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Posted in books, Review

Thank you, Angela 

Pink. The edition is a pleasant pink. This was the first thought that ran in my head when I saw this book show up on my Twitter feed. My mother calls it baby pink. As soon as the pleasant response registered itself, the stereotype followed, reminding me how pink was ‘girly’. I felt my guard strengthen slightly but I went on and read about the book. I ordered it right away. That is how my devour session of Inferior – How science got women wrong and the new research that is re-writing the story began.

I was 7 years old. I had a frock that had three frills on the sleeves and three frills on the cloth below the waist. The second best part about this was that it was made of cotton, thus brushed and consoled my skin that never saw the light of Vaseline. I wore it to school every Wednesday. After puberty hit like a bullet train, my teen wardrobe rarely had pink. It had every other mismatched colour that never looked good enough on me, but not pink. Because I believed that pink was too girly for me. Which cool and hip-happening girl in her right mind would wear pink? I would scoff at pink shirts and tops in stores. This resulted in some sort of strangled wardrobe that was filled with junk clothes because I never felt like wearing any of them. I was never happy in them.

Girly and pink were among the many words that I hid under the folds of my kurti. I was ashamed of the fact that my eyes went straight to barbies in a toy store, various shades and hues of pink that I could discern when my mother could not decide which pink a particular clothing was. 

It’s only in the recent past that I have been able to fish out the pieces of the self I had lost and began remaking myself, one piece at a time. I let myself like and dislike something after giving it enough thought, as much as it requires. But it is my own thoughts and ideas and I feel better with every single such decision I take. What surprises me is how deeply ingrained the kind of person I once was, poking its nose into giving me easier and comfortable options. Inferior explains this concept better than my ancient pink frock.

*

I flipped through the sources and references of the book and I was shocked to see the insane amount of research Angela had done to write this book. All this research is presented in a chronological order of events and many of the sources are cross-referenced. This might seem to confuse the reader but Angela’s writing makes sure that that does not happen. She manages to keep the book as much objective as possible. Her bias, the direction in which the book goes, can be seen as a thin sheet of plastic that wraps up a new writing pad, without letting any part of the book be completely influenced by it. 

In the chapter, “The missing five ounces of the female brain”, she talks about Helen Hamilton Gardner who had to fight to explain how women and men were equal when a man’s brain was five ounces heavier than a woman’s. Their theory which said, bigger brain, brighter man, was accepted by many people. Gardener had to fight, not only to prove that she was right, but also to prove that she was eligible to be right. She left her own brain for research after she died. It was then that the missing five ounces were accounted for, as Angela writes. This makes me think as to how narrow-minded one can be to not even want to examine something a woman wants to say, just because she is a woman. Two male scientists have not even read the papers published by female scientists countering their theories.

*

Instead of making this book having all resolved and all sorted conclusions, her bias makes sure that she provides enough evidence to her findings, including the debates going about the particular issue. She does this when she is talking about the grandmother hypothesis, where she lets the reader know that the idea of a grandmother existing even after evolution has no use of her was because a grandmother helps in nurturing the next generation of young ones was not completely proved even when a handful of proofs pointed that way. This she does by giving counter-arguments which disprove this hypothesis by making a rational and valid point.

The piece is intricate yet smooth. Angela constructs the book by becoming the invisible observer, almost fading into the wall of the scenario that surrounds her. She juggles through different research material and makes sure they all fall into place as the reader goes on with the book. There is a certain uniformity that Angela maintains not only in her method of writing, but also in how she builds the first part of the evidence, lego brick by lego brick, she produces the building and in the same way, piece by piece, she demolishes the incorrect findings.

When Angela warned me in the beginning of the book that not all of this is pleasant, I did not expect to read what I read in the section, “Why men dominate”. Here, you learn about female genital mutation, stunting the growth of women’s feet in China, breast ironing in Africa – to name a few. This is where I felt my temper rise. I closed the book for a while and I tried to think the last time an injustice against women made me this angry. It hit me that a huge chunk of such blatantly unjust and cruel practices were passed off as being something that happened every day and people decided that their morning coffee and breakfast was not worthy enough to be ruined by this. People’s apathy, at times my own, shocked me. How was I remaining silent despite everything? One voice should make a difference, right? Then I remembered that behind the lectures in school that one voice can make all the difference, we always heard the ‘realist’ view that one voice can make no difference. So we stuck to it and stayed silent. The world went on with its day.

*

This book makes you think. It makes you go on with your life and wonder about every myth you were told as a little girl/boy. It makes you think, it makes you question. It shows the danger of blindly following anything without sufficient research, just because ‘science says so’. She highlights the importance of looking at all facets of a situation instead of just picking something just because it satisfies your theory. She shows the dangers of picking the easy way out.

Thank you, Angela, for giving my voice the strength it lacked. Thank you for giving me back pink. And many other shades of violet and blue and all the other colours which are slowly filling my being.

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Posted in City speaks, Creative writing, Poems

On wet streets and memories

Dear poet, pen and pun pal,
These days the rain hits the ground a little harder. It is almost violent enough to make me go back into the house even when I’m decked in night pants and shirt. Rain clothes, we called them. Amma will not start enlisting the troubles she has to go through if I got wet in the rain; as if it was a grocery list she was writing when the rice, dal and sugar in her South Indian household had gone empty. She will not have to follow me till the gate without an umbrella because why should she stay safe when her Mythu is inviting a cold from the rain. She will sit on the black and grey couch with her size five feet under her plump legs in a red nightie and look at me as I gaze at the rain which is too rough today. Her daughter seems to have been getting her size 8 feet back on the ground and she is happy. The sky however is not.

The rain these days seems to be angry. It has broken through faulty tar roads that looked strong enough for a lorry to ride on. It makes bike and scooty riders to enter a muddy pothole in the middle of Bangalore’s streets. It does not apologise for being too strong for a city to bear in a single day. It does not make any promises. It fell down on the barren ground that did not know how to soak up the water. Thus, the rain flows. In streams and stands in puddles. The winds that were supposed to blow away the rain clouds join the rain and create a storm. Amma was wrong again when she said that if it becomes windy, there won’t be any rain. The city has cut down a set of trees for an advertisement board which would be just another imprint on a bored person’s mind. 27 to be exact. The rains these days don’t sing of the soft magic it carries in its drops. There are no rainbows.

The rains in this city don’t push people together anymore. They have tried and failed to stop the people who run in their fixed routes which end in a place they cannot call home. The anywhere but here kind have seemed to convert everyone into their own. I feel I’m crossing the line into being them. Sometimes, I need a morning breakdown to realise that the afternoon was not meant for a day in college. The rain does not tell me what it means to stand and wait for the next drop to surprise a different part of your body. It is nearing the point where one day it will fall all at once and there will be no trace of our race left. Nothing that would tell the world of the incredible spirit of a human being along with the fundamental evil that all of us possess. Today the rains want Bangalore to stay Bangalore and not Bengaluru. It wants to stop the tailor shop from converting into a dosa place. It is changing to stop change.

I sit here wearing my happy sweater. The rains have just stopped. It’s night again and it has chosen to stay silent for now. I hope Ithaca is everything that you dreamed of and so much more. There will be more to tell you, but for now, I’ll let the rains do the talking.

Loads of love and sunshine your way

Yours,

The awkward girl who has not tripped and fallen. Yet.

Posted in Creative writing

A house of one’s own

There will be paintings on the wall, filled with my palms and fingers in all colours bright and dark. There will be photographs of appa with his perfect nose and teeth grin, amma’s tight lipped smile because she does not like it when her teeth show. Ajji will stand along with them, looking at the camera like it was unacceptable that it pulled her away while she was preparing the best poha in the world. There will be friends in the photographs, because they chose to be more than their fundamental annoying selves. The number of pictures will grow as times pass but the wall will stay purple. Faded purple like someone thought the night sky would look better with a shade of white all over it. It will be filled with dream catchers because my dreams bring in their own set of luggage and start spinning cobwebs with them.

There will be mosquito nets around the beds, white ones with barely enough holes for air to pass through. I would sit inside and imagine all the stories amma told about her grandpa. He was an architect who designed a school in Mysore. He also wore a black muffler with invisible stripes on it when he was 88. He would drape it around amma when she was cold. The light bulb rays would struggle to lighten up the sentences on my books and I would walk out to the balcony and read under the purple sky and the white moon.

There will be two chairs and lots of blankets made from bits of old, red and white t-shirts. The kitchen, the living room and its tiles would tell me stories of how they were unfortunate than most other tiles to have ended up here. The house will come alive as I walk out into the streets and carry a piece of it with me. A piece of home wherever I go.

The street lights will be musky silk saree yellow. I will walk on the streets towards and away from my house. I will walk with a house in my sleeves and old jeans. With a home. A home of my own.

Posted in City speaks, Went, saw, wrote

Book launch “Wall”owing in chaos

The microphone at Bookworm, Church street, produced half the sound it was supposed to produce (yet again) at the launch of The Wall by Sowmya Aji that happened on a Saturday afternoon.

The previous confusion became more apparent as the author, Ms. Aji, ran back and forth along the podium as she made sure the event was not as bumpy as it was showing itself to be. Three cameras stared on and Ramya, politician and actor, arrived at the event almost on time and kick-started it by reading out a few paragraphs from the book.

As soon as the talking stopped and the organisers decided what to do next that would not be chaotic, there was a constant voice coming from the speakers around, reading out verses that nobody could understand as they had not read the book. Everyone was looking around, wondering where the voices were coming from. The chaos on the stage, however did not stop.

Chiranjiv Singh,a retired civil officer and an “earth sciences not literature” expert as he calls himself, performed an analysis which seemed more like a critical review of the book. The book was a page turner, but as far as magic realism is concerned, it has magic and no realism, was his opinion on the book.

The audience were puzzled as to how this could be an analysis of the book. Instead of stopping there, he also added that the he would not have read the book if Ms. Aji had not made him do so. He looked like he wanted to say some more but Ms. Aji took the pause and thanked him for his valuable input which was basically him “throwing shade”, as one of the members in the audience pointed out.

Then enters Prakash Rai. He gives the usual reason of being “caught up” and the book is launched after it has been “analysed”

After a few words from the panellists, people shuffled out and a conversation began between Amandeep Sandhu and Malavika Avinash, a BJP spokesperson. “The book wrote itself”, was one of the many sentences in the discussion that made people look at each other with wide eyes. They were probably thinking how easy it would be if all their books wrote themselves.

As if that was not enough, Ms Avinash started talking about the different rasas of Bharatanatyam and connected that to the reception of the book; Ms Aji replied with an even more vague answer. The event ended with an “I think we should end it?” from the author.

The kids’ bored faces were tinted with a shade of happiness as everyone started to walk out of the room, confused still, some bewildered, most bored.

As soon as we thought that this was over, the director of Tipu Sultan Ke Khwaab takes the stage and asks people to come to his play. Book launches have changed indeed.

Posted in City speaks, Creative writing

Chai? Kaapi?

You make good tea, amma said. But tea somehow managed to smell like a stale delight to me. The water and Brooke Bond tea leaves boil. I take the steaming tea in a tea cup and give it to her. She takes a large sip with a slurp and steps into euphoria land. I turn back and move out of the aroma field of the tea.
Coffee has been my go to beverage. Filter kaapi to be honest. But ironically, I make terrible coffee. I had added five spoons of sugar in a completely diluted coffee, if that can be called coffee, and I spit it all out as soon as I put it to my lips. Ajji takes care of my coffee needs. I think I will not get married and stay with my ajji and amma and drink tasty kaapi for the rest of my life.
So when I had a cup of tea as there was no coffee and I wanted to know what all this fuss about chai sutta that my classmate, M had, I discovered it was not so bad. A sip of hot choi travelled along my nerves with angel wings and swished and un-knotted my muscles. And so started my journey into choi land.
A friend of mine tells me that he prefers choi to kaapi. My hand went to my face upon hearing this. He was one of “those”. Stale choi aroma liking people. He laughs at this and tells me his favourite was the Sulaimani chai that they make in the tiny tea shops. The name itself sounded royal and being someone who fancied herself in a heavy gown, waltzing around the ballroom or having a poise without the slightest bit of awkwardness, just like a princess, I decided to give it a try.
So that’s how I found Johnson Market. The best part of the place is the non-car parking lane. All you can find there is moving humans, two wheelers parked in a civil manner opposite to the food lane, cigarette smoke and a lot of chai and food.
B and I went up to the owner of Makkah café. I look around for two seconds and blurt out an order for two Sulaimani chais. The man tells his employee to bring us our order and sits back with the same straight, serious face. The chai arrives and I forget everything around me because the aroma of the chai hit the feeling part rather than the smelling. It feels like yele bisilu, the winter sun rays hitting the body part not wrapped in woollen garments and warming them. It did its job of swooshing and un-knotting muscles like the other tea, but this stops to tell you what it would do and then does it. Everything around me started forming again and I become a part of the silently noisy Johnson market once again.

Posted in Uncategorized

V V puram gee hogee illa!

There was no chicken. None at all. It hit me at the end of the V V Puram food street that there was absolutely no non veg street food there. I could hear my friend laughing, saying that all that’s tasty about vegetarian food was paneer. I let it ring in my head and entered food-street.

I went to the cashier guy of V B Bakery and asked him to give me something khaara khaara. He shouted to one of the employees, “Madam ge yeradu (two) congress buns”. The buns arrived on flimsy grey papers. Cut into four parts, it had congress kadlekai (peanut) in the middle of it, so that as soon as you took a bite from it, you could hear the spicy peanuts crunching in your mouth along with the soft bun. The rum ball there tasted all chocolate and the rum in the dish, without adding to the main taste of the dish, waved hello, made its presence felt and went away. Make sure you take the bill at the counter 2 before paying to the congress bun guy. Not knowing who to pay is something to look out for.

Also, don’t pay before your food is handed out to you (at some places). This is because a guy at a chaat centre frowned at me for paying for the boti masala before he prepared it. “Patience, ma”, he said as he made centrifugal projections of the puri masala in the vessel.

The first potato twister stall you’ll see will always be crowded. While giving your slip to the twister making guy near the stall, make sure your stretched arms are not above the burning coal ember pit next to the stall. The peri-peri salt with the cheese squeezed on top of it will crunch and melt in your mouth at the same time.

Chetty’s Corner boasted of having the best of the best things it served. It seemed like an apt time to try a pizza at a perfectly non pizza place. The pineapple chilly pizza was the dish mom bragged about making exactly same and better at home while eating outside and actually went home and made it. It tasted the same too.

The place opposite to V B bakery had a huge bondli full of ambodes. They are the usual funeral food. Every year, having eaten stale ambodes at different first blood relation’s funeral, this seemed like a unicorn. The masala inside the ambodes play hopscotch on your tongue, revealing a taste with every chew. The woman at the counter adds a smile to your order.

“Mom makes this a lot”, I added, as I took a bite of the hot holige which was at the end of food-street. U, D and B stared at me, with a why don’t you bring it to us then look in their eyes.

“Baby, this is food-street. You come here and eat and eat and eat”, said a mom to her one year old, who looked disinterested. Maybe in a few years, she might hop-eat like us and get tired because eating food is such a tasking yet satisfying thing to do in thindi beedi.