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Kama Sutra Lost

A painting from Deepak Chopra: Kama Sutra

A painting from Deepak Chopra: Kama Sutra

An edited version was published by Helter Skelter Magazine on 22nd June 2013.

My mom has thrown away my Kamasutra book. Atleast, I think that is what happened to it.

I remember the first time she came upon it. We were in my room, cleaning out my closet. She insisted on helping me. I didn’t really have a lot to hide at the time, as most of what was hidden was on my laptop, but there was a bright, pink thong. And, that book.

She came upon the piece of lingerie first.

“What is this?” she held it up with her thumb and fore finger, as if afraid of getting tainted.

“A thong?” I shrugged.

“Why do you wear this? Does it even cover anything?” she shook it in my face.

I had never actually worn it but had bought it on a whim, with other underwear. Those 3 for 25 sales.

“Well, if I don’t wear it now, when should I wear it then? At your age?” I said, in jest.

She shook her head, and kept it back where she had found it.

A few minutes later, she chanced upon my Kamasutra book.

“And, what is this?!” she sounded pissed.

“A book,” I felt a little guilty for even owning it at the time.

“Why?”

“It was on sale,” I said, sheepish.

Well, to be honest, it had been on sale. I had walked into a bookstore and there it had been, on the “sale” table. It wasn’t even an actual sex manual. More like a large coffee table book with paintings of naked limbs in hues of dark, passionate red.

“So, you bought it?” she demanded.

“Well, I bought it for the paintings,” I finally admitted.

This time she looked skeptical, flipped through the erotic paintings, gave a grunt of a half satisfactory “hmph” before putting it back in the crevice I had created specifically for the book.

That was six years ago.

In those six years, we had moved to a new house. I had acquired new shelves for my many more books, including anthologies of erotica, some of which I displayed openly on my shelves. Some of which I had even offered to her, saying, “read this!”. She hasn’t taken up on my offer yet.

So today, with the heavy downpour outside, I remembered those paintings. I wondered who the artist(s) had been. A burning desire to know came upon me. It took hold of me till I gave up what I had been doing and went to look for it. But the book… well, the book was gone.

Books don’t just disappear, I reasoned as I searched everywhere. It couldn’t have just grown a pair of legs, and walked out of the house. It couldn’t have been stolen, the sheer size and colour (it has a Tide safedi type white cover) a deterrent. I know I didn’t lend it to anyone. Then where was it?

I remembered that the book had been kept aside with many of my excess books till my dad had installed the new shelves. Since I had been away from the house, living in another city at the time, my parents had filled the shelves with those excess books. The shelves were located in my “writing room” (as I called it) in the basement.

I went down. I switched on the lights. I perused my shelves. The book was not there.

I sighed. I had looked everywhere. There was only one explanation for it.

“Did you throw away my Kamasutra book?” I asked my mom when she came back that evening.

What book?” she looked confused.

I patiently described the book. The details of her aversion on her first encounter with it.

“So, did you?” I asked, again.

“Why would I throw your book away? Do I have an enmity with your book?” she defended herself.

Since I know my mom would never lie, I am left unsure. Has dad gotten rid of it? But why would he? Did someone steal it? But why?

The absence of the book doesn’t bother me as much as the loss of the book itself. I could, of course, just order a used copy from Amazon, but the book would not have the personal history I had with my previous copy. That history would be lost.

Also, I had just wanted to know about the artist(s).

Turn your hell into heaven, my mind said. Google!

And so, I did.

Update: I realized that another book of mine was missing (The Three Incestuous Sisters by Audrey Niffenegger). It was a hard cover graphic novel. A much bigger and heavier book than my Kamasutra book. So, where the hell was that? As it turns out, in an overlooked box in a neglected dark corner of an overlooked storeroom in the basement. Along with- guess what?- my Kamasutra book!  Now, they are both where they rightfully belong, out in the open on my bookshelves. 

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I have Got the Pins and Needles

An edited version was published by Helter Skelter Magazine on 10th September 2012.

Needle and Skin

I have always wanted a tattoo. Nascent pictographs created from the controlled symbiosis of needle and ink on nothing but bare skin… yes, it has held a certain allure for me. But of course, it was off-limits. Read: strictly forbidden by my parents.

Mom: “You will get AIDS!”

Dad: “You want to be like those hippie kids?”

Me: Silent (You know the pose: Eyes down, serious face with occasional nodding. I am usually in my happy place in my head.)

But I have always wanted a tattoo. And, I usually get what I want. Eventually.

So, this was me in Bangalore in Jan. I have recently had an irreconcilable tiff with a boy I liked back then. I was also discovering new facets to my personality, being away from home for the first time. And not just away, mind you, but away in a different continent altogether.

It’s almost afternoon. I am alone in my friend’s apartment. Her friend, Swati Kejriwal, calls me up.

“Dude, it’s my day off. Let’s do something!”

“Yes, let’s. I want to get a tattoo. Can you take me to your guy?”

“Her guy” referred to her tattoo guy who she went to for the numerous tattoos she already had. I mean, if I was going to immortalize a part of my body with body ink, the least I could do was go to a place I could trust.

“Do you know what you want?”

“Yeah.”

It was a dragonfly. I liked what it signified. Maturity. Awareness. Independence. Renewal. Not to mention that Konkona Sen’s character of an aspiring writer (like me) in Wake Up Sid also had a dragonfly. Just where I wanted it.

We fix a time, she shows up in an auto, and we leave.

The parlour, Dark Arts Tattoo Studio, is a part of a comfortable little bungalow in Frazer Town.

The owner of the parlour, Pradeep Menon, is sitting in the front of the entrance, sipping beer. Swati and Pradeep greet each other like long-lost friends.

“This is my friend, Sanchari. She is the one who wants to get a tattoo,” I am introduced.

He glances at me, “What kind of tattoo?”

I hesitate, “A… a dragonfly?”

He asks one of his workers to take me inside to help me choose a design.

I am surprised to see the inside of his studio. It’s clean and brightly lit, cool with the air conditioner on. There is another woman inside, waiting to get a large tattoo on the inside of her arm. I am too nervous to ask her what she’s getting.

I choose my tattoo, and then am introduced to Anurag Pradhan, who’s to be my tattooist.

“Here, do her’s. It shouldn’t take much time,” Pradeep smiles, “it’s a puchki tattoo.”

This makes me giggle. It is indeed a tiny little thing I am getting.

So while Pradeep takes on the monster on the lady’s arm, I am ushered inside to prepare my nape.

I deliberately choose the nape. Think about it. You can hide it with a collared shirt at work, and then flaunt it in a swimming costume. Or, halter necks. Or, low-cut blouses. Or, to lovers. In moments of intimacy. Like your very own dirty secret.

Any-way.

The lady who helped me earlier, wipes my nape with an alcoholic solution, and then shaves the area. Then she sticks on a paper with my chosen design, pulling it off after making sure the design stays put on my skin.

Imprint of the design

“Ready?” Swati grins.

“Sure…”

I am not, though. I am having sudden second thoughts. I remember my childhood visits to the doctor.

Doctor (holding the injection with the evil, glinting needle on it): Ready?

Me: Won’t hurt, will it?

Doctor: Not at all.

What lies! Inevitably, I screamed. Was this going to be a nostalgic reprise?

Here too, I surrender. I hand my camera to Swati and position myself as directed. Anurag is serious, his concentration elevating my nervousness quotient.

I hear the needle whirring. I wait for the pain.

Anurag at work

I wait…

There is none.

“Well?” Swati asks, as she clicks away.

“It doesn’t hurt! I mean, I kind of like it…”

Everyone laughs.

In fifteen minutes, tops, I am done.

I am given instructions on how to keep my wound clean for the next two weeks, and then, after throwing away the ink used on me, the lady offers me my needle.

“Do you want your first needle?”

“First needle?” I am confused.

“Yes. Everyone keeps their first needle.”

She sounds sure of my desire to come back for yet another tattoo. I don’t contradict her, even though I know I won’t.

I accept the needle as my due.

Later, I ponder breaking the news to my parents. Eventually.

I touch my dragonfly for reassurance, tracing the wound with the tips of my fingers. The permanence comforts.

As does Swati’s mantra:

It’s the only thing you can take with you to your grave.

Amen.

Photo credits: Swati Kejriwal

Dragonfly

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Crossing the Lakshmanrekha, with impunity

A still from Sita Sings the Blues (2008), directed by Nina Paley

An edited version was published by Helter Skelter Magazine on 22nd October 2011 .

“You know your Lakshmanrekha. Don’t cross it.”

Err, mom. Where exactly are the boundaries again? Spell it out, will you?

Any Indian (Hindu) woman growing up will attest to being subjected to this refrain. The meaning of the Lakshmanrekha of course, depended on how “liberal” one’s parents were. It could mean anything from not talking to a guy, to PDAs, to dressing in a certain way, to indulging into sexual activities, to taking drugs, to… anything that symbolised that a nice Indian girl was going out of control. For some reason, the rekha, or line, is mostly seen as a reference to interaction with the opposite sex, and only applies to women. None of my guy friends have even heard of this rekha business.

Yesterday at lunch, Mom was grandly telling me, “Sure, date. Just don’t cross the Lakshmanrekha.”

“What is the rekha? What is it that you don’t want me to do?”

“You know.”

“Umm… no, I don’t.”

“Well, you should.”

See what I mean? The actual boundaries are never spelt out. I mean, honestly, where does the damn thing begin and end? The ambiguity of the rekha is rather baffling.

I think the trouble started when a bunch of Indian Hindu men decided to come up with the Ramayan (Yes, I believe it’s a myth. They call it Hindu mythology for a reason.) that spelt out ambiguous rules and regulations to overlook the Indian Hindu women’s behaviour towards the opposite sex.

[Insert Indian accent]

Man 1: We must do something to protect our women’s chastity.

Man 2: You are absolutely right!

Man 3: Our women must be under our control!

Je-sus.

Think about it. Lakshman, Sita’s brother-in-law, draws this protective rekha (a boundary, if you will) around her to protect her from the lustful nazaar (or, eyes) of unknown men (here, Raavan). Not only is it a warning tale to young women about the consequences of defying the rekha (I mean, poor chick gets kidnapped, then disowned in a pregnant state despite proving her chastity through fire acrobatics… twice!), but the rekha itself symbolises the many boundaries imposed upon female sexuality while growing up.

In my case, the “rekha,” or the allusion to the sacred line drawn by Lakshman to protect Sita, changed meaning as I grew older. In fact, even as recently as 2007, I was not allowed to stay out all night. Even though it was on New Year’s, I remember cabbing it back from Niagara Falls all alone back to my suburban home, just because staying out all night would have been crossing the rekha. And yet, I have been at a crazy bachelorette party at the same Falls in 2010 doing things that would have certainly fallen outside the sacred line. Irony ahoy!

I think parents forget that just like boys, girls will be girls. Seriously, now. Do you think we do not get up to mischief? That we do not cross the goddamn rekha that you have not specified for us? You are wrong. We do. All the time. We are just too damn clever about hiding it.

But why should we go undercover? Why pretend? Why is it such a taboo to flaunt our sexuality? Why can’t I kiss a boy openly if I like him enough to? Do I become a slut? A whore? Such tired comparisons. Why can’t I be compared to a classy courtesan for a change? Or, one of those talented geishas? Hats off to those women for owning their sexualities.

So, when my dad said, “We should not have to spell out your boundaries for you. You should know them by now,”

I said, “If I can face myself in the mirror unflinchingly and without shame, I have no one else to answer to.”

I draw my own rekha. Lakshman can keep his.

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Nuit Blanche 2011: Art for Art’s Sake

Ride the Rocket, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

An edited version was published by South Asian Generation Next on 6th October 2011 (print version).

This year was a cold Nuit Blanche. If you think about it, it almost sounds morbidly romantic. The Cold White Night. You know, the whole shindig about the blank canvas painted with the creativity of art. Yes, that. Except, it was très cold.

So, another year. Another Nuit Blanche. My fourth year. I was excited. Honest. It was the first Saturday since I had handed in my M.A. thesis. My mind was devoid of academia and free to take in the sights and sounds of the novel art fest that I look forward to each year. Last year was disappointing, no doubt. But this year took the cake… in disappointment.

My night started late. I joined a couple of people (friends and friends-of-friends) at around 9:30 on October 1st in Zone A, at Bloor and Yonge. After trying to figure out the map for a while, we ended up walking west on Bloor. The night was young. So were we. Spirits were high (literally, since some of us were surreptitiously drinking). Conversation was flowing. Kind of. And then, bang, at the corner of Bloor and Bellair Street, we were stopped in our tracks by the sight of couples dancing to classical music.

Dancing Couples (unoffical exhibit), Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

“Wait, guys,” I said. “This must be an exhibit.”

One of the guys sniggered. I wanted to smack him (as I will for most of the night, but that comes later).

After two minutes of checking them out, we walked on (later, I pored over the list of exhibits to locate what/who they were. Finally, I must conclude that they were an unofficial exhibit.).

Next we ended up at Avenue and Bloor, and entered Church of the Redeemer that hosts an exhibit without fail each year. We were greeted by a smiling old lady who went “welcome”. And then, we were face-to-face with static-y televisions. “This is art?” the same annoying guy started again. “Open your mind,” I said, tersely. The church atmosphere was awe-inspiring. You have to admit that there is something about a holy place that demands reverence. And, silence. But some giggling teenage guys (perhaps, drunk, too) kept yelling out obscenities. The tiny candles, however, along with the choral music, kept the ethereal atmosphere of Compostela alive.

Compostela, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

We moved on, and out into the cold. Where to now? We wondered. “Can we go to the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum)?” one of them asked. “No baby, they are not open today.”

“Actually, they might be,” I ventured. “They had an exhibit last year too.”

We wandered upto the ROM, only to be greeted by milling people, but no sign of any exhibits. There were no welcome Scotiabank info tents to help us either. Wow, we must really be in the midst of a recession, I thought. As we were walking away, I saw people heading out of the side entrance of the ROM. Then, I noticed pictures of Bollywood flicks plastered on the side, announcing the Bollywood Cinema Showcards exhibit. “Guys, they are open!” I yelled, happy as a clam. For those who are not in the know, this exhibit had made its appearance at AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) a while back, and now it was being recycled for Nuit Blanche. The reason for my happiness was that I had missed it earlier (read: working on my thesis), but now I got to catch it. For free!

The exhibit had us climbing three flights of stairs. “They must really want to discourage us from catching this!” I said out aloud. The exhibit, however, was every bit worth it. It was interesting to watch non-brown people reading out the names on the hand painted showcards, and not getting what they meant. There was one that cracked me up. Ek Sapera, Ek Lutera. One Snake Charmer, One Robber. It had a figure of a very lust ridden Feroz Khan gazing equally lustfully at a helpless half-naked wide-eyed damsel, while in the process of robbing her honour. And there was a snake charmer too in the corner, but it was unclear what his role was. I surmise she falls in love with the snake charmer, who saves her from the Lutera. Oh, well.

Our steps took us to a Niagara Falls exhibit next. Slow Falls Rising, located on the University of Toronto campus, was a video installation of Niagara Falls rising upwards. In slow motion. Don’t look surprised. Yes, that’s all it was. “Je-sus, if this is art, I am entering something next year!” one of my friends called out. “Hey, look at me! I am walking backwards in slow motion!”

Slow Falls Rising, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

We sniggered and tee-heed and went to look for something meaningful in this melancholic night of disillusionment.

We ended up in the middle of Queen’s Park and spied a large exhibit in the distance. We walked, without inspiration. And then, we were silenced. Because The Feast of Trimalchio did just that. Subliminally sexual, the images created tension (all kinds of tension, if I may add). We were silenced, as were most of the crowd. Most of them were open-mouthed and unable to walk away. Reminding myself that the night wouldn’t last forever, and there were many, many more exhibits to catch, I reluctantly moved away. The annoying guy, however, put a damper, as usual, “My evaluation: this sucks”. I had to retort to shut the prick up, “My evaluation: you have no imagination” (He ignored me for the rest of the evening. Not that I care.). We lost him and his friend momentarily in their quest for washrooms (thank god!) and headed to Hart House. There were atleast four exhibits there.

The Feast of Trimalchio, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

The first three inside the building are nothing to write home about (and I won’t even bother). But the one in the courtyard should be applauded for its innovation. Known as Medicine Walk, and organized by the Aboriginal Studies Program at UofT, it was a group exhibition on (quoting from the Nuit Blanche booklet) “aboriginal knowledge, artistry and language”. I made out a beehive made of wood and big enough to accommodate atleast 10-12 adults in it. There was this one guy handing out a drink of some sort. I refused, well, because I had my own drink. There were also rows of pod-like capsules that were filled with crickets. A man at the exhibit explained how crickets needed a certain amount of warmth to stay active (the pods had some kind of heating), and they went into hibernation once they lost that warmth.

Wooden beehive (part of Medicine Walk), Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

After having exhausted Hart House, we walked to meet up with the annoying guy and his friend, and went to catch a train from Queen’s Park. Meanwhile, I was informed in hushed whispers that the annoying guy had decided to head home (again, thank god!). The train took us to St. Patrick, and hence, to Zone B.

The first thing we saw was Ride the Rocket, a multimedia video installation that transformed a street car into a virtual ride through video. It appeared to be a popular exhibit, judging from the long line, so we moved on, after taking pictures for posterity.

Next, we walked into The Heart Machine. Termed as an “interactive fire sculpture” in the booklet, the exhibit was too crowded to get a clear glimpse. However, I think the heat from the sculpture may have something to do with that. Cold night. Hot sculpture. Freezing people. You make the equation. I did catch some shooting flames in the air, but it wasn’t enough to keep me around.

Egerton Falls, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

Our next stop took us to Dundas Square, again too crowded to move about in. We headed towards Ryerson University, and stumbled upon Egerton Falls. The fog, music and the lights around the water had me transfixed for a few moments. But the increasing cold (and a desire to empty my bladder) pushed us along. Looking for a restroom, we ended up at Atrium on Bay. After my business, we headed to the underground parking to catch a sound installation known as Border Sounds. The novelty of the exhibit was that it was in an underground parking. The exhibit had different makeshift stations with tons of headphones at each station. Each station played music that referred to a particular area. I caught Israel, Pakistan, India and finally, Canada. And, if you like dubstep, then this was probably your scene.

Border Sounds, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

Later, we caught Paparazzi Bots on Yonge Street. The bots moved around and took your photos and then displayed them on a screen. Brownie points for another inventive project. After this, we stumbled upon Shannon’s Fireflies that had strings of LED lights that react to people’s whispers and convert them into light. Sure, it was “pretty,” but it was also similar to Ning Ning on Bond Street last year. Another case of recycled art? Bah. (Apparently not. Check comments section below.)

Paparazzi Bots, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

We meandered into Zone C, after I filled my belly with some yum yum from one of the food stations in front of Nathan Phillips Square. No, I didn’t see the flying human birds at the Square. Maybe, I was too tired and cold to care. Also, hungry. Hunger makes me blind. The first exhibit that caught my eyes in Zone C was Cardiac Combustion Chamber.  It was a bunch of guys playing drums in the center of car parts suspended into space. The music was mesmerizing, and I wanted to stay. But one of my companions (and, my ride back home) was cold and wanted to leave. It was probably minus 1 at this point, and I wanted to catch Bone Dump, before we called it quits.

Cardiac Combustion Chamber, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

On our way there, we passed by I just know that something good is going to happen. People were standing in lines to grab an umbrella and experience rain. Yes, rain. In the cold. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know why. Sometimes, people are crazy, or too drunk, to care. We also passed by New Dawn Fades on 100 Yonge Street. It was a row of cyclical rings lit by blue lights. There was a line to get in. Again, I don’t know why. It didn’t look very interesting from outside. Not in my opinion, anyway.

I just know that something good is going to happen, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

I just know that something good is going to happen, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

And finally, we came upon Bone Dump in the Financial District, in an alley between 10 and 18 King Street. It was a dump of porcelain bones. At this point, my friend gave me a look that said, “This is what you made me walk in the cold for? This?” “Oh, come on,” I said, “this is better than most of the crap we saw tonight.”

Bone Dump, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

“True,” he nodded. And, we headed back home.

(Interesting stuff seen that night that was not a part of Nuit Blanche: a man in a green skin-tight suit, two guys vomiting together and a man in Snuggies.)

Man in the green skin-tight suit, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

Two vomiting guys, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

Man in Snuggies, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

At two-thirty, when we left, downtown was pretty crowded. This was new. People were genuinely out to enjoy the fest, despite the insipid “art”. But hey, that is a good sign. For artists. For the city. And, to an extent, for the economy. Smile, Rob Ford.

Photographs: Copyright Sanchari Sur (if it wasn’t obvious, already).

Crickets in pods (part of Medicine Walk), Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

Shannon's Fireflies, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

New Dawn Fades, Nuit Blanche 2011, Toronto

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Scheherazade’s One Thousand and One Arabian Night(mare)s

An edited version was published by Helter Skelter Magazine on 27th June 2011.

Once upon a time, in a book rife with lies, Princess Scheherazade spent one thousand and one nights in bed with Prince Shahriyar… talking.

Poor child. Not a single glass of cool sherbet was offered to soothe that lovely throat that may have gone hoarse as she spoke to save her life.

Princess Scheherazade. Of noble birth and noble poise. She gladly gave herself up to satisfy the prince’s twisted sense of humour where he took virgin brides to bed one night, and had them beheaded the next. His reason was fuelled by a fear of infidelity on their part. Notice how he sacrificed virgin brides after he had deflowered them. Ironic. No one ever questioned the prince’s virginity. Or, sanity, for that matter (I wonder if he was afraid that he wouldn’t get his seventy-two virgins after death, and was trying to make up an equivalent in human numbers).

But Scheherazade? Did her heart pulsate wildly as she made a careful note to appeal to the prince’s mental libido, while keeping his physical libido at bay? Did the imagined swish of a sword at the guillotine haunt her dreams, as she struggled to maintain the veneer of an artful storyteller, with apt tincture pauses at the exact moments in order to create an illusion of drama and mystery? Or, did she just inwardly maintain a running record of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” as a talisman against fear?

Was it perhaps a girlish infatuation that led her to his bedroom of doom? Did she secretly hold a special place for the prince, to willingly walk into a death trap? Or, were her motives more selfish and lay in her desire to be immortalised in history? Perhaps, she lost herself in the somnolence of a utopic fantasy where her tormentor would fall hopelessly in love with her storytelling skills (and… other things).

I wonder if even once in those one thousand and one nights, she regretted her decision. Did she ever daydream of taking the prince by his beard and shaking his face, out of frustration and rage?  Or, was she one of a perverse mentality whose kink lay in a masochistic self-torture where she fed off from the dread evident in the flutter of her heart? Did she ever in those long, long nights mistake that flutter for… love?

Love, indeed. The bane of life. Look at Sita. She insisted that Ram come save her from Raavan, and what did she get? Two counts of fire acrobatics to prove her chastity.

Look at Europa. Ovid’s Metamorphoses etched her “rape” by Jupiter for centuries to come. But if Jupiter’s fulfillment lay in plain ravishing, then why make Europa his queen? Why choose her to rule Crete, with a special place right next to him? What if “love” was all they really had?

Tabitha Vevers' "When We Talk About Rape" (1992), based on the myth of Europa's rape by Jupiter

But Scheherazade and love? Was she in love with a murderer who had a trail of massacred damsels on his hands?

Myths and historical myths are often interpreted (and misinterpreted) at will. I could give you a lecture on the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi controversy manipulated by political parties that led to unnecessary bloody communal riots. But let’s stick to simple things.

Think. For once.

If just like Ovid’s possible misinterpretation of a possible love story, there had been no pointy sword hanging over Scheherazade’s neck? Maybe, her stories were just sweet nothings between two lovers after a very “sexy time” in bed (a commonplace substitute for the modern-day post-coital cigarette, perhaps?). Then, the massacres could have been a lie. A cover-up made up over time to spice up the origin of the one thousand and one stories. Spice sells. And, love stories are trite and common, anyway.

But let’s ask an expert on relationships. Freud, darling? What do you think?

He takes a long drag of his pipe, strokes his beard, and says, “Love, shove, nothing! What really happened was: once upon a time, a woman fell in love with an infantile man, and told him bed time stories to fulfill an unfulfilled Oedipal complex. By being able to do so, his love for her was unshakeable. And, tell me this, how could he let go of that mother figure, once he had her?”

Maybe, the guy has a point.

So Scheherazade, forgive me. But your tales are all you have. The rest will be reworked again and again in an infinite loop, till we have exhausted
the possibilities of your life. Truth comes in many versions, and maybe some day, we will hit upon the right one.

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Good Indian Girls Do Not Waste Time Writing Books

An edited version was published by Helter Skelter Magazine on 24th May 2011.

*FYI: Beti = daughter, Samajdar = sensible, Thik hai = Alright, Jaldi = Hurry

“You want to do whaaat???!!”

Write a novel. Now calm the eff down.

Ever wonder how it would be to take a hiatus from life to follow that one niggling dream that dances on the edge of your consciousness day-in and day-out? I do. All the time. And, being an Indian girl let me tell you, it isn’t easy. An Indian girl is a ticking time bomb.

“Do you want to be the only thirty-something to marry the leftovers? Life isn’t Sex and the City.”

Jeez. Leftovers. That’s what my dad calls the baldies and the divorcees, since that’s who you will get if you decide to get married post-thirty. Why, thank you. That does mean I have a neat little bracket of five years left, right? Right?

Wrong. If you are a brown girl baby, you will know that we have two very neat choices (no, infanticide is not one of them): academics or marriage. Ever since I started my stint at grad school with my Master’s in English, daddy dearest laid off with all the “beti*, don’t you want to get married?” Now that my year is winding down, and I have to decide for either the PhD route, or the working girl route, there it is again. I am reminded of my expiry date, my limited shelf life, my doomed future as a single brown girl. See, Indian parents do not hand you a Kit Kat when you decide to take a break from life. A break from life is a luxury that does not exist in the Indian dictionary.

I don’t ask for much. Just want to be a Mistry or a Roy. Maybe, a Lahiri at least. Just not a contrived cow. “A contrived what?” you ask. A contrived c-o-w. Now what is a contrived cow? The market of fiction is filled with contrived cows. In other words, books that pass for literature but are instead filled with superficial plots driven by clichés and contrived platitudes. Books that are great for mass market sellouts, but won’t be remembered twenty years down the line.

There is nothing wrong with being a mass market writer. To each his own. The books sell. You make millions and then you are forgotten. If you like money and fifteen minutes of fame, you might consider the route of mass market. But some mass market writers know how to write and make money, while some are just contrived cows who end up making money by chance. Jeffery Archer and John Grisham belong to the former category. Harold Robbins and Sidney Sheldon also belong to the former category but to a lesser degree, while Twilight series writer Stephanie Meyer is a contrived cow who just got lucky.

I don’t want to become a non-contrived-cow mass market writer either. That is taking the easy way out. I want to create literature. Get short listed for a Booker, if not win one. I want people saying my name with a hushed reverence within literary circles. (Small dreams, sigh.) Or, atleast give it a try. See if I can. How on earth can I concentrate on creating history if I have small versions of myself crawling around me, tugging on my t-shirt and competing for my attention? So, here I am. Dreaming of taking off for a few months and writing my first novel. Yes, you read that right. I am still at the dreaming stage. But even that comes with restrictions.

“No, no. You can’t write on that… it’s too controversial!”

Err, dad. Are you a realist fiction expert? No? Didn’t think so. Back down, maybe?

“But, but, BUT! Can’t you write on something else?”

Hmm. Can I? Sure. Do I want to? Nope.

Now if I had said instead, “Daddy dearest, I want to get married. Here are some high resolution photos of me in an Indian and a Western outfit (you know, to show the purrrfect blend of Eastern and Western values. As if it can be discerned from some lousy pictures the high blends that I am made of!) that you can put on Shaadi.com. Jaldi!* I am so ready to give up my freedom and make babies,” I would have been rewarded with the aren’t-I-lucky-to-have-such-a-samajdar-beti* look. Now, who doesn’t want to be one of those samajdar betis? Do I see hands? No? Shy, are we?

Instead, this not-so-samajdar-beti decides to take a year off from academia, fly off to the city of her birth and start working on her first novel. Yes, he says finally. Thik hai, go. I am sure you will meet someone in India.

Indian parents, I tell you. Will never change.

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A Childhood Confession

Left on my own

 

An edited version was published by South Asian Parent on 9th May 2011.

I grew up with a nanny. She wasn’t exactly hired help. In reality, she was my father’s mashi (mother’s sister). I called her dida (grandmother). 

It did not start off as dida as my nanny. I was initially left at a crèche, but their callous ways of not having changed my nappy for hours horrified my parents into looking for other suitable caregivers. Many came in succession. There was this one woman who would tie me up to a table so that I wouldn’t crawl away. Let me tell you, that woman lost her job before she could blink and say “What the …?!”

Dida was a good option. She had taken care of my baba as a child. She loved spending time with me, despite my barbaric tantrums (another story for another day). My parents begged her to become my nanny.

So as the story goes, both my parents had demanding jobs. While my ma had an erratic schedule with her air hostess job at Indian Airlines (she would be gone for days, sometimes slipping away at 4 am in the morning for an early morning flight), my baba would toil away at an engineering firm in Calcutta until late in the evening. It was the late 80’s, and they wanted the best for their only child. I was often left alone with my dida and the maid servant.

 For the most part, I was a happy child. I was a popular kid at school, and had friends in our apartment building to distract myself with. I was pampered. Fed the best of everything to maintain my health (I was an underweight child). If I ever threw a tantrum and refused to eat, the maid and dida would get scolded. When baba went away on long tours across the globe, he always brought me the best of chocolates and toys. I remember when even before the hand held video games came to India, I had one at my disposal.

Once my sister was born (I was nearly six), Ma decided to get flexible hours. She gave up flying and became a ground staff, to be able to spend more time at home with her new baby.

I remember being faintly resentful that she spent all her time with my sister, who couldn’t even talk yet. Sometimes, I wondered why she had not done this when I was younger. I was jealously possessive of my mother’s time. But don’t get me wrong. She was an awesome mother. She would make time to sit with me and have inane conversations about my day. She would make me study under her supervision, especially Bengali, which I faltered at. Sometimes, she lost her temper because I couldn’t remember simple spellings. She would feed me herself on her off-days, and sometimes, we would watch a video together. Those are my happiest memories.

A snatched moment

The year I turned nine, baba was transferred to Dubai, and Ma decided to give up her job to come with us. Now, I always had Ma at home. When I woke up, it wasn’t the maid shaking me awake, but my mom. When I came home from school, there was a glass of sherbet waiting for me, made by ma. Life was what I had imagined it to be, having watched my friends and their housewife moms.

I wonder if as kids we ask too much of our parents. At nine, I did not know what a sacrifice it had been for my ma to give up her job. I had no idea how depressed she was in a new country, with no one to talk to. I suppose at some level, her guilt made her leave her job. I wonder if it would have been any different if she had always been a stay-at-home mom. I ask her often, why did you not spend more time with me when we were in Calcutta? Her answer never changes, “We wanted the best for you. Our jobs afforded a good life for you”. But why did you decide to change after my sister was born? She doesn’t answer that one. Instead, she deflects it by saying, “I am here now, naa?” I suppose I can understand that at some level. Yet, there are moments when I feel that I could have been happier with Ma by my side as a child. To have her croon me to sleep, as a baby.

Because isn’t that what parents are supposed to do? Especially mothers? Strangely, I never craved for my father’s time as much as I did hers, even though he was always busy or away as well. But my mother made up for than enough with her presence post age nine. I cannot remember not having my Ma around after moving to Dubai. Even now, she makes it a point to call me every day. I have to gently remind her that I am not a child anymore. But she prefers calling me to my sister. Or, so I would like to believe.

I don’t know if having had a nanny for the formative years of my life changed me for better or for worse. But I do know that if we had not left India when we did, I might have held a grudge all my life.

Photographs: Copyright Sanchari Sur

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