Monday, June 28, 2010


The Art Of Choosing
Sheena Iyengar
Hachette India
Rating: ***1/2

An increasing number of people now assemble their life stories from narratives so disparate that the mind reels from trying to contain all that contradiction. Everything is overlapping with everything else.
It is in a world like this, we make choices every day. Husband, career, Pepsi , Nike etc. Part anecdotal, part research based, Columbia University Professor Sheena Iyengar writes in an engaging non-academic style.
If you are expecting self-help style bullet points on choosing well, stay away .You might, after reading, be stranded -abandoned by conditioned belief systems and forced to rethink why and how you choose. Iyengar questions choice using every possible framework through which we question- scientific, political, personal, economic, medical, religious, institutional, individual, and even astrological.
Iyengar demonstrates how the presence or lack of choice can have a profound impact on our health and sense of well being. How you choose to respond to looking at a diagram of an aquarium for five seconds may be determined by whether you are from a collectivist culture or an individualist one for instance.
She examines popular myths and stories from different cultures analysing them to determine how they demonstrate choice patterns, careful not to generalise but instead give nuanced detailed explanations. We get snapshots into brilliant psychology research such as the experiment where two groups of men, one on a hanging bridge, and the other on a regular one were introduced to attractive women who gave them their phone numbers. The study ultimately reveals that falling off a bridge is biologically similar to falling in love.
Most interestingly, she analyses fashion and why you didn’t actually choose what you are wearing but that a bunch of people sipping cappuccino in New York made that choice for you.
Why did coke buy over Christmas? Is there variety or did the market create that illusion? Is too much choice a bad thing?
We cannot opt out of choice but the best way is to continue studying our complex relationship with it. Science can assist us in becoming more skilful choosers but at its core, choice remains an art.
If you have the choice, read this.

Published in First City Magazine , July 2010 .

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Searching for birds

It's been a while since I slept a whole night . Sleep is denied to me because of reasons as oppressive as electricity or as exciting as alcohol but it is more often weather related, unfortunately.
But today, my mind is in a state of groggy shock because it has slept too much but it is too used to not sleeping and hence continues to act sleepy.
Either way, all is well.. I am in office. I bought a pair of sweet buns for breakfast and am waiting for chai to arrive. In the meanwhile, I just want to put my legs up on the chair and try my fusion meditation. It will be a mixture of a Japanese Buddhist mudra and stress release excercises I learnt at Rishi Valley to cope with ISC. As if ISC is stress.
Anyway, the idea is to quieten your mind so much till you can hear the last sound. At RV (Rishi Valley) , it was a pampered excercise, babblers and hoopoes fought for attention from your ears and parakeets screeched like naughty children wanting food. You searched and you quietened and you found so much and in the process arrived at a sense of complete calm.
I tried the same today searching , throwing my ears out into the vacuous (no beauty, only truth ) Delhi summer. I searched desperately losing myself in the sound of the last automobile but there were no birds except, if I were honest , the fat pigeons flirting in the balcony.
I achieved a sense of calm sure but yeah.
I was having a conversation with my colleagues about the point of blogging. I think the most important reason is to share and to write with discipline , to sort of put yourself out there.
I started because I read a lot of blogs and connected with a lot of especially female bloggers.There is always this question of writing to an audience, writing self consciously. At some level, even in the most personal writing , in diaries etc , there is an awareness of the world albeit at different levels in a blog , a story , a diary entry or whatever. 

I haven't really thought too much about why I write this blog. Most of my writing is very journalisty and that's not really a good thing. 
I started blogging a lot when I lived in Anoopshahr because I really wanted to share everything about living in a village and report , in some sense as well. 

Anyhow Cq  (look I wrote about you) thinks my blog has no focus.(not that you say this negatively) Neither do I. What is this post about? I don't really care about a focus. I just write whatever and that's not likely to interest too many people because I just write random things I guess. Food, development , silliness, books - some of the things that interest me but none of these can be a specialized blog if I am writing that is. 

Random rant. 

Monday, June 21, 2010

I am 23. I am 23. I am 23 years old.

I am a little tipsy. But I will write anyway because you know what- I won't be 23 again in very soon. Because when I was 19, I worried too as you will see here.
I've lived some pipe dreams I think- worked on a farm on Scotland, traveled to Tibet, appeared on national television ( this vaguely counts right, though I cribbed every day then),
more things not all of which i want to say here. But is my title too negative. Not all my dreams are pipe ya. And my blog is 6 years old . 
it's ok na?

I think the label silly girl should be still a silly girl.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

An interview with Kishan Behrupia? What forms can it take?

Kishan Behrupia Jocker whose business card promises monkey tricks, wedding shows among other things, lives in a tent by a gushing greyblack sewer. He is an incredibly talented man who is illiterate, vocal, political , an artist and social satirist. But by now I’ve met many people like this. In Dharavi with the unforgiving television camera, in dozens of villages in UP with an academic mind, in Tamil Nadu as a student, in Andhra as a child.
I’ve jammed all my judgements, my social frameworks in there , that sentence , I’ve tried to lay there a lattice into which a journalist sprinkles impressions , cut pieces of a life she has interviewed.

How do I remove myself and my judgements and allow the person to be, to express so that I can take home a human being in my Dictaphone and then begin to unravel the layers with fairness and serve them as carefully strung sparse words the spaces between which Kishan Behrupia lives.
I don’t know how. But when I meet him, he sits me down in his tent open on both sides, one facing the sewer. Kishan wears an old red and white bed sheet the kind you would get for cheap in the pre theme park exhibitions in the nineties. He wears a frayed green kurta , bright against his jet black skin and hair
He opens his black bag full of the world .He has performed in New York, Mexico, Spain, France, Italy everywhere. He pulls out more treasures, an old frayed certificate from the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York , from the Dubai World festival, a Delhi Times article, a Dubai newspaper with his photo and then his passport.

‘’I am not lying ‘’ he says looking at us, sincerely doubting us. ‘’I have been everywhere. You can see.’’he says pointing to five schengen visas given to him saying that it enables him to go to every country- Spain, France – many others.
“Mein unka basha bhi bol sakthi hun. Ola, bonjour, tres bien, cava bien .’’
All in one breath.
Then he crouches and growls and chatters his teeth. His six year old nephew follows. They have become monkeys. They will become Charlie Chaplin . They are behrupias. Impersonators.
They can be anyone. They can steal from the present and save from the past – they can be Gods and monkeys and Bollywood stars. They sing, they mimic , they compose lyrics that tell you that with the promise of a little money , everyone is corrupt. Kishan’s eleven children aren’t in school. When I ask one of the boys if he will grow up to be a behrupia, Kishan rudely interrupts me saying he already is a behrupia.
The daughters cannot and traditionally there were never women behrupias. ‘’humare bhi ijjat hoti hain. Hum gareb hote hain lekin humarey aurat ghungat pehente hain.Aur unke shadi pur hum beez theez hazaar detey hain.’’ We also believe in status, in respect. Our women cover their heads and we pay dowries of twenty to thirty thousand rupees.
Initially he wanted money to be interviewed. I had to beg him to agree that we as a policy don’t pay people we interview. I felt bad about it because who I am I really to tell a man living below poverty line that he should give me a few hours of his time for free.(He gets FIVE HUNDRED TO THOUSAND Rupees , a day on his trips abroad but much less on normal days) . But then I wanted to meet him. He was pricey on the phone but no trace of that when we actually met. In fact I feel so much affection for this man who lives in tent by the gushing greyblack sewer. He ordered limca soon as I arrived but thankfully accepted my pleas against it.

Is that allowed though – the affection – as an interviewer I mean?

Money is not something he has a lot of . ‘’Delhi ko Paris banana chahte hain log. Lekin ma’am , Delhi Paris nahin hain. Mein Paris Dekha hun ma’am. Vahan pe bhi hota hain , log lal batti main aake saphaye kartein hain.Lekin humara desh key gareb log key jaise nahin hain ma’am. Vahan unko pension milta hain, sarkar madad karti hain, unkey baccho ko school bejti hain.’’ They want to make Delhi Paris Ma’am. Delhi is not Paris . I ‘ve seen Paris. Even in Paris there are people who clean car windows at traffic signals. But they are not like the poor in our country. They get a pension, the government takes care of them, the government sends their children to school.’’ All in one breath.

But you know what, all that I have written is haphazard. I want to be able to put all this coherently, listen to the one and a half hour interview in Hindi and write and know at the end of it that even if my piece is not incredibly creative or evocative, that I have been fair to him.
Because you know if a journalist interviewed me hastily, she would conclude that I am spaced out, messy haired, pseudo , lost etc. Here is an excellent photo essay on behrupias.

You can read the story in First City Magazine. Available everywhere in Delhi, in Odyssey in Bangalore and some places in Bombay.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sex , burqas and a plot full of weeds

Do not read if you want to watch the movie - there are spoilers. 

So if you stretch Sex and the City which was doing just fine - sweet , short, snappy snippets of a single girl in Manhattan in the shows 
and try making movies, you fail. Because you stretch it so much that it snaps. 

The plot is tacky - like a ghagra sold on the street with 13 more layers of sequins than required to make it minimalist and stylish.
So after (most of the) girls are married with husbands, there is not much sex talk anymore - like the man who had to shower  everytime after sex
or the rabbi or the hot European who left money for Carrie. Apart from the occasional nice clothes and the easy on the brain stlyle the sex and relationships bit made SATC what it was. 
Right? I mean I have to talked to a representative set of girls from atleast three nations who agree. 

So if you still insist , (I did by the way) go watch the movie - they get a free trip to Abu Dhabi where the girls ( by now they are aunties really) gush over every piece of free
luxury like school girls would., one gets arrested for obscenity, one cheats on her boyfriend, one finds her bitchy self and one becomes more fun. (No points for guessing who did what.)
Ofcourse , we have the exotic Souk a.k.a middle eastern market scene thrown in , some scenes with the burqaed women, all mostly offensive and an apology of a scene where the veiled women strip to reveal their designer clothes and how much they love New York. And hail universality of womanhood , yeah? These women in black are reading the same menopause guide book that Samantha is and outside is a street with scandalized muslim men hating Samantha the owner of condoms. 

There is some brown panty candy in the form of the butlers that they have in the fancy hotel and I did like one part where Miranda and Charlotte sit over drinks talking about things they would never otherwise say because it would make them feel like bad women.Yeah, I could do with a drinking session like that with a girl friend now. A sip for every statement made. 

Apart from that , kindly refrain maadi.

Friday, June 11, 2010

of Slut Hearts and old Levis

You know that feeling when you go back to your parents' house and your wadrobe has all your old clothes - clothes you might never wear now and clothes that remind you of who you used to be?Sagging flared blue Levis , cow kurtas, frilly short skirts, big checked shirts. Then you find a random Lit essay from college or a History Project from school. All this is frozen in a dark wood cupboard in my room.
And then you remember things you forgot existed, a note written to a friend in college will remind you of a day you went to commercial street and sat on some random steps and talked for four hours. 

Where I am going with this is that so many memories don't surface without cue. I met school friends after a long time and suddenly I remember school in great detail. I bunked quite a lot in school for example and everyone made fun of me for it. But I can't imagine myself as a bunker anymore. (Does that mean I have become a serious aunty? Maybe.) And in general,  I forgot who I was then , different in so many ways. But then at the core we know plus la change, plus la c'est la meme chose.

My lovely watch is missing.I took a special train ride to Zurich from Basel just to buy it. It is the most expensive thing I own and is the only thing I bought on my trip to Europe. Having a slut heart means that I am deeply attached to everything material or human. I hope I miraculously find it. 


Monday, June 07, 2010


Everyday, I think of at least five things to write about. Sometimes it is just chai- that is what it is going to be about today.
I've been holding in my head , cooking my opinions about the French burqa ban for like some months but I feel it is in this quagmire of extreme subjectivity made worse
by this book called The Art of Choosing (Sheena Iyengar, Hachette) that I have been reading. 
So choice is a loaded word. 
Before I ventured to the lawless north, I had this habit of drinking lemon ginger tea everyday and didn't touch any milk tea nonsense.
But now chai has taken over, many milky hot sweet chais in a  day. It punctuates the otherwise jumbled sentences my life is made up of now. 

So you are in UP, but you have a Delhi number but you are actually South Indian? Don't lie. 

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The year was 2007.

 There was fierce rain that day , barging into our bus through its flaky painted green windows. ''Shower facility'', a Nepali boy of about twelve told the foreigner next to him.
I was making a bumpy ride from Kathmandu to Nagarkot so that I will be in a scenic quiet place where I can turn twenty one in peace.
When you are traveling there are a few strangers who live in contexts so different form your own but there are very few you remember years later because they said so much about the place you were in , sometimes even about what tourism has done to that place.
The green was wet , gaudy and offset brightly by the red buildings with newari style brown wooden roofs. Childrens' peeping faces were framed by ornately decorated windows. The local bus was packed and precariously chugging along the hairpin bends that will lead us to the hilly heaven of Nagarkot.

The boys talked to CQ , my travel partner and another white guy , Jim. The boys asked the foreigners when they could escape to America. Jim told them kindly that they could attend college in America. One of the boys counted with his fingers , years left for him to be eligible for college and sighed loudly that there were nine years left for him to leave Nepal .

They had adopted the humour that is typical of white tourists in India/Nepal - laughing at the electricity problems, the bad roads
and the state of the country in general. They sounded proud that they could laugh at themselves.I don't remember the details about the boys but just that they sounded so grown up.

But to me , they reminded me of Indians and how Indians too self depreciate in front of white people . I wasn't sure whether that is a bad thing in itself but these boys were so young and so sharply cynical in a somehow innocent way.

Do you know what I mean?

They asked me if I am unmarried - instead of asking if I am married.I replied that I am  .

We reached when the rain had greyed the little town with the exception of a few green stains from the hills. We went to a shack and drank hot chai and then found an old bungalow turned into a hotel to spend the night in, to turn 21 in .


Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The academic wealth hidden in house hunting

 I have rather pseudo-lee declared to many of my friends much to their disgust - especially Marie that I have an academic interest in everything. Like, a Romanian guy once chatted me up in a club and I talked with him for half an hour out of a pure academic interest.

So , while most people would worry (not like I am Piggy Chops or anything) that their mobile number has spread like rabies in the internet, I consoled myself thinking of the academic opportunities that awaited me.

So, while advertising on a website for room mates, I described myself and clarified that only women and gay men can have the honour of being my room mate. 

So within an hour of placing my ad, I received  at least 20 calls , all the callers implied subtly that they were gay but never stated it. 
By then , I had found flat mates so I refused all of them but hey continued to call me. 
Straight men don't fall in my bucket of trust especially if they are strangers so I clarified with all the callers making sure they weren't straight men looking to get laid.

All of them wanted to be my friend which is very sweet.I really need a gay friend in Delhi. But they asked me all sorts of questions.

Why on earth would I want a gay room mate , they wanted to know? Won't you feel bad if the men in the other room were together ...I mean Y if they are kissing or you know...? 
There were others who said they were not gay but were just curious about my wish to live with  gay men. Some wanted to know if I am lesbo.
I didn't actually wish to live with gay men in particular but there aren't that many women advertising for room mates and I thought that broadening my target audience will
help me find someone faster. 

So essentially the random gay men and I had a mutual academic interest in each others thoughts . . I once went for dinner with my gay friend who I will name bike  and his date for the night ( I am an unforgiving fag hag) and I was really open throughout dinner. But this guy got so mad at P for telling me that he is gay because apparently he didn't want to admit this to a woman. And he left after dinner . (such klpd)

So, I was sort of touched by these calls and these questions from men who sounded like they expected to be judged but were sort of intrigued , comforted , repulsed (?)
by this girl who posted an ad inviting them to live with her.