Cannes You Not?

I once bought roasted peanuts from a vendor who wrapped his ware in pieces of Hindi newspaper. Our piece of the newspaper was large, and it castigated Genelia D’Souza – with an appropriate amount of shock and sneer – for wearing the same outfit to both her brother’s and brother-in-law’s wedding.

This cartoon is in memorium, especially since the little chirpers have descended with gusto upon the recent feast that has been the stretch from the Met gallery to Cannes parade. It’s from Green Humour, the ecological artwork blog I raved about here. This is the link to the original post.

sustainable dressing

Incidentally, notice that the artist has chosen non-Indian stereotypes as his reference point. A few years back, I would have agreed with the inherent indication that hysterical consumption – and the stigma attached to refraining from it – was largely a developed-world phenomenon. But now? A local Hindi daily is mocking an Indian woman for wearing the same outfit twice!

Stop and think just how powerful a turnaround that is. Local dailies have traditionally been strong allies of an older narrative of female worth – one that is invested in her thrift, her wholesome, hardworking appeal, and in her Lakshmi-like handling of the moolah. For them to lay into one of sisters for NOT being a wasteful enough spender is an unnerving testament to the ability of profit-driven corporations to become the new Miss Manners.

Gorgeous Green Humour

Thanks to a link by ace baker and my social media friend Kamini Gopal, I found the amazing – and absolutely hilarious – wildlife website of Rohan Chakravarty.

Aptly called Green Humour, the site features vibrant cartoons of India’s rich wildlife, panels of absolutely on-point, ironic humour about our shredded ecosystems, and a choice of stationary on which you can have these reproduced on. After a late, headachy night, Green Humour is absolutely the best way to begin the day’s internetting. So glad I found it. Thanks, Kamini :-)

Here’s a tiny sample of Rohan’s most recent work. Tell me if this doesn’t immediately make you very happy (and worried about the planet’s future).

Birds of Indian Regions, for Endemic Bird Day (9th May)

The Many Uses of a Snow Leopard’s Reeeeally Long Tail.

Vermin WHO?

Exercising Fire

I sneaked a quick look at Ghonada.

As seasoned observers of the mess-house at 72 Bonomali Noshkor Lane know, outrageous claims of this kind were his domain, not ours. Generally, if any of us dared to so much as set a toe on said domain, we would first be blasted with scathing sarcasm, and then be dazzled with a tall tale justifying all Ghonada’s claims. Today, we hadn’t just set a tentative toe into his domain. We had stormed it, set up camp, and were now in the process of hoisting our flag on its soil. How was the man reacting to this blatant act of plagiarism, or, if you like, this blatant mockery?

“Exercising Fire”, Premendra Mitra, July 1978
Original Title: “Khanobdahe Ghonada”
Premendra Mitra’s Ghonada is a study of fascinating contrasts.

On the one hand, as Mitra said himself, he is a teller of rather tall tales. He seems to have lived through almost the whole 19th century, popping up sometimes in Siberia, sometimes in the Amazon, on small islands in the, and in the interiors of Africa – always saving the day with his near-superhuman repertoire of combat skills and encyclopaedic knowledge. And yet he lives in a rickety mess-house in the bowels of old middle-class Calcutta, with nothing more exciting in his life than evening walks.

On the other hand, for a self-aggrandising liar, his stories are surprisingly accurate – both geographically and politically – and scientifically sound for his time. So perhaps the ‘encyclopaedic knowledge’ part of his stories is actually true? And if that is true, is it possible the at least some of the rest is also true?

The four young men who subsidise Ghonada’s living can never work it out. It doesn’t help that the few times they trick or test him, he comes out with flying colours. In a way, Ghonada’s tales are like the stories of religious myth, to be taken on faith, or not at all.

And much like the gods, Ghonada’s favour can be won by gifts of special food. His younger housemates use this weakness to cajole stories out of him all the time, and appease him when he is cross. The list of the dishes he is fed in exchange for his yarns is a valuable record of the food middle-class (Hindu) Bengalis thought of – and continues to think of – as special treats, spanning at least four different cuisines and a broad spectrum of prices. In a way, Mitra’s stories are as much a narrative of ‘junk food’ in Calcutta as they are of Ghonada’s tall tales.

The excerpt above is from a short and unusual cycle of stories he spins for them, in which Ghonada details the “hidden history” behind many incidents of the Mahabharata. The full story can be read here: Exercising Fire.

The Woman Who Sold Us to Australia

“Virat Kohli has shown time and again that he is capable of great cricket. But a man’s skills can hold only for so long against the malicious influence of an unlucky woman. Think about it: every poor performance of his has happened in the presence of Anushka Sharma. Coincidence? I THINK NOTTE!

Team India should give Kohli an ultimatum: either break up with this woman, or we will kill her. NH10 style. Anyway, I don’t think their castes match.”

– The Stupid in India

City Chicks in Sarees

It happens a lot less than people would have you believe. Once, young women moved from their babyhood swaddle straight into sarees, worn around the knee with the aanchol or pally wrapped tightly around the waist. Then there came the intervening modernity of dresses, but most Bengali girls still graduated to the saree fairly young, and once there, didn’t switch loyalties for the rest of their lives.

Now, I’m surprised if I see one person below forty in Bombay’s streets wearing a saree. The times, they have a’changed. To be fair, though, there’s a class element to the city-saree. Most of the cleaning ladies in my neighbourhood wear sarees. Their employers seldom do. Is it because sartorial modernity is considered the premise of the better off? Would employers raise their eyebrows if their maids suddenly turned up in something as innocuous – and eminently Indian – as the salwaar-kameez, much less something a little more ‘western’? I haven’t had the chance to find out. However, I have noticed that one can get sarees for much less than a salwaar-kameez set, and certainly a pair of trousers and a shirt. So perhaps the cleaving to the traditional, though enforced by one’s cultural capital and form of labour, is also perhaps propped up by one’s financial capability.

This sudden nattering about sarees has been brought on by the #100sareepact. Did anyone else know about it? Now, I don’t even own a hundred sarees, and given that I mostly work from home lately, I doubt I’ll wear the ones I do have. But this sounds like a fun project, and so I think I’ll participate by adding old pictures of myself in sarees. Because memes are for modifying, right?

weddingmorningsaree

This is today’s picture. It’s my wedding morning, and I’m wearing an inexpensive red-bordered golden-yellow saree bought specifically for the messy wedding-morning rituals. This saree was a yard too short for my generous frame, so first we tried to make do by wrapping it a la Mumtaz, with a tiny pallu. That didn’t work. So then we unwrapped the whole thing, and began the first wrap from the back, instead of the front. This time, it was draped to all the adult women’s satisfaction. There’s a lesson in this process, and it is this: flaws hidden are flaws acceptable, as long as the show goes visibly on.

As people familiar with Bengali/Indian weddings will know, there are two throne-like chair at every wedding venue, one for the bride and one for the groom. They are usually overstuffed and damned uncomfortable. However, since I was doomed to spend the rest of day demurely adorning this chair, I spent the morning making damn sure the chair knew who was boss.

Indian Christians on Hit List?

There’s an interesting piece by Julio Riberio, former IPS officer, in the Indian Express today. He calls it the response of a retired public servant “in the twilight of my life”, to the recent steps taken by the central and right-wing state governments, as well as to their inaction in recent instances of horrifying incitement to violence against religious minorities. Yogi Adityanath – a fine example of the kind that pretends to be the protectors of ‘Hindutva’ – has recently called upon his supporters to dig up corpses of Muslim women and rape them. On a less immediate, more legislative level, he promises to snatch the voting rights of Indian Muslims, and make them second class citizens of the ‘Hindu rashtra’, much as Hindus in Pakistan are second-class citizens of the Islamic state. Meanwhile, Harayana is considering passing a law that would equate the slaughter of cows to first degree murder, to considerable support from urban and rural ‘Hindu’ sections.

Deviating from current western norms of rhetoric against religious aggression, Riberio has no compunction identifying himself as a Christian. And that is what makes his piece particularly strong, in my opinion. His very adherence to his religious – and therefore also to a large part his cultural – identity underlines the important role religion still plays in Indian social life, while also demonstrating that it has not, till recently, come too much in the way of everyday modernity.

Here are the most illustrative excerpts (in my opinion), but please read the whole article here.

[After the shooting that killed Indira Gandhi and clashes ensued between Sikh separatists and the State] a Christian was chosen to go to Punjab to fight what then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi termed “the nation’s battle” against separatists. I had accepted a “demotion” from secretary in the Union home ministry to DGP of the state of Punjab at the personal request of the prime minister. Arjun Singh, the cabinet minister who personally escorted me by special aircraft from Delhi to Chandigarh, remarked that when my appointment was announced the next morning, the Hindus of Punjab would breathe more freely and rejoice.

When 25 RSS men on parade were shot dead in cold blood one morning, then Punjab Governor S.S. Ray and I rushed to the spot to console the stricken families. The governor visited 12 homes, I visited the rest. The governor’s experience was different from mine. He was heckled and abused. I was welcomed.

Today, in my 86th year, I feel threatened, not wanted, reduced to a stranger in my own country. The same category of citizens who had put their trust in me to rescue them from a force they could not comprehend have now come out of the woodwork to condemn me for practising a religion that is different from theirs. I am not an Indian anymore, at least in the eyes of the proponents of the Hindu Rashtra […] “Ghar wapsi”, the declaration of Christmas as “Good Governance Day”, the attack on Christian churches and schools in Delhi, all added to a sense of siege that now afflicts these peaceful people.

Christians have consistently punched above their weight — not as much as the tiny Parsi community, but just as noticeably. Education, in particular, has been their forte. Many schools, colleges, related establishments that teach skills for jobs have been set up and run by Christians… Hospitals, nursing homes, hospices for dying cancer patients needing palliative care — many of these are run by Christian religious orders or Christian laymen devoted to the service of humanity. Should they desist from doing such humanitarian work for fear of being so admired and loved that a stray beneficiary converts of his or her own accord?

I was born in this country. So were my ancestors, some 5,000 or more years ago. If my DNA is tested, it will not differ markedly from [Mohan] Bhagwat’s. It will certainly be the same as the country’s defence minister’s as our ancestors arrived in Goa with the sage Parshuram at the same time. Perhaps we share a common ancestor somewhere down the line. It is an accident of history that my forefathers converted and his did not. I do not and never shall know the circumstances that made it so.

Victimising the Good Men

There has been a lot of noise in India lately about the banning of BBC’s India’s Daughter, forcing the house to release it virtually on YouTube (which promptly blocked its viewing, at least in India). NDTV, a channel that was originally supposed to air the show in India, registered its protest of the ban by keeping a still image of the documentary’s title on its screen for the entire duration of its run-time, while messages condemning the ban flowed steadily in the footer.

Naturally, there’s another side to this. Certain self-identified feminists have supported the ban, claiming the documentary would only serve to encourage more violent crimes. Others have claimed that the documentary tarnishes the image of all Indian men, reducing them to the (colonial) stereotype of the brutish pervert. There was even a poorly-doctored series of emails on Quora yesterday, ‘confirming’ that such stereotyping is now a global phenomenon, encouraging sexist and racist discrimination against bright young Indian males, innocent of any crime. [UPDATE: further developments in that matter here.]

This morning, I saw a more personalised take on the matter on Facebook. Here it is:
Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 12.24.32 pm

It breaks my heart to disagree, but disagree I must.

My school was a little more than an hour’s commute by bus from my home. I began to be regularly groped when I was in Class 4/5. And by ‘regularly’ I mean every time I was on the bus. This continued till highschool, by which time I had become an expert in stealth war, standing on a molester’s foot and then lifting the other leg off the bus floor so all 50 kilos of me was crushing his toes. I was also groped by uncles, friends of the family and my own ‘enlightened’ friends – although naturally not all of them.

It incenses me that someone might want to stop the exposé of our culture’s pervasive sexual repression, perversion and gendered entitlement – that has plagued me and my friends/classmates from when we were too young to understand what it was that was pressing against us in a crowded bus – because of the off chance that it might make the wonderful men in their lives look bad. I mean, I have a father who did a lot of the ‘maternal’ raising of me when I was a baby because my mother had to be at work by 7AM. My husband surpasses every single goddamned expectation a woman can have of a man who loves her. And I still will not yield to protecting the reputation of the Indian patriarchy.

One, because men who step out of their traditional gender privilege – not as a special favour, but as a way of life – are no longer part of the problem.

And two, because Indian patriarchy is so far from deserving such protection, that the horizon isn’t distant enough.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 805 other followers

%d bloggers like this: