Sunday, May 25, 2008

My Eyebrows

No. I am not anything like Cleopatra with her legendry nose. My eyebrows could never have created or changed history. But I can safely say that, in my part of the world, I was one among the first generation “pluckers”, as women with shaped eyebrows were called derisively/disapprovingly then.

It all began(Scene 1) with my friend Rachel coming late to class one day, looking different and chic. In no time we noticed that it was the upper half of her face that gave her that sophisticated look. Suddenly my friend Nilu (a Punjabi girl who always resented Sr. M… R…’s constant reminder about young girls behaving in a lady like manner) let out a howl. Sr. C, who was emoting the angst of King Lear dropped her Clarendon Shakespeare and looked at Nilu as though she were a ghost. The two girls and I who sat to Nilu’s left, jumped up and out of our skins and scrambled away, out of the room. Our plump friend who sat to her right jumped out of the window which was next to her, on to the veranda. Pandemonium prevailed in the lecture room while the rest of the girls in the classroom tried to run out. The teacher and students from the adjacent classroom gathered outside our class room, looking scared. Anyway, before a stampede could start, we heard Nilu shout at the top of her voice ‘it’s all right, it’s all right. I’m fine. Please stop.’ Her voice seemed to come from the skies and I followed it to find that she was standing on the desk (not even on the bench), looking sheepish, but gesturing like a music conductor, trying to calm the students, teachers and all. In reply to Sr. C‘s anxious question, she said “it’s Ok sister. I just had a bad dream”

Words fail me when I try to describe the expression on Sister C's face. By nature she was an affectionate and charitable soul but a little jumpy. Left to herself, she’d have laughed it off once she got a grip over herself but the teacher next door, who was watching the whole show, insisted that Nilu be hauled up - and she was. Properly. For howling, sleeping during the lecture and standing up on the desk! She had to explain how she fell so deeply asleep as to have a nightmare. She stuck to her guns but, later, told us her confidantes (5 of us) why she let out that eerie sound. As soon as Rahel walked in, she noticed that she had shaped her eyebrows!! Nilu, having grown up in Delhi and having moved around in the sophisticated circles there, had been a strong advocate for shaping the eyebrows. She felt that we southies were lacking in grooming. And she used to be at me all the time, to get me to shape my eyebrows. When Rachel walked in, Nilu saw that she had influenced at least one of her laidback southie friends, and felt so triumphant that she lost her head and forgot that she was sitting through the most tragic part of King Lear.

After Rachel took the first step, Nilu increased the pressure on me to prune my eyebrows. And Rachel joined her too, probably because she wanted a partner in the crime. Most of our class mates were teasing her all the time, or giggling, guffawing when she passed them.

Now a word about my eyebrows.

They were thick, wild and joined at the centre, and were the most prominent feature of my face. Nilu thought it looked like the wild growth at Tintern Abbey. Now, with Rachel on her side, she doubled her attack till I finally gave in.

Scene 2 took place during the lunch break, in a quiet small class room in the corner. Rachel had come with all the tools required for landscaping my face. (Her pardesi cousin had taught how to go about maintaining shaped eyebrows). The operation shaping began. One of our gang stood watch at the door, but no one came in there till the deed was done. I looked at my self in the mirror. I looked different-couldn’t decide if the change was for the better or worse ‘cos it was a small mirror which couldn’t show my full face.

The curtain went up on Scene 3 when I reached home. I wanted to walk in unnoticed, which was impossible in my house because amma would be waiting for me in the porch when it was time for me to reach home. Yes. She was there. Her face changed the minute she saw me. Anxious eyes wandered over my face but she simply couldn’t make out what had happened to it! Very gently she asked me if I was feeling fine. Not convinced by my exaggeratedly chirpy yes, she placed the back of her palm on my forehead to check my temperature. Then she let me go, but the puzzled, anxious expression followed me. A minute later she came into my room to tell me I should not take bath in cold water as I always do. Throughout the evening, I noticed that her eyes kept straying to my face. I still marvel at the fact that she could not put her finger on what caused the change in my appearance. In a few days’ time, she got used to my new look!

There were no more eyebrow episodes for the next two years when I went to a college in the big metro where I always enjoyed the anonymity that is the welcome companion of a nonentity who wants nothing except to keep a low profile. But the trouble began two years later (scene 4 starts here) when I was catapulted into a small town in mid-travancore, the heart of nazrani orthodoxy, with a job as a lecturer in a women’s college. In the 4000 strong college, there were less than 10 students who shaped their eyebrows. On the other side of the desk, I was the only one. Little wonder I came to be known as “plucker” – for plucking out hair to keep the eyebrows shapely. From anonymity to cynosure of attention – what a painful traumatic transition it was. I dreaded leaving my room in the staff hostel in the mornings. The students seemed to get into a state of excitment whenever they sat in my class or passed by me in the campus. The ‘plucker’ students looked at me with the expression reserved for a comrade – in-arms. My colleagues tried to keep a poker face – which scarcely concealed the glee? amusement? disapproval? marvel that one reserves for an ET.

Well. I survived it. And my eyebrows too. Like an arty novel or film, the story concluded with the protagonist merging with the crowd, losing her /his identity, for my eyebrows gradually lost its unique quality with people on both side of the desk taking to shaping theirs - - - -

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Kerala Cracking Down on Unholy Holy Men

The Kerala TV viewers are having a thumping time, and plenty to talk about, what with godmen/ holymen/ swamis/ healers / preachers surfacing, getting caught, absconding and walking into police station with a gun, threatening to commit suicide!!
From Kasarkode to Kanyakumari, the police is on the rampage raiding "ashrams', and the holy men on the run.

What a laughable situation!

Who would have thought a few street smart imposters could have taken the intelligent malayalee for such a royal ride? Isn’t literacy supposed to be a protection against gullibility? One should think not, considering the number of false prophets that are being smoked out - and all of them thrived on the gulliblity of a people who take immense pride in having mastered the three r’s!

Oh yes. These godmen did make their money. And how? One amassed wealth throwing eggs on the wall and making predictions about the future of those who approached him, based on design and colour of the egg matter dribbling down the wall !!! A whopping three hundred crores of rupees is supposed to have passed through “Swami” Santhosh Mandhavan’s Bank account. And he has dabbled in everything from making porn films to raping to drug dealing to hawala to - you name it. Most of these Swami Amrutachaithanyas and Himaval Maheswara Bhadranadjis and those mushrooming Christian religious preachers have huge real estate holdings.Their nexus with politicians and Police have made this God's own land a gold mine for these Godmen and women.
Now, the Kerala government is planning to hold an inter-departmental inquiry into the assets of these false gurus from all religious communities. We can now sit back and laugh at ouselves for having fallen pray to the worms that are going to crawl out of the can.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Kennedy in Kerala

This ttle might sound strange, but the Kennedys have a close and long lasting connection with Kerala. John Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline dominated the imagination of this state in the sixties. As the first catholic president of the US, he was a rage in the catholic community of Kerala. I was in the primary school when John Kennedy became the president of the US. Those were the days when the only news media available were the newspaper and the radio. I do not remember the excitement in my house when he beat Nixon – but I clearly remember the aftermath. The elders at home talked about the famous debate which turned things around for the young democrat. In the typical Malayalee style, men made dramatic declarations with matching gestures about Nixon’s discomfiture when Kennedy doled out his punch lines (all figments of imagination, I’m sure-there was no U tube or small screen in those days).
I think it was Kennedy’s ascent to the White House which prompted my father to subscribe to the Life and Time magazines. Even as a child I used to be fascinated by this handsome couple. Though I understood nothing, I faithfully looked everyday at the pictures that came out in the magazine –and preserved them till the eighties (all were lost when we relocated - or I would have had a collector's stuff now)
I remember the Cuban crisis. My sister was in the US at that time, and I still remember my mother telling me to get down on my knees and pray that Khrushchev calls back his fleet instead of defying Kennedy’s blockade! God hears children’s prayers, she told me. I remember the celebrations when the Russian premier allowed his better sense to prevail. Kennedy’s victory was like a personal victory for all at home-which included me ( Today I have different notions of who the villain and who the hero were).
I remember the day he was assassinated. Everybody seemed shell shocked. I was in the 5th std then and the school declared 2 days holiday!!! It was a catholic school. I don’t think it was officially declared but we had no classes. When I went to school after two days, I found my class teacher (a nun) in a state of shock. She was talking in terms of canonizing John F. Kennedy!! Thanks to the poor reach of media in those days, Kennedy’s bohemian ways were unknown to my part of the world. I remember the seamstress Cicily thathi (she was a storehouse of knowledge asking with tears in her eyes “what’s the motivation for Kennedy’s widow to remain alive now?” I still remember the stunned, numb expression on her face when Jacqueline remarried. She couldn’t get over it for days – and she and the rest of the household passed on that resentment to me.
Kennedy is a common name in Kuttanaad, the catholic stronghold in Kerala. I don’t know if, with the priggish Nazrani sense of morality(, these name bearers are embarrassed by their name.
The story goes that in the mid eighties, Jackie traveled incognito in Kerala. As she took a boat ride through Kuttanaad, she was shocked to have been recognized by almost everyone who saw her!
Again, when she flew down to Trivandrum and took a pre-paid taxi to the hotel where she had booked, the car driver told her he’ll step on it so tat she can catch at least the last part of the Kennedy serial that was being aired by Doordarshan!!
A coincidence. A couple of days back, Father Teddy, my colleague came home to pay us a visit. In the course of the casual conversation, I told him that Teddy is an unusual name in Kerala. He told me he was named after the last of the Kennedy brothers! Hardly were the words out when the news item came scrolling on the TV screen that Edward Kennedy was taken ill!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Are Mallu Males Perverts?

If making passes at women whenever they get a chance is an index of perversion, well, there are a large number of men in kerala who are perverts. now the question here is, are there a larger number of perverts among males in kerala than in other staes? sadly enough, the answer is yes. there was a time when i used to argue with pardesi mallus about this. i insisted that if there are such perverts at large in kerala, there are an equal number in the other states too. i dont insist on that line of argument any more. After living in Mumbai for more than six years, i must admit that it is a much more pleasant place for a woman to live in and travel about. men mind their own business and are not eternally trying to paw at women.

this is an issue (higher incidence of perversion among mallu males than in males from other parts of india) i hate to talk about 'cos i dont believe in stereotyping. but recently, i had occasion to spend some time with a youngster just out of an engineering college in chennai. he told me horrible, nightmarish stories about ragging there(he made me promise not to blog about it or mention the name of the college till his results are out!!). what shocked and upset me was his emphatic statement that the worst bullys are mallu boys. their ragging is intolerable - and terribly perverted. and there is what is called networked ragging, where mallu boys from various colleges in the city exchange freshers for ragging!! since ragging is not the issue here, i wont dwell on the subject. the point is, mallus are known, aknowledged and accepted as the worst, most perverted, most innovative hazers in all institutions in the country where ragging takes place.

i wish someone would tell me i've been wrongly informed. - pl check thos posts. it's a response from an honest response from a male mallu which i posted, as i was impressed by the honesty. Besides, it throws light on the issue.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Why Godmen become Godless

We have seen this happen far too often. Men of god switching sides. From god’s own people, they switch over to the league of his archenemy. Why does this happen?

Before ruminating over this distressful fact, let’s take a look at this category called god men. There are two types in this category.

Type 1- Scoundrels and fraudsters who don the robe and colours of godmen, capitalizing on 1. human gullibility, and 2. human greed and dissipation. These fraudsters partner with the latter and thrive on the former. The swamis who are hogging the media attention in Kerala at the moment belong to this category. They are petty criminals but perverted geniuses.

Type 2 – These are men with more power than ordinary human beings. Some have prophetic powers. They are, more often than not, full of words of wisdom. And all of them are magnetic personalities who attract people like magnet draws metal dust and shavings. Some of them display magical power like snatching objects out of the thin air. Some of this type usually carry on unscathed till the end of their lives, not getting embroiled in too many controversies, while some fall into disgrace.

It is the Type 2 that interests me. For they are people who have tapped the hidden human potential more than the average person has. It requires considerable discipline, commitment and a deep- rooted faith in the self to acquire that level of control over human faculties. Their methodology of achieving the seemingly superhuman feats can be emulated for personality building or offered as a structured package in schools where the future of a nation lies, or in civil service personnel training institutions where the custodians of the nations administration are trained, or in all in -house training programmes. For, what this type does is to address that flaw in human personality referred to so pithily in that saying ‘the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’. Their forte is the realization and conviction that with rigorous discipline spelt out by our forefathers in the yogic and similar practices, the weakness of the flesh can be overcome.

It is sad that these men (Type 2) who have succeeded in conquering that insurmountable obstacle to human progress called flesh, should eventually use their power to gratify the flesh. That is when they become corrupt, lose their transparency and become surrounded by coterie and start indulging in anti social and anti national activities.

Why does this happen? After turning this over in my mind for a long time I found the answer. Power corrupts, ever power over the self, unless this power is drawn from a spiritual source. Disciplining the mind should go in tandem with spiritual growth. The empowered mind divorced from the spirit will tip the equilibrium in favour of the flesh, causing a craving to gratify the flesh. The spirit is the conscience that should ideally guide the empowered mind. The spirit is God. Mind power in a spiritually unsound person can be dangerous. It makes these ‘Godmen’ drunk with their mind power. Display of magical powers in the presence of devotees is an effort to ensure large fan following – to keep the herd in their trail.

I wonder if Mahatma Gandhi would qualify to be categorized as a true Godman. At least he made an honest effort to simultaneously develop his mental and spiritual powers. Perhaps he did not succeed fully, but the effort was genuine. This should convince us that true godmen are not available a dime a dozen.

I think I have met a true Godman. Met him a few times. I was a middle school girl then and did not know or care about this godmen phenomenon. He was a priest, must have been in his seventies, skinny as skinny could be, with a long long pepper and salt beard. He wore round Gandhi glasses. The minute I saw him, I felt I was in the presence of untainted goodness. Don’t ask me what gave me that feeling. Was it that smile so full of peace and love for mankind(?)?. I didn’t know anything much about him then. Today I hear his canonization moves are afoot! People who knew him say that he always kept a low profile, lead a simple life and walked miles and miles to see people, no matter what their station in life, to give a word of solace, a healing touch to the wounded heart.

Can’t remember having met another like him.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Because She is a Woman

I notice a certain shifting of position, a re-ordering of values and criteria when men talk about women in high position. I am not talking of that common breed of the male species branded mcp. It’s those liberal, fair-minded and intellectually poised men that I have in mind. Recently, while I was in the company of half a dozen men whom I would place in the latter category, Jayalalitha and Hillary Clinton figured in the conversation. Jayalalitha was corrupt to the core, they stated emphatically. Her style of functioning provided a major role for goondaism. The tone and tenor of the conversation became venomous in a controlled, suave manner – but the appearance of objectivity/impartiality was maintained by a careful use of diction. I pointed out that corruption and goondaism aren’t Jayalalitha’s forte alone. Most stalwarts in regional politics specialize in this. But in unison, they proved me wrong. They tabled a list of Jayalalitha’s real estate acquisition across the globe. The information came from dependable sources. Sources were quoted. Did these sources do a research into, say Karunanidhi’s wealth, or Deve Gowda’s for that matter? The question was dismissed with a casualness which suggested they hadn’t – and the listing out of the malpractices of the ‘film star turned politician with a dubious background’ continued with controlled heat bordering on the danger zones that threatened to rip off that mask of objectivity and poise. The long and short of it is this: it doesn’t matter if Gowda and K’ nidhi are corrupt - after all they are MEN. No. They don’t believe in condoning corruption. But they shrug off corruption as inevitable when the practitioner is a male politician. Corrupt men create much much less shock waves than corrupt women. That is the unwritten, unspoken truth.

Hillary Clinton too sufered the same fate in the hands of these men. It is not that they were anxious about uncle sam succumbing to the embraces of Cleopatra. What I could sense was a deep seated but unspoken resentment that she did not have the weaknesses associated with a woman, and she was smart, and stable in time of crisis, and she dared to aspire for the most powerful seat in the world!. Their list of her fatal flaws included vanity, arrogance, overconfidence and of course, corruption – all of which would be soft peddled in a male leader . And they wont give her a chance.

Strange, how men have an extra antenna up when it comes to a woman achiever. It is specially programmed to pick up flaws which would be highlighted in red when they are detected in the female species, but would have an ‘ignore all’ command given in default when picked up in the male species.

my take: A sin is a sin whether a man or woman commits it. Not only ceaser’s wife, ceaser too must be above blame. Corruption in public servants is detestable. A fraudulent practice is no more heinous because a woman commits it, or any less scandalous when a man commits it. No separate standards for the sexes, please!

Remember what the great teacher once(and for all) said without mincing words? Whoever has not sinned can cast the first stone.

PS. Strangely enough, Indira Gandhi did not suffer the same fate as Jayalalaitha or Hillary Clinton did in the hands of these men. When she surfaced in the conversation, it was I who protested against the tributes given to her in turns. I don’t understand how the lady managed to unsex herself in the eyes of these gentlemen. Or are Indian men incurable dynastic rule advocates?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

An Apology for Srinivasan's Katha Parayumbol

I got a couple of comments to the post on katha parayumbol, to the effect that it is a substandard film; given below is a cut and paste of my response to them, showing why i like this film:
guess u have a point.
but it's not realism that i looked for in this movie. true, anavalmothiram, vadakku nokki yanthram, Chinthavishtayaya shyamala etc pay more attention to realistic details--but look at his works in a chronological order. you'll find a change-a movement from the realistic to the symbolic. ( all prolific writers show this tendency ). chinthanvishayaya shyamala is less dependent on realistic techniques than his earlier ones. kathaparayumbol has moved more to the symbolic plane- it's like a fable which goes something like this: 'once upon a time there was a small village in the remote highlands of kerala, where lived a good and honest barber balan'. Then balan's fortunes(misfortunes?) are traced. the social context in which this man lives is represented in typical, not realistic manner. all the usual srinivasan ingredients are thrown in, in a deliberately stereotyical exaggerated manner - for the focus of the movie is on
1. the character dileneation of balan -which all of you must admit is done in an excellent manner -with extreme realism - and with no jaada.
2. the fickless of the herd which is shown through stereotyped portrayal. perhaps opting for realistic techniques for this aspect would have made this movie an all time classic but i think balan's character dileneation and the spectacular performance by srinivasan make this film a real worthwhile experience.
besides, i know a person who is so very much like balan the barber - guess that's one reason i could relate--

Sunday, May 11, 2008


braving a migraine, i went to the theater to see katha prayumbol, 'cos my friend Bhawani insisted that it is a must- see movie.

i think it is Srinivasan's master peice. and i am glad i went to the theater to see the film, instead of seeing it on the small screen. it was a great experience. being surrounded, yes, physically surrounded by feelings- cos that is what the movie is all about. about feelings. the feelings of a do gooder, the type you occasionally come across in life but never go ga ga about 'cos she/he keeps a very low profile, is shy about the world coming to know about his instinctive goodness and genorosity. you know, one of those uncomplicated types whose right hand does not know what the left hand does, who believes in minding his own business, in doing an honest job to make an honest living. and one who yearns only for an innocuous existence.

what a well executed film! -dont think i have seen many Indian films like that. cant think of another movie so free of mush which yet got tears streaming down my face out of sheer happiness? or a more complex set of emotions?

when is this genius of a filmaker going to be recognised? i dont think there could be many others who can take you on the journey through the labrynthian complexities of the human mind, laughing all the way but, all the time, making you intensley conscious of dark horrors that lurk in it.

but unlike his usual scripts, katha parayumbol is no dark comedy. oh yes, it has plenty of frames which offer saritical- bordering- on- farcical representations of human vanities - enough to make the film a super entertainer. but then, those are not surface ornamentations but essential weaves in the fabric of the film, showing us how the world appears to a man of the protagonist's nature. Therein lies the beauty of the film.

it's not one of those selfconscious experimental films. it's a plain, simple and honest narrative with a fabular quality. in katha parayumbol, Srinivasan brings down that artificial separation between art/parallel and mainstream movies.

But then we can say that of all his works.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Food for Thought

All on a suuden, everyone is talking of food.

By way of explanation for wheat shortage, Sharad Pawar , Minister for Agriculture, picked on South Indians for taking to chapati eating habit.
Minister for Commerce Kamal Nath thinks that poor people have suddenly developed enhanced appetite. Hence the government is faced wth the new challenge of providing additional meal per day for 15 million people.
And now, the President of America feels anxious about Indian middle class eating healthy, causing global food and economic crisis.
Food riots breaking out in different parts of the world. Food items being rationed even in developed countries.
And the Big brother expects the rest of the world to take care of global food requirements, while he converts food to fuel in order to deal with rising oil price as also to presrve his own oil reserves.
At the bottom line, it's all about food.
When Einstein said “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones", I guess he had no inkling that World War III may be fought over food.
Is our civilization heading back to its primordial ways ?
Who is the fittest that will survive?

George Bush on India's Eating Habits!

Bush said it- bluntly. as he always does. blunt talk. Many tend to dismiss him as cerebrally challenged when he comes out with these what appears to be his usual foot-in-the-mouth statements. The fact is, he was only voicing what the policy makers of America always believed in – no Asian country , be it Iraq or Iran or India, had any right to existence if they posed a threat to American economic interests. Bush was always the voice of the selfish, self-centred uncle sam who honestly believes in making the world safe for America at any cost. He is undiplomatically frank about it. Years back, Woodrew Wilson delicately rationalized Americas entry into the first world war with that ‘makng the world safe for democracy” bit, when actually what he meant was making the world safe for America. That is the great American dream, whatever else idealists might eulogise.

Ok. What if Indians are eating nutritious food and, as a result, the world is ravaged by inflation? What should India do? Starve her people so that American inflation can be capped? Condolleeza Rice’s anxiety about India putting a cap on exports to feed her increasingly affluent population, thereby causing supply shortage in the first world has, one must assume, made her president paranoid. His earlier paranoia led him to create havoc in Afghanistan and Iraq. He still harbours paranoia about Iran. Now it is India that haunts his nightmares. Guess it is China’s devil may care attitude arising from military and economic strengths that prompts him to keep silent about the eating habits of the Chinese people!

Ominous statements that cannot be ignored or taken lightly. Since independence, India has managed to retain her identity in her foreign and domestic policies. Her Non alignment policy, closed economy, nuclear programme, her pro-active role in Bangla Desh liberation and the successful run of democracy for six decades have made the world sit up and look at her as a force to be reckoned with. But the US did not feel threatened by her because poverty and famine were her companions in the post independence period. Now that India has achieved self sufficiency in food, and is well on the way to becoming a super power who can call the shots on many issues, uncle sam is getting jittery.

In the context of such menacing statements, it becomes very important that India strengthens herself politically, economically and militarily. This is a warning to all political parties to keep aside their individual agendas and behave responsibly in a statesmen like manner. The statement of the president of America cannot be dismissed as a gauche turn of phrase.