Tag Archives: India

Colour

17 Jul

True Match is the name of the compact powder range from L’Oreal and it supposedly matches your skin colour to the last pigment. When I read about the controversy with Beyonce and this product, I thought why people have no better things to do than complain about everything. So what if they listed all her other colour connections, she never claimed not to be african-american? I would love to have a flawless, glowing skin – I am vain about that. And if I can’t have that, I will settle for some make-up. Now if I wear make-up a shade lighter or darker, am I denying my heritage? No, I am not. It doesn’t matter what shade of make-up I wear, I will always be a curd-rice eating tamilian. My passport says I am a German national but I will always like pongal, vadai, sambhar!

After Trayvon Martin, I realize how I do not understand the complexities of race and colour at all! I have no clue!

I am a south Indian, I am dark brown and get darker in the sun. In India, we have skin-colour range that could put any paint-palette to shame. The gradients of black, brown yellow are a testimony to what nature can pull out of her enchanted hat. Now that I am older, I can see it for what it is, a kind of magic – genetics is magic. Two cells merge to form a new human being with various complex body-parts covered by a skin with a colour of its own. Amazing isn’t it?

The fact though, there is a lot of racism in India. Lighter skin is considered beautiful and when I was growing up, I tried out those ‘fairness creams’ too. It was all-pervasive and like any teenager, I wanted to belong and be considered pretty. But then the lazy nerd in me reasserted itself and I just lost interest in trying to keep up. And it stopped affecting me too, I know that I can out-talk anyone, so how does my skin-colour matter? I am an arrogant girl.

I recently spoke to a person of african descent and was trying to argue that we should let the bygones be bygones and move forward because, if we teach our children to hate based on the past, there will never be an end to all this. The discussion was not about race but rather how not all ills in India today can be laid to rest at the feet of imperialism. But how can your children not learn to hate when you openly discriminate based on skin-colour? I cannot preach forgiveness to a man that has suffered blatant racism.

In India, I have been told that it is good that I married a white-guy, my children at least do not share my skin-colour. I have also been asked how come my husband does not say anything to the way I look, does he not insist that I wear make-up? All this was said, not to hurt my feelings, no, these people thought they were actually consoling me or giving me good advice. There are some of course, who are suspicious about why a white guy would marry me(India – must be something wrong with him) or why I would marry a white guy (in Germany – must be the money). As I said, I am an arrogant person and I know my worth, so I don’t get rattled by all these free advice, I usually pity all these people on their ignorance. But now, I do worry about the world all our children will live in.

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Big Science

16 Jul

Kundankulam nuclear power plant in south India is going critical. It would generate a sorely needed additional 400MW of power in the first stage. Tamil Nadu should be rejoicing but no, there are widespread protests.

I am a big fan of science – reasonable, provable and ethical science. I believe that such science would help us deal with many problems – if not solve them outright, it will help us develop tools to come to terms with these problems. This is going to make many angry but some one has to say it – invest in nuclear energy!

Not put up monuments to nuclear power which is what we do when we build a new power plant based on a design that is at least 60 years old, but invest in coming up with solutions that can solve the problems we have encountered so far. Yes, I understand we cannot make it 100% safe but please do not tell me that innovation has died out, please do not tell me that we cannot learn from the disasters in Fukushima and Chernobyl and make the technology better, please do not tell me, that we have reached our pinnacle and that there is nothing more to be done but fear.

Of course, I would like to live in a fairytale where pollution is non-existent, where we have a cornucopia that gives us as much food as we want, where all species of animals have their niche, where there are no wars, no drones, no dying children. But I am not living in such a world. I live in a world surrounded by poverty and hunger, diseases and natural disasters. We live in a universe that does not care whether humans as a species survive or die out. What do we do?

I agree that TED cannot solve all problems by itself – without human compassion, science alone would be a chisel with no purpose, no skilled sculptor to guide it. But should we then regress and make ourselves believe that the 15th century was a better time? Was the world a better place before science came about? Perhaps in some aspects yes, if you consider only the Amazonian forest coverage but for humans it was a miserable place. There were regular culling of the human population by famine and diseases. And unfortunately, some of our fellow humans are still living in that era with diseases, famine and lack of infrastructure. How do we help?

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The War of the Worlds

12 Jul

I am not an athlete. I am not sure if I could call myself a fanatic fan of anything but if there is one game that can make me appreciate sports from a comfy couch with a bowl of deep-fried whatever and a group of family and friends, it is cricket!

Being born in the Indian sub-continent, cricket was part of my staple diet. It is an essential part of growing up to know the difference between a spinner, medium pacer and a seamer. You just intuitively know why the middle-order batsmen have to be the dependable types, you just know that the umpire was making a mistake when he said that was a LBW! Come on, clearly it was not! And so on, and so forth, you get the drift…. No, I cannot explain LBW – please refer to wiki here.

The entire sub-continent waits with bated breath when arch-rivals India and Pakistan meet on the field. Forget wars, this is where it is decided -an entire nation’s pride. But it is not always mean, there is also lots of love – many an Indian girl carried her secret love for a Pakistani bowler in my youth. The Lankans are so passionate that they would rather watch cricket than eat. Then we have the traditional need to prove ourselves against the English, the wary respect for the West Indies, the fear of the South African fielders and the brash playing of the Aussies. And, then there were the other teams like the Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and the Kiwis. They were not that strong when I was growing up– these teams probably play great cricket too, it is just that I did not get to see it that often in the 80s and 90s.

When I was at college in the early 90s, we would all watch cricket in our common room – yes, just like in Harry Potter. There was no fireplace but a TV that showed World Cup cricket matches. If a person had to leave the room, for whatever reason, and a wicket fell, that person, when she returns, shall not be allowed to leave the room till the match was over! This might seem inconsequential to you, unless and until you realize the match goes on for a whole day (well, let us  not even start with 5-day matches). At the last World Cup in 2011, I was at my computer to catch the finals where India played Sri Lanka. I had not watched any of the matches till then and India had done wonderfully. When I joked about that in Facebook, the immediate reaction from all my friends and family were: to slowly move away from the computer, leave that room and shut myself in a bathroom and not to come out till the Cup was won! No, my family and friends do not hate me, they just love the Indian team better.

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The importance of punctuation

17 Jun

Even into the late 90s, telegrams were what you sent in India, if you want something to go viral – be it good or bad news. It was the #twitter for 160 years. The catch was, you had to be concise – every letter, number and sign counted. You have to think of what you wanted to say and then try and say it in as few words as possible. If you turned up at the telegram counter, it meant you have something so important to say that you are willing to pay hard cash for it.

Receiving a telegram, on the other hand, was filled with trepidation. It usually brought bad news, as bad news travels faster than any other kind (except videos of Psy which travels at speed of light). So if the post man enters your gate and announces “telegram”– it was, literally, a matter of life or death. It meant someone has either passed away or is about to or a new life has come into this world. Either way, life came to a standstill at the receiving end. Sometimes people would shoot the messenger and curse the post man that delivered the bad news or he would be praised for bringing the good news. Then life at that household would take a deep-breath and continue.

Imagine my surprise then, when I received a telegram on a fine day in July 1998 at my hostel room in IITMadras. I was terrified to open it- it was from my home town but I knew of no one that is close to me or my family, who was having a baby. By clever process of elimination, my mind had come to the conclusion it must be death then that the telegram carries. With trembling hands, I opened the blue telegram and it said “come to Madurai – A”. I exploded in relief and anger.

‘A’ was a German exchange student at my university in 1998. He and a couple of his friends were on a road trip around South India and he was on his way to my home town, Madurai. He knew that I had taken other German exchange students to my place in Madurai. And he had the gall to send me a telegram, ordering me to come to Madurai. I was so offended that I must have ranted for an hour to my friends about this spindly, blond, condescending German guy! What was he thinking of himself?! I should drop everything I have and coming running to play tour guide?!? How dare he?!? 

After that angry adrenaline come down, I went off to classes and my life continued. But I kept the telegram. Looking back now, I wondered if my heart knew what my head did not. In any case, the telegram was carefully saved and was brandished when ‘A’ got back, as an example of how rude he had been to me.

‘A’ listened patiently to my carefully controlled outburst and asked to see the telegram. I threw it, well, not in his face, he is more than a head taller than me, lets say I threw it in his general direction. He looked very stricken after reading it and told me that he had put a question mark at the end of the statement but the telegraph guy had not included it! I was speechless.

He was on a budget travel and he really wanted to see me. He decided on sending a telegram. As he had to compress his message, he thought instead of writing “Please Come to Madurai(Stop)”, he would write “Come to Madurai(question mark)”. I don’t think the telegraph guy/lady ever had to send a message with a question-mark in it, so they turned it into a full stop.

That was the story of how punctuation caused our first lovers’ tiff though at that time I had no inkling that this is going to be a love story. It has been fifteen years now since that telegram, but my husband has never forgotten his lesson in the importance of correct punctuation, even in emails. 

Questions?

21 May

“You have not been raped though?” – this was not what I expected to be asked when I asked for advice about my skin at a cosmetic counter in Germany. This lady does not know me, only thing I told her was that the skin products I used to use in Germany do not work in Indian weather and if she would kindly give me a small jar of some unknown substance that would help keep my skin happy. And she asked me this. But then I should have known that people outside India would associate the country only with the word ‘rape’ in current state of affairs. This lady went on to tell me how she wanted to visit but now she is scared. I tried to reassure her that out of 1.2 billion people its always possible that there is a certain percentage of demons around but my heart was not in it. How can I convince someone that India is a safe place when every media everywhere in the world says otherwise?

Is this not the same country that gave enterprising western entrepreneurs the ticket to mint money with transparent yoga pants? Is this not the same country that gave the world Bollywood with its technicolour dance music? Is this not the same country that defined outsourcing and played a major role in people being able to afford software because its mass-produced with cheap labour? So why have the words “Indian woman” come to mean only rape? Does rape happen only in India? So why this perception?

What happened and still happens in India is not something that Indians should explain away or find excuses for. We, as an entire nation, should hang our heads in shame. Especially, the women in India need to rethink their outlook about their fellow sisters. Should anyone have a right to hurt another human because they dress differently? Should anyone have the right to hurt someone because they live their lives differently from your way of life? How can that be India? Is this not the country where a neighbour could be from another state, believe in a different God and speak a different language but still be our neighbour and an Indian?

Rape is something that occurs everywhere in the world. It has nothing to do with sexuality but very much to do with violence. It is an act of violence. It is about demonstrating  a sick kind of power over another human. Let us not confuse the issue by pointing fingers or taking a holier-than-thou attitude.

What is to be done though? Accept this as fate? No, this is where India needs to change – there is no destiny or fate other than the one you make. Sometimes people end up in the wrong place at the wrong time but the society as a whole cannot say that for itself. It is how the society and government handles any violence that differentiates between a civilized and a barbaric society. If the Indian society continue to look at rape and molestation as something that should be brushed under the carpet, then we can never call this society a civilized one, let alone an enlightened one.

The Justice Verma Report came up with very many suggestions on how to make changes to the law but what about the society as a whole? Who can tell them to make these changes? I think this is where the Media should play an active role. The influence television and those much lamented Mega-serials have over the minds and hearts of people is enormous. Especially, the women at the top of program selection and production at major media companies need  to encourage pro-women TV and not some junk that encourages the aggressive male-submissive female image. They should also promote the idea that rape is a criminal offence and that the victim needs support and encouragement, not derision.

The younger generation seems to want to be different, I can only hope they make better decisions than their predecessors when its their time to make the call. And mothers (in reality and in TV), please stop crying and moaning, you have the power to raise the next generation to be something better – respectful, tolerant and strong. So take up the challenge.

Perhaps then I can tell the lady at the cosmetic counter that she is mistaken, that she should not let late night talk shows dictate her opinion of India but should visit the country and make up her mind for herself. Because even making up your own mind is empowerment. Lean In women of the world!

Love at first sight

8 Apr

The ‘voicestra’ that I posted, two days ago, was a song that brought back nostalgia for many of my generation. This was a song about a person’s first love sung with all the innocence of a teenager in the 1980s India. Being a teen in India in late 80s and early 90s, was a special time – alright, being a teen is a special time in any era, anywhere- but India at that time, was a country that was being kissed awake by capitalism. Suddenly our fear of imperialist chains were falling away and the youth of India was introduced to the brands that were seen only in the late night English news that was shown once-a-week. Pepsi came to town!

This might not sound as ground-breaking as, say, man on the moon – but it was, the time and place where Indian youth discovered that you can break away from tradition-en masse! The arrival of MTV was blamed for the downfall of all Indian values but we did not care! We wanted more! We wanted to go out and have a Dosa and wash it down with Pepsi – Fast food salvation. But it was not just food brands that came to plant their flags in a country which was marked till then as ‘Here be Dragons’. New trends like dating and clubbing started creeping into middle-class India. We had a new class by then, the ‘upper middle-class’. This class could afford to fly to other cities, no more squeezing into first-class sleeper A/C. The next level of people “the middle middle-class” could then afford those seats in the trains. We started having more strata in the economic levels in India.

The youth of all strata have always been the fastest adapting section of any society. My generation, at that time, whole heartedly embraced everything new and atrocious. There were cut-outs for Jackie Chan in my hometown with a garland around his neck, right beside the cut-out for Rajnikanth – unmistakeably south-indian in concept but the object of adoration was popularized by Hollywood. We got to see singers like Madonna sing about heart-ache American style – which we could not really sympathize with but can definitely scandalize with. In all this, our idea of love-at-first-sight and forever, did not diminish. My generation was still naïve enough to believe that the first person you fall in love, is the person you are going to be in love with forever. Dreams were built around that premise – castles-in-air, dancing and singing around trees were undertaken with enthusiasm.

We did not know enough to see that screen love is infatuation, we did not know the difference between that life where the problems were of what to wear for your next song and the real life of 9-to-5 jobs and long commutes. Nothing captures this feeling better than the song ‘Pehla Nasha’ in the movie ‘Jo Jeeta wohi Sikander‘. It was a classic, coming-of-age movie, Indian-ishtyle – boy-meets-girl kind, but the magic it wove, the feelings it evoked with this song – sigh.

This is a quote from ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas‘ which can be applied to that period in Indian history as well. This is how we felt:

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .

On the bright-side, I have realized, that I am not so jaded that I cannot enjoy those emotions even today. The scenery has shifted from my tree-filled college to our balcony clothesline, but hey, its still love! And hopefully, the forever kind!

Why Sajjid Khan might not be a complete idiot – Janus Nation II

2 Apr

A friend of mine from USA posted this from The Vigil Idiot. This cartoonist is hilarious. The point I want to make is, this is the kind of comment I would have made a year ago when I was living in Europe and was an Overseas Citizen of India. Now that I am a resident of India and read the ‘Times of India’ everyday, I can tell you that this movie just might work for some people -even in this enlightened century!

The opinion of my friends in States and in the Indian Metropolitan cities is the opinion of ‘Economic Times’ – as I had posted previously – it is about the India with Hi-Tech gadgets, cool software, Filson+Apolis Philanthropist Briefcase (whatever hell that means) and salaries in the range of 2 million rupees per annum (entry-level). Himmatwalla, on the other hand, is for the rest of the country, that still has an illiteracy rate of just above 25%

Are there villages still terrorized by Thakurs with names like ‘Sher Singh’ – unfortunately, yes. Is the perception that women in skirts are insensitive and lack compassion and hence should be taught a lesson, prevalent? Again, unfortunately, yes. Do women who get raped in India still have to marry the guy who raped them? Yes, that is still going on too. Women putting up with abuse for the sake of their family’s ‘reputation’ and ‘honour’ – no, not far from truth.

But if your question is, should movies like this be made? NO!!!!

My generation went through the most god-awful period in movie-making, story-telling and costume era of Bollywood. Were our sacrifices not enough? Do our children have to pay too?

For heaven’s sake, leave us our last neurons, Sajjid Khan!!!