Wednesday, May 31, 2006

an unwise investment, or, tv sucks

Chez Roswitha acquired a television after nearly a year of disconnection from popular culture, Internet aside (we take The Hindu in the mornings, which thinks cultural criticism and gossip are arranged side-by-side among the works of hell's angels). To self and roomies, Desperate Housewives and Scrubs seem like distant references to kitchen sinks and drudgery, also things we have avoided to the best of our abilities over the last few months. But we invested in a telly because our new house is so large it literally echoes. It's the sort of place where you would really rather carry on a conversation via text messages than shout across the hall. Well, you would if you were lazy arses like us.

So we thought it was time to fill the desert with joyful sound. So far the project's success has been moderate. We have access to all the news channels - but more on those separately - and some Telugu cable that plays mythologicals from the Andhra film industry's Golden Age of same, and almost all the ones that play lugubrious Hindi soaperas with lots of make-up and chandeliers and slow sad variations on the title track. We really need to call our cable guy and ask him to hook us up to some more cheerful stuff.

While semi-passively consuming our basic diet of tomato Maggi and satellite telly, I came across an ad that has apparently been running for a while now. In it a young man looking for a job tries to ingratiate himself with someone who by her specs and suit is obviously meant to be boss-lady. He begins to salivate, however, eyes fixed at a point above his prospective employer's head, when a young woman unwraps an object and, with NO suggestion of fellatio whatsoever, because when has popular media ever fixated on the purifying greatness of the phallus before? begins to lick it. He wants. Sugestiveness follows. More suggestiveness. Enough suggestiveness to make you wonder at how they found the time for this nonsense in a thirty-second spot. The young man has had enough. He rushes at the employer who, middle-aged h0 as she inevitably must be, assumes he wants to do some freaknasty with her. He bounds over her head, wraps himself around a doorpost trying to get to the nubile damsel, and snatches the phallus from her, applying himself to it with great enthusiasm. Enraged, the boss-lady picks him up by the scruff of his neck and drags him back into the room, phallus and all. What is she going to do with the excess of phallii she has surrounded herself with, I wonder? Then the advertisement ends with an exhortation to 'pleasure up' with what will never be content with remaining bloody ice-cream.

This is irritating because it's pointless. It doesn't use a sexual metaphor - an extremely crass, overdone, non-threatening metaphor - to say something clever or profound. It does it because it can. Why do I see a pattern between patriarchal stock jokes and utter mediocrity? Is it because it's automatically assumed that men with money don't think? Why do men with money not think? Why is television so crappy? Where is my egg-fried rice and copy of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay? *wanders off*

*pops back in* Of course I'm aware, having followed past conversations along similar lines in the blogosphere, that real feminists don't waste their time on stupid little ads that no one even really cares about and that I should be working for the uplift of women in the Middle-East, et cetera. Consider me chastised if it helps to circumvent an airing of opinions that I believe are unprofitable, not to mention moronic.

current musix: muzikas and marta sebastyen - szerelem szerelem.

Watching The English Patient alleviates many of my grouses. It's not as good as the novel, but the novel doesn't have Rafe Fiennes being abrupt and intense in the middle of what may or may not be the Sahara. Goodness, this man is hot.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

meme: things i hate about books.

This is a bad meme for me to do, because it's difficult for me to leave a book part-read. It's a character flaw. However, in my time - and when I say my time, I mean my years of college which involved me spending days in the British Library looking for books pertinent to my English degree but going home with varied works of light fiction united in their surfeit of pretty men, beleaguered/benighted women and bad romance - I have managed to fling a fair few novels across the room. But some things are instant turnoffs, listed for the pleasure and possible derision of those whose literary tastes are of a weightier, subtler nature, viz. to say, most of you.

disclaimer: Extreme wibbling.

I don't enjoy:

Books that aren't comic. Damning evidence of my petty and inattentive intelligence! Characteristically, I cannot bring myself to lament it. Put another way, I can rarely stand books that don't have a sense of proportion, of judgement and a little bit of destructive irony. You can call it the funnies, or you can call it a sense of perspective. I think it's what distinguishes Thomas Hardy (abhorred and little-read by myself) from George Eliot (beloved by same). They can both be ponderous and moralistic, Eliot's sense of intelligent, ironic self-deprecation, so evident in novels like Middlemarch is extraordinary. Hardy's is. Um. Not.

An exception: Tolkien.

Books that aren't compassionate
. I think the best novels recognise and make use of the fact that compassion and comedy are common aspects of human understanding. Really, what is comedy other than the knowledge that you are part of a larger whole, that things don't begin and end with yourself? I've stayed so far away from novels that lack either of these qualities that I can't think of a book that I've failed to finish for this particular reason. But John Osborne's Look Back in Anger, a play whose poverty of self-knowledge is only matched by its innocence of any understanding of other people, is a great example of why angry young men should, for the most part, be given lots of fresh greens and some personal space to wank in solitude, and then be allowed to publish their written work.

Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, which is on my current reading list, is a good example of a book whose compassion outweighs the possible merits of overt irony. More on that when I finish the book.

Books about hetero male sexual angst. I wasn't interested in it when I was sixteen, I'm not interested in it now. Grow up, Holden Caulfield.

Books whose sole resolution is marriage. Usually this means that a little penis-in-vagina action resolves everyone's conflicts and having tiny bouncing babies completes the circle of life and perfection. Bollocks. (Books whose resolution is (are?) bollocks, on the other hand.)

Books that talk down to children. I hate these especially because I lapped them up as a child myself. The talking-down can occur may occur in various forms, but the general trope is to insert a thinly-veiled authorial substitute who will be pious, heroic and bully the ones who don't know any better. Beyond a point you're like, I can get all this plus sex and violence in the Old Testament, so bite ass.

An exception: Harry Potter, but only because it isn't all patronise-patronise-patronise and then ner-ner-ner.

Schmaltz. How do I define this? I have nothing against sentimentality. Or cheesiness. (Ohgodno.) Schmaltz is just the irritating intrusion of the idea that things have to be a certain way, which is usually the author's idea of how things should be regardless of where the novel wants to go. Writers like Tolstoy, who originally cast Anna Karenina as an evil, bad woman who deserved to die, can be counted on to let go of their schmaltziness at some point in time and let the story tell itself. Writers like Shashi Deshpande and Jonathan Safran Foer can't. There are no words to describe my disappointment at not being able to read Everything is Illuminated, which had almost everything I generally enjoy in a book. And then just got schmaltzy.

Books that are the author's earlier novels rewritten over and over again
, even though they're not pulp or genre fiction. Jeanette Winterson, you otherwise vastly-talented minor goddess, I'm looking at you.

Books that aim to shake yuppies out of their torpor. Okay, so how many of you have significantly changed your lives because of Fight Club the book? I thought so. I can think of a number of better ways to shake myself out of torpor. Reading random books about junkies and alienated corporate minions, even such as myself, seems a bit like emotional pornography, which is not my thing.

An antidote: Maybe Greenpeace?

Books that do not supplement historical exactitude with actual things to say. In my callow youth I read a fair bit of fanfiction for a bunch of (pseudo)/historical fandoms, and the stories that put me off were the ones that belaboured historical details and dialogue to exhaustion, but simply never added to what we already knew about the time or place. One of the many BCL novels that went unread by me was a godawful one called The Catalogue of Men, which was about Shakespeare and quoted liberally from his work, but was coasting along hoping you wouldn't notice anything else. This is probably where my postmodernist affectations go into overdrive. I want historical fiction to resonate. I want the dirt on the clothes and food and sexual mores and even the odd heigh-nonny-nonny if it must be, but I care a lot more about the people and the politics.

This is something I've found to be an especially good reason to read translated Japanese fiction. You can get the bare bones of a culturally 'Japanese' story from any geisha/samurai fic worth it's salt, but writers like Junichiro Tanizaki (or Tanizaki Junichiro) with their seemingly stilted prose and set-piece situations end up saying a lot more about character and motive.

Sci-fi. If being girly means having the honesty to say that bleeping robots and reams of inter-planetary persiflage are pretty fucking boring, then bring on the pink and the lace.

An exception: Dan Simmons' Ilium.

And to counter all the horribleness, a few novels I have really enjoyed in 2006:

Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex
Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections
Michelle Lovric's The Remedy, viz. historical fluff at its best.
Brother of the More Famous Jack by Barbara Trapido, whose subsequent work also I lapped up like a hungry dog. I cannot recommend this enough.
G R R Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice series. It'll make you want to fling a book across the room at odd points, but don't. For one they're all really good, and for two the dent in your wall will be irreparable.
Pat Barker's Double Vision. Absolutely my favourite war novelist. She can hammer you with the force and horror of it all, sans schmaltz, sans repetition, sans gratuitious misery, but sans a penis-in-vagina ending. Pat Barker rocks very very hard.

current musix: collective soul - heavy. look at me, i'm alternative!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

other people's writing

Matthias Matussek writes a nicely sarcastic piece in today's Guardian on England's obsession with Nazis.

I loved living and working in London and waxed lyrical to my German readers about everything from the Royal Shakespeare Company and John le Carré to polo tournaments and Indian restaurants. But I wrote about the country's strange and ghastly side, too. Namely, your insatiable appetite for sex scandals and even more insatiable appetite for Nazi folklore and German-bashing.

David Plotz' very interesting Blogging the Bible project, in Slate.

Chapter 3

The Lord—not so good at follow-through. In Chapter 2, He is clear as He can be: He commands man not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and bad: "for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die." No wiggle room there. You shall die. But then when Eve and Adam eat the fruit of the tree a few verses later, do they die? Nope. God punishes Eve with "most severe … pangs in childbearing" and curses Adam by making the soil barren. Any parent knows you have to follow through on your threats, or your children will take advantage of you. God makes a vow He can't keep—or if He did, He would undo all his good work. So, He settles instead for a half-hearted punishment that just encourages His children to misbehave again. Is it any surprise that we sin again? And again? And again? All the way down to the present day. You can call this "original sin," but maybe it's just lax parenting.

And via Vivek, Satish Deshpande and Yogendra Yadav in today's Hindu on reservations.

It is even more shocking that students from our very best institutions are willing to re-enact the horribly inappropriate forms of protest from the original anti-Mandal agitation of 1990-91. As symbolic acts, street-sweeping or shoe-shining send the callous and arrogant message that some people — castes? — are indeed fit only for menial jobs, while others are 'naturally' suited to respectable professions such as engineering and medicine. However, the media do seem to have learnt something from their dishonourable role in Mandal I. By and large, both the print and electronic media have not been incendiary in their coverage, and some have even presented alternative views. Nevertheless, far too much remains unchanged across 16 years.

O RLY? What amazes me about this piece, which seems really to just be laying the facts on the table, is one of maybe three pieces I've read - all incidentally in The Hindu - that haven't presumed that a) reservations are the work of Satan and b) everyone in India automatically assumes a). The whole week I spent in Bombay I was confronted by a barrage of newspaper and telly channel opinion that didn't even question the motives of the protests everyone was scrambling to cover in excruciating detail. I'm all for holding the government responsible for vote-bank politics, but I draw the line at sucking this up.

And really, in the end, at what price starvation? Those med students fighting for the future of their young open-quota brothers and sisters are still going to have to live with the failure of their brief burst of unthinking idealism (would it be wrong to wonder if there is any other kind?). The bottom-of-the-pecking-order disadvantaged who haven't benefitted from reservations in the last sixty years are, at a guess, still going to be screwed over. It is entirely possible that in five hundred years' time, Ram Vilas Paswan, as he claimed during Mandal-I, will be worshipped as a god.

You were sayin' something about fucking with the system? (But surely it likes it after all these years?)

current musix: patti smith - gloria

Monday, May 22, 2006

help in making happy hyderabad

(eta: My thoughts on the recently much-recommended "The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas" here.)

For you and for me and the entire human race. Like every other Indian city, Hyd has dug up its major roads - presumably for the construction of a flyover, but really in anticipation of the monsoons. "For generations, India has offered up its dirt tracks, its lovers' lanes and its arterial city roads to the weather gods for a safe and successful rainy season!" as a noted sociologist famously did not remark.

The digging is accompanied by a bajillion boards in pastel shades serving as safety screens and PSA's such as 'let's keep our city clean and green' and 'drive carefully...someone is waiting for 'U'." Quite unlike the dramatic 'Is it Mirkwood? Is it Isengard? No, it's the Carter Road promenade by night!' state of Bandra's best. I caught these charming pieces of civic art in broad daylight on my way back from the airport this morning.

Er, about that. I actually didn't get on my flight. I overslept. Well, you could call it my experiment in plumbing hitherto unsuspected depths of incompetence. The parents were lovely about it. They woke me, fed me, rushed me to the airport and coughed up money for another ticket on the spot, telling me all the while that it was an adventure and I wasn't to be stressed about it. Mmm, security blanket so warm and comfy.

And yet, as I was touching down this morning I felt awash in relief. The drama while leaving hadn't helped any, of course. And then, I guess there's no such thing as saying a proper farewell to Bombay. It's always going to be part and parcel of my life. But for the first time I looked down when we were about to land and felt tiny pinpricks of affection for Hyderabad's judiciously cultivated trees and snakey roads to which I was returning. Nowhere near the excitement of watching the world explode into light as you land in nighttime Bombay, and naturally, this state of affairs didn't last beyond the few minutes it took for the rickshaw drivers to execute the acts of amazing swindle for which they are universally known. But it was there.

current musix: les saxareenos - everybody sexareeno!

P.S. Hey, thanks for all the birthday wishes and stuff, you guys. Lovely to read! And I hereby appoint Kaush Honorary Gift-Giver for Life, for he is my snugglebug, and has super taste. (Must not talk about his impending millionaire status, must not talk, must not - )

Thursday, May 18, 2006

this blog has not joined the ranks of the deceased

Neither have I, as I am yet young and strong and due to turn 22 tomorrow. My Internet connection is expiring on me, however. I'm in Bombay for the time being, and will return to Hyderador on Monday.

So what have I been doing, in short? Taking classes in Spanish, reading really big books, and watching Ramdev Baba and Karan Arjun. Ramdev Baba is cooler but way less awesome than Karan Arjun, on the mutable, delicate plane of awesomeness where these things reside. More on them later - maybe, so kindly do not consider this a threat - but for now a notion of why Blackadder does not always get things right. In Season One, see, there happens to be a bit where Edmund is told the enemy is coming towards them, and he runs around in his funny tights crying, "Run for the hills, run for the hills!"

"But sir," he is told, "they're coming from the hills!"

And Edmund does an about turn crying 'Run AWAY from the hills! Run AWAY from the hills!"

Which is pretty funny. However, what's funnier: Salman Khan yelling his lungs off at Shahrukh Khan saying, 'Bhaag Arjun, bhaag! Ma ko leke bhaag! (Run Forrest - er - Arjun run! Take Mother and run!)' while fending off twenty thousand men with swords and mean stomping horsies and big turbans that probably smell like death. And Shahrukh looks confused for a moment, and then sets off running - towards the swords and the mean stomping horsies. And the turbans of death.

Gotta love the Rakesh Roshan School of Intellect. Specially Underdeveloped for Mama's Boys in Bollywood. Now with free turbans!

Must dash, as meeting Imhunt in a very short while. Keep it real and all that, ya!

Also, fuck you, Barca! How dare you bring despair to the heart of Thierry Henry? This is primarily Lindsey's fault, I agree, for making me care about the fortunes of Arsenal when I can't even tell the difference between forward and defense - most of the time - but in the end, it all boils down to the fact that you are a collective of evil boys in ugly striped shirts. Anyway, Thierry out-hots you all by a mile and the equatorial line of a medium-sized planet.

In full awareness that it must look like my ADHD has gone into overdrive, I leave you, mes petits choux,

Monday, May 01, 2006

bringing all the boys to the yard

I spent this weekend moving into our new apartment. Not much to say, except that we have congenial neighbours and rooms of our own. It is also a very hard place whence to hail an autorickshaw. My first attempts to learn to ride a bicycle ended in disaster (I crashed into an old gentleman. He had to be paid.) but I was almost serious yesterday when toying with the idea of learning to ride one and then buying one to cruise the roads of Hyderabad. Then I gave up on it, because these are the roads of Hyderabad. I may not crash into old gentlemen anymore, but old gentlemen will certainly crash into me. So will young gentlemen, non-gentlemen, and women. And children without licenses taking automobilic liberties. Only last night, the rickshaw driver who dropped us to a restaurant asked me to get my leg out of the way of his rickshaw – after I had yelped at him for running over it.

One of the landmarks on the way to our new home is ____ Dairy Farm.

____ Dairy Farm has a motto.

Their motto is as follows.


And with that, I leave you.

current musix: nina simone: sinnerman