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November 20, 2008

Birds and bees don't have a penis


"Don't they think about the children?" fumed my friend in the subject line of her email that contained these images. She has a 5-year-old daughter and lives in the US.

Despite my friend's obvious disapproval of the condom ads, I couldn't help but notice the detailing on the penises. Some art director somewhere either has a dubious clip art collection or must have spent his client's money scouting for models. Whatever be the case, other than some obvious ribaldry, I don't think the ads make the point strongly enough. If the purpose of a condom ad is to talk about safe sex, why mask it in stupidity? As for my friend's displeasure at the ads, I am not too sure I agree about keeping children in the dark about the facts of life.

While I wholeheartedly endorse promoting safe sex, letting kids know too much, too soon makes me a wee bit uncomfortable and a whole lot unsure. When is it too soon? Is it okay to mouth birds-and-bees till a certain age or is it better to tell them exactly what happens -- what sex is -- right from the start?

As a child I don't think I was ever overtly curious about how-babies-are-made. When I discovered, at age 11, what really happens between a man and a woman, it was by accident. I don't remember how the conversation came about between a bunch of 9-12 year kids, but I clearly remember this 8-year-old Sardarji who told us. "A man puts his thing in a woman's thing," he said and guffawed at the expression on our faces. Most of us had reacted with a "chhee". Much before I learnt the words 'penis' and 'vagina', a man and woman's private parts were just that, private.

While I've spoken three languages from the time I was eight-months-old -- English, Hindi and Bangla -- for a long time I didn't know a 'word' for a penis or a vagina. From shame-shame, to no-no, to chhee-chhee, to nangu; the terms I've heard were always about shame, guilt, taboo... always to be kept private and definitely not to be discussed or shown. The whole idea of showing 'it' to someone else and then things being put here and there was confusing, shocking.

The next shock came soon after. The realisation that love between a man and a woman was physical and had a lot to do with my body. It was my paternal grandmother who delivered it... She lived with us for three months in a year, had magic hands, knew Ramayana and Mahabharata both by heart and was an ace story-teller. Perhaps it was she and her stories of Krishna and rakshasas (demons) that make me so devour science-fiction-fantasy books now. She would have loved Harry Potter... Thamma would gently stroke my forehead and tell me bed-time stories. It was also at bedtime that she told me other stuff...

While my mother never discussed boys with me (hell I didn't even know I was supposed to have pubic hair and was initially quite distraught), Thamma took it upon herself to 'prepare' me for my future-husband-to-be. She told me four things. "A woman has to look good to keep her husband's love," was the first mantra. Coconut oil was the next. "A woman's hair is her true beauty," she would say, "...and regular oil in your hair will keep it soft for your husband to play with." The third was 'snowcream'. It was Lakme's vitamin-E rich cream that smelled divine, came in a white bottle with a blue lid and was white in colour. Thamma would laboriously apply 'snowcream' on my limbs with particular care to my ankles, knuckles and elbows. "Always keep your skin soft, no husband likes rough skin," she admonished. The final trick was the Importance of the Neck. "When you bathe, always scrub yourself properly and always, always keep your neck clean. That's where your husband will love you first," she said.

I have seen umpteen Hollywood movies where parents have The Talk with their children. I haven't spoken to current-generation parents but I know for a fact the topic is not something most Indian parents (my parents' generation) willingly discuss. Till date my mother has never spoken to me about sex (Pa is out of the question!).I don't know if Thamma had ever participated in debates on sex education, but I am grateful for what she told me... As shocked as I was with the idea of things being put in me, she at least let me know there was a physical side to love and that I should not be scared of it. Even if she just meant necking!

When Thamma 'prepared' me (1988), living-in, 'dating' and pre-marital sex were out of the question (particularly in India). Today, notwithstanding the Shiv Sena, open secrets and vociferous denials, they are a reality. So are HIV, teenage pregnancies and growing child abuse. Would I rather have my child not know the difference between a good touch and a bad touch or would I tell her what could happen? Do I want my teenage child confused about his/her attraction to the opposite sex -- and thereby either do something silly or feel guilty -- or do I want to be able to guide him/her to make a better, safer choice?

While I might not thrust a tumescent penis in my child's face -- like the ads, which are in stupid taste -- I could perhaps employ some of my Thamma's style and break the news gently. It doesn't have to be shock. Or guilt.

PS: I never replied to you when you sent me that email, so here is the answer. If your daughter sees that condom ad... don't hide the magazine or shut her eyes or tell her to be scared. Just explain and please give her the right terminology.

PS2: Just in case you all noted the headline and are wondering 'do birds have a penis', check the link for an accurate answer.

November 19, 2008

Cluck, cluck, cluck...

I don't clearly remember the first time I had that dream. I have not had it for a while now, but the details are clear.

A red jeep, open top, me driving it, thumping music playing but it's not too loud. I am driving down familiar mountain roads and I'm very happy. I am wearing denim dungarees, a red shirt and have a cap on my head. My hair, open and uncombed, is streaming behind me and I am smiling easily. On the passenger seat is a girl, about 4-years-old, wavy hair, open, hearty laughter and dressed exactly like me. Both of us love whatever music is playing and she keeps insisting on replaying her favourite song. I don't mind, I love her. She is my daughter. Most mischievous, most adorable, most treasured.

I have not had that dream in a while. Perhaps it's because I realise that reality and wishful thinking are two very different things. I am growing older; 30 in May.

I yearn. I know it does not scare me anymore, the idea that anything new or extra in my life, any added responsibilities will take me away from other cherished dreams. Or will hinder the way I have operated so far: decide on something and then bend whoever, whatever to my will. Get my way with a single-minded focus that is flexible enough to incorporate distractions. I won't say I don't care about my former dreams; just that now I know that the older me can fit those dreams in or around a child. I can wait for other dreams but I want my earlier dream in flesh.

I've always wondered about my parents and other parents like them. How can you just give up everything you are, were, wanted, for children? I have always doubted if I am going to be up to it. To change, modify, perhaps even let rest, all that I want to do, want to explore....when I have a child of my own. What if I would regret it later? What if I blame my child later? What if I am a bad mother? What if I cannot change and thereby harm my child?

I don't know what has changed; but I know it has changed. I don't even know when it started. I've always enjoyed cuddling other peoples' kids, have always managed a friendly rapport with toddlers and teenagers alike... Now when I see kids though, it's almost a violent reaction. I don't like holding other peoples' kids because it hurts. Because when I give the child back, I feel bereft. But how can I feel bereft when I have never had it? And what do I miss?

The nine months of pregnancy hurt, morning sickness hurts, the back hurts. Labour nearly kills. My mother had both my brother and me as caesarians. It has scarred her abdomen for life. Her stitches still hurt. After my brother she developed varicose veins. But she loves us! Why?

I've heard stories, first-hand, of how infants bite nipples and make them bleed. Of how breast-feeding is not as magical an experience as books make them out to be. Of how parents don't get sleep because babies wake up whenever they want to. How you have to constantly change smelly nappies, watch out for them, look after them. Oh hell. My parents still worry about me, which only means that once you have children, it never really ends.

I know all that. I yearn. And I get jealous, horrendously, inexplicicably envious of mothers as they happily, peacefully take their babies for walks in prams. It hurts somewhere inside - I don't understand where -- when I see babies snuggle into the necks of their mothers. Or when mothers on trains seem to have perfect conversations with a two-year-old. Nothing else seems to matter to them. And oh it hurts.

It doesn't matter... journalism, books, seeing the world, being independent.

And I fear. Desperately. I've always been a perfectionist. I hate not knowing, not being able to do something as best as I think it should be done. As long as it is possible to do it better, I will do it. And yet I am learning that not everything is in my hands. Two couples I know are trying hard, very hard, to have a baby. Endometriosis, in vitro, syringes, steroids, pain. But no child...

What if I don't have a child? What if I can't? I dread.

PS: Will it make me a lesser woman if I can't... It is no one else who will judge; but knowing myself, knowing my perfectionist nature... I don't know.

PS2: Poor Partner! He shudders. (lol)

October 28, 2008

Indian arrested for street fire cracker display in Melbourne...

...or that WILL be the headline if I decide to get on the road, like India, like home, and throw some patak bombs and a couple of anars. Some would think I have terrorist links. If I were to decorate the outside of my house with candles and diyas, it would be deemed a fire hazard. Sigh. HAPPY DIWALI everyone!

Other than screaming HAPPY DIWALI in all-caps on this blog, there is no "feel" of Diwali. Dussehra too went by without a whimper, no lights, no new clothes and no Ravan burning. At least I can blame Hindustan Times for the new clothes; had they paid me on time -- and in full since I am still expecting payment from them -- I would have bought something new.

For the first time in years, my house will be dark on Diwali. Last year, November 7th was the date, Partner, my brother and myself had stood on the fourth floor terrace of my New Delhi home and enjoyed the crackers going off in the haze-filled Delhi horizons. Golu and Loona, my dogs, had run across the terrace in mad circles barking at the rockets that whooshed atop us and exploded in myriad coloured sparks... Year after year, newspaper and website headlines have screamed how Diwali is disastrous for Delhi pollution.

Maybe I am being selfish, but oh! How I would love to have the peace on my "street" (there are only streets, no colonies here) disturbed by kids setting off random loud break-your-window-pane bombs or the 1000-strong ladi. I have always--- HAD always -- loved looking at the bedecked houses, some with fairy lights, some with diyas and others with candles as they stood trying to twinkle amid the smoke and the smell of explosives. I LOVE that smell though have been known to be a big coward when it comes to igniting the fuse on the 'bombs'. I am the stuff-my-fingers-in-my-ears type of person and usually enjoy crackers -- bomb variety -- standing behind someone else. Or used to enjoy...

Diwali with my parents and brother meant cleaning up, dressing up in Indian finery, arranging the candles and diyas on a big plate and going around the house, decorating it with lights. That was Ma and my duty. The boys -- Dad and bro -- were in charge of the crackers and entertainment. Every Diwali, Dad would wait patiently to find the perfect bottle to hold the rocket stem so that it would rise really high...

As I grew, Diwali also became synonymous with betting and gambling. I know friends in Delhi who live for the Diwali time gambling. Interestingly, this period is also one of gambling in Australia-- or at least Victoria state -- though it's on horses. It's the derby season, November 4th being the Derby day. Like most festivals, most celebration is about drinking. Birthday? Let's drink. Anniversary? Let's drink. Christmas? Let's drink. Marriage? Let's drink. Boxing Day? Let's drink. Anzac Day? Let's drink. Hmmm...

So I reported to work at 7 am and I'm currently supposed to be working on a business proposal that has to be submitted coming Monday. It's part of the coursework. And am wearing a grey noodle-strapped top (called a 'singlet' here), jeans and there is no indication around me that today is one of the biggest festivals in India.

I miss Diwali. I miss India... I miss being with the menwhopause (last four Diwalis), I miss Ma-Pa and Bhai, I miss the rangoli that office would have, I miss the free Diwali office gift (even though most would bitch about it later), I miss schools signing no-fire-cracker campaigns, I miss old people tut-tutting at young people who delight in startling people with sudden bombs. I miss narkol nadu at Lokkhi pujo. I miss houses looking beautiful...

I really, really miss home. I am sorry I've not written for this long. For once, I am keeping all Diwali messages in my inbox.... and am craving my phone buzzing with greetings and wishes. It stays silent though. It's now an international number.

Oh Golu.

PS: To You who has been mailing and I have not replied; no, I am not heartless. I don't know what to write back. Yes, I am in good health and considerable good spirit. But something yearns.

to DJ: I had never realised how much those mid0-week cups of coffee meant to me. I miss you terribly too.

to menwhopause: thankyou for all the times when alone in Delhi, I celebrated festivals with you boys. From Holi, Diwali to Christmas...

September 20, 2008

More thought for food

The Hindustan Times, published September 18, 2008
More thought for food

If you don't have any
source of hand-me-down
recipes, don't fret. There
are plenty of food blogs
to guide you as you get
ready to wield the
spatula in the kitchen

Some say we eat to live. There are those who'd rather live to eat. Whatever be the case, food often inspires. For all the numerous 'lose-weight-now-ask-me-how' advertisements, reams of paper on maintaining a figure and talk shows on staying fit, there are equal (if not more) articles, ads and columns on cooking and eating. Long time there used to be 'Yan Can Cook' on the-then Star Plus. Today there are a number of options and shows. Whether it's No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain, Kylie Kwong's Cooking with Heart and Soul (just love her kitchen, envy her cutting board) or Nigella Lawson's juice-dripping, cream slathering, heart-attack inducing cook show (Nigella Express, anyone?) there's something to suit everyone's taste buds out there.

You could watch the tele and note down a recipe you like, or you can ask around. Most people who enjoy cooking will tell you that some of their best recipes have been those that have been passed on. That special chana-dal you picked up from your aunt, Ma's special aloo-mangsho trick, the payasam you learnt from the South Indian neighbour, the 30-second scrambled egg trick you got off a harried-mom-of-four. No matter how simple or complicated a dish, when people who have been doing it for ages (or considerable time!) tell you how its done, it usually turns out nicely.

Just in case you don't have anyone you can sponge recipes off, there are some great food blogs out there. Some share tried-and-tested traditional recipes, others try out recipes from cookbooks and share and still others give you a history of the dish you are preparing. A personal favourite has been Stephanie and Rick Jaworski's, Joy Of Baking. They don't just share recipes there, they tell stories.

First visited in 2004, the site has changed much since then. There are more advertisements, more readers and some recipes are different since last checked. However, even in the last four years, the site retains one of its best features: The stories and history behind the cakes, cookies and pastries.

With recommendations and recipes from various chefs and books and tips on how to avoid mistakes, the site is really good for seasoned bakers or those who are just starting out. One of the most common irritants when cooking from a site or a cook book is finding you might not have all the ingredients or that you don't have the 'exact match'. The 'substitutes' section on the site really makes it a delight to try out recipes. You know you don't have to buy that Kahlua to make a cheese cake, an instant coffee powder mix will do as well. That's where Joy of Baking, well, takes the cake.

September 19, 2008

Shut up and eat cake

I am small. Five feet no inches, 43 kgs. My hands are smaller still but I am good with them. I can type fast, I can give a (damn) good massage and I can use them in the kitchen. Strangely enough, whenever the going’s been tough, one or the other use of my hands has stood me good. In 2004, heartbroken and penniless and in 2008, finally loved and hopeful… Who’s scripting this?

To answer Maxine’s, “Where the hell have you been JB?” I’ve been completing university assignments, getting up at 4.40 in the morning, reporting for work at 7 am, then running for classes, coming back and cleaning at home, writing columns (yes plural, will introduce the other one once it’s published) AND cooking. I LOVE cooking and coming to Melbourne is doing good things to my culinary knowledge.

The little that I know, I’ve learnt in one of the three ways: Fiction books, instruction manuals or from people subconsciously. You observe, you learn. Like how I need to put one leg up with the mixing bowl on it when beating eggs for a cake. I picked that up from Kumud aunty. She used to be an army officer’s wife in our colony (1988) and could whip egg whites into stiff peaks (ensures the softest sponge cake) with a fork. Perhaps that also explains my antipathy towards using an electric beater. When it comes to cooking/baking, I am a do-it-manually snob. I will grate it with hand, beat it with fork and knead it with my knuckles than use a blender/mixer that would do the job in five minutes. But know what? I can do it, by hand, in seven minutes. Hrmph.

Partner and I and have constant kitchen conflicts due to our respective cooking styles. I will make the ‘gravy’ by mincing onions, pureeing tomatoes and simmering-while-stirring; he will use two teaspoons of Gravox (powdered gravy in a box). He will use dried mixed herbs from a packet, I will choose the leaves from my grown-in-a-pot-from-seed fresh herbs. I will beat the eggs, add the milk and whip it in the wok to make scrambled eggs; while he will pull his hair out because he would have done it in the microwave. “It tastes the same and I am faster,” is what Partner says. He is a I-can-cook-quick snob; I am an I-do-it-the-real-way snob. Both our snobberies, like all other snobbery, are acquired.

Another area where Partner and I butt heads (both of us are May-born bulls and it comes easily) is when it comes to using recipe books. Noticed how each time you want to try a dish, you will always have that one ingredient missing from your kitchen? Partner will not cook till he has every little item for a recipe -- even if it won’t be used again in the next 10 years for another dish -- while I am practical. I enjoy experimenting and finding substitutes. Of course there are things you just cannot do without. Like you cannot have tiramisu without mascarpone, but you can have a carrot cake without marzipan carrots and full-cream milk in blueberry muffins works just as well as buttermilk.

One of the primary influences in my experimental cooking have been Ma and a website. I chanced upon the website in 2004 and quite by accident. It was a time when my self-esteem was at the lowest. I HATED my body, hated being a woman, hated my heart, my naïveté and everything was going horribly, horribly wrong. Little I knew then that the turbulence would continue till early 2007... I was far removed from cakes and hated cooking. In fact I hated the kitchen. It symbolised my weakness, of my servility for a bit of love and approval.

For personal reasons, I had quit my job and decided to freelance from home. Coincidentally (since I’m freelancing now as well), back then too it was The Hindustan Times that had given me a break. They had a Saturday page called ‘Gen Now’ and I wrote 700-words feature stories for it. Hmm. Other than HT back then, the freelance plan backfired and I found myself without any job, money or sustenance. That’s also when I was reading one of the abridged four-books-in-one compilations by Reader’s Digest.

I’ve always enjoyed fiction more than non-fiction and if it were ever a choice between a simple, good story and the Award Winning Book On Earth, I’d pick the simple story one. So in that compilation, there was the abridged version of a book. It was the story of Ruth and how she loved baking cakes. How people loved eating the cakes she baked and how her baking was an outward manifestation of her need to look after her family. Her husband had been fired, her parents were living with her and they were in financial trouble. In the book, Ruth’s 16-year-old daughter encourages her to sell the cakes. Ruth’s ageing mother makes hand-made boxes, the daughter becomes her driver and marketing agent and they start a business. Throughout the novel, Ruth speaks of tangy lemon cakes, melt-in-your-mouth sponge cakes and comforting bundt cakes.

The novel made me miss my Ma and how she made her special Black Forest when we had important guests for dinner. Or the moist, soft Pineapple pastry for the ladies’ meetings. Or the Tutti-Frutti special for our tiffins lunch box. In all those cakes, I was her ‘beater’, the one who copied Kumud aunty and whipped the eggs into silken peaks with a fork. The novel made me miss Ma. Made me realise more how I had made a MESS of my life with one stupid mistake. So I cried and as I cried and reached the end of the novel, there was a recipe for a bundt cake. I didn’t know what a ‘bundt cake’ was and as I Googled, I reached a website. A happy website with delicious cake recipes, substitutes if you didn’t have the exact ingredients and more than anything else, stories about why a cake was baked in a certain way. It made me happy, it gave me something to do and it let me reconnect with memories I had forgotten. It also made baking sound easier.

So I started baking, the first time without my Ma. Those who came home liked the cakes. Someone asked if I could bake for their kid’s birthday party, they said they would pay me for it… I did. The birthday party cake was a hit. I had made a carrot-apple cake with walnuts and covered it with light chocolate icing. Two other mothers took my number and ordered two cakes. I was stunned. It was like the book! When they had called, they had asked for a rate card and a menu, I didn’t have either. But the idea stuck and just like the book, I made a menu and began packing my cakes in hand-made boxes (also learnt from the Internet).

People were ordering at least nine cakes a week and as my confidence grew, I ended up getting a media job as well. All in five months to the day I first read the book in June 2004. As ‘tribute’ to the book that inspired me -- though it would be called ‘trashy reading’ by voracious, knowledgeable readers -- I called my home ‘bakery’, Eat Cake. After author Jeanne Ray’s book, ‘Eat Cake: A Novel’. The website that helped me survive with recipes was Joy Of Baking. People in different parts of the globe, who don’t even know me, helped me… I hope to thank them someday.

And then they say that fiction is trash and bloggers/blogging are nonsense. What do they know?

PS: WHAT is it about Andrea Bocelli’s voice? I don’t understand a word of what he is singing, but he DOES something to my insides. His voice makes me want to run without touching the ground, it wants me to feel the wind go through each pore in my body, wants me to cry out loud but not make a sound, it makes me want to pray but not to any god, it wants me to get drenched in the rain and mix in with the mud, it wants me to… Oh. The song just ended. It’s strangely disappointing when he stops singing. I wish I understood. It’s not even PMS.

September 17, 2008


What would we/you do if we wake up to our neighbourhood being bombed and tanks patrolling our streets? Will we stock up on food or will we take backups of our hard drives?

That was written a month back (make love, not war), on the eve of the Indian independence. A month later, the city that was my home for the last 10 years has had serial blasts. (Pic: GK1 market)

Prince Pan Corner at the Greater Kailash (Part 1) market in New Delhi, is stuff made of legends. Apparently the owner (is he called Prince?) is a real-life rags-to-riches story. Or in this case, a betel leaves to Mercedes Benz story. I had first heard about PPC in 1998, the same time ‘GK 1’ market became synonymous with ‘posh’ in my understanding. That was my first year in Delhi, the PVR Anupam multiplex complex was just about coming up and the shopping mall invasion and hoardings of Parsavnath Developers and co. were still a distant dream (nightmare?).

So much changed in the 10 years I lived in that city.

(Pic: flower market, Lado Sarai, Saket)
From being the centre of public transport chaos -- used to board the 727 Palam airport bus -- the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) centre crossing changed forever with the new clover-leaf flyover. Dhaula Kuan turned into a maze though the Naraina road junction is still a traffic bottleneck. Celebrated as Delhi’s first multiplex, the PVR group changed the face and the cinema history of the city. As the multiplexes and malls that housed the many screens mushroomed, the single-screen movie halls died out. From being the hub for catching the latest ‘English’ movie, Chanakya cinema (Yashwant Place) became a poor cousin to PVR. Once upon a time as a first year college student, we lined up outside Priya cinema for a Rs 10 ticket. Now the cheapest ticket is Rs 100 and you can watch the same movie lying down with a blanket and snacks served to you for Rs 700.

(Pic: Delhi Haat)
There was a time when you would never go hungry in Delhi. There were colony-corner, boiled-egg hawkers at dawn and aloo-parantha masters at the wee hours of the night. With those you got sweetened, ginger tea. Outside AIIMS, under the Moolchand flyover, opposite IIT Delhi, egg, paneer, onion and aloo paranthas with pickle were devoured by those on bikes and in BMWs alike. Not anymore. The city municipal council wants to regularise street hawkers. Gol gappas are served with gloves on, bhelpuri that cost Rs 7 is now Rs 20, samosas have to be eaten with knives and forks and the roadside tea stalls are being replaced by swanky Baristas and other coffee chains. Chai too now comes in jasmine, ginseng and other flavours and has become so alien, it’s called a health drink.

(Pic: Sundar Nursery, Nizamuddin)
The commercial hub of Connaught Place (CP) in central Delhi was a frequent haunt for coffee indulgence. There was an interesting piece in the now-defunct afternoon paper, Today, where they had photoshopped the pan-stained, dirty pillars in CP, cleaned the garbage, set up umbrellas and imagined what a clean, shopper-friendly CP would look like. Even though imaginary, it looked beautiful. Now you see roads dug up everywhere, somewhere for the Metro, at others for the high capacity bus corridors. Early this year, the Delhi Municipal Corporation chopped up healthy trees on Panchsheel road to make way for buses and cars even as Tata Motors introduced the Nano so that every Indian can have a car. Shudder.

Development on one side, demise of a city’s ethos on another.

Saturday (September 13, 2008), a series of bombs went off in Delhi, killing 30 people. Both CP and GK1 were bombed (along with Ghaffar Market). In the latter, it was near Prince Pan Corner. In CP, it was on Barakhamba (12 pillars literally) road. I commuted on that road frequently. Though in recent times unrecognisable - thanks to Delhi Metro rail project and other ‘development‘ work -- than what it looked like first when I arrived in Delhi.

Yesterday (Tuesday), when I asked friends back in Delhi if things were all right with them, the response was more or less the same from everyone. Bordering from lacklustre, to ludicrous and downright lackadaisical. Serial blasts and 30 dead as invites for weekend DJ gigs were being sent out on Facebook. Is it just Delhi? Or is it India? Or the fact that we are a billion plus and have many to kill?

Daily after the primetime news, one American TV network (forgetting the name, will find out) flashes faces of American soldiers who are being killed daily in Iraq. No music, no sound effects, just pictures and names. Do we remember a single name -- without being related to him/them -- of the soldiers who died in the Kargil war? One boy went missing in Melbourne -- Indian child, adopted from Mumbai -- and it made headlines here. I am not too sure if we even have a complete database of missing people in India.

As I logged on to various websites to get more details on the bomb blasts, I came upon a slideshow on IBNLive.com. Just pictures of dead and injured with haphazard captions. Another game of hit counts without any thought or feeling. Not one site bothered with interviews or insight or even a post/piece that spoke about how or what people felt. No one seems to care and life goes on. But why don’t we care?

And what would we/you do if we wake up to our neighbourhood being bombed and tanks patrolling our streets? Will we stock up on food or will we take backups of our hard drives?

PS: Thanks Silvara! Guys n girls, read this and this as well.

September 4, 2008

So your boss is a bastard?

The Hindustan Times, published 4 September, 2008
Dislike, that six-lettered word

There are things we all
get peeved about, like
the bad boss and those
'unromantic men'. No
wonder there are
more blogs about them
than on things we like

There are some things in life that cause instant strife between people. Mention god, pornography or George Bush's IQ level at a party and you are guaranteed hours of entertainment. Thankfully though, there also some things that unite human beings.
No matter where you go, some things are common to all people. Like everyone remembers money that is owed to them. Or how anyone, before petting a dog they don't know will ask, "Does it bite?" Or how most people want to stay fit (or lose weight) without exercising. And no matter what the language, there are more blogs on broken relationships than happy ones.
As Paisana writes on Burlap Condoms, "If nothing else, a bad date always equals a great blog post." Paisana is one of the many female bloggers caught in the twilight zone of personal blogging: When singledom made interesting posts and a happy relationship doesn't leave much to blog (or bitch) about. However, she comes up with some gems (and truths) from her former single life. Like her don't-be-too-choosy advice for single women, "the guy you're looking for doesn't read romantic poetry and want to talk about your feelings all the time. I dated that guy. He was gay." Ouch.
After broken relationships, office gossip comes a close second as a common-unifying factor in the blogosphere. Everyone has hated their boss at some in their life and everyone has a funny office story to narrate. If you feel you're the only one working with mad people or not getting paid on time, Overheard in the Office is a good site to check out and feel better.
Some things are the same in offices the world over. Like having trained bullshit artistes for top management. Like this reader contribution about a meeting presided by the company owner trying to allay fears, "We are not a sinking ship! This company is worth $700,000. It's hard to sink a $700,000 ship!" That was before laying off half the company perhaps. Or for that matter the fact that personal assistants are globally stereotyped. If she's old, she has a grumpy husband (or none) and if she's pretty, she's sleeping with the boss.
Then there's Tits (yes, Tits) McGee who publishes Tits List and says she writes lists, cooks and "used to be a slut". She also proves that using 'tits', putting up a picture of breasts and writing f**k in the headline has the same reaction in most people: Curiosity. Amongst other things (read husband and inlaws), Tits gives her take on political news of the day. Oh to have a pair of breasts talking politics.

August 31, 2008

Talking doggy style again

When I am asked here if I miss India, it's a tough one to answer. Weeks are just flying by and with so much going on here, it's tough finding time to "miss" something that's not there. I guess you just get on with it. Yes, there are facets, things and people I think of, but I am not too sure if "missing" is the right term. Friday night I tagged along with my new girlfriend to check out hiphop artiste Flo Rida performing live at the Queensbridge Hotel, here in Melbourne. While the deejays were good and the people had turned out in the best of the right gear for R&B, I MISSED my Delhi clubs and just standing before the deejay console and dancing. I think also miss 'Indian' music, the deejays I liked watching, listening and dancing too. I am yet to find a place here that I can call my hang-out joint.

The weekend -- and the last one -- has been a family-filled one. Partner's family but the warmth sent my way has been one of the most positive aspects of my first trip outside my country. A lot of things run through my head as I sit amongst people who have warmly and open-heartedly welcomed me within their circle. Those thoughts need sorting out... Except perhaps for the recognition of the fact that I would love a pet. However, perhaps it's not a good idea right now. Partner's parents have 16 cats (yes, 16) and his cousins have a (mad) dog. My favourite cat is a complete slut (very lovingly said) called Molly and lord! Does she make me want to have a kitty of my own or what. After leaving Golu behind, I am not ready for another dog in my life.

Let's see. The coming week there's no uni as it's the spring break here. But there's work. Sigh.

The Hindustan Times (published, August 28, 2008)

Time for some dogumentaries
If you're depressed with
the despondency that’s
dished out in the name
of news, you’re barking
up the wrong tree.
Perhaps it’s time to check
out the dogosphere.

Between Google and Wikipedia (wikipedia.com), you can find answers to almost anything on the Internet. Or news about any part of the world. However, even as technology shrinks the globe onto our palm(tops), ignorance can prove to be bliss as searching for 'happy' news on the Internet ends up being quite depressing.

Surfing through morning news the other day, two adjacent headlines on ninemsn.com stuck out. One was a child-abuse story off Fox news (foxnews.com) about how five-year-olds were being slipped 'silly pills' and made to perform sexually provocative dances at a Texan swingers club. The other story, originally reported on Daily Express (express.co.uk), was of a dog in Argentina, who saved a new born baby that had been abandoned and dumped in a dustbin. The dog, China, picked up the baby and kept it warm through the night, along with her own pups. Gives the phrase ‘animal instinct’ a whole new spin.

When most news on and off the Internet -- the blogosphere included -- is either about makeup you need to buy, break-ups you couldn't avoid, environmental policies that no politician wants to sign and elections involving those very politicians, animals come to the rescue. Blogs on pets often provide much-needed relief when human affairs turn despondent. For those who don’t touch wood at the idea of cats, check out Lol Cats. From eating ‘cheezburgers’ to doing things that only cats can do, the site is a cat-lovers paradise.

For those who believe it’s a dogs world, there’s Dogs With Blogs that chronicles the adventures of Biggie Z (he‘s a one-year-old kuvasz). With a Pawlimpics 2008 award under his belt, Biggie Z ‘writes’, “No Nobel Peace Prize for me any time soon. Maybe if they gave a Nobel for Wreaking Havoc When Confined to a Condo in Brrr Mont in the Pouring Rain with 2 Little Shih-Tzu-Poos Who Bark at Me (and Won't Play) and 9 people I Want to Wrestle With, I might win.”

Three Woofs and a Woo documents the stories of three border collies, a photographer and a mysterious ‘Woo’. If you understand French, check out Faya’s blog, which thankfully has English translations as well. With photographs of the dogs’ antics and contributions from readers about their dogs, the blog is one amongst many that suggests that perhaps a dog’s life is a happier life.

August 22, 2008

Blah, blah black sheep...

Top questions on my mind, in no particular order:
1. If I come back my to India, what will I do? Will those I've worked for/with, hire me back? What if there are no vacancies?
2. Will I come back to Delhi, elsewhere... will it mean the same headaches with landlords?
3. Will my friends be happy to see me back... or not care?
4. Do I even want to write a book? And if I do, why should I write fiction first? And why can't the blog be a book if at all it's the blog that is making people say, "You should write a book." Why do we need yet-another author? What's so new that I have to say or that someone else will not say if I banish the book from my Scheme of Things?
5. Will my parents be happy to have me back... or will they think I am a 'problem' never to be resolved? The child who never settles down, who can't get a thing right? They've never called me a 'problem'... so why do I think like that?
6. Will I be able to complete the first assingment and hand it on Wednesday, which is supposed to include at least 15 research books and I haven't even started on one...?! Eeesh.
7. Will gol-gappas sell in Melbourne? How about paapri-chaat? It can be called puffed bread with cumin-flavoured yoghurt (add fat-free!) and salad. Why not?

I hate college. I mean, why can't I be the judge of whether I've learnt anything or not? Why should someone else judge it? Shouldn't they be happy taking the fee and shutting up? I HATE assignments. I hate them more than I hated deadlines.

I HATE being MADE to write things.

I hate reading books that are not fiction and that I cannot throw if I don't like the first few chapters or even paragraphs. I HATE Umberto Eco. All these years I did so well avoiding him completely. Now he has come back. The professors call him a "gap in the literature". Not him, but the fact that I haven't read him. For that matter, no one in class has read him, THAT's how popular he is. And I have a suspicion that if it weren't for research students, no one would read him either. Except for my best friend who was reading him when she was 17.

Why doesn't Ma ask me more than "how are you, do you need anything, is everything ok?" Why does she always add, "Don't spoil this, keep him happy." What if I can't? What if I don't want to? What if I want to fight? Why do I have to keep him happy and how/why is she sure that it will be ME who will spoil "it"? I wonder if she understands (? empathises? comprehends?) what motivates me. Or if I understand what motivates her...

I think there was a time when the 'welfare of the kids' motivated her. Now, I am not too sure... and guilty. If that was her motivation, now it's not there and neither is the assurance that this 'kid' is well-fared. I don't know my mother anymore... and perhaps it's the same for her. Isn't growing up supposed to bring one closer to parents? Mother-daughter? Or is it because of me...? Has it happened with any of you? Or is it JUST me? Disfunctional? Black sheep? (brown?)

When in Delhi, Dad used to send me cuttings of interesting newspaper and magazine articles. He highly recommended Bismillah from Nayee Duniyan. Please read him, in Hindi, but brilliant humour. I don't think he can send my writing to anyone. Ma dutifully (lovingly?) maintains the cuttings of my HT columns and says, "I keep them beta, I don't understand them. I never understand anything that you write."

What's the fucking point of writing then?

PS: I want mangsho-bhaat with aloo in it. Or I want shorsher-maach with nebu and begun bhaaja. I don't want to cook it. I want mutton -- GOAT mutton -- lamb is a fraud. (black sheep?) Stupid, fluffy things. I was delighted to find Maggi in the stores and then despondent to realise there's no Masala Maggi. :(
Did I mention I HATE sandwiches?
Can't upload a pic, the Explorer is PMS-ing.

August 21, 2008

Digest this!

I am so tired. Yet it's after a while that it feels that I've literally'earned' this fatigue. I'm studying and working now. Today, I woke up at 5 am, reported for work at 7 am and stood and made sandwiches -- and other assorted kitchen jobs till 1.30 pm.

After being a mainstream journalist for the last 9 years, now I am a sandwich hand. I make sandwiches and I learned as of today that cranberry sauce and turkey -- though an unusual combination -- make a damn interesting sandwich. I also realised that choice of sandwich pretty much describes the kind of person you might be. Like the lady who refuses to have anything but cheese-toast every single day of her 5-day workweek. She does not smile when requesting her order, she doesn't smile when you give her the toast and since it's a pretty basic toast, of course there is no question of her ever saying that it's nice. Markedly different is the guy who likes to try a different sandwich everyday, the more bizarre the better. He leans on the counter, chats with the girls working and takes a lot of interest in what's going into his bread. Despite working in a hardcore corporate environment, he is usually unshaved, has spiked hair and an ear-ring. Also, Indians standing in line stare at you the hardest; perhaps because it's not a Subway and they are not used to an Indian making sandwiches.

My entire culinary experience and taste bud exploration is going through a 360 degrees change here in Melbourne. Some things are hard to digest.

Like the fact that bread -- I don't mean roti, naan or parantha -- has always been paav-roti (quarter-bread literally) in Hindi and Bangla and something you eat for breakfast. However, here it's the staple diet. I had a hard time not saying "But there's no butter on it" when during one of the women's association meeting, girls happily chewed on some 'dry' bread. Initially, I revolted against eating 'bread' for every meal and sorely missed my rice. Even when I do eat rice here -- mostly when we eat out at a Chinese/Thai/Malaysian restaurant -- I am supposed to eat my rice in a bowl and with like a tablespoon of oyster sauce on it. Where is my jhol (curry/gravy) I say?! AND with chopsticks. It's also criminal how much of chicken and meat is wasted on bones because you are eating with a bloody fork.

Daal (which is pronounced and written 'dhaal' here!) is 'lentil soup' and not a main course. And not eaten on top of rice. Or with ghee. In fact ghee would become clarified fat and while people load their sandwiches with cheese -- and slug beer for breakfast -- ghee apparently would give them clogged arteries. Subzi or vegetables are usually eaten raw -- salads you see -- and don't go through the preparation we have in India. However, I must say, thanks to sandwiches, I am eating more 'green' than I've ever had. Also perhaps because in India the green usually becomes yellow or red, depending on haldi and mirchi in it.

It was ironic that bhindi (okra, ladyfinger) is one of the easiest veggies to cook -- chop finely, saute some onions, throw in the bhindi, DON'T add water, salt, half teaspoon turmeric or none, salt to taste and cook will it dries out, delicious! -- is not on the favoured veggie list for celebrated chef Gordon Ramsay. "I find okra extremely difficult to cook, it is gelatinous." Idiot. The range of bread though is quite astounding. I wonder why no one tries to sell Indian food with a health twist to it. 'Roti' is whole-meal bread, unlevened, has no oil or yeast in it. Paranthas can be rolled. Puri will blow their mind and can be an indulgence. Ghugni (a green pea Bengali dish) will blow their minds, here's salad you.... But. ALL that Indian restaurants sell here is tandoori.

Anywhoo. Sorry. ANYHOW. Brrr... The per force language transformation that's happening to my English here is frightening. All those hours spent debating about the correct pronounciation with Dad are being anywho-ed. That's another post.

Below is today's column for The Hindustan Times. The reference to Usha's much-loved Ageless Bonding blog is neither to take her on nor to ridicule her point of view. However, she touched a raw never and since I was working on a sport post, it fit in. It pisses me off. The fact that while every other major nation BUT India is winning golds in the Olympics, our newspapers shamelessly declare that we have 'managed' a gold after 28 years. The last was when I was born.

While I am proud of Abhinav Bindra's feat, perhaps we should ALSO be asking as to why we don't manage to win any golds at all. We are a billion-plus nation, we have enough money to HIRE other cricketers for an IPL and yet, ONE gold?! Unlike China, which is hosting the Olympics and winning gold, I am bloody nervous about the Commonwealth Games in 2010. We will perhaps be the only nation in the history of hosting games where we will foot the bill, other players, write columns about their wins and NOT win anything. We are already creating a scam around the games. What shit is this. Other than cricket, why the fuck do we suck in every other sport?!!!

The Hindustan Times, published August 21, 2008
It's only about winning, stupid!
With blogs on sporting
scandals outnumbering
those on sports, is
'the game' still about
patriotism and the
sporting spirit? Or is it
about something else?

Even as sport has become one of the most lucrative professions, with sporting events promising high TRP ratings, some sporting debates refuse to die down. With the Beijing Olympics dominating headlines -- and the Google search bar -- it's no surprise that the Games are the theme for a post or two in the blogosphere. But it's getting a bit boring.

For one, winning is still a dirty word as bloggers write about the spirit of participation and other such glorious philosophies. Do you think Shah Rukh Khan was interested in 'just participating' when he bought the Kolkata Indian Premier League team? For those missed the point, he was interested in winning. It's all fine to say that Olympics should be a showcase of sporting excellence. But take away the medals and the four-yearly games wouldn't create as much buzz (even with the 'China factor' this year).

A second favourite topic for bloggers seems to be the entire sport-means-national-pride equation. Questioning why the Olympics should be "about representing one's nation", blogger Usha Vaidyanathan of Ageless Bonding asks, "Is it right to criticize her for putting her passion to play before considerations of patriotism?" The 'her' Vaidyanathan mentions is American basketball player Becky Hammond who opted for a Russian citizelnship to be able to 'participate' in the Olympics. To answer the blogger's question, yes, it is reprehensible. Would her blog read the same if in the next World Cup, Sachin Tendulkar was to play as part of the Australian cricket team?

Quoting George Orwell's Sporting Spirit article made perfect sense at one time. In 1945. Not anymore when there are more blogs - not including news websites and sports channels -- on sporting scandals than sport itself.

If Bob Reno's Badjocks has a scoreboard that lists sportsmen (and women) 'tasered' by cops, high school coach sex scandals and golf carts in water, Buddy Maguire on F&*%$d sports comments on the daily dose of sport scandal. Then there's Off Wing Opinion's Eric McErlain who takes a dig on anything and everything sporty. Those are just three of the few blogs on sport and all point to the fact that the spirit of sport has perhaps changed.

And in the spirit of times, perhaps it's high time for Indians to stop lauding participation. Think nationalism and put more merit on winning -- lest we have to wait another 28 years to see some gold.

August 14, 2008

Make love, not war. Bwahaha.

We were meeting after 20 years, the last we had seen each other was when we both were three feet tall, 8-years-old and lived in the same colony. Both our fathers were army officers and we both studied in catholic schools, he was a Sikh and me a Hindu. But such things didn't matter that time. Back then I was somewhat shy while he had been a regular 'naughty' boy. I clearly remember how one afternoon -- when parents were out for a gymkhana (army event) -- he showed us (a group of five kids) this music video with a big, round-buttocked woman walking around. He had sung along staring at her bum -- at age 8! -- singing, "Baby bloochi, baby bloochi!" and had watched our faces eagerly.

Now when we met, he wore no turban, had cut his hair and while I had stopped growing after reaching 5 feet, he stood at 6 feet 3 inches, towered over me and blushed when I reminded him of the baby bloochi episode. We sipped coffee and spoke about what had transpired in the intermittent years. We were 'childhood friends' in the way the army allows: You spend some years together and then move on when your parents are posted out, perhaps to meet again on another common posting or just to hear news about what the-kids-you-played-with. Now I was a journalist and he was an Army officer and the best way to acquaint each other with the new people we had become was to show our respective work files. Mine was thick with newspaper cuttings and his was a thin file with the trainings he had completed.

He was constantly amazed as he flipped through my cuttings. "Wow, you wanted to be a doctor back then...instead you met and interviewed all these celebrities," he said and asked about how I lived and how much I earned. He balked at the figure of Rs 50,000 that I threw at him and said modestly, "Arre yaar, you have achieved so much. After the DSOP and other tax is cut and since the army gives us accommodation and a batman, I get about 10,000 bucks as take home." Even as I tried to tell him -- without really believing it myself -- that nothing compares to the respect of being an Army officer I had flipped a page on his file and stopped. The page said that Captain Ahlowalia had been awarded the President's Recommendation for not allowing his boys to move forward and facing militants alone.

He was shot at for 10,000 bucks. I refused free gifts thinking I was being very ethical. And here I was offering to pay his coffee bill since I earned more. Terrorists, insurgency, bombs, shells... Thanks to TV, internet and newspapers (and war), these words are part of each of our lexicon's. But how many of us really appreciate their meaning?

Despite my father predicting dire consequences for our relationship if we continued playing Empire Earth (er, it's a strategy game on world domination), Partner and I have recently purchased the latest version of the game, Empire Earth III. Our evenings, when not meeting friends and not watching TV, are spent with him being the General and me, the Prime Minister. He is good at war mongering, I am good at developing a civilisation. Basically it means he controls the mouse while I "rabbit on" about strategy, how to increase research, which tank is better and why he needs to attack Scandinavia before taking on the Indian Ocean to advance to the next level of technical superiority. Till the evening where even as we planned to attack Eastern Seaboard, I looked at the on-mute TV and said, "Look, those tanks look like the ARV we have here. Told you ARVs are best at complete annih ilation."

Partner stopped, lunged at the remote and when he turned up the volume, the TV presentor declared, "Even as Russian tanks continue to roll in, Georgia has declared a state of war." It was bizarre. Where did the game end and where was reality? World domination? Nostradamus' prediction that would lead to World War 3? The truth is still enfolding and it's chilling.

In an interview with director Kim Peirce (Boys Don't Cry) on her latest movie Stop-Loss, Peirce said she wanted to make the war movie because "you don't realise what happens in war till it hits home". Her brother had chosen to join the war in Iraq and her family was distraught. What would we/you do if we wake up to our neighbourehood being bombed and tanks patrolling our streets? Will we stock up on food or will we take backups of our hard drives?

PS: For tomorrow, August 15, Happy Independence Day fellow Indians!

The Hindustan Times, published August 14, 2008
The vanity of being stupid
If you have the stupidest
idea or opinion on
anlmost anything, then
take heart, you have
company in the
wilderness of the
world wide web
Do you hate soup? Or think that dressing like a cat will get you everything? Or that Batman might be gay? If it's a yes to the last one, you are joining those who've questioned the sexuality of Batman's alter-ego – the billionnaire Bruce Wayne – as far back as 1954. Much before Christian Bale rasped some respectability into the Dark Knight and before the late Heath Ledger changed how the viewer/reader perceived The Joker. As for hating soup, there's a 10-second rap song by that name and a yet-to-start website that promises to be up soon. Then there's the TypePad blog, Lux Lotu that talks how dressing like a cat might be the best way for you to get whatever you want. Point being, whatever it is you dig, dish, hate or sublimate, there's a blog or website that caters to it. No matter how bizarre, there's someone out there who's doing it and someone else blogging about it.
The blogosphere is a good way to validate yourself, to know that no matter how silly a thought, you have company in the world wide web. If nothing else, finding others with your interests or even different ones from yours can lead to good laughs. Like finding that there is an entire blog dedicated to icing mistakes on cakes. While Russia and Georgia tank each other out in a real-life simulation (oxymoron, eh?) of Empire Earth III, there are cakes being baked and decorated the world over and those who are botching it up too.
When real life goes horribly wrong, you read about it and when professional cakes go horribly wrong, you blog about it. Or at least so does Cake Wrecks that comes up daily with pictures of professional cakes that have something horrible, hilariously wrong with them. Like a cake with naked babies riding carrots (why indeed?) or a cake that says 'Happy November & December Birthday's – abbreviate Nov & Dec if you have to'. As the blogger says on Cake Wrecks, "sometimes stupidity takes so much effort." Look at the history of war for instance (globally please, not just the USA).
Sometimes life is just worth a laugh, before the bombs get us all. As Jenn Thorson says on the header of her blog, Of Cabbages and Kings, "Life's funny. Embrace the nonsense." As part of her embracing nature, Jen blogs on topics as varied as summer jobs, to Ouija boards and how every other blog on earth has some sort of voting/rating system on it. Oh, and every post of hers is followed by a 'vote for this post at Humor blogs'. Life's funny, bloggers funnier still.

August 8, 2008

Happiness is a state of breast

Or who’s afraid of gravity?
Pre-Script: I will come back to the abortion ‘topic’ another day. For now I know that Life is the tenure we complete on this planet. Things often happen in a way, which force you to make choices -- if forced, can it still be called choice? -- that you had never considered in your This Will Be My Life plan. So letting sleeping dogs lie (or dead babies, dead?) we shall speak of...Boobs! (click on the pic on left and read the article on pin-up girls.)

If a woman talks about penises and men, it’s called penis envy; what when she talks – like I do – of breasts, incessantly? Boobonic plague?

The under-wired bra is the single, most evil invention meant to constantly denigrate the female body. It is a constant reminder of that which you don’t have, those that were once pert and those which look better on other women. Whether it was God or chemical reactions that lead to the evolution of the human body, Breasts were supposed to hang. Think about it. If breasts were meant to stand on their own or face a different direction (than down south), breasts would come with a set of bones in them. There are 24 ribs to hold the lungs in place (the rib cage); there could easily have been 16 more to mold the breasts and keep them on constant perkiness.

Now women are made to wear their insecurities on their chest. Irrespective of your cup size, you’re always doing something wrong and the bra-tzkreig will get you.

No cleavage? Try the bra with a ‘wow’ effect. HUGE boobs? Try the minimising bra. Saggy boobs? Try the push-up bra. Perfectly normal boobs? Try getting a “fitting” done to make them look even better because Pamela Anderson’s are the most admired boobs, Eva Longoria was the flavour of the season and Lara Croft can tomb raid without jiggling hers. OR, try a lace bra that ‘showcases’ them. Do it for yourself gurl!

Even though I have been generally happy with my breasts I realised that no matter what your boob size, there is always scope for improvement.

Realisation came as I modelled a backless outfit before Partner. Now Partner is usually considerate and particularly smart when it comes to ‘things you say/don’t to a woman’. Perhaps the slip-of-tongue was because he was fiddling with the remote... As I shimmied before him and demanded to know what he thought of the dress – which is usually a cue for any/every man to say he likes the dress – Partner took one look and said, “The dress is nice but if you had smaller boobs, you could have pulled off the bra-less look.”
And THAT pretty much is the truth. Happiness is not a state of mind, it’s a state of breast.
PS: I started thinking boobs (again) after reading ‘Go Fug Yourself’. Reasons hereunder.

The Hindustan Times, published, august 7, 2008
Fab, fad or fugly?
Jhoomur Bose
There are some things in life that are great equalisers and show how despite colour, caste and creed, human beings are pretty much the same the world over. Having a television camera shoved in your face is one such equaliser. It makes people say stupid things.

Like the Los Angeles police commissioner who was on a roll – happens when you put both your feet in your mouth – when speaking to KNBC-TV recently. When asked if the paparazzi was a problem in LA, police chief William Bratton helpfully added, "...since Britney started wearing clothes and behaving; Paris is out of town not bothering anybody anymore, thank God, and evidently, Lindsay Lohan has gone gay, we don't seem to have much of an issue." Er, right, except that Miss Lohan has an issue with the police making comments on people's personal lives and all that.

Unfortunately for Miss Lohan and Like (read, celebrities and celeb wannabes), life only gets more complicated. If the press, paparazzi and Mr Blackwell (of People magazine's Worst Dressed list fame) were not enough, the blogosphere has now unleashed the glamournazi on them. The bloggers who follow celebrity fashion and are adept at deconstructing celeb attires – even those who write on them – thread by thread.

Mrs Tom Cruise, aka actress Katie Holmes – lovingly referred to as 'Tommy Girl' – and fashion columnist/presenter Steve 'Cojo' Cojoruco (E! Entertainment) are the leading slam-icons with Dark Knight actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, making a close second. Pop Hangover declare themselves to be 'pop culture satire with a vengeance' and often list things and people in their 'Suck Files'. Despite questionable satire and too-evident vengeance, at least Pop Hangover is honest: "...the straw man in the Wizard of Oz had nicer hair than Cojo." Truth hurts.

Despite the subtlety-overkill, the glamournazi have a knack for coining new terms. Like D Listed that labels the Angelina Jolie-Brad-Pitt twin-hype as 'Brangeloonism'. The site garners its hit-counts from stating the obvious: "They look like babies. Seriously, just babies. I ran home from the bar for this?" But then, if People (allegedly) paid $ 15 million for the twin-shots, why blame the bloggers?

The cake for mastering anonymous bitchiness though goes to the writer(s) at Go Fug Yourself , who are found on the blogrolls (list of blogs you read) of many a reader and have declared ' fugly is the new pretty'. Fugly by the way, means very ugly.

Take them as authorities on what celebs should be wearing or see them as jealous, disgruntled writers, the glamournazi are sure 'gruntling' many even as they point to the efficacy of underwired bras to Gyllenhaal, "Fear gravity girl, for it does not fear you."

August 1, 2008

C for church. C for choice.

A for abortion.
Cocaine is illegal in umpteen nations of the world but the coca plant grows in the wild in other South America. Much like marijuana (Cannabis sativa subspecies, indica), which is regularly burnt off in big cities but grows wildly (it’s weed!) in the picturesque, small hillstation Manali. And why just Manali, I was pleasantly surprised (er, shocked that is) to find it growing in happy bushels in a very respectable colony in Ludhiana. Meanwhile Amsterdam has cafes selling ‘joints’. As you change nations and boundaries, you realise that facets taken for granted in one country/place are alien to another. Even illegal. And then some facets don’t change.

Like abortion. Or the presumption that brave women have babies and bitches kill theirs. Or sluts.

For one, whether it’s India where abortions are legal and dont have religious connotations attached or whether it’s Australia where it’s almost semi-illegal and would displease the Church (for Catholics), there is no sympathy/ empathy for a girl who chooses not to have a baby.

If a woman is pregnant and lord forbid, she has a miscarriage or loses the baby, her support system will be around her. It was a mother who lost her baby. She is allowed to mourn the loss. But if a girl chooses to terminate the pregnancy, the reactions change. No one considers that she could perhaps mourn the loss too. After all, she chose to kill her baby, didn’t she? She is the bitch who could “lie back and enjoy being fucked” (said by someone close when debating the abortion-issue) but did not have the moral strength to give birth to the product of her carnal sins.

She is the woman who for her selfish reasons did not have the baby. She should either not have had sex or should have ensured she did not get pregnant. What if she does get pregnant despite all precautions? What if she is raped?

“Unborn babies have finger nails,” said the girl holding a banner with the picture of a foetus still in the womb. It’s a scene from the movie Juno (2007). Despite the theme of teenage pregnancy, the movie is funny. Juno is funny. Was the joke on the audience though?

On instant recall, of the three Hindi (popularly known as Bollywood) movies that touch upon the subject of pre-marriage pregnancy, the formula has been more or less the same.

In 1969, there was Aradhana (literally means prayer, Sharmila Tagore, Rajesh Khanna), where the heroine gets pregnant with her lover’s baby and he dies in a plane crash. The result? She is ostracised, thrown out of her house. BUT she sacrifices her life, chooses to become a housemaid and have the baby. The audience empathised and the movie was a major hit.

In 2000, we had Kya Kehna (what’s there to say, not literal), where actress Preity Zinta’s character gets pregnant and the boyfriend backs out. She too chooses to have the baby even though her father stops talking to her and all that. The movie was lauded for taking a step towards the coming-of-age of the Indian screen woman. She does not cry, she roars! She was seen as a positive step for single mothers and the movie ends with the character’s best friend marrying her. La di dah!

Circa 2005, there was Salaam Namaste (Preity Zinta, Saif Ali) shot entirely in Australia. It was supposedly avant-garde in talking about live-in relationships and pre-marital pregnancy. The girl gets pregnant, the boy gets cold feet about having the baby, the girl bravely goes ahead with the pregnancy, boys realises mistake and comes back and they live happily ever after.

In the 30 years or so between the three movies, the message has been the same. If you are not married and you get pregnant, a brave, morally couragious woman WILL have the baby. Even if she becomes a house maid, even if her family ostracises her and even if she has to do it alone. A woman is always a mother. All portrayals of women who dont want children is negative. Whether it’s Eva Longoria’s character in Desperate Housewives or Priyanka Chopra’s in Aitraaz (a 2004, Hindi remake of Fatal Attraction).

Brave has baby, bitch kills baby. Or doesn’t want it.

Why is the emphasis always on s/he who is not born? If the pregnant woman is 16, why should she not think of herself? Or even if she is 26 and does not have the means to give that unborn child all s/he deserves – good food, a proper home, an education, adequate time, a father perhaps – is it more prudent to make something out of herself first or to have a baby in penury? Or even NOT have the baby because she is not ready?
I DON’T know the answers. I want to know.

July 31, 2008

Do you want to touch my monkey?

How many of you think/ agree with the idea that watching pornography together can be good for a couple? A growing number of relationship experts and counsellors suggest that if a couple are having trouble with sex (with each other!) or their relationship is getting lacklustre or they are bored of the same-old-thing vis-a-vis sex, watching pornography will a) bring them closer b) spice-up their sex lives and c) give their relationship a new life. Agree, disagree or think that's crap? I have some ideas/opinions on that but I really want to know what you think. If you know other people who might have a say on the issue or think/feel strongly about it, please pass on this question/link.

(published in) The Hindustan Times, 31 July, 2008
Posing poses, hiking haikus

While 'social porn'
is the latest fad, there

is a whole world
out there that swears
by the madness
-- and pithiness --
of onlike haikus

What do you think of the phrase 'social porn'? To give you a hint, it's one of the latest (well, a year-old) cyber development that has many up in arms. It is user-generated pornography – as against shot-in-the-studio porn – and is slowly, steadily becoming the next best thing after social networking. Why network based on hobbies when you can network based on your fishnet fetish?
Social porn is also the only development that has both feminist groups and the adult film industry people agreeing with each other: Both consider it bad news. If the feminists feel that 'social porn' will further encourage the portrayal of women as commodities (even if the women are happy posing for different angles?), the adult film industry is concerned that the commoditisation will not yield any moolah for them. For their respective reasons, both groups don't want 'social porn' to catch on. Fat chance given it's free and does not need downloads.
Other than social porn (sorry, family newspapers do not encourage porn-pandering so no links!) there's much else that's free on the Internet, particularly in the blogosphere. There is free advice on house-keeping. Or free music reviews, if you aren't already up to your ears with everyone and their grandpa dishing out what they think you should be listening to. Some people do it with style though. "It's not easy being a pretentious, posturing, egocentric, and elitist music snob. In part because there is so goddamn much popular music that it is hard to keep up," says Jason on Hipster Dork even as he takes a punch at Arctic Monkeys – and for those indie-lovers who gasped – at indie lovers.
If Jason's love for phrases like 'pleonastic pablum' put you off and if you are one of Those who insist blogging should have some meaning, some higher purpose, some greater good (etc, yawn, etc), check out Mad Haiku for a hard kick in the gut (or wherever else gives you the kicks). From a take on world peace, Pres Bush to erectile dysfunction, Mad Haiku has some, well, mad haiku on everything. It's best read under the influence of mind altering drugs, but of course you need a doctor's prescription for those. While the haiku's aren't recommended for sending to your girlfriend (unless she has a good sense of humour), you should try those on your boss (they never have a funny bone). Like the one on what the man in the moon really thinks: Full moon in the sky/ Beckons hauntingly/ Earth girls are easy!

July 30, 2008

Smack my bitch up. Please.

Or, Chaos, serendipity and reflection

Pondering: What’s the longest that pubic hair can grow to? Can’t Google-it in the library, dont want the admin to think I am surfing porn. Sad.

Learnt: Too much reflection will never get the work done. I reflect all the time. It’s inversely proportional to word count dished out.

Felt patriotic when: One, Shashi Tharoor was being interviewed on an Aussie news channel and despite never having any particular fondness for him, felt an immense sense of pleasure seeing him up there. However, he didn’t sound too convincing when explaining why India is not a willing party to cutting her carbon emission rates in ways that would make the US and Australian governments happy. And the world a better place. Presumably, since no one wants to guarantee that.

Two, on discovering a Karsh Kale track when uploading Windows Vista on new laptop. The tabla is divine! Three, when teaching how to say “up your mother’s” in Hindi to two Sri Lankan chicks. One of them should soon be saying “thik hai” too.

Inspired: By Aussie lad-mag called Vice, had a picture of a 35-something mother, holding a rifle with a 6-year-old boy suckling on her right nipple. Also some pictures of bums, the photographer felt that since everyone shoots face-pictures, he needed to do something about it. Poorly executed idea, nice bums though. Guess no one minds the execution then. I am going to shoot bums too.
Realised: Relationships can be a pain in the arse. You are forever doing something wrong. Or forever looking for something wrong. Perhaps some of us like some pain in the arse. Or are plain stupid. Have you ever had the feeling that if there is nothing wrong (or nothing going wrong) in your life, it could mean there’s something really sinister happening somewhere? And that it will hit you in the face when you least expect it to?
Confession: I am really angtsy today, have been so all day. I could be missing the Delhi chaos. Maybe. The daily fights with autorickshaw drivers for one. Here everything is mechanical. Punch preference, put money in, get on with it. No humans. Most things are very efficient, so much so they can be boring. Like all my glassware is intact. No maid to rush through washing dishes who would break them. Funny that the song playing on the laptop right now – of the five songs I could download before the Internet died at home – is Ironic (Alanis Morisette).
There are fond memories associated with the song.
First year of college, N and me going to participate in the intracollege annual festival at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi. The fest is called Rendezvous. She participating in the western music competition and me in the on-the-spot story writing one. She sang an acoustic version of Ironic. I wrote “I am a bitch but I didn’t want it to end this way”. It won the first prize. Shrug. College did not publish it in the college mag, they wanted stories on feminism, not psychopathic killers. N never made it to the western music society and I pulled out of the creative writing one.
That was also the time both of us would while away time at the bus stop outside college concocting imaginary stories about what-would-life-be-when-we-grow-up. I was only 19 then, ten bloody years AGO. Where? When? How? What the fuck happened? She was the only one who said that of the 22 girls in class, I would be the first to get married but it would end in a divorce. I had scoffed at being the first to marry. (Smiles) She is married today, I am not. Fortunately or not so, I’ve always been quick at undoing mistakes. Or running from them.
Right now, thanks to all the author names that people throw around, sitting amongst other “writers” seems like a BIG mistake. “Have you read Umberto Eco?” Er, yes, but put down Focault’s Pendulum after page-four because it made no sense to me. My best friend though has read most of his work... but she is into management now. Ironic?
I also want to fight, kick, scream, lunge, lash, hit out. Writing requires sitting in one place. And reflecting. I can do that, perhaps. But what about action? There’s no chaos here. I miss chaos.
I miss home.
PS: Dont think Golu would like it here, he wouldn’t be able to run around freely.
PS2: I think I saw Tinkuji in the market today...

July 24, 2008

Hex appeal anyone?

The Hindustan Times, July 24, 2008
"I get beaten up regularly, you will learn to adjust too," her to-be mother-in-law told her. Luckily she didn't take that parental advice and walked out a week before her marriage. She was 23. Another was not as lucky and grew to be very scared of the night, that's when her husband came back from work. She was 18. He never beat her, technically, but he raped her every night, every possible way. She took three years to get out of the marriage. Both women are 'comfortable' sharing their stories over a cup of coffee but neither of them is a blogger nor wants to be one either. One wonders if there would be any takers for their blogs or would they be labelled 'feminists' and cast aside?

It's ironic that while both 'feminine' and 'feminist' come from 'female', one conjures images of Marilyn Monroe's mystery, Sophia Loren's sensuousness and Bo Derek's twins; the other neither invokes such visual richness nor summons any pleasing reactions. 'Hard-nosed', bitch, needs-a-lay are just some of the polite words. Currently the blog world is divided over feminine and feminist too. Feminine will write about sex, or rather who she 'shags' (and how); feminist will write about who shagged her -- and then beat her.

If on one hand there's cleavage-baring (nice cleavage though) Zoe Margolis aka Abbey Lee aka Girl With A One Track Mind who gives insight on men-women-relationships with a generous dose of her generous , there's Fay Weldon who also gives insight on men and women but sans the cleavage or her sex life. She does write on sex though, more on the lines of "It's OK to fake an orgasm" or "Rejecting a lover can give you more gratification". Those are excerpts from an article she wrote on keeping men happy on Femail daily. If Abbey Lee talks about massaging a man's gonads, Weldon talks about squeezing the same to prove your point.

Feminine or feminist, all women seem to talk about bodies, babies, boobs and beatings. There's Samantha Brett on Ask Sam who answers dating and relationship queries. While Sam's writing is neither witty enough to compare with Abbey Lee nor scathing enough to match up to Weldon's, for some quick easy (at times, can-find-anywhere) advice on what's the right thing to do, she suffices.

For those who'd rather read fiction than facts, there's – hold your breath – Witchy Chicks who write fictional, sex-filled, lustful, orgasmic (etc, etc) stories on wicca, sex, women, sex, wizards, sex… Don't read for much quality – 'Hex Appeal' anyone? – but it's worth a laugh.

PS: Current status: No internet yet, course going fine, met awesome Sri Lankan girl, wore green socks yesterday that were called woolly mammoth and moss among other polite things. Cooked Indian dinner. Gave CV to chef saying I was a baker, he was Greek and said he will call back. So that I can bake for him. Like the idea, it should pay. Let's see. Gotta go, this is the library!!!

July 21, 2008

The Pope, politics and potty!

In another hour or so I'll be heading for my first class. Let's see how that goes, kind of nervous. Even before classes, I found myself signing up for two campaigns. One supporting a change in abortion laws in Victoria (the state Melbourne is in) and another supporting the cause of giving transport (train/tram) concessions to international students and postgraduate students. Hmm. No, I hadn't planned to join in campaigns but I did. Hopefully there will be a workload from uni and hopefully it should not be boring. I am BLOODY bored and itching to get on with things.

While on one hand the media is/was abuzz with Pope Benedict's visit on the World Youth Day (misnomer though, should have been World Catholic Youth Day, since it seems the rest of the world's youth will really have no hand in world peace or such similar nice things), the other three big news are about Indian-origin doctor Jayant Patel being extradited from the US on charges of negligence and manslaughter while he was working at te Bundaberg hospital in Queensland, a senior foreign correspondent for commercial Aussie TV channel ABC being arrested in Singapore for trafficking 'ice' and Aussie PM Kevin Rudd being torn apart in the media because he said the C word. No, NOT 'clit' (bwahaha) but CARBON, rather carbon emissions. It's funny how earlier the media here loved to bash their PM-for-12-years John Howard and now has a gala time trying to make Rudd trip and fall. Funny how the media here is EXACTLY the same as the media back home. They even say wrong English on TV, "Dr Patel FLIED out of US this morning." Pray, what the eff is FLIED? That on national TV on a show called Sunrise. Perhaps the anchor needed some waking up.

However, unlike the Indian media, media criticism here is much rampant and much more scathing. While our NDTV does a good show in the form on 'Gustakhi Maaf' (lierally means 'pardon me', the puppet-based show anyone?) that critiques (more often ridicules) the politicians, we don't have ANYTHING that looks at the media as such. There's a show here called 'Media Watch' that does a darned good job of looking at what the media - print, online and TV -- is upto. From which journo was heard flirting on air, to putting his/her foot in the mouth, to what report was plagiarised, lacked facts or was botched and even taking down magazines for stupid captions -- they did on lag mag FHM, which had a caption for a camera saying something on the lines of 'Gave all paedophiles/pervs a hard-on when passing by the school.' IMAGINE having a show or even a column like that in India. What do you think will happen? 1. journalist will lose his/her job for suggesting such a column 2. Times of India will most probably start suing everyone involved. Anyone remember what happened to the Mediah blog?

While our desi papers and channels have a fair share of Australia-related news, the three news items I've read here that concerned India were 1. About Dhoni "saving himself" for the 20/20s or one-dayers and not playing in the Test. Someone tell Dhoni his hymen isn't involved. (2.) another about the nuclear deal going bust and India looking at imminent elections and how three politicians with criminal records will be released from jail to participate in the same and how India is one of the world's MOST corrupt nations (think we are number 7, have to check) and (3) Indian-origin doctor Patel news. I logged-in to ibnlive.com this morning and the first interesting news that was flashing was how Indians beat the world in defecating in open places.

Wonder though if we should really feel bad about that since the British top the list when it comes to potty-bums -- defecating and not "washing" themselves. What's worse: Getting it out of the system in the open or letting some loving remains stick to you? Take your pick, leave a comment or mail me. We're talking shit again. ;)

Below is the column I wrote for HT last Thursday, which of course I forgot to put up. Mea culpa.

The Hindustan Times, 17th July 2008
The blogger’s world is
abuzz with stay-at-home
single dads (and

beleagured moms)
who are sharing more
than just pictures of
their kids in the buff

Some parents have a strange habit of clicking pictures of their babies in the buff. With the Internet and blogging, some parents are also putting up those pictures for all and sundry to see. Either there should be legislation against allowing parents to click naked pictures of their kids or some sort of age of consent where kids have a say if they want the world to see those pictures. Parents need to be told that 2-year-old Ratan's picture showing his little wee-wee is really not funny when said Ratan, now 32, brings home the girl he wants to marry.

If on one hand Angelina Jolie's newly popped-out twins are sending the paparazzi in a tizzy to get that first shot (pray why, aren't all newborns red and wrinkled?), elsewhere dad and Australian newspaper The Age's art critic Robert Nelson, is in the midst of a media blitzkrieg for publishing naked pictures of his six-year-old daughter Olympia in the magazine's (Art Monthly) latest issue. While first he denied the pictures are sexual, an essay written on his wife Polixeni Papapetrou's blog seemed to say otherwise.

Perhaps Nelson needs to learn about parenting from mommy-daddy bloggers – parents who blog – who despite sharing regular insights on everything from baby poo, nappy rashes and when-to-wean-the-baby, don't put out naked pictures of their infants. While mommy bloggers come in all ages – from the to-be mommies, newly-mommies to wish-I-wasn't-mommy-because-the-tots-turned-to-teens – the daddy bloggers seem to be singularly of the same 'type'. Most are new dads, most are stay-at-home and most try to be funny. Some succeed.

Some of the daddies rue the time they were single, some of the dads are single and trying to juggle babies and booties and some dads are plain preachy. Writer, blogger, and divorced single dad David Mott invites voyeurs to his blog and offers stories, tips, and expert advice "in an age of online dating, friends with benefits, hookups and booty calls" on Dad's House. If he recommends a beach vacation as the best family outing, he also supports tantrix sex. "Cooking is sexy. Reading is sexy. Tantric sex is sexy. It's the fast-food guzzling, sports blathering, selfish lover sorts of men who are unmanly," says David supporting the cause of men-who-like-gourmet.

Reading through some daddy blogs breaks the myth that it's only women who 'think' babies all the time, men do too! However, unlike most mommy blogs, the daddy bloggers use more humour. Consider the issue of baby names for instance. Greg on Daddy Types suggests using drug names for baby names for originality. "Aren't Paxil, Ambien, and Cialis kind of cute names? Tramadol, Klonopin and Zyrtec, not so much."