Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bein' home

In the last 26 days, I have...

  • The Mine, by Arnab Ray
  • The Hunger Games trilogy
  • The Godfather by Mario Puzo
For someone who has read practically nothing in the last two-three years, this is quite impressive.

  • All four seasons of Coupling
  • Both seasons of Sherlock
  • Both seasons of Downton Abbey, though some episodes seem to be missing from what I have procured, and also I only realised halfway through the show that it is Downton and not Downtown.
  • The season finales of Community, Castle and Once Upon a Time
  • Ishaqzaade
  • The Avengers
  • The IPL final

  • Gol gappas and samosas at the neighborhood shop
  • Genuine Indian Chinese food at a dingy street stall
  • Calamari at HRC, Delhi
  • Mughlai paratha at Kingdom of Dreams - could've been better, could've been worse.
  • Aloo ke parathas at Jhilmil Dhaba, Karnal - with dollops of Amul butter and dahi
  • Mushroom achaar and apple juice from the NAFED (now called HPMC, I think) stall at Jabli 
  • Butter Chicken at Giani da Dhaba, en route to Kasauli
  • Thukpa and momos in a dingy little shop in Lower Mall, Kasauli
  • Chai at Ross Common, Kasauli - a charming little hotel where we've stayed when I was a kid
  • Chicken rolls at Badshaah, New Market
  • Breakfast at Flury's
  • Pretty awesome vegetarian sizzlers in Patna's only mall
  • My favorite dishes at The Monk, Gurgaon
  • The mother's aloo posto, luchi-mangsho, shepherd's pie, and dosas
  • The father's salami sandwiches

  • Jabli, Kasauli, and Chandigarh. With the princess in tow, because the hotel we were staying in let us bring her along, and gave us a lovely little "studio cottage" which came with a tiny kitchen where we could make her khana too
  • Kolkata, to meet the grandmother
  • Patna, to visit the brother

I did NOT get to:

  • have Bhutta
  • visit the Inayat Khan dargah in Nizammuddin for Friday evening qawwalis, followed by a meal at Karim's
  • go to Kake da Hotel
  • have Shorshe-bata or any of mum's fish dishes
  • eat at Big Chill
  • go into Delhi as much as I would've liked, or visited CP, or Khan Market, or Dilli Haat
  • go swimming

It's been a good month. Short, though.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Conversations on the phone

The father and I just had a chat on the phone, while he was waiting to board a flight back from Bombay to come home, during which I tried to articulate a lot of what's been bothering me for a while now. We both rambled, and jumped from topic to topic, so I can't quite present the whole thing. Snippets that I can recall, in no very clear order are presented below. Oh and if you haven't seen Ishaqzaade but plan to and don't want spoilers, avoid the third snippet, which pretty much gives away the main "twist" of the movie.

Baba: What did you think of the Satyamev Jayate episode yesterday?
Me: Wasn't bad. I broke down while watching it, of course. Thrilled they're finally talking about CSA, and SO awed by how brave and incredible the survivors were to come and talk the way they did. But I wish Aamir Khan wouldn't lead the conversations so much. Let the people articulate things their own way na, instead of saying "so what you mean is this...?".
Baba: Hmmm. Some of the folks I met here saw the show. People don't seem to have liked the show much. 
Me: Yes well, from what I see on twitter these days, people like to be cynical because they seem think that's what's expected.
Baba: People seem to be worried "intelligent actors will now be determining government policy."
Me: But... he's not going into policy. He's stopping at spreading awareness. Which, yes, could be a complaint, but at least he's spreading awareness. Who said this?
Baba: Oh, the educated folks of Bombay. And fool editors who print such letters to the editor.
Me: Yes well, your reform is never going to come from the educated folks. They're too busy try to convince themselves and everyone else that everything happens in other homes and classes, not in their own.
Baba: Come on, that's not entirely true.
Me: Oh come on, not to take anything away from the tragedy, but one hit-and-run happened in Gurgaon, and people are organizing silent marches to protest because they knew the persons involved. How many such incidents happen with people the "educated people" don't know, and who organizes marches for them?
Baba: But then the question is, which one will hit? And make the point?

Baba: I hear all the "young MPs" were absent from the 60th anniversary celebrations in Parliament yesterday.
Me: I'm impressed the old folks showed up.
Baba: Who's being cynical now?
Me: But that's the thing no? Where do you see hope? Our politicians are useless, social reform is not happening, so what do you have that you shouldn't be cynical about? But I'd like to think my cynicism is not because I feel I need to be, but because I can't help it!

Baba: Mindsets need to change.
Me: But where do you start? We just came back from seeing Ishaqzaade, and yes, the crowd was horrible. You know what I hated the most? There's this scene where the lead pair has just slept together, and he's walking away from her after informing her that he only pretended to fall in love with her because he wanted "revenge" for the slap she gave him. There's a woman crying on the screen, Baba, and the men in the audience are hooting with glee. What do you do with such mentality? How do you begin to change that?
Baba: I think we should completely avoid the PVR in Sahara Mall. The price difference isn't worth it.
Me: Well, yes, but again, how does that change things?

Me: Did I tell you about the FirstPost article where the writer wondered why the women who'd been forced to have abortions continued to agree to have "conjugal relations" with their husbands?
Baba: Does this writer have any idea about what India's like?
Me: Uh huh. So there seems to have been such uproar that the editors took down the article and apologised, saying they are aware all women don't have that option.
Baba: Well, at least they have some sense.

Baba: Well, I have to switch off now. So you're going to Delhi in the evening? By metro?
Me: Yep.
Baba: *silence*
Me: Chill na, if I get late coming back, I'll take a cab.
Baba: Oh, okay.

There was more, a lot of which I can't put together coherently. Heck, I'm not sure this was coherent. I went to the mother to chat after I ended the call, and her first words, as happens rather frequently, were: You're worked up again. Now what?
I told her a bit about the conversation and she wanted to know if I was upset because there are problems, or because I don't know what to do about the problems. 
There's a good question to ask myself.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A tourist at home

I spent two weeks in Hyderabad in March, with 30-odd classmates of various nationalities. I had written, before going, that I wasn't sure how to answer their questions about India. What I hadn't anticipated was the discomfort I would feel visiting India with a group like this. Not during the project part of the trip so much, but more during the sightseeing portion.

I didn't like being a tourist in my own country. And I don't mean visiting Hyderabad, where I had never been before. I mean being part of a group of foreigners, for lack of a better word, that was visiting India, and by default, therefore, being treated like one.

I didn't like being bought a "high-value" ticket at the Taj Mahal so that I could escape the long queues to get in. I definitely didn't like being told to hold my ticket unlike everyone else, because y'know, I look Indian. I didn't like that my classmates could get away with doing head stands, but I had to keep waving my high-value ticket to prove I could go peer over the railing in the courtyard.

I didn't like how we were taken to tourist traps for shopping where 100 grams of spices or tea cost exorbitant prices. I didn't like that we were taken to a highway shop where chips and soft drinks were ten times their MRP - although I am quite proud of the fact that I found a roadside stall just outside that stupid shop, and bought stuff there.

I didn't like the whining about the crowds and the queues that began among my classmates halfway through the trip, particularly when people started getting close to exhaustion and stress on their projects. I didn't like the constant defensiveness I felt, and the way I had bite back the urge to retort.

It wasn't all bad, no. Most of the folks, especially my team, were extremely comfortable trying out new food stuffs, exploring random shops and areas, getting off the buss and walking through Agra to find a place to eat. I loved how curious they were about the tiny things, things I probably haven't given a second thought in years. I loved being able to explain things to them, introduce my country to them.

But there was a lot that made me uncomfortable. And part of me wonders if I'm overreacting. I've taken a step back, waited more than a month, to when I'm finally back home in India, to publish this post. And the feelings are still there. So maybe I'm not. I just wish I could explain it better.