Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A singular disorder

“Why is he still single?” asked she with the decrepit wisdom of someone who believes that there is such a thing as ‘marriageable age.’

I was trying to set her up with a friend of mine, and it is not going too well.
Somehow, this question has always evoked a response even if it is not directed to me. It boggles me, it angers me at times, but these days, it largely amuses me. It sounds as though marriage is the default state to be in, else one has to live under the constant scrutiny of someone who has a manufacturing defect. Someone waiting to be redeemed. A work in progress of sorts…

I find it annoying. Do you remember ever asking someone, “Why are you married?”

A friend of mine while trying to assuage another on her recent divorce said, “At least you got there once…”
Eh? What sort of convoluted logic is that? And the disturbing fact was, he was single. Is that how little he thought of himself?

My family has an average of two weddings a year, and this year they seem to have outdone themselves. There’s one more in the offing.

From being the ‘poor thing’ at these shindigs, I seem to have now acquired the status of an item number. Not that I get an opportunity to shake a leg—you know how singularly uninspiring and bland south Indian weddings are… but basically, people want to hang out with you, and find out ‘what’s happening in your exciting life?’
So everyone from the geriatrics to the CLBs (cute little butts) want to strike a point of conversation, whether it is laughter clubs or a radio station in Texas.

At the last one, my idli-faced cousin, while trying to shove chips down her four year old’s throat (apparently, he is an on a chips and coke diet) and trying to pick out an ironed shirt for her husband asks me, “So when are you going to settle down?” She is six months younger to me, looks 10 years older, and feels older than my mom. Plus her avuncular husband and she never seem to have a conversation or make any real eye contact except to discuss who will mind the brat. I try and imagine their moments of intimacy and a chill runs down my spine.

If that is settling, I am so glad to be unsettled, I think. Or may be single is the new married.
So there you are—single because you held out, single because you know what you are and what will work for you, and what will not work for you, single because you are not living someone else’s paradigm, single because you chose to say no to opportunities when saying yes was clearly the easier option, single because you took the long road, and found yourself in the process.

So, after a long stint at being the best girl at friend’s weddings, shopping for maternity clothes with them, holding their hand post-partum, watching them nurse their babies, watching the babies blow their candles, watching their husbands making eyes at other women, I have finally made my peace with the situation.

It’s about choice. I chose to wait. And I am glad I did.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


I am amused at the way cricket changes the climate of this country and its people, no matter who or where they are.

My normally chirpy maid walks in looking like a thundercloud. When I enquire if something’s wrong, perhaps a domestic crisis? (there usually is—a thief walks into her house and sleeps over the night, her husband disappears with alarming regularity, and such like). She says, “India haar gaya, didi,” and looks melancholic for the rest of the morning as she potters around doing her thing.

My watchman goes missing, and I catch him leaning over a ground floor window.
My natural-born-killer gym instructor goes wide-mouthed staring at the television in the middle of an intense workout, leaving me entangled in a complicated piece of machinery.
My designer buddy at work is suitably distracted.
My normally communicative and prolific beau gets cryptic, with messages like, “Am in mourning..”

It’s that time of the year, I think.

In my childhood— the era of residual test matches; my super enthusiastic dad would engineer a few days of ‘casual leave’ or ‘sick leave’ as the case may be, to catch the game at home.

I remember it pat. My mother would walk in after work in the afternoon, day after day to find a house laden with testosterone, as my dad and his beer buddies sprawled all over our not-so-ample house and produced sound effects that left my super-disciplined-teacher-mom baffled.

It was an early induction into male bonding— I rushed home from school on my lunch break to hang out with dad and his boys, bursting into the house with “What’s the score?” and being greeted with stoned silence or extreme sound, depending on which way the match was going.

It was also a time when domestic tension was writ large. The kitchen would be a mess, dishes would pile up (Shankar, the hired help also joined the cricket revelry), beds would be unmade, clothes unwashed, showers abandoned, the air would be saturated with smoke and masculine aggression, and my mother would curse the game and the TV.

It all came back to me when recently, I was trying to grab some sleep at normal human hours with some intense PS2 sound effects in the background. I almost turned into my mother, when I suddenly realised— boys will be boys. And thank god for that.

Unlike my dad, who was at best, a trivia king or a walking encyclopedia, my brother actually played the game when he came of age. He still maintains he would have made it somewhere in the team, had he not been of Tam-Bram be-a-doctor-or-engineer-or-your-life-is-doomed upbringing.

So it was school or college by day, and matches by night—the sad part is, he still became an engineer, although he has found a way to pursue his passion by playing in an LA County team now. When I visited him last, he asked me to get him a cricket kit— I had never been in close quarters with bats, thigh guards, elbow guards, crotch pads and helmets ever in my life, and sort of got a kick out of it.

The fact is, I never got anywhere in any physical sport, and usually wound up in the reserve team in volley ball at school, praying fervently that no one gets hurt and I don’t actually end up playing. So I was surprised when I found myself in a bowling alley recently and discovered that I was as good as the boys (if not better).

I think I know what works about men and cricket, or men and any game. It’s about not having to talk.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

One of the boys

Scene 1
I am eight years old, and get punished in class by being made to sit in the boys’ row. The teacher doesn’t know that I love it. I poke a chubby-cheeked boy next to me to show him my pencil is sharper than his. He gets a clot in his eye and has to be taken to the hospital and my mother thinks I have had enough of ‘being with the boys’. She soon relegates me to an all girls' school, and endless death by estrogen. I never forgive her for that.

Scene 2
I am on my fourth cup of tea at the university campus, hanging out with the boys (again) trying to get that terribly important degree I didn't much care for, when a tall gaunt frame walks into my frame of reference. He looks like a cadaverous poet—gaunt, stubble, thick glasses. "Remember me?" he says. It takes me less than an instant to squeal, "Shit! Nikhil….You are the guy that got poked in the eye.” He tells me he recognized me for being the only girl in an all boys adda. We spend the next four hours discussing the past twelve years, and a crush is born. He writes me notes, poems, songs; he reads me notes, poems, songs…He brings out the girl in me. I stop hanging out with the boys.

Scene 3
Third job. Highlight of my day is lunch from Bhavnaben, a local caterer who doles out piping hot, gujju food day after day, which pretty much gets me ready for the dumbest brief from the client servicing team in the agency. Only that I share my dabba with a boy, and we are constantly in a race for who makes it first. Because there's no loyalty to the co-eater, only to the food. And since I eat like a man, it makes it all the more challenging to Amit, who comes huffing and panting from wherever he is at the dot of one p.m, only to find that I am already on my third phulka. It annoys him endless. When I quit, he is thrilled. Now he can share the dabba with a real woman, he says.

Scene 4
Suitable boy says he loves being with me because I am like one of the boys…..What? This is not going well, I think. He explains that it is because I am a straight talker and I don't speak in riddles like women do, and don't talk when not required; that makes him less stressed around me. This gets me curiouser and curiouser. Oh! We are getting into buddy zone, I think. Who are these women, I wonder. I want to be the mysterious one, I resolve.

Scene 5
I still haven't acquired that aura of mystery. But I am definitely getting closer to being a woman. Even though I love to drive, do my taxes, and I don't dig blow-drying, or being fetched and dropped. But then, neither do I dig pool, play station or soccer— things that the object of my affection would love me to.

Scene 6
Before I move into my new apartment, my architect-interior designer landlord looks at me approvingly and says I look the type who will keep a good house. And the type who will not have wild parties. I am stumped by his stereotyping.

Scene 7
I am in a open-air restaurant in Jodhpur, trying to get a voyeuristic view of the big fat wedding. I am being served by a two-earringed waiter who asks me if I want a beer. I am stumped by his non-stereotyping.

P.S….I have finally decided that I don’t need to choose. That I can be both women, and they both can be me.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Some daughters do ’ve ’em

Yippee! My mother finally knows what I do for a living.

Okay, correction. She thinks she does. I mean she always had a vague sense…She is one of those people who thought I was finally redeemed when I got a byline associated with me, after years of what she considered anonymity in advertising. Well, something’s gotta give, she must have thought, especially after I murdered my PhD prospects in pharmacognosy.

But somehow, she was in a strange haze about what I did for many years. She never got it. I spent years pointing out ads or hoardings I had written, displaying mailers and brochures I had done, but all I got was a wall. She would stump me with, “How will people know you have done it?”

I secretly wished I worked at a bank, or some job where people can actually see what you do. Somehow, being a teacher or a lawyer, or even a dancer or a singer seemed more straightforward.

Things have changed. Now, I get a call every week, almost saying, “I know what you’re doing, girl, and I am happy for you.” Yes, she is my biggest critic and my biggest fan. She actually reads the paper because I am in it!

For my newspapers-are-only-good-for-sieving-flour-and-lining-dustbins mother, that’s a leap!

My father, on he other hand is interested in what I am writing for a different reason. He loves proof-reading it and telling me that I had a comma where I shouldn’t have, or that there was a spelling mistake in para five, line four in my copy, or that I cannot start a sentence with 'because'.

So, currently I am at a point where my family is watching over me…and suddenly, I am craving for anonymity….

Sure, I know why my job works for my mother. It makes it easier for her to explain to Mrs Ranganathan what her daughter does. I am not too sure she was comfortable telling people I worked for a Men’s magazine (I am sure, till I bombarded her with enough copies of the fine material we produced, she was quite sure it was some kind of semi-porn). But now, it’s easy and above board. “She writes articles for Hindustan Times,” says my mother. And her photo also appears in the paper,” I overhear her say. In my mother’s head, I have attained stardom. (Thank god, she doesn’t have to be a witness of the circus I go through every day..)

But there is a thing about mothers. Just at that point when you think they are happy with you, they raise the bar. Mine casually remarked the last time I met her… “You know, Mrs. Shankaran’s daughter is doing a talk-show on TV. You can also do that, no?

Gawd! Just when I thought I had got it right!