Archive | May 2011

The Jezebel Curse

I am no misandrist. In fact some of my best friends are men, though given the content of this piece I run the risk of being pilloried. But I’ll take it on my chin.

The truth is woman have it tough.

It’s a man’s world and so it’s natural I guess for women to get the rough end, though I would not like to paint all men with the same tar brush. My dad’s a good guy and I’ve been lucky to know some really nice men, but they’re a rapidly diminishing lot. It’s the scum sucking sort that abound, and every now and then you’ll bump into a few, just to keep your short-term memory refreshed.

Living here in India we’ve been lucky. Lucky to have seen a lot of powerful women, across various fields and through generations. For a country that’s largely patriarchal, we’ve had great female role models, women who’ve been powerhouses in their own right, not merely essaying roles as the wives of famous men. Come on… we were among the first to vote a woman to the most powerful office in the country and yet the sad truth remains that we do have a dismal female to male sex ratio, one that gets skewed more and more towards producing male offspring.

So who’s responsible?

Women in India are their own worst enemies, is what an American friend told me once, quickly adding that it was the same back home. It’s an old story she said, passed on from generation to generation, perpetuating the stereotype of the man being the bread-winner and hence entitled to a larger share of everything. Yes… gender discrimination happens around the globe. And in many southern states in America and in some north eastern ones as well, a woman’s place is spent between the kitchen and the bedroom of their home, with sixteen being the minimum marriageable age for girls, and some states dropping it down further to fourteen or even thirteen, if Mamma and Papa give their consent.

It’s essentially the same everywhere.

So are women at fault for perpetuating these injustices on themselves? I have my own take on it… I feel that often when you’re pushed into a corner, like many women are, you make it your home. It’s a question of survival, coupled with ignorance and illiteracy and is what has enslaved nations, communities and peoples over centuries. Times they are a changing they say, but for many of the world’s female population it looks like time has just stood still, taking a few leaps back in certain sub-Saharan nations and in some countries in the Middle East or in places like Utah or New Hampshire and in villages in Haryana.

It’s been that way from time immemorial, going back to that sixth day and the creation of that insufferably lame first guy, who as the story goes, traded his rib for a woman, who stole an apple which he ate and enjoyed. Then, feeling slighted at her ingenuity went and ratted her out to the big boss… typical. And then they get chucked out of Eden… but he wanted out anyway… so he’s not complaining. All alone he was, Adam, in that idyllic paradise of a place, then he cops a deal and gets a woman… and the Lord says to him, “go forth and multiply”, but wanted to watch… and Adam couldn’t go forth and so it stayed platonic. But Adam was desperate, so he pouted and then feigned hunger and poor Eve desperate to please came up with some ingenious plan to keep her man happy, but it back-fired on her and got them booted out.

Now they’re out and no one’s watching so they finally do go forth and multiply and produce…what else… but sons, who eventually grow up and also have to go forth… and Hell, now I’m confused and knocking on Darwin’s door because there’s no other woman around except for their Ma… but they do end up populating the earth.

I think it’s time to retire Oedipus.

Seriously Eve… If I were you I would have made off with the serpent.

Further down the biblical track and there’s King David, who’s like the beloved of God and a peeping tom… or so it reads on his rap sheet.  So this one time he looks across the wall and sees Bathsheba, his neighbour Uriah’s wife bathing in the garden… The minx! And he got a rise out of it. But Shoot! She’s married! I suppose David was honorable in some weird way or maybe she just gave him the bird and told him to vamoose. Whatever it was, the fact was that she and he weren’t going to happen, at least not while Uriah was around. So David sent him off to be killed, coveted her… whether with or without her consent hasn’t been chronicled, and then danced his way naked, right into God’s forgiveness, while everyone wagged their finger at that shameless and clueless Bathsheba.

So I wander closer home, with all our Sati’s and Savitri’s bending back and forth as per the whims of their mighty lords to whom they’re tied for seven lifetimes, when one is often just too much and think about poor innocent Sita abducted by that wily villain who had a beef with her husband, but was otherwise quite the gentleman and didn’t mess with her. So yeah she gets rescued… and I’m thinking why rescue the girl if you’re going to doubt her chastity and make her walk through fire, especially when you know what they say about lie-detectors. So yeah she almost gets tossed out of the window… well, metaphorically speaking and gets saved by a Copperfield stunt and no one thinks about asking her husband to take a test. Oh no! Even the thought would be sacrilege… after all it’s never about the dude…

So much for the olden days.

Then we leap-frog into the 21st century and see that nothing’s changed and women are still commodities, objects to be traded and trafficked in or just used and thrown away, unless of course you have a strong and ‘open-minded’ man around you or unless you’ve been labeled feminist, with its accompanying disdain. Yes, we’re in the 21st century, surrounded by the Kobe Bryants and Tiger Woods’ of the world and Schwarzenegger sleeps with the help and everyone looks shocked except for Shiney Ahuja and his wife who jumps up yelling… “Didn’t I say the maid did it?”

So people gasp and ask… “How could that ungrateful wretch do it to poor Maria?” The wretch in question being the maid, according to everyone… except Jane Seymour. Poor Maria, who comes from a family where infidelity should be inscribed on the family crest on her maternal side of the family, and Arnie and Mildred, both immigrants, desperate to be accepted, bad accents notwithstanding… knowing they’ll always be on the outside. I’ll bet it was tough for the big man living with the ghosts of all those Kennedy’s roaming around with nothing of his own to write home about, no great legacy except for corny lines in a few over-rated movies. No Monroe’s, no Mary Jane Kopechne’s of his own, just some two bit starlets and the odd hooker or two… nothing to get him a notch in that belt… so a little rumble in the sheets while the missus was away and now at least he has a son to show for it. Hold that belt up high Arnie…

Meanwhile Maria’s contemplating divorce and Mildred’s in hiding, hoping that the hoopla dies down soon… so she can have a moment to think and decide who to sell her story to… Aah… She may as well. Now that she’s out on her fanny and has an extra mouth to feed… and he won’t be back.

Seriously…if boys will be boys, I think it’s time girls took charge as well. And while I’m no admirer of infidelity and believe that a woman who has sex with a married man should be held morally accountable. More often than not, they get all the flak, while the man who has not merely a moral but also a legal responsibility to stay honest to his spouse gets away with nothing but a slap on the wrist.

So good on you Mildred! Squeeze it for all its worth.

And Maria… here’s hoping you get the best divorce attorney his money will buy.

There’s no going gently girls… It’s time to bury the Jezebel curse.


Angels and Demons

Charlie’s Angels are in the sub-continent. At least two of them are. While Hill with all her experience and love of things Pakistani gets dispatched to soothe that favoured friend and ally, Jan gets sent to India.

Charlie’s sent the girls to do what they do best after his boys went in and wrecked the place… They’ve come, pacifiers in hand. The boy wonder with his recently rediscovered Gaelic roots, (and no that’s not what you put in a Neapolitan… That’s garlic… chopped fine or coarse, depending on how you like it, into that nice thick tomato sauce that goes onto the base) … has picked up a lesson or two from his friend Muammar, sitting in his tent many miles away. Or was it Michelle’s idea? Well whatever it was, you’ve done the right thing this time Barack. Chicks kick a%$@

So Hillary’s in Pakistan, enjoying the warm weather and the toothy lascivious grin of her friend Asif who wonders why all the women he fancies look equine. That’s what you get for 10% m’boy. Anyway Hillary’s a Pakistani girl at heart, part of the fold, winning their hearts when she overlooked her man’s foibles in the tradition of ‘boys will be boys’, a given in that part of the sub-continent. So Hill’s across the border pacifying a nation wronged, soothing troubled waters, handing out a few gifts and holding a press conference where she leans into the microphone, and says that there’s absolutely no evidence that anyone at the highest level of the Pakistani Government knew where bin Laden was…

Duh!!! I want to say…

Faintly reminiscent of one white haired man looking squarely into the camera and stating, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”.

Oh… By the way, what… which Pakistani government are you referring to Hill? Those toy boys in their fancy western suits, with their coiffed hair and wide grins or the real rulers, you know… the ones in crisp army fatigues and berets, standing alongside their long-bearded and turbaned friends, gleaming M16s standing side by side dusty Kalashnikovs? Those guys who had a military training facility bang opposite OBLs residence? I’m a little lost here.

That Pakistani democracy is an oxymoron is evident. The country sits perennially on a powder-keg waiting to explode. I empathize. I know it’s tough leading a nation whose only asset is its geographic position in the sub-continent, one that America uses to its advantage to keep the other nations in the region in check. It’s tough for those who claim to be in power in that country – Juggling the army, the ISI and all those religious heads, while trying to hold on to their own is no mean task. But now everyone’s pissed, the Army’s mad at having their b%$#@ chopped off, and the Taliban is pissed as are the clerics who hold the pulse of the common man. Pissed at their soil being defiled to take out a brother, pissed at being humiliated and pissed that India gets to wag her finger and say that hated line… “We told you so”.

I empathize.

So Hillary goes to calm the enraged beast.

India meanwhile gets Janet Napolitano, US Secretary of Homeland Security and not the pizza… that’s Neapolitan, with that nice garlicky tomato base I mentioned earlier… thin crust please! This one reminds me of Mayawati lost in a Texan fairground… re-homed and groomed. So Janet’s here in India to read out some lines from a script, lays a wreath at some memorial and promise something that isn’t hers to give anyway… a crack at that offspring of a failed Pakistani-American union going by the name of David Headley. Meanwhile the Indian Home Minister spews some of that rhetoric about Pakistan and terrorism that that we’ve all got accustomed to, and which we know he’ll do nothing about… in the futile hope that maybe Janet digs guys in veshti’s and will give him her ear.

Duh!!! I say again…


Eulogy on the Death of the 25 Paise Coin

Another one goes into the annals of history. Re-born in 1968, a modification of its earlier avatar, the 25 paise coin is finally being euthanized, this time for good and I’m running for cover. At a year older, I feel ancient and vulnerable. Is it time to go gently into that good night, I ask. My contemporaries, materialistic and greying, are too wrapped up in their iPads and MacBooks to sing a dirge or even spare a thought for that little round bit of alloy that kept us fed during the short recess in school, back in the 70’s. I know my memory is a bit hazy so I can’t really recall how much a samosa cost way back then, but I’m sure it was around 25p or less. At 25p for those crunchy delicious triangles filled with veggies from the Saint Joseph’s Convent ICSE canteen, they were the most popular of all the snacks on the menu, and then our school amalgamated with its SSC sister and someone killed the cook and those samosa’s never tasted quite the same again. But there was still plenty that 25p could get you.

But I grew rapidly and moved out of the world of 25 and 50 paise coins, going to college where legal tender was in the form of coupons because someone somewhere was hoarding coins and when we emerged out of that fiasco into the world, it was changing. Liberalization was the new watchword. India was getting into the big league, where foreign exchange didn’t really need to be regulated anymore and had to be ‘maintained’ and the Reserve Bank of India changed its outlook from the dismal khaki to an American green and TRIPS didn’t mean that you fell, though it did lead to entanglements.

The 25p meanwhile survived her poorer cousins, even after inflation kicked in again and again… battering the poor and middle classes, though of course we ought not to complain when we are doing fairly well for a ‘developing nation’. Take a look at Eritrea and the Democratic Republic of Congo… Besides who says we’re not in the midst of perennial civil strife….ever watched a session of Parliament?

That India is a land of milk and honey is what the school books had us believe when we were kids… a socialist ideology borrowed I presume from our closest allies at the time. And we were young and impressionable and relatively privileged, so we sucked it all up. Deprivation seemed far away to me when I was little, something that existed in another world, in another continent far away, with those “little brown babies in Africa” and a dowdy Ingrid Bergman out to save them. But reality would dawn, albeit briefly, on cab rides into town to visit my aunt and cousins or to go to the movies. Trips that took me outside the little borough that Bandra was in those days, with its beautifully empty streets and quaint little houses, and sometimes gave the curious me a chance to look out, at kids playing at street corners… running eagerly to cab windows that we hastily raised, their fingers full of grime and their noses running. But even those sightings were few and far between and forgotten as the cab turned the corner and it would be another five years or so before I realized that during that passage of time the land around me had turned arid, the milk had curdled and the honey adulterated. Life wasn’t as pretty as the school books said it was.

And still the 25p coin lived on, through those turbulent times of change, providing something and earning its keep. Why even today in many little Indian villages and towns you may still get something for 25p… and you can get a meal for 10 rupees or less in many places, though the bus ride to and from may cost you more.

Which brings me to the unfortunate truth, that we’re all redundant… something that we know, but omnipotence is so darn tempting, we tend to wander off into little flights of fancy. There comes a time for all of us to depart and leave we must, whether it’s a bad review report that costs us our job, or chasing a chambermaid flabby body on display that gets us the boot, or whether its simply death, which in its inimitable style often creeps up without warning, showing us the way out… We’ve all got to go. But for those who’ve served us well, a farewell seems in order, a little dignity, a few goodbyes, some kind thoughts and words and a solemn burial.


Ashes to Ashes and the Mysteries of Modern Math

So a certain young politician has been making tall claims. Pythagoras would have been bewildered. And if Pythagoras is bewildered who am I. I sucked at Maths. Barely scraped through every time by the grace of my heavenly and earthly fathers.

I am really confused. Maths is essentially about conjecture and explaining the truth or falsity of it through deduction by mathematical proof. So how do you produce seventy-four out of thin air, state it as a fact with absolute certainty and then make it vanish? Dust thou art and unto dust thou shall return. Perhaps someone’s been good and gone to church.

But then again perhaps it was all a mirage. U.P. can get beastly in summer and for a young half-white boy walking the plains without his podiatrist, chiropractor and manicurist in tow, it can be tough. Parched and eager, the desire to please mummy foremost in his mind. Or perhaps as some lesser known courtier called Dwivedi said, it was all a mistake. It’s the damn media that never gets it right. This Dwivedi must be a closet bible thumper, conjuring up that eternal good versus evil tale of David and Goliath, right in the heart of U.P. Are you free Vishal? I hear Dolly Bindra’s eager to be cast… she’s getting a haircut.

I wonder why people lie. Is it something inherent in human kind or is it the fallout of ‘Politicitis’ -that convenient ailment that lists among its symptoms – lapses of memory and sudden chest pains. Or is it merely a question of keeping up with the Joneses, you know, the “if BO can make tall claims, so can I… and I have antecedents to back me up, besides the authenticity of my birth certificate is also in doubt… so BO can go suck his nicotine lollipop” syndrome. The unfortunate part for the young politician is that most of us Indians are an extremely politically savvy lot.

So here’s my advice, unsolicited of course to the boy with the tall claims. You are not your granny. She had balls that one, everyone else’s… squeezed hard. She could emasculate a nation, and those that managed to get away – her heir apparent sterilized. Besides those were the days of true autocracy and we’ve come a long way since then. So I think you could go back to school, take a Maths class and one on politics, and no cheating this time. And perhaps the next time you conjure up ash, with or without those seventy-four bodies in it, you can call it vibhuti… it’s a more marketable name and we’re suckers for God-men.

Of Poribartan and Bartans

So the chicks have won. Hawaii chappals are being sold at discounted prices. It’s the new “it” thing. Move over Blahnik.

Okay so I’m kidding, but seriously the chappal shod, terribly draped sari wearing fish-wife has stormed all over the hammer and sickle, wielding nothing but her rhetorical scythe which after years of tempering finally came good as it systematically mowed down her opponents to size…and tiny little bite size pieces at that. Oh she’s got a ubiquitous style that one, all pervading and ever ready to burst forth into a rant at something that’s got her goat… oops I mean hilsa…down to the last bone.

India is a land of mysticism and mystery, with a wonderfully rich heritage of kings and kingdoms. We feel safe with them, we like being ruled, having someone to look up to. So we’ve embraced the tradition of political families in much the same vein…from the Gandhi’s to the Karunanidhi’s to the Yadavs…you name it and each state has its own share of ‘khandaani’ politicians. In this milieu therefore it’s no small wonder that these women, with no familial political antecedents have come good, beating down bastions in some cases and reclaiming their thrones in others, while going by the familiar monikers of ‘didi’ (sister), ‘behenji’ (sister…again) and amma (mother)…but they’ve done it and didi has won my affection in the bargain, despite my deep resentment for her generally unkempt look. After all she didn’t send goons to convince the populace to donate to her poll effort. She took a brush to it, quite literally, painting and selling her artworks, and earning her party 50 lakhs. If an elephant could do it so could she…and sorry but I’m not referring to behenji here. So the diminutive didi did it fair and she did it good but now we’ve got to go far from the mongering crowd of 24 Parganas and Jadavpur, from the land of ‘poribartan’ and didi who once crooked a snook at industry and now has her quizmaster playing ‘Getafix’, urging her erstwhile targets back home, the ghosts of Singur desperately being exorcised by offerings of god-knows-what. But ‘poribartan’ it needs to be if West Bengal is to rise again, if change has to be wrought. I only hope it’s not done at the expense of the rail ministry. Methinks a cabinet reshuffle should be in order, just to keep things clean…Ah well…as clean as it can be.

But we shall move on, side-stepping the elephantine land of our other ‘behenji’ as we head south, to the land of the caped wonder and the mother of us all… Amma, super-mum, who rises phoenix like from the ashes, expensive Kanjeevarams cloaked by an that all encapsulating burqa like cape, aided by her all-consuming and burning desire to be one-up on her deceased mentor and the greedy foibles of her nearest opponents in power and a zillion Tams willing to immolate themselves at the drop of her… oh, never mind.

My mom’s maid is Tamilian, and she’s on leave. It’s a periodic thing you see apart from the shorter stints she takes to meet family and friends every year. This one’s her standard election holiday. Conscientious I thought at first, we fatted and decadent city dwellers would do well to imbibe some of that passion I thought again and then I learned that it isn’t her sense of duty that drives her to her home town to vote every election year. Or rather it is… albeit a misplaced sense, the duty to claim her share of the booty being doled out. So while the Election Commission plays blind-man’s buff in the region, after all, as they say…  you can’t really stop the people from expressing their love to our great political icons now can you? And then their cup naturally runneth over with such ardent outpourings that they would be deemed selfish if they didn’t spread some of that love around. Robin Hood take a hike…you’ve come into the wrong part of the woods.

So my mum’s maid is rich, she made a killing the last time around, with each political party trying to better the other. Forget the bartans (utensils), mixer-grinders and television sets being doled out like confetti. You get hard cash and in case you have a young daughter of marriageable age, a couple of tolas of gold as well. In fact the maid’s son just got a job in Mumbai, and she was relieved, so she wasn’t sure he’d be coming along… after all his boss refused to let him go, but then it would take him 10 months to earn at his job what he could make during that one week back home…so the job be damned. After all isn’t corruption called “bhrashtachar” in Hindi, which when broken down into its itty components is ‘bhrasht’ = debase, morally corrupt and ‘achar’ = pickle… a tasty condiment meant to spice up otherwise bland fare… Kinda fitting isn’t it.

So my mum’s waiting for her maid to return and expects a demand for a hike in salary, as befits her nouveau riche status. We are meanwhile contemplating a move to a cave in the hills somewhere far far away, where we’ll grow our veggies on a tiny strip of land that we’ll buy in some benami deal, away from free bartans and cries for poribartan, get a mule to take us to town to sell our produce after all with the petrol price going up, even the Nano refuses to start in silent comradeship and then we’ll do our own dishes, just in case the maid expects a Vaio in her Christmas bonus… Hai Amma.

Obfuscating Osama

Dear Barack,

You came, said “we” could and ostensibly did it all on your own, handing out little pills of hot air as take home gifts after the partying was done. Take two and make sure you swallow, it said in big bold letters on the box.

Everyone loves presents Barack and in our excitement we ignored the writing. We didn’t swallow… and we didn’t just stop there, we actually chewed the darn thing… slowly… masticating then ruminating… which was an absolute no-no according to the fine print.

I’m lazy, I never read the fine print on anything… but then a friend sent me a message a while back and so i kinda glanced at it. Oops…. so according to the box I am liable to be branded a traitor to world peace, no friend of America’s and a threat to humanity if I disregard the instructions on the box. Or at the very least and only if I’m American, Christian and have lost a child in combat will I be clubbed with Cindy Sheehan who most patriots think went coo-coo after she lost her son in Iraq. So she falls into that category of the unfortunate that you leave alone to yammer on with their “theories”, casting an indulgent look at the poor ‘biddy’ every now and then just in case she proves to be a real threat and gets recruited by Assange.

So I shall go on at the risk of never getting a US visa or being labeled a security threat by America because hey! guess what, I have a mind of my own and I’m not buying your word. So you and yours can label me a ‘conspiracy theorist’ or whatever you will and we can trade names.

Anyway here’s my message Barack. I want proof. Proof that Osama existed in that compound. Proof that you killed him and not some poor schmuck you dressed up to resemble him. Not some hollow crap like your predecessor in office dished out when he invaded Iraq to find weapons of mass destruction that weren’t there… then stood by as the puppet administration you put in place strung up Saddam in Klan style for the world to see. But hey America didn’t do that. It was the indignant Iraqi’s who hung him, you’ll argue… Yes, we agree… but we sneaked a peek behind the curtain and saw the puppet masters  at work pulling the strings.

Who made America the class bully? Is that the message you are trying to send to your little girls Barack… that it’s okay, no, in fact it’s your holy Christian right to invade other countries if we perceive them as our enemies. I doubt Jesus would approve Barack and you have just made the world an even more dangerous and hateful place to live in.

But on another note, I do believe that Pakistan has played haven to terrorists as have a host of countries, including your other friends – the Saudis. So I don’t particularly care if you decimate Pakistan and I would be glad if indeed you have got rid of Osama. What I do have a problem with is your methods and the disparity with which you operate… one set of rules for you and another for the world. So while you play Rambo, the rest of the world cannot?

You funded Pakistan Barack just as your predecessors have funded dictators and governments who then remain pawns in their hands to do with as you please. Pakistan cannot complain, though you and I both know that it won’t be long before the military takes some form of retaliatory action. But I’m sure you have preempted that. I would love to see how that part of the story unfolds.

I seem to have digressed and so I return to the matter at hand. I know your ratings had plummeted Barack and next year seems too far away to contemplate a revival… you knew it was now… you had to act now… But then Easter came along and you took a little break and went to Church like a good Christian and… Geronimo! Dang it! Resurrection was staring you right in the face and there you were wasting time, busting your speech writer ‘s ass to come up with pithy one-liners to counter the Don’s bid for the House when here was the answer to all your problems … Donald Trump be damned and fired… Jesus is a saviour!

So you went home and while George Clooney traipses over Darfur, trying to almost single-handedly move the UN to take some action to alleviate the misery of the people in that region, and countless people in other conflict zones reel under civil wars and genocide and women and children worldwide get raped and driven into hunger, disease and prostitution and the middle east boils over, you sit with your calculator computing the millions of American tax-payer dollars you’ve spent on funding a war against a ghost… a man who possibly died years ago from kidney failure… from whom no one had heard in years, simply because he was…. dead.

And you praised the Lord, raised the towel head from the dead, killed him again and suddenly the world is a better place.

By Jove… sorry… Geronimo.

Belated Easter wishes Barack….