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.


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.


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.


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.


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:
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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.

Live-in Ruins Careers

This is one of Markendya Katju’s least popular recent social media commentary. And that’s encouraging, because in India, people are still harassed and assaulted for the ‘indiscretion’ he counsels against here.

Screenshot of former Supreme Court justice Katju's Facebook status.

Screenshot of former Supreme Court justice Katju’s Facebook status.

This is the link to Katju’s status about withholding a deserving name from nominations for judgeship, because the person lived-in with a female lawyer, and socialised ‘openly’ as a couple. His reason? “Indian society is largely still conservative, and largely still does not approve of live in relationship, though it is not illegal.. While lawyers can have live in relationship, it is as yet not ethically permissible to Judges [sic].”

Well, here are responses from some of his followers. They are rather heartening, even if they reflect only the top, tech-savvy fraction of the urban and suburban middle-class. The country is certainly changing, if slowly and in patches.

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Book Quotes: Push by Sapphire

After ages, I have discovered a cache of e-books that were stashed for a suitably rainy day in one corner of an old storage drive, and promptly forgotten. My memory can always be counted upon to keep me from my little treats.

Anyway, Push, by Sapphire, is the first of the lot my finger landed on, and right now I am a sleep-deprived, red-eyed, shaken-and-stirred person who cannot let go of Precious Jones till the last word about and by her has been read. I’m going to keep this post open and record bits of the book that grab me especially hard, so I can have them at hand to read back later. Although it isn’t the entirety of Precious’ troubles, this book drives home the fact that ‘body image issues’ is not just code for ‘I hate that I am not thin’. It is rage against the hierarchy of genetic attributes, self-hatred for involuntary pleasure, and a desire for dissociation from one’s embodied life experience.

p. 13:
It’s something about being a nigger ain’t color.

p. 35:
The tesses paint a picture of me wif no brain. The tesses paint a picture of me an’ my muver—my whole family, we more than dumb, we invisible. One time I seen us on TV. It was a show of spooky shit… And the peoples, well some of them was peoples and some of them was vampire peoples. So it’s five of ’em sitting on the couch; and one of ’em git up and take a picture. When picture develop (it’s instamatic) only one person on the couch. The other peoples did not exist. They vampires. They eats, drinks, wear clothes, talks, fucks, and stuff but when you git right down to it they don’t exist.

I big, I talk, I eats, I cooks, I laugh, I watch TV, do what my muver say. But I can see when the picture come back I don’t exist. I know who they say I am—vampire sucking the system’s blood. Ugly black grease to be wipe away, punish, kilt, changed, finded a job for.

I talk loud but still I don’t exist.

p. 35:
Sometimes I wish I was not alive. But I don’t know how to die. Ain’ no plug to pull out.

p. 78:
Thas the alphabet. Twenty-six letters in all. Them letters make up words. Them words everything.

p. 130:
My clit swell up I think Daddy. Daddy sick me, disgust me, but still he sex me up. I nawshus in my stomach but hot tight in my twat and I think I want it back.

p. 135:
Ms Rain say write our fantasy of ourselves. How we would be if life was perfect. I tell you one thing right now, I would be light skinned, thereby treated right and loved by boyz. Light even more important than being skinny; you see them light-skinned girls that’s big an’ fat, they got boyfriends. Boyz overlook a lot to be wif a white girl or yellow girl, especially if it’s a boy that’s dark skin wif big lips or nose, he will go APE over yellow girl. So that’s my first fantasy, is get light.
Then I get hair. Swing job, you know like I do with my extensions, but this time it be my own hair, permanently.
Then, this part is hard to say, because so much of my heart is love for Abdul. But I be a girl or woman—yeah girl, ’cause I would still be a girl now if I hadn’t had no kids. I would be a virgin like Michael Jackson, like Madonna. I would be a different Precious Jones. My bress not be big, my bra be little ‘n pink like fashion girl. My body be like Whitney. I would be thighs not big etc etc.
I would be tight pussy girl no stretch marks and torn pussy from babies’s head bust me open.
That HURT. Hours hours push push push! Then he out, beautiful. Jus’ a beautiful baby. But I’m not.

This, By the Way, is My Country

This is an extract from the online news portal Gaylaxy:

The two policemen, in their mid-20s, were posted on duty during the Ahmedabad gay pride march held on December 1st, in which the victim had participated. Today as the man was returning to his car, the policemen recognized and accosted him, asking if he had taken part in the march (images of the victim were seen on the print and electronic media which had covered the pride march). On his confirmation, the cops demanded to see his license and papers and started hurling abuses at him. The victim protested and tried to get away, but the cops started beating him up with sticks and forced themselves on him, abusing him all the time and remarking ‘jab poori duniya se marwai hai, toh humse bhi marwa le’ (when you have got fucked by the whole world, then get fucked by us too) . The man returned home battered and bruised with multiple wounds on his body. The cops were not drunk and were in full control of their senses.

Dedh Ishqiya: Two Gorgeous Women, and All Their Love

The Begum and her Rabbo.

I saw Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam on television a year or so after its release (we shall return to it in a future post, perhaps, as I have much to say about its antecedents). For the next few days, I hounded every acquaintance who could conceivably have read the book, and exclaimed, “Goodness, did you see? Sanjay Leela Bhansali lifted the story straight off Naw Hawnyate! And he didn’t even give Maitreyi Debi credit!”

The connection had slipped most people by, and I felt rather intellectually superior for having spotted it. And I certainly felt very culturally superior when I considered how much Bhansali had to doll-up and commercialise [“cheapen”, in Calcutta Bengali parlance] the original story to suit the style of mainstream Hindi cinema.

In my defence, I was young, snooty, and very middle-class Bengali.

Years later and still snooty, I went to see Dedh Ishqiya. Literally “One and a half Love”, it follows the absolutely delightful Ishqiya (“Of Love”) with the same male leads, but Madhuri Dixit and Huma Qurishi taking on from Vidya Balan as the female star. It only occurs to me now, as I write this, that the director had to have made a conscious decision go with the old-school Indian ideal of beauty – generous, glowing, reminiscent of soft buttery richness, deeply sensual, assertive – instead of the toned and sculpted contemporary look. And it is a very wise choice. In a film set in fictional town which has a foot firmly in an earlier era of nawabs, begums and poetry battles, modernity of beauty would not have worked. This decision has also introduced me to the loveliness that is Ms. Qureshi, and for that, I am truly thankful.

Huma Qureshi with Arshad Warsi, as Muniya and Babban in Dedh Ishqiya.

It is also to the eternal credit of the filmmaker, that despite working in contemporary references (“chow mein“) and stylistically making the film entirely his own, Dedh Ishqiya succeeds in being a beautiful expansion – and privileged behind-the-veil view – of Ismat Chugtai’s wonderful story “Lihaaf”.

For those not familiar, “Lihaaf” – or “Quilt” – is the tale of an emotionally and sexually abandoned begum locked in the castle of her conservative and indifferent royal husband, who finds validation, fulfilment, and the will to live in the arms of her maid Rabbo (Muniya in the film, a beautified version of the original).

It takes great courage and wicked amusement, I think, to release a film in an election year – when conservative fervour runs very high – featuring two gorgeous women in a loving sexual relationship with each other, a virile man being – in his own words – “used as a whore” by a woman, beautifully filled-out female leads, a senior cit. male romantic lead, a middle-aged female romantic lead, and general devil-may-care poke-funnery at stereotypical Bollywood “Indianness”. And oh, did I mention how gratifying it is to have Madhuri Dixit back on screen, even if she did seem a little stiltled in the earlier scenes?

The gorgeous Madhuri Dixit as Begum Para, who I am so very glad to have back.

If tribute there must be, or outright stealing of thought, then as an admirer of beauty and a pennywise paying consumer, I must insist they be this clever, this mischievous, this delightful, and this gorgeous. Despite its slightly generous editing – a good twenty minutes off would have made the film crisper and more amusing – this film is one to be treasured. The most enticing aspect of the film is certainly Mr. Shah’s presence, but Arshad Warsi, Madhuri Dixit, Vijay Raaz, the music, and the dialogue all finish a close second.

The wonderful Naseruddin Shah as Iftekhar.

Genius Limericks for “Young Ladies”

My friend Monidipa has written five brilliant limericks illustrating and protesting the state of women in general and queer women in particular after the Supreme Court of India decided last week to keep Section 377 on the books for now. Section 377, for the uninitiated, was penned by young master Macaulay, and criminalised all intercourse that was against the nature of man, woman or beasts. In other words, he criminalised not-heterosexual intercourse amongst humans, and all cross-species congress, gender notwithstanding.

In an interesting aside – and a commentary on mass ignorance – people lauding the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold a colonial law think they’re “protecting Indian culture”, when ancient Hindu texts, of course, records ample instances of queerness, including the carefully-worded description of the relationship between Lord Krishna and his friend Sudama, the cross-dressing warrior Shikhandi, the king who was pregnant, and the life of the great masculine hero Arjun of the Mahabharata, who spent ten years in drag, earning his living as a dance and music instructor.

But here are the lyrics, the lovely little gems you’re here for. I’m quoting them in the order I prefer reading, saving the best for the last.

There was a young lady called Son
Whose parents had but only one
Offspring – not male;
Inconsequential detail;
They thought she was lesser to none.

God bless those parents – my parents, in fact. The “culture” of son-preference is a poison that goes far beyond the insidious idea of choice, and results in thousand of foeticide and infanticide the world over. It doesn’t help when we read reports of first-world parents preferring daughters over sons, because little girls are more docile and obedient and easier to “handle”. 

There was a young lady called Mister
Who might have been somebody’s sister,
Girlfriend or wife,
But she chose her own life,
So all of the people dismissed her.

Where have we faced that before? Right. ‘most everywhere.

There was a young lady called Dude
Whom boys at the school found so lewd
They ripped up her skirt,
Smashed her face in the dirt
And advised her not to be rude.

This has become so normalised that for a fraction of a second, the irony didn’t sink in. That’s right, even for someone who has faced violence for looking at a man straight in the eyes. That’s hegemony for you… thankfully just for a second.

“There was a young lady called Sir.
We heard from her angry neighbour
That she had been cravin’
Some three seventy-seven.
We closed in before she could stir…”

Think of this as a report from the local police, dedicated to keeping you safe. Unless, that is, you want to live outside the books of anachronistic sexual propriety.

And finally, my favourite, and a damned statement of existence for so many people, pushed to the margins and living through it all, because hope is brave like that.

There is a young lady called Man
Who will hold out longer than your ban.
She has stared at the face
Of your curse and your grace –
You have done to her all that you can.

A Valentine for Her Gay Ex-Husband

My country is mired in blood and secrecy at the moment. None of it has touched us personally — for we are the invincible urban middle-class, flayed by the market and government and social systems every day but alive till the end like cockroaches — except the fear that our streets might suddenly burst into riots.

Speaking of love in such circs might reek of pink escapsim, but speaking of this love isn’t.

This love speaks of people whose very existence was mired in blood and secrecy. It speaks of friendship, loyalty, dignity, and freedom. It is beauty carved of steel, and decorated with hope.

Read the full article here. If it makes you want to cry, let yourself. Some things deserve the validation of your tears:

It was the middle-sixties, and homosexuality was still widely regarded as a neurosis, and my own ignorance was profound. But most importantly, I wanted to believe that therapy would be the “cure,” because I felt with him what I had longed to feel for most of my existence — happy, valued, loved, secure, at home.


After he began his sexual journey, we both fell in love with other men, but within two years, we were living as roommates and would continue to do so for the next 10 years. “If ever two people were made for each other,” we said, “it’s us.”

He met another man; I met another man too. Mine came to live with me. And Dick. I married my new man — with many second thoughts — and the three of us moved to a three-story Victorian house, ideal for sharing. When my daughter was born the following summer, life felt complete.

[A year later] On Thanksgiving morning, as we held hands, he died. [Of AIDS.] He was 46.

Perhaps the story of our love belongs to the 1960s, when everything seemed possible, a spirit we never lost. Had we come to each other in the 1970s, our marriage might never have taken place because in the 1970s, the lines between gay and straight were strictly drawn. But had we met in the 2010s, who knows? Genders, sexualities and modes of attachments have multiplied and blossomed and anything is possible today. In honor of him, I want to celebrate the day of romance with a Valentine that honors the many kinds of love that are in the offing — if we are flexible and creative enough to make them work, and if, in the end, we are open to possibility.


Like Drunk Elephants

[Or, Why I Love My Friends, #4]

Friend to me: It would appear that X’s antics last night woke just about everyone up. And then kept them up. As a collective, we are not amused. Sex is understandable and acceptable. Making more noise than a herd of drunken elephants in the small hours of the morning, and then continuing to do so for hours, is not.

Me: Of course not. I…

F: And I will add, for your benefit, that I have had the misfortune of hearing a herd of drunken elephants. They came looking for alcohol in an army camp in Assam. Army regulations state that in this eventuality, alcohol is to be ceded to the elephants without resistance. So they were very happy drunken elephants.

Me: Unlike, despite his best efforts, X.

F, with grim satisfaction: Indeed.

Those Sexy Secrets

There’s a lot of talk — most of it high-flown fluff — about our ‘twisted desires’ and it’s ‘inhuman’ consequences. I object very strongly to the use of ‘inhuman’ in such contexts, because it encourages the delusion that human beings are a chirpy, light-hearted number, brimming with wuvv, cuddles, and the milk of smiley kindness. But let’s stack the history lesson for now.

So then, we’ve been talking a great deal about casual brutalisation of women on our streets, and how those exhibiting such behaviour should be hanged forthwith. This is all very well (well, perhaps not the hanging bit), but ‘the nation’ — as we fashionably refer to ourselves these days — has been rather slow in acknowledging how it fosters the root of such violence in its own misguided — and almost always misinformed — convictions about ‘Indian culture’. Institutional repression of sexuality — its discussion and expression — is a hallmark of such misguided zealotry. The first thing that we (as girls, but I’m sure also as boys, if in different ways) are taught about our bodies is to keep it secret. Given the degree of sexual freedom and gender flexibility the inhabitants of our land once enjoyed, this is rather ironic. From a diverse and inclusive place, the subcontinent has become an incredibly bloated schedule of social strictures, stifling its people with farts of anachronistic indigestion.

This was driven home rather hard yesterday at a lunch, when five women of my acquaintance spent half an hour — half an hour — analysing a throw-away sentence by an absent sixth for possible sexual connotations. All thirty minutes of this conversation was interspersed with secretive giggles, gleeful shushing, scandalised exclamations of ‘ishhh!’, and quick glance-arounds to check for eavesdroppers. At the same time, however, each of those five asserted that they’re ‘normal’ and ‘properly-brought up’ people, who consequently have no attraction at all towards such ‘dirty’ subjects and ‘shameful’ acts. Indeed, they all agreed, people who obsessed about sex were incomprehensible. How could anyone keep talking about sexual matters for hours? Indeed, it shouldn’t be discussed at all! Much less in public!

The righteous distaste was unanimous (as was the lack of self-awareness).

It never fails to amuse me how the most evangelical of forswearers are the ones most dedicated to the thing they claim to abhor. So yes, I did enjoy this exchange. However, as my fellow-subcontinentors will affirm, attitudes such as this are very common hereabouts, and very commonly expressed. We’re breeding a nation of repressed, suppressed, and therefore twisted, shamed, sly, starved and occasionally violent desires, bubbling and churning inside a firmly lidded pot. All in the name of our sanskaar — our traditions — about which most of us know squat.

Healthy, isn’t it?


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