Monday, January 29, 2007

Feline wisdom

I was just beginning to grasp the nuances of gender politics when I acquired my cats. And from then on, it has been a journey of endless learning and unlearning for me.

Lupooh Singh came into my life with half a nose and no lip. I found him in a gutter, hiding from his assailants, trembling like a leaf. I had him stitched up, disinfected and baptized right away. He reminded me of a lil’ pooh, and Lupooh seemed befitting, although in retrospect I think I should have worked harder. The Singh part came from a certain strapping young surgeon in my life at that point, but the nomenclature didn’t go well at all — he felt let down, sharing his last name with a cat. Told me he felt ‘emasculated.’ I thought it was time to let him go. Not the cat, the surgeon.

Millie Kutty is another story. When she was the size of a spoon, she wandered into the electricity meter enclosure in my friend’s apartment, beckoned and stared beatifically at him, seducing him into taking her home. She then attacked his three robust and rather well endowed cats one by one, ate up their food, and then preened, perching over his shoulder. His wife immediately called, asking me to take her away. “Lupooh needs company,” she said. “And besides, she looks like you!” And that did it.

Off I went and got her home in a bag, and off she emerged from the bag as soon as we reached, handing Lupooh one tight slap. Ah! The powertics had just begun! My life was soon going to be a riot of cat (mis)adventures between an alpha-woman and a beta-man. She had to be a Kutty; she was just too antipodal to him, besides being a sultry siren (Iyer would have reeked of vanity)

The next few years were the most insightful ones of my life in more ways than one, and my feline off-springs had a lot to do with it, with their layered personalities and the sub-text within.

Of course, they do have something in common. In that they both suffer from an identity crisis. Lupooh thinks he is a dog, and Millie is most certain she is a panther, or some higher member of the cat family. She spent the first few months looking hungrily at the forest overlooking my earlier apartment block, disdainful of the life she had condescended to, by her own seeking. She scaled walls and crossed balconies, and every time she went missing, the first thought that came to my mind was—she has disappeared into panther-land. But she would be found in someone’s ledge or balcony, snarling at being lost. She hated defeat.

He, on the other hand turned out to be a faithful, waiting for me at the door, obeying my commands, getting restless whenever I packed a suitcase (He wanted to be in it)

For months, he tried to get an edge over her. Sure he was older, bigger, better looking, but often referred to as ‘she’ by ignoramuses. May be he felt emasculated too. He tried towering over her in an act of masculine aggression; she sneered at his obvious show of physical power, and chose to ignore him.
Till one day, in one of her ledge escapades, she slipped and fell. And ended up in a pool of blood with a fracture. The next month-and-a-half broke her completely, as she hobbled in her awkward catwalk, very unbecoming for a lady of her stature. She survived, needless to say, and the perched bum soon became sexy. As she convalesced, he turned into the alpha-male— the man about the house, taking charge of all her favourite spots, marking his territory.

Today, after six years, they have attained some equilibrium. She no longer attempts ledge tricks, but he gets into calculated adventure every once in a while. They still lead together, yet separate lives. Makes me wonder why humans always make a big deal about ‘not having anything in common’ with each other.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Yours, randomly…

I am being spammed. Not by the usual Viagra suspects, or masculine meanderers, or sex gods and goddesses, but by a rather well-brought up boy with good pedigree, excellent references, and a happy childhood. He, ironically is my serial cyber stalker.

How exactly did I earn him? Okay, some history here. Around a year and a half ago, a smug-married couple (friends of mine, incidentally), oh-so-envious of my singledom, tried to set me up (he was the best man who didn’t show up at the wedding). An introductory email was written, copied to both of us, and thus, email addresses were exchanged. He lived in a different city; I obliged with basic email courtesy. And so the story began.

At first, it was like an email diary. Then they turned to essays. Soon followed photo-essays. “AB (okay, just two random alphabets) has shared photos with you!” my inbox would read. Earlier, it was him and his big fat, Punjabi family, and weddings thereof .

At which point, I started gritting my teeth. More followed. Trips to Ladakh (yes, pretty), or Sikkim (oh, how colorful!) and Nepal( sorry, but I hate looking at other people’s pictures)

One day, he wrote to say he was moving to foreign shores, and I did a little dance. Aha! Out of sight, out of mind, I thought. But the logic didn’t apply, as he was never in sight, anyway, so things were pretty much the same. Insulated by cyber land, he wrote…and he wrote. The problem is, he doesn’t know he’s spamming me, despite my direct and indirect hints. The direct ones: “I never read mass mails. Even when they are official. So don’t bother…”

The indirect ones: “Why write 1000 word emails? Might as well write….”

And the point is, he is not a terrible writer, and he can occasional be funny (at least when I read the first two or three in the series, which I thought were directed to me (ah! cyber-camouflage, the wondrous, leave no-trace of other recipients tool)

When I complained to the cupid friend, she said, “Have a heart. He is on a sabbatical; you know how traumatic it can get when you have been a banker for eight years and suddenly discover that you are a writer.”
I tried distracting him by giving him writing assignments with the magazine I worked with. But the emails continued…
Wait. It gets better. Now, my inbox reads ‘Edinburugh, Stirling, Monaco, Austria and Sicily’. Or ‘Venice/Verrona/Milano/Como/Munich/Hinterthal’, Or ‘Cupping Juliet's Right Breast,’ or ‘Main Hoon Don (Corleone)’ , or ‘Bongiorno da Sicilia’, or ‘Firenze never ceases to leave one breathless,’ and such like…
I AM A TRAVELLER!!! It screams…and I asphyxiate even further.

And surprise, surprise! In all these eighteen months, I didn’t end up meeting Mr. Cyberdebonair or hearing his voice (he did switch to sms mode briefly, but my sms-proofness was invincible—and that’s another column). But I do know that most men who suffer from print/sms diarrhoea don’t always make for great conversation..(ah…one more)

I tried requesting google and yahoo, but even they seem to consider him a suitable boy and have thwarted my rejection. No, he is not sleazy, nothing in the contents of his emails is personal or objectionable, except that they are just too long, and mass-produced. And I deal with enough print in my life anyway. Maybe I should just give him the benefit of doubt. And let him be. And write.

But I still wonder. What makes people send a part of themselves to the universe every single day without expecting anything back. And the answer was—They probably don’t!

I hope he, or someone he knows reads this piece. Else, I will be forced to write, “agar himmat hai, to same aa…”

Monday, January 15, 2007

Unsuitable boys

So where are you from? Asked he in the manner of someone trying to improve his general knowledge. A small bell rings in my head. ‘Just-arrived’ it seems to say. Okay, I am not a Bombay snob; I believe in cultural osmosis and economic exchange and GDP enhancement and whatever it is that happens when people of different eccentricities cohabit the same landscape and get terribly productive. What I don’t get is the aforementioned question.

I feel like saying, “ I am a Bombayite; for as long as I remember (and I have an Iyer memory), I have lived in its intestines, its eustachian canals, its olfactory lobes, its womb, its lungs…”

Instead, I say, with strong eye contact, “Bombay.”

Yes, but where are you originally from? He continues, with the persistence of a leech that is impervious to salt. By this time, I have noticed his bad teeth and his tendency to shake his legs at the rate of 13 cycles per minute. He also snaps his fingers to call the waiter and by this time, I am hoping my phone will ring and I can rush out for an emergency as my dear friend has gone into labour and is alone. Or some such.

Okay, I am proud of my Dravidian origins, but the last time I went to Palakkad, I felt nothing. I remember filling a column called ‘native place’ in some form at school, but I don’t remember what I wrote there. And I was always at a loss for what to write on day one post the summer vacation when one is asked to ‘write a letter to your best friend on your trip to your native place.’

So coming back to my interlocutor. I am guessing what he wants to hear is Cochin, or Madras, or Bangalore, or wherever my Dravidian features slot me in his cerebellum, so that he can further demonstrate his general knowledge by holding forth on the spice trade or tea or coffee estates or banana chips or rasam, or any other clich├ęs that may seem appropriate.

Instead, I say, ‘Bombay’ and try to look suitably bored. Surprise! He looks even more impressed.
Now comes the clincher.

So where are you put up?
Well, even at 46 kg, I will need altitude and a fair bit of wind to fly. And when I last looked at myself, which was early this morning, I hadn’t turned into a tent. Also, by this time, my lungs are dying to explode with all the suppressed laughter. So I say, ‘Bandra. And I really have to go now, because I just realised it’s my dog’s birthday.’

I can drop you. I have my vehicle!
Says he with the air of someone who will not give up.
And that’s something I still give points for, even though they might take a while to add up.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Whither, alpha-male?

On my last visit, my homeopath revealed two bits of information that completely startled me. One, that I had too much testosterone (now, don’t look at me like that; all women are supposed to have three tenth’s of a milligram, may be I have four). I guess this meant I was more yan than yin.

Two, that I was too practical to be in a relationship (I am guessing this is a fallout of the first). I am not sure which one bothered me more, but both got me thinking. May be it did have something to do with not finding enough masculinity in my universe?

More about my universe. I often find myself face-to-face with men who cringe at traffic from Bandra to Andheri, men who shudder at the sight of a scab, men who want to help the cause of wildlife, but get the goose bumps from National Geographic, or having to change a fuse, men who always have a cold, men who take a day off because their neck aches, men who feel tired all the time, men who carry a dabba or an umbrella (don’t know which is more uncool), or worse, a bag! However shallow it might sound, that is something that is so not happening (unless it’s a really smart satchel/ rucksack or you are a photographer, or you are carrying your laptop).

I always thought the best thing about being a guy is that you don’t have to carry a bag. No make-up pouch, no fat wallet with a million things you don’t need, no book which you will not require, no in-case-of-emergency-paraphenalia, sunglasses, lip-balm, scrunchies, clips or lunches.

And then there are men who only drink mineral water, men who shudder at the thought of a crisis, or men who can’t find their way around (pun unintended)

A couple of months ago, when I rang one of my interns about an assignment, he sounded faraway and muffled. I presumed I was interrupting some action, and was going to hang up, when he mumbled, “Wait a minute. Let me get my face-pack off…”

Now, wait a minute. I am the girl here. And I never get tongue-tied because of a facepack. On the other hand, I find myself drinking water from the tap, signing lease or sale agreements without batting an eyelid, understanding mutual funds, reading maps, decoding my tax-returns, wanting to understand my car better by enrolling in a mechanic’s workshop, assembling things from manuals, dropping XY chromosomes home in my car, when they are too wasted to drive theirs or too unambitious to own one, or bailing them out when their credit cards get maxed out. Even my mum calls me when her cable television doesn’t work!

And I never get a fever or a headache, and I very seldom call in sick. Also, it takes me ten minutes to get dressed (and I have a bad hair life!).

Was I turning into the man I that I want men to be? Does the alpha male really exist? Am I turning into an alpha-male equivalent— the alpha woman, for want of a better term? Does it have something to do with my childhood?

When I was a kid, dad and I would go for a haircut every first Sunday of the month at the local barber-shop (it was just cheaper, you see) and a matinee after. So then, is my childhood bonding time with my dad, (who incidentally, can still climb a tree, and never has a fever) going to be the cause of all my skewed equations with men?

So why is it that when a guy opens the door for me or offers to drop me home, or carry my luggage, I feel a bit surprised; I also feel like a girl all over again? Never mind what my homeopath said.

Monday, January 1, 2007

O brother!

It was the same time last year when my brother was down from America for his annual bonding time with family. The funny thing is, he slept most of the day, and when he had his quota of sleep and food, he would call me, and make a plan for the evening. It continued in this manner for the whole six weeks that he was here, with sporadic visits to geriatrics in the family, which he pretty soon tired of, so it was over to me again.

It was a tiring, but exciting time, with me having to work two shifts of work and play with equal intensity (no less than 100% will do for the bro). Not that I am complaining. He and I are real buddies, we talk about everything under the sun (I listen most of the time), and we love doing stuff together.
And the best part is, we always end up saying yes to each other’s plans, and it is never out of politeness. Random pub-checking, impromptu traveling, eating anda pav near Cooper hospital at 2 am, watching English films dubbed in Hindi and laughing our guts out, taking off to Lonavala for breakfast, and pretty much anything that involves food or drink.

It was almost like having a boyfriend on call—someone who always says yes to your plan, someone who will try anything just because you want to try it, someone who’ll ask the head waiter for a peppershaker that you fancied, someone who is sentimental when you want him to be, someone who is not when you don’t, someone who can be a man and figure out what’s wrong with your car engine, and yet be in touch with his feminine side to understand your womanly woes.

My best friend has a similar thing with her brother. She loves his energy, his drive, the way he is inspired to experiment with his life, the way he almost always has the balls to do so, the way he can think out of the box and is equally kicked by what she is thinking, and the way he can play brother with his intuitive wisdom about stuff that she can sometimes miss.

And then, it got me thinking—would we really like to date our brothers? And if so, are we setting a huge precedent for our prospective or existing partners? Because a lot of the putty that has gone into making your brother is you. And I don’t mean this in a vain way. Simply that climbing trees together, playing marbles and learning how to string a kite at age 10, signing his report card when he has mostly reds, and being a part of his first break-up perhaps creates memories that the finest suitor cannot replace.
But then, that is a whole new putty to start working on. And a whole new set of memories to create.