On kickers and talkers

Caught a late, late night show of Queen after the babies went to bed. I’m jinxed where movies are concerned. I always, always, ALWAYS have a kicker sitting behind me. I understand long-legged men find the space a little inadequate but I’m married to a long-legged man myself and he’s very careful about not inconveniencing other viewers.

Last night when the kicking began I turned around and requested the woman behind me to stop. She was one of a huge group and they chattered loudly through the movie but I let it pass. It was better than the idiots who bring cranky kids to late night films or the louts who have to take phone calls, mid-film.

But she wouldn’t stop kicking. I turned around and glared at her this time. She ignored me. And kept kicking, like a spoilt 4 year old.

By this time the interval was over and they’d passed in and out carrying food and bumping into our entire row and rocking it, with what must have been insanely huge butts if the shockwaves were anything to go by. The woman next to me began to complain, but most of us were just too decent to get into an all out fight.

The movie began and the kicking started again.

I stood up, arms akimbo, my shawl hanging on either side. For all practical purposes, creating a screen in front of her. The entire lot of them went silent and began whispering (oh, now they could whisper?!), wondering what was wrong with me.

The OA took one look at me, grinned and kept watching the movie.

I stood there and held it for all of about three minutes and the woman behind me stayed mum. She knew why I was doing it.

Then I turned around, bent towards her and said – I can’t help it. You’re not allowing me to sit in peace, so I’m forced to stand.

She had the grace to look uncomfortable but not the decency to apologise.

I sat down and enjoyed the rest of my movie in peace.

Sharing so that you can try this in future. Carry a stole or a dupatta to make it more effective and annoying.

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I had the pleasure of catching both Queen and Highway in the last couple of weeks.

I was a little undecided over Highway. Yes, Randeep Hooda is toe curlingly hot and admittedly I have no experience in being kidnapped, but it just didn’t seem plausible. This insanely rich girl and the hired goon from the class they depicted him as coming from. Just didn’t fit. I found the second half dragged a little. The music was decent. And I was thrilled that they touched upon Child Sexual Abuse, a topic close to my heart. I just wish there had been a little more closure over that than they chose to give. On the other hand, that is exactly how it is in real life. You tell you family, you imagine a big scene. They stay quiet and the next day its like nothing happened.

Queen was good too. It’s just that Kangana’s voice and diction drive me nails-on-a-chalkboard-crazy.

I find it interesting that we’re finally doing films that show that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. Two films where the girls are oppressed unwittingly. Can’t take a late night drive, can’t go for dinner without a brother, can’t burp, can’t breathe in peace. I loved that they used the travel metaphor to set them free. To be themselves. I loved that they ended the film single and strong.

The OA and I got into the usual art imitating life conversation and looped it endlessly.

Ladiss log

A few days ago I spent a good part of the morning driving around my locality, looking for a tailor who would come home and do some alteration of furnishings. I found one by the roadside and helped him lift and put the sewing machine into the boot. Of course the machine was too big so I would have to drive with the boot open, the machine sticking out.
As I was about to drive off, two men walked by and one of them helpfully suggested that I  put a car mat under the machine where it hung over the bumper, to avoid scratches. I smiled and responded that I had; my car mats are transparent so he hadn’t noticed them.
He nodded and then well within earshot, turned and said to his companion – in Hindi, sometimes ladies use their brains – Kabhi kabhi ladiss log bhi samahjdari ka kaam karti hain.

You must commend the restraint I showed in not mowing him down.

Turf wars

She’d be a comical sight if she weren’t breathing fire. Puffed up with rage, marching onto the playground, dressed in a too-small tee over a bulky salwar.

She had three little boys trailing behind her and she marched up to to a boy in his early teens who squared his shoulders, took a deep breath and steeled himself for her assault. As she began to scream my mind wandered back to when I’d first met this little boy, S.

The brat had begun to come home from the park much dirtier, sweatier, happier. ‘I and S wrestled today,’ he’d grin.

‘S and I,’ I’d absently correct him.

S and I played chor police today.

S and I took our cycles over the hill and came racing down.

Why don’t you bring S home, I offered.

The Brat shrugged, wiping his filthy, sweaty little face on his sleeve,’I asked him to, but he prefers playing in the park.’

Mentally thanking my lucky stars that the Brat had made friends with a little boy who preferred the outdoors to TVs and iPads, I got back to work.

A couple of days later I got done with work early and walked out to the park to get some fresh air and hang out with the kids. The Brat was playing with a boy I didn’t recognise. Must be the famous S, I said to myself. Deciding to introduce myself I walked up to him, said Hi, asked him where he went to school, for lack of any other conversation.

He politely responded, giving me the name of the local underprivileged school.

Ah. So that was it. This is why he refused to come home. His parents were househelp in our complex and he had probably been told not to stick to the park and not venture into homes. He was dressed very simply, neatly and cleanly. Far cleaner than my son who was sweating buckets and looked like he’d been mud wrestling with pigs.

I told him to drop in sometime and he politely said that he liked to spend his evenings playing in the park. I didn’t want to make him uncomfortable by going overboard with my invites. Now this is where desi class politics enter the picture. Although the area is full of househelp, some fulltime, some part time, none of them are allowed to bring their kids to work, neither are their kids supposed to be playing in the park.

“We paid X crores to buy a house in this area and I will not have my children get less time on the swing because of the househelp,” the mails rush in to the e-group whenever a rare maid’s kid is seen on the swings. I’ve tried to intervene but taking on the wrath of the self righteous, upwardly mobile middle class alone isn’t easy. They have washing machines – but they teach the maid to use it. They have strollers, and they get the help to push it. I give up.

Where do they want the help to leave their kids when they’re working? How is one to make these kids invisible? Most often the help leave their kids with family or neighbours, but some of them have no option but to bring them along and then leave them outside the house they’re working in.

Sometime last year I heard a baby crying piteously while I worked in my living room. No one else (my parents were visiting) in the house could hear it and the OA joined them in laughing at me and calling me baby crazy. I rushed out like a mad woman, looking for the child. I found him finally, under a champa tree. He was barely 7 months old and crying hysterically, snotty, filthy, naked but for a torn vest. I began to check his limbs for an injury or a bite. I found nothing. Helpless tears began to well up in my eyes – why was he crying in such distress? This was not hunger. And then I opened his mouth and found it – he had swallowed a champa flower and it was stuck half way down his throat. I have no idea how I forced my adult fingers down his throat and pulled it out, but I did. He stopped crying and proved my theory that a child never cries for no reason.

I picked him up and looked around, there was no adult in sight. And then a maid came rushing out of one of the homes, looking at me suspiciously. It was her baby. I explained to her how I’d found a flower stuck in his throat and was about to tell her to keep a closer watch on him when I realised there was nothing I could say to her. She wasn’t irresponsible, she was as helpless as the baby. The employers probably didn’t allow her to bring him in. I don’t know what prompted me to, since I’m just done with my own baby-rearing business, but I asked her if she wanted to leave him with me everyday while she worked. She looked shocked and refused point blank. She’d rather leave him out under that tree than trust me with him. I left him to her care and went back to work. I still wake up at night hearing that child shriek, feeling very helpless and disturbed.

Anyhow, this is the state of domestic help in India. And so, for S to be playing with my son, was nothing short of a miracle. He was allowed to do so as long as he followed the unwritten, unspoken rules. He must not use the swings meant for the residents’ children and he must always play second fiddle. The Brat, being the vague, dreamy kid that he is, hadn’t realised that S was the son of a domestic worker and so was playing with him as an equal. That is why they were such great friends. I left them playing and stole away.

Snapping back to the present I realised this lady was by now frothing at the mouth. Her child and two others were playing with S and one of them had got hurt and bled a little from the mouth. She was accusing S of hitting him. I didn’t know if this was true.

At this point my father who happened to be visiting and had been playing football with the boys, walked up and asked her what the problem was. One minute she was yelling at the maid’s son, next minute a clearly well heeled older gentleman, a resident, was intervening. She was a little taken aback. He hurt my son, she muttered.

My father then told her that he’d been present when the incident took place and the three residents’ kids had been wrestling with S. Naturally with three against one, he’d had to fight back harder to defend himself, resulting in an accident.

Yes, but my son is bleeding, she repeated.

My dad then mentioned that he’d taken the Brat’s bottle of water and washed the little boy’s mouth out and checked to see if he was badly hurt. Then pointed out that they’re little boys – if they want to play rough and wrestle, they must learn to get hurt. That it was unfair of three of them to get on top of S and beat him up. In a minute, it went from innocent game to upper class bullying lower class. He also pointed out that they’d been playing some ball game and each time the ball went too far, they ordered S to get it, basically treating him like a servant, their own personal servant. He wasn’t being paid to entertain them in the park like a lot of other underage minders, my dad pointed out. He was just a little boy playing in the park too, and if they chose to play with him, it must be as equals.

She blanched, realised my dad had a point and decided to ignore him and resumed yelling at S. I’d been on the sidelines until then and now that I’d heard the story I called out to S. Come here, beta, I said. Play with the Brat who wants to play with you. Don’t play with kids who don’t play fair.

He stood there uncertainly. Should he take a side? Would I be there to protect him everyday? What if she came back?

My dad walked up, put his arms around him and gave him a big hug and said, “Arre yaar, you’re a great guy. Come play with us.”

The lady looked deflated. The Brat who had as usual been lost to the world looked up and said ‘Dost, aa jao!’ and kicked the football to S.

S wiped his eyes, grinned at my father and shot off.

S is good for my gentle little son. He is toughening him up and playing all the physical games most of us played out on the streets when we were kids. All of this with no malice and plenty of sportsman spirit.

I’ve had my son play with a lot of aggressive, vicious upper class kids. I’ve seen them sit on him and even the Bean, hold their hands down and punch them in the face. And when you bring it up with the parents, the response is a standard – oh well, it’s just a little rough play. Boys will be boys. The world out there is rough. You’ll turn your boy into a sissy.

Yes, the world out there is rough but an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. I won’t even get into the argument that we seem to think a sissy is an insult – because you know, being a woman/girl is for losers. I’ll simply move my son away from anyone who seeks to teach him that being male means being aggressive because I doubt they’re capable of wrapping their head around a new concept.

On the other hand, I have all the time on earth for a bunch of little kids rough housing when there’s no malice involved. When the intention is to have a good time, not to bully or hurt the other. When they play as equals, not master and servant. Not aggressor and victim.

My dad and I stood there watching them play. In a while they were too engrossed in their game to remember that we were still there. Yes, boys will be boys. But ‘boy’ doesn’t have to mean aggressive.

‘Tis the season for open letters

Dear Shahana,

I’m part ‘Madrasan’ just like you (Tamil for those who want to know)! And I began to read your post with something akin to amusement because I live in Delhi and am very aware of the foibles of the Dilliwalas. I love it nonetheless for embracing me and giving me a home. About 5 lines down your post, I felt a little ashamed of having ever thought that I was ‘just like you’. It seems nigh impossible to fall that low. For every Daalli boy living in Defence Callony there is a Medraus boy getting up ‘yearly in the maarning’. Why do we as a people deride our own regional accents while swooning over a French accent? Are you ashamed of your skin, accent or your food habits? Then why jeer at theirs? You’re weighed down by your colonial hangover, lady.

Autistic three year old on coke? Witty. And also so compassionate of you to think that a child with a disability is an insult. If you’re playing for the South Indian team, I think you just scored a self goal. For every showy Punjabi I’ve encountered a stingy, parochial Madrasi who won’t invite me into the house for a glass of water. For every caste based temple not allowing people in, there is a gurudwara that will feed you at the langar without bothering to ask after your background or ban your gender. But hey, I really hope the ‘punjabis’ don’t define the whole lot of us by the odd cranky old miser that crosses their path. (And what the hell is wrong with a Happy Gurupurab text message? Admittedly I hate mass SMS saying Happy anything, but why pick on their festival messages when these do the rounds for every occasion including Happy your-mother’s-best-friend’s-toe-surgery-day?!)

You say you come from the land of the ugly? Speak for yourself, sister – I’m cute! And I’ve never understood why people take issue with muscular Punjabi men either –  it’s not as though we lovely doe-eyed ladies prefer pot bellies and skinny legs peeping out from under mundus? I for one would never diss my man if he worked out, simply because it’s a ‘punjabi’ thing to do. It is merely the healthy thing to do, so you’re welcome to the shapeless slugs. Or did you mean that South Indian men are by definition, unfit and shapeless? I take offence on behalf of the rather fit men in my family. Honestly, I prefer my men well groomed, not smelling of coconut oil, and definitely no dusty feet in leather slippers. In fact, speaking of working out, did you mention you’re not scrawny? My sympathies – I could offer you the number of a dietician, because genetically we’re blessed to be built much smaller and more petite than the Punjabans and Haryanvis (God bless their souls and the ghee loaded parathas) who have to make an effort to stay fit. So if you have a weight problem maybe you need to get off your soapbox and on to a treadmill.  The first thing we women need to do is stop hating other women because we think they’re hotter/ making an effort we’re not willing to. I know I’d rather chomp on my murukku and slurp my coffee than get up and hit the gym – you make your own choices.

As for our guys not being good looking, I object to the apologetic sound of that sentence. I think my dad is dashing (okay, maybe I am a prejudiced daughter!) and my husband is bloody good looking (this one I have on good authority from many women) and both are true blue ‘South Indians’. If we think our men are not goodlooking and that Punjabi men are the gold standard for looks, we have a problem. Actually only you have a problem. I’m okay with leering after men from all around the country, starting with Baichung Bhutia and heading down to John Abraham (he IS part Mallu, you know) and taking a full circle back to Ashutosh Gowariker. Yeah, I’m open minded and fair like that.

What was that again about SUVs and big cars? If I had a buck for every South Indian man who can’t stop talking about his cars and gizmos, I’d be on a cruise instead of wasting my time writing this post right now. Our good old Coimbatore at one point had the highest number of imported cars. You might want to read this.

The open cascading tresses – clearly you haven’t seen a Punjabi woman or even a Sikh man let down his hair, literally, that is. The Bongs can give us a run for our money too, in the eyes and hair department. And sistah, I quite like my shaggy flip out and refuse to buy into the stereotypical long hair and olive skin bullshit. Who are you to define my South Indianness for me? I’m dark and I love it – I don’t need you to sugarcoat it for me.  But with people like you sounding apologetic about our looks, it is no wonder we need to import fair skinned actresses for our films. It frustrates me. If our men appreciated us for what we are, we’d not need the ‘northies’ on our screens.

And really girl, did you have to bring up Hema Malini and Sridevi of all women? Them of the adultery, the second marriages, the conversions, the plastic surgery and botox fame? Aishwarya with her annoying accent (it’s probably caused by the smile she got redone) and fake marriage is our claim to fame? I thank you – NOT! Funny how all three of them picked Punjabi and UP men when the time came, huh? Good for them. It just leaves the ‘Madrasi’ men free for us. I got my sweet boy from Karnataka instead of Ash!

One tiny matriarchal community does not a trend make. Have you missed the acid attacks? The dowry we offer for our daughters is mind-numbing. If I’m paying 3 crores for an engineer I’d like him to lose the pot belly and the hair oil please! Colleges with separate benches for boys and girls in salwar kameezes (yes, I can say it like them punjabans!). I’d hardly call that the height of freedom. Fight oppression and violence against women instead of just using statistics to score points against another city. Irrespective of geographical location, it is still our gender being oppressed.

Amma-appa sound cooler than mom-dad to you? How could you be so petty as to pick up on something so ridiculous? Were you running out of real jokes? Bharatnatyam is a higher art form than the gidda or Kathak because you say so? I’m tired of this whole ‘attitude’ we have because to me it reeks of inferiority. And I am damned if I am going to be made to feel inferior about my food, my body, my skin colour or my roots by you. Let’s lighten up, let down the butt length tresses and accept that we play Punjabi music at our discos for fun.

You lost me at the girls doing fake marches (check out what these LSR girls are doing, by the way)? What exactly is it that other college kids are doing that is so much more significant? They’re just college kids, leave them alone to have fun while they can!

What really got to me was the fleeing Pakistan reference. Would any of us consider saying something so heartless about Tibet/Kashmir/Cambodia? Are we so cold as to make a sneering reference to something that was so painful? Partition brought loss, bodies piled up in trains, blood, entire families wiped out … don’t we share history with them? Are you kidding when you say that you come from a defence background? I’m horrified that a girl from a defence background has been brought up to be so divisive. Is this the way the other kids in the armed forces think? I won’t go into statistics of the Sikh regiment and the history of every family giving a son to the army to protect our borders, all while we were sitting around dipping our paruppu vadais in coconut chutney perfecting an attack on the chess board. So yes, we do play a killer game of chess, but oh, we owe them for giving us the safety and luxury to practice it.

As for them not liking our food – are you kidding me? The Brunch carried an article on how the dosa has become the national dish – tit for tat, take that Hindi as official language! You’ll find dosas at every corner stall in Delhi and everywhere else in the country although I must raise an objection to the paneer and Chinese dosas! What if they get started on the image of licking rasam off elbows? Because if we pick on the lowest common denominator to judge them by, they have every right to define us by the elbow lickers.

By the end of your post I was embarrassed for you. For the anger, the bitterness, the hatred and the vulnerability you let slip through. I have no idea what brought it on, but a good bottle of wine and some girl friends and a box of tissues might have been more effective. What you’ve done is unforgivable – you’ve drawn lines and swords and hurt a lot of my ‘Punjabi’ friends. And oh yes, as someone else said – if you don’t want to be called Madrasi (what do you mean you’re part South Indian – you know there are four states, right?), learn to differentiate between Punjabi and Delhiite. Everyone who lives in Delhi is not a Punjabi and not every Punjabi lives in Delhi. That said, everyone is welcome in Delhi, and Munirka and RK Puram are mini-Tamil Nadus themselves.  I buy my dosa maav and podi from there.

And finally, I’m appalled by some of your lines – Texas chainsaw massacre your face? Your dead Dadi? Your mother’s shaven bosom? Kalari your tongue up your ass? Shove so many coconuts down you? Classy. Way to lose control of your point and make a fool of yourself. Crass, rabid and divisive is what these statements are. Driving a wedge of hatred where previously there was only a cultural disparity. It’s a pity you fell so low while trying to make a point on superiority or heck, even equality. To quote them Punjabis, you’ve MC-BCed our case altogether in this badly cobbled together, poor attempt at wit, crossing over into coarse, foul and ignoble territory. And you’re dragging the rest of us into the mire as you cross that fine line between wittily irreverent and decidedly crass. Maybe you just need a good nap or a cold glass of coconut water so that you can cool off and consider what you allowed your ire to lead you into.

I apologise to all those offended by Ms Shahana’s little hissy fit here. We have our good and we have our bad and to attack prejudice with prejudice is not the way the rest of us South Indians work. I need to get back to cracking my IIT now. Apparently Shahana thinks I have no other choice or mind of my own. Now where did I put my pen – in my Fendi bag or my Gucci clutch? Oh wait, I couldn’t possibly know the difference, stereotypical Madrasi chick that I am.

And oh, Shahana, I have a request. In future, do not presume to write on behalf of all Madrasis. Not all of us are quite as bigoted or rabid.

Lowe,

MM (I proudly spell it Yem-Yay-Dee, Yem-O-Yem-Yem-Yay), yet another mocha coloured Madrasan married to a sweet fayer Sawth Indian boy.

PS: Okay lets kiss and make up, North and South Indians. In fact let’s drag the Pakistanis into this big group hug with this lovely song – Hona Tha Pyar.

 

 

Dum lagaa ke

Although I’ll never forget the Nirma advertisement with the little girl in the white dress, I quite liked this new one. I love the way they’ve got little details of  people standing by and recording on their phones instead of helping. So true! The advertisement is particularly nice considering the only role a woman plays in most advertisements even now is of a concerned wife worried about cooking oil and oats.

Nirma advertisement 2011

This ad reminds me of an incident some 2-3 weeks ago. We were all dressed up and headed out for a party one very hot evening when we came across a stalled car at a busy intersection. The poor driver was all alone, struggling to push it out of the way and holding up traffic. The OA drove past so as to not hold up traffic and parked the car with me and the kids in the shade of a tree. Then he jumped out and rushed off to help the driver, glaring at me with a –  ‘Not with the way your knees are.’

Whenever we’ve had the misfortune of our car stalling, there have always been people willing to help push it and I was quite surprised that the poor man had received no offers of help (was it because he was a drivr and not a sahib?). The driver on the other hand was shocked when the immaculately dressed, freshly shaved OA appeared out of nowhere and began to push the car with him. I got out of the car and began to direct traffic away from the car being pushed to avoid a jam. Right next to our car, under the same tree stood a lady fanning herself indifferently and watching us.

They finally pushed through the traffic and came and stopped it behind us. I took out a bottle of water for the OA and he stood there for a moment drinking water and checking with the driver if he’d managed to call the service helpline to be towed. The man assured him that he would do it, that he needed no more help. And all this while the lady stood next to us, saying nothing. As we got in to the car to leave, the driver turned to the woman and said, ‘Ma’am, aap taxi leke aage nikal jaeeye, main yahan intezaar karta hoon.’

I was so… taken aback. Maybe she didn’t want to push the car in the heat and had left the poor guy struggling for whatever reason (maybe her knees were bad too!). But she stood there and saw us help her driver and didn’t have the decency to even say Thank You!

Also, speaking of advertisements, I took the Bean for a trim yesterday and while we waited our turn I caught some really shady serial – Some young girl whose husband wants her to study and her mother in law wants her to make tea. She stands there, head bowed, blinking like a gold fish, turning helplessly from one to another with no say over her own time or life. The www has seen enough rants about soaps projecting women in such a regressive manners so I will not wax eloquent upon it, but I am shocked anew each time I catch one myself. No wonder we still hear about dowry deaths and female foeticide. My driver is on two days leave for his court hearing – his brother in law strangled his sister to death because they couldn’t give more dowry than a car. Welcome to Haryana.  Thankfully before the show made me burst a blood vessel, an ad break came up and this Stayfree ad came on – rather ironic. Women being active during their period is all very well, really, we get the picture, but must they zoom up her butt?!

Stayfree advertisement 2011