The Indian Funny Bone: Evolutionary Triumph or Surgical Success?

Image courtesy the Sachin Sharapova Trolls community page on Facebook

Image courtesy the Sachin Sharapova Trolls community page on Facebook

So, Maria Sharapova not knowing who Sachin Tendulkar is has translated into the shit well and truly hitting the social media fan. I’m not surprised. If I am, I’m hiding it really well, because, if you think about it, what does being surprised really represent? The answer is weakness. That’s right, it’s a sign of unpreparedness. To be surprised by anything would equal a chink in my armor, a gap in my ever-readiness. It would also mark me out as decidedly non-Indian, which I am not, in that I am fallible. And to display feebleness of any kind is a dangerous invitation to humor. As an Indian, I have a standard policy toward humor: I detest it.

If there ever was a stereotype of us Indians that has never gotten the recognition it deserves, it’s this one: we have NO funny bone. The jury is still out on this anatomical mystery though. Either we have them removed surgically at birth, or evolution took care of the darn things for us. As a result, we bruise easy, like over-ripe peaches. Forget the trite cliches like smelly, hairy and/or nerdy, those are so passé. The convention of the humorless Indian is far more effective, because, not only is it a long-standing trope, but, despite its legacy, it’s relatively virginal. Continue reading

Tapas: No ‘Pal’ of Mine

I promised my mother I’d write something joyful for my next blog post. Tapas Pal has other plans though. He’s elicited my snark, my wrath and my desire to introduce his cojones to the tips of the steel toed boots I intend on purchasing at the earliest (also his doing).

Picture courtesy the Tapas Pal Community Facebook page.

Picture courtesy the Tapas Pal Community Facebook page.

So, what’s new about Pal’s misogyny? How has he chosen to distinguish his brand of derogatory crap from others competing in a hotly contested race packed with chauvinists holding political office? I mean, the man needs serious game, it’s a bloody battlefield out there. With the likes of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Abu AzmiSudin Dhavalikar, Abhijeet Mukherjee, the Sri Ram Sena morons who don’t even deserve to be named, all piping in with winsome statements on women and how they ‘deserve’ to be treated, Pal may just prove to be a minor contender in a never-lacking-contestents competition.

However, what Pal is bringing to the table is a spanking new dimension to the talk surrounding rape in India. Finding the fondue too full already of the big cheeses – ‘asking for it’ women, ‘mistake-making’ boys, ‘against Indian culture’ behavior – Pal popped his own rancid dairy into the mix and named it: revenge. Yes, Pal has staked his claim on revenge rape. Well played, Pal.

The revenge rape statement is crucial for Pal taking top honors in a race guaranteed a photo finish. This is because, through his declaration, Pal marks himself out as a faithful misogynist. Not only does he consider rape an appropriate form of punishment for the women running counter to his political inclinations, but he also looks at rape as the worst threat possible to them. By this I mean that Pal, like every other true-blue misogynist out there, considers a woman’s worth confined to her sexual organs. In contrast he threatens the male members of the opposition with death, allowing me to draw the conclusion that Pal equates the ravaging of a woman’s genitalia to her life’s metaphoric end. The unsoiled condition of her so called ‘virtue’ is what guarantees her a life-like quality, and once that’s been pillaged, little else matters.

An apology has been tendered though, the statement filed in the Indian political establishment’s overflowing ‘error-of-judgement’ cabinet. Pal’s spiel has been relegated to the ‘babbling brought on by the “heat and dust of [an] election campaign” category’, and the follow-up apology accepted by his party and its leading lady. Deeply disappointing stuff from the tournament favorite whose unadulterated spirit came across not in the diluted expression of regret unleashed to protect his career but in the firebrand speech aimed at fostering it. A speech in which he threatened to “loose” his boys on the women of an opposing political mindset, reiterating their commitment to committing rape and, in doing so, proving his genuine worth as a real public servant.

Ladies and gents, I think we have a winner.

© Ayesha Sindhu 2014

 

 

I’m Not My Dad’s Princess

And I am not rueing the fact of my non-regal upbringing in any shape or form. In truth, I’m reacting. Yes, I’d say this post is a verbal up-chuck of sorts. It’s a regurgitation brought on by the consumption of a most vile read. The piece in question is, as the social media post suggests, a ‘dad’s speech at his daughter’s wedding.’ Having read it, I can only hope this is a fictitious father, an imaginary daughter, and a most made-up wedding where an unreal soliloquy went down.

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My dad and his non-princess.

The speech seeks to ratify every unfortunate stereotype ever associated with a woman, specifically an Indian woman, and more generally with other fellow females who form part of patriarchal cultures. To summarize: the dad thinks his daughter’s a “princess” and wants her treated like a “queen” post marriage. For this he “begs” that her husband’s family, or, as he puts it, “the family for her” ensures her happiness. The tone is ingratiating and the “please keep her happy” refrain is nothing short of nauseating. The kid comes off as some insipid, voiceless lump in desperate need of being protected for she is oh-so “fragile” and someone who appears to be still in the process of becoming a full-fledged human being. Continue reading

The Problem With Owning A Vagina

Going by the reports coming out of my country it would appear that being born with a vagina is insanely problematic. That’s right; as if it wasn’t bad enough that they’re awfully inconvenient. Being the proprietor of a vagina is no cake walk, for one thing it doesn’t allow you silly little freedoms that your male counterparts enjoy: for instance, you can’t whip it out of your pants and extend it toward a tree or wall or an open field for a nice pee when there’s no public restroom nearby and your bladder’s close to bursting. Peeing for a woman demands squatting, and pulling down pants and underwear or lifting up skirts and petticoats, it demands the baring of bottoms, and slowing car journeys down.

51465654The organ is also unnecessarily leaky. In fact, when attached to a normally functioning reproductive system, the damn thing dishes out a monthly dosage of blood for the better part of your life; blood that must be absorbed by posture-altering tampons or chafe-inducing sanitary pads or something equally uncomfortable and porous. And, if your vagina has an attitude, even these instruments can fail to contain, leaving you with ruby-red stains on your posterior, and, if you’re supremely unlucky, on upholstery at a friend’s house. Oh and the shame that goes with said staining is god-awful. You’re expected to turn red in the face – not ruby but a nice flush will do – you should apologize profusely for the behavior of your vagina as you back out of a room and into a bathroom to rub your fingers raw under scalding hot water while you try to undo the evidence of a normal occurrence.  The leaky days are the worst, they ask you to be prepared with back up absorbents, interfere in your wardrobe choices, they stir up a storm in your lower abdomen and make your back feel like it spent an entire week doing hard labor. Continue reading

To my Mother, in Appreciation

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To you, Ma, on your birthday.

A new post on the blog has been overdue by a few weeks. Much like my mother’s first pregnancy was with my older sister, Priyanka. Nearly six years my senior, she had apparently settled in for the long haul, finding the float in amniotic fluid rather comfortable, and chose to occupy the premises beyond the assured nine-month stay. Her eviction was rough, scary enough for my parents to consider a triangle as an appropriate symbol of their family dimension. Lucky for me, they opted for geometric progression and I became the fourth point in the parallelogram that we are today. Yet, as a two-dimensional figure, made up of two intersecting sets of parallel lines, no single point carries the defining weight of this flat shape. And yet, as reflective of my family’s dynamic, it is imperative to point out that our quadrilateral does have a lodestone, a point of gravitational pull, a nucleus, a center. This point is my mother.

Yes, I’ve read paeans to mothers before. They are often trite, overbearing and aggrandizing. And, as I write this I become increasingly aware of how this may seem much the same to others. Still, I write, because for the many wondrous things in the world that can be expressed in the absence of words, there are as many that can’t do without.

I suppose this is a note of appreciation then, for my mother’s many amazing traits, her annoying ticks, her sacrifices and her selfishness. For being the receptacle that has absorbed my fears, my anger and my thoughtlessness. For not being my friend and telling me off, putting me in my place and reminding me that I’m not yet her. For her strategy of silence in dealing with venom, for making me realize I don’t want it to be mine. For the love she shares with my father and for the hope that I’ll find a love like that too. For the things she enjoys and I don’t, for the ones we love together. For being an individual, for being herself, for being everything to her family. For the things she hopes for my sister and me, for her disappointment in knowing we don’t share her enthusiasm. For her pride in her children, for voicing her dissatisfaction with them. For showing me who I’d like to be, for showing me who I’d rather not. For the trust, the encouragement, and the criticism. For her worries and concerns, for demonstrating what it means to be a parent, for letting go, for always being there.

For everything, mama, that makes you, you.

© Ayesha Sindhu 2014

 

Keeping Abreast of Game of Thrones

(Note: A few spoilers ahead for those who haven’t watched episodes 3 & 4 of the fourth season)

The web is littered with reviews of Oathkeeper – the latest episode of season four of Game of Thrones. There’s much talk of deviance and departure from original plotlines. Not having read any of George RR Martin’s work I really can’t tell the difference. I must admit that it’s an interesting and almost enjoyable experience not having to compare the original to the adaptation. As someone who refused to watch, and/or be in the company of those who had watched, the Harry Potter movies before I had read the corresponding novels, spending my Sundays evenings consuming something with no existing point of reference is refreshing.

And, yet, I too find in this fourth installment of the fourth season a sort of departure from previous episodes. It is in the absence of many, often unnecessary, visuals of female breasts. If there is a show that seems to have a minimum breast-per-episode quota, I would have to say it is Game of Thrones. I was, therefore, surprised – I’m still figuring out if pleasantly or otherwise – at the tawdry display of the mammary kind in the new episode. Unfortunately, the scenes ‘demanding’ female nudity in the show seem to be tilting from the space of intimate consensual acts (based on emotion, finance or exchange of power) into that of sexual aggression. Need I mention the hair-raising, incestuous, sexual encounter between Jaime and Cersei in the last episode? In Oathkeeper too, the insertion of breasts into screen space was part of the rape and pillage of Craster’s daughters/wives by the rogue Crows. It is a worrying trend, perhaps highlighting the subtext to all wars and struggles for power. Continue reading

Naina

I can see glimpses of her. The door swings inward and I catch a sliver: wan, supine, dull. The door swings outward: spent, medicated, tiny. She has been ‘cancered’ recently, as she likes to call it. The tumor in her right breast grew to the size of a large red grape before she realized it was there. A surgical excavation revealed an ugly purple mass of angrily growing cells, burgeoning quietly under the delicate mix of light brown of breast and the darker, puckered texture of areola. A survey undertaken in the region reveals smaller bulbs of carcinoma dotting the landscape.

The surgery is complete. The cancer, however, has not been arrested. It has “meh-tah-stuh-sized” her oncologist tells us purposefully. My mother, father and I nod vacantly as he fumbles with the plastic model of a breast on his table. Many words flow from his mouth as his hands point to places on his own body: armpit, upper arm, chest, neck. I throw up all over his table, my sick dripping viscously from the edge of the impressive desk’s polished wood. Continue reading

एक मुलायम चांटा

I apologize to my non-Hindi speaking readers for the title to this piece, in true nuance-sucking style the literal translation of which would amount to a ridiculous equivalent such as ‘a soft slap.’ Unfortunately, the English carries neither the restrained rage nor the purposeful levity of my intentions.

Levity, yes. For how else does one contend with the nature of the vile comments that have spewed so viscously from the mouth of our dear Softie? Are the misogynistic musings of a vote-hungry power-monger worthy of anything but laughter? Well, derisive laughter at the very least. And yes, mine is a restrained rage. For, as the equally loathsome comments of that abominable twit Azmi join in as a sycophantic chorus, the measure of my anger must necessarily retain its decorum, its sanity.

For what are Softie and Azmi in the daily course of women’s lives? They are megaphones amplifying a dominant ideology, a malaise spread far and wide through misogynists of both genders: men and women who perpetuate the denigration of women and those who question systems that uphold heteronormativity. To battle a beast of this size and stealth, one’s rage must be contained and pointed, it must work, necessarily, through the recognition of its own strength before the other’s weakness. To combat the vitriol of repugnant political ‘leaders’ such as the aforementioned, effigy-burning and similar purges for instant gratification cannot suffice. To smother the swelling of the sentiment spurring such voices on, another voice demands augmentation. The sort of voice that neither squashes nor suppresses but effectively disengages, renders incapacitated, as it were.

In the interim, or for this time at least, I choose to laugh irreverently, derisively, all the time imagining the sonorous peals of my laughter strumming a delicate but decisive two-beat on the fleshy jowls of these odious… (add suitable descriptor as per your choice – language no bar).

© Ayesha Sindhu 2014

An Inking Electorate

I was called insensitive recently; an assertion that I was forced to accept, based solely, might I add, on the context in question. The fault, however, was entirely texting’s. You see, I was a bit annoyed, and fearful that I may cause harm through the use of conventional tools of expression like those tiresome things we call ‘words’, and opted instead for a smiley. My hope was that a lame, toothless arc made up of a colon and closing parenthesis would express my restrained agreement and half-hearted empathy to my friend’s situation more clearly than the actual act of conversing orally or through written language. This did not happen. Instead it seemed I had successfully come across as uninterested and devoid of understanding.

A yet-to-vote fingerHowever, I have, since then, tried to curb my enthusiasm for symbolic representation. I chide my right index fingertip when it hankers to hit the like button on a friend’s Facebook status update or when one of those eminent twits I follow retweets another twit’s tweet and all I want to do is retweet it to my fistful of followers to demonstrate that I too am a with-it twit who’s in on all that I ‘should’ be in on. And then, every few years, the elections roll by and I watch my social media feeds fill up with images of inked nails and smudged cuticles, check ins at polling booths and urges from fellow citizens of the democratic order to #vote and be #patriotic. An inundation of browser windows by hashtags and thumbs up icons follows, effectively symbolizing nationalism through representation. The never inked half moons of whiteness at the base of my fingernails devolve into symbolic depictions of my unpatriotic attitude. Inky smears of active engagement in the democratic process accost me, warning me through social media attestations that my unadorned ballot casting fingers will cost me the right to question polity and policy alike. That the do-goodery of the in-between years, the little these and those of responsible citizenry are but childish games when faced by the real symbol of democratic righteousness – the vote. Continue reading

The Problem with Potential

In second grade, while studying at the Saudi Arabian International School’s British chapter in Riyadh, I wrote a poem on a fictional pet – a dog, whose name I don’t quite remember now. I rhymed recklessly, alliterating awkwardly, without knowing what any of it meant. At the Parent Teacher Meeting at the end of the semester, my class teacher, Mrs. Carter – a wonderful New Zealander – read the poem out to my parents and ended by telling them I had ‘potential.’ In retrospect, I can see how that moment was a definitive one in my life’s trajectory. My parents now looked upon their precocious, seven-year-old, who spoke British to them, as different. I suddenly had ‘potential.’ This is not to say that they considered me lacking in basic intelligence before then, but only that my abilities now carried the additional weight of capability.

IMG_3951Many years later, when I was taking those god-awful Board exams back in India in the tenth grade, the untamed nature of my potential ran counter to almost everything else that seemed important to my fifteen-year-old self: waxing vs. shaving, boys, bras, movies, music, menstruation. My exam results were dismal and my parents and others, who were now aware of my wit and my intellect, felt I had not failed just myself, but I had failed possibility. Continue reading