How do I see thee? Let me count the ways…

(with apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning ! https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/how-do-i-love-thee-sonnet-43 )

Some months ago I was going through a lovely large pile of newspapers leftover from a few weekends of travel. As I read through them, turning page after page, it suddenly struck me that I was hardly seeing any women. In mainstream mass media — English newspapers being read in Mumbai.

So, I started doing what any good analysis needs—gathering data!

Here is what I found:

  Women Individual In Groups Men Individual

 

In Groups

 

Mixed groups
Mumbai Mirror 11 0 22 1 + 1 Sports 1
HT 4 8

(for a Women’s Marathon)

1+ Full page cover ad of Vistara showing 2 pilots, both male. 15 in sports 3
ToI 2 +

1 Mayawati + 1 Sushma Swaraj+1 Transgender on global page = total of 5

2 students passing a recent exam 23 14  

So, even without counting sports, men feature 2 to 5 times as often as women. I thought, hmm…maybe that was just a one off weekend and not representative? I repeated the count this weekend and it is almost identical.

In all the news stories the stock image of a farmer is always a man, although half the farmers in our country are women! The shares and finance advertisements are always featuring men.

sharekhan-study-work-marry-have-kids-save-money-ad-times-of-india-delhi-18-09-2017

 

You may shrug and say- so what?? Does this matter?

It does.

Why??

Because making 50% of the population invisible in the mainstream newspapers means that you are making invisible their presence and their voice and their participation in society. Therefore the mass media is not being accurately representative of the lived realities of society.

Even on the sports page for example, the men’s teams make news and occupy 2-4 pages whether they win or lose or argue or faint or fight with each other or acquire a new girlfriend or lose a coach. The women’s team is seen ONLY when they win the gold medal. They cease to exist right away after that.

This creates a skewed perception of the importance of the so called ‘ordinary’ lives of women and girls. This is also why many newspapers used to earlier have a supplement or separate feature for women, because they also knew that women were simply not a part of the mainstream narrative.

We know from history that making a group invisible makes it easier for the powerful to do what they want with members of that group. We have seen it with slaves, with Dalits, refugees, migrants and every other dis-enfranchised group ever.

The default state in society is thus assumed to be male and if women feature at all it is because they are doing something superlative and out of the ordinary. Either super ‘good’ like Arundhati Bhattacharya (who is captioned in the photo as the Chairman SBI instead of Chair or Chairperson) or super bad as in Indrani of the various murders.

What hope is there for the ‘ordinary’ woman?

And it is not just images, it is also our everyday language.

Research has found that the use of he as a generic pronoun evokes a disproportionate number of male images in the minds of the readers and excludes thoughts of women in non- gender-specific instances.

All those “man” words — said many times a day by millions of people every day, cumulatively reinforce the message that men are the standard and that women should be subsumed by the male category.

Check out this video doing the rounds of Whatsapp recently:

I would suggest that you also read the various comments that people left below this video because I think they are also interesting.

Some are openly anti- feminism.

Eg Using kids to push an agenda? Yeap, this is as low as feminism can get.”

“Yes, very effective propaganda indeed! I am sure Goebbels will be proud.”

 “How about you tell kids “you can be what you want if you work for it”, instead of this feminist BS?”

But some are saying things which is actually what feminism also says but some insecure men don’t want to hear—feminism is not against men! It is against Patriarchy. It is against stereotyping.

Eg. Now draw a coal miner! Now draw a garbage disposal worker! A truck driver! A brick layer! A homeless person! Prison inmate! A soldier dying face down in the mud! Now draw the person he was dying to protect…”

Surely this person knows that there are plenty of women soldiers and women who are homeless and women who are truck drivers and brick layers?! And men are dying in wars to protect women?? But they choose to use this argument to drown out the feminist message.

Ironically, despite being invisible in the mainstream as people who exist and shape society, women and girls are in fact the constant target of the male gaze.

de

Peeping toms, voyeurs, spying through CCTV cameras, two way mirrors in changing rooms, ogling, stalking, chasing—the whole gamut.

Eye-see-You-4efd2b43c1ca1_medres

So women are meant to be looked at even if there is a violation of privacy and personal spaces but somehow women are not seen in public areas, claiming public spaces?

girls stalking

When the daughter of an IAS officer in Haryana was stalked by the drunk son of the local BJP leader, the boy’s father’s first response was –why was she out so late?! She gave him a reply befitting that which Golda Meir had given in response to curfews on women to prevent rape.

en-golda-meir-was-prime-minister-of-israel-a-cabinet-15851430

The night time or lonely roads are not in themselves unsafe for women ! They become unsafe because of the presence of certain men.

unsafe working hours

Men, who have been raised to believe that they can take up as much space as they want, take whatever they want and whenever they want.

main-qimg-02325fde2e42f3e9386c08a38f5fea33-c

They can look at whatever they want whenever they want.

why dont they roam naked

Speaking of the male gaze, the entire fashion and make up industry survives and thrives only on the notion that women need to look and dress in a certain way to be attractive to men.

eyes 3

Which is why I am going to close here with this totally awesome post about what women over 30 should wear 🙂

 

 

 

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Hawaon pe likh do hawaon ke naam

What can one say about Kishore Kumar? With his madness, his genius and his yodelling?

Can you imagine that he never trained as a singer and he never even planned to be one?!

His genius lies not just in his incredible singing voice but also in his capacity to mimic. If you listen to his songs with your eyes closed you can actually imagine which of the actors he was singing for , and he sang for them all—Dev Anand, Rajesh Khanna, Shashi Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Raj Kapoor, Rajendra Kumar.

It is impossible to list top ten or even top 100 favourites due to the sheer volume of songs and his incredible versatility. So here are random 12 songs from my long list which reflect his variety and I hope you enjoy them!

  1. Hawaon pe likh do hawaon ke naam: This relatively little known song is a delight. From the 1970 movie Do Dooni Char, which apparently is the predecessor to Angoor. See if you can guess who the child artiste is!

2. A mad caper from Half Ticket which is such a delightful movie! Some of the song and dance sequences are so hilarious that one cannot imagine they could have been choreographed at all. Madhubala reveals a perfect flair for comedy too !

3. An eternal classic, thoughtful and solemn. The movie itself was a dramatic emotional roller coaster , with misunderstandings and badly timed letters worthy of a Thomas Hardy novel !

4. What an incredible song ! He manages to convey the lifetime of longing of Sanjeev Kumar which is also tinged with a cautious optimism and is matched by the joyful and soaring voice of Lata singing for Suchitra Sen

5. Uttam Kumar brooding and melancholy, a boat ride on an open sea and Kishore Kumar is pitch perfect in conveying the emotions.

6. A strange but entertaining film- Anamika, with Sanjeev Kumar and Jaya Bhaduri. They must be the only pair to have played such a varied combination of roles with each other! Father and daughter in Parichay, Father- in- law and widowed daughter- in- law in Sholay, star crossed lovers in Anamika, deaf mute couple in Koshish.

7. The ’70s were the days when it was considered romantic to drown your sorrows in drink, when every sex worker had a heart of gold and all love was doomed. If you swoon over Chingari koi bhadke’ then you will absolutely love this video which shows the ‘mistake’ that gave us the un-mistakeable opening bars.

And here is the song itself

8. A decidedly odd couple which was probably never repeated but it is a lovely song  that Amitabh Bachchan sings to Neetu Singh in Yaarana

9.  A movie rather ahead of its times in some ways– a kind of adaptation of ‘To Sir with Love’. Vinod Khanna plays an idealistic teacher who is wrongfully accused of a sexual misdemeanour.

10.  A beautiful song where the young dapper Dharmendra is off to meet his beloved ‘Father’ the priest who raised him in a hill station school.

11. A cheerful family song which sets the tune for the story of the new head –cook- cum- bottlewasher who joins this disjointed joint family household and joins them all back again. ( its the scene in every household when the new replacement turns up after the kaamwali bai has gone ‘gaon’ and not bothered to return !)

12. A haunting melody from one of those rebirth and lost lovers’ stories. The odd reason why I like it so much is that the flute seller who used to roam the quiet streets of Bombay on a Sunday, all those years ago in the ’80s would play this melody. So, every time I hear it I am transported back to those years when Sundays were always quiet, no noise of baraats, no new building construction sounds grinding away on every lane, no whirring of stone cutters and the constant clang of hammer to metal. Quiet streets under a quiet sky, quiet people walking down quiet lanes, a kind of a mid- morning stupor on everything, and the basuriwala playing this tune, which would waft up to our high-rise apartment through the quiet rustling trees and the telephone wires and into the open window of my quiet bedroom.

 

If you have any favourite Kishore Kumar song do share in the comments !

 

 

It’s a new year! Or is it??

Now that we have all finished celebrating the beginning of a random day in a random year, in the middle of nowhere in the revolution of our Sun, around we- don’t- know- what- spot in the centre of the Milky Way galaxy, (which takes it 230 million years to make one complete orbit around), maybe we can spend five minutes on reflection and contemplation of the calendar.

tomorrow

What is a calendar anyway? It is a time keeper on a day scale really, so it is just a reeeally slow clock in a way. Humans probably started to figure out ways to measure time around the time they settled into agriculture. (As an aside, there is a recent book I heard of where the author claims that agriculture was the biggest mistake of the human race! )

In any case, that would have been when the women needed to figure out when to sow and when to reap and when they could expect to have food available. (They were probably the first farmers while the men continued to hunt for a while till the transition was complete). Thus the annual cycles of summer/ rain/ winter may have been noticed and used to plan the farming.

Eventually we got more refined and started being able to measure the hours in the day and the minutes in an hour. The earliest ‘clocks’ have been around since 2000 BC.

It is very interesting that despite having ten digits on our fore and hind limbs, we use 12 as the unit of measurement.

I found this article a bit confusing but apparently if we had 8 fingers instead of 10 things would be counted differently!

We have now progressed so much that we even have an atomic clock which can calculate to the 1/1000th of a second or something which I imagine is useful only to children who always want to claim being older than an annoying cousin by just such a small measurable amount!

Once heliocentrism was more or less accepted universally, we also managed to figure out that a full circle around the Sun takes us 365 days give or take a wobble here and there. From that to the Mayan calendar, zodiac signs and eventually Nostradamus was just short leap!

mayan-calendar-2012-funny-cartoon2

Hindus have a lunar/ solar mixed calendar and do consider Diwali as the beginning of a new year and the Chinese also use the lunar calendar and celebrate their new year sometime in February.

The 1st Jan that we all celebrate so joyfully is for a month named after the Roman god Janus ( who is the god of beginnings and transitions). The date is from the Gregorian calendar of the Pope Gregory.

If this isn’t a reminder of the sustained legacy of the hegemony of the global north then I don’t know what is!

Having said that, if the current insanity of radical Hindutva continues, India may well follow Nepal is shifting to the Hindu calendar which is currently in the year 2074.

Ethiopia is even better and has not only an entirely different system of counting days and its time zone is also totally off!

Of course, no matter which way we count it and on which day we declare a new year, the idea behind it is one of renewal and out with the old and in with the new.

The old must give way to the new. But of course it doesn’t always happen and in the medical field or the NGO field, nor in corporate sector (nor sometimes in families where the head of the family, usually the oldest man continues to bully everyone into doing what he thinks is best for them). There are very rare leaders who plan to transition out and mentor the next generation of leaders. Most people cling on to power and control like grim death.

This year we also kept a happy/funny memories jar in the dining room. We opened the jar on 31st Dec and it was fun to reminisce and relive the highlights of 2017.

Did you make any resolutions? I think Calvin had the right idea 🙂

calvin and hobbes

But it is probably always a good idea to aim to read more good books/articles, listen to more old favourite songs, travel more, stay in touch with friends ( old and new).

you are the books you readMeet your parents, spend more time with your kids (they really do grow up simply too fast), be kinder, donate more of your time/ money/ expertise to those who have less than you, learn something new every day/ week whether it is a word or a poem or a fact or a recipe, exercise regularly, eat healthy, feel less guilty, carpe diem and all that jazz.

It doesn’t matter if you can’t do it regularly, do it whenever you can.

Funny-new-years-resolutions-cartoon-funny

After all, as my school Principal used to say –‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life!’

holstee

“I haven’t been everywhere but it’s on my list”

(quoting Susan Sontag in the title)

I travel a lot for work. So In 2016 I decided to collect snow globes from every place I travelled to (if they were available of course).

snowglobes

I have also been a voracious reader and the various flights have in fact given me even more time to read. There is so much to read and so little time! The news of the gigantic new library opened in China recently gave me nightmares. How can one possibly read even the best of the best books in one lifetime?

china library

So, for the year end, here is a photo journal of my journeys in the last 2 years—both physically and through books.

The places I visited over the last 2 years were Amsterdam, Bangkok, Belfast, Colombo, Dubai, Hanoi/ Ha Long Bay, Kuala Lumpur, London, New York, Oxford, Phoenix, Singapore, Stockholm, Washington DC.

all globes

I also visited Bali and Dhaka which do not do snow globes and ironically neither do Kathmandu or Iceland!

I do plan to write short posts on most of these places and my travel experiences later.

For the books round up, some of the best non- fiction books I read and can recommend highly are here, with a short review explaining what they are about and a hyperlink if you want to know more.

bookworms

  • A slim powerful book by Grayson Perry—The Descent of Man, in which he unpacks and unpicks the toxic masculinity that ties us down to patriarchy.
  • Another slim book that packs a punch—Why I am not a Feminist by Jessa Crispin.
  • What money can’t buy by Michel Sandel is a brilliant analysis of the moral limits of markets.
  • non fiction books
  • The Pirates Dilemma by Matt Mason talks about how youth culture is reinventing capitalism. If you have ever wondered how the invention of disco by a Nun is related to low cost HIV drugs in Africa and whether 3 D printing of branded shoes will be the next threshold of digital piracy, then this is the book for you !
  • Falling off the Map by Pico Iyer was a present from my daughter and I loved the chapter on Iceland so much that we visited it last year. This book talks of places that are geographically isolated and therefore also become culturally unique. If you love Bill Bryson’s travelogues, these are much calmer and more reflective but just as enjoyable.

mixed books

  • I have also been re-reading Devi by Mrinal Pande which is, on the face of it, a simply written story of the goddesses worshipped in the hilly regions of north India but a deeper reading shows up the persistent questioning of the patriarchy and the devaluing of the female gods.
  • I don’t know if Margaret Atwood’s Good Bones would be fiction or non- fiction? They seem to be stories but they are bitingly real. Stories like Let Us Now Praise Stupid Women, Men at Sea, The Female Body, Little Red Hen Tells All.
  • I also found a gorgeous little alphabet book after my own heart which says A is for Activist 🙂
  • more books

Some of the most engaging fiction I read turns out to be exclusively thrillers and murder mysteries !

  •  Fiona Griffiths: what a unique detective! She is a young Welsh woman, and if that doesn’t make her hugely unique in the male dominated detective world, then she also has a rare condition which adds to the intrigue. She is innocent and on her own planet while also being one of the bravest and most compelling police investigator. Thank you Harry Bingham for creating this one !

 

  • I also enjoy JD Robb and her futuristic badass young woman detective Eve Dallas who has a steamy romance going on by the side of her gruesome and complex murder mysteries.
  • Then there is Jack Reacher—the super heroic Military Police who treats women as equals. For me, that alone makes him a real superhero.
  • The Expats by Chris Pavone—phenomenally plotted with twists that you will never ever see coming. Read this and the next one—the Travellers.
  • some books
  • After the Crash by Michel Bussi is a fascinating read with a twisted mystery and a tangled web of two families inextricably linked by a crash.
  • Another author I always enjoy reading is Deon Meyer. The stories are set in South Africa and the various murders take place against a backdrop of racial politics, corruption, trafficking, poaching and a myriad other very real problem.
  • Christopher Walker writes a series about Bryant and May of the Peculiar Crimes Unit. Set in London, it has two semi- retired detectives, taking the help of witches and soothsayers, full of jaw dropping historical details about the city. This one you have to love!
  • Deborah Crombie also writes about murder set against the backdrop of Scotland and England in her novels about Duncan Kincaid and Gemma Jones. The first book I read was called Necessary As Blood and was about a mysterious disappearance, human trafficking and the dark underbelly of London.
  • I have also read some books by Neil Gaiman. Genuinely enjoyed Neverwhere which is set in the London Underground and displays an awe inspiring imagination.  Trigger warning is simply brilliant and each story is astonishingly different from the other. What a marvellous collection!

     

    flat,800x800,070,f_u2

  • Most of these books were discovered at airport bookshops and some at the second-hand books sold at Oxfam and such similar shops in London. The Deon Meyer was recommended by a friend from South Africa and JD Robb by a fellow activist who also reads murder mysteries in her spare time. I don’t know if there is a deeper psychological reason as to why we advocate for social justice during work hours and then enjoy reading about murders being solved in our spare hours but maybe that is a tale for another time 🙂

    Wishing you all relaxing and enjoyable travels in the physical world and mind bending and challenging travels in your book journeys!

    Have a wonderful New Year 2018 !

In the name of the mother

Offensive-Language-771x477

This post should be read only by those over 18 and those who can read an analysis of swear words without getting offended!

One more chance to stop reading on. Check out this other article which may interest you instead:

https://thatwhichiam.wordpress.com/2017/06/02/the-global-school-of-alternate-facts/

If you insist on continuing, then here it is:

Why do humans being swear? It is often an expression of frustration, anger, rage, helplessness and, very rarely, done involuntarily in a condition called Tourette’s syndrome in which some sufferers also shout out obscenities. (This could be due to damage to a part of the brain that controls aggression and has been seen even among those who communicate only by sign language, showing that it is not restricted to spoken insults. https://www.livescience.com/33384-tourette-syndrome-people-curse-uncontrollably.html)

Most of us, however, use swear words quite voluntarily, with men probably using them more often than women– due to cultural taboos on women expressing anger.

some-days-the-supply-of-available-curse-words-is-insufficient-23161963

We all have our favourite swear words, which we use either in our minds (if we are being well behaved), or muttered under our breath when we simply can’t keep it in, or shouted out loud for ***’s sake get you s**t together!

The name calling of stupid, idiot, donkey aside, we don’t say retard/moron any more although in the earlier decades we used to. We now recognize it as a horrible and derogatory term which is disrespectful to those with certain mental difficulties.

We also don’t say lame, deaf, dumb, nigger or fag any more.

To some people it seems like political correctness gone mad and for some people the definition of freedom of speech includes the freedom to offend. But if you, or someone you know, fall into one of those categories being derided, you would certainly appreciate the value of the respect that you are given, even if symbolically, by being called physically challenged instead of lame, and gay instead of fag. Simply because, in the face of all the barriers and discrimination you face on a daily basis, at least the words are not hurtful now.

(Of course calling a person with physical handicap a ‘divyang’(meaning divine body) is more of a mockery than any elevated stature, especially since our social structures and infrastructure usually manages to exclude them rather completely by preventing access.)

We still use the word ‘straight’ to describe heterosexual orientation as though the other is ‘bent’ and we still say someone is crazy/ mental/ hysterical ( the last word has the same root as hysteros meaning uterus and reflects the misogyny and sexism of the 18th century).

The word ‘fuck’ first appears in the 16th century apparently, in a manuscript of the Latin orator Cicero. An anonymous monk was reading through the monastery copy of De Officiis (a guide to moral conduct) when he felt compelled to express his anger at his abbot. “O d fuckin Abbot,” he scrawled in the margin of the text. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/melissa-mohr/a-fcking-short-history-of_b_3352948.html

This was considered only to be a more direct way of describing sexual intercourse but it became a profanity only 300 years later. Perhaps around the same time that the sexual act itself was being considered profane?

Nowadays many people use this word, which is so versatile, as explained by none other than Osho Rajneesh.

 

Of course this word also goes with a strong gesture of ‘showing the middle finger’, symbolizing the penis as the weapon.

Trump_Middle_Finger

The inimitable Father Ted series has a retired old priest who regularly wakes up from his alcohol induced stupor to shout ‘Arse Drink Feck’ and then go back to his ‘beauty’ sleep.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68YmGO3tn70

Sometimes adults do need profanity to help cope with a lousy day or just getting the kids to go to sleep 🙂

go to sleep

But many of the other curse words that are considered to be really bad are somehow directed at shaming women and, by association, their sexuality.

bitch

Even when a man is called a ‘son of a bitch’ –he is actually just a son but it his mother who is a bitch.

A ‘bastard’ is someone who has no father. Obviously he has a mother. But she has had sex with someone who is not willing to acknowledge his child. Which is why he is a bastard. If he didn’t even have a mother then he is just an orphan. Which is not a word anyone would use as a curse now would they?

‘Motherfucker’ is meant to be a slur on the man because he is accused of having sex with his mother. Despite the Lannister siblings there is no English phrase ‘sister fucker’, but the local phrase is used very commonly in India.

What about a woman who sleeps with a younger man? Whether he is related or not. Or a sister who sleeps with her brother? Or a woman who has sex with a man before marriage? or outside of marriage? or as a widow?

They all come under the convenient umbrella of ‘slut’ or ‘whore’. A slut is someone who enjoys or has plenty of sex. But the man who has a lot of sex is usually seen (by other men) as someone to admire.

Everyone has heard the term nymphomania. It is defined as ‘A woman who craves sex’. But isn’t it a clear sign of sexism and shaming women for their sexual appetite that hardly anyone knows of the male equivalent — satyriasis ?? These words were once used to describe the condition of hyper sexuality, in women and men respectively, but are no longer in general medical use, but a woman who wants to have sex and is not hiding it is still labelled a ‘nympho’’.

https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-male-equivalents-of-whore-slut-ho-bitch-skank-tramp-and-hooker

A whore is usually a woman who sells sex. The man who buys sex has no equivalent bad word. He is just a man. But a woman who sells sex is a ‘bad woman’ and hence the word is meant to be derogatory.

The man who sells the whore is a pimp. Which has also become a word used to mean ‘to spice something up’ as in I ‘pimped ‘the recipe by adding paprika.

Another overall term is ‘bitch’. The word association being with a female dog in heat who has sex with any dog at that time. This word is not used in a sexually derogatory way as much as for a woman who is not a doormat and will back answer or take care of her own interests.

(Another post some other day about sexism in language and how it hurts women in subtle ways)

It is important to keep reminding ourselves that feminism is not against men. It is against patriarchy. Patriarchy is a system which hurts men also. When a man is called a ‘cunt’ or ‘pussy whipped’ or asked if he has balls or to ‘grow a pair’ or told to ‘wear bangles’, it may sound as though the man is being insulted but it is really to prod him into proving that he is ‘not a woman’ because THAT is the real insult.

This is why gay men, transgenders, cross dressing men, effeminate men, impotent men are all shamed for not being ‘man’ enough.

That is what is called Misogyny. Hating women for being women. http://www.xojane.com/fun/bad-words-misogyny-edition

The word bloody which is used in curses has many substitutions were devised to convey the essence of the oath, but with less offence; these included bleeding, cruddy, blinking, blooming, flaming and ruddy. The origins of why the word bloody became a curse is not known. Speculations are that it was a shortening of ‘by our lady’ or a variation of the Dutch word ‘bloote’ meaning naked. Or it may have negative connotations of association with menstruation.

https://newrepublic.com/article/116713/swear-word-history-where-your-favorite-curses-came

Just like there are movements urging women to reclaim the night and re- occupy public spaces, we also need to reclaim swear words.

Any suggestions for gender neutral cuss words that everyone can use joyfully??

As we learn from Alice Through the Looking Glass: “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty Said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean–neither more, nor less. The question is, which is to be master, that is all ! “”

   
     

While you think about that, I will let the inimitable and brilliant Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie have the last word on swear words here. This is a script from their series ‘A Bit of Fry and Laurie’. This episode was recorded after BBC banned them from using swear words on the show.

Stephen Our first item tonight, my sweet little honeyclusters/ is a searing insight into real life/ and perforce relies on using/ the language of the street.

Hugh Swearwords …

Stephen Swearwords, exactly. But we have been banned from using actual swearwords

Hugh Bastards

Stephen So we have had to make up new ones /which are absolutely pitiless in their detail./ Hugh rips off his gag.

Hugh And nobody can stop us from using them. Here they are … Stephen rips off his gag. From now on, we are out loud. “Cloff”.

Stephen “Prunk” …

Hugh “Shote” …

Stephen “Cucking” …

Hugh “Skank” …

Stephen “Fusk” …

Hugh “Pempslider” …

Stephen No, we said we wouldn’t use that one.

Hugh Did we?

Stephen Yes, that’s going too far.

Hugh What, “pempslider”?

Stephen Shut up.

Hugh Sorry.

Stephen And lastly, “pim-hole”.

Hugh Hah.

Stephen So, here it is, ladies and gentlemen, our first sketch … and good luck …

Love, sex aur robots

This article was written by me and originally appeared on 4th Dec in the TARSHI publication In Plainspeak as Freedom and Sexuality: Walking Hand in Hand with Robots.

http://www.tarshi.net/inplainspeak/freedom-sexuality-walking-hand-hand-robots/

cropped-002c

Where we are now:

In August this year the Supreme Court of India declared that privacy at its core includes the “preservation of personal intimacies, the sanctity of family life, marriage, procreation, the home and sexual orientation”.

However just a few weeks ago, the government defended its inability to recognize marital rape saying  it would “destabilise the institution of marriage“.

So, as Charles Dickens had once said, it is the best of times and the worst of times.

In the midst of these ruminations I happened to see a video showcasing Sophia, who is apparently the world’s first social robot, in a jolly pow-wow with Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show, playing Rock, Paper, Scissors and talking breezily of world domination.

She also made the news because she has been offered citizenship of Saudi Arabia. Yes, the same country which continues to stone women to death for adultery. One can only wonder how long it will last before Sophia makes eye contact with a laptop and then it’s all over for her………

But as Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) technology advances and robots become a part of our life, it is worth reflecting on what it would mean in terms of our freedoms and sexuality in the near future.

Even before we met Sophia, there was Samantha. She is a sex robot who was brutalised and almost destroyed by men at a technology show. They not only molested her but also broke her fingers.

As ethical and moral considerations are always outpaced by the furious rate at which technology is being developed, we are still grappling with issues like ensuring adolescents’ access to comprehensive sexuality education, understanding gender as a spectrum, and offering women the choice for safe abortions, while sex robots or sexbots have already become a 30 billion dollar industry. This industry is growing by leaps and bounds as technology becomes more sophisticated and demand increases. As of now, the sexbots are being designed primarily by and for men and are sold to men 95% of the time.

Robots and sexism:

I saw Sophia on the Tonight Show, with her pointy breasts and fair skin and blue eyes, and I wondered. Since online spaces reflect the same patriarchy, privilege, misogyny and violence against women that real life does, what does it mean for the future if A.I. is already sexist even while taking these first steps?

As humans, our society is still moving very slowly towards the possibility of functioning with gender non-conforming humans but simultaneously we seem to be creating very stereotypically feminine robots, breasts and all. The objectification of women is not new to us at all but will this take it to levels beyond redemption?

Male robots are few and far between but whenever there is news about them it is always with a frisson of alarm that men will then become redundant. Mainly because the male sex robots are being programmed to also listen and empathise – which is certainly an improvement on the vibrator!

A friend recently commented that when her British male-accented Siri addressed her as ‘darling’ it felt like infidelity! So she switched it to use a female voice.

It is very telling of how we are brought up that a woman tends to feel guilty about this while a man is more likely to find it amusing and thrilling to be addressed as ‘darling’ by an automated female voice.

Here is an interesting observation “Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and Google Home have women’s voices because ……… customers like their digital servants to sound like women.”

Despite the fact that Ada Lovelace (daughter of the poet Lord Byron), was the inventor of the modern computer programme, currently 8 out of 10 software developers and A.I. programmers are men. As Leah Hempel points out, “Thus the chance that male bot developers manually program them to respond to sexual harassment with jokes is exceedingly high.”

So, perhaps these men aspire to create what would be, for them, the ideal woman. They programmed her, so she will obey. They can order her around.

“Sit, Sophia.” “Yes, Master.”

Much like the creepy-as-hell movie from 1972 called ‘The Stepford Wives’ where the wives in a charming suburb of America are forced into a terrifying process which creates a default setting of only providing sexual and other pleasures to the men they are married to.

We may not have sexbots in India yet but a popular web series being telecast currently is called ‘A.I.SHA my Virtual Girlfriend’. The name stands for Artificial Intelligence Simulated Humanoid Assistant (A.I.SHA). It is telling that the blurb says, “Things take a turn for the worse when A.I.SHA develops a mind of her own”. Does that also reflect the fear of men when women develop a mind of their own? What does it mean that despite her phenomenal intelligence and capacities, she is identified mainly as a girlfriend? Within 24 hours of successfully developing A.I.SHA, the first fantasy the coder has while falling asleep is that of having sex with her.

There are obvious parallels with the mythology of Pygmalion, a sculptor, who makes an ivory statue representing his ideal of womanhood and then falls in love with his own creation. The goddess Venus brings the statue to life in answer to his prayer. Similar stories are found in many cultures and most of us are familiar with My Fair Lady.

But can we expect to see this happening on a larger scale in the future? There are stories of men using 3D printing to create a sexbot with the face of Scarlett Johansson. Can one regulate something like this? What familiar or fantasy face may they put on it and then carry on a one-sided controlling relationship with it?

This is deeply problematic since robots can be ‘owned’ by men and robots can be programmed to always consent.

Except when they are not.

There is the disturbing news of the sex doll Roxxy with the ‘Frigid Farrah’ setting, which has been programmed to resist advances, thus allowing men to act out their rape fantasies. Much like Westworld, the acclaimed TV series about a park intended for rich vacationers, which allows them to live out their most primal fantasies with the robotic “hosts” with no consequences to themselves.

Given that a brothel has already been set up in Spain which has only sex dolls, what kind of an impact will this have on human-human interactions in the future?

How will intimacy and relationships or expressions of our sexuality hold up to something that can be written into an algorithm?

Even more disturbingly how will the boundaries of consent be understood?

What does the future hold?

The Turing test was devised in 1950 by computer science pioneer and World War II codebreaker Alan Turing, who said that if a machine was indistinguishable from a human, then it was “thinking”. This test was recently passed in 2014 by an A.I. simulation. That was a chatbot. A sex robot would need much more in terms of expressions, touch, feel and reactions, but it is predicted that by 2050 this will have become mainstream. At present the sex bot can cost upwards of 10,000 USD but remember that the first Personal Computer cost the equivalent of today’s 5000 USD but is now available in some forms costing as low as even 100 USD.

There is already an ‘International Congress of Love and Sex with Robotics’ and its third meeting has been announced to be held in London in December 2017. On account of police advice and security concerns, the venue will be emailed as a poem with the location encrypted in it close to the date of the event.

The proposed topics include: Robot Emotions, Teledildonics, Intelligent Electronic Sex Hardware, Gender Approaches, Roboethics, and the keynote address is “Can Robots and Humans Make Babies Together?”

As we survey this futuristic landscape which will also be populated by sperm banks, cryopreservation of ova and zygotes, artificial wombs and cloning, we could be looking at a world which will simultaneously and paradoxically free live women from some of the stereotypical gender roles dictated by their bodies, but also populate the world with highly stylised and sexualised robots which will reinforce those stereotypes.

The appeal of sex robots (currently almost exclusively being made as female and for the male customer) is that while they look like a pornographic ‘ideal’ woman, they are not like real human women in a very key way. They are never tired and they are never not in the mood. They are programmed only to consent and even seduce. Even if a robot is programmed to say no, well, either it’s an opportunity to play out a rape fantasy, or it’s just a dial you can turn or a button you can press to change the mood to seduction. You can do what you want with it. You own it.

Ultimately, this development of Artificial Intelligence and the female/ sexist form it is often offered up in raises a profound question:

What is the transition between personhood and non-personhood?

At what point can we confer autonomy to anyone, and then if we do, how do we ensure that this is operationalised? How do we then ensure that they no longer exist only to serve us or please us (as we have done in the past with slavery, bonded labour, forced sex work and even to married women in India)?

Can there be positive applications?

Given that more people are opting out of  formal marriage and many people accept that a relationship can be only emotional but not physical, how about outsourcing that part to someone else without the risk of human relationships and therefore the potential of infidelity?

What would a threesome look like if it involved a robot?

Can a busy two-income working urban couple use a weekend robot for when one of them is free but the other isn’t?

Could an aging heterosexual couple rent out a male robot when the man has erectile dysfunction that cannot be treated or a female robot when the woman has an illness that does not allow penetrative sex?

How will this change our perception of consent and the potential un-predictability of a relationship?

Maybe for some it will be better because the pressure to have sex or have satisfying sex is no longer paramount?

Maybe it will lead to more freedom in our expressions of sexuality?

If men become used to having sex with synthetic companions programmed to meet their most precise specifications, how will they interact with women who have their own idiosyncrasies and free will?

When it comes to sex with robots, it’s simply no use thinking it is just a scene out of a science fiction book or film. The future really is here and it is estimated that realistic sex robots will become more common within a decade.

Footnote:

Alan Turing laid the foundations of modern computing and his critical work at Britain’s codebreaking centre at Bletchley Park helped shorten World War II and save many thousands of lives. Instead of being hailed a hero, Turing was persecuted for homosexuality. After his conviction in 1952 for gross indecency with a 19-year-old Manchester man, he was chemically castrated. Two years later, he died from cyanide poisoning in an apparent suicide, though there have been suggestions that his death was an accident. Last December, after a long campaign, Turing was given a posthumous royal pardon.

Would it be poetic justice if the computing models used by him help develop algorithms that could lead to sexbots which will help erase the limitations of our bodies and allow us the freedom to explore our sexuality beyond human existences?

This article was written by me and originally appeared on 4th Dec in the TARSHI publication In Plainspeak as Freedom and Sexuality: Walking Hand in Hand with Robots.

http://www.tarshi.net/inplainspeak/freedom-sexuality-walking-hand-hand-robots/

 

 

Sit back, relax and enjoy the flight

 

 

 

When the air hostess or purser says this they also have a hint of a smile, meant to convey warmth and friendliness I guess. But the reality is that this is a bit of schadenfreude–a German word meaning taking pleasure in others’ misfortune.

Gone are the days when air travel was a luxury, a status symbol, a glamorous pursuit. The leading ladies of the Godrej and Wadia families of India were both air hostesses in a former avatar.

flights

Obviously it is still comfortable for those who can afford the first class but for those of us who travel for work, by economy class, there is a long list of annoyances.

Besides the fact that we have to arrive 3 hours before the flight and then spend most of it shuffling down one queue after another, while you water is taken away and then by removing your trouser/ jeans belt some of the dignity is also taken away, and then we have to sit cramped in our seats for hours and hours after which we are made to suddenly walk or even run a few kilometres to get to the immigration desk.

Recently I made a friend on a flight from Goa. She was reading a book on Mossad and I was reading a Jack Reacher. Seemed like a good fit 🙂 We spoke non- stop and it seemed as though we had known each other forever.

But that is very rare. Usually there is the ‘joy’ of getting the aisle seat when the person in the window seat has a thimble sized bladder, or kids behind you kicking your seat, or idiot adults behind you who jab your seat instead of using the handheld remote, or thoughtless adults in front of you who recline the seat till their head is almost in your lap.

 

Each airline also has its own personality. Singapore is the best for service and Emirates for comfort. British Airways, despite the racism below a very thin veneer of exaggerated politeness displayed by its staff at least has some great TV shows in flight.

What do I say about Air India that hasn’t been said by millions of traumatized passengers already ?! When I went to Delhi a few weeks ago I heard piped music in T3. Why would they do this to us after all the dehydration and air pockets and low pressure and earache and general disorientation?? But then the notes assembled themselves into some meaning and I realized that they were playing the theme song for Air India and its passengers.

 

Every word is apt.

Musafir hoon yaaron, Na ghar hai na thikana,

Mujhe chalte jaana hain, Bas chalte jaana

Ek raah ruk gayi to aur jud gayi

Mein muda toh saath saath, raah mud gayi,

Hawa ke paron par mera aashiyana

Din ne haath tham kar idhar bitha diya

Raat ne ishare se udhar bula liya

Subah se sham se mera dostana

( brief translation –I am a wanderer/ traveller, when one path closes, another opens up, I am a friend to the day and the night, going wherever the road leads)

Jet Airways behaves as though the Mumbai-Bangkok flight is a domestic one and gives us no blanket, no TV screen and food that no human can eat. Well, on the way back Thai Airways made up for it and gave us a soft purple blanket. Although the food was only marginally better and they gave us a screen!

But as a wise person has said, be careful what you wish for !!

What is worse than a 5 hour flight with no entertainment?

Having to watch two terrible movies that Jet had saved me from being exposed to !

Ae dil hai mushkil…… I don’t even have words to express how ridiculous a movie this was. I would have said that Ranbir acted as though he had a learning disability but that would be an insult to those who struggle with that issue. Everyone in the movie had some pointless war to wage about love vs friendship. No one cares!!! Get over it all of you. Move on ! Do useful things to leave the world a better place !!

There are two good songs worth watching. But you don’t need to suffer the entire film for it. Here they are:

 

 

 

 

No one seems to be employed but everyone is loaded. Poets have a living room that looks like the set of Simi Garewal’s show. Mysterious artists aka SRK doing a surprise turn as an estranged husband who still has ‘be-intahaa pyaar’ for his ex –wife, manage to have some super posh venues for their avant garde shows. Young men can hire a chartered flight at a few minutes notice.

Despite this , not a single one of them had any parents or friends or relatives anywhere. A young woman dying of cancer is flying alone somewhere. Terminal cancer. An Indian young woman. I mean, seriously?! Is that remotely believable?? If she had any living female relatives, no matter how distant, or even a single friend, they would be there with her. Then she fakes an attack to get off the flight because Ranbir has managed to not take the direct underground to the airport but has instead rushed around all over London like a fool, taking taxis and running down roads, to get to the airport AFTER she has boarded. By this point I wanted it all to just end, for everyone! Ugh.

So then I saw Badri Ki Dulhania. They meant well. However, despite showing an empowered and brave girl fighting to make a life for herself outside the small town, and yes, there is a boorish, selfish young man who becomes a better person along the way, why is the movie called Badri Ki Dulhaniya, not Vaidehi ka Dulha ? They could also have edited out a good hour from it –the parts which were basically an ad for Singapore tourism. They had so many disclaimers against dowry and then every single wedding in the film centred around the giving of or not being able to give dowry. How is that acceptable?? Every now and then people would threaten to call the cops about the dowry, but no one actually ever did!

It also seemed a bit tragic to watch Chalat Musafir Moh Liyo Re from Teesri Kasam with Raj Kapoor and Waheeda Rehman being transmogrified into the Badri Ki Dulhaniya song…….but I guess that is the way of the world now.

 

Finally I gave up on these and watched the one good film they had about a reformed villain and his struggles to be a super dad after having been super bad. However, there is a super enemy he has to confront—Bad Guy Balthazar who conducts his heists to the tune of 80s pop songs.

Yup, the redeeming feature film was Despicable Me 3.

 

Go see it! Buy a ticket for Bangkok if that’s the only way you can get to 🙂

Sit back, relax and enjoy the flight !!

The Year that was, on WordPress 2017

I have been writing off and on for some years now but thanks to WordPress and the ease with which I could set up a blog, I have been sharing my thoughts more easily.

This year in Jan I set myself a challenge to write a post every week. Now, in Dec, with only 2 weeks to go and 2 posts already lined up, I have fulfilled my challenge!

To celebrate with my readers –thank you all for your comments and feedback and words of encouragement (as well as the occasional pointing out of typos!)—here is a list of what I thought were the best posts of this year.

Best of Song Compilations      

  1. Jab Pyar Kiya toh Darna Kya: A tribute to Madhubala on her birthday, Valentine’s Day https://thatwhichiam.wordpress.com/2017/02/16/jab-pyar-kiya-toh-darna-kya/

 

untitled

  1. Gadi bula rahi hai ! A collection of songs in and around trains. https://thatwhichiam.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/im-just-singingsinging-in-the-train/

 

burning train 2

  1. Kahe koyal shor machaye re ? Songs from hindi movies, old and new that reference birds  https://thatwhichiam.wordpress.com/2017/09/16/bird-song-and-songs-with-birds/

Best of Satire

  1. Fed up of the fake news and the onslaught of pointless rhetoric, I advertise for the new Global School of Alternate Facts

https://thatwhichiam.wordpress.com/2017/06/02/the-global-school-of-alternate-facts/

  1. What is the limit of government interference in our personal lives ? The constant attempts to control procreation and termination of pregnancy led to this Creation of Pregnancy Act. Control kar sakoge?!

https://thatwhichiam.wordpress.com/2017/07/19/the-creation-of-pregnancy-act-2017/

  1. When the world comes to an end we will all die buried under useless paperwork. The news of some office making raksha bandhan compulsory was the inspiration for this collection of memos from the beleaguered Mrs Pushpa- I- Hate- Tears, Secretary to CEO

https://thatwhichiam.wordpress.com/2017/08/10/from-the-very-well-maintained-files-of-mrs-pushpa-i-hate-tears-secretary-to-ceo/

  1. Acronyms do not an activist make. Seriously annoyed by the hokey MARD acronym, frustrated by the ganging up of men against women in every ‘he said she said’, this was an open letter in response to Farhan Akhtar’s open letter.

https://thatwhichiam.wordpress.com/2017/10/16/dear-farhan-akhtar-and-brothers-in-arms-in-bollywood-aka-fabb/

5d1cb4809272fff4e871c1269afb6217--yes-minister-prime-minister

Best of Memories

  1. A tribute to my school Principal, who made the school what it was, and in large measure contributed to making me who I am
  2. https://thatwhichiam.wordpress.com/2017/04/03/the-one-we-called-mother/
  3. Fondest of memories from my medical college and the happy golden years spent there! https://thatwhichiam.wordpress.com/2017/08/12/non-sibi-sed-omnibus-the-summer-of-87/

WhatsApp Image 2017-08-12 at 6.38.54 PM

Best of Creativity

  1. The inspiration for this was from our beloved Doctor Who. We are all just stories in the end, so make it a good one! https://thatwhichiam.wordpress.com/2017/10/07/we-are-all-just-stories-in-the-end/

this is my dream

  1. The #metoo campaign seemed to have opened the floodgates. This post is my hope that the conspiracy of silence around sexual harassment having been taken down, maybe other kinds of injustice will also be numbered and we can be on the frontier of a whole new world https://thatwhichiam.wordpress.com/2017/11/11/the-summer-of-69/

john-lennons-imagine-lyrics

  1. This convoluted post came suddenly as a stream of words starting with con while playing word games in the airport baggage claim area ! It was a short jump to adding ‘kaun’ to the ‘con’ and here is a post I had the most fun putting together ! https://thatwhichiam.wordpress.com/2017/11/25/con-and-kaun-a-well-defined-love-story-of-sorts/

Best of Reflection

  1. While I totally oppose invoking nationalism as an excuse to war or to control the people within one’s own borders, there is something about our national anthem that always makes me sentimental. This is my reflection on the Indian and other national anthems.

https://thatwhichiam.wordpress.com/2017/02/23/please-stand-up-for-the-national-anthem/

  1. The Ramayan is one of the stories that most Indian know and it is woven into the fabric of our collective consciousness. I have always found it too pious and also hypocritical given that Ram is supposedly the ideal son, brother, King etc but his treatment of Sita leaves much to be desired. This post is a reflection on her life.

https://thatwhichiam.wordpress.com/2017/09/30/who-was-rams-sita/

  1. Why do humans have a need to be followers? Why do we constantly need to have someone tell us what to do? Reflections brought on by the horrendous behaviour of Ram Raheem who spent years in raping and exploitation of women and girls in his ashram and then his followers rioting when he was found guilty.https://thatwhichiam.wordpress.com/2017/08/26/god-in-case-you-really-exist-please-save-us-from-this-evilty/

the-only-difference-between-a-mythology-a-cult-and-a-religion-is-the-number-of-followers

  1. From being a noble calling to being beaten up by relatives of families, medical practise in India has come a long way….

https://thatwhichiam.wordpress.com/2017/07/07/who-was-actually-happy-on-doctors-day/

Best of Ideology

  1. Gender is the one war that has been fought since the agricultural era of human society. Women have moved in to the public sphere and can go to medical college and vote. Such progress! But can they get paid equally for equal work?! https://thatwhichiam.wordpress.com/2017/01/14/ginger-rogers-goldilocks-and-gender-gaps/

'Our standards are very high. We even have high double standards.'

  1.  https://thatwhichiam.wordpress.com/2017/05/13/mothers-mothers-mothers-day/ One of the subtle ways in which patriarchy exerts its controls is through the glorification of motherhood. How else do you get some to do a job that is boring, tiring, relentless, thanksless as well as unpaid ?!

remember-ginger-rogers-did-everything-fred-astaire-did-but-backwards-and-in-high-heels

  1. Another strike for gender equality—women can progress in public life only when men contrbute eqaully to the domestic sphere. https://thatwhichiam.wordpress.com/2017/05/01/yes-he-can/
  2. Medicine has its roots in patriarchy and has been tangled in ethical transgressions from before the time that the doctors in Germany joined the Nazis. We must know our history to ensure that we do not repeat it!

https://thatwhichiam.wordpress.com/2017/07/21/in-the-medical-garden-of-good-and-evil/

https://thatwhichiam.wordpress.com/2017/07/28/in-the-medical-garden-of-good-and-evil-part-2/

witches midwives

 

Hope you enjoyed these! Thank you again for reading and I look forward to spending another year sharing my thoughts with you. Have a Happy New Year 2018!

 

 

Pondicherry: A memory of France in Tamil Nadu

 

One of the charming ways in which India reminds you of her pluralism is that so many places look like they could belong somewhere else, and yet they can only be Indian in an un-definable way.

When you enter Pondicherry , you might as well be in a small town in France and even the street names are Rue this and Rue that and the map still marks out a French Quarter/ White Quarter.!

But then you step out for a rickshaw and its all Tamil with men in lungis and shirts and women wearing strings of flowers in their hair.

rangoli

So here are some moments and memories from our family trip last year. Let us start at the very beginning, which apparently is a very good place to start.

We took a flight to Chennai and then the road to Pondi.

Along the way we ate the best butter dosa on the planet at a Balaji outlet. The kind where they serve the rice out of steel buckets. The total bill for 4 of us came to Rs 197. Unbelievable.

Then we visited Dakshinchitra. http://dakshinachitra.net/main

It is a cultural centre which also has live performances and an open air exhibit of the different traditional housing styles in Tamil Nadu. By a fun coincidence there was a Marathi dance troupe which performed the Gondhal, Koli dance and an exquisite Lavni.

gondhal

 

These were some of arts and crafts and weaves :

 

One would like to ask the politicians who claim Mumbai as their own and want to ‘renew the state, why don’t we have a space like this ?

We stopped at Amadora on the way and had a delicious Filter Coffee Ice cream and the yummiest undercooked cookie dough with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream. http://www.amadora.in/

We had to visit the stone sculptures at Mahabalipuram since they are from the 7th century and includes one of the largest open-air rock reliefs in the world, the Descent of the Ganges or Arjuna’s Penance.

mahabali

My mother is very fair and was wearing trousers and a shirt and got mistaken for a foreigner at every single gate. Strange discrimination for entry fee. 10 Rs for Indian, 250 for foreign. How do you decide? They did not ask us for the passport, so I guess it is the colour of the skin. http://www.mahabalipuram.co.in/

We stopped at Mamalla Restaurant on the way ahead and had some incredible melt in the mouth cheese dosas.

Finally we reached Gratitude Heritage on Rue Romain Rolland by 2 pm. What a beautiful place! Felt like being in the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel! We thought Maggie Smith would pop out from behind the pillar at any minute. http://www.gratitudeheritage.in/

After dinner we went for the Midnight Mass to Notre Dame des Anges. In the church we were stuck behind a pillar and getting a bit restless since everything was being repeated 3 times! In French, Tamil and English.

It was fun, but such things leave me raving and ranting about the poison that is organized religion ………..and then we got totally lost on the way back. For no reason whatsoever since we were literally just around the corner from the rooms. My daughter grimly informed me that it was a metaphor for being lost without religion and this was a punishment for my blasphemy…..

The Gratitude team had organized a charming Christmas breakfast with cake and presents for all! I spent the rest of the morning wandering around and taking photographs from every angle.

breakfast.png

We went for a quick pre- lunch visit to Aurobindo Ashram. I found it quite creepy with photos of Mother everywhere. Bought the mandatory agarbattis and stuff. Down a few lanes is Xtasi where we had a really yummy pizza from a wood fired oven. https://www.hungryforever.com/larger-life-lunch-cafe-xtasi-pondicherry/

While walking back we found a book sale, so of course we spent an hour there and bought a bag full of books including a cookbook one called ‘When the Mango died and Went to Heaven’. How could our lazy Christmas holiday get any better?!

In the evening we went for another ramble and had crepes at Café Des Arts. With Sugar Lemon and Nutella. Accompanied by a pot of hot tea and cool Hibiscus syrup in soda. You can lounge on a sofa and read some of the books and magazines or you can sit outside and watch the slow life in the street go by.

https://peoplevillage.wordpress.com/2015/02/15/the-five-best-cafes-coffee-shops-in-pondicherry/

The next day we visited Auroville ( which has nothing to do with Aurobindo Ashram and they hate each other. So much for the new human race bringing peace and blah blah….). Auroville reminded me totally of the Kinship from Under the Dome (which is a Stephen King movie, so you can imagine….). https://www.auroville.org/

auroville

There was a windmill, creepy semi –hostile people and the Mother everywhere. For all their ‘enlightenment’ and ‘idealism’, they seems to have spread through the nearby village of Kulapalaym like a cancer, with all those houses in the village now selling dhoti pants and hippie kurtas.

The famous Auroville Bakery had an enormous open garbage heap right next to it. They said cars are restricted inside to be eco- friendly but everyone seemed to be on noisy motorcycles. And what really is the point of not making pukka roads? The staff was not just hoity- toity but even rude. The boutiques were all glass fronted and high end and many of the perfumes and candles smelt like chemicals and not really ‘natural’. Also, just because a café is ‘organic’ must it have a dirty table cloth with ants running on it and nothing available from the written menu??

Totally disillusioned. I read up some other blogs which said similar things, so I guess it was not just me being paranoid and suspicious as usual!!https://auroramirabilis.blogspot.in/2007/02/auroville-rather-creepy-commune-very.html

Woke up on Sunday and after a lazy breakfast in the background of some Vedic chants, my daughter discovered the joys of Monopoly J. We spent a good 2 hours playing. We bought property, houses, mortgaged them and went to jail, while my mother created an economic slowdown by wanting to sleep on ‘her station’ on a bench and not sell or buy anything, haha.

grat cove

Since the reviews spoke so highly of it, we went to Maison Perumal for lunch. Honestly, it is over- rated. Chettinad Chicken at Culture Curry in Mumbai is way better! We also saw first- hand the racism we Indians inflict on ourselves. When the Indian waiters are all glum with you but start prancing with joyful sunny smiles when foreigners come into the restaurant, what else do you call it?

Some of the others places we ate at and can recommend:

  • Surguru, a vegetarian thali place
  • Carte Blanche, Hotel de L’Orient, Romain Rolland Street. They had a Christmas Eve special buffet but we were not terribly impressed with the food though the atmosphere was lovely.
  • Palais de Mahe, which is a beautiful setting for any meal. http://cghearth.com/Palais-de-Mahe
  •  Rendezvous, where we had excellent fish, Coq au Vin, Veg Sizzler, followed by Bailey’s Bread and Butter Pudding. https://unexplored.lonelyplanet.in/discovery/entry/406.html

 

xmas eveFinally, like all good things, the holiday came to an end and we left the next day to go to Chennai airport. Sadly the bypass road did not take us over either Mamalla or Amadoro so we left without a final taste of butter dosa or filter coffee ice cream.

So there we are. The End. Back to reality. Where there are no vedic chants and no heritage maisons. But just writing this up brought back fond memories and I was transported there for a while. I guess that is the value of travel. The memories give you as much pleasure as the actual time you spent being there.

I hope you also visit Pondicherry sometime and enjoy it like we did !

 

Con and Kaun. A well- defined love story. Of sorts.

It’s more than a bit contrived, and convoluted, I must confess. But as connoisseurs I hope you will consider this concoction in a convivial manner, give it due consideration and even share among your confederates and conglomerates.

http://membean.com/wrotds/con-with

Conference:  a formal meeting for discussion that typically takes place over a number of days and involves people with a shared interest, especially one held regularly by an association or organization.

 

They met over the ….Annual Conference dinner. It was a noisy, busy event. They were both teetotallers and non- smokers and took their dinner plates out into the veranda to eat in peace.

 

Conversation; the informal exchange of ideas by spoken words, discussion, talk, chat, tête-à-tête, heart-to-heart, dialogue.

 

They laughed, shared stories, discovered the liked the same book, movies and got seriously annoyed by stupid and lazy people but more so by lies. She worked in the Consulate, he was a consulting Art Historian.

 

 

Connection: a relationship in which a person, thing, or idea is linked or associated with something else, the action of linking one thing with another, the placing of parts of an electric circuit in contact so that a current may flow.

 

They felt it. Like meeting up with an old friend you didn’t know you had.

 

 

 

Contract: enter into a formal and legally binding agreement, pledge, promise, commit oneself, engage, make a deal, formally enter into (a marriage, a friendship or other relationship).

 

There was no promise made but they did exchange phone numbers.

 

Continue: persist in an activity or process, ongoing, continuous, steady, remain in existence or operation, go on, carry on with (something that one has begun), carry on traveling in the same direction.

 

They spoke to each other once again. A Whatsapp call. Just to catch up they said.

 

Conflicted: being in a state of emotional confusion.

 

Then they stayed silent for almost a week. Not sure if this was the right thing to do.

 

Convinced: cause (someone) to believe firmly in the truth of something.

 

In fact they were sure it was not the right thing to do. After all, they had both attended the conference along with their spouses who were speakers at the event.

 

Conspire: make secret plans jointly to commit an unlawful or harmful act. (of events or circumstances) seem to be working together to bring about a particular result, typically to someone’s detriment.

 

But fate conspired to bring them together once again. It was a year later but this next conference was in an even more beautiful location.

 

 

 

Confusion: uncertainty, doubt, a situation of panic, disorder, chaos, mayhem; turmoil, upheaval, muddle, the state of being bewildered or unclear in one’s mind about something.

 

 

She was confused. What if he was just flirting? What if this was an elaborate confidence trick just to have sex? What did she really feel for him?

 

 

 

Con: To swindle (a victim) by first winning his or her confidence; a confidence game or swindle, a lie, exaggeration.

 

What if he didn’t really mean anything of what he said?

 

Confabulation: fabricate imaginary experiences as compensation for loss of memory.

 

When the conference actually arrived and they arrived at the venue, they both wove some spectacular lies to escape the different spouse programmes and went to a charming little café for lunch.

 

Confident: the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust, trust, belief, faith, credence, conviction, the state of feeling certain about the truth of something

 

 

After the meal, they walked down the cobbled street, holding hands. And she felt confident that they shared something real.

 

Contradict: deny the truth of (a statement), especially by asserting the opposite, deny, rebut, dispute, challenge, counter, controvert

 

The stories they had to tell their partners got more complicated. Sometimes they changed who they were with and where they had gone.

 

Contrition: the state of feeling remorseful and penitent, repentance, sorrow, regret, pangs of conscience

 

She felt terrible about the lies.

 

Conjure: call upon (a spirit or ghost) to appear, by means of a magic ritual, make (something) appear unexpectedly or seemingly from nowhere as if by magic She wished they could go off to an island and live out a life in a parallel universe, without having to face difficult choices everyday.

 

 

Contended: happy and at ease, willing to accept something; satisfied

 

Not that she didn’t care for her spouse but maybe they had grown apart in small ways and with him she felt happier. Or maybe it was just a mid- life crisis? For both of them.

 

Conspicuous: standing out so as to be clearly visible, attracting notice or attention, easily seen, discernible, perceptible, detectable.

 

She wondered if her feelings were obvious?

 

 

Conceal: keep from sight; hide, screen, cover, mask, not visible, disguised, camouflaged, keep (something) secret; prevent from being known or noticed, keep under one’s hat

 

 

 

She tried to hide it and so did he.

Confidante: a woman to whom secrets are confided or with whom private matters and problems are discussed

/ˌkɒn fɪˈdænt, -ˈdɑnt, ˈkɒn fɪˌdænt, -ˌdɑnt/

 

 

But she finally had to tell her best friend.

 

Confess: admit or state that one has committed a crime or is at fault in some way, reveal, disclose, spill the beans, admit or acknowledge something reluctantly, typically because one feels slightly ashamed or embarrassed

 

Who was rather alarmed by this confession.

 

Conscience: an inner feeling or voice viewed as acting as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one’s behavior.

 

What is wrong with you?? She asked her.

 

Contemplation: the action of looking thoughtfully at something for a long time, viewing, observation, thought, reflection, meditation, consideration, deliberation.

 

She spent much time thinking about her friend’s reaction and decided to end it all.

 

Confront: meet (someone) face to face with hostile or argumentative intent, challenge, come face to face with, meet, face up to and deal with (a problem or difficult situation), tackle, come to grips with.

 

When they met again, she told him so.

What was the point of all this? Where can this relationship lead to?

 

 

 

 

Consummate: make (a marriage or relationship) complete by having sexual intercourse, complete (a transaction or attempt); make perfect, conclude, finish, accomplish.

 

 

But things didn’t quite go the way she had planned.

 

Contraception the deliberate use of artificial methods or other techniques to prevent pregnancy as a consequence of sexual intercourse.

 

 

This being a modern tale, they had both used suitable protection. But she has a moment of panic where she imagined what she would do if it had failed.

 

Continuing was not an option of course. She had decided on a child free life even within her marriage.

 

Consequences. result or effect of an action or condition. repercussion, ramification, corollary, aftermath  

Tu Kaun Hai Tera Nam Hai Kya………

 

Conceive: 1. become pregnant with (a child). 2. form or devise (a plan or idea) in the mind. think up, think of, dream up, devise, formulate, design, originate, create, develop

 

As it happened, modern methods are quite effective and access to safe abortion takes away most of the old plot twists and rona dhona….
Concubine: (in polygamous societies) a woman who lives with a man but has lower status than his wife or wives. a mistress.  
An archaic and sexist word, but is that what she was really? She earned much more than him, so she was not a ‘kept woman’ in any sense but….is this what she had ever imagined she would do?

 

 

Confound: 1. cause surprise or confusion in (someone), especially by acting against their expectations, astonish, dumbfound, stagger, surprise, startle, throw, shake, bewilder, baffle, mystify, perplex, puzzle, catch off balance

2. mix up (something) with something else so that the individual elements become difficult to distinguish.

 

 

In the middle of all this, her spouse confessed that he wanted a break. Just a sabbatical he said. I am not sure who I am any more or who I want to be. It’s been a rough time at work too. Let’s see how we feel after a year.

 

 

Considerate: careful not to cause inconvenience or hurt to others, attentive, thoughtful, solicitous, mindful, helpful, cooperative, kind, unselfish, compassionate, sympathetic, caring.

 

 

He said there was no one else. But after a year apart, who knows? It could go either way for either of them.

 

Controversial: giving rise or likely to give rise to public disagreement. contentious, disputed, at issue, disputable, debatable, arguable, vexed

 

She could not even imagine what would happen on the family WhatsApp group when word of this got out…….
 

Continue. persist in an activity or process, ongoing, continuous, steady, , maintain, keep up, sustain, keep going, keep alive, preserve.

 

 

He said: Maybe we could pick up where we left off?

 

 

 

 

Control

1. the power to influence or direct people’s behavior or the course of events. power, authority, dominance, rule, the power to restrain something, especially one’s own emotions or actions

 

2. Statistics a group or individual used as a standard of comparison for checking the results of a survey or experiment.

 

She laughed and said: Yes….maybe, maybe not ?

 

She realized that we really have no way of knowing where our paths lead us.

 

See you after one year.

 

They parted on good terms, and in their hearts they knew, that this was more goodbye than au revoir.

 

 

 

 

Conclude.: to bring to an end, ;finish; terminate, settle or arrange finally.

 

 

 

 

But this was more like the end of one phase and the beginning of another…….

to be continued ?