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
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
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.
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
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).
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 Azmi, Sudin 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
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.
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
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.
The 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
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
(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
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
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