Was showing my mother around Queens. Inevitably, Jackson Heights was visited. For those not in the know, Jackson Heights around Roosevelt Avenue is an Indian/South Asian neighborhood. There are grocery stores where you get, among other things, packaged lotus roots and mango ginger, and raw turmeric. There is a street called ‘Kalpana Chawla Way’. Palmistry signs dot the walls. Tons of jewelry stores abound, with old men with long beards handing you out coupons for stores or pamphlets for some cause or soliciting contributions towards some mandir or masjid somewhere.
There are tons of dress shops. All of them have some variations of clothes that look like this.
‘Imagine’, I said to mum, ‘your only exposure to Indian culture was through here’. In spite of all the nice things at Patel’s she wouldn’t find in a store in Bangalore itself, and chocolate dosa at a deli nearby, she wasn’t very pleased.
Now I’m not someone very experienced in Indian-American culture. But one thing I’ve always, always noticed is Indian neighborhoods are just so much dirtier, all over the US and in Singapore as well. Indian grocery stores are just so badly organized and maintained badly always. I’ve been told strongly by relatives who’ve lived here for a decade or two to never buy milk at Indian stores, because they shut off the fridges at night to save on costs. A Hyderabadi restaurateur somewhere in Connecticut told me Indian restaurants are ‘all dirty’, and he was trying to create restaurants with open kitchens.
In regions where there isn’t too large an Indian population, it gets worse. The only store of Indian spices is one lone Indian store somewhere, with stuff that’s gone out of date, and fake MTR mixes and pirated Maggi.
Where does this culture come from? India of the ’80s and ’90s? Because heck, I’ve seen Food World/More/Reliance Fresh be way cleaner. I assume American official standards and ratings for hygiene and worthiness of grocery stores are higher than ones in India, and the system less prone to subversion. And yet…
I’ve somehow never been able to reconcile a second-generation Indian-American’s view of India with mine. They either see disease, deprivation and red tape, or festivals, food and family values. Very few among the extremely few I’ve met actually have more evolved and thought-out ideas about India. What disturbs me is that these are the people giving the world a perspective of what it means to be Indian.
I’m not denying there’s much more to immigrant Indian culture than these two things. It’s just that these things stick out to me wherever I go, and I can’t quite help being offended in some way.
Strangely, I find myself not joining my expat brethren in celebrating Diwali and Holi too often, or being involved too heavily in any such events. It’s possible festivals aren’t festivals for me unless my family is around, but overall, I don’t seem to enjoy celebrating them too much with any Indian community I’ve been around. It’s the same sort of thing each time, held on the weekend before or after the festival, with some sort of a compromise between puja and party.
I completely appreciate the need to have such events, and the fact that only by doing so will you foster a sense of community, and keep people in touch with back home.
That said, I feel as alien with these events as I feel in, say, a gathering of standup comedians in New York (I prefer improv). The form the festival takes seems new to me, the ways they celebrate aren’t what I want, the food’s not the food my family makes for the festival, the conversations, the people….. in short, I don’t feel like running in pursuit of nostalgia after something that’s so obviously non-authentic to me.
This emphasis everyone there puts on ‘being Indian’, or ‘celebrating Indian culture’ and stuff like that puts me off completely. There’s hardly any honesty on how it’s a best-effort thing and not ‘THE’ thing you have to be looking out for. On occasion it feels like I have to put up with people and places and events I wouldn’t have to put up with in India ever, just for the sake of feeling connected to my community and roots.
Overall, I’ve begun to feel why should I have to try so hard to recreate a non-authentic replica of an idea of India I’ve never bought into, the India of Bollywood and bhangra and chicken tikka masala, when I might as well have whatever authentic experience this new country throws at me. Yes, an American tradition is anything that a babyboomer has done more than once, but atleast I can make what I want of it, and it’s more opt-in than opt-out at this stage of my life at least. And thanks to cheap communication, I can keep in touch with people back home more efficiently, so I’m not growing apart from where I’m from. Of course, it’s not an either-or choice, and I can have both, but usually the crowd that indulges in one doesn’t indulge in the other.
I know two years down the line I might be eating the words I said here, and possibly be found organizing some lame Diwali event in, dunno, Wyoming, but until then, I’m going to assert that there’s plenty more in the Indian community that needs to be done. We need some darned self-respect, we need to stop trying too hard to impress non-SouthAsians, we need to organize our events for us and not for some idea of India we want to communicate. That said, we need to pull up our socks on the cleanliness thing real quick. And yes, while it is great for all of us to come together under one banner, it sure is irksome to have one idea of what Indian culture is – the Bollywood-bhangra one – being imposed on everyone. It’d be a great idea to rethink what we as Indians have to contribute to the USA and realize that it’s greater than just ‘family values’ or ‘we invented spaceships in Mahabharatha times’. For example, why isn’t jowar being marketed as a gluten-free alternative to other grains? Please don’t tell me it’s because you don’t want what happened with quinoa to happen here; I doubt you thought of that before this. Also, it wouldn’t hurt if people thought a little more about their heritage and tried to get some real perspective on the goings-on in India, which is better than what we learn from Russel Peters, religious heads from other expat communities, visiting politicians with their own agendas, and Shah Rukh Khan films.
When you’re among too many smart people for too long, it’s easy to come to the conclusion you’re stupid.
That happened to me – JEE coaching, undergrad, first job, gradschool.
Now when you feel this way, it can go one of two ways. One, you ramp up your learning, try harder, plan better, take it as a challenge and all that.
The other one usually comes about after frustrated attempts at the first way – you give up because there’s no point.
I don’t know at which point that happened. Probably JEE coaching. The exams were so unattainable and high scores never went beyond 60%, and the average was around 35-40%. It kind of made me forget what attainable goals looked like, I suppose. Subsequently, with deadlines falling all over me for years, I never did really deal with this issue head on, and coasted along. I didn’t even put my finger on this as being an issue until recently.
The result was, I never really applied myself to anything new. I tried learning German in undergrad and gave up when the grammar got intense. It took me tons of trial and error to learn linear algebra… and that process was anything but linear. I gave up on the guitar when my fingers hurt too much. I got intimidated by everything. It felt like everyone knew better than me, and once you get intimidated, you stop asking questions and trying.
I quickly learnt though, that I couldn’t bring that attitude to a job where I am expected to own and lead projects, push my own ideas into becoming new projects, and generally expected to be reliable. I also couldn’t bring that attitude to improv class. You can’t be intimidated by the others on stage and hide, not even if they have acting credits on Law and Order and 30 Rock. What’s better, both of these things opened my eyes to everyone goofing up and owning up to it and it was all okay, so why can’t I do the same thing. And I did. And everyone noticed.
Another thing I noticed among successful people – they took feedback so very constructively, didn’t for one moment assume it was personal, didn’t for once concentrate on the way the feedback was given, just on the content. I began trying that. God it helped. Subsequently, I also noticed people take it personally, and saw how that impacted everyone around them and it wasn’t good at all.
None of these however helped me get through Andrew Ng’s Coursera ML course or Daphne Koller’s PGM course. I got so intimidated, I gave up in two weeks. That, and I didn’t really have the time for it.
A month ago, I attended Peter Norvig’s talk about online education. He was just a little older than I remembered him a couple of years ago at the Google office, and had on this cheerful Superman shirt. I went and asked him if he had any ideas for improving engagement with learners who were usually intimidated by subject matter, giving him the examples of underrepresented minorities and those who faced stereotype threats. He said the courses were more or less designed to provide consistent feedback with regular quizzes and assignments and deadlines.
Now that didn’t really help me, but articulating that and thinking about it made me realize I had reached a point where I can try harder. And that I can at the very least start small and personal – and technology helped with that.
So there were hackathons where I forced myself to just blindly code, not worry about efficiency and things like that. I came out with cool stuff, and I could do it because I was the one setting the rules, and I set the rules and goals to suit me.
Then I found Duolingo, which essentially aims to make learning fun. An app on my phone is what it takes to teach me some German. I still need subtitles to watch Der Untergang, but hey, I can tell you if my breakfast is too salty.
And then I worked up the courage to try learning to play the guitar, from a Coursera course. The course is structured well, unlike other online resources I found where there isn’t a time-based progression and doesn’t tell me how much I need to practice, doesn’t give me goals and exercises, except that I need to do as much as I can if not more, and that if I was motivated enough, I’d learn. Nope, forcing myself to make those decisions wastes valuable cognitive energy. I’d rather someone smarter than me makes those decisions for me and just blindly follow instructions. Sure enough, I can at least hold the guitar appropriately now and play two chords and hold a pick without getting carpal tunnel.
It seriously doesn’t matter to me if I can speak in German or play a guitar or sing like Norah Jones (though it does matter if I have linear algebra and graphical models on my fingertips… :)). It matters more to me that I learn how to learn. That when I come across something new, I can break it down into small achievable goals, and develop enough patience to set aside some time and do it over and over again till I kind of get it. And when I kind of get it, it motivates me to get better and better at it. I know there will be people who get it quicker than me, and others who won’t, but that doesn’t matter… besides, online education and adulthood means I can try as many times as I want to learn and take my own time and no one says anything. I’m not setting lofty goals of being able to do this for everything I set eyes on, but have enough of an attitude to know that while some things are not worth the effort, it certainly is possible, but with some time and effort, and it’s not a bad idea to do so.
I tried writing a full-length blogpost on most or all of these topics, but somehow lost my way. So here they are, summarized and all together
I went to NYC Pride a few weeks ago. Usually, when ‘Pride’ is mentioned, everyone assumes it to be a wild Mardi Gras of sorts, but NYC Pride was nothing like that. It was co-opted by politicians, political parties, big corporations and social organizations. The focus was on milestones the LGBT community had reached, and about what more they want to do. Everyone and his brother wanted to show support for the community. Google had tons of Pride-themed swag – I saw this girl on the train with a ‘Noogler’ cap, Google Pride Tshirt, a TDbank rainbow flag in her pocket, a rainbow wristband, a sticker from an athletes group showing support for the community… phew. I ran into my middle-aged senior colleague there, and he’d brought his kids to watch. I’m glad for the mainstreaming of the cause. I hope sometime within the next ten years, I’ll be able to see matrimonial ads from parents looking for same-sex partners for their children in India. Because, well, no one ‘becomes’ gay to piss their parents off. Once your choice of partner is normalized, you can focus on other things, like worrying about how they fit into your family, whether your parents approve of your partner’s caste and religion, and how to ward off your parents and aunties and uncles hinting that they want you and your partner to adopt children asap. Like everyone else.
It made me think of all the homophobia in India. A girl I know came out of the closet, and someone else I know met her once. When this someone else got to know that the girl was gay, she said ‘But… I met her just last week and she seemed so… normal?’. And that is one of the most benign things I’ve heard. I’m kind of optimistic that’ll change, but I don’t know.
- Freedom of Mediocrity
Pride had tons of couples walking with signs saying ‘Together for 35 years, married for 2′ and other such mushy things. Made me wonder, what about the ones who argued and split up? If they marched in this parade, would that somehow make the cause less worthy when it came to light that flash news, gay people had the same relationship issues as straight people. There’s just so much more pressure on gay people to make things work, if you consider things this way.
One of my best friends works and studies in France and Germany. He’s an exemplary student and employee. He works really hard at everything he does, and always has done right by any standard, professional or personal, though if you ask him, he won’t say exactly that. When I ask him why he struggles so hard with doing everything right, he says ‘No, if I mess up, it’s so easy for them to say all Indians are messups’.
When homosexuals get assaulted, a great part of the advice given to them is “Project yourselves as being more awesome than straight people’. The major complaint you hear (especially from straight men) about gay men and lesbian women is ‘Why do they have to dress so ‘weird’? Why can’t they just be…. normal?’.
It irks me that just because I possess a uterus, I need to be twice as good as Karthik (generic male name) to get the same amount of praise Karthik does. It irks me that just because Sheila and Trisha are lesbians, they need to have a more exemplary relationship to show the world that gay people deserve their unions federally recognized. Or because Reggie is African-American, he needs to dress nice all the time to prove to everyone he isn’t ‘ghetto’.
If you don’t believe me, look at the examples touted of successful minorities. The ones to look up to are always the ones at the top. Admiral Grace Hopper, gay couples who’ve been together 40+ years, Neil DeGrasse Tyson.
The problem is, double standards don’t affect the ones at the extreme ends of the success spectrum too much. It affects the rest of us.
Federally recognizing gay marriage won’t probably help the couple who want to be there forever and ever for each other as much as the couple, say the lesbian one in Under the Tuscan Sun who decide to have a child and midway into the pregnancy, the pregnant partner is left literally holding the baby. Gender equality won’t help Marie Curie as much as it would probably help some nameless girl in a nameless software company who realizes she would be a better coder than tester and asks for a raise due to which there’s a huge difference in the quality of her life and in the decision of who between her and her husband stays home to take care of the child for a few months.
Also, the people at the top are really few. The people in the middle are a larger bunch. If you want to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people, you’d do better to start at the middle.
Freedom to me has essentially meant the freedom to make mistakes. In some countries, the difference between taking the right route with a male escort and walking alone in the wrong street can literally mean the difference between life and death. A truly free country is where your ‘punishment’ for going down the wrong alley isn’t much, because it’s so easy to make a mistake there. Freedom means being able to say “Hey, so can you explain to me what Markov Random Fields means?’ without the fear of being thought of as a dumb blonde. Freedom means being able to realize you’ve made a commitment to the wrong person and being able to get out of it without extra punishment for having committed to someone of the same sex instead of the opposite sex. Freedom means a brown person being able to mess up on a date with a white person without the white person thinking that’s true of all brown people. Freedom is flunking your final and finding out you still have a fair way to achieve your dreams.
Freedom means being able to write bad code without wondering if that would mean you don’t prove yourself well enough and you’re going to rot in a worse role than you wanted, though that’s not really standard for the men in your industry. Freedom is to be able to cheat on your gay partner and not have the consequences be so grave that all of gaykind are seen as weirdos and cheats by citing your example. Freedom means to not be judged for the nude pictures your ex uploaded of you in revenge a long, long time ago.
Freedom is like a mother’s love that says your mistakes aren’t that worse than others, and that the world still loves you and gives you opportunities to prove yourself other ways.
- What ‘feminine’ means
So I used to think being feminine meant having feminine interests. Sewing and embroidery, knitting or crochet or cooking or makeup or clothes, or maybe singing. But apparently you can be good at all those things and still not be considered feminine enough. Gaggles of sorority girls don’t care about your consummate knowledge of eye makeup. They don’t care about your awesome recipes. Mothers-in-law couldn’t care less about your crocheted toys. Or even your hips which your ob-gyn considers ‘perfect for childbearing’. You can have stereotypically feminine skills and interests and demeanor and you can still be one of the boys. Because the notion of femininity goes beyond all that.
Being a girl seems to be more about not living life on your own terms. It’s not about being a whiz at styling your hair, it’s about having no interests apart from styling your hair, irrespective of how good or bad you are at it. It’s about deferring to someone else, irrespective of whether you need or want to. It’s about being able to let someone else make your decisions for you – No, that can be a trusting relationship, not necessarily an acknowledgement of inferiority. It’s about not explicitly controlling your own destiny, but instead resorting to guile to achieve your aims. It’s about saying I don’t call the shots in my own life. Think about it. I’m not saying ‘being a woman’. I’m saying ‘our concept of femininity’. Think about it.
- Existential Crisis
Sigh. What can I say. FOMO. YOLO. Indecisiveness. Not knowing if I’m right in being attached to what I’m attached to. Not knowing what the future holds. Wondering if I ought to have regrets. Wondering if others have been right all along. Wondering if my reasons for living the life I live are good enough or if I should have taken everyone else’s advice and done something else. Wondering if I’m good enough to achieve my lofty dreams. Stuff like that. I’ll figure it out. It’s just damned hard sometimes.
That Delhi girl died.
I don’t know if I should even be saying anything. In the time between when she was assaulted and when she passed away, I was having a good time. Lots of friends and acquaintances coming in to town, and I end up coming home at hours that would be considered unreasonable back home. I often come back home by myself, unescorted. What’s more, I do everything by myself. Initially in this city, it wasn’t much of a choice – I hardly knew anyone. If I had to rely on company, I’d've never discovered half the spots I intimately love here, wouldn’t be doing improv, wouldn’t have gone for writing classes, wouldn’t go for random Reddit meetups, wouldn’t furnish my home, wouldn’t…. do anything!
My behaviour and demeanor would be termed ayyashi in an Indian city.
Enough has been said about the mentality of Indian men and the government and patriarchy, and I guess I needn’t repeat all of that, given others have said it better than I could have. All I know is how not being constrained by my gender set me free.
I’ve always been the good kid who walked the straight narrow path. I don’t like to take risks. I just like to be left alone to do my own thing. I don’t like to fight the system. I’m not the rebel sorts. I hate having to fight for what I need; I prefer negotiating. I’m the meek nerdy girl you don’t really notice. That said, having a father and mother like mine means you end up with interests in random things your friends usually don’t share interests in. And you know what? That combination makes life hard!
You don’t want to stay out beyond your curfew, but you really want to go for Toastmasters which holds meetings late in the evening. You don’t want to go out with a crowd that has only boys, but that’s probably the only way you can attend that concert you’ve been dreaming of since forever. It’s hard to make friends because they all live so far away and they hang out late after class and you need to leave because you don’t want to get home too late. You want to take pictures of the sunrise, but you aren’t supposed to be out that early. You want to exercise in the sun, but it’s weird to do so on the terrace because the neighbours have lechy sons.
And so on. These seem very much like problems of the privileged, I know. I’m lucky to be able to go away from home for higher studies. I’m lucky my parents save money for my MS and not for my Mrs. But the sort of roadblocks in my way are roadblocks too.
You are advised against taking Mechanical because it’s not a woman-friendly field. You want to do a project with one professor but he is a creep you don’t ever want to be left alone with. You correct a lecturer in class and he casts aspersions on your character (this really happened to me). While your mostly-male team is trying to negotiate with a professor, you are asked to step in and ‘turn on your feminine charms’. Some girls you know wear jackets in 35 degree heat because a colleague stares at their chests and the people above him won’t take their complaints seriously. You hear of a much-loved former colleague being fired for sexually harassing the office looker, and though you are shaken, you are hurt even more by your friends accusing her of doing all this just for a fat settlement (mostly because they are numb with disbelief), and you wonder what would happen if you were to blow the whistle on someone who troubles you… would these same friends who hold you so dear turn against you?
When I joined gradschool in the US, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of don’t-care I faced. No one cared I was a girl. No one looked at me weird if I stood my ground about a technical point and was proved wrong; it was expected I do that. No one cared if a researcher was a man or a woman. I couldn’t anymore rage about being discriminated against; I had to contribute equally. I could stay at lab past 2am, and I’d get escorted back by the cops. And I didn’t need that, really… I could walk back and it would be perfectly safe. No one talked down to me because I was a girl. No one made me uncomfortable with their eyes or touch. The world was telling me ‘Here, you have all the opportunity and none of the constraints, now you have no excuse for not kicking ass’. It was sort of scary because I was never used to feeling that.
When I finally had free time on my hands in New York, my mind and body initially protested greatly at my resolution to never come home before 9pm on any given day. It wasn’t safe, my mind and body yelled. There’s some catch, they screamed. I kept myself away from staying home with my entire self kicking and screaming. Soon, I was comfortable talking to strange people, going to places that I wouldn’t have dreamt of going to, and my only gripe when I stay out late is that I lose out on a few hours of sleep, or that the Q train doesn’t run express. I see me blossoming as a person, without the constant worry that someone is staring at my bosom or looking to grope me. I feel less helpless. I see myself finally get that sense of entitlement and innocence I’ve longed for for so long. Somehow it felt like I’d lost that with constantly preparing for the worst in India. There are no strangers judging me for my choices here and wondering aloud if my mother did a good job raising me. I feel free.
I’ve had shady creepy experiences, but I’ve always been comforted by the fact that things can’t get too bad, there are cameras everywhere. And that even if something happened, the perpetrators would be brought to justice. The confidence that if I called 911, the cops wouldn’t say creepy shit and get away with it.
The confidence that the rule of law was in effect in New York City.
Yes, we can go on blaming the general attitude of the people, of Indian men, of Indian parents, society and everything for what happened to so many women in India. But in my opinion, that’s not it. Strict laws and their strict enforcement can go a long way in changing how society thinks. There are plenty in New York City as well who’d be too glad to do it the Delhi way, but there are cameras everywhere, the laws are strict, the courts are strict, citizen groups won’t let go of any such case easily. There certainly are flaws in this system, and perpetrators do get away occasionally. But the fear is enough to deter a lot of people from committing crimes. Not just rapes. Mugging and murder too.
If the streets are safe, people no longer have an excuse to lock their daughters up. If the legal system is secure, rapists don’t get away scot-free. Parents of girls start chilling a bit, let their daughters go to a larger variety of places. The presence of a larger proportion of women changes the social dynamics of any place. Boys grow up seeing more and more girls in their activities, and the whole idea of the difference between the genders stops being so stark in their heads. Sure, to see change in the society and its mindset, it’ll take at the very least another generation, but as an immediate effect we can see the number of crimes go down, and that is not a small thing.
And that’s why we shouldn’t lose sight of legislating on stronger laws, police reform, judiciary reform, and electing officials who toe our line on these things.
Oh yay, Marissa Mayer is the CEO of Yahoo! now and what a victory for women in tech worldwide is that!
Actually…. I am hovering somewhere between ‘Oh!’ and ‘Meh..’ on that. Let me elaborate.
I’m a girl in computer science. The ‘girl’ part has been mostly irrelevant except when it came to how intimidated and unconfident I felt at various points, and how I was angry at myself for being unconfident when I knew way more than overconfident men (and women, but mostly men) and accepted their wrong answers as gospel truth and didn’t talk as much as I should have. But those are my personal demons for the most part. I don’t have to deal with those as much now in the industry with a really awesome boss, as much as I had to deal with those in academia where the extent of my unknowing was way larger and the people around me more intimidating.
As for the computer science bit, I’ve always wanted to deal with more and more ‘pure’ and ‘nontrivial’ bits of computer science. I don’t know why I caught on to this sort of elitism. It’s possibly from the sort of machine learning work that went on at UCI. Very mathematical, very generic and theoretical. Work that can be applied to various different applications in so many interesting ways. And try not to get the specificity of the domain the data is from in order to accomplish a certain task. I adored the wide applications of the stuff my advisor worked on, and was very impressed by the diversity of the work that cited his papers. And the diversity of the data he worked on. Way too many people apply this or that classifier to some sort of data and call it their life’s work. Nothing wrong with that; we need that as well, but the big-picture sort of work was more attractive to me.
So yeah, for me, hardcore is good, multidisciplinary isn’t as much. Application-oriented was best avoided. Of course, you apply a different standard when you are working on specific products in the industry, but till date, the sort of stuff that impresses me is the development of concepts that are used widely. Like, I’d much rather prefer tweaking the affinity propagation algorithm for natural language data than find which algorithm best classifies some random dataset and calling it machine learning.
I don’t know why this is. Maybe it’s the difficulty of thinking in abstract terms that fascinates me. Maybe it’s the impact of said work. Maybe it’s more creative, while also being precise and not woolly. But I trust it’s some of my rather convoluted thinking that says these skills are more valuable because there are fewer people who do this, and there’s always going to be a high demand for people who are more adaptable, so the combination makes sure that I get good jobs, where I can have more leverage.
The problem with this ooh-look-we-have-more-ladies-in-our-office bit is, I find most women are in those areas which require less abstraction, are less ‘pure’ in the way I described before, and are more just worker-ant sort of cookie-cutter jobs. Or, they have very little to do with computer science or even coding. You’ll find more women in Testing than in Development given any software company. And all the interacting-with-people sort of jobs, like requirement-gathering or ‘product management’ *cough*Marissa Mayer*cough*.
Most female researchers turn out to be working on User Experience or Human-Computer Interaction. Fields which I find rather woolly. I find the sort of projects they take up very fascinating, and they have a real impact on the world, but the ratio of actual output/impact to time spent by each researcher is rather low, in my opinion.
Of course, my way of looking at things is not gospel, and is likely biased in a lot of ways. But why this sort of correlation, is what I wonder.
That’s why it pisses off a small part of my brain when all these women in computing are so highly hailed as examples of women in technology. By these women, I don’t mean Daphne Koller (PhD at age 22, long high-impact research/teaching career at Stanford) or Grace Hopper. I don’t get the veneration of Carol Bartz or Meg Whitman or Sheryl Sandberg or even Marissa Meyer as ‘women in technology’. They just happen to be women who work in administrative roles in the technology domain. I’m not saying that’s an easy position to attain, but it’s not exactly the same career path as Yishan Wong’s or Mark Zuckerberg’s or Sergey-and-Larry’s. In other words, where is their nerd cred?
They are not playing with the big boys there. They seem to just be the waterboy to the big boys’ league.
And why do I have a problem with that? It’s because girls like me have so few role models already, and suddenly we are asked to follow the words and career paths of these women who’ve never written a line of code in years. And why is that a problem for me? It’s because everyone from my father to my colleague expects me to go down that line because that’s the way – possibly the only way – women in technology get big. ‘Do an MBA, it is good for girls’ is something I’ve grown tired of hearing.
Whenever I’ve attended any panel discussion on ‘Women in Computer Science’, I feel such a disconnect with the panelists because they are never like me. They might be danah boyd also, but that’s not the career path I want to go down, so I don’t empathize with a lot of their concerns, and they’ve probably never wondered about mine. When Sheryl Sandberg talks about women and their career paths, her concerns seem trivial to me, and I wonder if she’s ever thought of all the concerns I have.
And what exactly are my concerns? I want to know how to keep going. How to network with nerdy guys who constantly keep getting intimidated by random things I say or do which makes me overcompensate by pulling back more than I should. How not to be intimidated. How to keep asking questions. How to become good at my work without getting discouraged. How not to be reticent. Instead, all they talk about is work-life balance. I agree that’s important, but for someone who has put ‘life’ on hold at gradschool in order to get the ‘work’ part in order, that was all totally not helpful. I don’t want to worry about how to balance my feminity with my work ethic, as if those are either-or options. And harassment is a far-off concern to me, because those sort of obstacles have concrete solutions, quite unlike wrestling with not getting results for five months straight and beating myself up about it… especially given no one anymore has the guts to try harassing anyone, and both gradschool and where I work now are as politically correct as you can get.
The problem with all these successful women is they assume every other woman is already the best at what she does, and the only problem she has is with presenting herself. Nope, not my story. If anything, the best advice I’ve received is from my totally intimidating male friends and my father who understands what being the underdog in your lab/office means. Or from my advisor who brought his infant son to a doctoral defense. These ladies don’t feel real enough to me. They don’t have any insecurities work-wise or any stories about how they dealt with the crippling uncertainty that comes with doing research. If I had a choice, I’d rather spend an hour with Yishan Wong than Sheryl Sandberg because Yishan gets my concerns better, only unlike Sheryl, there are no panels where he is asked to talk about it.
Everyone is concerned about not enough women being enrolled in computer science courses. Then suddenly a ton of them switch over from Psychology to Human-Computer Interaction and they think problem solved and don’t bother about the computer architecture lab with its lone female. No one is concerned that the guys working on graphical models assume by default that the girls they meet in gradschool work in UX research.
The question all these people working overtime to get girls to enroll in computer science should ask themselves is, what do they want these girls to do in the field? More and more girls keep getting into the same low-impact (technology-wise) and low-tech jobs, is that their ideal? They want more and more women in the higher echelons of tech management, but why do they keep showing us only one sort of career path? Every media story about Sergey-and-Larry always talk about how they still code, but does anyone talk about Marissa Mayer’s fun coding projects instead of her family life?
Maybe it’s just that the media is staffed by people who are not from traditional techie backgrounds and they just don’t get what ‘technology’ is, and are blind to real high-impact high-tech jobs and the women who hold those, because heck, you have a few tech company CEOs who are women, so that’s all you need, right? More so if these women are blonde. And if they happen to be mothers, icing on the cake. These people see the female product manager doing the media presentation and assume she’s the woman-in-tech for their story, and don’t bother looking beyond for, say, the female tech lead who actually worked on the details. It’s the same reason Jobs is a bigger deal than Woz, so we can credit the media for being consistent on that. It pisses off girls like me who wouldn’t mind a role model or two who are in the same career path as us, because soon enough we’ll have to answer to our high-expectations Asian parents about why we aren’t doing things that get girls like that Marissa fame and instead are busting our fanny doing some vague research no one hears about.
All said and done, enough of Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg. Next time you want a women-in-technology quote, ask Daphne Koller, Rina Dechter, Hannah Wallach, Jennifer Vaughan, Anima Anandkumar… or so many others. They are probably more media-shy, but heck, their perspectives are also worth hearing, especially given the sort of impact their work has.
Living in New York City has its perks. Hindi movies on the big screen are never too far away.
My flatmate was away for a bit. I wanted a fun-filled Saturday. Being away from Irvine and in an action-packed city, I seemed to have almost forgotten the pleasure of watching movies in theaters. Being away from the esteemed company of my friends in Irvine has a lot to do with it, probably. It’s a wonderful thing to pass Bangalore-referencing InternetMeme-referencing half-funny comments while watching a movie.
I decided to watch Kahaani, given that it was very highly rated by virtually everyone who had watched the movie. Turned out, Midtown East housed a Big Cinemas. As in Reliance. Wow. Samosas for snacks. Impressive. The theater marketed itself as a place where you could watch international movies, French and Italian and Korean and everything else, not just Indian ones. Brilliant move; this way, you attract not just a desi crowd, but also the hipster avant-garde international film-watching New Yorkers.
Oh, and I watched this movie all by myself. Know what, apart from the cashier’s sharp “ONE ticket?!’, there’s no indication of anyone giving a damn about your watching a movie alone. I miss funny comments and all that, but I ended up passing random comments and predicting the next few scenes with these two Indian-American didis who I was sitting next to. Was totally random fun. Especially when they termed the movie a combination of Kill Bill and Salt. Don’t ask me how that conclusion was reached.
Anyway. The Cult Of Bob Biswas.
For those who haven’t yet watched Kahaani, Bob Biswas is an assassin-for-hire. Unlike the usual solidly-built seven-footer types or the extremely lithe, ‘hai-yaa’-screaming martial artist types who usually play the roles of paid assassins, Bob Biswas wears thick coke-bottom classes, works at a desk job at an insurance firm (LIC?), is always on the brink of being fired, is chubby, short and stocky, doesn’t come anywhere close to being called fit. Oh, and he’s asthmatic, too (Oh, and the chief villain in the movie has a rare blood group…. no dearth of medical issues in the movie).
Totally. While the internet is not exploding with Bob Biswas references, the number of folks chattering about him is undeniably increasing.
Not unexpected. Bollywood produces too few memorable movies, and even fewer memorable leads, forget about memorable interesting fringe characters. Unless you watch movies as avidly as Dipta Chaudhuri, your chances of coming across a memorable character in mainstream Bollywood movies is rather low. Bob Biswas is rare enough to stick to the mind long after you’re done watching him. And we can’t deny he’s interesting either.
And what exactly makes him so memorable? To start with, I’d say he’s exactly the sort of character we would love to come up with while performing improv. Reminds me of the time these two guys spent the better part of 20 minutes doing a mom-son thing where the mom was abusive and kept making the son’s life comically miserable. We got all invested in the comically sobbing son, when he upped and killed the mother, and turned out to be a serial killer. All in comic fashion, of course. And all totally improvised.
It is really fun when two totally opposing ideas come together and actually work out, in improv. It’s not always a sure thing. A happy guy and a sad guy? Surely. Two totally excited guys? Totally, when they match each others’ energy levels, there’s only one way it goes. An excited guy and a bored guy? Mmm… not so much. A totally subdued type turning out to be a badass killer? Why not?
For all purposes, Bob Biswas is just a fun thing to play with. The very idea doesn’t make much sense, or we don’t have enough to go by to make such a character believable. How’d he get so good at murder, how does he lay low, how does he advertise and get his business, does he not have any enemies who’d be equally or more powerful and finish him off, and how does he go undetected and stay alive with all this?
Unless these questions are satisfyingly answered, Bob Biswas will never become a full-fledged spinoff or a full-length novel material.
But obviously, the writers of Kahaani never intended him to be all that (and there are plenty of characters that succeed without much of a backstory). Or anything apart from being some guy who gets caught and betrays the guy who hired him. They just thought to up the fun a little. I can picture the writers at a brainstorming session, and someone saying “What if he’s just a mamooli guy you see on the street and don’t even register?”. Most of the folks in the session would have laughed, cracked a couple of jokes and then someone else sees a workable idea taking shape, decides to go with it just to see what it leads to, adds details to solidify the character (“Let’s also give him a boring job… hey, I once had a roommate who worked at LIC, didn’t do a single thing….”), et voila.
When I think of it this way instead of just letting the idea for the character simmer in the backburner of my brain, I don’t anymore find him all that fascinating. But I still do smile a little that what would have been an absurd unworkable idea while whiteboarding was actually taken seriously, its merits recognized, and they actually gave it a form on the big screen.
Not every absurd idea is a good one, and not all of them merit precious time spent on them. But it is good to see how an idea, with some work done to it, can be fascinating, and feel like a rich contribution. And… I’m also glad for these successes, for it makes people – bosses, financiers, folks in jobs that require creative output – more inclined to say ‘Yes, and..’ to seemingly crazy ideas that come their way.
Life was never the same after the advent of the Sun Network. There was a movie every afternoon on Sun TV! Every afternoon! Previously, movies could be watched only on the weekends, on TV, so this was cause for much joy, especially among those who didn’t have much to do in the afternoons.
Then there was Sun Movies. Three or four movies a day! When I wasn’t burning my skin off in the sun during the summer vacations, or watching Cartoon Network, or fighting with my sister, I’d be glued to these movies.
This love for movies were further kindled by themed movie weeks on Sun TV. So the late evening movies for a particular week would follow some theme. Like ‘Adhiradi vaaram’, where all the movies would be action blockbusters, or ‘Thik-thik vaaram’, where horror movies would be screened the whole week, or even a week full of Vithalacharya movies, or movies where Vishwanathan-Ramamurthy were the composers. There were also other more specific themes like Movies Where Hero And Heroine Cannot Be Together, or Movies Where Love Is Sacrificed For Higher Reason. Apart from Movies Where One Or More Protagonists Are Differently-Abled, or Movies Where One Or More Of The Protagonists Are Dying (Of Cancer). I’m not making any of these up.
This went on for around a year or two, before they filled late evenings with some or the other soap (which all deserve a post or three to themselves… remember Chitthi, anyone?). Then they had a common theme throughout, with every day of the week having one genre. Like there was a comedy movie every Monday, a love story every Tuesday (Kaadhal Sevvaai), a classic old movie every Wednesday (Kaaviya Budhan), an action flick every Thursday (Adhiradi Vyaazhan) and a superhit blockbuster every Friday (Superhit VeLLi). This, apart from two movies, one in the afternoon and another in the evening, every Saturday and Sunday.
And I sat fixated as often as I could. Watched heckuva load of Tamil movies. Amma and I would watch some Kannada movies too, on Chandana, but we stuck to comedies… Anant Nag’s Ganesha ones, or S. Narayan… we both still adore his Oho. Channels would promptly be changed if it was a Kashinath movie. But I hated Kannada movies back then. They seemed too serious and too tragic. When we didn’t still have cable, Amma and Ajji would watch the Sunday evening Kannada movie on DD, and cry and cry and then cry some more. One movie which freaked the heck out of me had Ambarish write a letter in blood to the leading lady. Years later, when a classmate wrote a love letter in blood to another, I felt very very very faint not because it looked like a crazed madman’s handiwork, but because it brought back repressed memories of this movie. And I stopped watching Kannada movies after this one wacko movie where Ambarish gets bitten by a dog and dies of rabies. He barked like a dog, ate food from an aluminum plate not using his hands, frothed at the mouth, and died. I swore to myself I’d never watch a Kannada movie again, and never one with Ambarish in it.
So Tamil movies it was. And God, they weren’t any less gaga. They might be cheerier, more hopeful, better-made and more watchable, but less crazy, they most certainly weren’t.
One of the more tragic ones I watched involved a lower-middleclass family, where the father was presumed dead in a train accident. They get his insurance money, and their standard of living suitably improves. But then, the father comes back, and the rest of the movie is about the shenanigans that result from trying to hide him from the rest of the world. It could have been a nice comedy, but it mainly involved the family politics, grinding poverty, maintaining self-respect, and endless mother-in-law daughter-in-law shenanigans, apart from the mother not being able to wear her mangalsutra and sindoor even though her husband is alive. It sapped the energy out of me.
Then there was this seemingly normal movie where a boy with a widowed mother falls in love with a girl with a widower father. The girl’s father suitably opposed the match like all movie dads, but then he went one step further. He spoke to the boy’s mother, saying there’s only one way we can stop them from marrying and making the biggest mistake of their lives. And the mother agrees. They both get married, and then he snidely tells the boy, now since I’m married to your mother, Heroine is your….? . Mindblown, simply mindblown.
And I saw this one clip of a movie and couldn’t bear to watch it any more. So this guy has a rather cold wife who’s not being intimate with him. He takes her to a movie one evening. And from her horrified shrieks on watching it, we infer that it was an adult movie, and she is thoroughly disgusted and limp from shock. He tells her in a confrontational tone that he did that just to loosen her inhibitions after which she’d fall limp into his arms. Oh. My. God.
On the other end of the spectrum, there was this sweet movie on Young Love called Panneer Pushpangal. The western world (and the Star World-watching world) may have had its Wonder Years, and Kollywood had Panneer Pushpangal. It starred Prathap, who I used to confuse for Kokila Mohan, as a cool and with-it teacher at an Ooty boarding school, where the lead pair were students and fell in love. Of course, the girl’s mom was a witch and locked her daughter up, but the ragtag bunch of friends help her escape. She meets the boy, and then everyone wonders what to do. And then the movie ends. I rather liked this movie, I’ll admit, and wished my school had a teacher like Prathap. And I mention that movie here mainly because it has this wonderful, wonderful song.
Radhika (of Chitthi, Annamalai and Arasi fame) starred in a few more mindblerg movies I watched. First was this one where she woos Sivakumar as a village girl, going as far as getting each others’ names tattoed on their arms, after which he is transferred to the city, where he meets another Radhika who is a modern-dressing rich daughter of his boss. She keeps aggressively pursuing him, and he never gives in because he loves only the villager Radhika. He goes back to the village to find her, but she isn’t there and the whole village blames him for her disappearance. And then comes the shocker. Both the Radhikas are the same! It was an experiment where the rich girl was testing a potential suitor to see if he was only after her money. Oh, what problems rich girls have. Anyway he takes offense and spurns her, and her own father says while he supported her through this endeavour, he feels this sort of test insults any self-respecting man. Then both Sivakumar and Radhika down sleeping pills separately. After appropriate edge-of-seat shenanigans, the director makes sure both lives are saved and that they live happily ever after.
Another one was Meendum Oru Kaadhal Kadhai with Radhika and Prathap. They are two mentally-ill kids in an asylum, and are supervised by a progressive doctor played by Charuhaasan. Radhika is from a rich family who all don’t really like her, especially her scheming brother and brother’s wife, while Prathap has no one. They fall in love, get married and move to some new village with the doctor to have a new life. The village had a slew of quirky characters I don’t really recall, but most of the movie was pitiful while not being slapstick. Radhika ends up pregnant, and dies when Prathap is making her laugh or something…. most mindblerging natal death EVER. I didn’t follow what happened after that, but it might have involved the doctor dying after killing Prathap.
And then. This is the first mindblerging movie I watched, and the one which I was thinking about and then remembered all these movies I’ve talked about. I saw it first on DD one Sunday afternoon when they’d show regional-language movies, which meant this movie had subtitles. It starred Mohan as a Hindu boy, who falls for his sister’s Christian friend. She keeps away at first, actively asking him to get lost, but he persists and they end up in love [Aside: it never fails to blow my mind how easily couples before the Noughties fell in love in movies so quickly and based on so little! He saved my life, so I'm going to spend it with him! Or, she loves animals, so I'll love her]. His mother and her father can simply not submit to this match. They chain Mohan to a small room in their terrace, while the girl (who could have been called Julie and could have been played by Radha) is locked in her room, while presumably her wedding to a Christian boy was being planned. The separation proves too much for her, and as Christ is the reason she can’t be with her love, she hammers a nail through her palm, like was done to Christ. And obviously dies. He escapes from his shackles and comes to help her escape, but he only sees her little neighbour boy (every heroine in every movie before the late ’90s had one) standing in line for her funeral. He runs to the graveyard as they are reading out hymns before burying her, sees her dead, kisses her prone body and dies right there. Lovers dying, okay, fine, but nail through palm? That made my eight-year-old self squirm a whole lot when I saw a crucifix after that, and I took special care to never hold a nail in my hand, and was very edgy around hammers.
I’ve been wondering what the name of this movie is. Does anyone know? Please please tell me… I want to watch it again, this time with new eyes that are cynical about such dated movies.
But…. that might be jumping the gun. These movies were definitely cheesy. But they were gritty. And original. And had an honesty and creativity to them which is missing in later suave movies without bright lights and item dancers in shiny costumes. They had some really good music, and I don’t know how popular they turned out in their time, but their actors gave really wonderful performances in these movies.
The themes were bold and original. The filmmakers might have been wacko jerks with too many rich uncles, or they might have been thinkers, I’ll never know. But I’m glad these crude movies that lack even an ounce of finesse and subtlety got made. They were like alcohol experiments in undergrad where you experiment with a wide range of quality and quantity of drink before you figure out what works for you. The makers of these movies might have hit bull’s eye with exploring early-teenage love and jealousy with a Panneer Pushpangal, and I might be glad for that, but I’m also glad that they got the scenario of ‘What if a guy likes a girl but his mother marries her father?’ out of their systems so that none of us needs to explore that again.
The whole Jan Lokpal agitation brings me to write about politics after a long, long time.
It was partly intentional, this hiatus. There was a point when I was intensely political, but I discovered I was getting my blood pressure up every morning when I read the paper or the zillion rabble-rousing political blogs I was subscribed to, and even more so when I discussed the stuff I read with like-minded friends over lunch. Then more interesting things came along, and I thought I should give those things a fair try, and all I did with politics was to make jokes about current or past events.
But Anna Hazare drags me back.
Not just me, but various others are newly politically conscious. People who didn’t used to watch the news now watch the tamasha. People read newspapers more avidly now. More people talked about Rule 184 than about Rule 34 over the past couple of weeks.
I want to try and make sense of this craziness that has gripped the country.
It’s not a matter of surprise that a Gandhian with a rather universal single-point agenda gathers so much of a mob-like fan following… Gandhian, Fasting, Saying No To Corruption… predictable outcome. Why, even the famed dabbawalas of Mumbai struck work in a show of solidarity with him! It’s also not much of a surprise that the media are all gaga about him…. this is the guy who decided to break his fast in the past because the media couldn’t get to his village, and he has rather astute media advisors now, I’d imagine.
The real wonder here was that people don’t seem to have just a ‘Let’s what the tamasha’ sort of an attitude to this. You can give a movement all the publicity in the world, but the sort of attention it draws can only depend on its content. This is not one of those candlelight march sort of things, nor is it the ‘change your Facebook profile pic to Anna Hazare’ sort of thing. People seem genuinely into this. A friend of my sister’s wanted to go to Freedom Park and fast on her birthday. A seventeen-year-old. Fasting. On her birthday. Freedom Park. That’s some serious shite.
I really wonder why.
Every twenty or so years, some or the other movement seems to come to the forefront, mobilize youth and grown folk alike, throw up a few heroes and induct many more workers, who all go on to be the next generation of politicians. There was the Freedom movement at first, then the Jayaprakash Narayan one, where a lot of people who are at the forefront in politics today cut their teeth – Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Laloo Yadav, George Fernandes, Subramanian Swamy… and various others. Then we had Mandal and Ayodhya. Now, this.
I wonder what’s behind this phenomenon (If it can be judged as one.. I think I’m concluding too much from too little, but given that people conclude so much more from so much less usually, bear with me). I assume it has something to do with there being a whole new generation of youth with no political moorings every twenty years. Now I have my rightist political moorings, I’ve done my share of taking politics seriously and general rabble-mongering, even if it was only on numerous Orkut communities and this blog… if I had been a part of something bigger when I was in that phase, say, in the 2009 elections, there’s a good chance I’d've been interning with a political party… but that didn’t happen. The point is, I know where to direct my greviances now. I know who to vote for. Reading works of politicians and watching people like Subramanian Swamy use the system well has reinforced my faith in the system. It isn’t so for a lot of youth. They don’t know what to do, who to address with their ‘It’s the system, man!’ frustrations. I guess the glut in the number of such youth has peaked around now or something, due to which so many of them seem to identify with India Against Corruption. Right place, right time.
If the glut had occurred two years back, Lok Paritran or some such Youth-y party would have been the beneficiary of this largesse of political feeling. And if the glut was a few years away, Anna Hazare would have just been a joke and everyone would have dismissed Kejriwal as the guy in the last bench who thinks he’s going against the system whenever he back-talks a teacher.
What I’m saying is, the movement doesn’t find the people, the people find the movement. It is inevitable that we have some mass movement every now and then that the country needs to cool off all the latent political emotion.
So what can we do with this? This is just a hunch… more empirical study would be a good thing to have on this. If this hypothesis is indeed found to be true, political parties should watch for signs and then make sure to capitalize on this feeling of ‘revolution’ by recruiting heavily in colleges and urban centers. They can also fan this feeling of insecurity and make the country go to the poll just when this seems to be boiling over, and capitalize on it. A nice tool to have in their arsenal.
And now the more important question. Corruption? Seriously? What’s the deal? Aren’t we all corrupt at some level? Don’t the bribe-takers also come from the same places as we do? Do we really need an ombudsman?
I did used to think that there’s no point of a LokPal. Any ombudsman can be easily compromised, every man has a price. There’s no way this could stop big-ticket corruption. Why then, are people supporting this bill, apart from that they are all Sheeple?
I get reminded of the Jayanagar 4th Block RTO and the Registrar’s office. You couldn’t for the heck of you get anything done in either of those places without paying a bribe. The areas outside of these places used to be overrun with touts. Everyone there was corrupt, head to toe, end to end. I remember telling my mother about a classmate whose father worked at the RTO, following which my mother gave a look of disgust and said “Yeah, plenty of bribe money”.
And then the LokAyukta struck. They suspended a ton of people (or recommended for them to be suspended, and those recommendations were implemented), got in newer people from elsewhere, and those places remained clean for, I’d like to think, atleast a few years.
The allure of an independent entity is that they have few, if any, vested interests in that place, and are immune to influence because they aren’t in the system. It is easier for them to view these instances of corruption as just cases to be solved or people to be apprehended, and go about their job without worrying about interference. This is the side of an Independent Entity that people want to see. And these ‘new officers without vested interest’ have been successful in more than a few places, including movies, that people really want to give it a try.
Of course, not all is hunky-dory with getting a LokPal… those folks are human too, and they too can succumb to cold hard cash offered, and no way can they be very useful to counter big-ticket corruption.
And petty corruption is not something that takes place only with the bureaucrats… a couple of hundred when you’re speeding, a couple more to move files a little bit more faster, a few here and there because you’re lazy to get that document done and you need to get that government office work done today… that’s not new to any of us, is it? Especially since we know as well as the civil servants we bribe that it’s hard to sustain a family on that kind of a salary.
I’m ambivalent on the Lokpal thing, but I do know that automating things can go a long way in checking corruption. Take the human element out of everything, let everything just be a form you need to fill online, let every ration shop be a bunch of vending machines where you swipe your card, enter your PIN and get your dole. If you jump a red light, let the ticket come to your house after finding out your address from your license plate. Let there be emission test gates where you swipe your emission test certificate, failing which you need to pay a fine. Or have these police station kiosks where you have a videoconference sort of a thing with some police officer somewhere in the country who takes down your complaint, to use which you need your biometric ID. If there’s no human who controls what you get, neither can you bribe him, nor can he ask you for a bribe. And if you have any problems, you’ll be interacting with a call center guy somewhere who you have no clue about, and which call will possibly be monitored for quality control purposes.
There’s no way you can pass a couple of hundred under the table there. I’m sure people will find kickass ways to send and receive bribes, but we’ll deal with those when we get there.
What’s more, this will create a new generation of people who have no clue about how to go about bribing officers, and a bunch of officers who have no way to take bribes and are unfamiliar with the practice. It’d take a ton of stepping out of their comfort zone to do either of those things. So there.
And systemic reforms too. There’s CET which makes sure the meritorious get into a good college, but what about the ones with bad luck in the exams, who feel entitled to more because they had a perfect track record, but screwed up their math paper? They’ll obviously book seats in colleges, pay touts a heck load of money… unless you make a KSIT the same level as RVCE, unless there’s no steep gradient in the quality of institutions, this will definitely happen. There will obviously be a bunch of people who feel the system has screwed them over. The point of a well-designed system is to keep the proportion of such people low, because if they gain substantial strength, they will find extra-systemic means to gain what they want.
That apart, Kiran Bedi seems hormonal. I feel sorry for her having come to this point. It was so ironic that she was on the other side of the bars in Tihar. She’s one of those unfortunate people who have been totally screwed over by the system. Stay positive, Ms. Bedi, you still have a lot of spunk left in you.
And yeah, I’m a newly-minted fan of Dr. Subramanian Swamy, after his efforts in the 2G case. He seems totally badass and Machiavellian, an inspiring example of someone who uses the system to achieve his ends instead of simply ranting about it.
And his older daughter Gitanjali Swamy seems super inspiring in her own right… IITK Compsci, Berkeley PhD, Prof at Columbia and Harvard, and a string of startups… what’s not to admire?
The past couple of weeks have been quite eventful. For one thing, Google released its Facebook-killer in a very very swift and well-planned move. For another, I finally got to see San Francisco thanks to this very nice cousin of mine.
First, on San Francisco. I find I’m a big-city girl at heart. I can simply not live in suburbia or anything like that… not in India, not anywhere else. Closer to nature and all is fine, but not for more than a few days. The city simply pulsates with people, with spirit, with soul.
Los Angeles does, too. But it feels very…. different. Like, most people you find taking the Metro from Union Station would be tourists or working-class folk, or the elderly and disabled. But when you take the VTA from San Jose Diridon, you find the light rail has Wifi inside, and is filled with a really much wider variety of people, and a more uniform distribution. The Bay Area feels much less stratified socially than Los Angeles or anywhere else in Southern California. Or maybe I’ve not been there long enough to see the stratification. LA somewhat reminds me of New Delhi, while San Francisco reminds me of Bangalore. (And Sunnyvale reminds me of Chennai so much that I suspect it’ll be renamed Sakthivel soon).
San Francisco seems very, very easy on the feet. It’s a pleasure to walk its streets, the narrow lanes with tall buildings which shade you from the harsh summer sun. I find it funny that in the USA, people in cities walk much, much more than people in smaller towns and rural areas… in her memoir, Tina Fey recounts this incident where she had her nieces and nephews from the Midwest visit her in New York, and were extremely tired when they were done with the day because getting around New York involved so much walking! I thought that was an outlier, there must be some quirky way to explain that off, and that that won’t generalize…. but tramping around SF makes me want to strongly believe that is indeed the case.
I haven’t really travelled around the US much, just a little here and there, but every place seems to be a clone of every other place, with only a few old places preserving their character… while being inundated with big brands everywhere. Urbanization in the US seems to be done with no soul to it. But San Francisco turned that on its head for me. Every building is different from every other building. When you look at the city from a high vantage point (like, say, Lombard Street), when you look at the rows of mismatched houses, it might probably not be as easy on the eyes as, say, looking at a street in Irvine where all the houses are uniform and prettified, but when you walk down the same street, the riot of clashing colours, the tall orange house next to the even taller red-brick pub next to the tiny bright purple art-supplies store makes such a refreshing relief from living in a StepfordWife-esque town.
And the art galleries and the art supply stores! I’m no artist, but I do like looking at pretty things that are pleasant on the senses. And while I didn’t buy any art supplies there, I got inspired enough by all the colour and hippie-ness (and even the hippies struck me as being very square hippies, the sort with a lecturership at Berkeley) to get very quirky-coloured yarn for crocheting.
There’s plenty of graffiti covering every single surface in the Bay Area. Some of it seems to be related to gangs and their territory claims or whatever, but heck, most of it looks so artsy! I wonder if people use stencils to spraypaint the walls? The graffiti has inspired me to want to do a photo-essay on the city, and call it Funky Freedom (after the song by Colonial Cousins, which is about very different things, but the title suits this so aptly). In the struggle to try and stick it to The Man, San Francisco seems to be the city in the US that’s most likely to taste success, far as I’ve seen.
What I liked best about the Bay Area however was the radio stations there. There are plenty that serve Southern California, too… in English, Spanish and Japanese. I used to be mildly annoyed with the profusion of ads on KRTH or KUCI or KALI or KLOS, and the only ad-free one was KUSC which played only classical music, and the radio jockeys on KUCI were incompetent, and the ones on KRTH were borderline sleazy. The programming and music just about passed muster…. and then I come across the Bay Area stations. They are very geared to listening during your workday. And most importantly, they seem to know exactly the sort of music I want to listen to!!
And now for Google Plus.
Clean, nice, Google-style interface. High marks for the privacy settings… I share more on it now than I used to on Facebook. I find it especially more conducive to share images. And the traffic is not so high that I’m very wary of addiction. I liked the way the hype built up. I liked how they executed it, making privacy a high priority…. they had seemingly learnt from their mistakes on Buzz, where they forced sharing down everyone’s throats. One rather hilarious incident in the early days of Buzz involved a friend changing his status message to something about someone on his chat list when that person was offline, and it got posted on Buzz automatically. It wasn’t until said person-on-chatlist logged into Buzz and saw the 40-odd responses to that update and began acting funny with him did he realize his Buzz was on. No such slip-ups on Google+… you don’t share something with someone unless and until you want to.
And Hangout has to be the single most awesome thing since sliced bread. The harate sessions so far have been nothing short of fun, and the randomness progresses quicker than on group chat. It’s heavy on memory and processing, not to mention bandwidth, and hopefully they’ll find ways of bringing it down even more soon.
While I’m very glad for circles, I really wish they allowed set operations on circles. Sometimes more than specifying who I want to share a post with, I’d like to say I want to share it with everyone in my circles with the exception of one bunch of people. Like if my extended family are organizing a surprise party using G+ for my cousin, it’d be easier for me to share a post with (Family – VidyaAkka) instead of (Amma, Appa, Sandy-mama, Suji-mami, Radhika-chithi, Viju-perima, Seenu-mama, Sriram-chitappa, Ashok-anna, Karthik-anna, Chintu, Pinky and Bubbly), (and what a pain it is to keep track of all the names).
That said, it throws up more questions about social networking. It becomes apparent that you need to have two set of circles – one for sharing with and another for reading. Both your cool cousin and your ageing uncle fall into Family, the circle with whom you share photos of the pongal you made for Pongal along with sidenotes about how you missed saying Pongalo Pongal with the whole clan, but your cousin’s set of Wilbur Sargunaraj links go better with the same thread as the one your co-internet-addict friends sharing GultRage/KannadaRage comics than your uncle’s desperately-in-need-of-a-Snopes-check email forwards. And your being specific about what you share with who removes the random component of things completely. Like, if some friends get forgotten, they stay forgotten. Unlike on Facebook where all of a sudden you get back in touch with an old friend because they see your location updated to Melbourne and comment saying hey, I’ve lived in Melbourne for two years now, maybe we should catch up. And another thing is I want to filter posts by topic than by who shared it. Like, I probably don’t care about the finance-related posts my schoolfriend shares and would rather not have them on my timeline, but I’d really really want my attention drawn to his announcing the birth of his first child. I probably don’t care for a researcher’s sharing his karaoke night photos, but I do care for when he updates his blog with a Scala tutorial. It seems a daunting task off-hand to build a system that does that automatically, but that notion needs to get out there.
Also, with privacy, the notion of being able to see who all a certain post you might comment on is going to be shared with does have a significant need. But heck, I don’t want people trying to infer what sort of circles I have by keenly observing the also-shared-with list. I want there to be a distinction I can choose to make, like a CC and a BCC in email.
And heck, when I’m on someone’s profile page, I want to be able to send them a Direct Message or an Email or something similar. I don’t want to have to add them to a circle, go back to my homepage, create a post that is shared with just them. I’d like to be able to message anyone from their profile page. It’ll I guess be just a simple few lines of code where you share an update with just them at a click of a button, but that goes a long way.
This one might come as a bit of nitpicking, but trust me, it makes a huge difference to me and possibly a lot of others. There is just too much wasted space on the G+ screen. I prefer my Facebook or Twitter timeline to this. There’s more I can take in at one glance on those screens whereas with G+, I need to scroll up and down a lot. The middle column is too narrow comparatively and the font sizes are by default too large. This is perfect when you have only a few updates everyday like I do now, but the same thing for a posting volume like the folks I follow on Twitter or on Facebook wouldn’t hold up. It would involve an unholy amount of scrolling. It’s fine when I want to read every single thing shared, but then, I don’t want to. There should be a more comfortable way of skimming past updates. And one thing I really really would like to see is to combine the same link shared by different people into just one update, like Facebook does.
All said and done, it’s not yet as wildly addictive as Facebook was when it started. The updates to my inbox are more irksome than the sort that get me going to my Plus homepage. I wouldn’t for the heck of me call it a Facebook-killer, but it sure is a great alternative, like how Chrome is to Internet Explorer. I have mostly positive feelings towards it. It feels like the mutated offspring of Facebook and Twitter midwifed by Google, and I really really wonder what it’s going to grow up to be.
It’s close to dawn, and my code’s still running. I’m not in bed because I’m babysitting it. Not to worry (I know some of my kinsmen and kinswomen who read this blog do worry… much thanks ), I’ll wake up late in the morning… I’ve – or rather, my body has – become fanatic about getting seven hours downtime every 24 hours.
I plan to go on a Disney movie watching spree once I’m done with all that I’m currently doing. Yeah you can accuse the movies of promoting unhealthy body images in girls, Princess complexes, being racist, and a ton of other things, but they do bring the Magic alive. I was down low last week, and what made me fly again was Lightning McQueen and Mater from Cars. I totally loved Schumacher’s cameo in Cars… though I don’t much know about F1 racing, I couldn’t help but be impressed when Schumacher visits Luigi and Guido and asks them for tyres.
Cars2 was a fun watch, too. I don’t understand why it has been panned so badly by critics. Why should an animated movie always have some sort of a message, about how we are polluting the environment or how we should switch to cleaner energy sources, or how we should eat healthier? Or about inner peace and discovering yourself. Or family values. Why can’t it just be plain fun, where we are awed by the awesomeness of the animators in anthropomorphising cars, planes, trains and boats, and getting and chuckling at all the references they make? It was fun watching a kiddie spy movie, with all the jingjang gadgets and parodies and tributes. The story might probably have required a lot more work, but the dialogues were spot on, the animation topnotch, and the overall execution great. In particular, I liked the scene where Mater gets knighted by the Queen, and she calls him Sir Tow Mater, when he says nope, it’s okay, you can just call me Mater, none of this Sir business, and oh, by the way, have you met my friend McQueen? McQueen, Queen, Queen, McQueen.
Kung Fu Panda 1 and 2 were quite impressive too. Yeah, it’s not really China there, and it’s way too Americanized, but heck, it’s a fun escapist watch.
And I’m still having a girl-crush (Womance? Sisfatuation?) on Tina Fey. No, I’m not asserting she’s perfect… I’m pretty sure to get to where she is, she should have been a jerk at one point or the other, presumably a ton of times, and listening to the way she insults people in public makes me wonder how she insults them when not on camera… she called Paris Hilton a tranny on Prime Time TV. But the thing is, she’s disciplined, works hard, lets her strong personality shine through… screw all the oh-she’s-a-lady-broke-the-glass-ceiling… she’s there because she worked hard for it, and that’s something I need to emulate.
I don’t know about other fields of science and technology, but Computer Science is pretty objective in terms of evaluation; I came across a study that says there’s less dissatisfaction and disparity in terms of pay and position among women in Engineering and Computer Science than the more women-dominated fields like the Humanities. No matter what everyone says, I don’t think there’s an active campaign to diss and keep downtrodden women in computer science. It feels like a boys’ club sometimes, especially when you are in a new area and everyone around you seems male and genius, quite the opposite of female and clueless which you are. But half the problem is the perception – the whole getting psyched about ‘OMG, I’m the only brown girl in the ring’, which brings down your morale and boldness. It takes only a couple of google searches to reach out to more people like you. And all you need to do is ask for help… people are nice. Sure there are the demoralizing jerks, but they are not everyone. None of this is easy or intuitive, but you need to just keep at it, keep these in mind. Yes, some bimbo will screw you over some time. Yes, some jerkofellow will take credit for your work at one point. Things will happen. But you’ve got to keep in mind hard work and smart work and dedication always pay off. They do, no matter how much life tries to convince you otherwise. You just need to take into account the fact that life is not fair.
Thanks to my wonderful friends, I saw Blackfield live in concert a few weeks back. They were wonderful. And Steven Wilson signed my ticket for me, but sadly was not posing for pics. Still… yippie-ki-yay.
I watched Guna last week. It’s one of the (many) movies where Kamal Haasan plays a deranged character. The first ten minutes of the movie creeped the hell out of me, and is still haunting me. I wonder very hard if people like Kamal Haasan and Ryu Murakami are sane in real life. Is their view of the world PG-13 for the most part? Do they view everyone in terms of neuroses and psychoses? Do they visualize dastardly acts of violence happening around them? Sometimes, when I people-watch, I start wondering about people’s backstories. They’d seem very Swami and Friends if I write them down… but what sort of backstories do Kamal and Murakami think of? When Kamal is pissed in real life, does he get poetic? When he cries in real life, does he do it Mahanadi-style or does he just sob quietly? I remember some talk of his where he says it’s like he leases out his mind to a character he’s playing, and makes the character vacate his mind once the lease period – his workday – is over. What was he like before he figured this simple thing out? Does he follow this to the T always?
I now see NITK has jumped on to the TEDx bandwagon and will host talks that’ll come under TEDx this Incident/Engineer. Since it’s a trend they are following (after NSIT and BITS and possibly others I’m not as such aware of), I wouldn’t say good job, great move or anything…. this was inevitable. And it’ll be a great experience for the students (and possibly faculty) organizing it. It’ll give NITK some very good press, and wider coverage. We should have been putting out Inci-Engi stuff on an official Youtube channel so far atleast, but this will catalyze all that, make all of it happen sooner than expected.
That said, what’s with the proliferation of these? Sure, it’s a good thing and all, but there seems to be no form of quality control. The few talks I’ve seen all seem to be put together on the way to the venue. One talk by RK Misra however seemed much godawesome, as did the one by the Faking News guy. What’s the point of the brand name if it doesn’t stand for quality? I was mildly irked by the frivolity of some of the topics, but more than that by the lack of dedication shown by some of the speakers. I can only hope the ones picked for TEDxNITSurathkal are folks showcasing good ideas and more importantly folks who speak well, and inspire NITKians and everyone else.
I’ll leave you with the third installment of Everything Is A Remix that came out in the past couple of weeks. I liked this one a heckuva lot. It’s about the nature of innovation and copying and standing on the shoulders of giants. In particular, I liked this quote by Henry Ford which summed it all up:
I invented nothing new. I simply assembled into a car the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work… Had I worked fifty or ten or even five years before, I would have failed. So it is with every new thing. Progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready, and then it is inevitable. To teach that a comparatively few men are responsible for the greatest forward steps of mankind is the worst sort of nonsense.
I didn’t know about Baba Ramdev until I came back to NITK after second year break to find my roommate expertly doing Yoga routines every morning. She had learnt it from Aastha TV, apparently. I was transfixed, and quite skeptical.
I was (and am) deeply skeptical of anyone who promises instant moksha or teaches everything in ‘easy ways’…. and I react sharply to people learning life-changing stuff from someone on TV. One reason is because one size doesn’t fit all, especially with respect to things that are supposed to influence your health, or belief systems. So while I’d seen Baba Ramdev on Aastha while changing channels, I’d not paid much attention to him.
It took me that long to find out just how much influence he had on the Hindi-speaking parts of the country. And from what I saw and heard, he didn’t seem the selfish charlatan sorts or a fly-by-night operator, both of which I’ve come across quite often.
I’ve not come across such good use of the mass media which actually works. There are these science lessons on some obscure radio station I’ve come across in Bangalore, and radio doctor programmes, but I’ve not seen any equivalent for television. And for just that, the Baba has my *respect* .
His views on homosexuality are unfortunate and questionable to say the least, and deserve much ridicule, but are not uncommon; I’m willing to bet over half of the urban educated folk who ridicule those views of his are homophobic to some (great) degree.
Going over his asking for death penalties for corruption and stuff, I fully agree he doesn’t know what he’s going on about. There are tons of articles lampooning his seemingly unreasonable demands, and it’s pretty easy to come up with a http://www.ramdevwants.com on the lines of chucknorrisfacts or schneierfacts, ['item #23416: Baba Ramdev wants a One Macbook Per Child project subsidized by the government'], but I strangely don’t want to do that [But if you do, please do credit me on the website]. There’s a saying by Tina Fey that if you aim for the moon, you’ll atleast get to Houston. [No, she didn't say that, I did, yesterday when I was discussing politics in a state of half-sleep]. If you want a bicycle, you need to ask for an Activa.
You need to put forth unreasonable demands so that the majority of the nation feels ‘OMG, that’s crazy, he should be asking for [list of more reasonable demands]‘. If you put forth just [list of reasonable demands], no one, least of all, the media, is going to notice it. And in this era of information explosion, I can personally testify that you don’t hear about stuff unless it is very good or very bad. If you want to capture the imagination of the nation, you have to be outrageous. You have to out-crazy the craziness the media generally follows.
Additionally, even in spite of demands that completely make no sense, he has such a lot of support. That is because it provides a lot of people a way to channel the outrage they feel, especially since those areas are where the government and bureaucracy matters and corruption affects whom much more than it matters to those of us in big cities. Such a grassroots-level mass uprising hasn’t happened in a long while, and it’s long overdue especially given what the center is doing to us in its UPA-II avatar. Such a public show of support for an idea is essential to nudge the middle class out of its complacence.
Now I certainly don’t support death penalty for corrupt people. But I also don’t support all the outrage that was spilled when Ram Jethmalani agreed to be Manu Sharma’s lawyer. The defining bit of a democracy is that people have liberty to go wrong, and be assumed innocent till they are proven guilty. To err is human and everyone could do with a chance to better themselves, and every punishment should fit the crime. In that way, the trial-by-media that ensued after Jessica Lall’s murder was no different from a lynch mob or a khap.
There’s got to be these incidents that let a democracy blow off steam and let them know what they feel deep inside. It’ll be crazy, it’ll be asking too much, it’ll be completely unreal. But it needs to happen. You need the crazy ideas and exaggerations to drive home the points, to soften people up to listening to the saner ideas. Like in Stranger in a Strange land, to get the nurse to put a single bug on the alien’s door, the reporter gives a chapter-long list of possible doomsday-ish scenarios.
Now I’ll sincerely hope the Baba doesn’t take to standing in elections or anything like that; the last thing we want is the anti-Congress votes being split. But we certainly require incidents like this to serve as our wake up calls, especially at a time when people think their duty is over when they ‘Like’ a Facebook community against corruption. Maybe one day it’ll strike us all that when we say “Yeah, the Lokpal proposals are outrageous, but they can certainly be improved’, that we can also similarly ‘improve’ existing laws and provisions against corruption and other things, such that a Lokpal Bill won’t even be necessary. Maybe it’ll dawn upon us that we can have a Uniform Civil Code. Or a stronger anti-terrorism law. Or make it easier for entrepreneurs to set up new businesses. Or build newer and better roads. Or strengthen primary education.
PS: What happened to that Lead India guy, RK Misra? He seemed to be one of those street-smart fellas who knew to play to the gallery while making his points heard… I totally enjoyed him on a panel discussion at NITK. He joined BJP I know, but we haven’t heard a peep out of him since then…. what’s he doing now?
PPS: I wonder what Dr. Rajeev Gowda’s opinions on Jairam Ramesh’s ‘IIMs Suck’ comments are. I ask for Dr. Rajeev Gowda because he’s a Congress guy, while also being a prof at IIMB (and an excellent quizzer too).. his perspective would be an interesting and enlightening one. Did no mediapersons think of posing this question to him?
I’ve been exceedingly tied up with this and that and god alone knows what else, though I feel like I’ve not gotten any darn thing done. But over the past couple of months, I’ve managed to watch and read stuff.
Most of it has been random shite I wouldn’t rewatch or reread. But some stuff has penetrated my numb skull and made an impression on me. I’m a sucker for small details which I don’t explicitly notice, but which give me a glimpse of a feeling of something, somewhere I want to be. A flick of the wrist, a hint of jealousy in a voice, some microexpression, pastel colour schemes… they don’t even register, but go on to hit me like a ton of bricks, drawing the seemingly arbitrary line between “good” and “godawesome”.
So… here goes.
I hunted this one up just for the title. It sounded genuinely hatke. It’s a whodunit, with Rajit Kapoor as the detective, only it’s more Roger Akroyd and Poirot’s Last Case than his well-known Byomkesh Bakshi. It is shot very well, the white balance makes the images very sharp. And the characters apart from Rajit Kapoor and Rati Agnihotri aren’t known faces. Due to this, it genuinely feels like a whodunit… you can’t assume anything about any of the characters, you’ll be willing to go wherever the story takes you.
Saat Khoon Maaf
This movie sort of lived up to expectations, though watching a bad print sort of dilutes the experience. But what I liked the best was not Priyanka Chopra’s performance, though she does do well here. It was the characters of the servants – the butler, Usha Uthup and the dwarf jockey which gave it a real feel for me. When the butler is poisoned, it sort of hit home for me, the evilness of Naseeruddin Shah’s character. Usually the support staff in any movie are either just in the background and nothing happens to them; they are in the same state in the end as in the beginning, or their deaths are inconsequential, some sort of a sideshow. But here, it’s a turning point in the movie. Whoa.
And Vivaan Shah. The character of the narrator was so incredibly well-etched. The dark way in which he talks about each death in a casual way mirrors the sort of feel in the original Susanna’s Seven Husbands story, where the narrator is just a bystander, but the muffled irritation he has to every husband of Susanna’s (and is conveying the same to his wife) earns my empathy, makes the story personal in a way going deeper in to Susanna’s mind couldn’t have.
Tina Fey’s memoir. It’s not a bodice-ripping tell-all tale or anything. It’s exactly what you expect from a comedy writer. She writes about her early life, her path to SNL, life at SNL, 30Rock, playing Sarah Palin.. and then reflecting on her life, child(ren)…. the stories aren’t spicy or edge-of-seat. But it’s the way she writes them that keeps you glued to the book. Her writing style when she is trying to be funny is reminiscent of Woody Allen. When she’s not being all WoodyAlleny, she has a very conversational, stream-of-consciousness way of writing. You can as well imagine her saying these things on some talk show or the other. Her pragmatic approach to feminism appealed to me, mainly because I haven’t heard these sorts of points of view elsewhere, and it gives my (very similar) points of view some validation.
I’ve always found Tina Fey pretty, and wondered where all those ugly-jokes came from – on 30Rock, everyone makes derisive references to her looks including herself, and she herself talks about her looks in a self-deprecating way. That, mind you, was a little unsettling… it felt like she was just playing the Geek Girl card while being Hollywood-ugly (the sort who only needs to take off her glasses to look like a leading lady), not real-ugly. But only until I saw what she looked like before she began doing Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live… overweight, badly-dressed, with a haircut that didn’t quite suit her… and realized, well, she does know what she’s going on about; it’s not just exploitation.
This gives her a self-deprecating yet mean and nasty sort of a sense of humour, that is enchantingly delightful. She disses Paris Hilton, she disses random people on the Internet who’ve left nasty comments about her… you don’t always want to agree with her, but her insults are fun to hear and file away in memory to use sometime later.
This is a famous movie, apparently. It’s one of those very few Chinese movies famous outside of China which aren’t about martial arts… here, you must keep in mind that the only Chinese movies I’ve watched are Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and those ones dubbed in Tamil that show on Vijay TV on Sundays.
This one’s made in and set in Hong Kong. It’s got two stories, told one after the other, and they pretty much don’t intersect except for one brief moment.
The stories are normal, usual, whatever you call it…. they didn’t much make an impact on me. What did was the dialogues… my favourite is where one of the protagonists is arguing with the cashier in a departmental store about the feelings of a can of pineapple. The cinematography is good too. It gives me a feeling of deja vu; I seem to have seen this movie before I came to UCI – When I was at Hong Kong airport for my transit, this was one of the first shots I took, and the movie seems to look like that, only much more ’90s-looking and with better white balance and contrast.
Yeah, the dialogues are good, but I think the poignancy in the movie comes from the heckuva lot of stuff that is left unsaid. It’s been ages since I’ve watched a movie with latent emotion portrayed in a believable way. You know that scene in Sarkar where AB senior and AB junior realize that Kay Kay Menon is the one who betrayed them or something? That whole scene passes without a single word, just ominous background score and ‘powerful’ glances exchanged between them. That’s ‘latent emotion’ alright, but I didn’t find it one bit believable…. it came off as too forced.
In the climax of Chungking Express, he asks her if they would accept a boarding pass that looks like the one she gave him a year back, and then she says a very casual ‘maybe’ after which she writes him a new boarding pass on a tissue… that scene to me was pure magic.
And, of course, the strains of California Dreaming playing throughout the second half… I liked very much.
I liked the first story much better than the second one. Maybe because like the protagonist there, my twenty-fifth birthday isn’t all that far away. Maybe because of the pineapple dialogue. Maybe because of the pithy philosophy he spouts while nursing a broken heart, same as I do even when not nursing a broken heart – “Running is good. The body loses so much fluid when you run so that there’s none left for tears”. Maybe because Takeshi Kaneishiro is way better looking than Tony Leung. Maybe because on some days, I feel like Brigette Lin, with the whole world against me and so tired that I want to just sleep, though I might not remember to wish people on their birthdays when I wake up. Maybe because I found Faye Wong’s character in the second half way too creepy and stalkerly… maybe a few years back, I’d've found her character as alluring and enigmatic as the director wants you to think she is, but all I feel now is she is crazy, creepy and needs a restraining order.
After watching this flick, I’ve pretty much made up my mind that I’m going to fly to India the next time transiting at Hong Kong, with a really really really long layover and a transit visa. And take pictures of the streets and neon lights downtown at night. And edit them to make them seem as psychedelic as possible without making it look like Tokyo….thinking of which city gives me the shudders; the ghost of the Ryu Murakami books I’ve read so far still refuse to stop haunting me.
I’ll leave you with a clip of Quentin Tarantino talking about Chungking Express.
No, this post is not about cricket. It is instead about this blog turning six years old. It now needs to be enrolled in school, told to not talk too much, and needs to learn how to face the big bad world.
Many people have asked me how this blog started. No, actually not many have, but I like to say so just so that I can fall into more nostalgia. It was first year at NITK, and I was reading The Hindu in Tuhina’s room on a late Sunday afternoon, I think. There was an article about blogging in the supplement – remember this was 2005, people said ‘Wow’ if you said you wrote a blog. We thought it’d be a good idea to have one of those. I don’t know why it seemed like a good idea to do it together, but I’m glad we did. And here we are.
We’ve really come a long way since then. The folks who were the rebels of back then have sold out to the system now. Not us, mind you, I for one didn’t care enough to walk off the beaten path. I doubt I’d spare a glance today for those I considered my heroes and heroines back then – Shashi Tharoor for one, Arundati Roy for another. To use big words, I’d say both of us have found our own voice by now, sort of, and it’s not the crazy ranting voice that says “What’s wrong is the entire SYSTEM”, for everything from a stubbed toe to the 2G Scam, like we were afraid back then.
We’ve made our peace with the ‘System’, and those that exploited the ‘System’. The Mumbai train attacks turned me into a raging rightist, but it seems like I’ve made my peace with that as well, and I’ve read so much raging on the Internet since then that I seriously doubt any doomsday-prophecy sort of piece will ruffle me now, be it about the state of research or Reservations or anything. We now love the whole world and all its messed-up folk. And that does not necessarily mean we have to be nice to everyone.
One thing I’ve never brought up in all these years on the blog is about ‘Being a woman on the Internet’. Or simply, bringing attention to the fact that we are girls writing this blog. And I’m glad we had that unspoken, unwritten rule on during our most awkward years…. when I read the blogs of much-younger girls who haven’t been out here long enough, I feel a shudder for all that could have possibly gone wrong for me if I’d written like that. That’s not necessarily true for every girl on the blogosphere, but knowing me, I know things could go seriously wrong if I write like that. And why do I bring it up now? Because while I’m still school-going now, I don’t think I’m all that impressionable and vulnerable, and frankly it’s hard to harass someone via a blog now when there are so many other realtime webapps available for that. And um, we also have seen enough trolls that if we’re feeding one, it’s because we have too much time on our hands.
It would be easy for me to diss those little blogging girls for taking us back by 200 years, for using Blogger and WordPress like a matrimonial service and for doing the damsel-in-distress act and all that, but while I knew at the back of my head that dissing is not the right thing to do, this episode of 30 Rock puts it all in perspective for me. It’s not right to expect everyone with two X chromosomes to speak for all of womankind, and it is plain stupid to think every woman represents all women. And while doing so in real life is by itself idiotic, bringing those rules online is even worse. This whole ‘all of us gals should band together and stick up for each other’ thing is probably relevant maybe on a workshop floor, but not on the Internet, because women have been represented on the Net in real-world-esque proportions since about 2000. So I think it’s okay to hate some women bloggers just because they aren’t very nice people, and I think all those ‘A woman is a woman’s worst enemy’ or ‘You girls tear each other down’ sort of lines are unwarranted for.
[Aside: I've been quite taken in with Tina Fey for quite a while now, especially more so since her book, Bossypants came out, and the number of talk shows she was featured in just rose up exponentially. Read the book. She's very funny. Overall, her writing feels very like Woody Allen... I was reminded of Without Feathers in a lot of places.]
I also realize I’ve put in a lot of Tambrahm-this and Tambrahm-that into this blog. Given that Tambrahmness is the current flavour of the season, what with all the Rage comics and all, and the Indian comedy scene I follow is being dominated by Tambrahms who very nicely appropriate every single thing that can be exploited for humour into ‘Tambrahm culture’, I declare I’m sick of it, and as a mark of protest, I renounce the self-identification and henceforth am just someone who speaks Tamil as badly as I speak Kannada, and who’s a Bangalorean. Because the next stage in every such cultification is going to be “You are not Tam enough” or something, and heck, I don’t want to be Tam if it means segregation of the Sathyabhama sort and general desponess that follows, or the total murder of the language or a choice between being stubborn about your community or totally rebelling… I prefer being a wannabe Kannadiga any day. And I thought of what if every community had their own Rage comic, and decided the idea of caste-based rage is sick unless you are raging against caste being relevant in anything…. so no more Brahm either, unless you mean Brahms the composer. I would say Bangalorean-GeneralMerit, but that doesn’t sound cool enough. So, to hell with it, I say.
I sometimes wonder how appropriate it is to put up so much of my life out online. What if I become famous one day… If I’m on any independent Bill-drafting committee, will stuff from here come to bite me in the back? Am I digging my own grave by giving out so many details that anyone can misuse? Or, going the other way, am I not using this space enough? When I go through rough patches in research, shouldn’t I try reaching out people who might be able to help me get out of my own way by using this platform? Shouldn’t I use this to enforce some accountability in myself, like in Julie and Julia?
I wonder what has come of six years of blogging. For me, yeah, surely, it’s been great venting out here, it’s been great organizing my thoughts, and getting to be less of a bad writer, and it’s surely been great making acquaintances with people who were somehow tricked into commenting here. When I went through a bit of a bad phase a few months back, I was really overwhelmed by the positivity people showered on me. And it sometimes gives me a high when I interview for a job and the interviewer tells me he (they have always been male except in two interviews and those two nice ladies didn’t give any indications of having read this space) enjoyed reading my blog. But what have I given back? I’ve not had memes to my name. I haven’t coined insulting terms for other people that have caught on greatly (though I suspect I’ve in my own modest way propagated the use of the term amit_123). I wonder sometimes why people read me if they aren’t some insane stalkers or schadenfreuders. No, really. I’m not fishing for compliments here, that thought really does cross my mind. Then I figure out it’s timepass, just like those close-to-150 feeds I subscribe to on Google Reader.
I ritually thank my readers and frequent commenters by name every year, but heck, none of you lurkers comment and I have no idea who all you no doubt wonderful people are. So yeah, if you’re reading this, especially if you’re reading this on a feed reader, I thank you for all your support. Even more so if you’ve been my big brother/big sister on cyberspace and watched out for me and informed me of my faux pas before it got really bad… you folks know who you are.
And just as ritually, I mention Goddess Saraswati. Education has been my priority for literally all my life now, and I pray learning new things and using the power of the written word always stay with me, and bring me my good fortune. And given that I would soon be for sure stepping into the real world, I pray this time to Goddess Lakshmi as well.
And…. all I have left to say is Thanks for Reading.
Everybody acts like angry-angry these days. Everytime I open the shoshal medias minns, some hajaar ‘rage’ links I am the finding. The Kongas will rage minns everyone is monkey-see-monkey-doing, with all the stick-figure comics itsimms. Even small child in nursery school is drawing better. That too such stuppid-stuppid jokes – if the Brahmin is doing the koffings also one comic will come off for that. Wateveritis pa. Who is this Krish Ashok fello, I say? He is the Krish Srikkanth’s brether or the cousins or what?
If peepals are lazy to draw comics minns, they are writing blogs with byaaaaad Ingleesh like this one and this one. Madofellows. That also just chumma, they wantedly write bad longvage. All these rich-rich chilrans with costly-costly laptops and studied in caarment schools will sit and think and use the google and the yahoo and the bing to write in butler ingleesh. I am thinking, this will become off meme in twellaars time and all these fellows who want to study in the forin will write a proper-inglish-to-butler-inglish translator so that they will become off famous and can jamba-hachkofy on their resyooms.
Ok, once minns funny, twice minns funny, but thrice, frice, fice? Madofellows. Again-again same wordings, again-again not finding new butler words because you never speaking in the butler inglish since 2nd standar, your caarment-school Dingo Inglish-miss is slapping you if you are murdering her Queen’s longvage, and even your PT Master in your caarment school is speaking Inglish like Britisher because when small, his fother was watchman in Britisher’s bangla. And so you are trying to do the direct translation from the mother tongue longvage to ingleesh. But that is not the butleringleesh at all. No, Not, Never.
I am asking to this peepal, why your mummy-daddy send you to caarment? For your learning the good-english and speaking in tass-puss accent only no? From when you are child, your Basavappa unckal and Jagadamba aunty will come minns your mummy will say ‘beta, talk in English and show to uncle-aunty’ and then feeling proudly when they are giving you the fivestars and dairy milk no? When you are settle in forin minns, what you will show off your chilrans to your frands? “Oh my Chintu, he speaks so awesomely in Butler-English ya”, like that you will say-va? I know, I know all about you – you will say also like that, and you will record it also and put it on Youtube also, the dog’s tail is always curved.
This is a funny world, no? So many chilrans who are studying in the Vernacular-medium schools in Controlment-area will try to speak like all tass-puss, even when their frands are teasing them saying “Ey this Vijetha ya, she is sooo tass-puss, something and all long-long words she uses ya”, and they will go also to Prakruthi Banwasi’s Spoken English Coaching. But for you peepal, it is jokey to speak like this, it is a break from speaking all tass-puss in real life, and doing even more tass-puss when you have anyone who is looking forin. My frand also one fellow he used to do like this for some cute girl he is thinking she is Chainis girl, but then she is Mizo and is loffing. My one more frand, she is having the skin-problem so she is looking like the Britisher, and is beautier than Miss India only, she is always daily coming and telling, “Ei Priya, this fellow in bus ya, trying to talk in American-bhaashe to me”. If you see one Gowramma-type girl minns you will go talk to her in butler english-va?
In Mahanadi fillam, after the Sriranga Ranganatha song that scene is there no, where that girl is speaking one English essay and Kamalagaasan’s frand is videoing it, if Kamalagaasan had Internet and Youtube, he would put his daater’s inglish-speaking video there. But you with Youtube and internet will put off your chilran’s butler-Inglish video there.
I am also in forin only. I am also speaking the good Inglish, even in 4th standar, my teacher is saying “See the Priya talking the Inglish, all you should learn like her only”. My mummy-daddy will feel Aiyo what we have done, if they read this post, but they feel Aiyo what we have done for most things I do anyway. But when I am in the deep talkings with my sister and cousins and all, we are all the talking like this only. It is not jokey for us, it is mamool only, it is our comfortzone. But all you caarment type peepals, for you all this is joke, this is museum piece, this is like the zoo-visiting. Even in your sleep you are speaking in tass-puss accent, like that jana you are. You have none of the rights to make fun of our bhaashe, our culture. What, you are going to the African-American man and making the grape soda jokings uh?
PS 1: I just hope this doesn’t spawn more butler-english posts. I’m sure it won’t, but just indulge me in my grand delusions of being able to affect public opinion, will ya?
PS 2: Here’s to the post with the most number of squiggly red underlines ever.
PS 3: I hereby dedicate this post to the PT Master at my school, Jagannath Sir, whose voice has been dictating this post in my head. And also to all PT Masters, including the one in my sister’s school who said “Once minns ok, twice minns ok, but thrice, frice, fice?”. They are the true guardians of Butler English.
PS 4: Prakruthi Banwasi, in case you get to read this, jnaapka idiya, sir? And, for the uninitiated, Prakruthi Banwasi conducts awesome spoken English classes in Bangalore.
PS 5: You ain’t butlering englishing unless and until you’ve been through this guide.
Folks who know me from childhood will assert I was not an easy child to feed. My mother and her mother struggled hard to keep me well-nutritioned. In fact, my mother has so much practice that I’m pretty confident if she was on the UPA’s side, by now Anna Hazare would have quit crying about Lokpal or another one of his imaginary pals and go to sleep well-fed.
All that exposure to wholesome food is hard to get over. I’ve always eaten well save second year at NITK… It’s impossible to get unused to filling your craw every few hours with something or the other. Which is why my desk drawer always, always has some assortment of junk food and my fridge is well-stocked. Touchwood. I can’t for the heck of me fast.The system is always being fed at regular intervals. It doesn’t stock up on adipose because there’s no need to; the next source of energy will not be long in coming.
But a couple of weeks back, I’d just gotten done with a killer course and wanted to let myself off a few days, where I could just sleep and eat and watch movies and all that. I did end up watching a lot of chickflicks. Which is why I didn’t sleep much more than usual. But eat….. ahh…. that’s a story.
Living by yourself (or with a roommate whose culinary requirements are way different from yours) means nothing moves unless you move it. And your larder will not be stocked unless you stock it. And food will not magically appear until you make it. But given that I had resigned myself to a vegetative state, I wasn’t too enthusiastic about all the dosas, uthappams, sandwiches, burritos, palyas and other things I usually am enthusiastic about, and that increased how lazy I was to even eat. I think I had only about 33% of what I had everyday. So while I wasn’t technically fasting, for my body, which rings its alarm bells rather loudly at regular intervals, it was a reasonable approximation.
The point is, there was no lasting damage to me or my appetite or anything. I did feel weak after I got bored of the movies, but it wasn’t anything one square meal couldn’t fix. I’m sure if I was outside for a greater part of the day, I would have groaned in hunger and taken refuge in pizza, but given that all I was doing was wasting time on the Internet, watching movies and talking to friends, my calorie intake pretty much sufficed.
So I find it hard to figure out why the government caved in so early to Anna Hazare’s blackmail. I mean, this guy has made a career out of threatening to go hungry. He’s used to days without food. What’s more, he was in the damn Army, and I’m pretty sure their constitutions are sturdier than mine, and they’ll be used to standing in the sun without food for hours on end. So…. his threat doesn’t really strike me as a threat. More so since people of less sturdier constitutions go hungry not by their own will but because they don’t have the resources to procure food, and still continue to survive. Agreed, Anna Hazare is thrice my age, but I’m the desk job person who has to actually try to gain weight and goes to the rec center just so that I don’t forget what it is to run, and he is the one who has built a model village with his own hands.
The trick to starving well is to not remind yourself or your body that you need food. You need to keep yourself distracted, but not too active. You shouldn’t indulge in tasks that require much physical exertion or mental flexing. So solving differential equations is out, as is taking a long walk in the sun. Even more so, you shouldn’t indulge in this for more than maybe a few minutes at a time. Ideally, you would have to breathe correctly from your stomach to keep the circulation to your brain up so that you don’t get a headache from the lack of food, and to not tire your eyes, it would be helpful to go into a vegetative – oops – meditative state.
Now what exactly do these fasters do that violate these things? They sit in a public place, that’s it. They might make speeches, but that just keeps them distracted and not thinking about the food. They pretty much suspend their day-to-day activities. And they aren’t even exposed to the hot sun; their followers make sure of that. People, the sun is the biggest enemy to lack of food. The hotter your head gets, the hungrier you get. If you are not facing the sun, half your troubles are avoided while fasting. And I suppose no one watching the show would even be eating. I dare Anna Hazare to carry on his fast-unt0-death in a crowded restaurant, where the smell of well-cooked food assails his nostrils. Or to do his day-to-day work while not eating a morsel… that makes sense.
When we think of hunger strike, we think of the said person requiring the number of calories we require on a day when we’re going about doing our work. It doesn’t strike us that someone who is just sitting around in a comfortable environment requires far lesser number of calories and hence the not eating doesn’t affect them as much as we think it does.
On a related note, I suppose everyone assumes Gandhi had his simple diet which did not consist of milk or sweets or anything ostentatious. ‘He lived on fruits’ sounds so austere. I used to assume that too, until I came across some magazine where a former assistant of Gandhi’s was talking about his last day. The description of the morning meal baffled me. True, it consisted only of fruits, but heck, how much? Five oranges, three large tomatoes, several apples and a bunch of bananas to finish off, along with some juice as well. And possibly goat’s milk to tide over that technicality of his not having cow’s milk, but I’m not sure that was included. I sometimes have a single banana with milk for breakfast when I’m late for class, and I know several people who go without breakfast.
Till age 14, I could not imagine myself ever observing Ekadashi fasts – no grains in diet, but it turned out, the no grains is a technicality to be tided over – you can as easily have delicacies made of sabudana, as I learnt from a pro-at-ekadashi-fasts sort of person. Apart from the litres of milk and the kilograms of fruits, of course.
So heck, the next time someone says “He’s on a diet of onlyyyy fruits and still is so active!”, I’m going to sock them one. Even though it’ll be a rather weak punch because I only eat cereals, vegetables, lentils and junk…. beat this… my sister and I quit junk food for a while and snacked only on fruits, and it turned out we felt less lethargic, more active and more alert, even without coffee or Red Bull. Or maybe especially without.
The point I make after 1200 words here is, hunger strike is not a big deal until you’re at it for a week or something, if you are not indulging in any activity during it. All that it serves is to publicize your cause.
But even that is pretty suspect…. Irom Sharmila has been hungerstriking and has been force-fed for 10 years now, and the media is pretty tired and is pretty much ignoring her and her cause. And hunger strikes don’t always work…. which is why they are not so common. And read this piece by Manu Joseph, it’s pretty harsh on Anna Hazare, but it points out that he does the hunger thing mainly because he seeks publicity for his causes. I mean, if not the publicity surrounding him, why else will the country bother about yet another person dying of hunger?
I’m writing this in darkest hour. No, not metaphorically like that.. just that dawn is an hour or so away. My body clock is rather messed up, and I’m stuck about whether to embrace it or to go on the warpath and try to set it ‘right’, right here meaning the sort that’ll wake a few hours before noon and sleep somewhere on the good side of midnight. I’m afraid to upset the delicate balance I’ve created, but I also crave the productivity of the morning hours. It’s not like I’ve not tried setting it ‘right’… I’ve tried over so many weekends, to sleep it off or keep awake, but something or the other always, always messes it up.
Talking of which, I have a vague, vague wish I were in Egypt two weeks back. Some detox from the Internet is what I need, yeah, but I can’t voluntarily detox now when I’m actually awaiting a lot of stuff in my inbox. I can’t pull a danah boyd (Lack of capitalization intentional. That’s how she spells her name) and ask everyone to email me a week hence. Not just yet.
However, I don’t even remotely wish I was Egyptian over the past week. Uprising and all is great, but volatility kills me, it just kills me. I cannot take the excitement of a pregnant pause, the cusp of something totally different, the uncertainty in what’s coming next. And yes, I’m going through a bit of that for a few other reasons. I think if I were in Egypt, I’d've broken a window, set something on fire, thrown a Molotov cocktail at an armyman…. something to spark off all the latent tension.
I just can’t take uncertainty.
And all the stuff about how the Internet helps organize mobs… y’know what, uncoordinated publicity, hashtags and all that can only incite mob frenzy. Nothing more. If anything gets done, it’s in the frenzy of a mob. And it can also be easily defused. Expecting 10k likes to translate into 1k people on the streets is too much, let alone expecting 10k people on the streets based on some Facebook community. The reason all these things looking like they work are because they place great weights on things that don’t take much for people to do. Sounds pretty disjoint coming from me at this time in the night/morning, but it was very lucidly said by Malcolm Gladwell in an opinion piece I can’t seem to find now.
I’ve pretty much lost faith in humanity, so I don’t expect the outcomes of the ‘revolutions’ dotting the Arab world to lead to any larger good for the countries or for the rest of us. As long as there are people to be exploited, there will be tinpot dictators, slavedriver bosses, bossy spouses, martinet teachers.
And heck, if anyone’s nice to me, or anything good happens, I just don’t take it well. I am constantly looking for the price-tag, the downside, the catch… it’s good, in a way, I’ve to admit.
Y’know how it is when you hate things for absolutely no reason? Yeah. It pays to try finding out why exactly you hate these things, and for writing it down somewhere for posterity. Otherwise you’re wont to hear one mindblowing talk and say “Heck, why didn’t I consider this career option? What was I smoking?”, and kick yourself for weeks together till the reason is staring at you in the face and you say “Oh, yeah, that’s why”. Save yourselves the trouble, children.
Also, the reason you pick a career is not because you love the awesome stuff… anyone can love that, but you pick one because you like the boring stuff about the job as well. Like the endless waiting for code to finish compiling, or the thrill of reading a dozen papers on a topic and categorizing them, or dodging the paparazzi or singing the same note for three hours to get it right.
Short book review: I read Ryu Murakami’s Almost Transparent Blue. Fellas, don’t mistake Ryu Murakami for Haruki Murakami. Also, this book is absolutely not for everyone. Puke-worthy. And worse, pointless. Though, I must say, writing’s okay.
Oh, and the DA’s office decided to press charges against 11 students belonging to the Muslim Students Association for planning a disruption of the Israeli ambassador’s speech here last year. Looking at this, I wonder if my earlier stance on the need for student activism was misplaced. It suddenly seems like the right thing to do is to go to class like a good kid and keep away from any sort of trouble. I don’t know if it would have been just like this if it was a more protesty campus like Berkeley instead of goody-two-shoes Irvine… what do you say? As for facts, while I didn’t attend the talk, you can read this article here.
And, well, I’ve been at the receiving end of some racism as well over the past week. I don’t want to talk about it, and the perpetrator was someone well-known to be racist and well-known as the Department Jerk, so it’s not a reflection on attitudes here in general (though I’ve also heard tales of a racist European here), more so since the jerk was told off quite quickly by folks around me. I was very very pissed, and still am, and while it irks me that I’m not displaying any backbone here by making the Jerk’s life miserable, the more I think about it, the more it seems to not be worthwhile. More so since it seems more of a display of jerk-ism than racism.
Then… I’ve sort of been attending these Women In Computer Science events on campus. I’d love to go to those conferences, but haven’t got an opportunity yet, so just the campus stuff for now. While it’s great that these spunky undergrads are taking initiatives to get highschool girls interested in computer science, I have mixed feelings about another aspect of this. I find I am not too comfortable with the whole “Computer science doesn’t mean being a nerd, y’know” line. Especially when that is peddled about to get girls interested in stuff like Informatics and technical writing and software testing. For one thing, it makes Informatics, technical writing and software testing look like the poor cousins of ‘real Computer Science’. For another, it says folks in computer science are nerds and for some reason, being a nerd is a bad thing, and more so if you are a girl.
If your girls are not choosing parallel processing and database systems as a career because it requires being a ‘nerd’, there’s something wrong with the whole system, not with the girls. If your society says working hard is a bad thing, or choosing not to do something just because it’s hard is okay, something’s wrong with that attitude. If your society doesn’t reward persistence with anything but social ostracism, there’s something wrong with it, and that’s what you have to work to correct. Not these band-aid measures. Like getting women to do the ‘easier’ jobs in the field and saying ‘Oh, look, we have a fair representation of genders in our workplace’. This is just passing the buck, and it doesn’t solve any damn thing.
That said, I sometimes wonder if I’d've been better off in some artsy job that involved writing features and blurbs and reviews, meeting Marxy members of the literati, talking in abstractions, finding phallic symbols in the opening scene of Lion King, making Free Binayak Sen posters and Tshirts, and sending pink innerwear to some remote address in North Karnataka. That, when I’m not viewing people from other countries as objects in a museum, acting in plays which use just one prop and have plenty of monologues, and lamenting the cloistering morality of the middle classes of India. I possibly wouldn’t have been as analytical as I am now, but maybe that’d be a good thing; it’s blissful to not know the extent of your ignorance about the world.
And then I look at one of those Indian-hippies-discovering-themselves-in-the-US, with their Jayanagar-4th-Block-Pavement junk jewelry, their ill-fitting kurtas and their totally clashing salwars, their desperately-in-need-of-a-comb hairdo, their lack of pride in themselves, and back at my Zen-ish accessorizing, recent trendy haircut, clothes designed to blend in rather than stand out, and strict no-caffeine-as-wake-me-up rule and decide the change is totally not worth it.
I’ve been in a foreign country for a year-and-a-half now. The hardest part is not adjusting to the weather or food or the people. Even the accent is not hard, given we’ve all been listening to the American accent right from the advent of cable TV and Star Plus. The hard bit has been to avoid referring to people by their place of origin.
You can’t say someone’s a Jap, it’s racist. You can’t say ‘that pretty Black woman there’. You need to say ‘His accent sounds urban’, not the other thing. Which is hard given I say ‘You sound like a Gult’ or ‘TYPICAL Bong you are’ and pepper my speech liberally with Amit and Isha and Dig and Tam and whatnot when I’m talking to (Indian) friends.
Also, when you ask a Mr. Nguyen where he’s from, and he says ‘San Francisco’, you need to learn to control your impulse to ask ‘Oh.. but where are you really from?’.
Add to this plenty of Op-Eds written about ‘We Indians are so racist ya’. But instinctively, I feel you just can’t compare being called Macaca with being called Bong. I wonder why, exactly…
If anything, NITK has made me more regionalist than I was before. But not in the ‘Slap her, she’s Mallu’ way. To be frank, NITK just confirmed whatever regional stereotypes I was trying to dismiss in mind. While at the same time getting to know the people behind the stereotypes. If anything, it just made the stereotypes more complex and complicated in my head.
The reason the Western world condemns these sort of things as ‘racism’, is because classifying and referring to someone by their place of origin there in the last century or so was borne out of xenophobia and misunderstanding. And a feeling of superiority/inferiority. Whereas, for us, it is not so. There are enough Madrasis in Delhi and there are enough Amits in Chennai that calling someone a Madrasi or an Amit is just a way of referral, not something derogatory. And people from other parts of India in any given Indian city don’t ghettoize and mingle only with ‘their own people’, that anyone would see someone else as only a Bong or Bawa or Dig, or have no idea about anything else about the community than just the stereotypes.
Regional stereotypes in India don’t mean anything. My cousin calls her neighbour Nair-maami, just like she calls her upstairs neighbour maadi-veetu-Usha-maami (Usha-aunty from upstairs). It doesn’t mean anything more. And who the heck takes these stereotypes seriously? No one seriously believes all Tambrahms are paavam vegetarian silent people and no one expects every Bong to have yellow nicotine-stained fingers along with a craze for football and Dada and adda.
If anything, taking the name of your place of origin can only be seen as a celebration of our diversity. Because, heck, we are all minorities and are all so spread out over the country that you can’t say it is better to be a Reddy than to be a Gowda or that you won’t rent your house out to someone with a Maharashtrian surname, the way they do in the Western world. There is not that stark a difference between different communities in India as there is abroad, that highlighting your place of origin means much. To call all this racism in the Indian context would be incredibly shortsighted, and absolutely unnecessary. There’s no point looking at our own culture through the prism of someone else’s culture, take everything out of context to the point that everything appears absolutely wrong.
This is just like a westerner seeing Arab men holding hands in public and assuming that everyone has deep-wrought homoerotic tendencies brought about by sex segregation everywhere.
With one exception, though. I don’t like referring to folks from the Northeast as ‘Chinki’. If we keep doing that, like someone on Twitter said, let’s give up all claim to Arunachal next.
And for the party-sharty crap that infests NITK, the sooner it dies a painful death, the better.
And don’t even get me started on Fair-and-Lovely. But if you do, please don’t call it ‘racism’. ‘Skin fetishism’ is a more appropriate term
Hartosh Singh Bal wrote a piece about how easy it is for any British ‘writer’ to be taken seriously in India. William Dalrymple, one of the main people named in the article, wrote back saying that the article was blatantly racist. Mr. Bal replied even more scathingly.
Wondering if all the accusations in the original article are true makes me think about the Indian literary scene.
Now I’m probably unqualified to comment on this, given that I’ve quit my fascination with Indian writing in English since probably my third year at NITK., and am not up-to-date on the scene. I think that probably happened because Indian writing in English rarely if ever is pirated in ebook form.
The stuff I’ve been reading since then is more or less nationality-agnostic, and given that I was going through enough trouble with see-sawing emotional states over the past few years, I have cut out anything that’s even mildly depressing. No tales of rape victims, no suicidal females, no people selling organs or themselves out of poverty. And I’m sick and tired of wordy prose, so all the emo stuff is also out. And, ever since the Mumbai train blasts, since when I have turned internetHindu and internetIndian, I detest, detest, detest any books that espouse the warped leftie-commie-westie perceptions of the Motherland and pronounce it to be the only true point of view [That's not because of the point of view. It's just that I feel their case is extremely overstated and I don't want to hear those arguments again and again and again].
And guess what. The number of Indian books I’m reading has gone pitifully low. Off the top of my head, I can remember only three Indian English books that I’ve read with delight in the recent past. The most recent one is The Immortals of Meluha. It’s okay. It’s not a great book. The plot is rather weak, though the premise is brilliant. Then there’s The House of Blue Mangoes I’ve reviewed before here. And the most, most delightful one has been Gopa Majumdar’s translation of Satyajit Ray’s Feluda and Professor Shonkhu.
Isn’t it a rather depressing thought that most Indian writing in English is tragic, depressing, emo stuff? Or that it’s by foreigners/NRIs who’ve visited Delhi and Mumbai and maybe one location in the South and decided they want to set a novel here, and borrow the mainstream media’s perspective on the country to do so?
This means one of two things. Either India can’t produce people good enough to express themselves well in English, or these forin/NRI folks are actively preferred over India-born-and-bred writers. Ok, third possibility – depressing stuff is preferred anyday over stuff with more joie de vivre. And forin/NRI folk are more likely to write about the depressing squalor of India than the average English-writing Indian (it’s just darn impossible for someone who lives here to constantly be depressed about poverty and rape and abuse and organ harvesting enough to churn out book after book on those topics).
The first possibility seems likely. Yes, not everyone from an English-medium school speaks well in English, let alone write novels in it. But heck, is the situation so bad that we have very few who write cheerfully and well in English? I don’t want to believe that’s possible.
I’m ambivalent about the third possibility. Given that most Indian hit films are escapist fare, I find it hard to believe that depressing stuff is preferred over fun stuff. But then, it’s also possible that the folks who watch the fun movies are not the ones who read, and that the ones who read are folk who prefer emo sad stuff, because it feels more ‘real’. I was one of these people in my less-jaded days where I equated ‘real’ with ‘stark’, ‘explicit’ and ‘depressing’. And back then, I read a lot of Indian writing in English
The second possibility…. ah, here’s where we lock horns with the likes of Dalrymple. It’s no secret that Western (and even Eastern) recognition and approval is highly prized in India. It’s as if we have no good standards of our own that we look to someone else’s to know what to like and what not to. It’s like Yahoo coming to NITK’s campus for placements and instead of conducting their own set of Aptis and interviews, giving offers to the folks placed in Microsoft (No, that did not happen. And if you want, you can replace Yahoo with Infy and Microsoft with ITTIAM. Or any two random companies. It is immaterial). The reasons for that are many… colonial hangover, our persistent resistance to growing a backbone, our sense of identity and self being derided every single day by own own media… the bottomline is, you can go places here with a forin tag – skin colour, accents, degrees, passports. Even if you are decidedly a worse stringer-of-words-together than the average Indian; your use of the language will be feted as ‘interesting’ and ‘intriguing’ and ‘creative’.
Where’s our own Steig Larsson, JK Rowling (no, don’t point to the scriptwriter for the flick Hari Puttar), Rick Riordan (Amish Tripathi seems to be trying), Eoin Colfer, Agatha Christie? Why don’t we have our own Miss Marple, shouldn’t it be easy to have a nosy lady solving murders here? (Oh hey, we do… I found this series about a detective aunty called Lalli. Except it’s not thaaat well-written). Why don’t we yet have our own LotR, given that our folk myths are so rich and ripe for drawing from?
Where are our school stories, the ones that involve making fresh-out-of-college teachers with weird pronunciations run out of the class crying, and hatching plots over ice-lollies and salt-n-chillied-amlas after school? And what about our own murder mysteries, surely there’s sufficient fodder for that? And given that we have so many threats, where the heck are our spy thrillers? The only one I’ve come across that had a hint of a spy in it is Rohinton Mistry’s Such a Long Journey. Are we so unimaginative a people that we can’t produce our own kahani-mein-twist writer, like an Archer or an O Henry?
I’m not saying no examples of any of these exist. I’m saying there isn’t enough. I’m saying it’s not reached a critical mass enough to be its own genre, the way books about (and by) IITians have. The dominant chunk of Indian writing in English is hardly positive, fun-to-read stuff.
So, I repeat, where the heck are all these writers? Too busy slaving away in an IT company? Or gone abroad for higher studies/job and will now only write sickening Indo-nostalgic stuff? Or writing up a storm in some other of our fourteen languages? If so, why aren’t they being translated into English?
Or worse, are there actually none? Surely, judging by the number of user-contributed stories in children’s magazines from, say, eight years back and earlier, there must be a significant portion of good writers in their twenties now?
Coz it’s going to be a depressing next thirty if there actually are none. I see these children’s magazines go lower and lower in quality, and dumb down their content more and more. It’s a symptom of lower and lower standards in English writing in India…. when there is nothing to whet the imagination of children, it is a sad state of affairs, indeed.
Some people might say ‘This is why children should learn their mother tongue… writing in regional languages is far better’. I agree. But we’re looking at a generation of children whose parents themselves aren’t conversant with their mother tongues; and who talk, fight and play in English. Given that we use and abuse English so much in India (and wear it on our sleeves), shouldn’t we be giving back something to the language; is it so unreasonable to expect quality reads of our own stories, in our own language?
I have this ability to get completely lost in a bookstore. By lost, I don’t mean the way I get lost in the Kumbh Mela or the bylanes of Basavanagudi. Lost here means I lose track of time, of others around me, and all I can see is more and more titles beckoning tantalizingly to be read, one by one.
This ability is by no means unique, I suppose. Plenty of people get lost this way in a bookstore.
And it’s not restricted to bookstores, in my case. I get lost in libraries as well. And a few other things and people, but all of that is out of the scope of this post.
So bookstores. I love them. So much that when we go shopping together, my mother assigns my sister to watch over me to ensure I don’t enter one and turn untraceable for hours on end (“No Priya, not the bookstore. We have to be at their house in two hours!’).
Guess she’s the one who started me off on that. For several birthdays, I remember being gifted books. Yeah, my parents did get me new clothes too, but those were the ritual things. The main attraction, the centerpiece, the Gift would be a book. With a note inside. At first, I just watched as they picked my gift off the shelves of the bookstore, and made the right noises (‘Gurgle!’ was about the only thing I said all day anyway back then) when shown books with colourful covers and even more colourful pages.
I think I’ve been visiting Nagasri Bookstore in Jayanagar since before I learnt my first letter. It soon became a well-established ritual to head there right after the term exams. It was my parents’ way of bringing in the holiday mood, I can say. But the first time I was thoroughly transfixed in a bookstore was at Manipal Center. I think I was nine. The books were hardcover, unlike the ones I was used to at Nagasri and Prism. There was a mildly ostentatious feel to the place. The Nancy Drew titles were different from the ones I’d seen before. And they were ridiculously overpriced. Then there were these history books with full colour photographs. And these remarkably child-friendly-looking encyclopaedias. They had to drag me away. I sulked.
Since then, it feels like a spirit enters me each time I step into a room full of books. I just have to read through every page I see. I’ve been told enough times about being in a bookstore and not a library (most notably by the proprietor of Prism in Jayanagar. That jerkofellow tried saying the same thing to me when I was reading away at Nagasri’s, but that proprietor, genial man that he is, said ‘It’s ok, ma’. Since then, I have never bought anything at Prism, and I make it a point to buy something at Nagasri if I spend more than a few minutes there).
Blossoms on Church Street is a different ballgame. They give you coffee while you browse! But somehow, the backroom look discourages me from browsing for too long. And the crowd as well. But that place, I must admit, is a treasure trove. They have everything, right from a travelogue by Michael Palin to random American romance novels. But then, a place like that simply has to be good, given its clientele, given that it takes second-hand books, and given that it spans over three floors.
I was rather content with my choices in bookstores, when my friend introduced me to Crossword on Residency Road. I must admit, the place with its multiple floors and large floor space scared me. I should have been pleased at the sofas and bean bags for people to sit and browse through the titles, and the coffee counter too, but I strangely was not.
The place was bigger than forty Nagasris. And held probably as many books. They were all organized by topic. There was plenty of Young Adult Fiction. Plenty of Indian English writing. Stuff that should have floored me. I felt sick and refused the coffee my friend offered, and in quiet defiance didn’t relax on the bean bags. Instead, I prowled the aisles, looking to get transfixed. The way that went, it was the first time I was asking if we could leave the bookstore and go have some chocolate cake.
I have never quite understood my revulsion for those sort of bookstores. Somehow I can never seem to find anything I like in those places, even though they are positively spilling over with books of all sorts. And when I do pick up a book and buy it, there’s always the nagging feeling that I’ve been had.
Someone suggested it’s possibly the user experience. And personalization. I’ve been seeing the frail, sharp-grinning proprietor with the faint coastal Karnataka accent from way too early and it’s etched in my mind that a good bookstore has atleast a hundred books per square foot, and it irks me when the proprietor or his assistant don’t magically reach for the book I ask and materialize it out of thin air.
But no, I adore the UCI Library where none of those things happen.
Maybe it’s the exclusivity? Probably. Along with the user experience, which makes me feel like I’ll simply love every book that belongs in that space. Maybe it’s the discounts he gives me. Maybe it’s the small talk.
But even if all those are true, I should feel some semblance of lostness when I enter Crossword near Miniforest, or Landmark. I have slowly stopped feeling those things. I wonder why.
Maybe it’s that you don’t have to be a lover of books to love these new-fangled bookstores. The coffee and bean bags seem too populist. As is the selling of non-book merchandise like junk jewelry and fancy-shmancy notebooks (I must admit here between my sister and me, we own a good many of those).
But it’s not just that… the same is true of Barnes and Noble here, but I actually love the place, and spent many wonderful hours chewing on a pizza roll while reading out fantasy fiction to my nephew, or chugging cherry coke and quietly reading Jane Austen.
Maybe because the choice of titles is too wide. Maybe they try to please everyone. Maybe it’s that the assistants aren’t the sorts who read, so they are unable to give you recommendations or locate the book you ask for without looking it up in a database.
Maybe it’s also because I don’t recognize the authors and titles anymore, being rather cut off from pop culture, and having distanced myself from mainstream media. Whose book reviewing skills are also on the decline. Combined with really bad writing, pretentious authors and all-too-attractive book covers and blurbs. Give me the orange-and-white Penguin ones anyday! And well, my own prejudices stand in the way too… gone are the days when I can read some pretentious NRI-writing-about-India tripe and like it, or be accepting of an Indiabashing point of view.
Maybe it’s a combination of all these things which contribute to my feeling like I just don’t belong there. Due to which I walk out, and back to my safe confines, where I can ask ‘Do you have Shame?’ to which people won’t do a doubletake, but smilingly retrieve Salman Rushdie’s book.
I wouldn’t agonize over this for so long if it weren’t for the fact that having loved books and bookstores for so long now, I have a sort of pipe dream to have my own bookstore. Appa has, on occasion half-jokingly discussed having a bookstore post-retirement with the proprietor of Nagasri. Such a nice, peaceful existence, he says. To which the proprietor gives his ‘Not on your life! Don’t you desire a tension-free retirement?!’ look. It’s apparently a lot tougher than it seems.
It’s not like I’ve not tried finding out… each and every time I ask him how he manages to stock exactly the sort of things I like, he just thinks I’m complimenting him (which I seem to do every single time I visit, anyway) and laughs and shrugs it off as usual.
So, well, let’s get to the bottom of this mystery. Which is your favourite bookstore? Why do you like the place? Tell me, in the comments section. I need to know, so that forty years later, the bookstore I own, or the online bookstore I design, has the best possible user experience. And by best possible, I mean one that I’d like.