Monday, June 29, 2015

Where we ramble about Anuja Chauhan's books

Much as I have loved Anuja Chauhan's books ever since I first read The Zoya Factor seven years ago, I have always hated them a little bit too.

There, I said it. At least two readers of this blog can now gasp in outrage. The rest of you probably couldn't care less.

This post has been festering for a while now, to be honest. I started and deleted versions of it every time a new book of hers released, and after the last one, the festering began again. And then of course, procrastination happened. But then this morning, I read this summary/discussion/critique/what-d'you-call-it, which prompted this post.

Here's the thing - my favourite thing about all of her books have always been just how Delhi they are. The conversations - full of Hinglish, the descriptions, the throwaway lines that make you giggle endlessly, like this one from Battle for Bittora (possibly my least favourite of all her books):
I knew my face was wearing the smug expression you see on the face of a Sarojini Nagar market  t-shirt seller when you don't buy a tee, claiming its too expensive and then come back, red-faced and perspiring, after two hours of rootling through a gazillion stalls and say sheepishly, 'woh t-shirt phir se dikhana, bhaiya.' 
When you've gone to a Delhi college, and spent hours rolling your eyes at friends who insist on shopping in Sarojini Nagar, that line is everything. And it's lines like that make me go back to her books, and make me have the parents buy them as soon as they release and send through whatever relatives are visiting whatever city I'm in.

But because her books are so rooted in Delhi, and in a certain part of Delhi, a lot of what the Ladies Finger post says is true. There's classism, and racism, and social boundaries are very clearly drawn, never to be crossed, except when absolutely necessary, and in the most ridiculous ways.

From what I can tell from the acknowledgements in each book, all of Anuja Chauhan's books have been from worlds she knows. The Zoya Factor was from her time in advertising, Battle for Bittora was from her mother-in-law's life in politics, and Those Pricey Thakur Girls, I suppose, was from growing up in Delhi in the 80s. She writes about worlds she knows. She writes about the Delhi she knows. And the Delhi she knows is a little like the Delhi I know, and a lot like the Delhi in her books - classist, racist, and very, very conscious of status.

I'm not good at parsing books and movies for every piece of social injustice, though. Also I'm frivolous. So I ignore those pieces of her books. Also, I mean, it's chick lit. Why read chick lit - even by an author whose best pages definitely come from interactions with friends and family rather the lead romantic couple in her books - if you're going to complain about the "find a guy and all will be well" theme in them?

But. There is something about Anuja Chauhan's books that annoy me tremendously. And it is the fact that she writes her lead female characters as utter twits and ninnies. Zoya wasn't a complete idiot, but was remarkably naive and susceptible to the Great Misunderstanding that is a compulsory part of every romance novel. Jinni, while showing the occasional flashes of brilliance like when she was offered money to drop out of the race, was completely clueless most of the time and definitely written as someone who would always need Zain's wise counsel to see the right way forward. And then there was Debjani Thakur, who made me want to tear my hair out. Yes, you're a molly coddled pricey Thakur girl from Hailey Road, but for Pete's sake, apply yourself a little, wouldja? And read the news a bit if you're trying to be a newsreader?

And that's why I liked The House that BJ Built. Because Bonu Singh may be doing things out of misplaced loyalty to not-so-nice parents, etc., but she wasn't a complete twit, y'know? Okay, yes, a lot of how ballsy she is may have been more told to us rather than actually shown, but she's probably the only Chauhan lead girl who wasn't written like a complete pushover who's easily manipulated. I mean, alright, Ashok Chacha tried and all, but she said no in the end, didn't she? There were logical explanations for every action she took, even if some of those explanations were rooted in Great Misunderstandings.

There's a lot to roll your eyes at in this book. The time gap, for example, did not add up. And the Trings were not living in the Annexe thirty years ago, because Chacha and Chachi moved in there while Hailey Court was being built. The Asharfi storyline made me want to rub my eyes, reread certain pages because I wasn't sure if what I thought had just happened had actually happened, and then made me want to punch someone. Also what is with Bonu not having any friends other than the Trings? Zoya had Monita, Jinni had Rumi, but all the Thakur girls, come to think of it, seem to be largely friendless.

But if you're picking your battles, and ranking her books simply by the intelligence levels demonstrated by the lead female character, this book does well. Now please excuse me while I go text a friend and ask her to return my copy of The Zoya Factor so I can reread it and decide if Nikhil Khoda still trumps a more intelligent female lead, and therefore if that book still trumps The House that BJ Built. Although first-book nostalgia tends to play a strong factor for me - it's why Arabella is still one of my favourite Heyers. Okbye.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Where by we, we mean I

Let us get announcements out of the way first. There is a wedding in the family this winter. It is not ours, so shoo. We are tremendously excited about it, and so we are willing to indulge people who talk about nothing else on the phone and therefore don't even ask people about what might be happening in their lives. Not that we are complaining or anything.

We might be talking like this a bit because we have been reading Anuja Chauhan's latest book recently.

So anyway, we were in Delhi last week. Mainly for wedding related gatherings, and of course wedding shopping, but also extremely important things like mangoes and bhutta and hair spas. Now six days in Delhi is never ever enough, and when those six days are spent shopping for wedding outfits during the day and working during the night because we have no vacation days and have to beg for time off, it is all very exhausting. Nonetheless, Delhi is Delhi after all. It is... home. Y'know?

Now wedding shopping in Delhi is... interesting. I mean, first of all, let us be clear. Delhi fashions were, are, and always will be way too jhataak for us. So the first line uttered in every shop we entered was invariably:
"bhaiyya shaadi ke suit dikha do, par zara kam jhataak ho toh."

Now the other problem is current fashions. We have been made to understand that Pakistani serials have become very popular in India. Which we are okay with because we gather they are a little less insane than the Indian ones. But as a result, Pakistani styles are the current fashion in India. Which is all well and good, because they're really gorgeous, but can we please agree that anarkalis and shararas and whatnots do not suit every body type? Therefore, the most common conversation we had in this entire shopping process was this:
"Bhaiyya salwar ya churidar ke saath nahi hain?"
"Aaj kal yahi fashion mein hain."
"Aaj kal jo fashion mein hain woh nahi pasand na."

Ufff.

However. The mother and I are extremely efficient, with the result that between Karol Bagh and CP and GK-I, we are done with the wedding shopping, barring one outfit. We did not have the time or energy to go to Chandni Chowk, and Shahpur Jat was wayyyyyyy too jhataak for us - except for one shop that was wayyyyyyy out of our budget. We are a little sad we didn't end up making it to South Extension, because it has been too long since we had the juice and bhel puri there, but the friend who has said she could meet us in South Ex came home the next day, so what is there.

The one outfit that is left is also not completely worrisome, because we know what we want, and the mother will have it done by the time we land back this winter. Accessories need to be picked up locally, and we need to try and find someone who can do some tailoring for us locally, because there was no time to get blouses made for the saris one has chosen, but that and all can be figured out I think.

So, productive week. Even though we didn't get to eat enough foods or meet enough people.

And now we will run to our next meeting.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Where I ramble about TV shows and movies

I've come to realise that the second I publicly say I'm going to blog about something, the chances of actually doing so go straight to zero. Case in point - this month. I told @moronmoron I would write about why The Avengers infuriated me even though I loved most of the movie, and I didn't. I wrote in my last post I wanted to write about season 11 of Grey's Anatomy, and I didn't.

Oh, well.

I think it's fair to say that I watch a lot of TV. The fact that it took me two weeks between watching that episode and finishing the last the three episodes of Grey's Anatomy this past week is only partially due to the fact that I seem to have developed a social life that gets in the way of my TV watching, and mainly due to the fact that all the shows I watch on a weekly basis were having their season finales.

Anyway.

I was infuriated by the latest Avengers movie because I couldn't believe they had reduced a kickass character like Natasha Romanoff into a lovesick, baby-wanting woman who used lines like "still think you're the only monster?" after narrating the story of how she came to be sterile. I had conversations with two guys after seeing the movie, and although one of them argued that that line could have been interpreted to refer to her history as an assassin/spy/whatever-it-is-that-she-was, they agreed her arc in the movie was jarring.

I looked up online reviews of the movie to see if others had felt the same way, and surprise, surprise - I wasn't. There were plenty of articles and reviews that expressed my fury far more articulately than I ever could. But here's the thing - a lot of them talked about how Marvel doesn't know how to treat women. Now, I'm not qualified to talk about what Marvel has done outside of their cinematic universe, but I sure as heck disagree with this statement, because just look at their TV show. That show has had major ups and downs in its two-year run, and I have no idea what its season finale was all about, but them women on that show - they're awesome. They're smart, and strong, and amazing to watch.

And if you think about it, a lot of the shows I watch, despite being fairly "soap-y", write women really well. Shows like Once Upon a Time and Grey's Anatomy get astoundingly ridiculous at times (I mean, why anyone would ever want to move to Seattle is beyond me), but both these shows - even Castle as a matter of fact - have female protagonists who are kickass in all sorts of wonderful ways. Grey's Anatomy, especially, shows women balancing their careers and their families/kids in a way that no other show that I can think of does.

Sidebar: Since I seem to be stuffing everything into this post, I'll be honest. My biggest gripe with Grey's Anatomy in particular has always been its lead male protagonist - Derek Shepherd. Ever since the second season, where a, he turned out to be married, b, he chose his marriage over Meredith because it was the "right" thing to do, and c, basically came out and called her a slut because she chose to deal with the break up in a certain way, I've hated him. And then there was his complete arrogance regarding his professional brilliance, whether it was sidelining Meredith over the trials they did, or trying to oust Amelia from the Head of Neuro job because he decided he wanted it back - that guy was an ass. And had no character growth whatsoever in 11 years, unlike Alex Karev, who started out an ass, but is now the best I'll-do-it-grudgingly-but-I'll-do-whatever-you-need-me-to friend a girl could ask for. End sidebar.

What do I want from a movie or a TV show when it comes to women? I don't necessarily need the Bechdel test, because Lord knows it's flawed. I mean, depending on who you talk to, Age of Ultron technically passed it. I want women who are smart and kick ass. I want women who have female friends, and I want women who have male friends. I want women who have/want a relationship and kids, and I want women who don't want that (Christina Yang, you are missed). I want women who can say cheesy lines like "the only one who saves me is me" to the man she's in love with when he comes to save her.


Is that so much to ask for?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Where we react to that episode of that TV show

I just watched that episode of Grey's Anatomy. The one from a few weeks ago, the one that everyone who knows the show exists knew about within minutes of it happening, because this is not a fandom that is able to contain its spoilers.

I've been catching up on this season of the show over the past ten days or so, and have had a lot of thoughts that I wanted to blog about once I was done with the season. But now that I've gotten through this episode, I need to react to this episode in isolation, separate from the rest of it.

There's always that one episode of Grey's Anatomy that gets to me every season, and makes me beak down and bawl like an idiot. In its 11th season, this one was it. The last ten minutes of the episode were it.

The episode reminded me of this conversation.

The episode reminded me of a moment that took place in college. I was presenting in class. What I was presenting on, I can't remember. But I remember the room we were in, and where I was standing. I remember my professor telling us about her father, and how she had to take the decision to end his suffering, because her mother couldn't. I remember standing, facing my classmates, and watching each and everyone of them sobbing at my professor's matter of fact narration. I remember wondering why I wasn't sobbing. I remember my professor rolling her eyes and turning to me, saying "chalo, at least you're still the sensible one. Let's carry on now." I remember beginning my presentation, and having to stop because my voice broke. I remember taking a deep breath and starting again, only to break down completely. I remember turning around to face the wall, taking long and deep breaths and trying to get it together. I remember turning back, mouthing sorry to my professor as she looked at me exasperatedly, and continuing with my presentation.

I remember thinking if just the thought of having to take such a decision could shatter me like this, how had my professor survived it. And I remember thinking I wanted to be like her when I grew up.

The episode reminded me of a decision my family took two summers ago. I remember us spending weeks, trying to put off the inevitable. I remember us looking at each other, knowing we had to, but looking for reasons not to. I remember each of us, one by one, finally saying yes. I remember my brother asking for three days. I remember spending those three days, trying to pile in every moment we possibly could. I remember wondering once or twice why we were were prolonging the agony. I remember taking her for a walk with my brother. I remember coming back from the walk and seeing her refuse to enter the house. I remember her lying down in our driveway, and refusing to move from there, as if she knew what was about to happen. I remember the vet arriving, and all of us sitting around her while he did what he had to do. I remember the scream I let out when it happened.

And anyone who tells me I can't, or shouldn't, compare that memory with the loss of losing a parent, a spouse, or a child, can go fly a kite.

This damn show. It just gets to you, man.

That is all.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Pieces of me

I have these nights, occasionally, when I don't get sleep all night. They used to happen only when I went home to India and was jetlagged - I always had that one night of staying up. But over the last year or so, they've happened a few times for no discernible reason.

It happened again last Sunday. I'd been lazy all weekend, and done close to nothing productive. I needed to get up early on Monday because I had folks coming to look at something in the apartment before I left for work, and I had an event to go to Monday evening that I knew I'd be coming back from fairly late. And there I was Sunday night, trying to sleep, but more alert and awake than I had been all weekend.

Someone asked me, when I told them about this, if it was because I was stressed about something. I don't think so, was my response. There's nothing I can think of that's stressing me out at the moment, and if there was something in my subconscious, chances are my should would have informed me by beginning to ache. So, I don't think so.

*************

I don't know when I turned into this movies-based-on-comic books fangirl. I've never read a comic book in my life, but I now watch every single Marvel or DC based TV show that is currently on air (except Gotham, because that show bored the heck out of me). And I just read the first review of the Avengers movie that is releasing next week, and it's got me so ridiculously excited that I need to tell the world about it. When did this happen to me?

(On thinking about it a little more, I think we can all agree to blame the brother for this. Pretty sure it all started when he dragged to watch The Dark Knight.)

*************

I have a Bangladeshi coworker who sits one cube over. A mutual friend introduced us soon after we both moved into our current department, with the words "just wanted to you both to know of each other, in case you were planning to say things in Bengali hoping no one else would understand." Very kind of him, I have to say.

So, this coworker. Conversations with her are quite straightforward and fun, and she has a fairly matter of fact way of talking. So it entertains me no end that occasionally, I'll hear her on the phone, talking in Bengali, either to her husband or parents or some other relatives, and the sheer whininess that creeps into her tone is simply amazing. It's in our blood, you guys.

*************

Along with priority and my own name at the end of an email, I think we can add occasionally to the list of words I can never spell correctly on the first go. I've spelt it incorrectly every single time in this post (which also tells me I use it fairly often).

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Halka Aunty style

One of the nicest things about the company I work for is that, for the most part, they really don't care how you dress. We moved to a casual dress code a while back, and so as long as you're not meeting customers or external partners (or y'know, working in Finance), it's jeans and a sweatshirt every single day if you want.

And since it's a company with a very internationally diverse employee base, which includes a large number of Indians - especially, and this is fact, on the floors IT sits on - I could honestly wear a salwar kameez every day if I wanted to. I've done it occasionally over the past year or so, especially on festivals and such, and it's nice to be able to do that.

So this morning, after getting dressed and ready to leave for work fairly early for a change, I started running over the things I need to do, and realized I need to call the grandmother for nobo borsho - the Bengali New Year - as well as the parents, and probably send the brother a text that he should call them as well (which, now that I think of it, I didn't end up doing). And in all that mental processing, I decided what the heck, let's wear Indian today. And so I pulled out the new white kurta and orange dupatta I had bought a few weeks ago (along with green leggings, in the hope of wearing this outfit for one of the World Cup matches), and wore them with my black jeans. And it struck me, all over again, how much I miss wearing salwar kameezes and dupattas. My fabulous dupattas, mostly.

And since this blog seems to be big on random memories and anecdotes lately, here's one that came to me today. The dupatta I chose to wear today is one of those silky ones that keep slipping off. However, the kurta has embroidery similar to Lucknow-i chikankari, so I decided to wear the dupatta long, over just one shoulder, because that was keeping it in place. And it reminded me of a friend my mother had, back when I was a kid. This lady - Alka Aunty - always wore her dupattas over one shoulder. She was the only lady I knew who wore them that way, and it fascinated me, probably because she was the only one who wore them that way in Chandigarh as far as I could tell. And so when I pretended to dress up, I would wear them the same way, and say I was wearing them "Halka Aunty style" - because apparently at the age of 5, I couldn't say her name properly.

She moved away years ago, and I have no idea where she is today. But it was fun today, wearing a dupatta "Halka Aunty style".

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The odd flashback

A gazillion or so years ago, when I was still in college, I was walking from home to the neighbourhood market - in all likelihood, to visit the lending library run by the sweetest old man ever, who lent all books for 5 rupees for the first day, and 1 rupee for every subsequent day. Unless you were borrowing a Mills & Boon, in which case it was a flat 2 rupees per day.

Anyway, so I was walking. I got a lot of walking done during the years I visited his shops. But this particular walk has always stayed with me because I was walking past the park (which just proves how long ago this is, because that park was taken away from the kids who used to play there to be turned into a hospital or something because it was a legal mandate but then they abandoned the construction halfway through, so now this half-built hospital just sits there, empty, and someday they're going to make a movie where someone comes to visit their past and this hospital will be where they go first because they used to play cricket there or something and I really should stop digressing so much back to the walk), and suddenly I could hear rain falling. Which was weird, because it was bright and sunny and slightly humid and I definitely didn't have an umbrella but I wasn't wet either. But I could hear the rain fall. And then I walked two steps forward and found myself feeling the drizzle. I took one step back and it was dry. I walked forward again, and could feel the rain again.

I was reminded of this moment earlier today, on my drive to work. It's been windy and cloudy for the last few days, with stormclouds threatening to burst but never quite getting there. And this morning was no different as I drove. But then I turned right, and then got on the expressway a minute later, and suddenly my car was bathed in sunlight.

It was a nice moment.


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

In retrospect

I made myself write a sort of monthly update at the end of February, but somehow the past few months have been such a blur that maybe it's a good idea to think about them as a whole. I'm trying to figure out why I've been on the go so constantly, because it's not like I haven't had my down time. But it has sort of felt like I'm hurtling down a tunnel, towards something I'm not sure how I feel about.

Well, when you put it that way...

Work, for the past several months, has involved a massive project. And the end is in sight. But the end being in sight means things are crazy, stressful, and all sorts of things. When I came into this role last year, I was told by my predecessor one of the most important things for me to do would be managing upwards. And that's been the most useful piece of advice I got from her. My boss tends to... freak out. Which in many ways is a good thing, because I'm the same, but having to calm her down meant I stayed calm. The thing is, that approach worked till about mid-February, when things got so crazy that I wasn't staying calm anymore. So over the past couple of weeks, I've had her looking at me asking "so, are you okay?" and telling me to calm down.

When I was in school, exam time meant I used to invariably, without fail, get stress pains in my shoulder. In later years, that pain showing was my way of finding out I'm stressed about something. There would be big days - job interview, important project milestones - when I would think I'm fine, and then the pain would start and I would think, "there we go". For the past eight weeks, that pain has been in my shoulders pretty much constantly. At times it's also felt like there's a sledgehammer floating over my head, about to fall at any moment. More recently, the subconscious has gone from just a shoulder pain to just really weird dreams.

So given the work situation, the personal front has taken a bit of a backseat. Moving, having the father here, falling sick, and the big trip - they all happened just as work was getting crazy. So once I got back, there hasn't been much time for anything other than work. I've had to force myself to handle things on the home front, be social, or even maintain any kind of online presence. I have to remind myself to look at twitter, tumblr, or even feedly these days. Which makes me a lot more productive at work, but leaves me feeling a little... lost sometimes. I haven't even kept up with the latest movies or music from Bollywood, which as anyone who knows me will tell you is just wrong. But when you're on a 16 hour flight listening to a Bollywood channel where you can't recognize any song other than Punjabi Wedding Song, you know you've been missing out on things.

A friend got engaged a week ago, and as I spoke to him to find out details, and to other mutual friends to figure out if/how we're attending his wedding, I realised I hadn't spoken to any of them since the beginning of the year. And that's ridiculous even by my standards.

And then there's been the World Cup. Given the time differences, I haven't kept up with it as much as I would have liked. Night have been spent dozing on my couch with the TV on, jerking awake every time the decibels went up because a wicket had fallen. And when this is happening in parallel with the aforementioned work project, it all makes for a very exhausted body.

So just last week, I've had two nights of less than two hours of sleep due to cricket heartbreak, two nights of less than four hours of sleep because of friends texting stories just as you're trying to fall sleep, waking up periodically through the night because colleagues who are working through the night are sending updates and you need to know, dammit, and calls scheduled for really early in the morning.

Amidst all of this, there was one other thing. I turned 30 a few weeks ago. I was utterly depressed about this milestone, didn't want to do anything to celebrate, but didn't want to be lame and sit at home either, so it was a relief when a friend decided to organize a dinner on my behalf. Not one person - friend, colleague, relative - let me forget all day just how old I was turning, but it was touching to see how many people bothered to remind me, I suppose. And of course, once you actually get past the milestone, nothing really changes.

So yes, the days have been about work, and the nights have been about cricket, and everything else has fallen by the wayside. But all of that has finally come to a close this weekend. So it's time to pick up the threads of my life, talk to friends more, start taking care of myself a little more, start taking care of my apartment a little more, maybe even tweet a little more.

Let's see how much of that actually happens.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Where my subconscious starts acting up

There have been weird dreams lately.

Two nights ago, when I had only 90 minutes to sleep between the heartbreaking end of a match, and y'know, work, I dreamt nonstop about the call I had to get on half an hour after waking up, and how everything on the call was going wrong and it was all my fault.

Which is weird because though things have been stressful at work lately, I thought I've become the sort of person who leaves work at work. Once I'm home, I'm not really thinking about it. Clearly my subconscious believes otherwise.

Then last night. Slept relatively earlyish, although not as early as I would have liked to. I knew I had calls starting super early this morning, but I also knew colleagues were working through the night and sending status updates, so I kept waking up and reading emails. So again, clearly not as switched off as I like to think.

But in between those periods of being awake, the dreams. But first, a side bar. I've been getting used to the new apartment, and one of the things to get used to is that there is an attached garage for my car, and a door to enter the apartment through the garage - one of the main reasons I was sold on this apartment, to be honest. Now because of this garage door, the main entrance to the apartment is hardly ever used. It took me three days to realize a package had been left outside my front door, because I never checked. And then the other day, I came home and knew I had to leave again in 15 minutes, so I parked outside the garage and tried to enter through the front door. Only to realize that my paranoia of keeping both locks on the door locked ever since getting robbed some years ago meant I couldn't open the door from outside. So I went in through the garage, and then left ten minutes later through the front door. Only when I came back two hours later, and this time parked in the garage and therefore tried to enter through the garage door, I couldn't, because paranoia meant I had double locked the garage door this time.

I would like take a moment here to publicly apologize to the mother for rolling my eyes every time she talked about how many doors she has keep track of and make sure are locked in her house, since I clearly can't manage even two. Which does not mean I won't roll my eyes in the future.

End side bar.

So the dreams last night. I dreamt I was leaving the apartment through the front door, and as I was locking up, some woman who I didn't recognize but who in the dream seemed to be some sort of nemesis of mine bumped into me and we had... words. When I come back some hours later, I enter my apartment to find every piece of furniture I own has been stolen, and I'm left with nothing. So the conclusion is she stole my key when we had our altercation and so I go to the police station which is nothing like any police station I've ever seen because it's so pretty and for some reason this nemesis of mine is already there and we have words again, and then suddenly, there is time travel and I'm back at the exact moment I was locking my apartment door that morning. Cut to later when I'm telling someone how this time, I knew she was waiting to bump into me and steal my key so I made sure that didn't happen (how, I have no idea). Cut to that evening when I come home and everything is in its place so yay time travel.

And then I woke up because the father was calling to make sure I was up for the first of my early morning calls.

So... the important question here is - is the past tense of dream dreamt? Or dreamed?



Friday, March 06, 2015

Where I add to the noise without saying anything at all

For everyone who is outraged that the video has been banned, I'd like to ask you: who's really watching the video? and gaining/learning anything from it?

For everyone who is outraged that the video was made and is being viewed, and creating a furore because things are so much worse elsewhere, I'd like to direct you what some people like to call the Sainath fallacy.

And for the record, no, I haven't watched it, I haven't read much about it, because I can't. I would if I could. But as I've said before, I can't anymore. I am so exhausted from the perpetual outrage and the never ending latest atrocity and the continual latest example of complete and utter misogyny that I just can't.

And I don't know what the solution is. All I know is I don't see one, at all.