Friday, December 29, 2006
Rajagopal recounts the court case surrounding the dismissal of a watchman, Suresh Chand, who contended he spent long spells away from work (frequent, unauthorized absences spread over four years) to be treated for anxiety and depression. What really sunk this poor chap, though, is that his employer provided him medical facilities, but rather than avail of these, the guy went to a private hospital, which produced a certificate for him. Subtext? This man is faking mental illness and using a forged certificate that he bought on the black market as an excuse to tell his workplace to fuck off.
(I do realize that there are a number of issues at play; the way in which mental illness is conceived in India could prevent someone from letting his employers know that he is seeking treatment, but let's be honest: this reeks of foul play.)
The High Court, thank god, upheld Chand's dismissal; the journo writes, "Government organizations in the country are held back by the whims of employees, who consider their appointment to government services as a 'licence to thwart the work culture and discipline of the organisation," the Delhi High Court has observed in an order."
The court, not immune from having itself a little laugh, also observed, "I consider that there are very few persons in India today who are not suffering from one or the other form of anxiety or depression. If such medical certificates are acknowledged as valid for such long, unauthorised absence, no work can be done in any of the government departments."
As a frequent audience for government employee tomfoolery, I applaud this decision ... if only it meant that change would transpire. I'm never going to get back those four hours of waiting for the marriage registrar to consecrate my vows!
Second, hah! Perhaps I can't really speak, because I've never been to Goa, much less the assured bacchanalia of trance parties and free love on one of the world's greatest beaches, but this strikes me as absolutely fucking absurd. And you can't blame the airlines -- they're only charging these fares because they can ("In the run-up to the year end, domestic air fares this season are literally sky high, reflecting an unprecedented shortage in supply in select sectors.").
No, aspiring socialites and social climbers, I'm laughing at you. It may offer prestige to say you spent the naya saal in Goa, and you may get to see and be seen. But I'm guessing that Goa, particularly at this high tourism juncture, is pretty robbed of any of its charm and appeal, because there are so goddamn many morons running around, scantily clad, with oversized Chanel (or Channel, eh?) sunglasses perched on an adorable coif.
I'll take Dharamsala, thankyouverymuch.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
But if you're me, it means that your brothers (and some dudes you knew in high school) have been deployed to the Middle East about a half a dozen times in the past five years, and you're more than a little (selfishly) thankful that they are not among the bodycount.
I am allergic to being too serious, but this hits home. Luck doesn't last forever, and as much as my family jokes about the boys entrepreneurially selling sex toys to their comrades in the war against terror, it is pretty fucking frightening to have two people you really care about repeatedly risking their lives for a cause that is so....opaque. Here's to a hope that in the new year, a miraculous solution to this whole conundrum will be birthed from the soil, just as the baby Jesus was delivered to the Virgin Mary. Uhhh...totally.
(Insert slogan shouting ['Bring them home! No war for oil!'] and yellow ribbons here.)
... you make visitors order normal water instead of mineral water at restaurants (because you can stomach it), and then they get diarrhea for several weeks
... you don't have any friends that are not at least bilingual
... you miss the post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas orgy of consumerism that seems downright wholesame in comparison with the crassness of homeless men shilling plastic Santa masks imported from China to eager buyers in their Mercedes
... your sister is pregnant, and your first thought is, "And 25! What took you so long?"
... McDonald's feels like an exotic treat
... you start craving dal, roti, and pickle at 9:30 in the morning
... you set up a meeting with someone "after lunch" and know you won't show up at his office until at least 3 p.m.
Monday, December 25, 2006
The Indian Express explains, "Asom Sena, the vigilante wing of All-Assam Students’ Union (AASU), has warned that it would not remain a silent spectator, if people crossed the lakshmanrekha of decency. ... Asom Sena is concentrating more on the dozen or more lounge bars and numerous restaurants and highway dhabas, some of which have already announced “exciting parties” for December 31. Two-years-ago, the Sena volunteers had ransacked a major hotel in Guwahati on New Year’s Eve allegedly for crossing the limits of decency. “You cannot allow people to dance with almost nothing on, just because they are happy that the New Year has come,” Nath said."
I'm sure the 20-odd police will be more than happy to help the scantily clad locate lovely clothings...
As someone who likes to think of herself as having risen based upon merit (rather than looks, legacy, or relative luck), it's hard to understand why someone would be so shaken up that a few pieces of paper no longer exist. The girl is presumably still an excellent hockey player, one who has honed and can display her talent at will; a few missing papers, in the grand scheme of things, is rather minor.
But this is India, the land of a billion, and relentless competition imbues these documents with real worth. Although one can sometimes take others at their word, it's far more likely that the girl would be harassed until she furnished some tangible proof of her history. Sure, she could forge some papers, but that is a) expensive and b) risky.
Most of my American homeboys have this inkling that people here can fake everything, buy papers, hide behind the proliferating population, slip through the cracks and have it all turn out all right. But it seems to me that it's the opposite; yes, you can navigate life relatively unmolested, so long as the social constructs that have been erected portend your safe passage. Step out of line -- lose your papers, choose an alternative sexuality, marry later than people in your family traditionally have -- and, unless you are the lowest of the low or the highest of the high, pay the price.
Oh yeah, by the way: Merry Christmas!
Saturday, December 23, 2006
In 2006, I've been in:
1) New Delhi, India
2) Munich, Germany
3) New York, New York
4) Portland, Oregon
5) Milwaukie, Oregon
6) Frankfurt, Germany
7) Jaipur, India
8) Bangkok, Thailand
9) Siem Reap, Cambodia
10) Angkor Wat, Cambodia
11) Phnom Penh, Cambodia
12) Sihanoukville, Cambodia
13) Chandigarh, India
14) Shimla, India
15) Chail, India
16) Patiala, India
I think that about does it...man, I've traveled!! That's four countries. Go me!
"All I Want For Christmas Is For You Fucking People To Leave Me Alone"
"The Twelve Days of Tortuous Questions About My Marriage, My Future, and My Reproductive Cycle"
"Cow Dung Roasting On An Open Fire"
"Miscellaneous Biker Got Run Over By A Rickshaw"
"O Leave, All Ye Beggars"
"Deck The Halls (With Boughs of Cheap, Tacky, and Overly Adorned Ornaments Shipped From China So You Feel Like a Part of The Rising Middle Class)"
"Here We Come A-Brandishing the Bhagavad Gita (and A-Harassing You For 100 Rupees)"
"I Heard the Maid Asking For Baksheesh on Christmas Day"
"I Saw The Man Selling Santa Masks at the Stoplight Kissing the Hood of the Mercedes"
"It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like A Hallmark Holiday Exploded All Over Khan Market"
"Bhangra-ing Around The Christmas Bush"
"(There's No Place Like) An Overpriced Buffet Line at a Five-Star Hotel for the Holidays"
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
"Tee hee...I know!"
"But, um. You know, the beanie? Did some Bollywood hussy rip out, you know, a significant portion of your epidermis, or, um..."
"Just keep smiling, and keep your eyes off my bling."
"And, you know, one more thing. Your arms? And your legs? They're different colors. But still, fab, darling. Fab."
(Credit where credit is due: Salmaan Khan and Priyanka Chopra walk the ramp at the Salaam-e-Ishq music launch; PTI photo carried by HT.)
As the peanut gallery gossips behind her, Kajol smiles through her pain -- and calls her publicist.
"Hi, Hari. I thought you told me ponchos were still an acceptable substitute for a chic shawl. It's bloody cold, but I wanted to look sexy, and yet I hear whispers that umpteen yards of polyester strung together in a fringed chain mail is something of a faux pas. Furthermore, your advice on the bag covered in disarrayed pailletes? Crap. Finally, a waistband, ankle bands, and billowing cotton/spandex are nary a substitute for proper pants. In other words, you're fired."
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Unfortunately, the article doesn't provide any answers -- or even any details, beyond the fact that it is sometime between January 13 and 23 and presumably in the Pink City -- so I can't offer much food for thought.
I have, however, just finished The Inheritance of Loss, written by Desai. Not great (though it was awarded this year's Booker), but certainly not execrable. It seemed to lack a certain formal structure, hiding behind the larger issues it presented, but perhaps that's just the influence of recent criticism I've imbibed. I will say, however, that the way Desai ran together words reminded me of Arundhati Roy, and at time I contemplated whether Desai won only because India is such a hot topic these days. Furthermore, the part of the novel I found most emotionally resonant? When the dog, Mutt (Mutt Mutty Mutton Chop!) was taken from its owner. Probably not the lasting impression the author hoped her readers would glean.
Monday, December 18, 2006
As in the case of Santhi Soundararajan, whose silver medal in the women's 800 meter race is in jeopardy after she "failed" a "gender test." This will be an interesting case to watch unfold; as of now, the story has a lot of shock value, but little information to substantiate the confounding details.
For example, a gender test involves a board of doctors, a gynecologist, and physical and psychological exams, but what exactly are they testing for? And what does it mean if one fails? Did they find a penis, and, if so (the larger point), are we nothing more than our genitals? Even if one wants to hold sporting competitions that separate the sexes, how far can the regulation of athletes go? Must we really air these personal struggles to a gawping public, always looking for the next big scandal?
As much as I dearly love the media -- and depend upon it to feed my blog -- sometimes I question the business. I have no illusion that the journalists are purposely attempting to meddle in this person's life, and I understand that occasionally, one buys into the idea that all information is good information. But I simply can't see how the international media masturbation is fruitful in any way in this case; of course, I'm not urging media being censored, I'm simply asking if it's always necessary to disseminate story after story when simple questions can't even be accounted for. Next week (theoretically), a story will come out saying that the person "passed" the gender test after all, whatever that means, but will hundreds of newspapers, Web sites, blogs carry this clarification?
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Each day the site owner posts a definition and a cartoon illustrating the definition, and people write in suggesting words that could be defined in such a way. That's not a real coherent explanation, I know, but trust me. Give it a click, check out the FAQs and submit you own! There's some sort of strange scoring component, but it's just as well to ignore the social-networking aspects and merely delight in the wonderful, inventive, luscious creative solutions people come up with. Tonight I'll curl up with my latest apparamour, a beautiful embroidered shawl that was a wedding gift, and enjoy the show.
No, what bothers me most is the nearly nude...churidar? Footless tights? Leggings? The top is an appropriate (if more-than-slightly tacky) dress, but coupling it with some bastard stepchild of Mary Kate Olsen's skintight retro capris and the traditional Indian bottom is confounding, to say the least. Furthermore, if you're so intent on making this the next big thing, why not, at the very least, make the untoward garment the color of the darker stripe, so as to prevent our fine but perhaps more Simpsons-esque sisters the embarrassment of explaining that yes, they are indeed wearing pants?
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Sunday, December 10, 2006
It's December 7, 2006. Our anniversary will be the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which somehow seems quirky and fitting. We're certainly not an ordinary couple.
We arrive at the district commissioner's office a month after we've filed all our police reports, affidavits of support, and administrative detritus, to be sworn husband and wife and receive our official marriage certificate. Which sounds quite routine and simple, except with us, nothing ever goes as planned.
Our spirits are buoyed when the first bureaucratic lackey enters us into the day's register; our pictures are pasted next to a description of ourselves and our dwelling, and S strokes his moustache in anticipation. The man, whom you will recognize in this photo wearing a strikingly bad toupee, assures us that the magistrate, who will consecrate our unholy love, will be there in an hour, tops.
Two hours later, we're still waiting. Our witnesses, which include S's father, two of our former colleagues from the Delhi newspaper, and a woman who is nearly six months pregnant, are getting antsy; one is dispatched to buy Magic Masala Lay's and quaint little guava juice boxes, the kind you placate kindergarteners with. I need a nap and feel like crying, but the show must go on.
We order a round of chai from a small lean-to behind the office; its tin roof supports a raft of rhododendrons, a vibrant magenta cloud of flowers. S's father instructs the chaiwallah on the proper preparation of tea; the man gently minces a hunk of ginger with a fragment of brick, and we relax on a planter, hoping for some news. The Intrepid and Important Indian Photojournalists begin calling their contacts, haranguing them to discover the whereabouts of our magistrate.
The hours pass, and we attempt to amuse ourselves by taking pictures next to two abandoned, torched cars lingering in the commissioner's compound. An old couch, it's back separated from the seat, springs and a wooden frame exposed, languishes near a gate. The bridal party of another couple orders Domino's pizza; I fret and try to find a quiet place, a place apart from the hum and buzz of anticipation. Next to the marriage registration office is a newly opened disaster management cell. There are signs warning us about touts, explaining that marriage registration is a simple procedure. This is our fifth visit to the office, and the current ordeal has lasted four hours; no official is in sight. It's not as complicated as, say, brain surgery, but it's no walk in the park.
Finally, five hours after we were told he would reach the office, the Hateful Administrator shows his face. S and I are ushered into his office, but the man continues to ignore us, jabbering into his phone on what we are supposed to assume is official business.
After terminating the call and hastily ordering his peons around, the Hateful Administrator begins to examine our file. Papers are pushed in front of us, and five copies are duly signed. Amid our hubbub, the man pauses, clears his throat, and produces exhibit A: an undertaking stating our names, parentage, birthplaces, previous marital status, and religions. I've never been a believer, never had a religion, and yet I didn't want to call myself atheist or agnostic, so I just left that spot blank. The papers were signed off by the Hateful Administrator's underlings, despite this omission, so we assumed it was all smooth sailing.
Not so. The Hateful Administrator brandished the paper and began, "Religion is everywhere. What is this? How can one not have religion?"
I shrunk into my seat. My voice was very small. "I've just...I've never had a religion."
"Surely you were born Christian. We'll just write born Christian."
"But I wasn't born Christian; we've never been anything..."
"But a paper can't just have a blank space."
I'm panicking; our wedding party is glaring at the man; tension is rising. S plucks the paper from his hand and says, "Fine. Is it alright if I just pen in 'agnostic'?"
I'm not entirely happy with the solution, but it's better than being put through the wringer for another 20 minutes. The ceremony continues, and we read out our lines, perfect actors: yes, I take this man/woman to be my lawful husband/wife. My hand is on S's knee, I'm blushing, and we're both waiting for our Hateful friend to add his final stamp, read his final rites.
"What, no garlands? Not even exchanging rings? What kind of a wedding is this?"
Well, sir, we're not asking you to pass judgment on our decisions, we're just asking you to wed us. I shoot S a sideways glance, my eyes dancing between outrage and joy. A few more tense moments pass, and the man begins reading from our marriage certificate.
"I hereby pronounce you, SIS, son of JJ Singh, and TF, daughter of Mrs. Melinda...Daughter of Mrs.?"
The Hateful Administrator realizes he has taken his dickery a step too far; a law was recently (the last year or so) enacted which gave women the right to be listed on documents, but I suppose it's still not common for matriarchs to be cited in this fashion.
"I, uh, now pronounce you husband and wife."
He doesn't add, "Now get out of my sight." But we do anyway; we burst out into the sunny December afternoon all smiles. More goofy picture taking ensues, then we bump off to greener pastures for a late lunch; it's far from romantic, from a billowing white gown and hundreds of chic guests daintily tucking into crudites, but for our relationship, it's oddly fitting. Here's to a new era.
Sunday, December 3, 2006
Two headlines on page 10 of the Delhi edition today: "AC too cold, rail passenger can move forum," and "Case against Aishwarya Rai."
In the first, the reporter relays, "The Central Information Commission has...asked a 70-year-old passenger to approach the Consumer Forum for refund of fare from the Railway Board as air-conditioning in his coach was 'uncomfortably cold.'" Isn't air conditioning supposed to be cold? And, if you've ever been in an air conditioned place before, and you know that you don't like how cold it gets, shouldn't you bring, perhaps, a jacket or a blanket to keep you warm?
I may have a personal beef; at work, it drove me insane all summer, because the office was kept at a rather chilly temperature, and every day, you could expect that you would be cold, and thus logic dictates that carrying a shawl or a jumper is necessary, or, at the very least, a good backup. Instead, these women would come to work and spend at least a few hours every day nagging the building's guards, complaining about how cold they were, and sipping endless chais. Oh, how I wanted to wring their necks. I digress.
Exhibit B is related to Ash and Dhoom 2. PTI reports, "A case has been filed against Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai and actor Hrithik Roshan for an alleged obscene sequence in the recently released film, Dhoom 2.
"The case was filed in the court...under Sections 292 (vulgarity) and 509 (derogatory to women) of the Indian Penal Code. The complainant has alleged that women felt offended after watching the scene and that it promoted vulgarity in society, especially among youth."
I object to legal restrictions on vulgarity for this very reason; while some woman in Indore might think it's harmful, others might think it's perfectly innocuous. How many other actors and actresses have performed item numbers (big, splashout, ridiculous coordinated musical intervals in scanty costumes) without being persecuted in this way? Is it really necessary?
I've lost my train of thought, so I'll end the rant. I just wish that people would keep to themselves a little bit more; if you're cold, bring a jumper (and if you can afford a ticket in an AC car, you can most likely afford protection against the cold). If you find something vulgar, avoid it, don't let your children watch it, tell your friends that you don't like it. Is this personal quibbling really a matter for courts?
Saturday, December 2, 2006
"Paranoia socks (set of 4): MRP Rs 99; buy one get one free"
It's a bit difficult to judge the content and/or article at this point, but it's certainly something interesting that I've noticed: an incredible hubris on the behalf of (middle- or high-income) Indians about how great they are, based primarily on the fact that growth has nearly hit the magical double-digit mark for several years now.
On the one hand, it's great. Pride is a powerful motivator. But on the other hand, when one is on vacation in Cambodia and runs into another traveling Indian journalist who extemporizes on t he incredible weakness of the southeast Asian nation, it's a bit hard to swallow. For example, as a (somewhat) objective outsider, I didn't see a significant material difference between sewage systems in areas not developed for tourists in both Cambodia and India. I didn't find the Cambodian people "primitive" and "immature," as this man claimed; rather, I found them remarkably flexible for seemingly beginning to reckon with some of the havoc wreaked by the Khmer Rouge.
So it's an interesting reality check. Times of India seems completely ignorant to the fact that the article likely casts something of a skeptical light on their practice of putting a logo -- "Global Indian Takeover" -- on anything related to how awesome the subconty is (i.e., "The report reaffirms the point by taking note of a logo...with every article that indicates India's growing international presence and stature in every walk of life"), but such is the Slimes.
IHT apparently ushers evidence of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh as the only doubters of India's ascendance, noting, "'Gandhi appeared embarrassed by the mood of triumphalism about India's economic transformation, pointing out that while India was "a country of dazzling prosperity," it was also a country of "dehumanizing poverty"'".
Still, it seems that Singh's reservations about "obstacles to these dreams of superpower glory -- the educational system, a failing public health service, and a shortage of vital energy resources" will continue to fall by the wayside, at least in mainstream media. They're too busy tooting their own horns, or ogling Aishwarya Rai's goodies. It's a bit of a shame that a sensitive/balanced analysis of Indian mindsets is confined either to specialist domestic journals or international papers trying to dip their nib in India's swirling pot.
Friday, December 1, 2006
Today was my one-year anniversary of gainful employment with MNC. Huzzah to all that, and in celebration, I'd like to pull a "by the numbers" column out of my bag of tricks:
240 -- days I commuted to work
2.5 -- hours spent commuting per day
600 -- total hours spent in office car between December 2005 and December 2006
25 -- equivalent number of days I sat immobile in a Qualis, reading classic literature or bobbing my head to the sounds of filmi FM
36 -- books read from the Modern Library list of 100 best novels
26 -- days spent at a posh hotel in New York while trying to get my visa in order
50 -- average number of documents edited per month
600 -- estimate of documents edited in the past year
4 -- occasions upon which I discovered the word "pubic" or a variant on the word in documents
2 -- times I caught the word "asses" during my happy editing time
5 -- average liters of water consumed per day
1200 -- rupees it would cost per month if I paid for that water
500 -- rupees deducted from my monthly salary for unlimited snacks, beverages, and lunches
6 -- shots of espresso consumed each day
100 -- days I worked out in the gym for more than 30 minutes in the past year
6 -- days until I get married
0 -- number of co-workers who know that I am getting married sans pomp and circumstance
That should do; I could go on ad infinitum, but I won't. How does your year shake out?