Squashing Society’s Advancing Rot

A few months back, an online acquaintance [“a handsome genius of an online acquaintance”, he wishes you to know] very generously pointed his social network to a fantastic page on Facebook. And by “fantastic”, I mean “something that should exist only in unwell fantasies”. It’s called “Bengalis for Squashing Social Rot”, and is run by a group of dedicated – but carefully anonymous – right-wing ‘patriots’, horrified by the pro-women rot MERCILESSLY DESTROYING Indian and Bengali society.

Although their treasure chest of older posts is a wealth of bottomless delight, these are a few of my favourites from their most recent efforts. I never fail to be deeply moved by their outpourings of PASSIONATE CIVIL RIGHTS CONCERN!!! for that one disempowered, exploited, and systematically marginalised social group: the heterosexual male.

Honestly, these people are amazing. As in, their existence incites great and perplexed amazement. If they were locked up in a zoo, I would pay to go see them going even more nuts in their tiny, inhuman cages. It would be such a beautiful manifestation of their voluntary mental incarceration.

Translation of each poster’s content follows their respective image.

1.
crazy1

Translation:

Men Beware! A Blackmail racket has grown up in this country under the protection of our excessively man-hating laws. A class of women are using male sensitivity to play this filthy game.

They are making millions and millions by trapping the older and younger brothers of OUR VERY OWN HOMES! We request mothers and sisters to shield the men of their households, and to make women understand that “female chastity should not up for business”.

Happily, I haven’t a brother, either older or younger. I shudder to think of the mind that would device an entrapment plan to specifically catch men with female siblings. Haven’t these imbeciles heard of multi-purpose modelling?

Honestly!

2.
crazy2

Translation:

Calling a whore a whore is anti-woman. Punishing women of rotten-character will have you jailed!

Don’t be surprised, this is our society, these are our laws.

A female village head punished a woman who left her husband to live with another man by chopping off her hair. Result? The head, along with three other women, were put in jail.

So now women will now spend their days with men, as they like, and law enforcement will protect them. On the other hand, men doing the same thing will be jailed. This society needs to change fast. If no political party supports this, let us get our rights ourselves.

Did I say something wrong?

Hells no, elder or younger brother. You go get your right… to cut women’s hair. Happy barbershopping.

3.
crazy3

Translation:

Boys taking anything from their in-laws to run their families is dowry!

And…

Girls stealing thousands and thousands of rupees every day from their husband’s pockets for their own sake is “pocket money”?

Do you think this society should change? Don’t forget to “like” and “share” if you agree.

I’ve liked, and I’ve shared. Bitches getting thousands and thousands of rupees every day need to be stopped! Unless they’re willing to cut me in. There’s a mile-long list of book and bookcases my partner and I need to buy.

“Slaves Do Not Become Kings, Sir”

From Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which I am re-reading under rather special circumstances:

“Out of my dear love for you, Stephen, I have traced the smoke of burning cities and battlefields and prised dripping, bloody guts out of dying men to discover your future. You are indeed destined to be a king! I must say that I am not in the least surprized! I believe I know which kingdom is to yours.”

Stephen waited.

“But do you not see?” cried the gentleman, impatiently. “It must be England! I cannot tell you how delighted I was when I learnt this important news!”

“But I think that you must be mistaken, sir. I cannot rule England. Not with this…” He spread out his hands in front of him. Black skin, he thought. Aloud he continued, “Only you, sir, with your partiality for me, could think such a thing possible. Slaves do not become kings, sir.”

“Slave, Stephen? Whatever do you mean?”

“I was born into slavery, sir. As are many of my race. My mother was a slave on an estate in Jamaica that Sir Walter’s grandfather owned. When his debts grew too great Sir William went to Jamaica to sell the estate – and one of the possessions which he brought back with him was my mother. Or rather he intended to bring her back to be a servant in his house, but during the voyage she gave birth to me and died.”

“Ha!” exclaimed the gentleman in triump. “Then it is exactly as I have said! You and your estimable mother were enslaved by the wicked English and brought low by their machinations!”

“Well, yes, sir. That is true in a sense. But I am not a slave now. No one who stands on British soil can be a slave. The air of England is the air of liberty. It is a great boast of Englishmen that this is so.” And yet, he thought, they own slaves in other countries.

“Nevertheless we should punish them!” cried the gentleman. “We can easily kill Lady Pole’s husband, and then I will descend nto Hell and find his grandfather, and then…”

“But it was not Sir William and Sir Walter who did the enslaving,” protested Stephen. “Sir Walter has always been been very much opposed to the slave trade. And Sir William was kind to me. He had me christened and educated.”

“Christened? What? Even your name is an imposition of your enemies? Signifying slavery? Then I strongly advise you to cast it off and chuse another when you ascend the throne of England!”

The Made-up Rimi

I was greatly inspired this afternoon by my friend Gautam Benegal, who, tongue firmly in cheek, posted a helpful video tutorial to help women deal with the current biggest female crisis – “peach fuzz” on the face. So I put double chocolate-chip cookies in the oven, and dug out the dusty travelling bag of old makeup I had been given five years ago as a power-dressing experiment kit. This was before I found employment in the public health/public education sector and discovered ‘power dressing’ meant shoes that would see me through five hours of muddy terrain in the middle of the monsoons.

The pre-make up face.

Of course, even before I opened the zip on that bag, I landed on YouTube to do some recon. I don’t know if you’ve seen any, but (A) the people in these videos mostly speak FAR more than necessary, and (B) and do it in an annoyingly chirpy, high-pitched, nasal voice. So I shut off YouTube and decided to just dive in. After all, I had studied painting for six miserable years as a child. How much harder could this be?

Don’t answer that. I know now.

First, I took a blunt-edged kajal and tried to outline my eyes. It was just as traumatic as the last four times I tried to have my eyes painted. Still, I managed to keep the grin on. It would disappear soon.

scary-kajal.jpeg

Then came the task of painting the lid of each eye. To be frank, the fuss of it just isn’t worth anyone’s time, unless one makes a living by it. I’ll tell you why.

First, the sponge/brush thing tickles. It’ll make you snap open your eyes in the middle of dabbing on the sticky powdery colour, making red-rimmed weepy eyes almost an inevitability.

Second, the colours are wonky. I touched a sponge delicately to the little squares of colour in the box – à la the tutorial videos – but even after four careful dusting, my lids remained their usual shade. Irritated, I jabbed the sponge a little harder and swept it across the lid. Voila! I became Burlesque Rimi, Queen of the Cakey Pink Eyes.

The picture below is my fourth attempt at painting the eyelids, after having to clean off the three previous attempts with cold cream and coconut oil. Because soap just doesn’t cut through this “waterproof” rubbish.

eyelids.jpeg

By now, I had lost my patience with make-up and was getting quite cross. So I snatched up the blunt stick of kajal – the easiest thing to use so far – and tried to do me over as a goth queen. After I was done, I stared at my own image in the mirror for a while, then dashed off to the sink and washed it off frantically.

wpid-wp-1434284571867.jpeg

Then I zipped up the make-up box, much of the stuff in it still untried,  jammed it into the odds-and-ends drawer, and rammed the drawer home. I think I’ll live with the the face I was born with, thank you very much. At the very least, I won’t give myself a heart attack by accidentally glancing at the mirror.

Plus, I’m really cute.

regular.jpeg

Rain Rain, Never Mind Spain!

Just come to us, please.

Heat is now the second highest natural disaster in India, and the official death toll – which always errs very generously on the side of the lowest possible number – has risen past the 2500 mark. My trilingual upbringing hasn’t equipped me with enough words to adequately express how desperately we need cool, wet breeze and the pouring three-day-long showers.

Yes, I’ll be complaining about the unending downpour almost as soon as it arrives, and yes, I’ll chirp like a bird at the sign of a sunny day again, but right now, the beleaguered, live-roasted people of the tropics will take months of mood-destroying mud, splattered clothes, dim daylight, mossy walls and the odour of wet dogs in the house just to escape this murderous heat for a few hours.

So please, come on down. Spain can dance around Barça’s Champion’s League trophy for the next few months.

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.

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