being brown

Posts tagged “words

The Gaze

The Gaze

I picked up The Gaze after listening to a speech by the author on TED talks. I usually give a   book 50-100 pages to draw me in. And the first couple of chapters were bleak. I didn’t quite understand what was happening and where the plot was headed, mostly because I was busy deciphering a rather confusing narrative. But instead of putting me off, it challenged me to stay on as if to say, ‘see if you can make sense of me’. And I was equal to the task. I decided to let go of the plot- one of the reasons I was getting bogged down was because I was trying to tie it up with the back cover blurb- so I let go of what I had read there. And I just focused on deciphering the narrative. Which was the best thing I could have done. Shafak has a delicious narrative style that sometimes makes you want to re-read sentences/ phrases and sometimes read them aloud (making everybody around you think you are slightly cuckoo). She effortlessly goes back and forth in time and space and has us surrounded not only by people who are stared at but also the quintessential voyeurs i.e. all the rest of us, both men and women.

And it is in this circumstance, when the reader is surrounded by all these fantastic –cum-terrible-cum-wonderful creatures and voyeurs, that she introduces the Dictionary of Gazes. And who better to obsess over it than B-C, the dwarf. The words that go into the Dictionary of Gazes now appear intermittently throughout the novel.

So, in short, I loved reading this novel. And here’s why. The narrator of the story is nameless. This is a brilliant way of telling you that this character is a ‘nobody’. When you name something, you give it that much more importance. In this case, the idea communicated that the character had a really low self-esteem not least because she was obese. The only other place that I have come across the use of the nameless narrator is Ghosh’ s The Shadow Lines.

There are a couple of chapters that go to 18th century Siberia and 17th century France. Shafak is describing the origins of two spectacles that form part of an exhibition of spectacles in 19th century Turkey. Before delving into these background stories she introduces a caveat in the previous chapter suggesting that the reader can skip the following chapter completely if she so wished. I didn’t. Personally, I loved both chapters because it gave a background to something I wasn’t quite comprehending. But more importantly, both of them was talking about some violation that had taken place that had led to the creation of these spectacles. But I also think that her suggestion was interesting. Towards the end she says there are many ways of telling a story and repeats the stories without the key violation. There is no spectacle that is created, rendering both stories useless. One is left wondering if the reader could really have left out those two chapters in her reading. I will never know.

Finally, her language is full of imagery. I also found some ( not too much) similarities with ‘magical realism’. Both of these made the reading so much more engaging. Sometimes imagery is easy to get but this kind of imagery was challenging, and so there was a continuous dialogue with the reader. Her language was also whimsical at times. This was one of the things that took time getting used to. But in the end, it was also one of the things that made the reading challenging and interesting.

A final caveat- this is a translation from the Turkish original. I am not sure how much of the ‘challenging’ aspects of the language of the book comes from it being Turkish and how much from it being an inefficient translation ( if it is). Perhaps someone who knows both languages can tell. But I do wonder how much was lost in translation.


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.


When Sedition became Sexy

Arundhati Roy had a case of sedition filed against her. She is a sexy woman but that didn’t make sedition sexy. It just made the government look silly. Binayak sen, though, was charged with sedition and waging war against the Indian state; he was committed to life in prison for the same and that made sedition sexy.

Victim of national paranoia

Victim of national paranoia

The equanimity with which some people are taking this horrific tale of injustice is mildly unnerving. On Barkha Dutt’s show, We the People, the ‘oh so reasonable’ Swapan Dasgupta, with his impeccable English concedes that even if Sen was guilty of sedition, the penalty is over the top. However, do not lose heart, he says. Because, as another guest points out, the Indian judiciary has a redressal system that is good enough to set wrongs right. Of course, he meant that the case will go on appeal and a higher, saner court will topple this ridiculous ruling. Little regard is given to the fact that the man will, in all probability, lose many years of his life, looking for justice in this remarkable judicial system that has mechanisms of redress. Suffice it to say, the time spent in different courts will amount to his lifetime- the sentence for life is not looking that ridiculous, is it?

Swapan goes on to say, the magistrate has just interpreted the law and there is no need to think that the Chattisgarh court is in some kind of conspiracy with the government to put Binayak Sen in prison. He is trying to remove the political context from the judgment because civil society assumes that context and that’s why it is outraged. But 10-15 minutes in to the discussion, he contradicts himself when he says that the judgment has been taken with a context in mind. The context being that some number of people, police and civilians were killed by the Maoists. Indeed the judge seems to have said something to the effect of how he would normally have been sympathetic had it not been for the larger issue of Maoism. This convenient politicizing and depoliticizing is what makes Swapan the hawk that he is.

Harsh Mander, also on the show, amply illustrates the paranoid context that really is in play in this judgment. He alludes to a POTA-type draconian law that makes the way the evidence has been assessed and evaluated or used questionable. This law is specific to the state. In the commercial break during the Big Fight programme, an ad by the Chatisgadh government was aired. It was an animation advertisement about the terror unleashed by the Naxals and how the Government of Chattisgadh itself is inclined towards ‘jeeney ka haq’ or the ‘right to life’. If it is true that the sessions court judge himself conceded that he might have been more lenient had the situation been ‘normal’, he is himself setting the paranoid tone for the context. His own argument is in line with the Government of Chattisgadh.

This paranoid response of a state, both legislative and judiciary, to an innocent man’s ( forget his service to the less privileged) is eerily reminiscent of that other witch-hunt in another ‘democratic’ country spear headed by McCarthy. And, like in that other case, it just shows the failure of the state.


The Journalist Menace Just got Worse

(Curiously, this isnt about the Raadia tapes or the Wikileaks.)

Nothing, I repeat, nothing spoils my day more than a crappy piece of journalism. And to read one in the newspapers, early in the morning after my walk is even worse. This morning, after my beautiful jog in the park that made me feel on top of the world yet again, I was confronted with this article in the Bangalore Mirror. The Eunuch Menace Just got Worse. The picture was much larger and the elephantine headline seemed to jump of the paper and have a life of its own. Needlesstosay, my day went downhill after that.

The article was about how a cop, a constable, was attacked by two transvestites/ transsexuals and how the police, who were incensed by this travesty were looking for these ‘eunuchs’ in the ‘eunuch’ part of the city.

I come from Bombay, and we have our share of impoverished transsexuals who accost people at traffic signals. Once, one of them spat at me because I did not give her money. But, I have seen them often when not working/begging. I have seen them at the door of the local train, talking loudly about the price of something or the other, gossiping about ‘that one’ and ‘this one’, much like the other women in that compartment and the men in the compartment next door. They beg for a living because society has made it next to impossible for them to live a dignified life. Remember, society is also the one that says that to give charity to transsexuals and to get their blessings is akin to being blessed by god. With such circumstances, the blame for the ‘menace of eunuchs’ can hardly be laid at the door of the eunuchs.

And yet there are those hijras who have come out of the vicious cycle of humiliation, poverty and violence. I am reminded, instantly, of that Tamil show host Rose. She hosts this talk show called Ippadikku Rose and has a dignified and open attitude towards many social issues. And then there is that hijra who was elected as the mayor of a city in Madhya Pradesh. These are wonderful success stories where transsexuals/ transvestites have come to their own despite all odds. And for each of these success stories, there are atleast a hundred more that are constantly trying and hoping.

To title an article “ The eunuch menace just got worse’ and to go on and report one instance of attack is criminal insensitivity of the highest order and shoddy journalism at the least. If two men were to attack me, abuse me and steal from me, I would hardly expect the Bangalore Mirror to write an article entitled “The Menace of Men Just got Worse”.

Halfway through the article, the author says, “As a cop, he has been trained to deal with anti-social elements, but the attack by the eunuchs came as a shocker.” There is an obvious lack of alertness and preparation by the cop. Understandable, he was going home after a long day and did not expect anything untoward to happen. But one wonders why the ‘attack by the eunuchs came as a shocker’. Would he have been better able to deal with an attack from men/women? Would it have come as less of a shocker?

The writer continues, “Humiliated at one of their colleagues from the state police headquarters falling prey to eunuchs, the Kamakshipalya cops launched a major search operation to track down the offenders.” Why this sudden humiliation at being attacked by eunuchs? What is it about attacks by men that doesn’t hurt people’s pride. Irrespective of who attacks whom, the police should be humiliated for not bringing attackers to book. Unfortunately, the inability to do ones job doesn’t elicit emotions like humiliation.

Further in the article, it is said “Police inspector N H Ramchandraiah said: “I dispatched a few teams in search of the two hijras. They were sent to Magadi Road and in other areas of Basveshwaranagar where most hijras stay. We are still clueless but hope to nab them soon.” One can only imagine what is going on in these places now. Innocent hijras are probably being rounded up beaten and searched at this moment. Talk about humiliation!

Transvestites/ transsexuals are subjected to humiliation at every step of the way. With greater activism on the sexual minority rights front, one hopes that time will change this aspect of their life.  But this highly insensitive article only goes to show that this time is stretching to the horizon.

 


Exploring Bandwidth

This is not really a blog post. Its a mini-post,  a post-let if you will! Just want to register my ‘wtf!’ moment before it slips my mind. But more importantly, a nice big juicy blog post is on its way and soon.

A colleague walked up to me and said “ I need you to help me to do this project. If there are any bandwidth issues, we should sort it out for next week.” This was the third time I had encountered this word in the last two weeks: bandwidth. It made an appearance in the middle of my boss’s soliloquy to me, “ I don’t have the bandwidth to deal with these issues.’ There it was, once again, the word I have trouble understanding. And last week the same boss shot of an email to everybody in the office intimating us about a training session she had taken pains to organize. She said, “ I have been spending a lot of bandwidth on this session.”

Now, I love words. I love exploring words.I love how precise some words are and how vague others are. And as a writer, I am always looking for that perfect word for every situation. In short, i am a word-nerd. Not understanding a word bothers me a lot. So when, this morning, my colleague asked me about my bandwidth which I didn’t know I had, I was determined to get to the bottom of the bandwidth brouhaha.

So I googled it:

searchenterprisewan.techtarget.com says, “1) In computer networks, bandwidth is often used as a synonym for data transfer rate – the amount of data that can be carried from one point to another in a given time period (usually a second). This kind of bandwidth is usually expressed in bits (of data) per second (bps). Occasionally, it’s expressed as bytes per second (Bps). A modem that works at 57,600 bps has twice the bandwidth of a modem that works at 28,800 bps. In general, a link with a high bandwidth is one that may be able to carry enough information to sustain the succession of images in a video presentation.”

Answers.com says, “1. The numerical difference between the upper and lower frequencies of a band of electromagnetic radiation, especially an assigned range of radio frequencies. 2. The amount of data that can be passed along a communications channel in a given period of time.”

Widegeek.com “Bandwidth is a term used to describe how much information can be transmitted over a connection. Bandwidth is usually given as bits per second, or as some larger denomination of bits, such as Megabits per second, expressed as kbit/s or Mbit/s. Bandwidth is a gross measurement, taking the total amount of data transferred in a given period of time as a rate, without taking into consideration the quality of the signal itself.”

Quite obviously, it has something to do with data transfer. It has something to do with computers. When my boss said she had spent a lot of bandwidth on organizing the training program, she was probably referring to the loads of data that was passing to and fro; from her to the trainer; from her to her employees. That is a lot of data! But more importantly, since when did people start talking about their conversations with other people as data? When my boss told me she didn’t have the bandwidth to deal with these issues, she was probably referring to her unwillingness to deal ‘with these issues’. Since when did human feelings such as will become data transfer? And when my colleague asked me about my bandwidth, she probably meant my availability (time and effort) for a project with respect to other projects. But again since when did engaging with time and effort become data transfer?

This job is telling me that theres a whole new language out there. Technology has generated a whole new vocabulary that sometimes is necessary and sometimes is wasteful. I love some of the words I have learnt on the job. But sometimes the superfluous nature of newly coined words borders on the hilarious. I mean, when we start thinking of ourselves as computers with bandwidth, I am sure something is wrong.


My Murshid

This blog is for a dear friend, confidante and boss. When I was going through a particularly bad patch, Shiva said to me “ these are horrible things to happen to a person. True.  But, your life is too large for you to let such small things come in the way of living”. And yet he let something as trifling as malaria get him. At the risk of sounding clichéd, without Shiva I wouldn’t be where I am now or writing this blog at all. Even if I have known him only for a year, I am glad I knew him at all and I wish I had known him for longer. This blogpost, that I wrote a week ago, is about this city, Bangalore, where I have shifted for a month now. My being here, doing the job that I do, and living a different life is partly due to Shiva. Shiva Dhakal, you had no business to go.

 

It has been a month since I shifted to this city. A city, that now, seems full of glass office buildings and a city that is reeling under the impact of The Great IT Exodus. Bangalore is where my grandparents settled after my grandfather’s retirement and have lived there since, some 30 years almost. Which means I have been visiting Bangalore almost every holiday? For me, Bangalore meant a good time, my grandparents, no school, vacation, cousins and friends to play with, relatives, and all that is old and traditional.

This time it is different. I am here on work. So good times are fewer and farther between. But they still are in steady supply.

For a start, this city of parks has not changed much in that respect, at least in this neighborhood. I remember going to Krishnarao park with my grandfather and playing in the playground there. I now go to the park for my walks. A multitude of health conscious folk and gossip lovers descend on the park every morning rather early and traverse the same circular path every day. Down the road is Lalbagh which I go to off a Sunday. This vast and beautiful space of greenery and trees and lakes is truly exotic for this Bombayite. To have them so accessible is a dream come true. Shiva loved nature, he would have loved Bangalore.

Over the past few weekends, I got to check out three places to eat. First, with Aparna, Vinita and Sruthi, I had a hungry breakfast at Vidyarthi Bhavan. We waited for close to 30 minutes standing like hawks over other people having breakfast and keeping a look out for emptying seats. When we finally did sit down, we were famished. We had the idli, vada and masala dosa. The masala dosa and the filter coffee were to die for. Definitely, a must if you are in Bangalore any time. Second, I went to Maiya’s for lunch with Nikki. We went up to the Gujarati part of the restaurant. The food was good but not great. I mean, nowhere near those awesome Gujarati thali places in Bombay like Samrat and Panchvati.  Koshy’s, on the other hand, was a delectable find. I went there with Sam and a brood of  her lovely friends. It is this really old café-type setup, famous for its kerela food, but I had their fish and chips which was also good. Shiva loved fish, he would have enjoyed this place. Also this marked my first drinking outing in Bangalore. Sadly, when I asked for more rum and coke, I was told it was too late. That’s right, Bangalore closes all liquor by 11.30. Shiva would have laughed at such a rule and wondered how I lived here. Shiva would have enjoyed a gastronomical exploration of this city. Shiva loved food.

I must tell about my first client at work. Yes yes, there are things like client confidentiality and all that, so no names and such, but still it makes for an interesting story. It’s a hospital that is looking for marketing solutions. They are a ‘boutique’ hospital. And I had to google that myself. Meeting up with the COO was even more interesting. He waxed eloquent about what the hospital offers and why the prices are so exorbitant (because of the state-of-the-art technology etc). And then, he launches on healthcare in India, how ‘Indian’s culturally don’t care about  people dying on the street. Thought running through my head: how posh for a man so concerned about public health and the ‘Indian mentality of not caring’ to be heading such an exclusive luxury facility? Shiva would have wondered what I was doing with ‘boutique’ hospitals and laughed at my predicament. He would have said, “ its ok. You can do it”.

This weekend, I spent at Valley School, that alternative education school of the Krishnamurthy Foundation Institute (KFI) in the beautiful, green outskirts of Bangalore. I had gone there for a workshop on rhythm, art and movement. There was dancing, singing, carpentry and drawing and painting. All of which I did. The greenery of the valley beckons and I see myself a frequent visitor there. If Shiva had come for this, he would have escaped to visit the villagers and break bread with them assuming they would have some delicious food.

While there, I learnt this beautiful Bengali song, that I reproduce here

Khwaja’r name pagol hoiya

Phiri ami Ajmer giyago

(Eto Kore daklam tare)- 2

Tobu dekha pailam na

Pagol Chhada duniya cholena (hai re)

*(Tui pagol tor mon-o-pagol)-2

Pagol pagol korish na

Pagol chhada duniya cholena (hai re)

(Murshid ache deshe deshe

Ei jogote koto beshe re)- 2

(Dhorte parle pabi re tui)- 2

Behest- er-I nazrana

Pagol chhada duniya chole na (hai re)

Tui pagol tor mon-o-pagol *

The meaning, in a gist, is that in searching for god/ultimate/truth, I have become crazy. I have looked everywhere and haven’t found it. I even went to Ajmer but to no avail. But that’s ok. Without the mad people/ madness, the world wouldn’t run. You are mad and so is your heart, don’t call other people mad because without the mad, the world wouldn’t run. There are many Murshid (philosphers, guides, guru, teachers) in different forms in the world everywhere. And yet you dont see the ultimate until you do see it.

Shiva has been one of my Murshids . I am unable to keep track of all that is lost by losing him.


Mumbai

Uncaring,
Cold, impersonal, apolitical,
steeped in apathy.

Where dreams made of brick and cement
Have turned to dreams of brittle glass.
where dreams were once woven fine
the fabric faded and the dreams came undone

Where love is what they say it is
Singing in the rain, dancing around trees
Where love is made in full public view
On some Scandal Point, some seashore, or dark avenue

Where every rumble of the electric train
Is the heavy breathing of a people’s strain
Where sleep comes as sweet relief
From breathless existence ,hope and belief

Where a stormy gale that burst in from the sea
Rustles that one solitary leaf
where the rain that comes with that stormy gale
lasts four months, the city’s sins washed away

Cold, impersonal, apolitical,
steeped in apathy
Who cares!