Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An Hour in Heaven

One of the things I had decided to do over the summer was organise all the stuff on my laptop: have all my music in neat folders labeled properly with artist names; removing the many, many duplicates of songs; getting rid of old programmes I never use, which just slow my laptop down. I also went through an old external hard drive to see if there was anything there I want, and I came across this piece I had written when I was about 15, in the summer of 2006, I think, entitled An Hour in Heaven.

Reading things I wrote years ago generally makes me cringe: I hate reading my old diaries! But I'm kind of fond of this piece, so I've posted it here without any editing. There's very little exaggeration, and as far as I remember, the dessert items have been described quite accurately. I'm glad I haven't started caring about my weight enough to start counting calories yet: I am going to go eat a lot of chocolate now. :)

An Hour In Heaven
Everyone has different ideas of what their perfect Heaven would be. My Heaven would basically comprise of thousands and thousands of books, my favourite music playing lightly in the background, and every sweet dish ever created available for me to eat. And though I still haven’t had the chance to experience full Heaven, I have spent an hour in what I can call “one-third of Heaven.”

I was spending a couple of weeks of July in Bangalore with my family. We were going shopping everyday, I had bought enough clothes to (hopefully) last me for the rest of the year, and the weather was perfect. And to top it off, Papa had just announced that we would be going to the Leela Palace, the best hotel in Bangalore, for lunch. What more could one want??

We were driven to the Leela in a Lancer (not a limousine, but nearly good enough) provided by Papa’s company. All dressed in the best clothes we could find, we entered the truly royal looking doors of the Leela Palace. The corridors were lit dimly by chandeliers, the huge French windows were hung with crimson satin, and the sweeping staircases reminded me of the castle in ‘Beauty and the Beast’. The passage had several doors leading into various restaurants, one Indian, one Chinese, one Italian, and a coffee house. None of us were in the mood for a quiet, dignified Indian lunch, or for Chinese, and my proposition of eating Italian was outvoted, so we chose to go to Citrus, the coffee house, for our lunch.

We were seated out in the sun by black clad waiters and duly given the menus. After carefully scrutinizing the menu, I decided to go for the lunch buffet. The rest of my family followed suit. I went inside to inspect the rows of dishes for the buffet which were laid out on several tables. There were curries, and pies, and some kind of Thai soup, and a lot of bread and salad. But what I was interested in were the desserts. Sugar and sweets have always attracted me, and needless to say, the sight of the mouth-watering, delicious-looking, chocolatey desserts set out on a counter, all ready for me to eat, made me completely forget about the rest of the lunch. I picked up a plate, and began helping myself to a piece of everything that I could fit.

A piece of the most delectable chocolate cake, which looked as if it would simply melt in my mouth, was the first on the plate. A large helping of chocolate pudding, all soft and gooey, and a big, fat chocolate-and-sugar coated doughnut went after the cake, followed by a piece of cheesecake smothered in sauce. A collection of small wine glasses containing chocolate mousse and what looked like jelly were standing beside the cheesecake, and one was cruelly separated from its companions, its contents soon to enter my stomach.

My mother appeared on the scene just as I was trying to decide whether or not to heap a piece of chocolate and banana pie onto the tiny white space I could still see on my plate, and looking scandalized, sent me to our table to “kill myself eating all that chocolate”. Looking around, I realised that there were several waiters observing my actions with austere, disapproving expressions frozen on their faces. Blushing, I fled from the scene, carrying my plate, to eat my way through heaven in peace.

My parents adamantly refused to believe that I could finish that huge helping by myself, but believe me, not only did I finish it, I went for more. By the time the bill was presented to us (by one of those judgmental waiters), my mother was crimson with embarrassment, my father amused with the proceedings, my sister regarding me with some awe, and I had successfully managed to drown myself in chocolate for the first, and probably the last time, of my life.

I checked my weight when we finally returned to Kanpur three days later. It had increased by two kilos, and even my friends were insisting that I had gained weight. It was not exactly a perfect ending for my Day in Heaven, but that experience was definitely worth every gram of those two kgs, and every word of teasing that I had to endure from my friends for the next two weeks!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Misuse of The "Elegant Sari"

A friend told me about this article in the Calcutta newspaper 'The Telegraph' today. The article talks about how the Bengal government didn't take any action against bandhs organised by "so-called Congress supporters" in Calcutta; how the police stood to one side and let the bandh supporters torch buses and ransack private property. I don't know anything about this claim, and that's not what my friend wanted me to see in the article. He thought that I would like to see the picture that the Telegraph printed with the article, on the front page of today's newspaper. He was right.

The article doesn't interest me as much as the picture does. The photo is a depiction of the Police Commissioner, Director General of Police, the Chief Minister, the Chief Secretary and the Home Secretary of the Government of West Bengal. All wearing saris.

The article doesn't explain the picture, but it seems clear that the saris are meant to emphasise the inaction of the administrators the article holds responsible. The masculinity, strength, power and abilities of the five men have been challenged by showing them in saris. The picture says "Depict the men as women, because after all, their inaction and inability to control the bandhs shows that they are women". Women are the ones who are incapable of handling a tough job and helping run a state or a city. They are the ones who should stay home in their saris and leave the real work to the men, so how are these men any different from women?

And to top it off, the caption below the picture reads "We apologise to women who may feel the elegant sari has been wasted on our administrators". Because, of course, the first thing that will enter a woman's mind after seeing the picture will be "Oh my god, how can they waste our precious saris on such useless men?? They are not worthy of wearing them!" Annoyance and indignation at the gender discrimination and the extreme sexist statement made by a state newspaper are unlikely to occur. Since, you know, our job is to wear the "elegant sari" and stay home while the men are taking care of the country.

This pictures brings up something I've always wondered about: why is that for men, being called a "girl" is such an insult? There is a guy in my college that a lot of us don't like. To make fun of him, many guys (and some girls also) say that he's "such a girl trapped in a guy's body". I don't understand why this is such an insult. Even if, for the sake of argument, I assume that having an interest in fashion and cooking, and shaking your hips and hair while dancing, and liking to shop, are "feminine", I still don't get why a guy being "feminine" is something to be ashamed of and made fun of.

So, while I mull over the inexplicable ways a guy's mind functions, I think I shall write to/email the Telegraph and ask that instead of apologising for wasting my "elegant sari" on people so unfit to wear them, they might apologise for practicing gender discrimination right on their front page.

Friday, July 17, 2009

But I know Viola! I kissed Viola!

I’ve had quite a lot of time on my hands this vacation, and as usual, a lot of that time has been spent watching movies. Over the past few days, I watched a lot of “romantic comedies”. The string started with The Accidental Husband, went on to include 100 Girls, She’s The Man and Chasing Liberty, and ended with The Proposal today. And while all these movies left me with that fuzzy feeling inside that I always get after watching/reading a romance, and a stupid smile on my face, none of these movies are going to stay with me. I doubt I’ll ever even watch any of them again. I just didn’t like them that much.

The first problem that I’ve noticed in a lot of “romantic comedies” is that the protagonists seem to be able to get to know each other enough to fall in love. Realistically, I mean. They do fall in love in the movie, but the time that they spend together, the time in which they apparently get to “know” each other, always seems way too short to me. Take The Proposal as an example. Margaret (Sandra Bullock) blackmails her assistant Andrew (Ryan Reynolds) into marrying her so that she can get a visa-extension and stay in the Unites States. Andrew duly agrees, and the “happy couple” visits his family in Alaska to announce the engagement. Except, of course, Margaret actually falls in love with Andrew, and runs away from the fake wedding, only to be proposed to by Andrew who comes after her. They get married, she gets her visa extended, and they “date” and presumably live happily ever after.

In this movie, Andrew has been working for Margaret for three years, and has hated her for all of those three years. She’s shown as being “tough”: she’s the office bitch. But in the three days that they spend together in Alaska, Andrew apparently sees the “real” Margaret and falls for her. But there is nothing that happens in those three days that could negate the effects of a three-year-long hatred. She shares a couple of personal stories about her past and tells Andrew about her tattoo, and that’s that, apparently.

There’s one scene that really bugged me in She’s The Man. The movie is about Viola who impersonates her twin brother Sebastian in order to join his school’s soccer team, and in the process, falls for her [brother’s] roommate. In the scene in which “Sebastian” is revealed to be Viola, a girl, the roommate Duke is duly shocked, though not because he spent so much time with her without realizing that she’s a girl. No, his disbelief was because “I know Viola. I kissed Viola.” The only contact that Duke knowingly had with Viola was a kiss they shared at a “kissing booth”. That, apparently, is all Duke needs to know Viola.

The second thing that annoys me about these romantic comedies is that the heroine never seems to have enough of a personality. There is nothing that comes across in the movie that would make someone fall in love with them. In Chasing Liberty, the First Daughter of USA runs away with a photographer to get away from her ever-present bodyguards, not knowing that the photographer is also a Secret Service agent. The couple spend a few days traveling around Europe and end up falling in love. Throughout the movie, the only aspects of Anna’s personality that we see are a demand for independence and a penchant for creating “theories” of life, neither of which seem to me to be enough for Ben (who did display some personality) to fall for her so badly.

This is something that I’ve disliked in many books I’ve read too. The heroines never seem to have a personality! In nearly every Mills and Boons I’ve read, the guy is always a handsome, strong, rich playboy-type, generally sarcastic and arrogant, with an inclination to play Knight in Shining Armour. But the heroines don’t have a personality at all! They’re all beautiful, of course, and seem to love being the Damsel in Distress often, but beyond that, there’s nothing!

Georgette Heyer’s romances are really good with respect to time the “couple” spends together and personalities of the women. The main romance is always developed properly, over a long period of time, even though the stories of the side characters may be hasty and synthetic. Her main heroines are always more than just a pretty face (several of them are not even pretty, which is a massive step up from many other romances). This is also one of the reasons why I love Jab We Met. Kareena Kapoor does have a personality, a very memorable and strong, though fairly annoying, one.

I’d like to watch a light-hearted romance in which the story seems real and plausible. Made of Honour is a movie that I really liked: Patrick Dempsey and Michelle Monaghan were friends for ten years before they fell in love. I can’t think of any other romantic comedies I’ve watched that had a reasonable storyline, but I’m sure there are some. Recommendations?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Some Thoughts on Writing

One of the biggest problems I faced while writing was a lack of ideas. I just didn’t know what to write about. At that time, for me, “writing” meant fiction- novels or short stories. I hadn’t started reading any blogs then, so that was the only form of writing I was familiar with. I wanted to be like JK Rowling and Enid Blyton, and create worlds for readers like my favourite authors then had created for me. So while I knew that I wanted to write, I didn’t know what.

Then a friend gave me the link to his blog, and I became a regular reader. The links he’d posted on his blog led me to new blogs, and those blogs led me to more, and suddenly, a whole new world of writing opened up to me- a world where people wrote about their thoughts and ideas, their observations and everyday lives, as well as fiction. That’s when I realised that a lot of what I write can, and maybe should be about what I know, even if it is fiction. I cannot write a story about a girl living in Nigeria, or a poor child living in a slum, because I don’t know much about life in Nigeria or a slum. Anything that I might write about it will be improbable and maybe even implausible.

Not that this epiphany helped me suddenly overflow with ideas. Even after I deicded to write about myself and my thoughts and observations, even after I started my first blog, I had no idea what to write about. My blog lay untouched for days on end: I just didn’t know what to post about! Why would people want to read about my life and my thoughts? Then I decided to stop thinking about what people want to read, and just write. But I still didn’t have too many ideas.

In the past few weeks, however, this seems to have changed. Ideas are coming running at me, many times just before I sleep, so I keep a pad next to my bed and groggily jot down some words to help me remember the idea the next day. I’m seeing things to write about everywhere, from a trip to the mall to a conversation with a friend. And I really, really hope this lasts.