Archive for the ‘Cribs’ Category

Wishful thinking

On the eve of every week end, I find myself having a panic attack. There’s too much to do – over the next two days, over the next week, month, rest of my life. Some of my time is spent worrying that perhaps I don’t work hard enough. But most of it is spent worrying that as a single woman in New York, I don’t play hard enough. Too many books to read, movies to watch, concerts to attend…and any left over anxiety is allocated to worrying about not living healthy enough, not being organized enough, and not having a clean enough apartment.

At especially harrowing times – such as the eve of a long week end, I’m tempted to make a list. My problem with lists is that they make me feel optimistic, which is completely against my nature. Lists give me an illusion of control, when I’ve demonstrated almost none in the past. Am convinced that were I to make a list right now, I’d cut out a few hours of television, assign myself ‘movie nights’ and ‘reading nights’ and end up subscribing to the WSJ or The Economist or both. The act of ‘making’ a list leads me to believe that I’d be able to ‘make’ other things, like time for instance. 

In the past, I’ve foolishly wished for more time. If only there were 28 hours in a day, instead of 24, I’d be able to get an extra half-hour’s worth of sleep AND be able to go to the gym. What folly. If there were four extra hours in a day, there’d be at least one extra snack (if not an entire meal) to eat, and you know what that means – more TV and more dirty dishes.

No – the real solution is to have less time. If you only had 18 hours in a day, you wouldn’t stare at a mug do a merry-go-round inside the microwave for a minute and fifteen seconds. You’d use that time to get shit done. There would be no more channel-surfing, or skipping through songs-you-really-don’t-like-but-think-you-just-might-miss-if-you-deleted-them-and-so-still-have-on-your-iPod. You wouldn’t watch both the Capote movies or Infernal Affairs and The Departed – you’d pick one and run with it. And you would avoid Iñárritu and Kurasawa altogether – critics and friends and Gael Garcia Bernal be damned. You wouldn’t wonder, as you’re typing up something like this, if your post will get commented upon, let alone dare to hope for some link love. And let’s face it, you wouldn’t have the luxury to feel bad about skipping gym. For fewer hours a day must surely mean fewer hours to feel guilty in.

Wish I had some answers

Many weeks ago, I read this via India Uncut. An ex-Pachaiyappa’s girl, I know a thing or two about ‘eve-teasing’. My first reaction was sputtering rage – instead of turning the girls away, wouldn’t it be even more convenient to keep them in little pens, till the male er, “students” need a break and could use a distraction or two? Why don’t they ban the men instead? Arrggghhhh

I started writing a post about it the same day, but as I always do when I start to write about this particular topic, I stopped. There didn’t seem to be any point in ranting about it. Usually, am too angry to be coherent. OK, so a mere lack of coherence doesn’t stop me from blogging, I know – but to me this topic is too serious, and too personal to idly rant about, without at least trying to make some sort of sense. Why a change of heart now? Not sure – I suppose this was another incident too many.

If women always withdraw from the problem (and in this case, the withdrawal isn’t even voluntary), isn’t it foolish to hope that the men will someday learn to not behave badly? We don’t ban McDonald’s although their outlets also present a form of temptation to a lot of people. [1] What makes the authorities of this college think their case is any different?

All societies have rules that reinforce good behaviour and discourage bad behavior. In the case of ‘eve-teasing’ this seems to not work at all. Is it because only one-half of the lessons get reinforced? Every girl in Madras knows that she’s “inviting” trouble if she’s going to walk through Pachaiayappa’s College Hostel after dark (or before dark for that matter). Just as every girl in Delhi knows that it isn’t the best idea in the world to go to India Gate for ice-cream at 2 in the morning. Every city has its own rules. These rules aren’t exactly handed out as part of your welcome-to-the-city package. But we women somehow manage to hear of them, and in many cases heed them.

Wonder what the heck is being done with the men? Are they not being told often enough, or are they not listening? They seem to have figured out (at least most of them,anyways) that driving on the wrong side of the road is not a good idea. So it’s not that they are incapable of understanding a rule and behaving accordingly. It is impossible for me to believe that any parent actively encourages this particular behaviour in their child. It can only mean that while we all emanate a general sense of ‘respect women’, we don’t seem to do such a good job at expressing why ‘disrespecting women’ is as big a no-no as driving on the wrong side of the road is.

As far as I can make out, there are two ways of getting people to not act in certain ways – through fear of punishment, and by shaming them.

Fear: With this particular form of sexual harassment, fear of legal forms of punishment haven’t been working. Madras, for instance, goes through its phases of “under-cover ops”. Those unlucky or stupid enough to get caught in the act are probably taken to the police station and kept overnight (or is it for a few days? who knows what happens with these cases). Everyone jokes about undercover cops for a while. And when the operation stops, we’re back to square one.

Increasing the severity of the punishment is not a fix, because legal punishment can be meted out only to those who are proven guilty. A crucial step to that is to get women to report these incidents. And frankly, I don’t see that happening. As an ex-Madras resident, I didn’t “report” a single incident. If I felt particularly bad about something, I’d come home and curse for an hour or so, and that consisted of a generic rant against idiots (when I got to the part about wanting to castrate all men, my parents usually figured out the reason for that particular rant, as I did rant a lot). I didn’t feel comfortable explaining the details to my parents. I sure as hell wasn’t about to give a detailed explanation to some bureaucrat.

Besides which, almost every woman I know, including myself, will examine herself first – ask herself, “Did I do something to attract this sort of behavior?”, no matter how illogical the question is. Women almost always manage to find some way to answer that question in the affirmative. Finding faults with yourself makes it so much simpler – if you can blame yourself, you’re still operating under the assumption that you have control over the situation, and can therefore you can “do something” to avoid it in future.

So fear of of legal punishment doesn’t look very promising. The only other form of fear I can think of is one involving some sort of spiritual punishment. All religions seem to do a pretty good job of inculcating a deep fear about some event that will take place at an unspecified point in the future. But I doubt that announcing that eve-teasers will go to hell is going to solve the problem. How about starting a rumor that that eve-teasers’ dicks will fall off? As much as I wish that were actually true, I doubt that this would be successful either. As religion knows, threatening people with abstract forms of punishment (or offering them abstract carrots, for that matter) goes only so far – at some point, people expect the threat to be carried out, and let’s face it, we can’t make either of these two things happen.

Shame: Call it wishful thinking, but what I’d really like to see is an increase in the shame associated with committing an act of “eve-teasing”. Partly, I want the men who engage in this act to feel as small as it makes those at the receiving end feel. And partly, I believe that guilt / shame may be a more effective and efficient means of enforcement as opposed to other options that involve more paperwork.

Am trying to imagine what it must have felt like when a group of stone-agers (or whoever) first came up with the collective decision that, say, farting in public is bad. Am sure it must have ruffled a few feathers, but they did manage to get most people to get the idea. Let’s go with something more recent – talking on your cell phone in a movie hall. This is a behavior which evolved recently (so there’s no reason to chalk it up to “oh, it’s always been a bad thing to do. No one knows why, we just try not to do it.”) and about which, as a society, we’ve managed to come up with and enforce some “rules”. If you do it, the worst that can happen is that you might get thrown out of the hall (and this is what I imagine will happen, as I’ve never seen it actually happen). More likely, you’re going to get shushed by your neighbors. In order to avoid a little shushing though, most of us are willing to turn our devices off, or be courteous enough to to walk away when taking a call we “have” to take.

At any rate, we seem to have come to a collective agreement that none of likes to be a victim of this particular bad behavior. Is the fact that men simply don’t know what it feels like to be at the receiving end [2] the reason why we are unable to come to a unanimous agreement in the case of harassment? If that’s the case, our chances of reaching that that unanimous agreement are slim to none, which shoots my “shame” theory out the window as well.

All of which leaves me with zilch. I am as frustrated as I was when I began this post. That harassment is about power and will continue to happen as long as one gender wields more power than the other sounds like a nice enough conclusion – it is suitably abstract, and expresses the right degree of despair and disapproval and very distant hope. But I don’t want to conclude that way. Why do women have to put up with with this till whatever unspecified future time when the gender tables might just turn? What can right-thinking men and women do today to make this stop as soon as possible? I so wish I knew.

[1] This isn’t necessarily true, because that’s exactly what the city of New York is doing by banning trans fats in restaurants [Link]
[2] The old line about perpetrators having mothers or sisters of their own doesn’t work because something that might happen to someone else is not the same as that something happening to you.

Reality check


Last night, I read a New Yorker profile on the fashion designer & bon vivant Valentino. While I’ve had a vague idea that I share a planet with some fabulously wealthy people, I suppose I’ve never personally confronted true wealth. As I read that his wedding gown collection starts at $35,000, I realized with a start that $35,000 will allow me to buy the car I would buy if I could afford:
a) the downpayment
b) the insurance
c) the gas
& buy this car not once, but at least twice, if not thrice.

I read on about Valentino’s many homes around the world. Palaces / castles / yatchs are more accurate terms to use. I did not feel the sense of yearning that comes over when I read say, the Travel pages of the NY Times. Surprisingly, there was no feeling of ‘God, I wish I had that.’ Although it doesn’t sound like it, I’m not beatifying myself. I’m merely registering surprise. Apparently, there are limits to my materialistic fantasies. Or wealth of this magnitude is so clearly out of reach, that I accept it without fuss – just as I do the fact that I will never visit Mars.

Couple of days ago, I read another profile. This time, one of Colonel Fawcett, a British explorer who went into the Amazonian forest in 1927, and never came back. Hundreds have tried to find him / his party / his remains. And the crazy thing is, I can see what made these poor buggers go out there, risking their necks for this stranger.

Reading this article brought back memories of Desmond Bagley novels read long ago. No high tech gizmos, no GPS, no satellite radios, no helicopters, no all terrain vehicles – just a bunch of hardy, adveturous souls. And as much as I know am not one of them, I like to think I am. It’s the sorta day dreaming that a really good Bond movie triggers (NOT ones that have Halle Berry in them!). You know it’s fiction, ridiculously unrealistic fiction at that. There’s nothing noble about it – it’s not as if you’re casting yourself in the role of Albert Schweitzer. And yet, you allow the silly plot to seduce you. You invent this parallel universe where you’re suddenly a suave, heart-breakingly handsom super spy who dodges every bullet & repeatedly saves the world. Not like Schweitzer who probably wanted to save the world, but incidentally, when your mind was elsewhere. That makes it so much cooler.

OK. Major digression there. To return to poor Colonel Fawcett & all the poor slobs who went looking for him. The closest I’ve been to a “jungle” is a resort in the Jim Corbett park. One morning, we ate hot aloo parathas, got all bundled up & went around what looked like a nice neck of woods in what was easily the noisiest jeep in the world & kidded ourselves that every tiger in the park was waiting to come out for a nice stroll at the precise moment we drove by. Even as the ridiculous footage of me, my 2 friends & this old driver flits through my head, I lay there thinking to myself, “Hmm, the Amazon…with the right equipment, I could do that.” Right equipment? As though I would even know what that is. I am the person who had to be taught how to tie shoe laces properly! Yes, all of us were taught this valuable lesson at some stage in life. My moment was 2 years ago – just outside Central Park, when the friend I was walking with was fed up stopping every 25 steps to wait for me to tie my laces again.

There is a point to this rambling, and am getting there. What makes some crazy stuff so appealing, while other equally crazy stuff leaves us totally cold? I have no wish to own a home in Holland Park, or sail a yatch around Mediterranean hot spots. I also have no wish to actually be stranded in a rain forest – but somehow the latter is more appealing than the former. When it comes to two utterly hypothetical options, why do we chose one over the other? It’s not as if we were talking from experience. Lots of times neither option is something we even want to do. And yet, we’re able to chose. How? And why?

Scary thought – do arranged marriages work on this principle? Do we make all decisions like this? Picking colleges, majors in those colleges, jobs, lovers? Yes, we may have a teeny bit more information when making those decisions, but really, what do we know? Is this where the famed gut feel comes in? What I want to know is what does my gut know of the Xingu Reserve? And what pray does it know about owning the Château de Wideville?

Let us set aside for a brief moment all the day dreaming, and intellectual cogitation on the mechanism of decision making, and consider the truth. Truth is:
a) in this lifetime, I cannot fit into that red dress, much less afford it;
b) I cannot afford that car in the next five years, if not longer;
c) I won’t be visiting even the outskirts of that forest in the next 10 years, if ever and
d) I will never ever meet that man, let alone be him.

That’s all for tonight folks.

Waiting in vain

This week end was a trip down memory lane for a displaced Madrasi. Expected lightning, thunder, strong winds, heavy downpours et al & got zilch, as Hurricane Rita bypassed Dallas altogether. I am certainly grateful that Rita did not wreak the sort of havoc Katrina did, but it did bring back memories of those innumerable “depressions in the bay” that promise rain to Madras, but almost always fail to deliver.

I suspect that Madras is rather like an “engine driver” – the one thing that so many little boys want to be when they grow up, but few actually do, and if they do, it doesn’t look like it was by choice. Every baby depression in the Bay of Bengal expresses similar ambitions, “When I grow to a decent size, I want to blow all over Madras!” But once maturity hits them, they always find more popular destinations – Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal or decide to go “phoren” & pack their bags off to Bangladesh…

Come November, every Madrasi would allow himself to get all excited over yet another depression – the older members of the family allow themselves a fond, if elaborate dream – two days worth of rain seeping into the parched earth of Madras, and miraculous raising the water table to a level that lo and behold, you turn on the tap, and water (not air) flows! The children dream dreams of schools declaring a holiday… The folks over at the electricity department dream of the number of hours they can shut off power “poyal kathula kambam vizhunthidichu, saar!” The bitter irony is that only the TNEB employees’ dreams ever came to fruition most of the time.

Hurricane Rita was the same – well, almost. Of course, Americans are more fun to watch, as they panic so adorably. People bought cans & cans of drinking water, groceries (only stuff that’ll keep even if the power & ergo the refrigerator goes), torch lights, DVDs (we may be stuck inside the house for ages!), board games (in case the power gets cut off), called friends & family to reassure them that they were well prepared, and of course filled up their Hummers & F-150s convinced that gas prices would hit $5… Finally, not a drop. It was pleasant on Saturday evening – a pleasant breeze was in the air, brining a brief respite from the stifling heat. By Sunday, Dallas realized that Rita was just a hoax & the temperature climbed back to the usual 90s (It’s practically OCTOBER! When will Mamma Nature realize this?) .

Ah well. Born Madrasi that I am, I still nurture hopes. One of these days, Dallas is going to have to realize that this is fall. And that day, the temperature will start to fall, and this city will become habitable again. As for Rita – you tease, you don’t break my heart. Been there, done that.

Rise and Shine? Not.

Today, the roomie & colleague & ride is at home, waiting for a new mattress to be delivered. Had to hitch a ride with the boss. The icing on the cake – the boss leaves for work at 6:30 AM so he can drop his kid off at school. He picked me up at around 6:45 AM. If you take gosh-awful daylight friggin’ savings, 5:45 AM. As you may have caught on, am most definitely NOT a morning person.

While waiting for the ride to arrive, I try reading. I have half-read books strategically stashed all over the house, so I can always reach for something, no matter where I am. I try Atwood’s Good Bones and Simple Murders. At some point, as I listlessly move about the house, I pick up Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Authors I find scintillating by moonlight, even twilight, fail to please at the crack of dawn.

Switch on the TV. I HATE watching TV in the morning. I detest all morning shows – filled with bright / cheerful types gushing on about whatever the hell it is they gush on about. Turn to cable. Pause for a while on FX – Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Are they kidding? At 6 in the morning? HBO – Mad City and a bunch of other movies that would make any self-respecting insomniac kill himself. What audience are they trying to cater to at that hour, I wonder. Am pretty sure that the ‘early to bed / early to rise’ crowd would be as interested in Mad City as the insomniacs and the am-drunkenly-just-about-making-it-back-home crowd.

During the ride, with whatever handful of neurons which are up & working at that hour, brief, very brief thoughts flit through the brain:

– Please God, please¸ no conversation

– Aah! Shiny things! Oooh – that’s the sun getting reflected off windows / glassy structures on them building thingees… Kinda psychedelic, really. Is this why the “morning people” like mornings?

– Is the sun this orange? Really? All the time?

– Why is there a traffic jam at this hour? On the “freeway”? Isn’t this the “debauched west”? Folks are supposed to be nursing hang-overs at this hour, not cheerily driving to work, or wherever the hell it is people go to at 7:00 in the morning…

Reach work. Cannot believe am actually at my desk by 7:40. It feels like I only just left. Did I leave at all? Oh yeah I did. I watched TV last night, didn’t I…

At 9, am still in that twilight zone between wakefulness & brain dead-ness. So I go down to Starbucks. Get myself a Vanilla Latte. Detest coffee (am a Chai person), but see that it has its uses. Coffee does not help. Just makes me feel full, and somewhat nauseous, as it always does. And I have the rest of the day to go! Yippee!

Did Dante know about Microsoft Word?

Stuck in the middle of creating a document that is supposed to “make everything crystal clear” (at least that’s what the boss wants), I have spent the last hour tying myself up in knots. Am sorely in need of a shot of inspiration.

If writing involved muscle, there are chemical options to choose from. What does one do to jump start the brain? Caffeine? Have tried it already – no good. It’s only going to tip the scales a tad, as I try to choose between sleeping and worrying tonight.

Wilkie Collins is said to have put opium to very effective use…He claims to have written an entire novel when under the influence, having no recollection of actually writing it. Now, there’s an attractive thought. While there’s a very slim possibility that I might actually be capable of typing a sentence or two, I somehow doubt that post-laudenaum, my mind will ponder on the fine points of system architecture design, let alone produce a document that will “make everything crystal clear”…

Walking away from a problem, and coming back for a fresh look is supposed to help. In this case, I know that if I walk away from this desk right now, I may never want to come back. So that’s out too.

As the clock ticks away, the idea of smashing my computer, and telling my boss that my hard drive crashed, and I lost all my work (including some truly brilliant documentation), is becoming more and more attractive.

Surely, violence is no answer. Besides which, I will still have to produce the damned document tomorrow…

Arrgh! I just want to finish this silly thing, and be done with it already! Hell is a half-empty Word document.