being brown

Posts tagged “ideology

Little English School Girl

Fiery

Fiery

The year was 1927 or 1928. Or was it 1929? Not too sure. A little girl, not more than 8 or 9 years old, was playing outside her home in Kumbakonam, a small town south of Chennai in Tamil Nadu, India. Her hair was drenched in warm coconut oil and held in two tight braids. Two flamboyant ribbons were generously tied around the two braids into large sloppy bows. She wore a cotton long-skirt and blouse, that ubiquitous little-girl attire, Paavaadai Choka. It was evening. Suddenly, her father emerged on the road outside and she ran to the gate to greet him. Affectionately, he placed his hand on her shoulder and braced himself to field all the questions his little girl launched at him. As they conversed, they both moved inside the house. He sat down to a snack of freshly prepared hot idlis that his wife had brought from the kitchen. The little girl sat on his lap, regaling him with school stories until he finished his snack.

After having poured her heart out, Ambuja ( for that was the little girl’s name) ran away to resume her play. Her father, an English professor in a college in Kumbakonam turned to his wife and gave her the news. He had been transferred to Patnam. The word itself meant city, but those days that meant only Madras, now called Chennai. At dinner, the couple broke the news together to their children. While the younger boy was too small to understand, Ambuja was delighted. The big city, at last! Oh and she will learn English. Kumbakonam had only Tamil medium schools those day and she was in one. Her Tamil was good but being her father’s daughter, she had this strong urge to speak English like him and have conversations like him. This move to the city meant getting admission into an English medium school and her dream seemed that much closer.

Her mother, too, had dreams. Moving to the city meant some lifestyle changes. Changes for the better, mostly. Oh how she would dress this precious first-born of hers so that she could go like an English child to school. No more these long skirts and tops that everybody in villages wore. She would choose the finest cloth and stitch her daughter the finest frocks with lace and satin ribbons.

That summer was a busy one. Ambuja’s mother was preoccupied making a whole new wardrobe for her daughter. On a Professors salary, there were times that she felt she was going overboard. But a little chat with her husband would usually set it right. Ambuja’s father did not want his daughter to want for anything and a little something here and there that might require a small sacrifice from him was something he would gladly do. And so it was that the frocks were stitched, gowns bought, and matching socks and shoes and hair-clips sought.

The family moved to madras just in time for the start of the new academic year. Due to her excellent grades, Ambuja had no problem getting admission in school. And then it was time for first day of school. Mother and daughter were excited. With a gleam in their eyes, they went about getting ready for the school in Patnam. After getting ready, they both looked with satisfaction at the mirror in front of them. Yes. That reflection was exactly what they were both aiming for. She looked like a little brown English school girl. With confidence oozing from every pore, mother and daughter set out to school.

Mother left Ambuja at the door of her class room. She strutted into her class and sat at a bench only to discover everyone else around her in the much maligned Paavaadai Choka, their hair, oil-drenched and in two plaits and simple sandals on their feet. ‘Why! They all looked like the village girls!’, she exclaimed in her head. And then the distressing thought struck her that this might not be an English medium school after all. She knew her father would set everything right. But how could he make such a terrible mistake, in the first place. Her mind was so full of these thoughts, she was hardly able to concentrate on the lesson taught.

But she was a good student, so she forced her mind away and towards the lesson. To her surprise the lesson was in English. She didn’t understand a word. Miserable! How was she to keep up her good academic run if she doesn’t understand a word the teacher said. And worse, everyone else was responding in English. All these girls in their long skirt and blouse, looking no different from the village girls, were actually speaking impeccable English, with the teacher and also with each other.

Ambuja, a vision in her lacy frock and socks and shoes, was, by this time, almost in tears. As she felt the other students’ eyes boring into her, her consternation increased. She wished she could sink into the earth. But no such luck! She gulped back her tears and somehow, managed to survive her class.

Back home, in a fit of rage, she threw her school satchel one direction and kicked of her shoes and socks in four other directions. She burst into an inconsolable volley of tears and sunk into her mother’s arms. Her mother calmed her down, at last. Together they decided, not for them this show and pretense. And when her father came home, she asked him to teach her English. He gathered her in his arms and said, ‘ oh why not! We will start today.’

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Ambuja is my grandmother. May be I should say ‘was’, because she passed away in January this year at the age of 91. Nothing deterred her on the academic front after this. At the end of that school year, she received a prize for getting the highest overall percentage across all the classes. She not only mastered the English language but read novels and books in it until almost two years before her death when her faculties began to fail her. The last book she read in our house perhaps this was the last book she read ever- was Alexander McCall Smith’s ‘No.1 Ladies Detective Agency’. She and I had a quiet and hilarious conversation about it after. But that is for a different blog post. 🙂

I wasn’t around in 1927 or 28 or 29. I have liberally used my poetic license. And I dare say, my mother too, whom I heard this story from in the first place, has used hers. Needless to say, this is only an attempt to capture my grandmother’s spirit and the spirit of those times.

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Two pieces of great writing

Recently, in a span of a week, I read two articles that to me meant all that writing is supposed to mean. The first was Vinod K. Jose’s analytical look at Narendra Modi in The Emperor Uncrowned. And the second was K.P.Sasi’s reflections on his father, a veteran Marxist, and the journey of Marxism in the country in K.Damodaran: An Unfinished Chapter. The subjects themselves are very different. While the former is written by a journalist about a controversial ( fascist) but extremely successful politician, the latter is a more heartfelt critical reflection by a left-leaning film maker about his father and the politics of his time. Both articles, however, raise two all important and all-consuming contemporary questions ‘ For whom, this Development?” and “ is there anything in the world that can excuse mass killings- ever?” Enough about the content of the articles; I will let you read the articles yourself to determine their merits.

However, what really makes me sit up with both these articles is that, they embody the best things in writing. K.P. Sasi’s article is not your run-of-the-mill nostalgia-ridden eulogy. Not only is it looking at the father with a critical eye, it makes parallel critical observations about communism in Kerela, India, the USSR and the world in general, making that subtle but significant link between the personal and the political. Along the way, he also makes important observations about the current state of organised Marxism in India- what is, essentially, an outsiders view of a movement in which he is well enough invested ideologically, to have reasonably high expectations. What is beautiful is that he uses Marxism as an analytical tool to scrutinize the movement and its personalities!

Vinod K Jose’s article is laboriously researched. It makes all the right linkages and demonstrates journalism at its best. Complexities of life and personality gives perspective to a man who is, for the most part, known either as ‘the best thing that happened to Gujarat’ or as a ‘mass murderer’.

Finally, contrary to contemporary aesthetics of web writing, both articles are long. I am a slow reader and I took almost half an hour to read each. So this is where I will have to disagree with contemporary internet aesthetics and say this- some subjects cannot be written about in bite-sized pieces.

Now, I urge all of you to read these articles. If you have time for only one, do read the K P Sasi article! And tell me if it didn’t move you.


Coloured? I am!

I have learnt that in Tamil if you hear, “nalla colour da, macchaan” (“good colour dude”), it is usually a comment made by a guy to another guy about the skin colour of a passing lady who is ‘fair’. What a contrast to what ‘colour’ means in the western world of skin tones.

In yesterday’s episode of Neeya? Naana? Host Gopinath began the show by asking participants to describe the specific features that made them beautiful. Interestingly, nobody mentioned skin colour as their single most defining feature of beauty. Responses included features, smiles, vivacity, etc. The next question was which colour (fair/dusky- the dark people would rather be called dusky than dark!), they thought was beautiful and why? The answers came pouring forth. I watched as self-assured women made a case for what they perceived to be their own skin colour. ( interestingly those who considered themselves ‘fair’ wouldn’t pass for fair in Bombay.They would possibly fall under that unique category of skin colour exclusive to India, wheatish)The ‘fair’ brigade said that all kinds of colours suited their skin tone; all kinds of jewelry, from gold to silver to platinum showed up on their skin tone; their skin tone gave them an educated look; it provided the trump card in most arranged marriage situations. The ‘dusky’ brigade said that they could in fact carry off light coloured clothes the way their fair sisters couldn’t; their skin tone allowed for a clearer definition of features; their eyes and teeth shown in contrast to their dark skin. Political incorrectness to the hilt, sure! But the candour must be applauded!

In a country that is obsessed with skin colour, I thought this show was imperative. Fair & Lovely and Fair & Handsome are doing extremely well here and the reason might have a lot to do with the pursuit of that elusive Caucasian colour.  And instead of some kind of simmering resentment among the young, airing politically incorrect opinions out in the open might just do the trick.


A Javali after my own heart

Yes! I have a predilection for Javalis. Recently, I saw a kannada Javali called ‘Sako ninna sneha’ where the nayika(heroine) tells the nayaka (hero) ‘enough of all this (show/pretense) of love. Remember, you had a good time with her as well’. The music was in ragam Kapi set to Mishra Chapu talam. Before I rave about the Javali, let me say that it would have been lost on me were it not for the beautiful execution by the dancer, Swaratmika.

In terms of theme- the expression of love and devotion between the nayika and the nayaka- a Javali resembles the Padam. In a Javali, though, the music is generally more lively. In a Javali, the nayaka-nayika devotion is expressed in terms of love between two mortals while in a Padam it is the love/devotion of a Nayika for the immortal lord, Nayaka. Moreover, in a Padam, I think, the bhavam is more of surrender to the beloved. Not only is the mortal being surrendering to the lord but even vice-versa. After all, the lord has to surrender to the devotion that the mortal being expresses, a devotion, that in effect, has been his making. I have heard that this fundamental difference comes from the fact that the Padam was danced by devdasis in temples for the lord while the Javali was danced by rajdasis in the courts of kings where the nayaka was supposed to be the mortal king himself.

But, what is fascinating about a Javali for me is the absolutely mundane expressions of  love that a Javali portrays.  Like this one I saw had a tinge of jealousy and exasperation. The nayika says, ‘ I see through you, man! I know the games you are playing. I am done with you. you just be on your way.’ Now the gauntlet is thrown and it is up to the nayaka to pick it up and assuage her as best he can. But even as she says these things, she knows he is irresistible and that ultimately she will be back with him. A Javali is playful, what in real life we may call ‘silly in love’.

Expressions of bhakti in Padams, I feel are slightly more esoteric and quite lost on me because, frankly, I am yet to feel that kind of devotion to anybody or anything. I believe that the mundane expressions of love is what would ultimately lead you to realizing that kind of bhakti and devotion. That might take a lifetime (or beyond, though I don’t believe in life beyond). But, hey! I am in no hurry. Until then, bring on the mundane, physical intimacy !


Ranting!

Ok! This has to be written about. I am fuming. My heart is racing. I feel like I am being choked and stifled. Why?

Because the Bangalore Municipal Coproration doesn’t allow me to do the one thing I want to do ( I need to do to retain my sanity) at any other time than 3.30 PM to 4.30 PM. Unfortunately, that’s when I have to be hard at work. But fortune has nothing to do with it.

One of the main reasons that my shift to Bangalore wasn’t bad was because the Bangalore Municipal Swimming Pool was but 10 minutes away from home. I went there on Saturday evening to find out the timinigs, now that the winter is well and truly on retreat. And I realized that the pool is open from 6.00 AM on wards. Also there was a 3.30 – 4.30 ladies special batch. The rest of it was general. I mentally noted the timings and resolved to come by on mornings before work.

I went there this morning, sharp at 6.00 AM. And I was told the ladies batch was at 3.30. I said I knew it was, but I wanted to go in the general batch. Errrr…the person at the counter looked taken aback and said, but that’s only for gents. A little more debate with him, I was proudly told that this has been the rule for the last 25 years. I asked then isn’t it time to change the rules considering lost of women work now. He asked me to come at 10 AM (another impossibility for working people) to speak to the officer in charge. (seriously, I have never hated anyone as much as I have hated him for no fault of his).

As I walked back, the tears welled up in my eyes. I have been turned away from places because of rules before. But this cut too close to the heart. Quite literally, me outside water is like fish outside water.

Heres what I think happened?

Theres the general timings for men, women and children. And theres the ladies special timing. Both rules made 25 years ago by men in the largess of their hearts. ( their generosity just bowls me over). Over the years ladies have been using that exclusive time slot not venturing to go another time. So it soon became the ladies slot and the gents slot. I am sure if we were to unearth the dusty rules, this is what we would find.

Apart from the obvious implications of this to women, women’s’ development, feminism and the general gender sensitivity of the government, what this also says is that women are not expected to take on exercise/entertainment that requires them to strip to the bare minimum.

Bangalore, grow up!

P.S. part of me wants to take this up with the authorities. But I am afraid I will end up slapping someone…or worse.


सातवाँ खून किस का था?

I just  had a wonderfully lazy weekend thanks to Nikki. Our lethargies were in sync and we liked nothing better than to eat huge amounts of macaroni and cheese and watch tv and talk. And that’s what we did.

But we did venture out Saturday evening to watch the movie सात खून माफ. Now, this seems like a thriller, what with murder (and 7 at that). But it isn’t. It’s a movie about a woman who marries several times and each time she kills her husband . There’s no suspense about the murder. The movie just describes the characters of the woman and the husbands and we are told exactly why she kills them each time and exactly how she does it.

Due to a pantheon of brilliant actors doing husband roles, I think Priyanka Chopra’s talent also came to the fore. She seemed to have absorbed  some acting lessons along the way. In order, the husbands were Neil Nitin Mukesh ( tolerably good acting), John Abraham ( the absolute worst ever), Irfan Khan ( brilliant as ever), Anu Kapoor ( really awesome, his character was so mean and small and cheap, must have taken some fortitude to play that character), and a Russian dude ( I don’t know his name, and acting wasn’t very noteworthy) and the ever finest Naseeruddin Shah. The narrator of the story is a young boy played by Naseerudding Shah’s son, who was a child growing up in Priyanka’s house.

Priyanka’s character, one feels, is undergoing this spate of bad luck that she seems to always end up with men who abuse her, physically, mentally, and otherwise. She seems to always fall for the men with horrible vices that makes her want to kill them. And so each time she finds out about their vices she begins to plan their murder aided and abetted by a loyal staff consisting of a nurse (played by Usha Uthup), a butler cum chauffer and a jockey. Finally though, we are left wondering which the seventh husband was. Which was the seventh murder? Nikki and I really liked all aspects of the movie until we came to the end. As Nikki said it almost seemed as if the script writer had to answer an urgent call of nature and ended it abruptly.

Konkana Sen gives a memorable performance to a really small appearance, as usual. And the surprise element is that Ruskin Bond makes a cameo appearance. ( The story is based on his short story). A good word must be put in about the music. Its lively and each song is mod appropriate.Overall, please go watch it. Its great!

And do tell us which was the seventh murder.


Will Peter go back?

The rather amazing turn of events in international politics serves as a reminder that even if you are saturated with ideas of revolution and political upheaval, so much so you suddenly yearn for stability when there’s been nothing but simply because you have been thinking about it for ever and you are exhausted, it’s still a need, a romantic one, but inevitable never the less. It also tells you that people are more like you than not, something that comes as a surprise because everybody you meet thinks you are crazy. Just shows, it is not that the world is small but YOUR world is small.

The secession of South Sudan is one that has me interested. Sudan has had its share of trouble. Obviously, I am slightly more clued into her Darfur angst than her South Sudan angst, the former having received lots more international deliberation than the latter. Here’s what I knew about South Sudan

  1. There’s been unrest for quite some time now.
  2. it’s been bloody
  3. South Sudan has all the oil
  4. South Sudan has the Christians while Khartoum has the Muslims

Peter told me these things. I haven’t verified them. But I took them to be one version of the reality as seen by a South Sudan student refugee.  Peter was in the students’ hostel I was staying at in Oslo during my 6 month student stint there. I had chosen this one particularly because it was cheaper than the rest. I soon realized that cheap meant a whole lot of fellow immigrant students and refugees as housemates. In fact, the area where I stayed was full of black and brown people of all kinds of nationalities with Pakistani and Indian store owners.

My very first friend was Moufid, an Iraqi who took me under his wing immediately and introduced me to the rest of my housemates. That’s how I first met Peter. He was studying tourism Oslo University. Both Moufid and Peter new better Norwegian than English. I suppose that helped them survive better. Also, the Norwegian government invested in giving their refugee population free language lessons. Apparently, they also taught their refugees how to cook and clean so that they can live independently. That’s what Peter told me as he gave me some channadal cooked like Indian dal with no spices and only salt. We ate that with some bread. And he told me how when he came to Norway, he didn’t know the first thing about cooking. Customarily, his mom and sisters cooked.

Peter had been here for more than 10 years now and had become well adjusted to the Norwegian independent way of life. He had made good friends. Some of his family was also here. He couldn’t go back any time in the near future, he said, because there was an arrest warrant for him in South Sudan. He had participated in anti-establishment activities at home. His eyes welled up when he said he missed home.

It’s been more than three years since I saw Peter last. I wonder if with all that Norwegianising that he has been through, he will ever come back to South Sudan for anything longer than a short term visit. Now that this is a new country, will he take on the difficult task of building the nation? Has the nation lost its refugees forever?