Saturday, May 9, 2015

Are we safe anywhere?

I’ve been in a cynical, depressed kind of mood today, people. I keep saying to myself, what’s the point? Look at this Salman Khan thing. The man goes scot free (yes, yes, suspended sentence of 5 years, boo-hoo for him) because he’s a famous actor and because the person he killed was a nobody. Now if Salman Khan had managed to run over Shah Rukh Khan, I’ve a feeling things would have run a very different course.

Squabbles are erupting online on the rights and wrongs of it. But bottom line is, he’s been granted bail and is now happily ensconced in the lap of his family; having thumbed his nose at society and all its rules.

Some people are saying, so many hit and run drivers (the funny part is, few people dispute that it was Salman Khan behind the wheel; despite his devious attempts to implicate his own driver) escape prosecution, why should poor Salman be the scapegoat? Or, why in the world do homeless people sleep on pavements and make things difficult for drunken drivers?
A person, yes, poor Noor Ullah Khan, died. However much you argue and excuse and rationalize; shouldn’t there be some kind of accountability for that? And yes, all the other murderers out there should be brought to book as well, not only poor ol’ Salman bhai. (Watch where you step the next time he decides to do a spot of drinking and driving; see how wronged you think him when you’re being mowed down.)

Similarly, all the loose, simply moronic opinions about rape bandied about by people who think they are safe from any such attack; all boiling down to the seductively simple “it’s always the girl’s fault, somehow.” She shouldn’t have been out so late. Without a man to “protect her”. WITH a man (what a slut). She shouldn’t have been wearing that. She shouldn’t have been in that part of town. Or, the best yet – it wasn’t rape.

So many people simply LEAPING to see the rapist’s side of things, refusing to see that yes, some things are black and white. Simply right and simply wrong. Some things are that simple. Because the moment we start seeing grey shades of “mitigating circumstances” everywhere -- where does it all stop? And though most of the people I know are mercifully schooled in political correctness; privately everyone believes there are extenuating circumstances for absolutely everything.
Until it happens to YOU.

The examples I give here are of ‘have-not” victims. So, we comfortably think, as we settle back on our satin cushions, this could never happen to us. But in a world where EVERYTHING can be rationalized away, how safe are we from being the next victims, really?
Tomorrow, You -- tall, strapping, fit upper class male -- are jogging down the street with your earphones in your ears; and someone jumps you from behind and does unspeakable things to you, simply because he can. What stand would you like for society and the whole law-enforcement machinery to take? It was wrong and your perpetrator will be caught and punished? Or, why were you there? Why were you dressed so expensively? If you weren’t listening to music couldn’t you have heard him coming? Why did you fight back? Maybe you did something to tempt your attacker? Let’s FACE it, weren’t you a little bit culpable?

If you cannot TRUST society to take a firm stand that crime is crime and victims should be defended, what is the point of being part of society? Isn’t everything we do, based on this trust? If one cannot trust the people around you not to attack you every time you step into the street, how is one to function? Is one an idiot for buying something on the trust that it is genuine? Can one drop one’s child to school everyday, unless one has a little bit of faith in human goodness that he will be looked after even though his parents aren’t watching?

Our whole human existence runs on trust.  And it is the state’s function to reinforce that trust (with the threat that abusing that trust brings punishment, very few questions asked). If not, all is chaos. And we might as well all disappear into the woods before we start sneaking into each other’s houses and murdering people as they sleep, (“she was offensive about my décor yesterday, and it annoyed me.”) if that is the way we are headed.

This image of an anarchic world may seem alarmist to you. But in my opinion, it all starts with people shrugging their shoulders and saying “it was the victim’s fault for being there. He/she was at the wrong place at the wrong time.”, and ends with -- the law backing such people up.

In such a world, where can you be safe?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Problem with Facebook


(This was a piece I wrote for a friend's pujo magazine last year. I think enough time has elapsed for me to put this up on my own blog without any objections. What's up with the formatting?) :)


I was asked to write a piece for your Pujo magazine, but I kept putting it off. Today on the last day before my deadline expires, I am ashamed to say that more than writer’s block, Facebook is to blame.
Facebook is really the bane of my existence. Free time is at a premium -- being the mother of a 3 year old. Still the urge to steal a peek at my phone for my Facebook fix is like an itch at the back of my mind; burning, burning, until I scratch it. I am glad to say, when I directly interact with my daughter (which is most of her waking hours), I refrain from giving into the itch; hating the thought of being one of those parents who have their noses pasted to some screen or another, while their poor children clamour for attention. But the moment I hear a soft baby snore, or when she is fruitfully engaged in singing ‘Old Macdonald had a farm’ to her teddy bears for the 25th time on a loop, I confess to sneaking off with my phone, putting my feet up with a delicious sigh of gratification and logging into Facebook.

But like any other addiction (I have another one – chocolate) once you have glutted yourself on Facebook, you are left with a curiously empty, useless feeling – leaving you wondering what the big deal was about.

Because really, really; what possible joy can a person get from all the obviously posed, carefully selected and (often photo-shopped) “candid” pictures of her friends? The latest is everyone making a face into the camera – “Look at us, we’re such whacky, fun people! Don’t you wish you were closer friends with us?”

What pleasure can one get from reading the carefully constructed status updates about how wonderful their lives are? Or, by looking at how wonderfully disciplined their kids are because…look how well they pose! And not a single runny nose in sight! Like an angel in perfect health!
Far from joy, it is more like self-flagellation. You log out and wonder, why don’t WE ever go to the Fiji Islands? Why don’t I have the figure to wear that gorgeous black dress? Why didn’t I think of taking pictures of my writing out that check to an NGO a month ago?

Apart from causing a severe case of heartburn, it is a phenomenon that brings out the very worst in people. This is the platform for otherwise cleverly concealed character flaws to be taken out for a bit of exercise and fresh air.

I have a very conservative “friend” count of 400 people. Of whom I am barely on actual speaking terms with 20. (I have been sent “friend requests” by neighbours in my complex, and have accepted their requests with a warm rush of affection thinking, “She likes me after all! I thought she hated me! Now we can be friends!” And you make plans of tea parties and outings to Coorg in your mind, until you encounter the same neighbour near the gym of your complex and she walks right past you as your cheery ‘hi!’ dies on your lips.) Of those 400 “friends” (And I use the term in the extremely loose, FB sense) I have:

  1. 20 exhibitionists: Putting up pictures which really, really, REALLY should’ve stayed locked away on their laptops forever. Or status updates about how MUCH they love their spouses, their kids and their pets in toe-curlingly embarrassing language. “I wuv you, my peekie boo!”
  2. 50 whiners: They will whine and cry and complain every hour, on the hour about…everything. “I was doing wheelies on my bike on a crowded road when all of a sudden I hit this car from nowhere. I broke my leg (and sent all the occupants of the car to hospital) please pray for my speedy recovery…why is my life so hard??? What is more annoying is how many people will rush to sympathize (“You poor baby! What kind of a country is this, that one cannot do stunts on a crowded road in peace?”), I wonder what instinct propels them to it.
  3. 20 Sycophants (wish there were more) also known as the ‘Likers’: They will shower you with compliments, and just when your self-esteem begins to rise you are hit with the horrible realization that they compliment everyone indiscriminately, in hopes of a quid pro quo on their own page. They are under the mistaken impression that likes and comments can be exchanged and hoarded like currency, and guard and count every one of them as zealously as a miser with his gold.
  4. The out and out liars (about 10, mercifully). They will lie to get attention, sympathy, likes and comments. They will make extremely tall claims for those 20 “Congratulations” comments and 100 likes. Well knowing that there are many who have seen it and know that they’re lying about getting the Nobel Prize for Astrophysics, or being voted the 15th Panchen Lama by a deputation of visiting monks.
Whatever is the hot topic at the time, especially of the tragic persuasion, they will claim to have experienced it; so that they can divert some of the ongoing sympathy on the issue.
They will post nauseously sentimental (same as group 1, but with a twist) status updates about a toothless brother (I love my toothless brother so much, I can’t bear it), to draw the “aww, you’re such a good person that you love your brother despite his not having all his teeth” crowd. They seem not to care that half their friends list knows that let alone a toothless one, the person concerned doesn’t even have an average, non-tragic, uninteresting brother.

  1. And last but unfortunately the least -- the barely-there Facebookers. I have begun to envy this lot so much I can’t tell you. I had a friend who has gone straight off Facebook and stayed there. I often fantasize about doing the same thing, just to get away from the aforementioned lot.
In fact, you know what? I think I will; since all these types bother me so much. It’ll probably save me enough time to read at least five more books (good) a month and eat countless bars of chocolate (not so good).

But before that, let me check my Facebook account one last time and count how many likes I garnered for the attractive picture I posted of myself from 15 years ago. (but THEY don’t have to know that!)

Have a wonderful Pujo everybody!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

In defense of the ugly.

Three year old Mia loves the radio and constantly demands it be switched on so she can sing and dance along. I enjoy it as well, since I find current popular music sing-along-able again; unlike even a year ago when all that hip hop and trance made me feel victimized (“is he yelling at me? What did I do?”) and dated (“This must be a young-person song.”).

Her “favourite” (she has about 22) is “badaarex badaarex, no trouble”. This is not, in fact, a jingle for a laxative but her interpretation of Meghan Trainor’s song, ‘All about that bass, about that bass, no treble’. I think it’s pretty catchy too, and initially thought it had a message that matched my own convictions. But I’ve heard it so many times by now, that I’ve started wondering if I really do agree with it. Yes, yay for women with big asses, hooray that men sometimes like plump girls (what upright citizens such men are!), and all that. On the surface this is a much better message to girls than endless songs with names like “Let’s Do It Doggie Style and Then If You’re Lucky I’ll Spank You”.

But it gets me thinking: we are still reassuring ourselves about our appearances on the condition that men like us that way. Not to mention how disturbing it is that a mother would comfort her presumably fat-bottomed young daughter with assurances of “men like a little more bootie to hold at night”.

Name one song where a male singer moans about having a big bum or being overweight; and suffers a consequent crisis of confidence about his sexual appeal. Something along the lines of “That Hottie Ain’t Gonna Let Me Hit That Because I Ain’t a Skinny Thang.”

I’m not blaming the creators of the song, they’re addressing a real issue with all us girls and women. My problem is why we have this issue in the first place.

It’s not only music. Look at movies. Or at least the more conventional, popular sort of cinema not starring Dame Judi Dench in the lead. The heroine will meet her man with a soft light irradiating her features, her hair billowing in an invisible zephyr; and the hero will blink a few times, so dazzled he is by her beauty. He will tell people or the woman herself at a later point of the movie with a beatific smile; “THAT was the very moment I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her, because she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen…”

Really? Really? Where is the connection? It is rarely when the hero sees her helping a blind guy across the street, or because she’s hilarious and makes him laugh; or because she’s good at what she does (all criteria for the heroines to fall for the hero, by the way.) Even if she is shown doing any or all of these things; the hero will only fall (or realize that he’s fallen) in love with the woman when her hair is well-conditioned, her skin is doing this bizarre shining thing and she’s preferably wearing something low cut.

That’s when the slow motion kicks in and the face sucking ensues. Why? Is beauty the only quality men look for in women? And this is not always a type of beauty that can be directly related to good health or fertility; a desire for which we are told is biologically hardwired into men; since the demand for sickly stick-insect women is a common cause for angst among more ‘traditionally built’ women.
Wouldn’t something like being a good human being, or a good companion be a better indicator of who the hero “KNEW” he HAD to spend the rest of his life with? Why don’t any of the heroines EVER say, “he was the cutest guy I’d ever seen, so it was imperative I spend every day with him until I died.”

You know why? Because it’s a stupid thing to say, that’s what. But somehow, when the man says it, it’s completely understandable -- because beauty is such a supreme achievement, such a product of extreme hard work in a woman. It is not at all an accident of nature that your nose lines up in a pleasant way with your mouth, which is at a suitable distance from your chin and so on.

I know it sounds like sour grapes…it probably is, but it doesn’t make what I say less true.

You would think books would be slightly better. Literature being, nowadays, more of an acquired taste. Regrettably, for a female character to be understood, her looks are to be dissected exhaustively. More often than not, she is beautiful. If not; a big deal will be made of how, even though she isn’t conventionally beautiful – a big mouth or curly hair often being the rather pleasing culprits – she is beautiful, none the less; which the hero will tell her at some point much to her surprise and gratification. It is a complete cop-out by an author if ever I’ve seen one.

If the book goes so far as have an honest-to-goodness plain (never ugly) female protagonist, her romantic interest will still think her the most beautiful woman in the world. Because after all---a man cannot want to be with her unless deluded into believing this. Or he is conveniently struck blind so that he is spared the pain of watching an already plain woman degenerate into middle-aged ugliness, like Mr. Rochester.

Rarely is the main female character (in a romantic scenario) ugly and/ or with a physical impairment like a limp -- though you will find literature simply littered with such male characters. Case in point is JK Rowling’s new Cormoran Strike series. He is called “pubehead” because of the unfortunate texture of his hair (on his head) and has a prosthetic limb which frequently gives him trouble. Enter the breathtakingly beautiful platinum blonde assistant who helps him occasionally when his leg lets him down. She is so luminous a specimen that no disguise can mask her beauty, leading to all sorts of tricky situations.

Was making the primary female character beautiful so much more important than her being an efficient undercover sleuth? I lost a great deal of respect for the author after reading that part, let me tell you; though I am a loyal fan of the Harry Potter series and its unfortunate looking female character Hermione. It is unfortunate that Warner Brothers sold out and got a pretty girl to play the character even though they were quite satisfied with Ron looking like an overgrown rabbit.
Shrek was an endearing exception, though I doubt Fiona would have been allowed to settle down with someone who wasn’t an ogre. If a woman is ugly she should AT LEAST marry someone equally or more ugly than she. It’s only right.

It worries me that my little girl is exposed to this toxic attitude. (Along with far worse, more blatant sexist biases; but since we are all aware of those they are far less subliminal and can be tackled effectively.)

The politically correct across all media will mouth the ‘just be yourself’ tag; but it’ll usually be meant for the chubby boy with the glasses rather than his female version. For girls, it’s “be yourself”, as long as you look good. If you’re a chubby girl with glasses and weird hair, please don’t be yourself…cue music for makeover scene, followed directly by the desired boy gulping like a fish and paying her attention.

Of course, if one puts one’s mind to it there are plenty of exceptions, like Little Miss Sunshine or Juno among recent movies. Much of Jane Austen (bless that woman) and plenty more. But unless you are super selective of what you read, hear and see -- the more urgent message being pounded into the heads of anyone with two X chromosomes is if you’re plain you better get prettied up, if you’re beyond- redemption-ugly you don’t deserve love, and ergo, be forever relegated as a side character in a song, movie or book about someone else.

Now that I’ve had time to think about it, why am I beating artists up, when all they do is reflect life in their art? Or at any rate, what most people think life should be like, and wish to see that in what they read, see or hear?

While I myself am greatly appreciative of beauty; indeed, take pride in my daughter’s cuteness and occasionally try to de-ugly myself before meeting a large gathering of unsuspecting people, it saddens me that rather than it be one of many attributes a girl can or cannot acceptably have, like a talent for dance or an ability to wiggle her ears – good looks is THE first and last thing people will look for in her all her life.

And so it is, that perfectly good women are socially ignored or passed over for their more aesthetically pleasing counterparts. Despite sometimes (not always, of course, I know plenty beautiful AND wonderful women), their having more to offer than the latter.


I think it’s a shame, that’s all.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Travelling Circus on Day 9 and 10 in New York with Satarupa

For the NY leg of our trip we decided to dispense with a mobile because a basic connection would have cost us a 100 dollars, and what did people do a decade ago when they travelled without cellphones? They survived. So we made a few calls to family from our hotel to tell them we had got to NY alright, and stepped out lightly every day, unencumbered (except for the great big luggage train of a travelling circus that comprised Mia’s things.). Our satisfaction at having gone back to Nature was somewhat tempered on the day we had to meet Satarupa, my friend who was nice enough to take a 3-hour bus ride from Baltimore and stay at a hostel in Manhattan, just to meet us.

The plan was simple enough, as thrashed out over the hotel phone and email. We would meet outside the Staten Island Ferry terminal at 12. By 12-10, we were looking hopefully at anyone Indian-like and female-looking. By 12-15 we were muttering darkly about our lack of a phone; and what madness it was to step out of the hotel without one. By 12-20, Jeet had jogged off to the terminal in search of a payphone, while Mia and I continued to man our posts in hope of contact. Not surprisingly at 12-21, Satarupa walked up to the terminal, looking around for us. Mia and I yelled to catch her attention, frightening a few passers-by. At 12-23, after a quick hug and a formal introduction between Mia and Satarupa, I jogged off to retrieve my husband from the depths of the enormous Staten Island ferry terminal. I jogged back 10 minutes later, not having found him. Jeet returned after a further 10 minutes, having stood in a long line for the public phone, which I supposedly could not have missed.

Turns out, after being dropped off by the bus a few minutes later than scheduled, Satarupa had passed us at just the moment we must have both bent over Mia; like a scene in a bad, slapstick comedy. She’d missed us completely and circled the terminal before coming back to where I saw her eventually.

I have no idea how anyone met anybody else at pre-determined times and places before mobile phones allowed us to check every movement. “Where are you now?” …“Look up, I can see you walking towards me.” “Where are you, I can’t see you?” “Put the phone away and Look UP you idiot!”. Suffice it to say, we’ve completely lost the ability now.

Now that we were all present and accounted for, we finally lined up for and boarded the enormous ferry, along with a sort of United Nations of tourists. It was a beautiful day, and Satarupa offered to keep Mia entertained while we went out on deck to watch the Manhattan skyline and (in her words) "Liberty Mashima” slip by. I had always wondered at the yellowness of the flame, but it was all made clear to me when the fire in the lady’s torch seemed to burn hotly in the distance.

After we were disgorged back onto the mainland we returned to our bench and tried to put away an ENTIRE pizza among the three of us. It did not end well, with all of us feeling bloated and awful, and 1/5th of the pizza dropped shamefacedly in a bin. I still can’t look at a pizza without feeling an awful burp welling up inside of me.

We walked to Wall Street and tried to get a picture with the NYSE bull. Some tourists were taking saucy pictures with the (extremely well-endowed) bull’s nether regions, others were hoisting themselves up onto the bull by the horns in a shocking display of would-be vandalism. We asked Satarupa to take a quick, very far-away picture of us waving near the stomach of the bull, (the only unmolested part of the poor boy’s anatomy) and we escaped, not wishing to be around when one of his extremities snapped off with a resounding crack.

We headed on to see the breathtakingly beautiful new World Trade Centre, looking like a sharp slice of sky plunging into the clouds. We watched the sombre visitors to the memorial at Ground Zero, the many grim policemen and their sniffer dogs for a while, before directing our feet in the direction of Times Square.

Times Square, again, was something I’d seen a zillion times in movies or newspapers. That did not prepare me for how mind-boggling the sight was. And it wasn’t even night, but a gently fading twilight. This was Capitalism in all its flashy, larger-than-life glory. Satarupa and I sat on the red steps amidst the flashing neon screens and milling crowds and chatted for a while, while Mia (who has a passion for climbing steps) was escorted up and down and up the stairs by her long-suffering father.

We couldn’t come away without visiting Toys R Us, though none of us were really in the mood for it. I could see it must’ve been a magical place for older children; but after a quick purchase of an “Abby-abby” (angry bird) beanie cushion for Mia; and a fleeting look at the enormous Ferris wheel within the store, we gladly made our way back to the quiet, darkened sanctuary of our hotel room.



Monday, August 26, 2013

After many months of restraint, a crib post about rape in India.

We vent and we vent and we vent, but it’s just so much hot air blowing in the wind. The more we talk about the rapes, the more ludicrous the “theories” get, and the more I find myself raging on people’s FB statuses with long-winded comments. I realized, to make myself feel better, I should write down most of what I feel about this issue and let it join all the innumerable other blog posts, articles, tweets, and status messages about rape in India swirling about the worldwide web.
First of all, we Indians need to divorce sex from rape. Very often I see that people can’t see much of a difference, which is where all the talk about whether SHE was drunk (the lady molested by a huge mob and videotaped after she walked out of a pub), what SHE was wearing, what SHE was doing, what her character was like (our honourable Chief Minister’s comment that the victim was a prostitute) arises. Rape is rape. No woman invites rape because it is, to make an understatement, mentally and physically acutely PAINFUL.
Let’s cut through all the “was she a good girl?” bullshit by taking a woman on the extreme end of our moral spectrum. A rape of a prostitute is still rape, because it has happened without her consent. It doesn’t matter whether she was walking down a lonely street at the time, in an advanced state of inebriation, and in revealing clothes. If a woman is attacked and raped, no amount of harping on why she was there and how she looked at her aggressors before the attack can change that fact.
A normal man might desire her, a disgusting man might approach her for negotiations, but it’s only a man who is not quite right that will think of raping her. Can you see the difference here?
I have seen a lot of ranting about how porn and the casting couch and a culture of trophy wives all cause rape. The irony is these writers are falling into the same trap as the extremely conservative, by confusing sex (even the most unsavoury kind) with rape. I don’t deny that there is something fundamentally wrong with a society that objectifies and commodifies women in this way, and its woman-hating nature is expressed in its most extreme form as rape. But I don’t see a direct connection: because in my mind, one is still the selling of sex for money (gross as that is) and the other is rape.

Others (in so many words) seek to vilify men for desiring women in the first place, to which I say can we please stop running around like headless chickens and FOCUS.

Secondly, most people (shockingly—so many women I’ve spoken to!) confuse a lapse of judgement (a woman getting into a car with three male acquaintances, for example) with ‘getting what was coming to her’. “What could she expect?” they say, and dismiss the rape off-hand. Are we then saying that all men are potential rapists who are only waiting to be presented with an opportunity by careless women? Is that how low our opinion is of our male relatives, friends and colleagues? And are we saying that a woman is equally if not more culpable in her violation, if she doesn’t cringe and look over her shoulder whenever she is around men?
Which of us pass the test? Have we not all been out past ten pm? Yes, on many, many occasions; often without male bodyguards to “protect our virtue.” Have we not worn provocative clothes? Of course! Since anything a woman wears is provocative to a rapist because he’s not looking at what the woman is wearing. It is seriously time our police stopped asking the question. The idea that a gang of five; who have the criminal intent and savagery to rape a woman after tying up her male companion, and then make her clean up the crime scene; would have walked away if she was wearing a sari is preposterous. I don’t even know how people can believe this.
Many women, in fact, are so sure they will be subjected to an agnipariksha if they come forward, that they decide against further torture for something as unlikely as justice. Women I know have whispered behind their hands to me, doubting the motives of rape victims saying,” why would she announce such a shameful thing to the world? She must want money and publicity!” The result of which you can see n the most recent Mumbai rape case, where it has emerged that the same group of men have raped before and had thought this one would go unreported as well. Perhaps if the previous rape victims had not feared social stigma and come forward, our brave photojournalist would have been briskly going about her work today, finishing up on the assignment that took her to the godforsaken scene of the crime.

So, you’re saying, you talk big, but what are you actually DOING to change this culture?
Admittedly not much. Jeet and I tried to start a petition to make self-defense classes compulsory for girls in schools – no one signed up, I wonder what the problem was.  I argue with whoever expresses the aforementioned opinions to me. However awkward the conversation is. If I have a son, I will not teach him that sex is bad, desire is bad and thereby repress it in such a way that it suddenly expresses itself in a horribly deviant way.
Of course, no parent wants a libertine for offspring but the former must learn to acknowledge that normal young people will have sexual feelings. If Indian parents carry on like having a girlfriend/boyfriend is a crime, they will continue to confuse romance, sex, and rape in the minds of India’s sons.

I have a daughter however, and I’m not going to lie, until I see this shift happen – I will advise her to throw away all her fundamental rights as an Indian citizen and cower at home, protected first by her father and then by her husband; because society doesn't really care about her.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Day 2: Diya, Shaun and Covent Garden

Day 2:
Diya, my friend from University, and her diminutive husband Shaun, took a train to London from Sheffield to attend the races at Ascot and visit the perambulating Basu family (us). We agreed to meet at the British Museum at the sensible hour of 12 PM, because we were getting over our long journey, and Mia was still very under the weather from her cold.
We reached at 12-30, anticipating a lot of tsk-ing about Indian Standard Time, only to hear Shaun had fallen ill and that they would be delayed.
One doesn’t wait around with a toddler straining at the leash. (Purely a figure of speech; though I got over my horror at the idea of child leashes once Mia developed the habit of dashing off the moment you let go of her. Walk a mile in a parent’s shoes, and all the things that shocked you seem sensible very soon.)
So we decided to begin our tour of the sprawling British museum sans our friends. The Pompeii exhibit was the reason why Diya and Shaun had proposed meeting here in the first place, so we headed there first. Tickets were sold out till 4 PM, so we decided to explore the rest of their extensive collection instead. To quote an Englishman I spoke to there, “Everything that we stole from the rest of the world.”
This was a week before the MoMA episode, so we innocently believed we had Mia’s vote for this course of action.
We ended up quickly rolling a loudly wailing stroller from one hushed, venerable room to another, as though the target was to have been in every room rather than concentrate on the artefacts. Luckily, photography was allowed here; and Jeet took enough pictures for me to pore over at length back in Bangalore and consider myself satisfied that I really had been to the British Museum.
Shaun and Diya arrived when we were in the gift shop, by which time Mia had given up on us and gone to sleep. We quickly decided to head to a pub to have a pub lunch (and perhaps some tea for Poor Shaun). In quick succession we rolled a sleeping Mia through one door of The Lolloping Lion, then The Prancing pony, The Sleepy Hunter, The Ugly Duckling and the Frolicsome Ferret and out the other as all the tables were taken. We finally found a café run by a battalion of Russian-accented bodybuilders. We decided we would let Diya do the ordering because we didn’t speak Russian-English or Bodybuilder.
Lunch of excellent lasagne and coffee done, Shaun went off to keep his date with the museum while the rest of us struck out towards Covent Garden. I have rarely encountered a more charming spot; with its bazaarish ambiance and the relatively inexpensive little curios. This time we brought away a stubby, disgruntled-looking Queen Victoria about the size of my thumb. (Yes, yes ‘Anglophile’, etc…point me to such an adorable little Tipu Sultan or Aurangzeb who looks like he had a bad fish for lunch, and I‘ll be glad to add to my collection.)  
We located the Tintin shop, and took such a while deciding between the Tintin figurine in a space suit and Tintin and Snowy looking amazedly at an enormous mushroom that Mia decided to hurry us up by trying to grab all the bow-bows (figurines of Snowy) she could see. “She’s not very well and it’s nearly naptime…” I explained as I restrained my flailing offspring. The butch lady at the counter raised her eyebrows in a ‘I-really-don’t-give-a-crap, if-she-breaks-it-you-bought-it’ look. Tintin with the mushroom thingy it was then and out we hurried, where Mia reverted to patient tourist baby mode (albeit a slightly snotty one). 
Even though we’d had a full meal about five minutes ago, Diya announced we should go to one of her favourite places in Covent Garden, a place frequented by the British since Arthurian times, praised by Shakespeare in Corialanus, and Jane Austen in Emma. The Masala Zone. Though I sneer at most Indians who land on foreign shores only to frenetically ask around for the nearest dal-chawal joint (We were approached by two such individuals outside the Staten Island Ferry in New York, looking decidedly malnourished); We had a good chinwag over the excellent chaat platter and masala chai; and all four of us licked our spoons clean. Mia did such a thorough job with her spoon that I worried about erosion.

Unfortunately Diya and Shaun had to catch a train soon after; so after a few hurried pictures together and hugs we made our way back to the lovely home of our hosts – tired but happy.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Day 9: The Museum of Modern Art in New York

Day 9, MoMA, New York.

Jeet had visited the MoMA when he’d gone to New York the previous year. He averred that I must see it since I’ve always been a sucker for museums (I spent two days at the Salarjung in Hyderabad; dragging a very helpful but flagging Maya from room to room.). It would solve the problem of the incessant drizzle; and we figured since Mia was fighting fit and phlegm-free at last; she would be more receptive to culture and intellectual nourishment than she was at the British Museum a week earlier.

Hope springs eternal in a parent’s breast.

After having gawked at the Fifth Avenue shops (the buildings and the entire avenue apparently designed for extremely fashionable giants), and Rockefeller Centre, we started looking for Moma. We asked a few cops who said they didn’t know. A big guy with tattoos stood on a street corner selling souvenirs. We asked him where it was, and just as he shook his head regretfully that he didn’t know; an artistic-looking guy with a mane of white hair, who was hurrying past, stopped and said, “it’s on the corner of 5th and 12th”, and pointed back in the direction we’d come from.

We retraced our steps and stood dithering on an inside street. A Jeffrey-Archer-type gentleman in a suit and briefcase stopped and asked us, “Do you need directions? Can I help you?”

I could’ve hugged him. How nice can people get? I stop and give directions only if people ask me. I would never dream of actually asking people who look mildly confused if they need help! For all he knew those were our natural expressions. (To be honest, that IS mine on most mornings. Jeet and Mia look fairly together at all times. But the Nice Guy couldn’t know that.)

MoMA was really crowded, but the layout (possibly because it was much smaller than the British Museum) was easier to negotiate. We started at the top, and I spent a thrilling 5 minutes gaping at Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

We quickly agreed that since Jeet had seen it all before, he would look after Mia and I could browse the walls in peace.

We had not accounted for the fact that our daughter had decided she would not have another museum inflicted on her without a fight.

Left to myself I happily pottered from one wall to another. I noticed an incredibly huge bouncer-type person striding purposefully towards somebody out of my line of vision. “Poor wretch” I smirked to myself as I turned towards a beautiful Cezanne.

“You can’t keep the stroller there! You have to take it with you!” I peered around a painting, and  saw that my husband had given in to Mia’s pleas and let her trot about the floor while they waited for me, leaving the stroller next to a row of seats. Once the scary man had moved on, I went over and agreed to roll the empty stroller around with me like a crazy bag lady looking for a dumpster. Jeet followed Mia around at a swift trot as she hippety-hopped through the rooms.

It was an admirable arrangement while we looked at the paintings. When we tried to stuff her back into the stroller for the installation art exhibits; she simply stood up and tried to walk around with the stroller strapped to her back;  like a cute, pink-green-and-brown tortoise.

So she skipped through the teetering art exhibits; and my already fraying nerves stretched taut at the thought of a pile of crap (I’m sorry, that would be “installation art” – spell-check isn’t as good as it used to be), valued at a sum equal to the GDP of a small third-world nation, crashing to the floor after Mia hippety-hopped too close to it.

We must’ve set some kind of Guinness Book Record getting through each floor (of course we couldn’t simply leave!). We would cry “Done!” and dash to the elevator with a sigh of relief before Mia could touch anything.

On the last floor, (the ground floor, since we were working our way down.) I was finally beginning to relax. Just as we entered a room of photography exhibits, a huge guy with the neck and shoulders of the NYSE bull raised his black-suited arm and beckoned towards us. Visions of exhibits collapsing like dominoes behind us as we proceeded -- unaware and smiling-- from room to room, flashed through my mind.

“Save yourselves!” I hissed to Jeet. “Make sure Mia gets her driving license before her 20th birthday.” I squared my shoulders and walked purposefully up to him. I peered up at the ebony mountain in what I hoped was an innocently enquiring fashion. A mother would do anything to protect her young, even if they are wanton hippety-hoppers.

“I was just saying ‘Hi,’” he explained, gesturing again. “A LOT of people seem to misinterpret it when I do it.”
“Oh haha, imagine that…” I laughed weakly.
“See? Your daughter gets it.”
I turned to see Mia give us a cheery wave, looking for all the world like her mother didn’t just have a brush with Gitmo for destruction of American property.

I called them over and the big man coo-ed and clucked over Mia like a big, fat hen.
“Bye, bye” he crooked his fingers in the same gesture. Mia waved back. “See? SHE can tell I’m waving.”
“I guess she’s the only one without a guilty conscience,” I said, and we sped off.

Jeet and I agreed we’d shown Mia enough museums for the time being. She can visit the next one once she gets her driver’s license.