Marriage, arranged – the motive

Recently, At a friend’s wedding I found myself saddled with old pals ( all male ) all of whom were surprisingly still single. That kept me wondering : were they still waiting for that perfect partner, or had they many options all of which they wanted to keep open – without committing to one ( “commitmentOphobia” ?)

It seemed that in this group I was the veteran in this particular department , married for 8 years albeit in the old-fashioned arranged fashion which most of these friends considered an absolute farce .

I used to think in similar terms too, once upon a time.That was till I got weary of all of my “prospective” partners repeating the same thing (“I thought we were just friends “) . Not for want of a more innovative reason to thwart advances, but I earnestly I believed in the illusion that I was really good at making friends with women.

In time I realized that my hatred was misdirected at the female gender, when it should have really been targeted at Charles Darwin. After all it was his (highly proven) theory that postulated that any individual (human or otherwise) would never look towards a potential partner in a non-conformist – it flew in the face of the safety-in-numbers theory. So that was the critical factor – being a non-conformist.

Big deal ? YES.

I considered my options – maybe I could change myself to become more presentable and more social – it was just a matter of signing up for some courses and throwing some money – that easy to woo a woman, but the resultant I won’t be me. Wearing a lifelong mask sounded terrifying at best – maybe the mask grows on me so much so that I don’t recognize myself any more – depersonalization ? – yes it has happened with people.

Or like numerous others I could put up a small act as the ultimate Prince Charming during the innumerable dates interspersed over weeks or months. After all it would be just for a few hours at a time – not too difficult for an amateur actor , presenting only favorable traits & and force-congenial-izing tastes. But again that could hardly lead to a sustainable relationship – the bluff would be called once cohabitation started. For the likes of us not desiring a sustainable relationship anyways it maybe fine but not for the fastidious me.

Besides vowing to lead a single life ( which felt unbearably lonely ) or celibate life ( which amounts to self-cruelty or self-injury) I had no other options but to consider arranged marriage.

And I did.

On the plus side this meant (within certain limits) I could remain as uncouth, unshaven , un-deoderated and most importantly as non-conformist as possible, I could cling to my home-brewed ( and rather queer) beliefs ( religious, political , philosophical ) as tightly as possible. Getting accepted was not necessary now.

I still WOULD NOT recommend arranged marriage ; the “love” variant, done properly, where the feelings from the heart are substantiated by those in the brain is always the more natural approach while being more adventurous as well. Love marriages also are more helpful in transcending the artificial barriers that we have erected ( religion, region , race , caste) – the products of such marriages are less likely to be bigoted.

But if you’re a non-conformist like me, and unless you find a partner who is also non-conformist in exactly the same way, arranged marriage is still an option on the table.

dog woman

She was fifty-something – past the age of sexual vulnerability (generally, that is – there could still be perverts with queer fetishes), so she lived off the kerb of the busy high-street between a shop selling vegetables and the National Association of Blind. Even so, she had a pack of street dogs for her company and protection. Apparently the only family she had. Now.
It is difficult to say if she was demented – but she did have absolute control over the dogs with gestures and sounds. She assisted in cleaning and arranging crates in the vegetable shop and was paid, probably in food (which she shared with her canine family) and allowed to sleep in front of the shop’s downed shutters.
Eight years later, when work took me back through the road , I could not help wondering what might have become of her – the best scenario being that she was taken up by a old-age and/or destirute home or that she had died naturally, under her family’s vigil – the worst scenarios – infinite. Perhaps “harvested” for kidneys, blood, eyes …., perhaps maimed for beggary – perhaps, perhaps coerced into forced labour … the possibilities are endless.
The infinite ways in which a helpless human body can be appropriated.
The dogs must be missing her.

a chilli story

If yummy food is the most vital ingredient of my living then chilli is the most vital ingredient of that food. We, as a family have reduced everything from oil to sugar to salt for health reasons but the quantum of chilli always seems to follow an upward trend. So much so that we stopped buying powdered chilli completely (so as to reduce the intake of its most common adulterant, brick powder and maybe red dye) and started getting dried chillies pounded in our local mill instead.
After all you live but once.
A few days while shopping I came across a new variety of dried red chilli called Mankatti chilli. I’ve been a patron of the bright-red coloured Salem chilli – but this seemed alluring – not for its appearance for it was  more shrivelled and so less pretty than our staple chilli – the prime mover was its price which was atleast 25 % less (which is a good deal in these inflationary times).
My rule of thumb stated that the more shrivelled the chilli the “blander” it is ( the example being the Kashmiri chilli which is the other commonly available chilli here).
But that was proven wrong with the Rasam ( a spicy tamarind-tomato-lentil hybrid south Indian soup) M prepared for the night. To get that extra spicy special-effect I usually squish out all of guts of each chilli bulb from the curry and mix it back into the curry so that only the red powerless shell gets chucked ( that is what “value for money” means for me) – except that with this default ritual on the Mankatti chilly my tongue was set ablaze – I had to abort the Rasam and rinse mouth a couple of times and then chew an éclair to quench the fire. But if you thought it was done – then wait – the defecation of this chilly is more fiery than ingestion and lots more fun. Reminds me of Tom & Jerry with Tom’s derrière set on fire by Jerry.
So I realised (the hard way) that Mankatti must be a place in Andhra Pradesh ( the Indian state “famous” for its hot peppers).
The next day my 4 year old son also followed my footsteps. He has a habit of imagining everything as a toy car especially if it is a bright colored object that fits into his tiny hand. So apparently he was playing car which the (un-squished) Mankatti chillies from his mother’s plate when one of them accidentally squirted, and straight into the eye. Bingo.
Being away at office I could not watch the fun that followed but I could well imagine a strenuous wailing session interspersed with “eyes are burning” ( one of the first sentences taught by his mother to indicate soap in eyes while washing face) blaring for an hour before tiring him to sleep.
Now he’s added a new item to his “to be wary of” list.
But I’ve gotten used to it – my spice-threshold (in Scoville units) seems to have increased a notch ( I wonder if and how I’ll go back to Salem chilli).
And also the life after getting diagnosed for peptic ulcer ( my mother already has it so I’m a prime candidate). So I’m trying to already finish my quota of spice before its too late.
Its said that spice hijacks the original taste of all the food it touches – I don’t feel so.
For me a meal is incomplete if it doesn’t leave you with watery nose, eyes and mouth.

Acquired Identity

A few days ago I saw a truck registered in the state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), the very first one I’d seen in Bangalore. It pushed me down my memory lane, the length of which had given me my identity. I’d always grappled with an answer to the question as innocuous as “where are you from ?” – the ubiquitous attempt by the inquirer to categorize myself – to pack me into a silo.
Mostly I’d reply “my parents are from Kerala” – to which the sarcasm-laden retort would be “and what about you, were you splintered from a cloud-burst ?” – meaning I SHOULD belong to where my parents do.
The trouble is, my life is a jigsaw of different places and cultures – most of them far removed from the mainstream (for geo-political reasons) – and I’ve never known which part of the jigsaw is the answer to “where are you from ?” puzzle.
Do I belong to Shillong (Meghalaya) where I was born, though a very beautiful place, I’ve never felt I belonged there. Not the least  because I’d never lived there much but also because we were treated with hostility, for being kids of what was perceived as an alien army. But perhaps I did acquire my altitude-sickness proof lungs there and my life-long romance with hills, particularly the Himalayas (though Meghalaya doesn’t touch Himalayas).
For a while I thought I was from J&K, since that were I did the whole of my schooling, and I thought schools manufactured you. And this is where I lived the longest. Though I always took the inevitable racist taunts in the lightest of kid-hood banter, fitting in was an altogether different story – I did to some extent. I was arguably the “blackest” kid in the school of 2000 plus, the contrast was more so since one of my friends was the fairest Indian (pure-bred, meaning with both Indian parents)  I’d known (ever and since – the back of his palm was 10 times fairer than the front of mine). The association of black with dirt and the consequent inference that these demon-worshipper South Indians (“Madrasis”) were black for want of a regular bath – this was a popular basis of most jokes. That quite a few of them believed this myth amused me.
Some Punjab, some Gujarat sprinkled over.
And then the icing from the cosmopolitan Mumbai ( or Bombay) – college time.
And now, Bangalore – the crust concealing everything else – earning the living.
The knowledge of the language Malayalam (the native language of my parents) always seemed beneficial everywhere – in getting cheap accommodation ( more of this another day) when jobless and heartless in Mumbai, in getting an instant invitation for Easter lunch by a stranger couple I’d just met in an super-market in Cambridge, England.
Yet if I answer “Kerala or Malayalee” to the identity question – the next question would be “you speak Hindi which is excellent for a South Indian, how come ?” and I have to explain my complicated history that I was trying so hard to conceal.
Maybe I could just say “its complicated”  but that would mean being too haughty by questioning the inquirer cognisance.
My only moment of home-coming has been when my plane was circling over a be-deluged Mumbai (Bombay), waiting for space to land while returning from England. My only trip abroad had lasted only 3.5 months and yet it had seemed like an eternity. Though over-zealous to travel to the West once, now inexplicably, I found myself magnetically attracted back to India, this India which though civilized 4000 years ago in Harappa, still had never learnt to wait their turn at a petrol bunk, or at a traffic signal or in any other queue for that matter.
That was true home-coming.
So that is the identity I’ve acquired all this while – Indian.
Black and Indian, without belonging to any specific part of India.

Anti-engineering

I often miss our family tape-recorder of the 80s, for lack of such durable products in recent times. It was a Panasonic, and, what was more important, “Made in Japan” marked. No wonder it survived the innumerable crash and drop tests that my brother and I subjected it to during our respective tenures of growing up. The device still played along – even when its speakers dangled out of its sockets, on the thin wires – and was able to marvelously record the audio tracks of  the rehearsals of our school events.
Such sturdiness has certainly had its death rattle; that is, if it has not perished altogether.
Even so, my romance with Japanese products continues – although most of them are not made in Japan any more. My camera ( both film and digital) are Japanese (Nikon), so is the TV (Sony), the motor-bike (Honda) , the heart (i,e. the engine) of our car (Suzuki), my (5.5 yr old) laptop (Toshiba), mp3 player (Sony). I have certain admiration for the Japanese and their precision engineering. Theirs is a kind of capitalism with heart, so different from the American mass, mindless, pure consumerism , which is forced upon us more often, these days. Where “planned obsolence” is practised ( maybe implicitly). I recently watched a story of the formation of the first cartel in the world which aimed to REDUCE the life of light-bulbs, so that the bulbs fail faster and  the producers sell and consequently profit more in a fixed span of time. (It’s no surprise that the Japanese were not a part of this cartel)
I call it anti-engineering, where engineers are called in to do the opposite of what they are supposed to do – in order to make more “business sense”. The story went on to say that the planned obsolence principle was not limited to light-bulbs – it had become an all-pervading doctrine by now. No wonder that whenever, in recent times I chose to buy non-Japanese products (for cost reasons of course), the product lost usefulness fast. The best example is the Rs 1500 ($ 30) Canon “Pixma” printer I bought just more than a year back. ( I was amazed that one could buy a reasonable quality colour printer and that too from a popular brand-house). In less than a year it stopped working; I’d left it unused for a couple of months and (like anything else in our house) cockroaches colonised it. I didn’t lose heart as it was still within the warranty period; but to my horror I was told ( after an inspection) that cockroach crap (and damage thereof) was not covered in warranty, and that I’d need to spend atleast Rs 1000 ($20) to get a new board for the printer. I refused and now have the latest piece of e-waste for company.  Some day I need to make myself open the cover and search for anything remotely salvage-able. Groan.

I wonder if  such absolute consumerism is going to be sustainable in the long term ( in the short term t does by generating more employment), especially with the limited resources that we have now.

Wanted – Old worldly charms

Recently, I was able to get hold of a Reader’s Digest at my workplace and nostalgically I browsed for my favourites – “laughter, the best medicine”, “all in a day’s work” “life is like that” and “humour in uniform”. Appallingly, out of all of these columns I was able to find just ONE joke (or anecdote) which was NOT stale and which managed to evoke a laugh at the same time ( and no, I don’t think not I’ve grown bitter lately).
Understandably, the editors are offering cash rewards ( upto Rs 1000 for one good joke). Either the readers’ sense of humour has deteriorated or, what looks more probable readership has sunk rock bottom.
At least our IP generation ( IP can stand for Instant Pleasure, Internet Protocol and its applications like IPhone – IPad …, IPL ,IPill …ImPatient) never seems to have time for the such slow things in life like (non-work or curriculum-related) books. Any more.
I wonder if these things, which have taken the toll over old-world thing as books could not be dubbed substance abuse ( instant gratification – isn’t that what the narcotics are sought for).I’ve been in rehab for past month, after being de-addicted off the substance called TV ; lately I feel I can think clearly now. Not that I ( or rather we including my significant other) felt the courage to kick the bucket. The lousy software of the set-top box ( coded maybe by Facebook and Twitter addicted souls) decided to abandon the hardware body on its own volition)  3 years after it was installed and without any stimulus from user side.
My addiction forced me to call and singe customer support in a futile attempt to get it rectified –  thankfully – he demanded pre-payment for the support. And I was loathe to imagine paying more up for such a lousy box. And installing a new (and more reliable maybe) cable service looked far more expensive in these inflationary times ( where the only  inexpensive things are mobile talk-time and the Internet) – so we decided to ditch the cable.
And now everyone in the family has more time for each other – the days seem to have stretched. And I replaced crass movies ( which were generously forced down my throat) interspersed with equally obtuse and unwanted commercials for a more refined choice of say, Agatha Christies – read at my own leisurely pace ( I decide if the murderer is to be found out today or in one month – isn’t that wonderful).
Thanks Reliance for the favours received.
Thankfully also that I have a “dumb” phone and that I have not signed up for Facebook or Twitter. Even without all that Internet (especially news on internet) addiction is bad enough.But I’m reassured I don’t have to burn my grey cells thinking for the next attention-grabbing “Tweet” to broadcast. Or to lose sleep over best strategies to increase “friendship” count. Or to wonder whom to “poke” today and whose “wall” to spray paint graffiti on.Or to remember half a dozen passwords.

Oh such old-worldly relief.

2011 – what a year !

What a year it has been (and still a couple of months to go), 2011 – the most eventful as long as I can remember.

Assassinated: the most wanted global terrorist,a dictator who ruled for 42 years

Died : the most prolific entrepreneur of our times,a self-proclaimed incarnation of god, an artist banished from his home state (MFH, for exerting his freedom of expression) , a Ghazal singer , two glam-gals of Hollywood’s yesteryears, a dashing Bollywood “Prince” of the 70s, a legendary Indian cricketer of the 60s, the creator of C programming language

 Toppled: the autocratic regimes in Egypt and Libya (the latter with a lot of blood-letting)

New States: Sudan, now North and South

Rattled : Japan and its economy ( almost killing 15,822) , Turkey

Genocide: worst ever terror strike in otherwise peaceful Norway, flanked with our regular retinue of bomb blasts in Mumbai and Delhi

Weddings: Royal, and British AND Royal and Bhutanese – both brides were “commoners”

Won: India, first cricket (one-day) world cup in 28 years

First: Indian GrandPrix, Metro in South India.

Last: NASA space-shuttle programme, RIP