Sunday, December 27, 2009


I have a story in the Tehelka fiction issue on the stands now - in case anyone feels like reading.It has 12 stories all around the theme of injury. It can be read  here - but it's always nice to actually buy and read the 12 stories at leisure, in trains, in the loo or on the verandah or in bed or wherever you do these private things.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Open Review: Sagira Begum

I've been doing reviews of documentaries for the website of Open magazine occasionally.
Here is a review of a film I really love - Sagira Begum, by my friend Sameera Jain.
More reviews either by myself or Sanjay Kak are here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

who so hunts to list

"If you interact with things in your life, everything is constantly changing. And if nothing changes, you're an idiot. "

So says Umberto Eco in this interesting interview about how lists are the stuff of culture.

(Nice decor huh?)

I remember sitting, rather hungover, with a musician friend at Sea View in the early morning, and feeling a ching of recognition through the haze as he said this thing that a lot of Indian traditional culture is made up of lists - a list of kisses (Kama Sutra), a list of the types of relationships there can be between lovers (Gita Govinda - I think he said), and so on.

The idea of an EDL, a film's edit, as a list of images perhaps comes very close to this idea and reminds us, to make that list with care.

In every day life my propensity for lists has been talked about earlier, here.

I often feel that if I make the list in the wrong order I never get through it and if I make it the right way then it orders my day. Perhaps that's just an excuse but I would like to check with Mr. Eco first please, thank you.

And here's a listing song I love

In some ways, the words of this song (we may never never meet again, on the bumpy road of love) circle back to something Eco says in his interview

"We have a limit, a very discouraging, humiliating limit: death. That's why we like all the things that we assume have no limits and, therefore, no end. It's a way of escaping thoughts about death. We like lists because we don't want to die."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Lost Bits

If my dad were alive today he'd be irritated with me - always waiting till the 11th hour! he'd expostulate - why can't you do things on time? If you had to write me a birthday post why wait till the last hour of my birthday?

And I'd be saying - but Papu I had to do that other thing - and I scanned the picture earlier and..

And he'd say - always excuses, dash it! Koi system nahin hai!

And I'd say - that's not true! System hai. And it is being done before your birthday is over na!

And he'd say - don't teach your grandmother how to suck eggs.

And I'd feel like laughing but wouldn't dare.

Every year on my dad's birthday I miss him more than other days - that's natural.

But I feel it more - or differently - when it's the Sunday before his birthday and I see the horoscopes for those whose birthday falls in the coming week. It's a reminder that there isn't something to look forward to. I think about reading the paragraph under Scorpio out to him when he was alive. Us interpreting those tantalisingly suggestive horoscopes trying to fit them into the reality, a shadow jigsaw puzzle. Three years after he died these thoughts are still very hard to think without tears and pain.

Although other thoughts - seeing him as a person, and not just as my dad, filter in and they are more difficult to categorise.

What does death do to the person who dies? We have no idea.

But it makes other people claim the person who has gone. Sometimes to erase uneasy memories, sometimes to make up self-aggrandising memories. After all the dead person is no longer there to contradict us. We can remake their life, their relationship with us, and through it, our own story in the world maybe.

Earlier I used to feel angry at that - feel contempt at the falsely bandied intimacies. But now I sometimes think, what other way do we, who have only known life, have to understand something as remote and befuddling as death? Our only paradigm is life. And with all the pettiness and generosity that involves, we use it to make sense of the most absolute of losses.

I find the task of recovering my father as a person difficult - as difficult as perhaps it must have been in life.

I remember one summer holiday in Gandhidham, where my dad worked for a while, in a desperate search for things to read (G'dham was a total cultural desert with no bookstores or libraries), I asked my dad for keys to some old trunks and looked through the one that had books it in.

I was mystified by the books I found. For me, my dad was someone who read India Today. I'd rarely seen him with a book. But in that box I found some sort of esoteric poetry, a copy of The Origin of Species, The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire in a silver coloured, multi-volume box set, Henry Miller, Harold Robbins, T.S. Eliot's The Cocktail Party in an edition that had martini glasses with faces on them, Peyton Place, John Steinbeck - all sorts of books, many with his name on the flyleaf - Ravi Karan Vohra or Ravi Vohra or RK Vohra, in my dad's stylised signature, looking less cooked than I knew it, as perhaps a young man's signature might. A signature still wet around the ears.

I sat for a while in the room full of trunks trying to imagine what kind of person my dad must have been who bought and read all these books. After a while I gave up - it was too hard to imagine him in any other way than the way I knew him. I took the books I wanted and locked up the rest.

Now, I wonder, if I were to look through his old things, his collection of pipes, his boxes full of Venus HB1 pencils (in the days when pencils had as many names as US visas) which he used for his navigation work I guess and got extremely irritated with me for stealing to take to school, his old letters - letters he wrote, letters people wrote him - I would find a little bit of someone I knew but a lot of someone I didn't. I could learn to love that person in absentia - that person after all had always been in absentia, since I didn't know that part of my father - but I could join him to the person I loved and expand my love to fit. Perhaps in death I could turn the paradigm of loving my father into the paradigm about knowing my father before he was my father and forging some odd relationship with it.

When we know someone, we know them only in terms of what they are to us. To be known as full people, perhaps they have to leave us?

The other thing about my dad that I had always known as part of him was that he had only one eye. He'd lost the other in the '65 war. To me that was never odd. My dad didn't just drive, he flew planes as a navigator, his missing eye did not really seem to come in the way. The only thing that underlined its absence was that every now and then my dad would be lying down with tears running down the side of his face. I remember the first time I saw them and was alarmed - until I realised that this was Albucid eye drops that he sometimes used. Later I learnt, fearfully, to put them in his eye for him. Although this meant he experienced discomfort, it was all done in a normal sort of way. I remember being perplexed when a little girl who visited got scared of him because of his bad eye - what was scary about it? It was my dad - who was very non-scary and a bit of a cutie pie, no? We never thought twice about it.

Did he?

He must have. What would it have been for a young person to suddenly lose one eye? Not just the functional loss, but the feeling that your face has somehow been marred? I can't know now. I know that he was generally a positive and very diligent person and he taught himself to overcome the handicap. I didn't realise that was why my dad, who'd been a swimming champ in college, did not swim, because the chlorine in pools bothered him. I just sort of took all these things to be a part of him without querying their origins.

He did think about it over the years because in many photographs he sort of looked down, not quite at camera, but at an angle away fro mit- although in life he looked people fully in the eye.

So many things a person holds inside them - letting them flow only in controlled rivulets to certain people and not to others. So many little bits of them that flow away from them as life takes its course.

So, in his memory, a picture I found of him before he lost his eye, and maybe some other parts of himself - before I was a gleam in his eye, before he knew me or my little sister, before I knew him, before he was our dad - when he was just Ravi Karan Vohra, trying on a signature for style.

And pictures of him looking right at you as he used to do in life.

Last year's birthday post.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

festival seasons from other worlds

Perhaps the government's inimitable way of reminding filmmakers that you can't have your torte and eat it too (no matter what the signs say) (and not to be confused with tort). It's art or commerce baby; success or goodness.

Unless of course you go to another kind of festival altogether and get some special boons

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Electric Plug

Electric Feather, an anthology of contemporary Indian erotica finally launched last week. It's been a while in the coming (the best things in life take their time). And since the last public erotic feather was in Mughal-e-Azam, I'd say about damn time!

I have a story in it and I'm suddenly wondering how people will respond. When I give the book to someone, sometimes I want to take it back.

Not because I have any issues writing about sex. In fact I was more or less willing to read a rather explicit passage in my story which features a starfish simile I'm kinda proud of.

But suddenly I'm coming to realise how few freely admit to fantasy and pleasure, how many are a bit squirmy about it and also, I begin to wonder how does this squirminess play out in one's more formal, professional relationships? I'm wondering if people will read, maybe even like, but hesitate to say anything because of their sense of propriety or privacy or prudishness - or need to wrinkle their noses in a camouflaging manner - as if to indicate that they aren't prudish, but isn't all this a bit, well, silly, not an enterprise to be considered? Or how may jokes about "aha, you have become a pornographer" are jokes of camaraderie and how many the camouflage that won't actually take the enterprise seriously because they find it so discomfiting.

But of course in the end, the reason you put yourself out there is to try and change something - shrug the awkwardness away by suggestion so to say.

Well, we'll see! As long as they like though, maybe it don't matter. But in a country where the most natural of things - our bodies, their smells, sensations, pleasures and peculiarities are being lost to guilt, shame and a strangely plastic, technological idea of beauty and sensuality I think it's time to read this stuff and talk about ple-aiyer at lei-aiyer as we Punjabis would say. Or talk about it loudly in libraries.

It's a pretty good collection - many styles, many ideas about/of eroticism and sex and lots of really good writing.

The editor is my friend Ruchir Joshi and it's half the reason I'm pleased too - I like doing things as part of a community and I'm happy that ongoing, tangential conversations turn into projects with and for friends sometimes.

Here's a link to his intro to the book.

Here's a review

And another

Go forth and ravish it, peoples. Salim and Anarkali would so approve.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

What is Time?

I am going away for a few days. Dutifully I tell my fellow scrabble addicted friends on facebook.

Where you going? One asks.
Oh! Socegad! She says.
Don’t be so stereotyping I say. Besides, I’m going for work.

I am in Goa for a workshop. But I also have a big deadline I need email to help me reach. The hotel is supposed to provide internet to the workshop office. A few times a day I go I go up and ask hopefully: is there internet?
I get resigned looks. Wait they say, it’s coming the hotel people said.
I also sit down, and get that hanging about haplessly body language.

A hotel employee comes up. Internet is not working aan?

He walks around looking intent, but gingerly, not touching a switch or cable. He hovers above the router looking at it with the blank concern of a nephew who is visiting an aunt he has never heard of before under duress and is actually thinking of the cricket match while he waits for the visit to end.

Ok, he says and leaves, never to return.

Desperate, after a day I leave the premises in search of a cyber café.
The reception tells me, ya, it’s here only.

But sterotypes or not, I’ve heard that one before, so I advance warily looking for someone on the street to ask. But there is only the sun-baked road and a dusty Tata Safari, black.

I spy one of the firangi volunteers returning from somewhere, also with hapless body language.

Know where the cybercafe is? I ask.

It’s here. But they’re all closed for the off-season she says woefully.

How can that be? I say, with a superior laugh.
I also said that, but they said nothing’s open.

I control panic rising in my throat.

I am a documentary filmmaker. I know to turn loaves and fish into po’boys. I can wring blood from a stone. I can find a cybercafe.

I do.

Sitting in the 60 rupees an hour (what would it be in season?), deliciously cool, iWay with its apostrophe shaped cubicles I do my email and tell my colleague I’ll check for his responses at night.

I ask the girl: till when are you open at night
Girl: Till 10.30 we are open
Me: Oh, ok, great!
G: But today we’ll close 5.30
PV: Oh! So you won’t be open tonight then
G: No, night, we’ll be open till 10.30
PV: OK, so what time will you open in the evening?
G: We’ll close 5.30
PV (now feeling frazzled but acting calm): Ya but you’ll open again na? You’re saying you will be open till 10.30
G: Ya, we are open 10.30 till
PV: Right, but not today.
G (with completely ambiguous intonation): Ya
PV: Ya, open till 10.30 or ya, not today?
G: At 5.30 we’ll close.
PV: Right, so you won’t be open till 10.30
G: We close at 10.30

What should PV do now? She should shut up. But does she? No, our heroine, her redoubtable Punjabi genes fully awakened, thinks.

PV (craftily): Today you’ll close at 5.30, right?
G: Ya
PV(to herself – aha!):So when you close at 5.30, after that what time will you come back and open it in the evening (phew, covered all angles) before closing it at night
G: Don't know


PV(defeated): What time do you open in the morning
G(airily): 9.30
PV (meekly): Ok, thank you

Well, at least I wasn’t asking her for directions. Stereotypes or not!

But not all conversations in Goa were so dead-ended. Some opened up like a box and starlings shot out.

Friday, August 7, 2009

here's looking at you kid

If ever a writer had a drawl it is Mohammad Hanif. Whether it was the utterly fantastic, bitterly funny A Case of Exploding Mangoes or this piece on moving back to Pakistan, I always see the narrator leaning against the door frame, a cigarette in his mouth, drawling out the lines, the indolence masking the irreverence.

Although we've received it more commonly through American pop culture, this dry drawling style does of course exist as a tradition in the sardonic rhythms of parts of South Asia, in the erudite, ironic observations of litterateurs...

It is a glamour-evoking fabulousness indeed as styles go.

Walking along the Karachi seafront after returning from London, I worked myself into a self-righteous rage at these young women in black burkas hanging out at the beach when they should have been at school or in some mosque praying for our collective salvation. But then I looked closely and found out that many of them were on a date. Some were actually making out, in broad daylight, with men with beards. Covered from head to toe in a black robe, this is quite a spectacle – and provides just the right combination of challenge and opportunity. Walking on the beach with my wife the other day, we stared at a couple who were exploring the full possibilities of the burka, using their motorcycle to lean against. With the Arabian sea lapping at their feet.

At the other end of the fashion spectrum, nattily dressed fashionistas on TV have started mixing piety with plunging necklines. (We have two 24/7 fashion channels. Also three food channels and, at the last count, five religious channels.) They talk about their last shopping trip to Dubai by pouting "masha'Allah" (God willed it) and conclude their plans for next season's collection with "insha'Allah" (if God wills). Depending on what else is happening in the name of religion on that particular day on the news channels (23 and still counting), I find it either very cute or another precursor to the destruction of our civilisation as foretold by the leading magazines.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Other Bhabhi imparts a moral lesson for all girls

While Savita bhabhi may not be able to bestow her largesse on the world for the time being, the other bhabhi who is such a shining light in my firmament has returned after a long absence in the papers although I did scour everything for news of her on Sanju bhaiya's 50th birthday.

It's not a very specatcular resurfacing, but it is a reliable one.

Ah Manyata! If only she had been my bhabhi during the boards I would have topped - even in Maths!

If only she had taught me some lessons in youth, I would have avoided many a bitter romantic season instead of haring off here and there to pursue my goals, desires and other icky feminist things- Stand By Your Man!

Manyata pushes Sanju to work, work, work

Shahanaz my dingbat aunt has taken it upon herself to make me a star wife. It has suddenly become her life’s aim to marry me off to some filmi type so that the both of us can become red carpet regulars, schmoozing with the stars while her kitty gang begs her to get introduced to Shahrukh, Hrithik, Salman... She’s finally gone loco I tell you, as she is convinced the most stable marriages take place in Bollywood. To be fair to the old bat, she isn’t tripping on prescription medication, but has discovered a brand new trend in movie-land, thanks to the travel agent we share. Emraan pampering Parveen is not a rare occurrence in B’wood, even Sanjay Dutt is interested on spending quality time with wifey. He is planning a long holiday with Manyata to the US. But Manyata isn’t happy! Some women I tell you. She’s been egging him on to concentrate on his work and not divert his attention again.

Can’t blame her, says my mum. Because after his brief political stint ended, Sanju is seeing some of the best days of his film career, despite the failure of Luck. He has Ajay Devgan’s All the Best, Blue and Rahul Dholakia’s Lamha to look forward to. And of course, there’s Munnabhai Chale America too. So Manyata and his close friends, we hear, are keen that Sanju capitalises on the movies he has right now and signs on a few more. In fact Manyata has approved a few films for Dutt, while he just wants to holiday with her and is busy trying to convince her to chill.

She though ain’t interested. She takes her role, as the driving force behind him, very seriously and is pushing him to work much harder. She has agreed to holiday with him once Munnabhai goes on the floor next year and the shoot commences in, where else but, America.

Smart move, no? If heroines have pushy mothers, then our heroes have their wives.

I confess - whenever I read a piece I start writing Manyata bhabhi's dialogue in my head - dekhiye aap meri mat sochiye Sanjubaba-ji. Main chahti hoon ki aap kamyabi ki unchayee ko choomen - mujhe tho aap kabhi bhi choom sakte hain. Jab hamara ek nanha munna baba hoga usse kitna fakr hoga ki uske baba kitne layak actor hain. Mujhe aur kuchh nahin chahiye. Main aapke aangan ki tulsi banke rehna chahti hoon.

Melting and masculine Sanju baba heads off to another hard day of shooting.

As Manyata bhabhi has said in the past - she has more identity as Sanju baba's wife than any feminist can hope for.

Here is the smell of blood still... Who said that?!! How dare you???!!!

Manyata bhabhi aage badho hum tumhare saath hain.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

and then, maybe sex is the revolution

Porn comic stars don't die they just become speech bubbles I guess.

Shor Bazaar, a band from Bombay has written a song about Savita Bhabhi which most have read about but all may not so diligently gone to look for on the day of release as I did.

For those of you more gainfully employed than I, my middle name is happy-to-serve - it is HERE

Is it great stuff ? Well the comic was punchier and funnier and struck the right ingenuous tone- this song isn't really spark-y and it loses it's opportunity to use the small thing to talk about the big thing, to somehow combine pleasure and comment - but, it's trying at least and it wants to be fun. And it's local produce people. So I'll take it for now.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

waiting for a revolution (just a small one yaar)

People often say military rule will straighten everything out. And us liberals always of course fight with them - as we should.

But sometimes I feel like imposing military rule only on the entertainment business - because look what it did for Pakistan, man!

Thanks to a friend I've been watching a show called Coke Studio - which is a sort of Unplugged or Studio Sessions type show with Pakistani bands/musicians. Some of the stuff is super fabulous and I felt frustrated again that in a country the size of India we rarely have - or come across - anything particularly exciting in the world of pop music.

The normal response to that is that film music is our popular music. But I don't know - over time it has, like so much else, become so homegenised that although we hear a few good songs, they are all so similiar. Of course there are exceptions but just look - it's a country of over a billion people and so many languages and seemingly so little. A lot of singers in the film industries are really skilled singers - but with the exception of Oye Lucky Lucky Oye and to a lesser (much lesser actually) extent Dev D - haven't heard stuff that feels individual. There must be artists around the country but they don't seem to come to widespread attention.

I HAVE been listening to a lot of older Punjabi pop music lately and I think there's much more life and excitement and observational detail there, irreverence also - but Punjabi pop too has become so numbingly same now, you can get up and dance, but you're unlikely to really listen to much of the stuff (although again, many singers are very skilled).

There are so many singing contests on TV - but nothing that encourages originality of music and even HIGH individuality of performance. The need to stay in a dunlop-y comfort zone seems so strong. The obedience of it all!

It's a familiar grouse of course - that alternative culture, or commitedly independent world, doesn't seem to gain much traction in India. Everything gets sucked up into Bollywood in the end. But people need to think! What'll they do when Gulzar dies?!

I tried to watch some episodes of Launch Pad but I can't say it did a lot for me. The winners, Fardikot, can be listened to here

For me, it's a bit ho-hum - I'm hoping they can parlay their talents into something more unique or at least ringing with truth.

I know there's a few good bands like Soulmate for instance. I still am interested in whatever Rabbi does next - I've liked both his albums.
Perhaps I need to look harder - so if you know ways to correct me and inform me, please please do.

Meanwhile three tracks I really liked on the Season 2 of Coke Studio

This is supposed to be Pakistan's first girl band - two Pathan girls from a services background (oh that military motif) although they studied in the US. The song is in Dari and Pashto apparently and means - Bring me the glass that I may lose myself/I am in love with the intoxication of my beloved's eyes.

This collaboration also worked for me

I loved it when they guy from Noori sings Jo na jaane Haq ki Taaqat/Rab na deve usko Himmat/ Hum mun ki dariya mein doobe/Kaisi naiya, kya manjhdaar?

I'm trying to think of an Indian pop song recently that even casually has a thought like that in it - the declaration that everything is not cleverness and carefulness.

And this song many in India know - since Fuzon's album was very successful here and the Kagaz ke Phool type music video featuring Mr. Hotness, Shan played a fair bit on the music channels. But this version is lovely...

Of course there are those who'll say I am just blinded by the beauty of these boys. Who am I to contradict you?

On and by the way, for the sincere who happen to read this - I don't believe in military rule. It's an expostulation, not a recommendation.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Love, See us Into a Hall of Mirrors

I have a piece in the Outlook's annual Bollywood special - which I'd love some feedback on. The theme this year is romance.

It's called Love, See Us Into a Hall of Mirrors

Writing in something like Outlook is a bit scary because you know anyone, anywhere in the country could read it. Or at least it is now - because I wrote a piece last year and at that time I didn't think too much about it. Only after it came out did I realise how many people read Outlook - I mean felt aware of it actually instead of in some abstract corner of my brain.

For a couple years I wrote a column for the Mumbai Mirror. Since those were my years of not taking the Times of India I never actually saw the column in print. As a result I wrote it with a peculiar sense of freedom - I had no sense of it being read by all and sundry and so, no fear of the inevitable shame and scorn that I otherwise live in constant dread of. Then I switched papers. Guess what I don't write anymore? Of course the nice girl whose horrible job it was to pester me for the column will laugh bitterly at this - all freelance writers are slackers trying to glorify their ineptitude and inconsideration she will say. They should try having a job or something, she will say. Maybe she's right. But then, who'd give me a job? And that depressing question should effectively keep me in a state of writer's block for another week. Ah well.

Here's last year's piece too, just to prove to her that I behave responsibly every now and then-the theme then was Stardom.

Monday, June 1, 2009

idhar udhar

I've always been ambivalent about blogging, about it's potential to make people take themselves too seriously, about everything in life becoming peformative, about the silent spaces being taken up by more noise.

The generally trivial nature of this blog is a sort of testimony or response to that.

Then Karan Bali expertly makes me agree to blog on upperstall. I feel that I must take other people seriously, I struggle to be serious therefore to write sensible things.

The resulting contradictions end up paralysing me. I hardly update this blog - three months after going to Mexico not a single picture uploaded yet. I hardly update that one - as I'm often sternly reminded.

What to do? I find it hard to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

choli ke peechhe kya hai!

Not exactly a case of saare bandhan todke dekho behnen aati hain but a victory against the forces that stigmatise the traditionally built nevertheless.. the link is too good to camouflage

Becky didi aage badho, hum tumhare saath hain!

Thanks to Nandini R for emailing with this breaking news :)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Other Song - Vikalp screening @ Alliance

Vikalp is trying out a screening space in collaboration with Alliance Francaise at their auditorium.

We're flagging off with a screening of Saba Dewan's new documentary of tawaifs. It's called The Other Song and is at 6.30, Friday, May 15.

More details are at:

Do come and let people know.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

just an old recurring irritation

My constantly cool friend Bishakha Datta has interviewed Nisha Susan for Tank magazine.

Do read.

I was most intrigued by how many progressives made false case against the Pink Chaddi campaign. I wasn' t in the country at the time so at first when I read about it I thought only, right on! But then when I read these spurious articles, I wondered for a second or two.

In the end I have to say the secular elites are always trying to maintain their own well-to-do activism and creating a discrimination of classiness and class (conflated in the term "dignified") in which there is no "vulgarity."

Why? Don't they know vulgarity means of the people? Sort of anyway.

Anger is vulgar, sex is vulgar, wanting more is vulgar.

The feminine/feminist is always getting corsetted. No sex, no anger, only beatitude.

Do we wonder then that women enthusiastically join up right wing groups which allow them to be angry? Because at least they allow them to be angry against others although of course never against the guys who deserve it in the first place.

Someone started a group against the Ram Sene lot called The Kamasutra Day -A truly Indian Cultural Event which seems to mostly have the goal of not celebrating sex. To the impassioned questions from many, including yours truly, about why not celebrate sex, there was only a pure silence.

People never say an angry man doesn't have a lust for life. But angry women are supposedly incapable of enjoying life's finer things.

I'd sure like someone to do a project on the wives/girlfriends/boyfriends of these angry man figures. Jaya Bacchan could explain her toxic expression to us in some other context then, maybe.

I've been having a lot of encounters with men in mainstream films lately. All of them want to make films in which women are not vulgar, but, pure. Talkative maybe, like Geet. That's the only excess they're allowed -a childlike excess.

A director I once wrote for said to me on reading a scene in which the heroine tells the hero her name - my god, if she tells him her name on the first meeting, he'll think she's a slut!

Yeah? In which case she'll think he's an asshole. Which I guess is ok as long as she doesn't say so.

A relative of mine, after 15 years, did say it though. However, it had taken her 15 years to even think the thought, and then, finally, hesitantly, speak it. The other night as we chatted she contemplated sending her not-yet-ex a pink chaddi.

No wonder they don't want the ladies to be angry. And what's more, this way they can keep the anger for themselves those glamorous revolutionary men and the less glamorous wife abusers.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Macbeth: The Sequel - or, Hamari Bahu Maanyata

From today's Bombay Times, my favourite clever lady keeps writing scene after brilliant scene of her sparkling script. Kindly note:

"I love to make a cup of tea for him when he comes home. Or just listen to him tell me about his day. I’ve more of an identity than a lot of women do with their so-called individuality."

I want Trishala to come back: Maanyata

"If you thought Maanyata Dutt had retired in a sulk and was licking her wounds after being “denied” the opportunity to contest the Lucknowparliamentary constituency election in husband Sanjay Dutt’s place, think again. The spunky woman has put politics out of her mind and is thinking in terms of building up her family instead.

“I’m 30, my husband is almost 50, if we don’t have a baby now it will only get more difficult. We’re trying very hard to become parents,” she admitted. “Once I’m a mother I will have no more ambitions left. If this means being in my husband’s shadow, then so be it. I’m happy being Mrs Sanjay Dutt. I love to make a cup of tea for him when he comes home. Or just listen to him tell me about his day. I’ve more of an identity than a lot of women do with their so-called individuality.”

There’s more to this family dream of Maanyata’s. She’s keen on getting Sanjay’s daughter Trishala, who is studying in the US, back home to them. Not to be her step-mother, naturally. “I’m more like her friend,” Maanyata said. “There’s a difference of just six years between us. I’d love to bring her to our home after she finishes her studies. The family will be complete then.”

Whether Trishala, who is staying with her maternal grandparents in the US, thinks along the same lines is doubtful. She had expressed her reservations when her father took Maanyata for his bride against family wishes two years ago. But, since then, it is believed Maanyata has worked on breaking the ice with the headstrong young Dutt girl."

After this what? Trishala comes back and goes into murderous quandaries, subverts Hamlet?

Or maybe something more realistic - Maanyata gets her own cookery show.

I'm wondering if I should send SRK a slice of the focaccia I've been making? Would it win his heart over for me? Or any other part? Which will also chalega.

Of course I will send a picture which does not reveal that I have symmetrically consumed some of it already.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Lapsing into Seriousness

So, to not be flippant in these parts for a change...

I have an essay in an online magazine called Phalanx which is here

I've been kvetching for a long time about how, while there is an increasingly sophisticated discussion about mainstream art and politics, the space to discuss the alternative seems to be amorphous at best. Blogs about books and literature are an exception - to an extent only though.

So it's quite nice that there are some initiatives that are serious about this other space - like Pratilipi for example, which has been running a series on the Indian documentary along with various pieces on other arts.

After all without a serious, vibrant critical culture, how are we going to make better work?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Arms and the Man (or dinga dinga dinga dinga dee)

Well, when The Man wants to sell Arms he too must advertise - and use all the predictable gender tropes advertisers are accused of, keeping textual analysis academic types in ecstasy for at least a year.

I got this in the email from my friend Sanjay Kak, as a Holi greeting. You cannot fault it for not having colour.

And read more from those who think it deserves an award.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

F-words, F-thoughts

March 8 is women’s day.

I didn’t know this till maybe 1990 when I started working for a documentary filmmaker and through the political activist friends I made in that context, went along to a Women’s Day celebration. I was embarrassed that I didn’t know about it, even though I considered myself a feminist ever since I knew the term. For them all it seemed like such obvious knowledge, 15 August – Independence Day; 2nd October – Gandhi Jayanti, 8 March – International Women’s Day.

But how could I have known? It was not a National Holiday as it had been declared say, in Soviet Russia in 1965. It wasn’t common knowledge, a popular event, in the papers like say Nov. 2nd is (Shahrukh Khan’s birthday – you mean you didn’t know?!). I don’t remember it being observed even in my rather feminist English lit. department in Miranda House (I’m sure they considered it frivolous – or maybe they considered us frivolous and didn’t bother to tell us only).

Now look what a long way we’ve come baby.

Today’s papers are not ignoring women’s day.

Coming out smelling of roses, are DNA and surprise, surprise, the Times of India.
A main lead about a survey that shows economic change does not necessarily make for cultural/political change. 53% of women answered the question – Who should decide what a woman can/can’t do as evening entertainment with: Parents/Husband. There are various other depressing findings in the survey. But what I like about the piece is the title: Women’s lib? It’s a long way off. I like it because it implies women’s lib (although hopefully with a less retro name) is desirable and that’s as close to mentioning the F-thought as anyone gets in the papers today – since they can’t possibly say the F-word, we have to glean the F-thought.

Moreover, they have stories on the inside pages about women and HIV and in the rather standard women breaking barriers section which featured women behind the camera in film work and women entrepreneurs – but more interstingly, a Western Railway clerk who teaches a music class on the local train.

DNA’s lead story on a survey that shows how a male-ordered work environment is crippling women’s psyches and also had stories inside on rallies women can go to, little activist things they can do, along with the usual women achiever things. More interestingly I liked that they tried to ask some questions that were philosophical in nature – Are women power phobic? for instance or looking at how male competitive and hierarchical behaviours may not be the only way to succeed, and sometimes is the opposite as well as some stuff on bad-girl rockers and women and alcohol addiction. All in all I felt the attitude of the DNA issue was a little more interested in socio-cultural structures and tried to understand some experience for women in that context rather than just assume some falsely rah-rah tone.

I’m not of course saying that these articles were great pieces of feminist work. DNA’s recommendation of what men can do for women was fully lame (make her breakfast in bed. Why? Is it her birthday? Why not, go to a rally with her?). But at least for the most their articles were were based on a genuine, earnest approach to feminism, or as they like to call it, women’s experience. If someone at least raises some good question, maybe we can try coming up with better answers.

As always the press seems possessed of a kind of Hindi movie style lakwa mar gaya problem when it comes to finding stories of interesting independent or politically committed work. In their special section the only social activist they managed to muster up was someone from Sewa.

Please yaar. Uth jaag meri behna for crap’s sake.

Meanwhile the Indian Express, that dubious darling of us progressives could manage only a profile of a young stuntwoman. Gee thanks, folks.

Asian Age gave some grudging space to the Pink Chaddi campaign in its piece on young people who make a change.

In Mid-day, Devdutt Patnaik’s always delightful column on mythology featured Devis – but it’s an unorthodox and fun column. With this Mid-day felt they’d done their bit and then resorted to utterly shameful things like asking Deepika Padukone what she likes about being a woman. Some gems;

- when I step out of the house, I realize I am a responsible woman of today and I know what I should be doing or shouldn’t be.”
“I get to dress up elaborately”
“I would say I am glad I ama woman because I can a be adaughter, a wgirlfriend, a wife, a mother, a carrer-woman, a homemaker. In a single lifetime, I get an opportunity to play a range of real-life roles.”

How right Deepika. You go right on role-playing.

Meanwhile HT Café asked some very thin girls called Diana Penty and Lisa Haydon (5’11” and 5’ 10” informed the intro) about being role models (since they’re already models, it would just mean adding one role after all).

They had nothing to say on this matter. Then asked about their ideals -

Lisa (instantly): Angelina Jolie! Many say we look alike.

Later in the interview:

Café: What’s your take on the Mangalore incident?
Diana: What incident?
Lisa: What happened?

Café: A group of girls were attacked (…) for drinking in a pub(…) apparently it’s a sign of loose morals.
Lisa: That’s horrible. I’ve never felt unsafe anywhere in the world. But that may be because of the choice of pubs and I’m mostly in groups.

Yes Lisa, go ahead blame it on the girls why don’t you. HT Café should hang its head in shame – they could have tried a little harder today. Or maybe this is a parody?

Meanwhile Kareena Kapoor, given a chance to ask Sonia Gandhi 5 questions for women’s day asked – “You are always so elegantly dressed! May I ask where you get your saris from?”, as also “Do you like my favourite Italian dish, Spaghetti Pomodoro?”

In between were two questions on eve teasing and property laws.

The thing that annoyed me most of all was how people went on about how the great thing about women is how they are always composed and dignified and calm and well dressed in the face of adversity, cruelty and general assholiticness from other people.

I say – what the fuck?! (on this blog we are not afraid of F words)

I am very sick of this problem with women’s anger. I think more women should get pissed off and fewer should be demure and dignified. I think for all these over dressed, self absorbed, nitwits that have been given space Feminism should be cancelled. Let’s see how they like it.

Oh and also to Big Bazaar – the only one’s to have a genuinely near feminist Women’s Day offer among the cosmetics and clothing bullshit sales. 36 XL sanitary pads (Brand: She) – good thinking. I like that they think of menstruation and aren’t scared to talk about it. However their ad then trills – 6 months of use in one go for Rs.199! Whoever thinks women use only 6 pads per period needs to be struck by continuous PMS (no, dear, it’s not a typo for SMS) for 6 months.

So happy being pissed off this women’s day and on several other days as well.

And for those who are going to ask that mincing question: Well what do you want yaar? Do you want nothing at all instead of at least this something? I ask only – can’t a girl criticize anything around here without instantly being given an ultimatum? A little heated conversation please (no dear, heated is not the same as being in heat, sorry).

I’ll tell you what I do want – I wish there had been one article anytime in the last few years that Women’s Day is in the papers, which told us the history of Women’s Day. This is a day for linking ourselves with all those in any time and any place fought for the lives we celebrate today and it'd be good to remind those who do not know and don't always have the chance to discover it.

Oh and if you think criticize is all I do, it’s often true, when I’m at home - over here. In other people’s drawing rooms, I say other things on the same day.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

yeh ILU ILU kya hai

So while it snows outside and I drink my espresso at Cup of Joe in Pennington, while my friend has some sort of meeting with other farm moms (don't ask).. this is just the sort of news from home you want.

"Just a fortnight ahead of Valentine’s Day, guess, who among the top Indian politicians went romantic. Well, it is railway minister Lalu Prasad, who in his inimitable style, said “I love you” in public. No, it was not his wife Rabri Devi, but one of his innumerable female fan’s who recently expressed her ‘true love’ for the railway minister in the latter’s blog."

Of course Laluji hastens to clarify - although he manages to do it without sounding too moralistic.

" spirited man that he is, Lalu took the gesture of his fan quite jestfully. “She loves me, I love her,” Lalu conveyed to his fan in English, in front of the TV camera. The spontaneous comment from Lalu left newsmen in peels of laughter, but the railway minister was quick to admonish them saying “that his comment should not be misconstrued, as love is something that should be comprehended in its entirety, that is, in a fuller, broader sense. "

How tame Valentine's Day is here - no protests, no misconstruals.

The rest of Lalu piece HERE.

Of which the most interesting information is that Lalu has his OWN BLOG!

Yes, hello goodbye. I understand.

But before you go, in other news - I have had my toenails painted emerald green with polka dots in pool blue, hot pink and yellow. Pictures soon.

Monday, January 19, 2009

in the Mood for Macbeth anyone?

Manyata Dutt fascinates me. I'm bummed I'll be missing her on that totally, hilariously camp Abu Jani show First Ladies, next week.

But I'd love to be a fly on the wall for a couple days in this household. Now that'd be material for another Maqbool..

Thursday, January 15, 2009


So I finally turned the corner away from possibly young to definitely not and turned 40 on Jan 11. I'd decided long ago that I was going to have a party that lasted all day - and I had all that and more. My friends Samina, Swati and Reshma came from Delhi. My friend Ruchir happened to be here. My mum's in town. My friend Rahul who lives in Goa came for an hour as a surprise. My friend Jabeen whose husband Girish and I share the birthday came too for the first time, since there was lunch and so she had time away from the other commemoration. My uncle who was an avid photographer in his youth and took endless pictures of me as a kid and then lost them, found an old photo, photoshopped it till it looked good as new and gave it to me. My friend Ajay mixed up the dates and so decided to enjoy himself with a weekend in Goa, after promising to make one dish for the party, so we made goa sausages to honour his absence. My friend Madhusree had been claiming that she'd bought one of those rare perfect presents for me some months ago and she proved herself right - it was a bright red bag that looked like a can-can skirt, with two rosebuds on it.


I was particularly happy my friends came because it was an affirmation of some sort of life I've chosen to lead where friends have been very important, where the endless discovery of each other over years of shared experience and shared conversation and shared annoyance, hurt or anger have been as important as any other relationship. This isn't always easy. Friendship - as another friend and I discussed - is that most romantic and ideal of relationships, with great spaces, room for change and deep appreciation embedded into it; yet it's the most complex and difficult of relationships because especially in our contemporary, neo-conventional times, it has begun to lose its ettiquettes, it has no binding rules and established primacies as do ordained relationships. All that holds it together with decency, honesty and love is the belief of the people involved in these ideas. All that prevents callous betrayals and unkind prioritisations is the decision of the people involved to honour this great, if diffused, institution, to make oneself vulnerable by claiming some rights in it, to cherish one's friends' vulnerabilities by offering those rights within it.

So, at the party there was many friends, much happiness and general dissipation at my place....

There was corruption - as a baby had her first taste of ice-cream and there was no moment of uncertainity as she asked for MORE, holding onto the spoon like a desperate addict!

There was food, the menu being:
Wheat crackers, onion khakhras and nachni chaklis with muhamarrah (a dip made with red bell peppers, garlic, walnuts and olive oil) and dahi-dill dip; roast leg of mutton, chicken and sausage stewed in beer, beans in sesame oil, thai tofu bean sprout salad, a salad of tomatoes, basil and garlic, strawberries and pineapples soaked in port wine with cappucino ice-cream.

There was alcohol naturally -And after some time there was hectic activity to make ever more varied cocktails - someone made one with tequila and strawberries; tequila vodka and lemon-sugar; cachaca and coconut water; apple vodka and mint and something, etc...

And then there were the results of the ever-varied cocktails which involved, silly smiles, looking into the distance, dervish like dancing, posing of various kinds (about which also more in another post)

Best of all, the previous night, there was a pyjama party with champagne and cake and getting of gifts and giving of back presents.

Followed by too much laziness in the morning and then crazed preparations in which I had a meltdown and Swati did some domestic work for the third time in her life maybe (chopping mushrooms. She is in intensive therapy to recover from the traumatic experience)

Well that was fun. Ambivalence will obviously follow.

Friday, January 2, 2009

I want to see some dissipation in my face: Eartha Kitt, R.I.P.

I first heard Eartha Kitt on All India Radio. Or rather, I only ever heard Eartha Kitt on AIR - on Yuva Vani to be precise, most often her biggest hit Santa Baby (slip a sable under the tree for me).

The pre-globalisation nerd's window to western music (before you showed some enterprise of your own)was a handful of programs: in the mornings Play it Cool. In the evenings there was In the Groove. In the nights there was Saturday Date (well A Date with You to be precise) and Forces Requests. Although In the Groove for instance was presented by young people - the cool kids in college had often done some dabbling in this arena - very little of the music was actually contemporary. I imagine it's because the programing was limited by AIR's archive which wasn't exactly up to date. So it is that for structural reasons, our parents' nostalgia had to be our present - isn't that all of India's engagement with popular music for the most?

So mostly the music we heard was the songs my mum had taught us when the electricity used to go off: Lipstick on Your Collar by Connie Francis, Love Letters in the Sand by Pat Boone, Danny Boy by Jim Reeves. In the middle of it all there would be the occasional thrill of an Eartha Kitt song.

How can one explain the instinctive sense of connection one feels to a sensibility one has not yet begun to have, much less articulate? What are these connections, connections of really? It's not very easy to explain, though one knows it in one's stomach - or as Susan Sontag says in her famous piece Notes on Camp "A sensibility (as distinct from an idea) is one of the hardest things to talk about" - because the moment you try to pin it down, it slips out and becomes something else, changes even as you describe it. And camp, this sensibility that Eartha Kitt appeared to exemplify, especially is that chameleon that mocks seriousness. Sontag also speaks in the piece about the logic of taste (which totals up to a sensibility) - and surely I loved the exaggerated artifice, the so bad it's good posing, the glamour and extravagant sophistication (or role play of sophistication) that I heard in Eartha Kitt's songs - or saw in Helen's dances. This song - I'm Just An Old Fashioned Girl - was always a favourite of mine because its mockery was so clear. And while it was biting, it wasn't malicious. Of course that Eartha's black and that in this video she's very much the Southern belle gives it a whole other layer, but I hadn't seen the video then.

If it's true that many filmmakers actually want to be actors, then I have to say in my case, thanks to Eartha Kitt (who I discovered before I discovered Billie Holiday), I wanted to be a torch singer.

But I always wondered why it is that I had a taste for those things, what connection I could possibly have made with my own middle class world in a DDA colony on the edges of South Delhi.

Sure, as I've grown older I understand that there's an intrinsic irreverance for the pomposities of left and right, for the pretentions of high taste that I liked (and unlike Sontag, I don't consider this a-political). I liked this belief in experiencing something sensually as a way to thinking differently about the world. These are intellectual understandings I've come to value.

But I always wonder really about the community of the wounded that such Camp is really about - the stories of many who were great Camp artists have always been very tragic, very painful. Eartha Kitt's own early life was shockingly brutal - you can read her obituary here

And her later life was not always easy - perhaps because of the anger that those experiences created in her. Or, as better described in this review of one of her last performances (at age 81!)
"She spoke and sang in French, German, Turkish and Japanese. For every droll one-liner about loving men for their money - I'm Just An Old fashioned Girl - there would be a moment of almost unbearable poignancy that spoke of loneliness, and love lost or never realised."

I feel curious about these paleo-channels of sensuality, pain and glamour through which people find each other figuratively; I long for an archaelogy of these connections. I want to be able to say what I feel in clear words, but of course, that's not what the quick turning away from pain, which is the performance of amused - and amusing - detachment, allows for.

As for Eartha Kitt, I also think she was a great subversive because of the suggestions rampant in her voice, the raised eyebrows of a challenging invitation in her upturned phrases. How amazing that amid the dulcet male Lataji type notes of Pat Boone and Jim Reeves and Karen Capenter, All India Radio should innocently play, under the comforting moral guardian notion of "golden oldies" some growling song whose lyrics go:

"I want to wake up in the morning
with that dark brown taste
I want to see some dissipation in my face
I wanna be evil, I wanna be mad
But more that that I wanna be bad "

And not to mention

"I want to be horrid, I want to make news
And whatever I've got I'm eager to lose"

I have a lot to thank AIR for - that it allowed me to find women like this even if I never had the guts to actually be like that (but we can't blame AIR for that either. Or can we?)

Perhaps what I think was very amazing about women like this was the uncompromising relationship with the intellect. Their sensuality, while bodily too - Eartha Kitt remained a bombshell to her dying day, through assiduous exercise and no doubt, some face lifts - was also an intellectual product. I used to like Madonna for some of this quality at first, but somehow I think she never kept it that sharp as the years went by. Clearly Eartha didn't think so either because at a stage performance of "Santa Baby" (which is below) she said "I used to have a lot of fun with this song. (beat) (beat) - and then Madonna sang it."

A lot of people have sung that song - but I think what one sees as one watches the different videos is this: with Eartha Kitt there's a kind of ambiguous, unnerving, dangerous, very strong sensuality which is thrilling; with others, there's a sort of packaged post-modern playing with pornography but not really cuteness that's got its own sexiness (I've always thought Kylie Minogue was a hot one) but it's a predictable, easy and entirely unthreatening one, a Cosmopolitan sexiness.

Ironically, and fittingly, Eartha Kitt died on this past Christmas Day, 2008. I hope Santa Baby is getting her all the gifts she might need to be evil in her dissipated other life.