Monday, December 26, 2016

Night Out In Mumbai

Monday, December 19, 2016

Walk Through Kolkata With Me

I did my first vlog post, in which I walk through Pathuriaghata Street in Kolkata.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

It's Possible That I Just Did a Good Job

Recently, an interesting incident occurred.

We had some home work that I thought I had done quite well. I thought I had come up with a simple solution to kind of a difficult problem. My teacher praised me. He also praised a lot of other kids in the class, too, not that any of them valued the praise because this particular teacher isn't all that familiar to us and most people don't believe he has anything valuable to offer.

Throughout the class, my teacher kept singling my work out. Throughout the class I had to sit through people all around me snickering, and the snickering just kept getting louder and louder.

The reason my classmates responded this way was because they think this particular teacher favors me because I am a girl, a girl he likes. It was very embarrassing for me. I don't use my feminity to attract people to get ahead in life, and it's a policy I adhere to as if it were a religion. So yeah, the response hurt.

What hurt even more was that my work was ridiculed and diminished in value. I will admit that even if it is true that this particular teacher does favor me, as far as my work is concerned, I have always taken it as a motivation and not as an unfair advantage. In college, none of the teachers treated me as special, so every time somebody does, I try to use it to do better.

Also, let me point out that the truth is that most of the other students had not worked very hard on the assignment. A third of the class did not submit. Many of those who did didn't put any heart in their work. Also, a lot of the of the got compliments. He told one student that if she is as original as her work on the assignment shows, some day she will make a good architect. He told one girl, who really does get overshadowed some times, that her work was the best, and she really understands process. And then there's this one guy who, so far, has never got a single compliment for design,  but this teacher said his idea for the assignment was 'not bad' and could really be worked with.

Nobody saw that I had actually done the work and even enjoyed working. Nobody even considered that maybe my work had any merit. Yes, the teacher favours me, but nobody saw that most teachers (even female teachers, by the way. How come we never take that seriously?) have  favorite students. And worst of all, whatever judgements were being made on the teacher's character, the same judgements were inadvertently being reflected on me, too. And the whole time, I kept thinking that I had done nothing wrong. I was disappointed that I have not been able to prove the strength of my character so far, even though I have worked really hard for it.

I have pointed this out to people, and they say it's all good fun and that I shouldn't take it to heart. But the thing is I have been called a lot of things in my short life, from weird to asocial to antisocial to someone who acts quiet and righteous but actually "has her own games" (yeah, that last one even sent me cracking). Bt I never took it to heart. But this time I am taking it to heart because I feel like I have earned a right to. I could have been the girl who took advantage if male teachers to get ahead, the girl who played games. But instead I am hear, braving myself to ridicule and simply trying to explain my point of view.

So now tell me. Do you truly, truly believe I deserved the snickering?

And just so we are clear, I am not a victim in this situation. I am just someone who is weird, antisocial and maybe has some games up her sleeve, but nevertheless someone who doesn't want her very character being laughed at and expects fair recognition for her work. Nothing more, nothing less.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Random Thoughts of a Young WOMAN: We Find You Guys Handsome, Even When You're Not

Benedict Cumberbatch is not handsome. He's charming, charismatic, always dapper and phenominally talented, but he's not handsome. Before someone points out that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, let me clarify some things. Yes, I like looking at Benedict Cumberbatch. Yes, he qualifies for my 'dream guy' list. But if you look with closely, with only your eyes, you'll see that he doesn't fit into the narrow definition of conventional beauty. Neither does Shah Rukh Khan (That nose? Those eyebrows?) Neither do a lot of men in the entertainment industry who constantly feature on "Sexiest Men' lists. Their beauty doesn't come solely from their physical features. In a lot of cases, their facial features are irrelevant. What makes them handsome are the things that come from within. It's about how they present and carry themselves, their charismatic mannerisms, the subtle imperfections that make them who they are.

It's not the same for women. Most women who are considered beautiful by popular media (and society) are physically and facially gorgeous. For them it is about having the longest legs and the straightest nose and the fullest lips and the slimmest waist and blah blah blah. It is! Yeah, we say that Barbara Streisand is beautiful, but let's be honest, we don't mean it the way we mean it when we say Aishwarya Rai is beautiful. And have you looked at Adele? She is absolutely jaw-droppingly good-looking when you really look at her, but most of us can't get past her weight.

So jest so we're clear, no matter how many times people argue that these days men are objectified just as much as women are, it's clear that we take into condsideration personality attributes that can never really be objectified into consideration. It's different with women. People look only at the packaging when judging a woman for her beauty. I concede to the fact that it's getting better with time, but it's a slow change. I agree that not everything is sexism, and this is just a result of ages and ages of mental conditioning, but let's start looking for magnetic charisma when compiling the next completely unnecessary beauty list, shall we?

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Some Foreign Movies Worth Watching

I have always loved movies. It's unfortunate that I have no talent that will enable me to participate in any aspect of the making of the film. I can't act, sing, direct, write or photograph. Nothing. But my appreciation for movies has grown over the years. For most people, movies are just entertainment, and many movies are even a lowbrow form of that. It's not like that for me. Most people who know me make comments about my knowledge, ranging from an awe struck "how do you know so much?" to a critical "she's such a know-it-all". Most of my knowledge comes from watching movies. I have the uncanny ability to cut through all the fillers in a movie and reach the messages, the information, the very heart. I have already spoken about movies that I believe were much better than they were given credit for, and now it's time to speak about some films that I believe need to be watched, but aren't because of the language barrier. I'm talking about foreign films.

Here are some movies I have seen over the years, and I enjoyed every minute of them even though I had no idea what the characters were saying.

1. Hotell

This is a Swedish film about a young, beautiful, privileged woman, Erika, whose expectations of a perfect future are shaken when her son is injured during childbirth, leading to permanent brain damage. It's a future she simply cannot accept, which keeps her from so much as holding her newborn son as her more practical husband begins to cope with his new situation. She joins a support group for people dealing with trauma and is more of a silent participant till one of the members suggests wanting to be someone else for a change. When the group coordinator takes some time off, five individuals from the group decide to spend some time in a hotel, acting out personalities that they would want to be in real life, if only life were so kind to them. There's Anne-Sofi, who has been unpopular and shy and abused her whole life, and wants nothing more than to be someone whose coworkers like her and ask her about her daily life. There's Rikars, a man with serious mommy issues and a fascination with Mayan torture techniques. There's Oskar, whose curse in life is that it's been too perfect for him so far, too stable, too devoid of drama. And then there's Pernilla, a woman who has reached middle age without ever getting married or being in a sucessful relationship, and believes that having someone to share physical relationships with would be therapeutic to her.

Together, the five of them spend a week in different hotels, getting booted out from each one due to various reasons. Yes, the supporting characters are fascinating, but the film belongs to Erika, played masterfully by recent Oscar winner Alicia Vikander (whose performance here surpasses that in The Dansih Girl). Even though she is consistently judged as self-centred and privileged in the movie, you understand how shaken up she is now that her life has changed forever. You sympathise with her, not once being able to judge her for her money and success, instead feeling her anger with her, even when she refuses to touch her own child.

Hotell left me wanting more. I was literally gripped throughout, which is more than I can say for a lot of Oscar nominated films, even the Oscar nominated foreign films that tend to be really good. It never compromises with entertainment and never ventures into the dreary 'art film' category (we all know how that works out, huh?). But here's my biggest compliment- no matter what language you speak, you can go to watch Hotell and actually enjoy it, without having to pretend later that you've enjoyed it because you want to show everyone that you get foreign films.

2. Monsieur Lazhar

This movie wasn't really underrated, and it was nominated for an Oscar in the Foreign Film category. Also, it's not the first title that comes to mind when you think of entertainment. But Monsieur Lazhar is one of my favorite movies about teachers, and that is after some stiff competition from Mona Lisa Smile and Dead Poets Society (which were both the same things with the genders reversed, right?). It's about an Algerian teacher who comes to a French Canadian school to replace a teacher who committed suicide in her own classroom. As the children deal with the grief of losing someone they looked up to, the teacher's own losses are slowly revealed.

I think this is one of those movies that is worth watching just for it's last scene, such as Roman Holiday. The last scene makes us question if the recent paranoia regarding inappropriate relationships between teachers and students completely destroyed our ability to see the innocent, pure closeness between mentor and pupil. Perhaps an embrace isn't something disgustingly inappropriate, but a show of affection of like-minded people.

3. Children of Heaven

This Iranian gem of a film is one of my favorite films of all time. One of the problems with our perception of West Asian countries (or any developing country for that matter) is that we see them only through the eyes of relatively wealthy, English-speaking societies. We see them as backdrops, sometimes even as props, and never do we get a chance to experience these countries as people who live in them.

Children of Heaven is one of those movies that you can't not like. You just can't. There is forced simplicity, something that writers and directors employ to lend a stylistic atmosphere to their films. And then there's purity, there's innocence. There's the ability to look at the world through a child's eyes. It's not easy. Most children ion film are precocious creatures cast only to speak some funny lines or act cute or tug at heartstrings in moments when the adults become too rough to look at. But Children of Heaven goes beyond these tropes and explores something only a child can experience- the struggle of a brother-sister duo sharing one pair of shoes. Through this story, we are taken through the streets of Iran, witnessing the life of ordinary men and women that no Hollywood film could have helped us do.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

What's Wrong With Beauty Today

Recently I came across TCCandler's annual Most Beautiful Faces list, which ranks 100 women in order of beauty. A lot of such lists are published every year, but this particular list is different because it's produced by an independent critic who is not the editor of some magazine or lifestyle dictator, but just a blogger, and it has been followed by over 30 million people worldwide till date. That's the kind of popularity a list of beautiful women can have.

One must watch the list unfold in the following video in order to understand what follows:

I became acquainted with the list a few years ago, when Indian faces appeared on it for the first time and the news was reported in a local tabloid. Upon checking previous years' lists, it became clear that the list has come a long way since it's inception.

I'll start with some of it's merits:

1. Women of different ethnicities are featured on the list.
2. We get acquainted with a lot of lesser known names.

 Good for you, TCCandler.

But now let me come to the negatives, and frankly there are quite a lot of them.

I read this year's list and the first thing that came to my mind was, 'Why the hell isn't Amal Clooney on the list?' She's gorgeous! Doesn't anyone notice?

Well, of course they notice. I mean, look at her!
Amal Alamuddin Clooney
But she wasn't on the list. In fact, I think it's safe to say that more than 90% of the women on the list are related to the entertainment industry. So are you trying to say that only actresses and models and pop stars can be conventionally good looking?

Unfortunately, that's what a lot of these 'Most Beautiful' lists say, albeit they probably don't say it because they're intentions are bad. It's because the world has always associated beauty with popularity, both visual and social, and a powerful human rights lawyer like Mrs. Clooney, in spite of a successful career and a trophy husband, doesn't have the same popularity as Emma Watson, who is merely the face of the HeForShe Feminism campaign. In our world, beauty is associated with expression, softness, smiles, romanticism, dreams, feminity- all admirable things, of course. But in spite of us constantly trying to change the way we look at women and beauty, the general public hasn't so far been able to truly associate the words 'successful career' and 'independent' and 'strong' and 'intelligent' with conventional beauty. Not that their beauty isn't appreciated. It doesn't take long for someone to use the phrase 'beauty with brains'  But a woman like Chigmamanda Ngozi Adichi, who in my humble opinion is one of the best writers in the world today and responsible for giving the world a the literary world some of the most internationally-appreciated yet honest accounts of African as well as African-American life, doesn't get featured on any lists, while an actress like Lupita Nyong'o is a list and fashion house darling.

Chigmamanda Ngozi Adichi
Lupita Nyong'o
The only way I can explain this is by stating that these lists aren't exactly lists of women with beautiful faces, they're glamour lists. Sure, I don't think beauty can be rated and the whole point of a list is beyond my understanding. But human beings tend to classify things as good, better, best and this is just one manifestation of that tendency. However, these lists tend to confuse glamour with beauty, and that simply isn't fair.

Now, I have heard a lot of guys my age complaining about how the girls at our college aren't good-looking enough. I've heard them fantasize about actresses and models as if they're angels beyond the league of common young women seeking an education. That is simply not true.

I am going to use my own pictures, as I don't want to make any comments on anybody else's looks. Here's what I look like:

The pictures above aren't edited and I am wearing no makeup in them, although I admit I chose the most flattering pictures. Now, I get that I am not a very beautiful woman on any standards, but I'm not going to be fake-modest and say that I don't consider myself good-looking at all, because I look in the mirror and most of the time see something I'm okay with. So pardon me if I'm a little offended when boys my age who are honestly not very good-looking complain how we can never be as beautiful as Deepika Padukone. I don't deserve to constantly pale out as compared to someone who has devoted their life to glamour, which is what a lot of men do. I don't deserve to be rated as run-of-the-mill when people talk about models like they're God's gift to humanity. I believe that the male perception of beauty has become so caught up with glamour over the past few decades that they can't process information. They can't see a student who is beautiful for a student, a lawyer who is beautiful for a lawyer, a doctor who is beautiful for a doctor. They don't see any beauty at all except for that presented by women in the glamour industry. That needs to change.

I hope in future years, the list will include women from all lines of work, as beauty has nothing to do with profession. It's an accidental gift from God and it can be given to anybody.

The second thing I did not like about the list is that all the women are thin. Let's not call them slender or fit or any other word because those are all variations of thin. In real life, women of many different sizes and shapes are considered beautiful. the prettiest girl in the neighbourhood may not be the thinnest or have the longest legs. The hottest senior at school may not have curves to die for. It happens all the time in real life.

The media's portrayal of beauty is different. It's not normal, it's aspirational. I am not saying that all women in entertainment seeks assistance of extreme measures to look the way they do, but most of the time it is easy for a woman like me (who believes in working out and maintaining a healthy lifestyle) to spot that most of these women have strict lifestyles and a whole lot of makeup to make them look the way they do. I mean, have you ever seen a birth mark on a celebrity? Or even stretch marks, which aren't always related to being overweight but also to growing too fast in height during puberty. Since this was clearly not just a list of women with beautiful faces, let's include a few different body types next time. I'm not asking you to go way beyond the established conventions of beauty. As an architect I do believe in standards. But I think most people would agree that the women on the list all have very, very similar body types, and that's a misrepresentation of what's found beautiful in the real world.

TCCAndler's list has come a long way when it comes to showing diversity because it doesn't just focus on white, Hollywood female celebrities, which is a lot to say for a list on something as superficial as physical beauty. But there still quite a long way to go. I hope all these list-makers and magazines understand that.