Tuesday, May 13, 2008

failure to communicate

Is "I am such a girl" the new pink? Am I missing some clever cultural reference, or have women suddenly started using the phrase en masse as a cute way of summarising any particular feeling of fluttering feminine pretend-weakness just like that? "I think my boyfriend's stubble is so manly. Oh, I am such a girl!" "I wore high heels and a canary yellow skirt today. I am such a girl!" "Today I was so busy that I had to spend my train journey chopping vegetables for dinner to feed my six hungry kids waiting for me to get back home from my job at the ball bearings factory, and I cried. I am such a girl!"

Okay, then.

At the risk of counter-stating the obvious, hush, wench. You sound like a - say it! - knob.

tv is stupid, part #3507882347

I was flipping channels the other day, as you tend to do when you're unemployed and have finished making lunch, and arrived at Star World just in time to hear a voiceover describe a programme as, "the hot new show about a group of thirty-somethings whose lives don't go according to plan."

Wagle ki Duniya is a legend in Indian TV programming because a) it was on DD in the days before cable and we were all forced to watch it because there was nothing else, and even if we wanted to boycott the telly and go out and chat with the neighbours instead we couldn't, since they would be watching Wagle ki Duniya, and b) because it struck a chord with common folks. Wagle lived in the comforting, slighty grimy tedium of India's pre-globalised middle class, as did most folks who owned a television back in the late eighties. We could identify.

It's easy to walk into a restaurant in Bandra these days and imagine that the gap between the kids on Star World and the kids at the table next to yours is not that wide. They're even prettier than we used to be when we were their age.

So is it that things haven't changed one whit since those hoary old days of state-channelled entertainment? What are we looking at, essentially, when we look at people whose lives "don't go according to plan"? Wagle in designer threads, right? And as with all comedy, we would only be watching it to laugh at the nimrods who apparently assumed otherwise. Enjoy your stay on the planet.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

burma

"It looks like the end of the world here," he shouted into the telephone when he finally got a call through to Singapore on Tuesday morning and could talk about the situation in Rangoon after Cyclone Nargis wreaked havoc on the city. "Everything is destroyed, we have no drinking water and nothing to eat. Tens of thousands must be dead. Hundreds of thousands are homeless."

And what is the government doing in response?

"They're clearing the streets in the rich neighborhoods," the dissident said. Then the line went dead.


Salon reports on the crisis in Burma.

Monday, May 05, 2008

the wise exercise of prejudice

A look at the conversation on a mailing list to which I belong reminded me of a much-talked about essay on Love and Literary Taste in the NY Times last month, It's Not You, It's Your Books. The Guardian did a blog along similar lines a year or so ago, I Bet You Look Great In The Bookstore, which was about reading matter being one of the first things people notice about others in public.

The Guardian blog is lighthearted and amusing, even if the long and lively comment thread has its share of people going 'I read Kafka' and 'I read Murakami' - congratulations, those should garner you shags aplenty - while the NY Times essay is odious, and more than a little sexist, like all their trend writing is. The essay ends on the note that while all this talk about books is in good fun, it would be more than a little shallow to break up with someone over literary taste.

I think talk about literary taste is in itself a somewhat uncivil practice. Three months of breathing the air of a city with something akin to a literary culture have, perversely enough, given me a renewed appreciation for what people do with their minds out of the hard grind of honest toil. I myself take recourse to Bollywood radio and a steaming mug of milken tea. But the whole idea of a continuum of literary taste, with Dan Brown scraping the bottom of the barrel and, I don't know, James Joyce (?) as the Holy Grail is so fake. Taste is not supposed to be discrete and defined. The broader the spectrum of discrimination, the happier you are, surely. Lists of favourite books and favourite films are a useful tool for people whose primary mode of interaction is Facebook [or, indeed, Blogger -- would you love me if you had any reason to doubt I was a Juventus fan, for example? I thought not.], but surely an adult will be able to suss out the measure of a man before needing to ask whether said man enjoys Kafka and Murakami. I mean, surely, comrades, SURELY, the crux of the matter is not what you love, but how you love it.

[Whence the argument obliquely runs back to the general idea of Dan Brown inspiring a false and fickle love, whilst Joyce engenders a deep and abiding passion, but I feel that this is descending into realms of the anecdotal.]

I have my prejudices, like everyone else, but they run exactly the opposite. I would be disinclined to enjoy the favourites of someone whose company had the palling effect on me. I put people before ideas. If a man were to approach me extolling the virtues of Chuck Palahniuk and Irvine Welsh above all others I would think his intellect brittle, I admit. Then again, if this man were Paul Bettany I would probably go 'mmhmm, ahaa, junkie man-pain, so totally all over it' before flinging myself at him. I know my limits.