An Imminent Demise

IMG_0444As I make my way through Mumbai’s crowded streets in my car, I’m often disarmed by the resilience of its pedestrians. Perhaps, resilience is the wrong word; it seems more aggressive than that. A left hand held out in warning and the security of being one of a horde is capable of bringing moving traffic to a grinding halt. And it does. Often. But, there’s more to it than just that. I’d like to believe my estimation that pedestrians take more risks when they see a woman motoring a vehicle toward them is the assessment of a taxed mind and not a reflection of reality. And, yet, I’m not convinced. I do find, with every passing day, that the men, women and children who lurch into the path of my speeding car perform these acts of recklessness with an ease not always reserved for male drivers. Is it a fact universally accepted that a woman will be more accommodating to these transgressions? That her ‘natural’ inclination to nurture will prevent her from mowing down jaywalking pedestrians?

I find it infuriating. As much as I do when knowing glances are exchanged when a woman’s car stalls or when I watch an advertisement that depicts a man on a motorcycle benevolently waiting for a floundering woman to reverse her car in to a parking spot, smiling apologetically at her non-honking savior the whole while.

I’ve just watched, the now banned, documentary on Jyoti Singh’s rape and murder in December 2012 – India’s Daughter. I’ve just been reminded of my status as an object: as a diamond, a flower, a nothing-at-all in need of protection. I’ve been reminded of my natural role as housekeeper and homemaker. I’ve been reminded of my female fallibility.

I’m not going to comment on the vacant eyes of a remorseless, convicted rapist and his vitriol for the female kind as he sits on death row. I’m not going to comment on the sorrow and incomprehension of a family who lost their child to a most gruesome end.

My concern is concentrated on the imminent demise of objectivity. I worry for the moderation that permits a thinking, female IMG_4458mind to look upon the other gender as a partner, an equal. I am disquieted considering the repercussions of pushing us, the ‘other’ to the edge. I am fearful of the combined wrath of an angered womanhood whose tolerance has been disrespected for far too long and what it will mean in the future.

In my opinion, the longer we take to reach consensus on gender equality the more we ensure it remains a chimera, to be replaced by something far less equitable. Unfortunately, for lawyers such as AP Singh and ML Sharma, the maintenance of archaic norms of gender inequality will not manifest itself in women embracing their status as protected imbeciles confined to hearth and home. The continual co-option of women’s needs and rights by men will be met with pent-up fury in the future. Innocuous and indeed legitimate demands for gender parity are forging into a groundswell that will not stay contained for long. The dam is set to burst and the waters its keeping in check are swirling with discontent. Once it bursts, equality may no longer be much more than a trifling keepsake from the past.

“…what rough beast, its hour come at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

Peshawar

10572375_10152628510025664_123573342_oI’ve taken to writing short notes for important days in my family’s life. Yesterday was my sister’s birthday; a sister with whom my relationship is quite indescribable. We’re yin and yang. She’s crazy to my calm; I’m the unorganized to her methodical. We’ve gone from the reluctantly formed duo of cool, grown-up and annoying sidekick, to partners in crime. Yesterday, I wanted to write for her, but I couldn’t. For how does one celebrate the gift of having a wonderful something in your own life, while others have lost their most important in a gruesome tragedy? I’m certain my sister will forgive the note that wasn’t on her thirty-fifth while I wish a most futile hope for strength to those who’ve lost children who’ll never celebrate giddy milestones like birthdays.

I have been disarmed, rendered speechless by the horror of Peshawar. To make sense of murder is difficult in most circumstances, but to understand the hatred that could cause a mass-scale massacre of this kind is, in my opinion, impossible. Who threw down the gauntlet first, who reacted next, where did it all go so horribly wrong, when did it become so heartless?

I’ve studied in Army Schools my whole life. When I read the first alert on the siege, my heart sank because I thought it was in a school here, in India. The relief of realizing it wasn’t was fleeting; it was  still a school, full of kids just like I had been, sitting under cement and mortar roofs, possibly passing clandestine notes to each other while a history teacher droned on, or staring out the window waiting for lunch break and a quick game of tag. To have the echoes of laughing, squabbling children’s voices in long, dingy corridors replaced by shrieks of fear, pain and incomprehension is sickening. It makes the lump rise in my throat; it makes my heart race in anger.

I’m not sure what I hope for in the wake of this cataclysm. Peace? Calm? Accord? They sound so trite, these words that seem to mean naught. I suppose I write this note as one defeated. I hope I don’t stay this way for long. I hope no one ever has to see a tragedy of this scale ever again. I hope…

© Ayesha Sindhu 2014

Bombay: Bugs Bite/Bug Bites

It’s sort of a running joke in my family when it comes to my issues with allergies. In 2010, while in transit to the US for a cousin’s wedding, I found myself scratching at my back and trunk with enough vigour to awaken my slumbering sister somewhere over Europe. On closer examination we found that I had turned salmon pink from neck to toe, front and back, speckled raw with a rash that was, by then, beginning to itch my throat, on the inside! Needless to mention my vacay was characterized by regular nail-clippings, long soaks in cold baths and a heady cocktail of antibiotics to deal with the fever that followed the rash.

The big city.

The big city. © Ayesha Sindhu 2014

A few years earlier I found my limbs covered in large pink splotches, raw and red enough to alarm the parents, and strange enough to perplex my medical examiners. To date I do not know what insect, plant or other species managed to engender that vile spread of rouge, and, quite frankly, I don’t wish to know.

So, it didn’t surprise me to see a flourishing crop of angry speckles forming their own connect-the-dots special on my back only two days after my arrival in Bombay. In routine fashion they then rounded the bends of my sides to say hello to my abdomen on the following day. What did surprise me was how soon into my Bombay-adventure I was bombarded by a grade-A pain-in-the-ass. Also, I worried. Could these little zits be the workings of over-active bed bugs? If yes, I was in for a mega bug-bashing marathon, one that I really could have done without on that, my first week in beautiful Bombay.

But then, my roommate assured me that she’d slept on the same bed a few times and had never been so much as tickled by a bug of any sort. Yet, my breakout résumé has (of course) requisite experience with bed bugs to its credit and I am quite certain I remember the exterminator telling me that the little shits are quite picky when it comes to choice of blood and don’t always bite everyone. So, I got the pest control people in to do a thorough examination of our sprawling one-bedroom and examine every nook and cranny to catch the buggers. False alarm! I was thrilled, until I realised the plethora of options this knowledge brought with it: they could be anywhere. The chair I sit in office, the others chairs I sit on in the office, in the fabric used to upholster the insides of Bombay’s very flashy taxi cabs, the very same cabs I am forced to use every single day. My mind was understandably boggled.

But, just as suddenly as they appeared, they vanished equally swiftly: shrinking, turning less pink by the day, till they were finally gone a week later. I no longer needed to run to the bathroom to deal with a runaway itch at work, or heartily bash chairs before sitting in them or examine the insides of taxis before choosing to get in based on the driver’s choice of upholstery: pleather or cloth. It was truly a Bombay special, a genus of bug that too was pressed for time and had other places to get to. My skin was only a way-station on the busy-bug’s grander journey in the city. After all, here, everyone has bigger fish to fry. I’m just a little kipper.

© Ayesha Sindhu 2014

Bombay: Bumping Along

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It’s been another extended hiatus from the blog, and, per usual, I’m mortified. However, in a departure from my regular line of excuse: laziness/tardiness, I actually have a valid reason for not getting a chance to write. I’ve moved! My return to India, August onward, had been characterized by the usual child-returning-home rigours: there was a lot of eating, having things done for me and, of course, touching base with friends and family over copious drinks and delicious dinners. But as soon as October 20th came around, I found myself packed and moved to Bombay for a new job in a new city and facing many other novelties, as I have so found since then. The highlight of my migration has been moving in with a dear friend till I figure out other living arrangements, or till we decide to make adjustments to the current ones. There is also the unbelievable service of having nearly everything imaginable delivered to your doorstep at almost any hour of the day.

I’m planning on keeping track of the many delights and frights the city has handed me in the last two weeks and probably will continue to in the days to come, and hopefully, most of them will make their way on to the blog.

I thought I’d begin by detailing the B’s that Bombay has so far brought me: bruises, bites, bumps and banishments.

Bruises seem like a good, meaty category to start with, for, of these, I now have many. They surprise me, each morning, in the shower, burgeoning black, blue or purple mixed with yellow, depending on their exact locale. Their appearance isn’t so much to do with my obvious lack of co-ordination and legendary cloddishness, but more with the sheer inability to adapt to the much reduced space of manoeuvring that I am now living within. Case in point: the bathroom (a bathroomette really). I cannot stand in the centre of it and simultaneously stretch my arms to their full capacity (and they aren’t albatross comparable in any way) without bending them at the elbow at an approximate 45 degree angle. Quick movements in such constraints are high on the Do Not Attempt list. My brain is still adjusting. It is, therefore, not uncommon for me to bash my elbow in to a wall while retrieving a shampoo bottle or backing in to the shower-area faucet while towel drying with arms tucked to sides. Just yesterday I received a mighty whack on the forehead from the door handle while lowering myself on to the toilet seat.

Window viewsThere is also the ‘remembering to walk over the plywood plank placed at the base of our front door to prevent the entrance of mice and other rodents in to our ground floor apartment’ that I conveniently forget while rushing out the house in the early hours. Stubbed toes and battered shins have resulted from this misdemeanour.

Our kitchen, okay, that’s pushing it already. Our kitchenette is marvellously cogent in demanding adherence to its dimensions. Its walls seem to bend forward to whack you on the behind in case you dare forget how little it is. It also uses the appliances, dishes and cupboards that have taken up residence in it to enforce these strictures. An innocuous hug to my room-mate resulted in a resounding thwack against a kitchen shelf, whose space I was clearly imposing on.

It’s taken two short weeks for me to understand and adhere to Bombay’s limited space story. The city, in all its colour, vibrancy and non-stop activity, is unbelievably rigid in that it has only so much to offer when it comes to area. I’m only hoping to find my own little nook in its sweep and stretch, enough to call my own and feel like the city’s too.

© Ayesha Sindhu 2014

My Gurgaon Story

I wrote a piece for Daily O recently, on living in Gurgaon and my fluctuating relationship with the city. I’m reproducing the content here but you can also access the original post using this link.

Gurgaon: Gone Girl

I lived away from it for two years, and I’m moving again next week, but, for the last seven years, I guess I’ve been a Gurgaon girl. “Why?” is a question I often get when details of my residence are revealed, usually from the Delhi set, ensconced in their two-syllable capital colonies, Gee Kay, Def Col, VeeVee et al.

Truth be told, my parents couldn’t afford realty in Delhi when my dad retired from the Army. Gurgaon, as a suburb to the cap, a burgeoning metropolis, christened with an enticing moniker (“Millennium City” my ass), was also affordable. So, we moved.

My relationship with the city since has fluctuated. There are days I love it, when our compound’s resident peacock lands heavily on my sister’s balcony to eat the bajra we leave out for him, and the sparrows, the greater coucals, the doves, pigeons, hoopoes, babblers, flycatchers and robins who make their rounds morning and afternoon. When monsoon nimbus rolls across the Aravallis and the grey of the sky presses up against the green of the range.

There are also days I hate it, when I’m driving home at night and have to throw cars of clearly inebriated men, hanging out their windows, leering, catcalling, off my trail by way of sneaky, no-indicator turns and braking too often. When I find myself in mile-long traffic snarls outside the city’s most elite schools, because mummies, daddies, drivers and maids are parked anywhere and everywhere in their big cars, engines running, interiors chilled, waiting to whisk their poppets away before the dust and grit of the city can lay a finger on them.

Gurgaon has problems. However, to the shock and horror of many, blame can’t always be placed on the bogeymen of the Gujjar, Jat and Haryanvi ilk. Sure, you’re bound to have your city sensibilities offended by one of each (yes, they are not one and the same thing) at some point if you make your way over, but to think that G-town’s troubles are limited to it’s agrarian heritage, is to be gravely mistaken. Its problem is also its wealth. The many-figured MNC salaries that beget cars, chauffeurs and high-rise condos, and impenetrable bubbles that permit un-engaged maneuvering through the city’s limits. Gurgaon, like many other Indian cities, seems to have been created with a determined view to upturn Marx’s theory of base and superstructure. Therefore, it is glitzy in that it has super-sized shopping malls, swanky office complexes, and a hub for all things culinary. Yet, it is beset with sub-standard roads, unchecked construction, and haphazard urban development.

Undoubtedly, a coveted land bank, only increasing in value with every passing day, has rendered a large section of the native populace wealthy over-night. The money has brought access to the city’s venues of entertainment, but not necessarily associated etiquette. This clash of cosmopolitan and rural-wealth is only a garnish on the mish-mash that Gurgaon is today.

I voted this past week in the state’s Assembly elections; a first for me. However, I am not naïve enough to believe a cast of the ballot will bring immediate and sweeping changes to the cityscape and its people alike. Don’t get me wrong; I won’t be one to complain if it does. My real hope though is that a change in governance may jumpstart a much-needed revolution in an apathetic citizenry. The kind of transformation that will look upon a bribe-accepting public official equally at fault as one’s own chauffeur when he goes against traffic for “a little way”.

For how does one really measure the exact degree of rightful wrong? Gurgaon, in all its dust and dazzle, is as much the product of absentee administration as it is of an uninvolved community. Perhaps dismantling or at least re-assessing our ideas of probity may in turn lead to ostensibly unrelated change. In the interim we’ll continue to hear stories about horrid Haryanvis and their uncouth ways, and almost nothing about the couture-clad city folk who have bore-wells in their backyards and complain about the city’s water troubles.

An Open Letter to Cleavage

Dear Cleavage,

Boy have you had a field day this past week. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there’s no denying that you’re toasted in some measure almost every day, either subtly or blatantly, through a leer or maybe an affectionate caress, sometimes by one gender, other times by both, perhaps more so in some places than others, but, I digress, what I’m getting at is this: capturing headlines outside of the riveting space of entertainment supplements is quite extraordinary. You’ve become News, you glorified chasm you!

Are props in the form of small monkeys permissible in accentuation?  © Nandita Chaudhary

Are props in the form of small monkeys permissible in accentuation?
© Nandita Chaudhary

All this chatter about a dent in fleshy matter has got me thinking about anatomical ravines. I’d say that in the female of the human species, there are two that make the cut: one in the upper torso and one in the pelvic posterior. For the sake of a pointed discussion, I will concentrate on the front-facing protrusions rather than the rear, though, believe me, the latter can make a strong case for representation if given the choice.

Back to boobage though, and I am forced to point out that my analysis of the female upper ventral region led to the conclusion that an absence of requisite fatty tissue may result in an ill-formed gorge between both breasts, affecting, most certainly, the quality of You produced. A naturally acquired disadvantageous gully of this kind can be overcome through the use of brassieres or circulation-restricting outfits capable of bringing breasts together yet maintaining the illusion of a well-formed, visually-appealing valley. However, this may not always work.

Bombay Times has done a stellar job in demonstrating this scenario pictorially in its open letter to a Ms. Padukone just yesterday. It is more than apparent that the newspaper gave coverage to an outrageously below average grade of hollow, most certainly brought on by an inadequate choice of bra/outfit, when clearly Ms. Padukone’s cleavage is capable of producing far deeper indents when photographed un-surreptitiously. Yet, TOI’s Entertainment division, in what can only be described as an act of extreme benevolence, chose to bring notice to it all the same, that too a full year after it was initially captured. As cleavage yourself, I wonder if you have suggestions on circumventing an embarrassing situation such as this, where a leading daily may be forced to ignore a poor quality anatomical gulf degraded further by doing-nothing-for-you outfits.

Actually, since you’re on it, any pointers in the ‘working it’ department would be appreciated specifically on camera angles, posture, using other less-exciting body parts like arms or knees to accentuate an otherwise unworthy cleave, and, of course, on hobnobbing with the right kind of media. After all, if there’s been one winner in this entire hullabaloo, it most certainly has been you!

Write soon,

A Wide Open Space

© Ayesha Sindhu 2014

Finding Femininity

© Kirti B Sharma

My cousin’s daughter Aaleya and I in Bombay, catching a bit of the Arabian Sea’s spray. © Kirti B Sharma

I’ve grown accustomed to hearing queries regarding my marital status. As I approach the end of my twenties, they’re now coming at me thick and fast. Thankfully, most of them are directed at my parents, and almost always at social gatherings, like the ‘happy’ nuptials of so-and-so’s kids, where I’m not usually in attendance. Now, talk of marriage at weddings isn’t exactly heresy, but what gets my goat is how and to whom questions of matrimony are usually addressed. In my experience the target audience for the really serious queries is usually women. So, as the parents of two daughters, my mum and dad don’t bat an eyelid when they hear the predictable, dripping with worry – “are the girls married?” query. Similarly, my aunt and uncle, as the parents of two sons, don’t register surprise when they’re asked: “what are the boys doing?” Continue reading

Book Review: Gulab by Annie Zaidi

I recently reviewed Annie Zaidi’s novella Gulab for TimeOut Delhi. I’m reproducing the content here but you can also access the original post using this link.

Book Review: Gulab

Annie Zaidi gives us a quaint retelling of an unfulfilled romance.
GulabAnnie Zaidi’s novella Gulab is a quick read combining tropes of unrequited love with those of the paranor­mal; an association quite removed from the usual romance plot. Gulabnarrative begins promisingly with the first-person narrator, Nikunj, making his way to a gravesite to pay his respects to his long lost love, Saira, nervously retelling their story as he prepares to see her for the first time in 15 years.

This ordinary journey for closure takes on extraordinary shades when the site at which Nikunj’s Saira is believed to have been bur­ied turns out to be the final resting place of two other women. To fur­ther complicate matters, another woman, Rani, appears at the same gravesite claiming to know the woman buried beneath the mound of recently turned earth. What ensues is Nikunj’s quest to uncover the identity of these women and the mystery behind how their lives seem eerily associ­ated with his own Saira.

Zaidi intersperses this pursuit for the truth with sketches of the women believed to be buried in the same grave, through the recollec­tions of the men who loved each of them. The story is further imbued with the complexities of religion and communal strife with the nar­rative’s major characters belong­ing to different religious denomi­nations. There is also fleeting reference to a devastating earth­quake that ripped through the town where Nikunj and Saira lived and caused their permanent sepa­ration. Nikunj refers to the year of the earthquake as one during which he determinedly searched for Saira, but failed to find her. It was with the belief that Saira had perished in the earthquake that Nikunj moved on and eventually married his wife Sucheta and had two children with her.

Limiting the events of the story to a mere 24 hours, and the length of a novella, Zaidi attempts to con­struct a complex narrative within a very limited time frame. As a result, the development of charac­ter and plot are equally impacted. Sequences such as the physical fight that takes place between Parmod and Usman, both claiming their wives are buried at the same site, takes on almost comical tones and seems like an unneces­sary distraction from an already intricate plot. The narrative space given to a mysterious gravedigger who seems to know more than he lets on is similarly disruptive, failing to add what I imagine was an intended dimen­sion of suspense to the story’s supernatural aspect.

It seems that the most compel­ling facet of the story is subsumed by an attempt to maintain an aura of the otherworldly. Although the story revolves around Nikunj and Saira, it is only his reminiscences of their love that we as readers have access to. Zaidi alludes to the improbability of the flawless image of Saira that Nikunj car­ries with him, as do Usman and Parmod of their own wives. At the risk of giving too much away, it would seem that the women Saira becomes in her afterlife, as described by Rani, appear far more believable than the one-dimensional objects of desire that the male characters mourn at the graveyard. As the plot develops toward Nikunj’s eventual discov­ery, Saira comes across as a full-fledged woman full of desires and unfulfilled aspirations and capable of making choices that lead to their actualisation. Gulab seems to question ideas of permanence through the transient manifesta­tions of Saira’s personalities and how death of a loved one can cloud our assessment of their personas when they were living, breathing beings. However, the intricacies of the plot’s mystical dimensions rel­egate this feature of the narrative to the backburner.

Replete with dialogue and reminiscing monologues, Gulab is a story that would work well on stage. As a novella, the plot tends to drag in parts and seems forced into a format longer than suited to the story. All the same, in a genre overburdened by trite plots of love and loss, Zaidi gives us a quaint retelling of an unfulfilled romance that reaches beyond conventional notions of the normal in its desire to be realised.

Annie Zaidi Harper Collins India, R350

Continue reading

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