Of Cabbages and Kings

May 2, 2010

Drinks on my balcony

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chinmayi @ 2:46 am

Five colleagues: One legendary, one brilliant, one rich. one sweet and one well…me. Old friends and new ones. Old ambitions and new ones.

Free flowing alcohol. Momos. Kebabs. Yellow light. Evening breeze. Talk of dinners in Park Street and of omelettes cooked in lamp-lit hostel rooms a decade ago.

🙂

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April 24, 2010

Frenemies

Filed under: Random musing — Tags: , , , , — Chinmayi @ 5:36 am

is a disgusting pop-culture term. Sadly, it is also an appropriate one. The truth is that women don’t seem to know how to be friends with eachother without some sort of undercurrent of hostility and competitiveness. It is a phenomenon that I have always found disturbing.

It used to make me wonder why, when we already have so much to deal with in the male-dominated world, we are each others’ worst enemies. And then I found an explanation somewhere (and I am unable to locate that somewhere right now, so I’m afraid there will be a referencing problem).

Women are brought up to hate themselves and their own kind. It is a manifestation of our self-loathing that we inflict harm on our own kind.  The harm varies with the degree of self-loathing and the sphere in which a woman operates. But that’s where it all comes from: the brutalising of daughters-in-law, the picking on the pretty intern, the stealing of other women’s partners and sabotaging of their relationships, the disproportionate aggression with female domestic help,  the fake smugness that women love to project at eachother, the hurry to pass judgment on other women, the eagerness to bring them down…all of it.

So the next time you smile to yourself smugly because another women’s marriage broke down, or because you elbowed the only other woman in the office out of a meeting, odds are the you are smiling like a wrist-slasher at something that you did to hurt yourself.

And this is why all feminists are so passionate about the sisterhood. It isn’t just about being supportive of other women, or of combating boys-clubs..it is about standing up for ourselves, and learning to respect, support and care for ourselves. Because all these women – the friends, the daughters, daughters-in-law, bosses, employees, bus-conductors, saleswomen, stewardesses..they are all a part of who we are.

April 21, 2010

Gigi

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chinmayi @ 3:52 pm

I’ve been reading old European fiction again. The trouble with doing this sort of thing (and I do this a lot) is that one’s imagination is populated almost entirely with people from different lands and different times.

You live in a place where the sun burns holes in your feet and dream of silk stockings. You learn that you are supposed to help the elderly, but you have to pass them sleeping on the street everyday and look on helplessly.

Going to Europe was like a homecoming. Things are somehow right there. You don’t raise your voice. Men tell you that you are beautiful if they think so and it doesn’t mean that they are being creepy. There are flowers growing everywhere. Everybody seems to love wine, music and dark chocolate. There is poetry plastered all over trains and a musician in every corner.

Aggression and pushiness are frowned upon. And people are direct but very pleasantly so. There’s no syrupy exaggeration or stupid wide-eyed naivete. Just a down-to-earth practicality. Everybody reads at least a little. The television is much too expensive to be a national pass-time.

I know that it must take young countries many years to catch up with ancient undisturbed civilisations. And that some amount of shouting and elbowing must happen before we settle down. But I do miss the peace and quiet sometimes.

April 14, 2010

Cavafy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chinmayi @ 6:44 pm

You tell yourself: I’ll be gone
To some other land, some other sea,
to a city lovelier far than this
Could ever have been or hoped to be—
Where every step now tightens the noose:
A heart in a body buried and out of use;
How long, how long must I be here
Confined among these dreary purlieus
Of the common mind? Wherever now I look
Black ruins of my life rise into view.
So many years have I been here
Spending and squandering and nothing gained.

Aside from being shatteringly beautiful, this verse brought home to me exactly how much is lost in translation. Lawrence Durrell was responsible for this particular formulation. If you see the other versions here, they will make you want to weep for their frustrating inability to capture its elusive beauty.

April 11, 2010

Atonement

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chinmayi @ 5:15 pm

The film was moving and disturbing. Told from the perspective of a little girl who kept walking into other people’s secrets, as I used to.

She tried hard to understand the adult world, and got it all wrong, like I did. And she made a terrible terrible mistake, like I very nearly did. Her whole life was atonement for that mistake. And her book, an attempt to make the past whole again.

I simply must have the book. It can only be better than the film. The idea smells like one that must have been difficult to translate into film. Fleeting passion, understated class issues, morality, legal loopholes, shades of grey, a poetic subtext.

Yes, I simply must have it.

April 6, 2010

The Enchantress and the Author

Filed under: books, Random musing — Tags: , , , — Chinmayi @ 5:34 pm

I am working my way through Enchantress of Florence (finally). It is a great example of the magic of Rushdie’s writing. But there isn’t a single character there that I can identify with.

Rushdie’s is an unambiguously, exclusively male voice. As the magic, the flow and the erudition of the tale each gather me into the book, I still find that I cannot step into it fully. Every man has a woman. Every man wants a woman. Except the eunuch/ spy of course (who presumably doesn’t count as a man in the Rushdie world). What does a woman want? Do women exist other than to entice, charm , seduce, sleep with, long for or, compete for men? Do women exist except as satellites? Not in Rushdie’s universe. Sometimes I wonder whether dear Mr. Rushdie has missed a greater part of the last century. His books are sometimes like the adolescent male’s medieval paradise within literature. Modern books that never seem to move beyond the good old ways of woman= whore/ wife/ mother syndrome.

There are attempts at redemption here and there (the high-spirited Jodha as the King’s ideal wife is declared to be quite different from a boy’s fantasy of big breasts and small brains), but it is ineffective. The image that sticks in my mind as being quite appropriate as a description of the women of the Rudhdie universe is of Akbar and Mogor Amore moving through the harem, with all the women wafting past them like satellites around stars.

March 28, 2010

Filed under: Random musing — Tags: — Chinmayi @ 6:27 pm

Somewhere in the middle of a ridiculously regressive show that I watch sometimes, a newly married woman wakes up before her husband. She peeks at him and quickly whips out her make-up to fix her face before she wakes him. A happy marriage on American television.

I can understand wanting to look pretty for one’s partner, but makeup at all times??? What happens when you grow old together? Grey hair, wrinkles, sagging breasts, enormous bottoms, stretch-marks, bent backs, chin-hair and a hundred other signs of age will creep up. Does that make you not beautiful any more? Would it be unsurprising if the guy wants to ditch the weathered piece of a once ‘hot’ wife for a fresh young thing?

I know it sounds perfectly awful when I put it that way, but it does seem like the logical conclusion. I don’t understand how anybody hopes to avoid body-hair, morning breath, flatulence, fluctuating weight, and bad hair and skin days in a marriage. There will be illnesses – throwing up and worse – that the delicate man with delicate tastes will have to see you through. Bare lips are surely miniscule in comparison to everything else that comes.

And while we’re on the subject of women wanting…no, needing to look perfect all the time, why is it that the same women also feel obliged to be very kind about the way their partners look? What kind of idiot gets waxed, plucked, scrubbed, cleaned, toned, moisturised, bejeweled, beheeled, painted and sometimes even zapped with a laser for a fat smelly badly dressed twit? I mean, in the good old days, men were expected to ‘provide’ and women were expected to look pretty enough for a rich man to own. Now, the women still need to look the pretty trophies and the men…well I still don’t understand what their function is supposed to be.

The ugly old bum sitting on his couch and living off his mother still feels entitled to a beautiful woman. Except post-women’s lib, he feels free to tell her to earn and pay for her own make-up.

March 14, 2010

These past few months

Filed under: Personal, Random musing — Chinmayi @ 6:04 am

I have a new job in a new city. New books have been read, new genres are being approached, and for the first time since high school, I am at an institution in India which actually challenges and stretches me.

A bipartisan effort has been made to bully a women’s reservation bill past the lines of sulking men in the Rajya Sabha. Although I have no idea at all about what impact the legislation will have on women in this country, I am so very proud of the female politicians who got together, across party lines, to see it though. Hats off to the sisterhood!

After mourning a lost relationship and its attendant lost dreams, I have found my way again. This time it really is MY way. I am doing work I enjoy in a place I enjoy among people I enjoy. I don’t feel derailed anymore.

One person I love is much happier than I thought and one person I love is much unhappier than I thought. The former I celebrate, and the latter I shall try and fix.

All in all, despite all the killings, banning of mosques, suicides and global warming, the world looks and feels like a better place.

Jeanette Winterson: I wanted to use myself as fiction and fact

Wonderful article in classic Winterson-style.

Excerpt:

When I published Oranges I was 25. Mrs Winterson said bitterly: “It’s the first time I have had to order a book in a false name.” So I knew I had won the story war between us, even though the name that I am known by, Jeanette Winterson, is itself a cover story for the other person, named but not known, the other self who was put in the crib by one mother and lifted out again, in a new version, by another mother.

What else could I be but a fiction writer?

Read the rest at the Times website.

October 16, 2009

Death of a watchman

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chinmayi @ 8:41 pm

It has long been the great Indian tradition to break rules. The more flagrant the violation, the greater one’s consequence. Queue jumping, commandeering of regulated items like LPG (or ‘cooking gas’ as we called it when we were seven), refusing to be frisked at airports, illegal pollution and cutting down of trees…you name it and people fall over eachother to do it.

Several proud upholders of this tradition live on the same quiet tree-lined street as my mother. In keeping with its spirit, their children are happy to regale the neighbourhood with their startlingly loud firecrackers late into the night. They have been at it for almost a week.

Among their rather impressive range of loud nerve-wracking sounds are the ‘atom bombs’ that I particularly loathed as a child (they make all the windows in the vicinity vibrate), which I am informed are banned these days. But India being the way it is,  prohibition make the celebrations particularly enjoyable.

My mother and I are almost accustomed to jumping out of our skin every now and then, and we take care to sit on well cushioned surfaces to ensure that our landings are comfortable. I imagine that the rest of the neighbourhood has also decided to grin and bear it. And so we went on.

This morning, the elderly gentleman who is the building’s security system, gardener and odd-job man rolled into one, returned from his long visit to his village. This evening, after completing his chores and locking the building gate, he dropped dead.

I was told that he has had a hole in his heart for years. Perfectly healthy people complain of minor palpitations after each rude blast from the neighbourhood brats’ illegal bombs. I can only imagine what effect the sudden explosions may have had on a man with a heart problem.

As his heart started to seize and flicker, his teenage daughters ran out on to the road to see whether they could get him to a hospital on time.  There is an excellent hospital 2 minutes away, but fate and the Indian disregard for rules intervened. Another neighbour bent on upholding the great Indian tradition had constructed a gate on the road to the hospital, and locked it up for the night. So the car rushing the dying man to the hospital took a long diversion and ten unnecessary minutes to get there. He gasped his dying gasp just as they were carrying him out of the vehicle into the hospital.

Until he died, it had never occurred to me that amidst all this (illegal) racket created in quiet places during festivals, there live several indigent and powerless people that cannot handle the shock. Even if K had known that the explosions were bad for his heart, there is very little he could have done to stop the rich kids that were making all the noise. Even if his wife knew that he might need to be rushed to the hospital from time to time, she could have done very little to ensure that the gate blocking the road to the hospital was kept open. A rich man would have has the operations necessary to fix his heart. A rich man would call the neighbour and threaten to report him to the police.

And so it happens that on a day that a bunch of rich children decide to break rules and have fun, a poor man dies. A vigilant watchman, an excellent gardner and above all one of the best fathers that ever was, he will be missed. His wife was in hysterics and his young daughters were looking after her. My mother’s landlady was close to tears.

And I sit here wondering – if we followed rules…if we thought about the elderly before breaking regulations about noise, if we thought about the desperately ill before blocking the road to the hospital, if a poor man and his family were allowed a voice, would this man be alive?

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