Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Indians, it is said, are a deeply religious lot. For urban Indians, gymming is the new religion, and the daily yatra (travel) to the gym is the new pilgrimage.
Instead of trekking up mountains where the gods reside, we fervently toil on the treadmills. Koshto korley keshto meley (hard work will lead you to divinity). So, huff puff huff puff pant pant pant pant… (are the pants becoming looser?).
The strict tofu-and-lettuce diets follow the route of self-denial and the austerity of upavaas (fasting). Detox the body and purify the inner/leaner self. Overcome GLUTTONY, the deadliest sin…do NOT drool over the DEVIL’S DESSERTS (or Satan’s saturated fats). And, if we do (and I often do) get tempted, we can do our prayaschitra (redemption) by an extra hour of treadmill-ing.

We are the new CRUSADERS (AGAINST CALORIES), seeking the elusive HOLY GRAIL OF THE SIZE ZERO/SIX PACK. Ramakrishna said, jato math, tato path (there are as many paths to God as there are faiths). So, pilates, aerobics, kick-boxing, belly-dancing or the genuinely divine yoga, all roads will, hopefully, lead us to THE ONE goal – the body perfect.
In this gym-mandir (temple), we forget the macrocosm (kids, spouse, office, home, kitchen... the whole calorie-filled world) and focus on the micro – the biceps, the abs, the little finger on the right…with absolute concentration. The reward for THE DEVOUT is the feeling of SHEER VIRTUOUSNESS that a gym-session brings in us.
The Hare Rama Hare Krishna chant is replaced with Bollywood music (the new prayer on the pilgims’ lips, er...earphones) pulsating from the speakers, egging us on, creating a trance-like self-absorption that can almost transcend the finite (and fat-laden) boundaries of the self.
And as we shed our inhibitions and, hopefully, the kilos of fat, our inner, leaner selves merge into the divine…the demi-god figures of a Salman Khan or a Bipasha Basu (or a Posh Spice or Becks). As the body is liberated from the calorie-shackles, NIRVANA (divine bliss) is attained. HALLELUJAH! HARI OM!

CONFESSION BOOTH: This PILGRIM’S PROGRESS is very tedious and transgression-filled, her treadmill-CANTERBURY TALES is more of a sedate stroll, but she hopes that at the end of the road she’ll meet the GOD OF SMALL THINGS (Waistlines, specifically).

What's your gym-confession?

Saturday, April 26, 2008


I must have got hold of the wrong end of the newspaper today. I feel really CRABBY, like Lucy Van Pelt. And since I don’t have the Peanuts gang to snap at, here’s my WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE WORLD TODAY cribsheet, comprising only peanutty, irrelevant, random news:

There’s this fairly inconsequential film-director, Anurag Basu, who has apparently said that the extremely consequential AMITABH BACHCHAN should retire from films. Of course, it’s none of his business. Of course, it’s just another stunt to steal some limelight off a bona fide celebrity. Of course, the media/public/public-as-perceived-by–the-media are busy debating and dissecting both AB and the ‘ab-wannabe’. My advice is, Anurag, Get a Life (‘in a Metro’, or wherever). Mr Bachchan may have feet of clay (very murky, Amar Singh-ed clay at that), but the rest of him is pure 24-carat gold.

Many Maharashtra legislators are up-in-arms against the introduction of sex-education in schools. Methinks that the right-wing is wrongly focusing on the SEX -taboo and forgetting about the EDUCATION bit. Granted that children learn about the birds and bees (and babes) from friends, films, F-TV, filth-on-the-Internet and maybe, if they are lucky, from their family, but, as a parent and a teacher, I support a structured syllabi which teaches (under sensible surveillance) the basics of what-to-do and how-to-do and why/why-not-to-do and what-happens-if-done, if only to take away the surreptitiousness from sex.

These same shouters are trying to ban the hotpants-clad cheerleaders from prancing (and panting) at the Indian Premier League Twenty-20 cricket matches. I feel that if Twenty20 cricket is like instant noodles, then the cheerleaders are the seasoning – from the spicy jalapeno-masala of the Bangalore babes to the more sedate, capsicum-covered Mumbai maidens. Are they “obscene”, or should they be seen – that is the question for India’s morality-Hamlets. There is definitely something rotten in the state of Indian cheer-lessness. The moral police should remember that brevity is the soul of cheer-leading. Anyway, if they (the cheery-squad, not the dreary morality-brigade) are banned (I hope not, even eyeballing their silly gamboling burns some calories), then Shah Rukh Khan can always exhibit his six-packs. And the rest is only cricket.

That brings me to a personal CRIB. Despite ardently gymming for the past few weeks, the fat-iceberg around my middle refuses to melt. No amount of global or local warming (-up exercises) is helping. Far from becoming a sexy yummy-mummy, I seem destined to remain an educated tummy-mummy. And also to remain, like Lucy, a regular fussbudget and a “very crabby person”.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


I have been appointed the Chief Conductor of the University of Mumbai's M.Com Part-I and Part-II examinations that are being held at our college from 15th to 24th April this year.
Sounds daunting? Or so I thought. I've been a lowly supervisor in exams before, which entails 2/3/4 hours of sitting in a classroom full of scribbling, shifting, sometimes-copying students, all demanding extra sheets/water/answers to how-to-fill-up-the-first-page, ma'am. No sooner than I sit down to open my page-marked book, do I have to get up again to attend to another student demanding yet another sheet of paper.
All that has changed now. As the top drawer of the bureau(cracy), I have an efficient Senior Supervisor, a 'pro-active' (how different is that from just 'active'?) Understudy Senior Supervisor, a whole team of hard-working Junior Supervisors and numerous peons at my disposal, who do all the hard work.
All I do is come fifteen minutes before the exam starts, sign the brown envelopes containing the question papers which are unsealed and opened in my presence (High and Mighty, eh?), and take a lordly tour of the classrooms when the exam actually starts. And, of course, I have to stay till the end, when the answer-scripts are counted, coded, masked with black-adhesive-lined-paper (this sounds like a spy-thriller!) and finally tied into bundles with brown paper and sealed with red lac. I love watching this final, ancient, tamper-proofing ritual. The fans are switched off, the red lac stick (I must get one for my kids) is burnt in the candle-flame and the dripping lac is applied onto the joints and folds of the brown-thread tied around the bundles, and then it is stamped firmly with a brass lock. Transports me straight back to the maharaja-eras!
If you've read Upamanyu Chatterjee's English, August, then you'll know that officers in the Indian Administrative Service have all the time in their hands to get doped/shagged/bored out of their minds. But I have spent my bureaucratic-windfall-of-time sitting in the library, surfing the net, blogging (and reading blogs) to my heart's content. From a weekend-blogger I have become a weekday-surfer. Three hours of unmitigated pleasure. Ah, the perks of bureaucracy!
When the warning bell goes ten minutes before the end of the exams, I close the comp, gather my things and saunter down to the exam room to, what else, sign official papers and lord over the final proceedings!
Today, the much-feared "Squad" (appointed to curb cheating and to ensure that everything's in order) came for a visit, and we were kept on our toes for an hour, visting rooms, displaying records, faking smiles. Now they have gone and I am back on my bum, writing this post.

P.S : My short-lived bliss ends tomorrow, along with the exams. After that, it's back to being a clock-challenged mom and midnight-blogger. I should have taken my mom's advice and sat for the IAS (Indian Administrative Service) - exams. A few months of slogging...rewarded by a lifetime of blogging!

Saturday, April 19, 2008


I have started a much-awaited task this month - that of teaching my elder daughter the basics of the Bengali script. At school she learns English and Hindi, so we decided that it was time for home-lessons in her mother-tongue (which she speaks at home, and has also started to read now).
To teach her, I fell back on the age-old primer, Barna Parichay, the favourite introduction to the Bengali language written in the nineteenth-century by Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (and read by generations of Bengalis - my parents and myself included).
Although Vidyasagar (his name literally means 'sea of knowledge') was a remarkably courageous man and a pioneering social reformer, re-reading his book with my daughter gave me a few insights on why the typical Bengali bhadralok (gentlemen - and women) are regarded as timid, cautious-about-health-and-weather and scared-of-catching-a-cold.
In his lessons in Barna Parichay, Vidyasagar cautions in the same breath : "kakhono michha katha kahio na (do not lie)" and "roder samay daura-dauri korio na (do not run about in the sun)." Then again, he warns incipient naughty children, "tumi douria jao keno, poria jaibe (why are you running, you will fall down)".
As a piece de resistance, the final lesson contrasts the life of a good boy,Gopal (who revises his lessons, never fights with others, and always eats what his parents give him - I should be so lucky!) with that of a bad boy, Rakhal (who enjoys nothing more than a good fight or a good rough-and-tumble game and who apparently manages to lose four sets of schoolbooks in a month - not that he reads any of it, anyway). Obviously, the subodh balak (good boy) is excessively loved (otishoy bhalobashen) by his parents.
No wonder, Bengalis are deemed to excessively love their iconic monkey-caps and umbrellas, especially at the first hint of cold or cloud. Umbrellas, of course, are a must-have outdoor accessory, come rain or shine.
Bengalis also love arguments but abhor fisticuffs, being content to shout "maar, maar shaalake (hit him, hit the rascal)" from the sidelines of any streetfight. And all self-respecting, brought-up-on-Barnaparichay Bengali babus (gentlemen) will diligently shun any work which might take them out under the hot sun.
Lessons learnt at their mother's knee, with a little help from Vidyasagar?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


I live in a large residential complex, full of well-maintained highrises, landscaped gardens, 24-hour security and a clubhouse with gym, pool, playing area, et al. I also live in A.D. 2008, when India has supposedly been independent for over 60 years, with a Constitution claiming equality for all its citizens.
So can anybody explain the atrocious anomaly of the notice in front of the club which says "MAIDSERVANTS NOT ALLOWED". Long, long ago, the colonial rulers declared "Dogs and Indians not Allowed", barring the 'natives' entry to posh clubs meant only for the 'whites'. It was unjust, demeaning and dehumanising. The freedom struggle was meant to change all that.
Sorry, but it did not. We still have discriminations - against the poor, against other religions/castes/classes/genders, even against people not dressed 'appropriately' (who are denied entry to certain restaurants/nightclubs). The OTHER is always hated and barred.
My maid (I dislike the term 'servant') lives with me, cares for and loves my children. She goes to this club when she is accompanying the children, who sometimes like to play there. She is the support-system who allows me to have a career, a life of my own. She is a free citizen who lives in a free country, the 'largest democracy in the world'. She is certified sane, has no criminal record, and is a professional who is earning money legitimately. She is also completely invaluable to me.
Then why is she being denied entryto the club - which, by definition, means a common space to be enjoyed by all members. I am a tenant, so I am a member by default; so are my husband and daughters. WHY is this club out-of-bounds for maid-servants (what about man-servants?)? Because they are poor? Because they are not owners/tenants/heirs of owners? Because they do not have a voice?
It is such a SHAME that such blatant discrimination persists in a free country. I'm really, really disgusted. Wouldn't you be?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Today was Poila Baisakh, the Bengali New Year's Day. Its relevance in our lives today is just as an occasion for eating out with the family, and, maybe, wearing new clothes and touching the feet of elders (or calling them up, if you live far away, as I do).
In Bengal, on this day, the entrepreneurs and shopkeepers worship Lord Ganesha (the Hindu god of commerce) and open a new red-cloth-bound halkhata (book of accounts), smearing it with vermilion, hoping for profit and plenty in the coming year.
Sharing this venturesome spirit, I, too, began a new blog today, Past Continuous. It is about my memories of growing up in Bengal, India, in the 1970s-80s.
Do visit the blog that memories built and share your past with me.

Monday, April 14, 2008


I have just finished reading Jhumpa Lahiri's new book, Unaccustomed Earth. I chose the same title for my blog because the world she writes about - the globe-trotting, non-resident Bengalis living in the United States with their hyphenated identities - is not my accustomed world. I have never been outside India: I have never lived through the hopes and pains of those Bengali people who settle abroad, though I have friends who have done so.
I like the way the stories grow out of the metaphysical quote at the beginnning, which says that human migration is like plants growing in new soil. The stories are also about growing - siblings growing up and then growing apart (Only Goodness), growing old (Unaccustomed Earth), growing apart within a marriage (A Choice of Accommodations), growing close outside a marriage (Going Ashore).
The people in the stories belong to three generations. The older set are first generation non-resident Indians, married to fellow-Bengalis through arranged marriages, never feeling the passion of love for their spouse but growing into a sort of companionship through age and shared struggle and loneliness. The younger set are the Bengalis who have grown up in the US, who do not share their parents' nostalgia but have to undergo their own physical and mental journeys and adjustments in their own marriages/relationships, usually to white Americans. Lahiri taps her own and her parents' histories well. There is also the third generation, children born of these mixed marriages, as yet too young to understand the pulls and tugs of multiculturalism, as yet inhabiting the present only, as yet coccooned in their physicality.
The people in the stories are restless, searching for nameless, elusive things. They travel a lot - across continents, into their past, into old memories, to new terrains. They find love in bits and parts - and this love is taken away, either by death (Going Ashore), or by deception and distance (Nobody's Business).
The material comfort, the professional success masks the undefinable void lurking within the characters. This fractured hell-heaven existence is Lahiri's accustomed earth and she uses a mature, sparse style (with only a few necessary poetic flourishes) to paint its bittersweet colours.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Sometimes I feel that children are most lovable when they are sleeping. So quiet and cute. I am blogging in peace right now because my two daughters are sleeping like angels in the next room. They sleep all over the bed, sometimes imitating each other's postures - both curved like C-s, or lying like I-s on their tummies, sometimes moving around till they form a T or an L or a V. On more acrobatic nights they might form a P or a D. The only letter I fear is X, which means that one has got up on top of the other, which is usually followed by a muffled cry and one of them waking up (and obviously me, too). It is X-tremely tiresome to be woken up in the middle of the night to untangle them from each other (and from the jumbled-up bedclothes) and restore order in the alphabet-soup.

Monday, April 7, 2008


The Pantaloons Femina Miss India contest, 2008 edition, was telecast tonight with a lot of fanfare and media-hoopla. Pictures of the three PFMI (now this abbreviation is just ripe with possibilities!) winners - all glossy hair, fixed (in more ways than one) smiles, toned arms waving at us lesser mortals - were splashed across the front pages.
Later in the year, these three manufactured beauties will venture abroad, hoping to conquer the Universe, World and Earth.
I have no moral issues against beauty contests. A Ford Supermodel contest makes business sense: to select certain humans who have the looks, carriage and attitude to catwalk on the ramp or be clotheshorses.
What I find ridiculous is the attempt by the Miss India (and Miss Universe/World/et al) organisers to showcase their pageant as a platform for women's progress and personality development. To prove it, they have introduced a subcontest - Times Miss Sudoku!
I am sure somebody did manage to solve the sudoku in the end, and ended up with a crown on her brain, er, head . But my point is, even if intelligent/brilliant/exam-toppers (in India, the terms are co-referential) enter the pageant, it is because they hope to pursue a career in Hindi movies (Bollywood is the Valhalla of retired beauty-queens) or fashion (model>choreographer>designer in ascending order of age) or, at least, television (the idiot-box embraces all the Bollywood-rejects).
So why pretend to serve the nation? These girls are not role-models. They are models, period. They are not social ambassadors. They are brand-ambassadors. They are chasing name, fame and tinseltown glory, while taking a year out after winning to pose prettily with sundry orphans/AIDS patients/tsunami victims and pay (collagen-plumped)lip-service to the "IN"-charities.
So, let the contests roll on, with the assembly-line beauties striding across the conveyor belt with clone-like sameness, year after year. With a little help from the cosmetic surgeon, dentist, hairstylist, fashion designer, make-up person, etiquette-and-grooming-(and toilet?)-trainer. All bankrolled by adoring parents.
Let the judges try to catch the colours of a rainbow by dissecting beauty into 'sexy legs', 'golden skin', 'beautiful hair/eyes/smile', or 'perfect-ten figure'. Totally laboratory-like, totally surreal!
Let the contestants preen and pout, pose and pirouette. They make pretty plastic photocopies of each other, like Andy Warhol's prints.
But DO NOT let them parrot well-rehearsed answers to well-worn questions (read: cliches from the how-to-win-a-beauty-contest handbook). This year's make-or-break question was whether "WESTERN (as in evil?)" influence was responsible for the rising divorce rates in our dear-old-family-loving-husband-worshipping India. A question on which sociologists do their Ph.Ds; a question on which fundamentalists plan their andolan (propaganda). But the smug PFMI contestants answer-with-a-smile in 60 seconds flat.
So dear, dear organisers, do away with the pseudo-thought-provoking, genuinely-yawn-inducing Q-and-A rounds. Let the BODIES (part or whole; same-to-same) rule!
P.S : The only spontaneous answer ever recorded was Madhu Sapre's answer in the 1992 Miss Universe contest, when she was asked what she would do for her country if she were the head of the nation. A spunky sportswoman, she said she would build more stadiums to promote sports. Straightforward and non-conformist, Sapre lost the competition.
P.P.S: Alongside the front-page report of the PFMI winners in today's The Times of India, there is another report of a Supreme Court judgment, sentencing a man to two-years in prison beacuse he drove his wife to suicide with his callous taunts about her 'dark complexion'.
So, although we have a regressive pageant, we also have a progressive court. Thank God for that.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


OK, I admit it. Sophie Kinsella is not intellectual, not highbrow, definitely not LITERATURE (unless you are doing a course in Popular Fiction). If literature is food for the soul (twisting Shakespeare's quote on music), then Kinsella is very definitely junkfood. But she definitely packs in that carbs-kick, the cola-fizz. She is very popular (read: bestseller lists), and she is very, very fictional (read: fantastic rom-coms).
She is also my secret guilty pleasure. I am completely addicted to her books, and have read (and re-read and bought) all her books. I have just finished (in a feverishly-page-turning rush) reading her latest joyride, REMEMBER ME?. I love her SHOPAHOLIC series-heroine Becky Bloomwood (whose head is completely turned by the brand-vanity-fair and who is a credit-card junkie but whose heart is always in the right place), Emma Corrigan (whose life is a book opened by her own big mouth) in CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET?, and Samantha Sweeting, the 148-IQ-lawyer who chucks her high-flying job to end up in the arms of her constant gardener and becomes THE UNDOMESTIC GODDESS.
Kinsella's books are cheeky/cheesy chicklit at their fluffiest . The heroines are all Bridget Jones-type not-too-bright everywomen, with workplace-woes, mother/sibling-issues, gang of galpals, and a loser boyfriend (REMEMBER ME's Lexi Smart actually has a boyfriend called Loser Dave), who they ditch (or vice-versa) only to land up in the arms of dishy, perfectly-imperfect (and rich) dreamboats. In the course of the roller-coaster narrative, after teetering on the edge of professional disaster (and often falling into workplace humiliation), they also manage to land up with interesting careers where they really shine. Very 21st century fairy-tale-ish. Very improbable-in-real-life. Very, very rapidly readable-irresistable.
Like all chicklit heroines, Kinsella's women remind us of ourselves. They often get the wrong end of the stick, they bitch about their nasty bosses, they slack off at work, they indulge in retail therapy, they have having-it-all-in-technicolour dreams... don't we all? In Kinsella, these dreams come true. Of course, it is all gimmicky and cliched and trite. But it's FUN.
I am completely hooked to this down-downer-downest-up-uppest love//career journey. So, why did I say "GUILTY pleasure"? Because as a college-teacher/Eng. Lit. student, I am expected to be on a strict classics-and-highbrow-stuff-only diet. And although I like to stimulate my brain with 'the right kind of books', I can't help sneaking in for no-brainer treats from the Kinsella-candy store.
To atone for my lapse of taste, I think I should write a suitably-incomprehensible 'paper' critiquing Kinsella. Like how her overt consumerism is a multi-level marketing strategy (from blatant brand-dropping within the text to the air-brushed author- photo on the inside cover). Like how her heroines commoditise intangible values (they trade their goodheartedness in the job/marriage market to earn tangible rewards). Like how the Cinderella-discourses parallel Kinsella's own metamorphosis from financial journalist-nonentity to bestselling author-celebrity (the know-the-author blurb on the book jacket is the ultimate chicklit fantasy-come-true). Like how all this critical-hyphenated hypertext is a load of bull.
Read Kinsella with a warning: "Keep Your Brains Behind". And then enjoy the ride. Read for yourself (if you haven't already) and tell me how you find her.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


Keats did not have the whole picture, maybe because he died young, unmarried and childless. Children often have the disconcerting habit of hitting not-so-welcome 'truth-nails' right on our heads, puncturing the notions of 'beauty' buoying our middle-age-ing egos.
Take a case in point. My elder daughter attended her new class today, and returned voluble with stories of her first day, new friends and new class-teacher. Warmly interested, I asked whether she thought her teacher was good. Taking me at face-value, my daughter relplied that she was very good-looking.
Rushing in where angels fear to tread, I teasingly asked whether the teacher was more beautiful than me, and was promptly put in my place when she shot back, "onek beshi (much more) beautiful, ma" (in an emphatic, how-can-you-think-otherwise tone). As they say, from the mouth of babes...and here I was, over-confidently assuming that all little girls look up to their mothers as icons of beauty/accomplishment/whatever. (Just goes to prove that when the physics is solid, the psychology is suspect!)
I admit that when it comes to me, there is quite a LOT to look up to (all of size XL). But I felt very much deflated by my daughter's TRUTH-fulness. You could say it served me right, after all it is April Fool's Day... and no fool like a self-deluding, way-overweight BEAUTY-fool.


Today I spent three mundane-magical hours covering my elder daughter's newly-acquired schoolbooks and notebooks in brown paper.
Shiny, plastic-coated brown paper, fresh off the roll. My daughters helped and hindered - taking away the scissors, sticking the cellotape all over their fingers, allowing me to stick the labels only after I uttered a frequently-changed "password" (which I kept forgetting).
As I busily cut and folded the paper, trying to shape the edges and corners neatly, the brown paper turned to sepia in my eyes. Sepia-tinted with memories.
When I was young, my brother and I loved this annual rite of passage to a new class. The crisp smell and bright colours of the new books , tantalisingly hidden under the brown covers, invited hours of exploration. Writing our names on the precisely-pasted labels gave an unmatched thrill of possession.
I saw the same thrill on my daughter's face today. Exploring and possessing - the age-old human instincts.
And so a chore became an adventure for both of us.