Thursday, February 28, 2008

Universal Language

Something I’m very ashamed of is, though I’ve spent a little over three years here now, I don’t know the language at all. It’s very strange -- usually you can’t avoid picking up a few bits and pieces here and there. After living in Hyderabad for two years I could roughly gauge what people were saying to me, and could nod my head sagely and say “wonkay” (aubergine.)

But over here, it almost seems like I’ve formed a mental block because of all the people telling me what scum I am for not knowing the language.

Three months into my stay here, I went to a doctor near my house and as I walked into the room, he asked me something in Kannada. I said “excuse me?” and “I beg your pardon” two or three times before I realized that he was speaking to me in Kannada so I explained to him that I’m Bengali and don’t know the language. To which he demanded to know how long I’d been here, why I had come to Bangalore, and why my husband had come. By then it was already 10-15 minutes into my sitting with the doctor and he had yet to ask what ailed me. (Not too much to expect from a doctor methinks -- I presume even people from Bangalore don’t make appointments with doctors to discuss the erosion of local culture.) He concluded the little interview with “you should learn Kannada if you want to stay here. It’s not nice to talk to people in another language if you want their help.” Or something to that effect. I was a hair’s breadth from walking out, but felt too ill and had waited too long so I stayed put and took it quietly. I felt a great urge to ask him if I should give him the consultation charge in rupees or Kannada money, but again, I was too sick to care about anything much.

On some level, I quite agree with some of what this guy was saying, though expecting someone to speak fluent Kannada after living here for 3 months is ridiculous, it IS true that there’s no excuse for not knowing it three YEARS down the line. In the last three years I’ve been lectured by autodrivers and a few others that I should learn if I want to stay here. I feel too sometimes, that since we’ve all but settled here and might eventually bring up little thingies here as well, it would be nice if we could communicate with people better and understand the lyrics of the songs apart from the part where it goes:
“Oh daarrrrlling, please-a come-u/I lou you maximum-u!”(I’m not kidding.)

People here feel very aggrieved about talking in Hindi and dismiss the national language argument as a lot of twaddle. I only wish to make them understand that Hindi is not my mother tongue either, and in fact is a language I don’t speak very well, and only use it to make myself understood. So it’s not like I’m any less uncomfortable than the delivery boy who I say “Ekdom bhul-bhal jinish laata hai” to. Now if I had spoken to them in Bengali, arrogantly assuming they’d understand…THAT would be obnoxious and deserving of a full lecture.

Anyhow, I hope the xenophobes here will forgive me for making one last observation from MY point of view. I lived most of my life in Calcutta and wasn’t too put out when I had to converse with people in Hindi and English when they didn’t know Bengali.(In fact I have a relative back in Cal who insists on conversing in the most outlandish Hindi if she realizes a shop-assistant or such like is non-Bengali. So it happens that often the man will talk to her in faintly accented Bengali and she'll battle on in the most excruciating Hindi). It didn’t occur to me (because that’s how it is in Cal) to feel hostile towards them because of it, or imply that they should learn Bengali (and make it snappy) if they wanted to be treated decently there. If the non-Bengalis spoke Bengali it pleased us enormously, but that’s as far as it went.
But anyway, in Rome do as the Romans. This is not Calcutta. I shall now switch on Sun TV and try to emulate the hefty heroine doing complicated gyrations in the rain. Then maybe I can reach out to my Bangalore brethren with the universal language of dance! (dramatic stamp of the foot and snap of the fingers.)

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Pros and Cons of a Broken Foot

I broke my foot recently. Always one to capitalize on an experience (good or bad) for my blog, I thought I would share with my readers the Pros and Cons of a broken foot:

Let’s start with the Cons:

Very few people can really wrap their minds around the concept of a fracture. It really isn’t a big deal; but it is true that a broken foot pretty much incapacitates you for some time because striding about the world with a broken foot, though heroic and indicative of a great threshold of pain and selfless disregard of one’s own health, might not be the best thing for the healing process. So it gets to you when some people say stuff like this to you – “you haven’t BROKEN anything…it’s just a fracture! I nosed around in Wikipedia and this is what it says: ‘Any type of bone break is a fracture. The word break is not used in a formal orthopaedic terminology’. How about I fracture your foot, and then we can sit down and talk about it knowledgably shall we?

Some other acquaintances (most often than not of the professional persuasion) expect you to gaily scamper out of the hospital after the plaster is done and catch a bus to work.
People will give you strange advice like: “Snap out of it! It’s just mental strength that you need.” Right. And how about I then go on Oprah and say, “ I decided I hadn’t broken my foot painfully and walked around the world immediately afterwards to raise money for the Osteoporosis Foundation!” (Accompanied by hurrahs and tearful applause from the audience.)

Then there’s the cast that you have to wear for a whole month. For one thing you had asked for a cream cast so it didn’t clash with your clothes and they give you a neon yellow one when you weren’t looking. Then they say you can’t wet it and have to put a plastic bag over it when you bathe. So to add insult to injury your husband gets you a bright green ‘Pantaloons’ plastic bag which you tie over your bad leg with a rope and hop to the bathroom everyday.

And the itching! Sweet Mother of God you feel like ripping your cast off and raking the skin underneath with your nails. (Two more weeks to go before that’s possible.)

And then there are the obsessive compulsive doorbell ringers. If they ring once you can ignore it…but the moment they ring twice you start to think it must be really important. So you hop to the door to open it only to find whoever it is has given up and gone away on their two good feet. Then when it happens the third time in the same day you start shouting as you grab your crutches and get up: “Aaata hoooooo” “Mut Jaiyyee, main abhi aa raha hooooo” all the while working your crutches like you’re in the special Olympics. After three very exciting minutes for everyone concerned, you open the door to find a very frightened man who had come to ask you to give your baby polio drops. “Can you see a baby anywhere?”, you dangerously enquire, and he backs off and leaves before you can hop within range and club him to death with your crutches.

The Pros, of course, are numerous:
You feel like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window. Except that if you DID have binoculars, (which you don’t) you could only have watched a bevy of fat old women hanging their washing out to dry.

Just like there are people who are disdainful of your weakness in the face of a broken bone or two there are others who are wonderfully sympathetic. Your husband spoils you to death, calls and emails come in from well-wishers who patiently listen to your grievances.

A broken foot satisfies both your sense of drama and your chronic hypochondria.

You are not required to do any work around the house and have people doing your bidding when they’re around.

You get some time off from work (despite the daily calls from office: “You’re not coming in today either??”) and read up a storm. You read some books that needed time and patience, which you would never have got around to in the fret and fume of everyday life.

You have the whole day to sit in a chair and think about life, and apart from the people I told you about in the cons, no one will blame you.

And of course, you have one more thing to crib about in your blog…

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Philistine Speaks Out

Should anyone ask, I would instantly call myself an artistic person rather than one with a scientific bent of mind (please!). But it has occurred to me that either the whole world is (for whatever nefarious motive of its own) seeing artistry where there is none, or I am a singularly tasteless person with nary an artistic bone in my body. The third option is, like so many other things about me, that I am a throwback to a simpler, earlier age.

After starting this blog I’ve realized I don’t feel comfortable with modern technology, I don’t like how people are nowadays (I suspect that would’ve held true whichever age I would’ve been born in), my weight that has made me a pariah in modern fashionable circles would’ve granted me appreciation as a noted beauty two centuries or so ago. And now this realization about art. Maybe I should’ve been born two centuries ago, and been burnt to a crisp by now with my dead 80 year old husband. Would’ve served me right.

Take visual art for example. Paintings. The stuff which is all the rage nowadays and are featured in newspapers simply appall me. They sell for crores and crores, and though some of the colors are quite pleasing sometimes…I honestly don’t see art in the intentionally crudely executed drawings. The distortions are deliberate, childish, and frankly…lazy. I mean, I could draw like that! (I’m of course making a generalization here, there are some pretty cool painters out there still-- I’m talking about a trend.) If you can’t draw straight why be a painter? More importantly, can’t the buyers see that they could just hand their 6 year-olds a huge canvas, a couple of brushes (or maybe not), and a pleasing combination of midnight blue and yellow ochre paint and ask them to knock themselves out? Then they could splurge on a really fabulous frame for the painting, and still save some money to put in the kid’s college fund. Not to mention keep the kids occupied for an entire afternoon.

(Oh yes, ‘Philistine, philistine!’ everyone is crowing by now. ‘Why does she comment on that which she doesn’t understand? Art is not supposed to depict the external but the internal, perspective is a conceit, proportion is something imposed on the artistic few by the majority with commonplace minds. Reality is relative, etc.’ I would’ve appreciated all that if art was a mixed bag, with both realistic and er…whatever schools of thought. But I don’t understand why modern art has to be in most cases..well… so ugly, why a common person has to risk damnation to claim to like it. All I’m saying is art could be prettier. (Shame on me.) It could look more skilled, like the person hailed as the great artist can actually DRAW. And by saying that I know I will be condemned as the bourgeois that I am to the end of my days.

But I’m not the only one, there are a lot of closet realists out there, people who secretly wish to put up beautifully detailed cityscapes, and pictures of ripe mustard fields, rather than tortured depictions of half creatures in magenta with big boobies.

Granted I don’t understand these things, but I thought the main thing about art was to reach the heart rather than exercise the mind. If I actually have to school myself in art to understand and appreciate it, then how is it different from science?

The same goes for music. I felt incredibly old and ignorant yesterday as I watched the Grammies. People, who in my mind were very frankly singing (if you were lucky,i.e, the rest of it was rap) a lot of bad notes and were obviously striving more for volume than tunefulness, got standing ovations. Standing ovations no less. The audience got to their wildly expensive designer heels and put their bejeweled hands together to applaud men and women who came and talked or shouted their way through 5 minutes. Then Andrea Boccelli and Josh Groban sang an operatic tribute to Luciano Pavarotti that, even though opera is not my thing, took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. Finally, I thought, a performance suitable for the Grammies. But the beautiful people just sat firmly in their seats as if to say “Yawn, singing in tune is so passé. And it didn’t have the word ‘fuck’ in it even once!”

I KNOW I sound exactly like my father here, but that’s how I feel nowadays. I feel bewildered and unhappy that what I find beautiful and touches my heart is considered laughable by all the rest. Admit to liking music by the Eagles, The Corrs, or Mariah Carey’s older stuff and you’re just asking to be lynched in a musically knowledgeable crowd. (Even MENTION Bryan Adams and you’ll have to change your name and move to another town.) I know much more about music than I know about art, but I still have to disagree with the intellectual school who insist that Bob Dylan is a great singer (he can’t sing, people! He’s a GREAT poet.) and contradict the ‘homeboys’ of the other school who swear by Kanye West. (He don’t sing no song, my brudders, he only talk, y’all.)

There is of course no accounting for tastes and I respect that. What I don’t respect is the way people go by herd instinct and claim they LOVE stuff which will make them fit in. That’s what I’m ranting about here. The people who had been touched by Andrea Boccelli yesterday (and I’m SURE there were many) should’ve had the courage to get to their feet and applaud him (regardless of the fact that he couldn’t see them;)) and those who thought Kanye West makes crap music should have stuck to their seats like glue.

And now, I shall put my things in order and write my will, before I die of old age (which sounds imminent) or the pitchfork wielding lynch mobs show up at my door.:)