Thursday, July 23, 2020

Ranting Free-style

I was looking for some other document when I happened upon a rant I had written 4 years ago, when a promising musician had committed suicide. I was fresh off publishing my first novel, and was feeling the stings of rejection and criticism.

Funny thing is, apart from those friends and family who feel invested in your journey, there are others who enjoy playing the objective critic, holding your work to standards that I doubt they do for more well-established authors. They do not want to be mistaken for someone who is "less than honest", or someone who would gush simply because you are their friend. So, they will play it cool, and pick your hard work to shreds, and in the process sometimes even revealing that they have not noticed a plot point or a whole line of red herrings carefully inserted.

Stranger still, is the kindness of strangers or people who do not feel obliged to like your book. Because it is they, often, who show enthusiasm and genuine love for your work and will make efforts to let you know. I think what works adversely for the people I mentioned earlier is that they feel obliged to like it, and this makes them feel cantankerous and put-upon.

So anyway, going back to my word document from 4 years ago, I rant about how everyone indulges in paroxysms of grief for an artist who dies, lamenting the extinguishing of a rising star, etc. This is truer now, after Sushant Singh Rajput’s death. My question to people who did so, did you take care to praise his worth when he was alive and struggling? Now that you feel the waste of a talented person who tried to do something different, and put his work out there and exposed himself to your praise and criticism, do you have a healthier attitude to the artists who are breathing around you?

No one is asking for dishonest praise. All we ask for is that you give the artist a chance, and not dismiss him before you’ve even started consuming his work. Because, as I said before, I see a certain careless approach from some people. In my case, they seem to speed read through places, entirely missing certain points, (especially in my second book) followed by a contemptuous announcement at the end, that ‘so and so was not required’, or ‘I expected more from this or that’. When questioned closely, it turns out they hadn’t noticed certain aspects which, are quite evident to anyone reading with even one eye open.

Anyhow, I felt that my earlier writing well illustrates how I feel now, after the publishing of my second book. Everything changes, but everything stays the same, eh?

It’s been a bit of a strange couple of days. I will put in a disclaimer immediately and say I did not know any of these people personally, but the news got under my skin none the less, because of the place I am at in life personally.

In quick succession, there have been a flurry of deaths in the news. I will very carefully steer clear of the politics of this, as I value my skin, in such troubled times. Apart from the obvious, what struck me was how everyone was singing paeans in the brave lady’s name on FB and otherwise. But as some astute observers who had been close to her pointed out, surprising for one with such a multitude of admirers, her paper was in dire straits, fast running out of funds to operate on.
Then came the shocking death in a completely different milieu -- the Western Music scene. I had met him a few times when he was much younger and I had heard that he was a prodigy. There was an outpouring of heartfelt FB posts about how talented he was and what a waste his demise was. What hurt me was the thought that if the young man only knew how highly everyone regarded him, while he was struggling to make it as an independent musician in the big bad music scene in India, perhaps he wouldn’t have despaired and perhaps he wouldn’t have taken the fatal step.

As someone who is an artist (or a wannabe one), let me tell you that it is a big step to turn your back on the ‘respectability’ of a steady income and a designation in the unimaginative but safe corporate world, to try your hand at something you know you love and would be good at.
You think you have established a certain reputation and have acquired the support of enough people to take the step. How do you know? In your naivete you look to FB for this reassurance. You step off the cliff thinking there is a cushion of such people, to make rock bottom (a distant possibility considering the sea of likes and loves on your fb page) a comfortable enough landing. But guess what, folks? When it comes to these people actually doing anything to support your art, they have better things to do. Like transfer their attention to someone else’s FB page. You are left to crash land and shatter on the rocks of the abyss.

When I first announced on Facebook that my book would come out in a month's time, it got 1000s of likes and quite a few shares. There was a delay in the books being printed and made available on Amazon by a month; and during that time there were several people who said "When will it come out? Can't wait. Want to buy a copy", and so on.

When the books eventually came out many of these so-called book lovers and well-wishers disappeared, or sat around waiting for a free signed copy from the author. Those who do read my book, really love the story (I know all authors say that, but it has been a pleasant surprise for me, and I say it in all honesty.) Yet, when I ask them to spread the word or buy a few copies for friends, they demur; even neglecting to write a simple review on Amazon; though they had privately told me how wonderful they thought it. Because they have "done their bit" by putting a wow emoticon on my FB post.

Facebook for all its uses is a dangerous beast. It creates false expectations on both sides. Judging by the effusive 'likes' and 'loves' on my page I am forever expecting a turnaround in fortunes. And the 'likers' and 'lovers' think, just by pressing that button, or by saying “Congrats” or “Good luck!” they have done their bit; they have done enough.

FB has bred an army of armchair "supporters" who promise you the world but do nothing. The numbers never add up.

I know I’m talking like people OWE me. They really don’t. What I object to is how everyone’s waiting till I die to say a single good word about my book, about my writing in general. If you really had felt that strongly about the good work that lady did, or thought he was the best keyboardist in India, why hadn’t you written an FB post in their praise when they were alive? What use are your kind words now, except that it gives you those 2 seconds of reflected glory from a great artist/person gone too soon?

Don’t speak ill of the dead, people say. I completely agree. But I would also add, if you couldn’t bring yourself to do or say a single supportive thing while they were struggling to make a difference with their ideals or with their art; you should really look deep into your hearts to understand the motives behind your rushing to “#RIP” on their Facebook pages once they’re dead.

I am part of an Indian group of booklovers, 13000 readers strong. Every once in a while there will be a post about how badly Indian books suck, and will cite 3-4 books by Chetan Bhagat, Durjoy Dutt and their ilk. Basically, all the authors who have concentrated more on the art of aggressive marketing and selling than what a naïve person would think is the primary task of a novelist, viz. writing books. Comment will follow sneering comment pouring vitriol on these authors. Oh, how terrible Indians are at writing books! This is why we only read books written by Western people.

Finally a small-time author, goaded beyond sense by the unfairness of these comments will say, ‘but but…my book is better than theirs. Not only mine but this writer’s and that writer’s’, and she will post a whole list of lesser known but better written books for these “exacting” readers. But it will be met by resounding silence. Then finally a defiant commenter will fire back: ‘we only take a chance on a book by a well-known publisher.” Really? Like that has worked out so well for you? Were you not JUST saying that they publish the most unabashed crap? That you crave to read relatable books and are only stopped by the absence of good ones? Suddenly they all turn defensive and say, “We don’t owe struggling Indian writers anything. Chetan Bhagat worked hard to become a bestselling author and these people on your damn list will just have to do the same.” Oh? So I’m confused. So we must then turn ourselves into Chetan Bhagat to have you read our books? Does anyone see the irony here? And what of this desire to read relatable books? Why is there no culture of supporting the local scene like every other country has?

It’s all a pose like every other thing in the virtual world is. They will stick their knives in your back while you’re trying to crawl your way to the top, and when you finally fall off midway, they will rush to type out their #RIP messages to show how they understood your worth while the rest of the world were oblivious.

Speaking of supporting the local scene, I have one last observation here. Here we are jumping up and down about ‘Make in India” being patriotic, etc. But that seems to only apply to buying Patanjali products, and taking symbols literally. We have always been a very literal people, like children we take the symbols of higher things to be the things themselves and venerate them. So we will jump around in rage about a silly picture of a person from a different culture perhaps putting her foot on a book. Or books being used as stairs. “Oh, this is unbearable! I love books so much I cannot bear to see them disrespected!” The shrieking comments will start pouring in. “Oh, so madam you love books, do you, all books? You want more people to write them then? Make writing sustainable so there are more books in this world?” “What rubbish, of course not. Unless you have a 1 crore marketing budget I refuse to buy your books even though you’re cutting your own throat with the price you’ve set for it, in the hope of snaring such ‘booklovers’ as me.”

F**** off, f*** off the whole lot of you. You are killing artists and idealists with your own two hands, can’t you see? And then you have the audacity to take to social media to air your grief about the deaths, now that death has cast a glamorous glow on them, that a life chasing their dreams had unexpectedly never imparted them. Then they were only ‘wannabes’, rather embarrassingly trying to achieve something they didn’t deserve with their “no doubt” mediocre talents.
OK, I’m done. Have a fabulous day on Facebook.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Today morning as I stood at my own front door, feeling rather exposed and ashamed in my nighty and with hair that stood on end, one of the housekeeping ladies began to rant at me in Kannada that I only caught the sense of (again another cause for guilt and shame). I just stood there open-mouthed, and felt like I was having an out-of-body experience.

The dregs of sleep still clouded my view of the world that had woken up and got going hours before me. With my late-night habits and frankly nebulous schedule, (and yes, the privilege that comes with being able to sleep in when I liked), I was anyway in a half-sleeping half-waking state, but having the lady completely lose her shit in front of me for the first time in the 6 years I’ve lived here, made for a surreal experience. I felt very little answering anger, just surprise and curiosity at her outburst.
For one, it wasn’t a particularly huge transgression, I had forgotten to leave my pail outside for the second day in a row, and ran to get it only after she rang my bell. There were reasons, though it is of course not something she should care about. Granted. I am usually a rule-abiding person, leaving the bins out well before time and in the ways stipulated by the building association. Their having to ring the bell on 2 consecutive days was irritating no doubt, and slowed them down by about 1 and a half minutes; minutes which snowball into a big backlog I’m sure, given that there are so many flats in one building. Also they work their way downwards from the topmost floor, 9 in our case, and I’m sure the ladies had had to already encounter a few more similarly annoying, entitled residents who had tumbled out of bed and presented their pails sleepily like second-floor-me; when they were breaking their backs living and working from at least 5:30 in the morning.

Not to mention, that in the times of Corona, they were anyway risking their lives dealing with the bins of so many households; being obliged to wear a mask in hot and sweaty conditions. And then there I appear, tousle-headed, well-rested and BARE faced; and it just didn’t seem fair. I can only imagine the new stresses of working an already horrible job.

All those things aside though, it’s obvious that she didn’t stand there yelling at every resident today morning. What startled me about the anger and frustration that came pouring out of her mouth (she was saying she won’t keep doing this, she had work to do, from the next day she would just go, and wouldn’t bother ringing the bell) was that it came immediately after I gave her a sheepish smile and said “Sorry. sorry.” This is what I have been getting at this entire time. It was almost like the apology was what triggered the final explosion.

I honestly don’t know how human beings are in other countries, having only visited some of them briefly. But here apologies are a different beast altogether.

Now let me break down that statement for you as both a serial apologizer and someone who expects formal apologies in return.

I have no idea why, but I have always been the sort who is particular about thanking people or apologizing for even minor things. This isn’t a humble brag, I know perfectly good people who believe that saying ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’ too much to a person who is close to you is something that gives offense, since it involves being overly formal.

 So, I have been barked at for saying ‘thank you’ “too much” – “Stop saying ‘thank you’ am I not your….?” (insert suitable relationship). But that also means, that if someone has, without a trace of doubt in my mind messed up, and messed up BIG, and everyone is saying so; I am a stickler for a formal apology. They may send me flowers, knit me a sweater or sweetness may run from their mouths like a hive that has sprung a leak. Or, they may turn up two years after completely vanishing, despite requests to explain what I had done wrong, and make fun conversation, acting like everything’s “chill” over cups of coffee. Obviously hoping that I’ll just take the damn hint and move on.

But I need to hear the exact words “I’m sorry”. Most IMPORTANTLY not accompanied by ridiculous gaslighting counter accusations, or some kind of sarcastic twist. A real-life example: “I am sorry that I thought you were close enough to me to understand that I didn’t mean it when I said “You’re a bad mother”. Or, “I’m sorry I sent the message insulting you by name… to you by mistake. I meant to send it to someone else, you weren’t meant to read that.” (again, true story).
No, if it’s an actual, sincere apology; for me, the healing may start all around, and you actually need not knit me that sweater. Give me a little time, and I may forgive you.

But here comes the rub of it. It is perceived as a weakness. He who apologizes, somehow loses in the game of life. It is the social equivalent of an animal avoiding eye contact, tucking it’s tail between its legs and bowing its head in front of an alpha. It is losing one’s self-respect; it is tantamount to falling at another’s feet. It is to show you are weak. So, they will hang on to that apology like it is a piece of their soul, and would rather twist facts into humiliating untruths that reflect badly on them, rather than say those simple words.

Now this philosophy I have never managed to understand. I myself am quick to apologize if I perceive I have done something wrong, or even if I feel I haven’t but the person is hurt. To me, if I genuinely feel bad, it is a much easier way of expressing remorse than knitting someone a sweater; making hideous jokes in a gradually deepening silence, and so on.

‘I’m sorry.’ Easy peasy.

But when I do, it is very often misinterpreted. I have observed that because I use apologetic body language and a remorseful expression, coupled with the universally understood words ‘sorry’; it is as good as a red flashing sign appearing on my forehead. ‘W-E-A-K’.

A corresponding light bulb goes on over their heads. This one looks like the doormat I can finally let all my anger and frustrations out at. Everyone needs that one dim-witted target who doesn’t answer back or take revenge! The miseries, angers, neglect that everyone carries around with them, all comes out then.

All the while, the people who had heaped scorn and pain on them, slamming down the pails belatedly, slamming the doors on their faces, treating them like pariahs, not paying their bonuses; get no word of remonstrance.

After all, at least they did not say, ‘sorry.’

Monday, June 10, 2019

A rather basic explanation of what Feminism and Women's empowerment means to me. (Written a year ago for an NGO's magazine on a relative's request)

Note: This is a rather dry, and very basic explanation of Feminism that I wrote for an NGO's internal magazine, that an older relative belongs to. There is some belabouring of points, and stating of the obvious. But believe me, some people still need to be handheld through a concept as simple as Feminism and women's empowerment. Read it if you wish. :)

Empowerment and Evolution of Women
Ushasi Sen Basu

For millennia women have been considered secondary to men. We had no rights at all, except for those our fathers, husbands, brothers and sons chose to bestow on us. Except for a handful of women in history; like Cleopatra in Egypt, Elizabeth I in England and to a certain extent Nur Jahan in India, who wielded great power and commanded obedience of the men around them; women have always been considered the property of men, and taught to be submissive and sacrificial of their own needs. These lessons were learnt at the mother’s knee and were rarely questioned.

We were barred from higher education, from most occupations, from holding public office and in most cases from inheriting and owning property. Only at the end of the 19th Century, after many tens of thousands of years of human existence, did things begin to look up for the female half of the world’s population.

New Zealand was the first self-governing country to give women the right to vote in 1893, followed by Australia soon after, who also gave them the right to stand for public office. Slowly, around the world, in most places after tumultuous strikes and protests by the women fighting for their rights, women began to be granted this right. Since then, gender roles have achieved a profound and heartening evolution.

Over the last century, most countries, including India, have had female heads of state (a notable exception being the United States of America). Women are (at least officially) engaging in every profession there is. We are increasingly recognized as individuals in our own right with the right to pursue our interests and happiness.

Sitting at my laptop, typing this out in 2019, I am in awe of the women who first took it upon themselves to say, ‘this is my right and I shall fight for it.’ Can you imagine how difficult it was for them to go against centuries of “tradition”; to stand up against the stereotyping of women as inferior in intellect and abilities, to throw off deeply ingrained social conditioning which taught them that asserting the right to their own happiness was selfish and unnatural? Think of the ridicule and the social stigma they must have faced when they first decided to protest. Yet, they went ahead and won us, through a slow and painful process, the rights we enjoy today.

Yes, we enjoy those rights, and unfortunately, we also take them for granted. I have had so many heated discussions with women (in some cases, very professionally successful and liberated women in their own right) who have run down feminism as ‘overreactions’ by hysterical women who are making mountains out of molehills. The irony seems to be lost on them. Here they are working at careers of their choice, after acquiring degrees at universities which would not have admitted them even 80 years ago, and making financial decisions without having to ask anyone in the world apart from themselves for permission. Thanks to the first feminists who fought and were sometimes imprisoned for their fight (look up the suffragettes) for their beliefs. Check your privilege, ladeeez!
Of course, I’m sure it is not news to anyone that reads this that feminism is nothing but the belief in the equality of the genders, and the desire to see a world where men and women share all of society’s resources and opportunities and responsibilities in a more equitable manner.  

Regardless of what you call yourself, if you believe we should have equal treatment and believe that there are still miles to go before that is achieved, we are on the same side. 😊
Yes, we do have miles to go, because though officially men and women are now on a level playing field, in reality there is still a yawning gap in many things we do. There is the pay gap. Men will automatically be paid more for the same amount of work and qualifications. Now that the issue has been raised, many people have become more aware of this tendency and those who are committed to the cause are working towards bridging the pay gap.

There is also the glass ceiling. Only a tiny percentage of women are leading companies or countries due to unfriendliness in work and social cultures across the world. Part of this unfriendliness is contributed to by the pervasive sexual harassment that occurs in public and private spaces, by strangers and trusted people alike. This handicaps all women from exploring their full potential. One of the greatest and most unfair ironies is, society will question a woman who has been harassed, rather than the harasser. “Why were you alone in the boss’s cubicle?” “Why were you working so late?” “Why did you let a male colleague drop you home?” are the questions asked when a girl is molested rather than asking the simplest and most obvious question to the male perpetrator, “Why did you molest her?”

Luckily, we live in a time when the winds of change are sweeping across society. The “MeToo” movement is a social media phenomenon, but it has finally sent the message that it is the harasser who should be shamed and penalised rather than the victim. Women everywhere are finally accusing their harassers, and making them pay for treating them as mere playthings.
The perception of women is evolving in other ways as well. From the sole role of mother, wife and caregiver; we have added many more facets to ourselves. I hope in another few decades, women can pursue their ambitions and happiness without feeling even a shred of apology or worry; and truly fulfil the dreams of our feminist forebears who risked everything to begin to demand our rights as equals.

That is when women can say in truth, ‘We have evolved to our greatest potential. We are empowered.’

Sunday, December 11, 2016

My Book!!!

Well, hello there. This blog must feel like I just visit it for booty calls, since my last post was in early 2015 and I now decide to give it some attention only to announce that I just published my book on kindle.

YES, I did! Don't believe me? Here it is:

People who've read it have enjoyed it. Of course, there will always be two people who have a different opinion. Why don't you see which category you fall into?

And let me know!

Hooray, again!

I hope to be here more often from now on. Especially since I have a book to peddle. :D Haha!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Are we safe anywhere?

I’ve been in a cynical, depressed kind of mood today, people. I keep saying to myself, what’s the point? Look at this Salman Khan thing. The man goes scot free (yes, yes, suspended sentence of 5 years, boo-hoo for him) because he’s a famous actor and because the person he killed was a nobody. Now if Salman Khan had managed to run over Shah Rukh Khan, I’ve a feeling things would have run a very different course.

Squabbles are erupting online on the rights and wrongs of it. But bottom line is, he’s been granted bail and is now happily ensconced in the lap of his family; having thumbed his nose at society and all its rules.

Some people are saying, so many hit and run drivers (the funny part is, few people dispute that it was Salman Khan behind the wheel; despite his devious attempts to implicate his own driver) escape prosecution, why should poor Salman be the scapegoat? Or, why in the world do homeless people sleep on pavements and make things difficult for drunken drivers?
A person, yes, poor Noor Ullah Khan, died. However much you argue and excuse and rationalize; shouldn’t there be some kind of accountability for that? And yes, all the other murderers out there should be brought to book as well, not only poor ol’ Salman bhai. (Watch where you step the next time he decides to do a spot of drinking and driving; see how wronged you think him when you’re being mowed down.)

Similarly, all the loose, simply moronic opinions about rape bandied about by people who think they are safe from any such attack; all boiling down to the seductively simple “it’s always the girl’s fault, somehow.” She shouldn’t have been out so late. Without a man to “protect her”. WITH a man (what a slut). She shouldn’t have been wearing that. She shouldn’t have been in that part of town. Or, the best yet – it wasn’t rape.

So many people simply LEAPING to see the rapist’s side of things, refusing to see that yes, some things are black and white. Simply right and simply wrong. Some things are that simple. Because the moment we start seeing grey shades of “mitigating circumstances” everywhere -- where does it all stop? And though most of the people I know are mercifully schooled in political correctness; privately everyone believes there are extenuating circumstances for absolutely everything.
Until it happens to YOU.

The examples I give here are of ‘have-not” victims. So, we comfortably think, as we settle back on our satin cushions, this could never happen to us. But in a world where EVERYTHING can be rationalized away, how safe are we from being the next victims, really?
Tomorrow, You -- tall, strapping, fit upper class male -- are jogging down the street with your earphones in your ears; and someone jumps you from behind and does unspeakable things to you, simply because he can. What stand would you like for society and the whole law-enforcement machinery to take? It was wrong and your perpetrator will be caught and punished? Or, why were you there? Why were you dressed so expensively? If you weren’t listening to music couldn’t you have heard him coming? Why did you fight back? Maybe you did something to tempt your attacker? Let’s FACE it, weren’t you a little bit culpable?

If you cannot TRUST society to take a firm stand that crime is crime and victims should be defended, what is the point of being part of society? Isn’t everything we do, based on this trust? If one cannot trust the people around you not to attack you every time you step into the street, how is one to function? Is one an idiot for buying something on the trust that it is genuine? Can one drop one’s child to school everyday, unless one has a little bit of faith in human goodness that he will be looked after even though his parents aren’t watching?

Our whole human existence runs on trust.  And it is the state’s function to reinforce that trust (with the threat that abusing that trust brings punishment, very few questions asked). If not, all is chaos. And we might as well all disappear into the woods before we start sneaking into each other’s houses and murdering people as they sleep, (“she was offensive about my décor yesterday, and it annoyed me.”) if that is the way we are headed.

This image of an anarchic world may seem alarmist to you. But in my opinion, it all starts with people shrugging their shoulders and saying “it was the victim’s fault for being there. He/she was at the wrong place at the wrong time.”, and ends with -- the law backing such people up.

In such a world, where can you be safe?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Problem with Facebook

(This was a piece I wrote for a friend's pujo magazine last year. I think enough time has elapsed for me to put this up on my own blog without any objections. What's up with the formatting?) :)

I was asked to write a piece for your Pujo magazine, but I kept putting it off. Today on the last day before my deadline expires, I am ashamed to say that more than writer’s block, Facebook is to blame.
Facebook is really the bane of my existence. Free time is at a premium -- being the mother of a 3 year old. Still the urge to steal a peek at my phone for my Facebook fix is like an itch at the back of my mind; burning, burning, until I scratch it. I am glad to say, when I directly interact with my daughter (which is most of her waking hours), I refrain from giving into the itch; hating the thought of being one of those parents who have their noses pasted to some screen or another, while their poor children clamour for attention. But the moment I hear a soft baby snore, or when she is fruitfully engaged in singing ‘Old Macdonald had a farm’ to her teddy bears for the 25th time on a loop, I confess to sneaking off with my phone, putting my feet up with a delicious sigh of gratification and logging into Facebook.

But like any other addiction (I have another one – chocolate) once you have glutted yourself on Facebook, you are left with a curiously empty, useless feeling – leaving you wondering what the big deal was about.

Because really, really; what possible joy can a person get from all the obviously posed, carefully selected and (often photo-shopped) “candid” pictures of her friends? The latest is everyone making a face into the camera – “Look at us, we’re such whacky, fun people! Don’t you wish you were closer friends with us?”

What pleasure can one get from reading the carefully constructed status updates about how wonderful their lives are? Or, by looking at how wonderfully disciplined their kids are because…look how well they pose! And not a single runny nose in sight! Like an angel in perfect health!
Far from joy, it is more like self-flagellation. You log out and wonder, why don’t WE ever go to the Fiji Islands? Why don’t I have the figure to wear that gorgeous black dress? Why didn’t I think of taking pictures of my writing out that check to an NGO a month ago?

Apart from causing a severe case of heartburn, it is a phenomenon that brings out the very worst in people. This is the platform for otherwise cleverly concealed character flaws to be taken out for a bit of exercise and fresh air.

I have a very conservative “friend” count of 400 people. Of whom I am barely on actual speaking terms with 20. (I have been sent “friend requests” by neighbours in my complex, and have accepted their requests with a warm rush of affection thinking, “She likes me after all! I thought she hated me! Now we can be friends!” And you make plans of tea parties and outings to Coorg in your mind, until you encounter the same neighbour near the gym of your complex and she walks right past you as your cheery ‘hi!’ dies on your lips.) Of those 400 “friends” (And I use the term in the extremely loose, FB sense) I have:

  1. 20 exhibitionists: Putting up pictures which really, really, REALLY should’ve stayed locked away on their laptops forever. Or status updates about how MUCH they love their spouses, their kids and their pets in toe-curlingly embarrassing language. “I wuv you, my peekie boo!”
  2. 50 whiners: They will whine and cry and complain every hour, on the hour about…everything. “I was doing wheelies on my bike on a crowded road when all of a sudden I hit this car from nowhere. I broke my leg (and sent all the occupants of the car to hospital) please pray for my speedy recovery…why is my life so hard??? What is more annoying is how many people will rush to sympathize (“You poor baby! What kind of a country is this, that one cannot do stunts on a crowded road in peace?”), I wonder what instinct propels them to it.
  3. 20 Sycophants (wish there were more) also known as the ‘Likers’: They will shower you with compliments, and just when your self-esteem begins to rise you are hit with the horrible realization that they compliment everyone indiscriminately, in hopes of a quid pro quo on their own page. They are under the mistaken impression that likes and comments can be exchanged and hoarded like currency, and guard and count every one of them as zealously as a miser with his gold.
  4. The out and out liars (about 10, mercifully). They will lie to get attention, sympathy, likes and comments. They will make extremely tall claims for those 20 “Congratulations” comments and 100 likes. Well knowing that there are many who have seen it and know that they’re lying about getting the Nobel Prize for Astrophysics, or being voted the 15th Panchen Lama by a deputation of visiting monks.
Whatever is the hot topic at the time, especially of the tragic persuasion, they will claim to have experienced it; so that they can divert some of the ongoing sympathy on the issue.
They will post nauseously sentimental (same as group 1, but with a twist) status updates about a toothless brother (I love my toothless brother so much, I can’t bear it), to draw the “aww, you’re such a good person that you love your brother despite his not having all his teeth” crowd. They seem not to care that half their friends list knows that let alone a toothless one, the person concerned doesn’t even have an average, non-tragic, uninteresting brother.

  1. And last but unfortunately the least -- the barely-there Facebookers. I have begun to envy this lot so much I can’t tell you. I had a friend who has gone straight off Facebook and stayed there. I often fantasize about doing the same thing, just to get away from the aforementioned lot.
In fact, you know what? I think I will; since all these types bother me so much. It’ll probably save me enough time to read at least five more books (good) a month and eat countless bars of chocolate (not so good).

But before that, let me check my Facebook account one last time and count how many likes I garnered for the attractive picture I posted of myself from 15 years ago. (but THEY don’t have to know that!)

Have a wonderful Pujo everybody!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

In defense of the ugly.

Three year old Mia loves the radio and constantly demands it be switched on so she can sing and dance along. I enjoy it as well, since I find current popular music sing-along-able again; unlike even a year ago when all that hip hop and trance made me feel victimized (“is he yelling at me? What did I do?”) and dated (“This must be a young-person song.”).

Her “favourite” (she has about 22) is “badaarex badaarex, no trouble”. This is not, in fact, a jingle for a laxative but her interpretation of Meghan Trainor’s song, ‘All about that bass, about that bass, no treble’. I think it’s pretty catchy too, and initially thought it had a message that matched my own convictions. But I’ve heard it so many times by now, that I’ve started wondering if I really do agree with it. Yes, yay for women with big asses, hooray that men sometimes like plump girls (what upright citizens such men are!), and all that. On the surface this is a much better message to girls than endless songs with names like “Let’s Do It Doggie Style and Then If You’re Lucky I’ll Spank You”.

But it gets me thinking: we are still reassuring ourselves about our appearances on the condition that men like us that way. Not to mention how disturbing it is that a mother would comfort her presumably fat-bottomed young daughter with assurances of “men like a little more bootie to hold at night”.

Name one song where a male singer moans about having a big bum or being overweight; and suffers a consequent crisis of confidence about his sexual appeal. Something along the lines of “That Hottie Ain’t Gonna Let Me Hit That Because I Ain’t a Skinny Thang.”

I’m not blaming the creators of the song, they’re addressing a real issue with all us girls and women. My problem is why we have this issue in the first place.

It’s not only music. Look at movies. Or at least the more conventional, popular sort of cinema not starring Dame Judi Dench in the lead. The heroine will meet her man with a soft light irradiating her features, her hair billowing in an invisible zephyr; and the hero will blink a few times, so dazzled he is by her beauty. He will tell people or the woman herself at a later point of the movie with a beatific smile; “THAT was the very moment I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her, because she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen…”

Really? Really? Where is the connection? It is rarely when the hero sees her helping a blind guy across the street, or because she’s hilarious and makes him laugh; or because she’s good at what she does (all criteria for the heroines to fall for the hero, by the way.) Even if she is shown doing any or all of these things; the hero will only fall (or realize that he’s fallen) in love with the woman when her hair is well-conditioned, her skin is doing this bizarre shining thing and she’s preferably wearing something low cut.

That’s when the slow motion kicks in and the face sucking ensues. Why? Is beauty the only quality men look for in women? And this is not always a type of beauty that can be directly related to good health or fertility; a desire for which we are told is biologically hardwired into men; since the demand for sickly stick-insect women is a common cause for angst among more ‘traditionally built’ women.
Wouldn’t something like being a good human being, or a good companion be a better indicator of who the hero “KNEW” he HAD to spend the rest of his life with? Why don’t any of the heroines EVER say, “he was the cutest guy I’d ever seen, so it was imperative I spend every day with him until I died.”

You know why? Because it’s a stupid thing to say, that’s what. But somehow, when the man says it, it’s completely understandable -- because beauty is such a supreme achievement, such a product of extreme hard work in a woman. It is not at all an accident of nature that your nose lines up in a pleasant way with your mouth, which is at a suitable distance from your chin and so on.

I know it sounds like sour grapes…it probably is, but it doesn’t make what I say less true.

You would think books would be slightly better. Literature being, nowadays, more of an acquired taste. Regrettably, for a female character to be understood, her looks are to be dissected exhaustively. More often than not, she is beautiful. If not; a big deal will be made of how, even though she isn’t conventionally beautiful – a big mouth or curly hair often being the rather pleasing culprits – she is beautiful, none the less; which the hero will tell her at some point much to her surprise and gratification. It is a complete cop-out by an author if ever I’ve seen one.

If the book goes so far as have an honest-to-goodness plain (never ugly) female protagonist, her romantic interest will still think her the most beautiful woman in the world. Because after all---a man cannot want to be with her unless deluded into believing this. Or he is conveniently struck blind so that he is spared the pain of watching an already plain woman degenerate into middle-aged ugliness, like Mr. Rochester.

Rarely is the main female character (in a romantic scenario) ugly and/ or with a physical impairment like a limp -- though you will find literature simply littered with such male characters. Case in point is JK Rowling’s new Cormoran Strike series. He is called “pubehead” because of the unfortunate texture of his hair (on his head) and has a prosthetic limb which frequently gives him trouble. Enter the breathtakingly beautiful platinum blonde assistant who helps him occasionally when his leg lets him down. She is so luminous a specimen that no disguise can mask her beauty, leading to all sorts of tricky situations.

Was making the primary female character beautiful so much more important than her being an efficient undercover sleuth? I lost a great deal of respect for the author after reading that part, let me tell you; though I am a loyal fan of the Harry Potter series and its unfortunate looking female character Hermione. It is unfortunate that Warner Brothers sold out and got a pretty girl to play the character even though they were quite satisfied with Ron looking like an overgrown rabbit.
Shrek was an endearing exception, though I doubt Fiona would have been allowed to settle down with someone who wasn’t an ogre. If a woman is ugly she should AT LEAST marry someone equally or more ugly than she. It’s only right.

It worries me that my little girl is exposed to this toxic attitude. (Along with far worse, more blatant sexist biases; but since we are all aware of those they are far less subliminal and can be tackled effectively.)

The politically correct across all media will mouth the ‘just be yourself’ tag; but it’ll usually be meant for the chubby boy with the glasses rather than his female version. For girls, it’s “be yourself”, as long as you look good. If you’re a chubby girl with glasses and weird hair, please don’t be yourself…cue music for makeover scene, followed directly by the desired boy gulping like a fish and paying her attention.

Of course, if one puts one’s mind to it there are plenty of exceptions, like Little Miss Sunshine or Juno among recent movies. Much of Jane Austen (bless that woman) and plenty more. But unless you are super selective of what you read, hear and see -- the more urgent message being pounded into the heads of anyone with two X chromosomes is if you’re plain you better get prettied up, if you’re beyond- redemption-ugly you don’t deserve love, and ergo, be forever relegated as a side character in a song, movie or book about someone else.

Now that I’ve had time to think about it, why am I beating artists up, when all they do is reflect life in their art? Or at any rate, what most people think life should be like, and wish to see that in what they read, see or hear?

While I myself am greatly appreciative of beauty; indeed, take pride in my daughter’s cuteness and occasionally try to de-ugly myself before meeting a large gathering of unsuspecting people, it saddens me that rather than it be one of many attributes a girl can or cannot acceptably have, like a talent for dance or an ability to wiggle her ears – good looks is THE first and last thing people will look for in her all her life.

And so it is, that perfectly good women are socially ignored or passed over for their more aesthetically pleasing counterparts. Despite sometimes (not always, of course, I know plenty beautiful AND wonderful women), their having more to offer than the latter.

I think it’s a shame, that’s all.