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.

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.

A Photo Essay on Destruction

We had a lovely guest for dinner yesterday. In his honour – and in an effort to keep face-licking off our mehmaan nawazi – we allowed the dogs to romp unsupervised in our bedroom, while we socialised civilly inthedrawing room.Electrified by the sudden free rein in this otherwise-forbidden room, the dogs went absolutely wild. This is the state the bed was in after our guest left.

D1

My partner saw this mess while I was clearing the dishes (we dropped by a few times in between chatting to check on the dogs). To prevent further damage, he put the dogs in the bedroom balcony, where to also hang our laundry to dry.

Once our guest left, we opened the door of the bedroom… and saw the dogs looking damned pleased with themselves.

D2

Of course, Kaju immediately made an effort to get to us, but alas, the window of his jail was too high.
D3

Shorshu, of course, thinks it is déclassé to try and rescue herself. She issued bird-like warbles, indicated she would like to be rescued from her undignified perch, and cuddled for her troubles.

D4

Finally, after I let them both out of the balcony after half an hour’s detention, Shorshu immediately jumped onto the destroyed bed and curled up, like it was her goddamned right.

D6

While Kaju posed cheerfully for the camera, proud of his evening’s efforts.

D5

So much for lessons learnt.

Little Red’s New Coat, Road Dahl

I was speaking to my mum on the phone today, when my dad came on the line specifically to tell me that he read my post reproducing James Thurber’s retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, and that he enjoyed it very much. My mother added from the background that it was delightful.

It’s a bit unsettling at first to know one’s parents reads one’s blog, but I’m quite kicked, really, to play parent, and introduce them to new things, the way they introduced them to me once. So here is an excerpt from another re-telling of the Little Red fairytale, this time by Roald Dahl. It’s a favourite of mine, despite raising contemporary concerns of gun-violence, the fur trade, and encouragement of cruelty to animals.

The action below begins after the wolf has eaten Red’s grandmother, and is preparing to eat Red once she arrives.

Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf
Roald Dahl

Wolfie dressing up in Granny's clothes. Ink and watercolour, Quentin Blake, from Revolting Rhymes, Roadl Dahl.

Wolfie dressing up in Granny’s clothes. Ink and watercolour, Quentin Blake, from Revolting Rhymes, Roadl Dahl.

Poor Grandmamma was terrified,
He quickly put on Grandma’s clothes,
(Of course he hadn’t eaten those).
He dressed himself in coat and hat.
He put on shoes, and after that
He even brushed and curled his hair,
Then sat himself in Grandma’s chair.

Little Red Riding Hood comes in and stares. Ink and watercolour, Quentin Blake, from Revolting Rhymes, Roadl Dahl.

Little Red Riding Hood comes in and stares. Ink and watercolour, Quentin Blake, from Revolting Rhymes, Roadl Dahl.

In came the little girl in red.
She stopped. She stared. And then she said.
“…But Grandma
what a lovely great big furry coat you have on.”
“That’s wrong!” cried Wolf. “Have you forgot
To tell me what BIG TEETH I’ve got?
Ah well, no matter what you say,
I’m going to eat you anyway.”

"Bang bang, she shoots him dead." Ink and watercolour, Quentin Blake, from Revolting Rhymes, Roadl Dahl.

“Bang bang, she shoots him dead.” Ink and watercolour, Quentin Blake, from Revolting Rhymes, Roadl Dahl.

The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers.
She aims it at the creature’s head
And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead.

"My lovely furry wolfskin coat." Ink and watercolour, Quentin Blake, from Revolting Rhymes, Roadl Dahl.

“My lovely furry wolfskin coat.” Ink and watercolour, Quentin Blake, from Revolting Rhymes, Roadl Dahl.

A few weeks later, in the wood,
I came across Miss Riding Hood.
But what a change! No cloak of red,
No silly hood upon her head.
She said, “Hello, and do please note
My lovely furry wolfskin coat.”

Little Girl and the Wolf, James Thurber

little-red-with-gun

NOTE: On the one hand, a tale of cynical ’empowerment’. On the other, a possible advocacy for NSA’s ‘good guys with guns’ fallacy (or in this case, ‘smart kids with guns’ fallacy, recipe for an even greater tragedy). Either way, this is James Thurber’s all-American two-paragraph version of Little Red Riding Hood.

One afternoon a big wolf waited in a dark forest for a little girl to come along carrying a basket of food to her grandmother. Finally a little girl did come along and she was carrying a basket of food. “Are you carrying that basket to your grandmother?” asked the wolf. The little girl said yes, she was. So the wolf asked her where her grandmother lived and the little girl told him and he disappeared into the wood.

When the little girl opened the door of her grandmother’s house she saw that there was somebody in bed with a nightcap and nightgown on. She had approached no nearer than twenty-five feet from the bed when she saw that it was not her grandmother but the wolf, for even in a nightcap a wolf does not look any more like your grandmother than the Metro-Goldwyn lion looks like Calvin Coolidge. So the little girl took an automatic out of her basket and shot the wolf dead.

(MORAL: It is not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be.)

#JeSuisCharlie? Foutre le Camp!

I see on Facebook today that Charlie Hebdo is still trending, and an email informs me that the asinine hashtag ‪#‎JeSuisCharlie‬, started soon after the Paris attack, is still raging on the interwebs.

Well, I *am* furious about the disgusting – and frankly idiotic – murderers, but this “Je suis Charlie” nonsense is taking pop activism too far. I am NOT Charlie Hebdo, thank you very much, and neither are most of you showing solidarity with the hashtag. European xenophobia – and I say this because most of my friends abroad live in the USA – is a beast quite unlike the hysterically blind, unself-aware American one: it is far more open and unapologetic. In a way, that’s often a better thing than the subtle poisoning of the subconscious, but it is still not a good thing. And much of this xenophobia is expressed culturally through satire.

Does that mean Charlie Hebdo’s staff deserved to be slaughtered? No. Litigated against, perhaps, but not violated physically, much less murdered. On the other hand, do they deserve to be universally applauded for ‘bravery’? I don’t think so. It’s easy to be part of the cultural majority of a land and claim to be an equal-opportunity satirist, but that is not how power works. And indeed, if googling serves me right, I believe France – which is trotting out it’s historical culture of appreciation of satire as a moral brownie point – once banned a magazine for satirising Charles de Gaulle [UPDATE: Facebook connections tell me the banned magazine was Charlie Hebdo’s earlier avatar. Fascinating.]. So much for historical equal-opportunity.

In summary, Hebdo had every right to print what they did, even if they didn’t have sterling taste or a clean social or political conscience. On the question of religious ‘offence': if you’re a deliberately uninformed Hindu, you’re free not to eat beef (or any animal protein), but you have no right to stop anyone else from consuming it. If you’re a devout, conservative Muslim, by all means never draw the prophet, but you have no right to attack or slaughter those that do (but of course, you could take them to court). If you’re a conservative, stupid Christian, stay away from the school curricula. Your ignorance is your choice, not society’s collective burden. Let things stand at that, and all shall be well.

Well, well-ish. It’s a pity that that is the best we can ask for at the moment.

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