famous for capturing the creepiest, most intriguing photographs that you make you want look away and stare on at the same time.  The photo on the upper right corner has that Diane Arbus quality. It's pushed to the far corner, which what being a wallflower is all about. The face is not shown, so it's a reference the anonymity Charlie wants. Green is an interesting choice of color, especially with the fluorescent  undertone. Hands down, one of the best YA covers of all time.

3. School of Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

This looks like a cover for a graphic novel. The shield in the centre reminds me of the Harry Potter houses. This is not a cover full of symbolism. In fact, it's pretty straightforward. But I think this kind of artwork needs to be made a lot more common in YA, especially for fantasy or dystopia. It's got some wonderful use of light and shadow, a lot of artwork packed into the small cover and it tells the reader exactly what the story is about and who it's for. But the white swan is in front of the dark palace and the dark swan in front of the white palace, and I'm asking myself what that's all about. It's the kind of book cover that's attract girls who have read all the Harry Potter books and are now looking for more. 

3. Elanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Simple. Tender. Beautiful. I will say no more.

4. Jewel of the Thames (A Portia Adams Adventure) by Angela Misri

Lovely. That's one word for it. Sometimes, simple is good, like in Elanor and Park, but in this case the ornamental swirls and black-blue-white color scheme simply work. The lack of oestrogen was what didn't draw me to Sherlock Holmes, but here I have a girl in a Holmesesque cap and magnifying glass and Baker Street in the background. We need more covers like this, covers with ornamental artwork. This book wood look fantastic on my book shelf and I'd position it so that the cover and not the spine faces outwards. It's like room decoration.

5. My True Love Gave To Me by Various Authors

I've never read this book, but I'm trying to get my hands on a copy. It's got all my favorite writers' work in it. It may not turn out to be great, but I'm still buying it for the cover. I mean, look at it! It's adorable! And I've heard the skaters on the cover are characters from the book, which makes me feel like it's Christmas in February.

Good ol' YA Covers Gone Bad

There are way too many books in this world and it's impossible to read them all. You've got to draw the line somewhere. I drew the line, making Young-Adult literature my literary home. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy my vacations in other genres. It just means that no matter where I go, I always find my way back home.

Recently, I've seen some very disturbing trends in YA book covers. I mean, if YA is my home, it's no wonder I'm concerned about the exterior. Here I've listed the top 5 trends that are making me want to give my home some serious renovations.

1. The first disturbing trend is the way novels targeted at younger audiences are slowly getting trendier and more minimalistic. Hey! Minimalism is for adults. Kids want bulky, bright, colorful, detailed illustrations. They’re cute! Don’t replace them with simpler, more symbolic and more minimal drawings, alright? Let’s take for example, the Harry Potter books. I’ve read the first four and the last two (I always keep missing Order of Pheonix), and it’s one of those books I’ve learnt to appreciate without being a die-hard fan. But I was a fan of the early covers. The picture of Harry standing at platform 9 3/4 or riding a Hippogriff drew me before I even knew what the book was about. But then, the publishers made the unforgivable mistake of changing the covers to suit modern sensibilities.

Prisoner of Azkaban when I was a kid
One of the newer editions.

It’s not bad. It’s just that the ten-year-old version of me would like the first one better. Some people say cover designs have been changed because tons of HP fans are adults now, and the newer covers make them look less childish if they were to read the book in public. The books have adult' editions too. I guess I understand that, but HP is a memory for most people, and I believe memories stay stronger if you visit them often  and leave them unchanged.

2. The next disturbing trend is the black book covers. This is for the Twilight and Vampire Diaries set. Dear novel, I understand you’re supposed to be dark and mysterious but a little bit of color wouldn’t hurt.

I actually liked this series a lot, because Ethan Wate was
my fantasy boyfriend. Even if you were scarred by Twilight,
don't hesitate to check this out. And don't be fooled by the black.
I personally would've chosen olive green, with a man standing
 beyond a stretch of wild trees.

Never read this series, so I can't suggest an
alternative, but my point still stands.

Besides, is it just me, or are these covers a little bit un-creative. I mean, having a black cover with minimal imagery for a mysterious dark fantasy YA novel is like wearing bright red lipstick and sticking your tongue out in a ‘sexy’ photoshoot. It’s cliché and even a child with no artistic skills can think of it. None of these covers are ugly (especially Twilight, a series in which the covers speak a hundred times more than the novels), but they are boring. Cover designers, it’s not that hard. Pick out something from the novel, think of the same illustration in a less common color like blood red or magenta and voila! You have yourself a much more interesting covers.

3. Now, the next one is understandable, if not justifiable. A lot of YA novels achieve worldwide fame post their film adaptations. So, I get it that publishers want to replace the original book covers with the movie posters to draw more readers. After all, we live in an era in which people watch the movie first and then read the book. However, this is sacrilege! You see, books are wonderful! They leave so much to the imagination while telling us more about the characters than a movie ever could. And the best part is that the characters are people like you and me, not young, pretty, shiny movie stars wearing 8 kilos of make-up and designer clothes designed to look like everyday clothes. So when you introduce Hollywood/ Bollywood into the cover, it loses it’s innocence. Less is left for the imagination and well, the movie industry can never truly be as sweet, innocent and creative as the book illustration industry (hoping that really is an industry).

Let’s take the example of The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, one of my favourite books of all times. Chbosky even directed the movie and even though I had my issues with the adaptation, it was much better than most YA adaptations. The original cover was like this:
Is this a great cover, or what? The photo on the upper right
corner is reminiscent of the works of photographer Diane
Arbus (go check her out now!) and the fact that it's pushed to
the far corner is what being a wallflower is all about. Plus, you only
see the feet which is symbolic of the anonymity Charlie wants
in the book. The green in an interesting choice of color and this is
one YA novel cover that won't embarass you in public by being too
childish. One of the best covers of all times.

And then they Hollywood-ized it.

So here I have Emma Watson, Logan Lerman and Ezra Miller staring out at me, and the moment I see it, my head gets filled with thoughts of the Harry Potter movies, who EW is dating right now, Miller’s alternative lifestyle and the Percy Jackson films. That’s because I see the actors, not the characters. Trust me,  that’s a bad thing.

Now, I was never a fan of Twilight, but I liked the covers. In the original cover of the first book, a pale hand holds out a bright red apple, and to me it was symbolic of temptation and lust. The Hollwood version of the cover is basically Edward and Bella looking tortured and bored, which is what made the books bad and the movies even worse.

Even Bollywood won’t leave books alone. Here’s 2 States, and it’s not YA, but I still think the original cover was much better.
Not a great work of art, but better than what came next.

While we're here, let me just point out that Miss Bhatt
was seriously, seriously pretty in this movie.

4. The ‘Big Poofy Dress’ trend is slowly making reasonably girly YA look like hard-core chicklit. All the cover has is a slender girl wearing a big, poofy, princess-y gown. Sometimes the face is cut out, blurred, or the heroine has her back turned to the reader. The trend has variations such as ‘Big Poofy Mask’ (most commonly seen in novels with a masquerade ball or blind date or something). You know what the worst part is? The whole skinny girl in princess gown thing wouldn’t be so bad if it were a hand-drawn illustration or a played with the graphics a little bit.
Classic 'Big Poofy Dress' Cliche. If it were me, I'd have
a dozen handsoutstretched to wear a ring, and one
jewelry box with a ring in the centre. At least that's what
I would've done given my limited knowledge about this book.

This cover shows what the book is about and the dress isn't poofy.
However, it's not as good as it could have been. Besides, I did notpicture Anna like the girl on the cover. If I were designing this
cover, I would have gone for a darker silhouette in a creepy house (the hero)
with the girl shown here in the background, hovering menacingly behind
our hero, but not making the cover all about her.

An alternate of this is the 'Six Pack Abs' trend. Yeah, that doesn't work for me either.

5. Now comes the biggest tragedy of all─ the stock photo trend. Basically, some cover artists are way too lazy to design a cover. So what do they do? They fish out a random photo from the Internet and type in the name in the first font they can find and Photoshop it a little bit. Come on! You get paid for this. Don’t do something even I could do. It makes me feel sorry for you, and most of you paid a lot of money to go to art school and it’s a pity if this is how you put your education to use.
The same image later appeared as the cover
of another book, but the digital enhancements
were different. It's like two girls coming to a party
wearing the exact same dress. Hazard of using a
stock photo on the cover!

This is one of the better stock photo covers, and
it's not even all that good. 

(This is the first in a series of posts regarding YA literature. Be sure to check out this blog for more.)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Apathy in the Age of Apple

Let me in on a secret: I watch a lot of pirated videos. I mean, I watch streaming videos on the Internet, on websites that don’t ask me to pay, so I guess that’s watching pirated videos. Siphoning creative material, like music, pictures and films, off the Internet without having to pay a dime is so common these days that the lines between legal and illegal downloads are blurred. Is Youtubing equal to piracy? I mean, there are DVD rips there that come from DVDs meant to be bought, so maybe it is.

Anyways, I’m not here to talk about piracy. To be honest, I believe that music and videos up for sale are so overpriced, it completely makes sense people don’t want to pay. I’m here to talk about all the things that have become available to us thanks to the Internet. Nothing is forbidden anymore. You don’t have to go through an elaborate game of hide-and-seek to procure a video meant strictly for adults or be in the loop to get demos of underground bands. Celebrities have their phones hacked everyday and most people have access to inappropriate (read nude) pictures of them. I mean, come on! Is Game of Thrones really appropriate viewing for a sixteen-year-old with a WiFi connection.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not a believer of the whole kids-should-act-like-kids thing. I knew a lot of things when I was sixteen, things that responsible/parental adults didn’t teach me, thinking they were grown-up matters. Some of these matters were about crime and safety, like the particulars of a given rape case, and others were simply juicy gossip and salacious information. Be honest. You knew stuff when you were sixteen too! Admit it! And that’s a good thing. Information never hurts, not unless the information has been dug out for the sole purpose of hurting others. But all the readily available matter has done one thing─ It has made us insensitive.

The other day, one of my friends said she didn’t find The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo disturbing. For those of you who haven’t read it, the story has a lot to do with a father-son duo of serial rapists and killers, and some of the torture in the book (yes, the son has a torture room) should have us creeped out of our wits. Even if we don’t dwell on the creepiness, even if we zap out of the disturbing world of fiction the moment we slam the book shut, we should not be able to read the book with complete apathy. I mean, that’s not what the writer intended. But that’s what happens these days. We’ve seen and read about so many brutal rapes and killings that it’s not shocking anymore. A video of Saddam Hussain’s beheading is a click away. Every imaginable type of pornography, even the most painful and masochistic, is available online and after a while, it’s not a shock to see someone bound by chains to a bedpost, crying for mercy. In fact, it might be the opposite of disturbing to some.
In a recent episode of celebrity cell phone hacking, Oscar winner (not to mention my current favorite) Jennifer Lawrence had nude photographs leaked on to the Internet. The pictures were shared by millions of people, some feigning disgust and saying they are only sharing to give an example of what disgusts them, others unabashedly sending the photos to their friends and enjoying the process. A beautiful woman’s body up for display. People enjoy it. Fine. (I’m not fine that people enjoy it without permission from the beautiful woman in question, but that’s another matter.) But the thing is that Jennifer Lawrence is an American actress working in Hollywood, and she has never said never to appearing nude in a movie. Maybe some time in the coming decade, we’ll get to see her as exposed as she was in those pictures, but the only difference will be that she would be filmed after giving consent and after going through the complicated legalities of nudity clauses. Also, she’ll be filmed in a controlled environment. How does the viewer care if he/she sees the exact same case? Well, he does. Nudity doesn’t shock us anymore, thanks to abundance of it in the media. What excites us is the insensitive approach to getting a view of it, the hacking of a cell phone, the fact that someone peered into someone else’s private life, the voyeurism.

These days, every website has sidebars full of headlines with the word ‘shocking’ in it. The Shocking Truth Behind This Woman’s Success Story, The Shocking Discovery in the NYC Murder Case, The Shocking New Way to Lose Weight, The Shocking Secrets in Kim and Kanye’s Marriage….You get the drift. The ‘shocking’ grabs our eyeballs. We click the link, get led to a page containing the story, and even though most of the stories are eyebrow-raise worthy (I mean, the website’s creative team worked hard to raise eyebrows), our eyebrows stay firmly in place and our jaws comfortably in position. We are immune to shock via social media. We don’t get shocked anymore.

Some people rationalize the situation. They say stuff happens, it’s the harsh truth and we need to accept the truth. But is that the truth? Come on. Most of us are too wimpy to have a tiny lizard crawl down our arm, so it’s not our stoic, courageous acceptance of truth that keeps us from being shocked or disturbed. So is the truth merely that we’ve learnt to distance ourselves from what we see, hear or read? We’ve lost the ability to be affected, there’s just too much to be affected by.

Now, I’m not a judge. I don’t know if this is good or bad. I just have one question: how long before we stop being disturbed by an actual torture room?