Saturday, May 2, 2009


The new Amul Macho ad that is being aired in between IPL matches caught my attention the other day. Well, yes the IPL fever has invaded my home too in the figure of my father and brother, two maniacal fans of the Mumbai Indians and has left me indignated in more ways than one. Firstly, because I do support KKR (or the Kolkata part of it to be more precise) and as a result I have been left alone to lick my wounds but more importantly because the sudden comradeship between my father and my brother has a stinking male exclusivity about it that gets on my nerves. I have ganged up with my unsuspecting mother (poor woman, I have poisoned her mind) and wrecked havoc on my dad’s and bro’s gastronomical delights and I’m praying very hard that Mumbai will not make it to the semis.

But to return to the Amul Macho ad, I did not know whether to laugh or cry at it. For those of you who have not seen it, the advertisement begins with three scenes showing how confident women have become and how that has ‘victimised’ men. The first scene shows a young man shrinking away from holding the same handle in a moving bus as a woman about the same age as he. She holds on to the piece unflinchingly and the man shies away. The second scene shows a man hitching a ride on a woman’s scooter and feeling uncomfortable when a sudden brake causes him to fall on her. She is, however, unbothered and it is the man who tries to move away and places his briefcase between them. The third scene, and this is the more stereotypical one, shows a skinny pyjama kurta wearing man bringing in the food tray with a very demure expression while a aggressive looking woman, presumable his wife-to-be totally checks him out. These done, a battered and briddhosto man runs to a temple on a stormy night and falls on his feet asking for God’s help. An Amul Macho vest falls infront of him and as soon as he wears it he is able to stand self-confident and strong. He leaves the temple premises and returns to three leather wearing ‘macho’ women and as he nears them, he teases them and for a change they shrink from his touch. The transgressive women are successfully put back into their places and the day is saved.

The advertisement betrays the anxiety that is caused as more and more women start taking up roles that have traditionally been male. What should then happen to men? Would they then be relegated to the marginal position that women occupied in traditional society? The makers of the ad seems to suggest that this will be the case but fortunately the calamity can be avoided if men wear Amul Macho as that would turn him into a real man who is able to tame the new generation of women. What is interesting is that the ad portrays three very true to life situations, only with the gender roles reserved. Every woman who travels in crowded buses and trains has had to face men who keep repeating antics like placing their hand over yours on the handle or falling on you under the slightest pretext. And this is also what is objectionable about the advertisement because it sends the message that these things are acceptable and it is the normal outcome of the roles assigned to men and women in a normal society. If women are empowered enough to do the same things to men, that is abnormal and things have to be put right. It is ridiculous, the assumption, that men have to wear a particular shando ganji in order to hold on to their concept of manhood.

While the Amul Macho ad is a laughable attempt at defining masculinity in the changing times, a billboard off the Sukanta Setu advertising some liquor brand is a pretty interesting one. A very middle-class stereotype of a young man is portrayed and he declares that he is a responsible Indian with time for both his parents and society (we are to presume he’s a bachelor). But that he’s advertising alcohol logically suggests that he also drinks. What sets him apart is that he is also a useful member of society. He is the ‘Ram’ of Bornoporichoy je thik shomoy pora koriya ashe abong ma baba ke dukho day na. It is intriguing how the conception of the “good boy” is changing as the middle class starts getting richer. The splurging on alcohol, a notion that has always been associated with the moneyed elite or the poisha wala baper bokha chele is suddenly acceptable. Aajkal to mota moti shobi chole! But needless to say there are skeptics (like my poor jethu who frowns and starts grumbling every time he sees a long line infront of the only liquor shop in our town).

But what should be really interesting is that if it would be a salwar kameez clad woman up on the billboard declaring those exact same things and we would have a bra or a pink panty ad in the lines of the Amul Macho advertisement. The temple, then, would obviously belong to a Devi Mata.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Sleepers

It was another night of the maddening summer breeze, the smoky moon, the crazy rhymes, and the music but tomorrow she was leaving. One night, just one night was all that was left and it was ironic that she was a nocturnal creature. The darkness always did something to her. She couldn’t explain what but it was something like having five shots of vodka all at once. She felt light headed. Her tolerance level was pretty low. She always got too emotional when she drank and she couldn’t afford to get emotional tonight. On nights like this one had to think straight.
The long winding roads, the grassy patches and the shady trees, they were all haunted. There were creatures there forever lurking in the shadows. She had often met them on her daily rendezvous. They followed her, watched her but seldom spoke. And that silence was like a trap. But tonight she pretended that no one was watching, she wanted to think and for that she needed to be alone.
There was a man of course. Her life wasn’t above the wishy-washy sob story. He was her muse. She always laughed at the idea. He was no goddess or god for that matter, just a poor man with airs and a bad poet. But she knew he’d beg to differ. He’d say she was his muse and that the word described her better than it did him. But words had a dangerous way of being biased. Language after all was a medium of the powerful. But did that mean he was superior to her? She never bothered to find out.
It sufficed that she felt he was being ridiculous when he called her his muse. For muses were not supposed to answer. And she always answered all the bad rhymes he dedicated to her with other bad rhymes. He never said anything but she supposed he didn’t like it. Sometimes she thought he too was like those creatures that lurked behind shadows and never spoke. They both had a way of beating her down with silence.
But it was just one night, one more night of performing the masquerade. It was strange that she had begun to enjoy it. There was a weird thrill in the pretence, in trying to guess the truth and the disappointment. Sometimes she almost hated him. Tonight she wanted to dance and hope that the rhythm would purge her. She swayed to the long winding roads, the grassy patches, the shady trees and the haunting. May be there was an escape from it all, she didn’t know when or how but tomorrow she was leaving.

Friday, February 27, 2009

I am sure there will be countless people who’ll hurl stones at me for saying this but I am loving the weather! Although it should technically be spring it feels like early summer and the first few days of any new season is exciting. Any change of weather is novel for that matter, the air feels different and even light changes its color. I often notice how sunlight changes from one season to another such that the there is something different in the quality of light. May be the summer heat makes air lighter so that things look different or may be it is all in my head. Anyway, to return to what I was saying the weather has been wonderful, the evenings seem magical this time of the year. So I have been haunting the little grassy patch beside the jhil enjoying the evening breeze till the mosquitoes drove me out. And there have been no other side effects to my guilty pleasure apart from a runny nose and severe lack of concentration in face of the enemy (I’m talking about the consecutive tests).

It was on one such wonderful evening this week that I was walking home exasperated at the idea that the road next to the 8B bus stand had not only been turned into auto/cab/rickshaw stand all at once, but it had also become a place to hold political rallies and pandals and that on that particular day the platform erected to celebrate Shiv Ratri was blocking more than half of the road. Whoever cared for normal working individuals who risk hand and foot everyday while trying to cross the road here? Now, I will accept that I am one of those people who are particularly bad at crossing busy roads but on that day I wasn’t so much as trying. I was simply standing on one side watching all the commotion around me when suddenly out of nowhere this auto dashes past and misses me by the fraction of a second during which I had managed to literally jump back. I knew then that this was not the first and most definitely not the last encounter I was going to have with autos. And I was right. I saw an auto overturn today morning. Among the injured was an elderly woman whose leg had been completely squashed. Needless to say I was horrified and especially because I had an exam to write afterwards. A few months earlier my cousin sister had been injured in a similar accident that grounded her for eight weeks. I seriously hope the woman I saw today recovers fast. At this rate I am amazed that we have all not managed to get ourselves run over by now.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


I have a lovely kat ful gach next to my window. It is one of those prolific varieties that yield hundreds of red flowers all spring and summer. Winter chills all its leaves and flowers away. But today this skeleton tree bore its first blossom. I was kind of surprised cause its still too early but then the I thought that it probably wanted to dress up too. You can’t blame the poor tree with all the Valentine’s Day propaganda everywhere. The “day of love” becomes an excuse and a convenient one too, to sell cards, chocolates, bouquets and jewellery. No wonder my little tree was getting insecure.
I remember when I was in school. There was this girl I loved like a sister till our suburban hearts drifted in the city crowds and was lost forever. She always made it a point to gather as many wild flowers as she could on her way to school every Valentine’s Day so that we could spend the rest of the day finding names for them. I’m sure the flowers had their names listed in botany books but those were really unromantic scientific names not befitting any object of beauty. She always asserted that it was a shame that no one cared for these pretty objects just because they abounded by themselves. We named them and pretended that this made them less neglected. I know now how ridiculous the ritual was but we didn’t care. We cared for a stupid flower limping beside some dirty drain and that must have meant something. At least we hoped it did.
But as I grow older I find myself less inclined to leave things to hope. A friend told me the other day that I am too emotional and trusting. She was angry that I had managed to break my heart again. She said she didn’t trust anyone and that atleast saved the tears from executing their office at such alarming regularity. I try not to care about the little starved pup huddled against the cold wall of an air-conditioned restaurant. Does that mean something? Anything? I suppose dogs are better. They don’t break your trust. But my bokha kukur who thinks of himself as the master of the house and refuses to go to bed without comfortable pillow and a soft blanket, in a sudden display of animal instincts bit my brother. But then he treated it as a breach of trust and has not left Roni’s side since. Further more as an act of penitence he’s foregoing the pillow and sleeping curled up in one corner of Roni’s bed. Like a dog!!
That I’m sure means something.
But its Valentine’s Day and a bloke just passed my window howling a Fossils song at the top of his lungs. See if you can’t beat them then stop seeing them. So just when I realized that this Valentine’s Day frenzy was getting to my head, I switched myself off. That wasn’t difficult. Meanwhile, my darling boyfriend has overslept again. I’m glad some things remain the same even if this is “a day you show the people you love just how much you love them”.
Kancha thank you!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Woman

It was going to be another warm winter, the sun glaring in through the train window was still quite oppressive and the heavy wind blowing in still enjoyable. I sat looking outside the window at the passing trees, the flowing walls plastered with cowdung and the railtracks, the railtracks playing a game of meeting and parting endlessly, going on and on to what appeared to be the ends of the earth. It seemed as if they were like life itself, pulsating, beating and sometimes a little rusted. Thomas Hardy had once famously introduced the railway as an alien disturbance destroying the pastoral landscape. But here far away from the epicenter of the modern world, far away from Hardy’s native lands, on the third worldly fringes, in this humid country were soft people ate rice and talked in lyrical tongues, the railway too like so many other alien things had been internalized. The stretches of green interspersing individual tracks looked like they had always been there and the little marshes and ponds lying just beside the railtracks seemed as much a part of the Indian railway services as the electric posts and signals.
The bogie swayed to and fro to the lull of the lazy afternoon. Most of the men in the compartment were sleeping, arms folded across their chests and heads hanging precariously in mid-air. Few others were playing cards. A young couple, probably students, were chatting away at the other window. Suddenly a hawker who had been standing near the gate furiously started scolding the old woman standing next to him. I always thought of hawkers as a nuisance. No civilized country would allow vendors, that too in such alarming numbers on trains. This man, I saw, was scolding the woman for not carrying water.
“I don’t understand you people. How stupid can you be? How can you come on such a long journey with a child and not carry water?”
It was at this point that I noticed the small boy beside the woman. He had just finished vomiting and was now standing shakily clutching on to the woman looking bewildered. They both looked like they hadn’t had a bath in three days. The old woman, presumably his grandmother was fussing as she had no water about her. I watched her as she wiped his mouth with the end of her saree and started stroking his head, softly throwing various terms of endearment at him. The concern with which she tended to him touched me. It seemed almost as if she believed that her affectionate fondles would make the boy feel better. Call me old fashioned but I believe that women should possess a certain degree of feminine virtues like softness, love and care, values that have been cherished by generations before us and which I am sad to say the modern generation of jeans clad uber confident aggressive career women completely lack. But this woman, this pauper, with probably not an ounce of culture in her possession was so akin to the Mohini Raja Ravi Verma had pictured. To love should be inherent in a woman’s nature but this dirty woman in the shabby train compartment was so different from Mohini with her cascading mass of black hair smiling as she swung to and fro for eternity. But a woman is an embodiment of nature and nature is never touched by money, class or creed. Why was it then so surprising that this poor old woman could be a representative of the lost values of a passing generation? It seemed unfair that my fellow passengers would probably laugh if I told them that I found this woman more charming than the majority of their wives and daughters.
“Excuse me sir”, a female voice broke my reverie, “Do you have any water?”
It was that same old woman. I hesitated, passing a swift from her dirt clogged nails to the water carrier attached to the side of my backpack. She had probably seen it. To refuse now would be embarrassing and so although I was shrinking from her dirty hands I quietly handed her the bottle. The little boy drank from it and his grandmother then proceeded to return it with a word of gratitude.
I protested, “There is really no need, you can keep …”
But she looked at me sourly and this kept me from finishing the sentence.


On a quiet deserted platform I got off the train and proceeded to go home. I found a dark corner and swiftly threw the bottle. It fell with a thud against a stony dung plastered wall. I turned and walked away in silence.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Evening approaches on the wings
Of buzzing flies, the glowing twilight
Rippling on the dusty streets
A lonely dog playing with some filthy rag
Yet it all seemed so different once,
Beauty was the word I was searching for
I had tried to gathered the letters in
Some scribbles that we exchanged
Something snapped, the ink was
A hazy blur, nothing tangible,
Nothing important, it felt like rage
And the mind refused to contain
The throbbing brain burst open
To say with a silent scream
I dreamt of you the other day.
Dreamt of a form, an image, a chimera
And before I looked it was gone.
And a million other things that
Words refused to grasp and the pen,
It said nothing.
I think I have measured out my life in
Cups of tea and words forged out by force
The never-ending sides of railway tracks
Where a woman pissed, a man died
And a baby played in the sunshine.
There was no end.
But you, you claim difference when
Your pores ooze out the same blood
As mine. It reeked of folly.
This play, this game, the lies or
Whatever it is that you say
The recent years contained.
And in a moment you walked away
There was no point staying anyway,
We are too alike.