Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Why Travolta Can Hang On To His Disco-Dancing Crown

When I was a little impressionable doe-eyed girl of six, I found myself jostled along with a running mass of other little impressionable doe-eyed girls of six to the auditorium of my beloved boarding school.

It was my first week at boarding school and I loved every bit of it. Contrary to popular belief that boarding schools are these hell holes of punishment and torture for naughty little children, I firmly believe that it was the best thing that happened to me. I wouldn't ever wish my childhood were any different. In fact, if more clueless parents would send their misbehaved spawn to boarding schools, this world and those of us who have to live in it would be much improved.

I digress. So, this was my first week at boarding school and I was excited with the host of new activities being presented. There were fun-filled classes, story-telling sessions, games and sports hours, reading sessions, handwriting and art classes and whatnot. Add to this the routine and discipline. Bells that sounded for everything: waking up, exercise, meals and end of a class. I had a spanking new uniform with shoes that required to be polished every day so that my beaming face reflected in them. My world was alive and exciting. 

Where was I running to? Well, someone had just come in and announced that anybody who was interested in learning dance could make their way to the auditorium. For some reason, my six-year-old brain automatically took this to mean disco dancing. It was the only dance form that I was aware of at the time.

I could have hugged myself with joy, only, I was too busy running to get ahead of the others so I didn't miss my one opportunity to make my mark in history as the best disco dancer there ever was.

We assembled in the auditorium. A lady, draped in a bright orange saree and a shocking red sweater that gave me conjunctivitis just looking at it, gave her new recruits the once-over. I noted her carefully oiled hair pulled back in a severe bun held in place with a dozen hair pins and took in her dramatically kohl-lined eyes that failed to distract from her crimson red lips. Something wasn't right. Little me sensed it. 

“Take off your socks and shoes,” she ordered. We complied. My heart was beating quickly, my sense of foreboding quickly dampening my initial enthusiasm. Where were the tight bell-bottoms, the flashy shirts and, most importantly, that shiny disco ball? I eyed the doors. They were shut tight. 

“Now, hands on your hips, bend your knees slightly, keep your heels together and your feet in a V-shape.”

She fetched what I thought were two drum sticks and began knocking them together, instructing us to stick one foot out at a time. Back. Forward. Sideways. Then she combined this with some hand movements. This was so unlike anything seen in Saturday Night Fever.

“Index finger and thumb together. Over your head. Now out in front of you.” Tha! Thai! Thakka-thai! Giddy-giddy-something-thakka-thai!

I glanced around me. The only ones who looked more ridiculous than I felt were the boys who also thought we were going to learn to D-I-S-C-O or moonwalk at the very least. Surely John Travolta didn't have to go through this sort of humiliation? 

Nonetheless, determined not to deprive the world of a future disco dancing star, I pressed on, braving the pinches of the dance teacher each time I goofed up. My little fingers would ball themselves up as I concentrated on the foot movements. Then as I tried to unclench them, my right foot would inadvertently kick the girl in front of me.

The 30-minute session finally came to an end. Our names were inked into a register. Nobody could back out for the next one year. 

I dreaded these biweekly sessions. Then we were told we’d be performing on stage at the end of the term for our parents who’d be picking us up to go home for the winter holidays. This meant more practice sessions. My arms were numb to the pinching. My dance teacher saw it fit for me to be moved to the front row on stage. I suppose even doting parents deserve some comic relief. 

Babu Sir took over our classes. He was a rotund little man, squashed into a tight woolen sweater and a striped woolen cap. He never danced - only his potbelly did while he barked instructions. Someone, probably in a moment of great weakness, had told the man he could sing. So he’d bellow into a microphone and beat two tablas to accompany our jerky little dance movements. 

D-Day arrived. We were put into some strange silk outfits they called “pavadas” – brocade-ridden blouses and floor-length silk skirts that had been tailored for 10-year-olds. I would have felt foolish, but my dignity had long since made a run for it despite the tightly shut doors. Our faces were doused with powder and lips painted bright red. My unruly mop of hair was slicked back with a jar of coconut oil and adorned with a hairband of jasmine flowers.

As the curtains rose, I spotted my beaming parents, nudging each other and pointing. A spotlight turned on us and a camera began filming. Babu Sir gave a perfect rendition of what I can only imagine is a moose’s mating call. I made it through the performance, tripping only three times over my ridiculously long skirt that had been rolled up at the waist.

I look at happy drunks falling over backwards at weddings, losing their dignity along with their shirt buttons, cling to friends as other footloose drunks pummel me at clubs, and dodge enthusiastic bobbing inebriated uncles at other social gatherings. And yet I know the world of dance could have been even worse off.

My debut dance performance was to be aired on national TV. Luckily, some state leader with an acronym for a name died on the day it was to air and they covered his funeral instead.  The sod will never know what a favour he did the world by choosing to die on that day. 

I quit dance classes when I returned to school the next year. And thus it was that the world of disco dancing was deprived of its brightest star and an unchallenged Travolta can afford to rest on his laurels.

On the brighter side, Bharatanatyam remains an unsullied art form.

[Footnote: Read how KO's grand Bharatanatyam aspirations were brutally quashed.]

Thursday, October 31, 2013

When You Take The 'Wit' Out of 'Twit'

It’s that time of my life (again). I haven’t much choice but to scout around for a new job. After two and a half years, I refuse to exhibit the loyalty of the Titanic musicians and sink with my ship. Casabianca I am not.

The recruiters – they call, they email, they discuss notice periods and haggle over salaries. This is followed by calls for interviews.

And thus it was that I found myself in a cab, headed to the office of a well-known company. It wasn't something I was exceedingly keen on, but I figured it would help me get out of the comfortable rut I was stuck in and into the groove of job hunting.

I battled nausea as the cab lurched over potholed roads and the faint stench of diesel and body odour assailed my nostrils. After a bit of a merry-go-round trying to find the office, I crawled out at my destination, rather the worse for wear. A little while later, I was ushered into the office of a VP.

I sat facing the man for a good five minutes as he poked away at his laptop, checked his phone and generally played the part of a busy man. My gaze alternated between the floor, his shining pate and a rusty paper clip atop a stack of glossy booklets. Just as I became certain I was sprouting roots and merging with my chair, the VP looked up at me questioningly. It was almost like he’d forgotten he’d ushered me into his office himself a little while ago.

“Profile?” he asked. Since he was the one who had set up the interview in the first place, one would assume he had my curriculum vitae at the ready. Well, at least one of us was professional. I handed over a copy.

He immersed himself in it for a few more minutes. I returned my attention to the top of his head. “So,” he said, beaming.

“Wait for it. Here comes the first question. It has got to be good after all that perusing,” I thought.

“What does your father do?”

Huh? What? I blinked and resisted an urge to roll my eyes as I answered. Who was he hiring? My father or me?

“And your mother is a housewife?” he presumed. Yes, of course. Because women of the older generation couldn't possibly be anything else? Nothing remotely sexist about that assumption.

After providing information about the occupations of every single member of my family (“boiled egg carrier” is an occupation, by the way) living, deceased, decaying and depraved, I then launched into the nitty-gritty of my current and past jobs.

I became aware of something weaseling into the room bleating, “Saar, saar”. It turned out to be a young employee, cowering behind a sheaf of papers for the VP’s approval. “That is the best member of my team,” said the VP, beaming proudly as the weasel scurried out pinching his throat for some odd reason.

Having established my familial and professional credentials, the VP asked me another very significant question. “Are you married?” “No? Yeah, you don’t look married. Oh, then you can move closer to the office.” When I ruled out the possibility, he proudly proclaimed how he commuted 37 KM each way every day.

About 40 minutes and more inane interview questions and opinions of the 19th century later, it was well past lunch time. I was tired, hungry and more than a little fed up. My query about his company culture evoked an ambiguous “We employ females. But we don’t give preference to females.” We’re called ‘women’, numbskull.

My mind only weakly processed in snatches what I was hearing, barely managing intelligible responses if needed. The lines between my painful reality and comical fantasy blurred:

- “I have been here for three years.”
- “Okay. That’s three years too long.”
- “Are you Karnatikian?”
- “No, I am not a Kannadiga.”
- “Is that what they are called?”
- “Duh. You should call an angry mob ‘nonsense peoples’ just for fun though.”
- “Lots of sports people come from your hometown, no? Do you play sports?”
- “Marbles and tennikoit mostly.”
- “You look like a Kashmiri.”
- “Yeah, people mistake me for Omar Abdullah when I shave.”
- “Do you want to have some lunch? We get lunch here for only Rs 40.”
- “No free lunch?”
- “Write me an article on Bangalore over the last ten years.”
- “Sigh. We’re back in high school.”

I spent the next half hour banging out a really drab essay on a dilapidated keyboard and patchy monitor that appeared to be from ten years ago as well. As I typed, a few alphabet keys leapt off the keyboard and launched themselves fiercely into the air. I printed my essay out, plucked “QWERTY” out of my hair and reluctantly made my way back to the VP’s cabin.

The man cooed over the stupid essay. “This is beautiful! The chairman will love it!” He read it slowly, running a finger across each line. “What is ‘bonhomie’?" I patiently explained. “What is ‘foreboding’?” he ventured again. I surveyed the room for hidden cameras – this HAD to be some sort of a candid camera TV gag.

“What is ‘angst’?” he persisted. “Is it a real word?”

Unfortunately for him, he will never find out. His angst-ridden interviewee had fled the room.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Fore! There was a Blah on a Bicycle

So, for the few of you who are keeping tabs, I survived my first tryst with a bicycle after well over a decade. (Read about my pre-ride jitters here.)

The eco-cycling tour company turned up at the resort right on time. A smiling guide, who introduced himself as “Weda”, bundled me off into a waiting van filled with around ten other people. As we drove off toward Mount Batur, I felt slightly queasy, wondering what horrors lay ahead of me. Those sludgy rice fields. Those shouting children. Why couldn't this be a wooden pony ride in an amusement park? Nobody has to get hurt there.

KO’s words rang in my ears. “We always have to do something foolish in public. Go forth and make me proud”, she’d said. (And yet, she’d turn down the job of a rodeo clown in a jiffy? That doesn't add up.)

After a typical Indonesian breakfast at a resort that gave us a good view of Mount Batur and the lake around it, we bundled into the van once more to make our way to the starting point.

On the way, Weda gave us a bunch of instructions. “Do not press only the front brake”, he said, and then went on to describe in painful detail the story of a cyclist who had tried to take a picture on her camera while cycling and then pressed the front brake. She had, apparently, flown over the handlebars and broken her wrist. She had to have been a special kind of stupid. Or American.

Weda went on to warn us that this was not the Tour de France – no racing. He needn't have bothered. My normally competitive spirit was drowning under nervousness-induced bile and sticky rice pudding from breakfast.

At our next stop, we were shown around a coffee/spice plantation, savoured various kinds of coffee and Indonesian fruit and gawked at civets kept in captivity to produce the very expensive “kopi luwak”.
We then walked over to choose our bikes. I surveyed the lot with trepidation before a white bike, looking somewhat worse for wear, was thrust at me.

Everyone else mounted confidently and trundled around the starting area like they were born to ride. I clambered on and made my way onto the tarred road, feeling dozens of eyes boring into my back as I teetered about like a drunken bear on a circus unicycle.

There was hardly any traffic on these roads that cut through lush green rice fields and little villages dotted with Balinese family temples. Just as I had eased into a rhythm, gaining enough confidence to survey the landscape around me and enjoy the chill breeze in my face, it was time to stop and visit a Balinese village and see bamboo weavers at work.

One of the Americans in the group was clearly displeased at the prospect of visiting a village. She scowled and declared “I am not a tourist. I am a traveler.” Clearly, the thought of renting a bicycle and exploring the place on her own had not occurred to her. Clearly, the word “Tour” on the bicycling tour brochure had escaped her. She was surly throughout the tour and remained the only unpleasant person in the group. I chuckled to myself as she gingerly navigated her way through a stinking pigsty in the middle of the village. We’d noticed she’d refused to touch anything in the van – not even closing the door behind her. (Oh, the horrors of visiting a "third-world" country, eh?)

Once back on our bikes, we set off again in single file. That is when the first of the infamous waving children I had dreaded appeared to greet us. I managed to nod at some. And then, to my horror, another group swarmed forth, gleefully running toward us, hands thrust out for a high five.

I’d like to think that these kids were perceptive. I’d like to think they saw the consternation on my face and left me well alone as I grimaced and weaved away from them for their general safety.

Two roads diverged in a wood and I took the one that Weda said was easier. That left me with three genial Australian women and Weda. We bonded over our common knee ailments, each of us describing in excruciating detail how our joints could dislodge themselves at will. The rest, including a flying Dutchman and somebody pushing 80, opted for the tough route. When they appeared at lunch later, mouths agape, collapsing in a heap of crimson faces and aching limbs, I knew we’d made the smarter choice. 

After stuffing ourselves silly with typical Indonesian fare, we trudged back to the van. I felt tired, but happy and a tad triumphant. I have shied away from strenuous physical activity for a while after my knee injury, but this 25km ride has restored some confidence in my abilities. Hell, I’m sure I can zip-line to Mars or pogo-stick-it with some roos in the Aussie outback now.

We made our way back to town, chattering away with each other. All except the surly American woman. She scowled and poked her head out of the window the whole time. Whether this had anything to do with her being seated next to an Indian, I can’t say for sure. But I’d like to think so. She probably went back home and bathed in industrial-strength disinfectant.

Pictures for those who grumble I do not splash any on Facebook

Monday, August 5, 2013

I’ve Signed Up to Lose My Dignity

I have always suspected that I have some sort of subconscious death wish. I am a cautious person normally. Like I always make someone walk ahead of me on Bangalore’s dodgy pavements. That way, when they fall through a loose pavement slab and are waist-deep in an icky drain, I can still get across to the other side by stepping on their heads. Shocking, you say? Yes, my nimbleness usually gets that sort of a reaction. I say “I hope I don’t fall” just before a flight of stairs, jinxing things just so that BC or some other virtuous individual goes tumbling down instead.

This subconscious suicidal tendency, however, raises its ugly head quite often, catching me completely unawares. I have had a few near-fatal experiences. All as undignified as they come.

One evening, I was standing on the median of a busy street along with my colleague Apooo, waiting to cross the road. As a wave of traffic approached, I suddenly lurched forward and went, arms and legs flailing, onto the road. Fortunately, for me, motorists were more benevolent back then than they are now. They stopped while I quickly picked myself up and scurried sheepishly across while Apooo looked at me completely bewildered. I have no explanation for why I careened forward like that. I did not lose my balance. I did not trip. My subconscious probably convinced me it would be fun to throw myself out in thick traffic to really liven things up.

On a visit to the hills I call home, I was walking up a steep slushy path. As I gloated over my perceived mountain goat-like surefootedness in such terrain, I suddenly found I couldn’t take a step further. I couldn’t bring my left leg forward to take a step. It remained stubbornly rooted to its perch on a bit of rock. Then I heard a sharp crack above me and in a second, a very large and heavy jackfruit landed right in front of me. As I surveyed the sticky, squishy mess all over my right foot, it occurred to me that had that jackfruit landed on my head, I would have died. A terribly undignified death. Why I had chosen that path when the alternative route was easier and much less risky, I will never know.

Coupled with a subconscious that wishes a painful, undignified death, I seem to have some sort of secret penchant for public displays of foolishness. I mulled over that after KO and I successfully kayaked ourselves under a wooden pier and had to be extricated by an amused guide while other kayakers hooted with laughter and propelled themselves expertly through the mangroves of Thailand.

As I pack my bags for Bali, I wonder what I am getting myself into. I’ve signed up for an eco-cycling tour. Nothing wrong or obtuse about that, you say? Well, consider that I haven’t sat on a bicycle since I was 16. Which would also be okay if I was riding on, say, an aircraft runway. And did I mention I have an iffy knee?

I am going to be cycling through narrow paths across slushy rice fields. They say happy, excited children come running out to wave and shout hello. (Running out of their houses, I mean, not the rice fields – that would make them those Stephen-King-Children-of-the-Corn freaks.)

As if navigating treacherous paddy drains isn’t challenging enough, I also have to avoid running over some jubilant children. If I refuse to wave back for fear of taking my hands off the handlebars, I will be that rude, unfriendly Indian tourist we all dislike so much. If I try waving back, I’ll lose control and run them over. I will be labeled a serial child killer. Given my open dislike of young humans, nobody is going to believe it was an accident. I could end up in jail.

My chance to hold onto even a shred of dignity looks very, very bleak. As I see it, eco-friendly and child-friendly would mean allowing me to be thrown over the bicycle handlebars, face first into warm, icky mud. Goodbye, Dignity, Self-Respect and, of course, Vanity.

It doesn’t look good, people. Stay tuned for post-trip updates where I’ll lick the wounds of my smarting ego.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Rape Isn't a Sport

To people who use "rape" to describe a cricket performance:

There is nothing even remotely funny about rape. If you think it is a clever word to describe the utter decimation of a cricket team by another, think again.

You are on Facebook. You are actively vocal about your opinions thanks to its Status Update feature. That makes you tech-savvy and educated. Wait, did I say educated? I take that back. I’ll go with "literate". You are literate enough to voice your opinion about a cricket match, but when you say things like "XYZ raped the ABC team" or "XYZ was gang-raped by 11 men", you prove you are far from educated.

We live in India during a time when no other word is more commonly splashed around in the media than "rape". We have the dubious distinction of nurturing a "rape culture".

Rape culture does not just begin and end with the men who think that women are mere objects for them to violate. Rape culture includes the society that encourages it. A society that is insensitive to the plight of thousands of women and young girls who are brutalized.

That society includes you. You who so callously bandies around words like "rape" and "gang rape" to describe a cricket performance.

Think about the young woman who was gang raped by six men on a bus, who screamed for help even as the brutes gouged out her innards with an iron rod. Think about a five-year-old girl who lies in a hospital, traumatized after being gang raped by two men – men who did things so terrible to her tiny body, it makes me sick to even mention here. Think about the six-year-old girl who was found in a public toilet, raped and left for dead, her throat slit.

That is RAPE. Is that what you equate with the blistering knock of Chris Gayle? Is that the word you want to use to describe the complete annihilation of PWI or RCB?

Are you that insensitive? Or is it simply apathy? Are you so smug and content in the belief that it couldn't happen to you or to someone you love? That rape only happens to someone else – some nameless faceless stranger whose ordeal earns her a two-column piece on the front page, an hour’s debate on the 9:00 news and a candle light vigil at the India Gate.

What if (God forbid) it did happen to you or someone close to you? Would you still use "rape" or "gang rape" to describe a spectacular performance?

Open the dictionary. You will find it to be a wonderful book. There are words like "decimate", "obliterate", "annihilate", "drubbing", "defeat", "vanquish", "expunge" and more. Or is your brain, much like your petty insensitive mind, so tiny that it can only grasp completely inappropriate four-letter words?

Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Flock Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

While filling out a form recently, I stopped short when I came to the column titled “Who to contact in an emergency”. This was a tough one. I pursed my lips, quite stumped. Pen still poised, I considered my options.

Let’s see, there’s family. Obviously. That’s what most people put down. People who don’t belong to the Blah family, that is. Let me elaborate.

One evening, Cousin Binky, the blood relative I call my mother and I were peaceably watching TV together. All of a sudden, a swarm of bees swooped in. There were hundreds, crawling in through the half-open windows and thronging around the light bulbs. My mother is highly allergic to bee stings. So I quickly bundled her into a bedroom. Just so we’re clear: I was more afraid she’d swallow a bunch of bees as she stood squealing, “Aiyeeee! Bees! Oh! Oh! Bees! Ahhh!” than actually getting stung. 

I then shut all the doors and windows and switched off all the lights in the house, save one. The bees now hummed over to the single light, sounding like the starting grid of a Formula 1 Grand Prix. 

“Quick, Binky, grab the insect repellant!” 

I looked over at Binky. Binky was running all right. She was grabbing all right. Only, she was grabbing a long green banana from the fruit bowl. Close on her heels was my excited dog, thrilled at the sudden action around the house, trying to nip her bottom. 

That sort of response clearly ruled out Binky as my emergency contact. My mother, too. I mean, if her open-mouthed reaction to the bees hasn’t convinced you, consider the evening of the exploding water heater. 

There was a loud “boom” followed by an angry hissing of steam. My mother, evidently displaying complete and utter faith in my clairvoyant abilities, kept screaming, “What is it? What is it?” even when we were three rooms away and unsure what the noise was.

Besides, my mother has a warped sense of what constitutes an emergency. Her recent panicky phone call to me went this way:

- "Thoo Ja!"
- "What?"
- "Thoo Ja! The cow has got warts on her teats!"
- "Eww! Ma, I’m eating!"
- "It’s the name of the homeopathic medicine the vet recommended."
- "Ahh-ha!"
- "No! Thuja!"
- "Okay."
Then, there’s my father and his belief that WD40 is a panacea for all ills. For the above-mentioned wart-on-teats problem, for instance, he’d recommend WD40. My brother Scion? In his world, he claims birds deposit checkered pajamas on his balcony in the middle of the night. Is that really someone one should risk putting on as an “emergency contact”?

I then considered my close friends. 

KO! KO is a gem in an emergency. When BC’s parked car began rolling down a slope, she yelled out to KO to “pull the handbrake”. KO leapt into the car and brought it to a quick stop. There was just one tiny problem with her modus operandi though. Our girl leapt into the car and pressed the FOOT brake with her HAND. Trust KO to bring a bit of Hollywood stunt action to everyday life.

Bin? Bin has a history of confronting possible watermelon thieves with a bottle of Barcardi Breezer, and, most recently, inadvertently walked off with a wannabe cult leader’s bedroom slippers. Bin IS an emergency herself. 

Krook? MW? Krazy Frog? Krook has a tendency to declare, “Don’t worry! I will find your marbles!” under duress. MW’s idea of a travel first-aid kit is hemorrhoid cream, a steel spring and a ring. Krazy Frog very reassuringly says, “No worries! I’ll call you in 5, okay?” and disappears for the next 5 months. 

With a sigh, I realised I had little choice. I quickly filled in a name and number and handed in the form, fervently praying that I would never face an emergency situation. So, whose name did I put in? I'm going to have to leave you guessing about that one.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Vow of Zero Tolerance

I was eveteased today. As I made my way along the pavement to the grocery store, a man walked past me and in a low tone leeringly mumbled, “looking nice, looking good”.

Now here’s how I’ve dealt with eveteasing in the past: If it was a remark or a comment, I’d just shrug it off and ignore it, choosing to walk on and avoid a scene. However, if I was touched or groped, I’d turn around and let the person have it – verbally and physically.

Lately, I’ve changed. The horrific incident in Delhi and the furor that followed has everything to do with it. We Indian women are too meek, too submissive, too tolerant. Why was I tolerating a remark? Eveteasing is eveteasing  in ANY form – no matter how seemingly innocuous a comment, a look, a gesture or a touch.

Why must we tolerate it at all?

This morning, something inside me snapped. I wheeled around as the man walked by and called out, “What did you say? Repeat it!” He ignored me and quickened his pace as I turned around and began following him. As I began catching up, he quickly ran across the road and reached the pavement on the opposite side. I kept pace with him on my side of the road, keeping out of sight behind a line of parked cars. He had now slowed to a walk, thinking I’d given up and gone. I quickly ran across the road and confronted him.

He started babbling apologies as soon as I had him cornered. Initially, he said, “I was not talking to you.” “Then who?” I demanded at the top of my voice. “There was nobody there. Were you talking to the cars? The wall? The pavement? Where should I take you? The mental asylum or the police station?”

He resorted to apologising again. But I was not going to let him off lightly. I was livid. My voice kept rising as I yelled at him, telling him he would get five years in jail if I filed a complaint (I’m not even sure that’s true, but hey, nobody’s going to debate with a furious woman). As he switched to Kannada, I decided I’d hit him where it hurt – his pride. “Oh, to evetease you speak English and now you speak Kannada? Do you Kannadiga men have no respect for women? This is what your culture teaches you?”

"You have goddesses - Durga, Kali, Lakshmi. And yet you have no respect for women?"

A little crowd was gathering. A car with a couple had stopped. A guy asked what had happened. The eveteaser was now quite rattled. He kept pinching his throat and pleading and apologising. “You are the same type of people as the Delhi rapists! Get down on your knees! On your knees!” I screamed. I kept screaming louder and louder until he actually complied. There he was, on his knees, apologising. “You open your mouth to one more woman and see what happens to you,” I shrieked before resorting to a bunch of cuss words I would not like to defile my blog space with. And with that, I walked away.

I can only hope that this public shaming will make him think twice before he disrespects another woman. My only regret is that I wasn’t carrying my cellphone to take a picture of the groveling lowlife.

This is my appeal to all you women out there. Enough is enough. Let’s have zero tolerance towards eveteasing or molestation in any form. No matter how trivial you think it is. Nothing is trivial. Shout. Scream. Make a scene. Shame them. If the only way to make them respect you is by instilling fear, then so be it.

And decent men out there: Take a strong stand. Stand up for a woman in distress. Don't stand around and gawk or turn a blind eye as she takes a stand and fights for what is essentially her birthright: a life of dignity, safety and freedom.

Nip it in the bud. Eveteasers today are potential rapists tomorrow. By confronting these disgusting creeps, you are making our world a safer, better place for other women – one eveteaser at a time. It’s a tiny drop in the ocean, but it is a start. If my actions today make that man avoid teasing one other woman in the coming week (I highly doubt it would have cured him of his filthy behaviour), then I’ve made a difference. Hardly a dent in the wider spectrum of things, but a teeny tiny difference still.

“Kindly adjust maadi” may be the maxim in Bangalore. But no more. I’m done being kind. I’m done adjusting. The only thing I am going to adjust now is the sickening attitude of eveteasers. Who’s with me?

UPDATE: On Saturday, 23rd February, I encountered yet another eveteaser. The young man sang out as he passed by me. I kicked up a ruckus again - following him while I screamed and brandished an umbrella in his face. When I asked him to kneel down, for some reason (most likely the language barrier), he thought I meant sit-ups! So a few amused passersby and I watched in silence as he did about four or five sit-ups before I walked away. "Very good! Even I do the same thing!" a girl called out to me. I certainly hope she does. She and a couple of million other Indian women. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

First One Out is a Rotten Egg

The email read:

“Dear Ms Blah,
We sincerely apologise for the incident. Could you please date the rotten egg? We can then take measures to see that such incidents do not happen in future.”

Umm…. I’ve only ever dated rotten eggs. If there’s a rotten egg out there, he’s got my number.

Oh, hang on. They meant a rotten egg quite literally. My mind drifted back to my recently concluded African safari. (I will tell you more about the actual safari in a separate post. This post is dedicated to the aforementioned rotten egg.)

It was the penultimate day of the safari. Our safari party settled down to lunch at the designated picnic area at Tarangire National Park. I opened my lunch box and was immediately besieged by an adorable squirrel and several bold Superb Starlings.

SK opened his lunch box, and everyone and everything in the vicinity dived for cover. While filling our lunch boxes at the camp in the morning, I had most wisely opted not to pick up a hard-boiled egg. SK was quite clearly not so prudent.

As it turned out, the egg was in an advanced stage of putrefaction.

Code Red, everybody, we have a decomposing egg. I repeat. We have a stinky decomposing egg.

The trouble with decomposing eggs is that-- Well, actually, there are plenty of troubles that come with rotten eggs as we soon found out.

For one, there’s the sheer bile-evoking stench. And now, we were faced with a dilemma none of us had faced before in our lives.

We had to dispose of this decomposing egg during a safari in an African national park where disposing of trash of any sort is strictly forbidden.

They don’t provide trash bins in the designated picnic areas as that would pose a problem for the animals that forage around in the vicinity. You take your trash back with you.

So, we had this egg on our hands now. Lovingly wrapped in a paper serviette that did nothing to mask the horrible smell.

Have you seen a squirrel gag? No? Just try offering it a putrid egg. The giraffes we’d been watching, idling by the river, had galloped away. The elephants were no doubt packing their trunks for an emergency evacuation back to Kenya.

To put it in an egg shell: Houston, we have a problem. How do we get rid of this egg?

“Giggling is not the answer!” I was admonished. “I’m sorry,” I sputtered, “but it’s the vapours from that egg.”

A giggling woman and a fetid egg do not make for good company and I soon found myself alone, warily regarding the pestilent egg.

* Thunk, thunk, thunk *

I wheeled around. SK was right in the centre of the picnic area, digging a hole with the heel of his boot, quite oblivious to the curious stares of other safari goers. SK was part of my safari party. I did not want to be considered mad by association.

“What are you doing?” I called out in horror, “The toilet is the other way”.

“Digging a hole. I’m going to bury that egg,” he shot back.

“In the middle of the picnic ground?” I hissed.

“Then what do you suggest we do with it?”

“I don’t know. It’s your egg. Of all the eggs, who asked you to pick that one?”

Clearly, this egg was sowing some seeds of serious discord. We gingerly tossed the egg back into an empty lunch carton and placed it on the front seat of our safari Land Cruiser. Rotten eggs always ride shotgun.

Emmanuel, our driver/guide, was normally very cheerful and chatty. But within five minutes of having sat in the vehicle, he was strangely mum and perturbed.

He stopped the vehicle abruptly. “Spotted something?” we asked looking out at nothing. Emmanuel grunted. Then he deftly opened the lunch box, picked up the offensive egg and flung it into the depths of tall green elephant grass. “The smell was terrible,” he announced, his good mood now restored. “Ay, Pumba!” he chuckled, pointing at an unfortunate warthog that was fleeing the now egg-infested area.

“Another Ngorongoro Crater is going to form there. Only we will know what really caused it,” said SK, his good humour returning as well.

As we drove away, I spotted a group of vultures swooping into the area. No doubt a decomposing chicken egg would be a rare treat.

“The rotten egg date, as is the case with a lot of rotten egg dates, is easy to remember. December 28th was the only day that we did not spot a single lion.

Basically Blah.”

Monday, January 14, 2013

Yawning Tortoise Shelldom Bites

Anyone who knows me well would know that nothing rarely excites me more than the prospect of spending time with some little four-legged creatures.

So on a day-trip to Prison Island, which is about an hour by boat (if you can call that pile of wood a boat) from Stone Town, I looked forward to visiting the tortoise sanctuary. A boat named “Desire” deposited us on Prison Island.

The beach was lovely – cool cobalt-blue water that gently lapped up to fine creamy sand. However, it was close to noon and the blazing sun was soon burning me to a crisp.

Prison Island is home to the endangered Aldabra Giant Tortoise. I entered the tortoise sanctuary and was immediately glad for the cool shade the numerous trees afforded me. I soon forgot about the heat. I was so taken in with the sheer number of these gentle and sociable creatures.

There were tortoises everywhere – grey lumps that moved lethargically sometimes but remained stationary for the most part. The smaller babies were quickly grabbed for pictures.

“Do not sit on the tortoise,” a sign announced at the entrance. I could see how people could sit on these great big mounds – either accidentally, mistaking them for a rock, or intentionally because of the novelty.

I sauntered around, curiously watching the tortoises. Some were eating, some were sleeping, some were contemplating moving and a few were copulating (it is breeding season). Their ages were painted on their shells. The old lady of the house is a 189 years old – which is only middle age for these fascinating shelled beings.

I sat down on a stone bench to rest. I suddenly noticed a 28-year-old tortoise taking a keen interest in me from about six or seven feet away. Did I look like spinach? Did he fancy Chanel's Chance? With a curiously intent expression in his eyes, he moved at an astonishingly rapid pace and made a beeline for me. He plodded up and sniffed my foot before looking up at me.

We had a moment. A long moment. I was entranced. I patted his head, stroked his neck and tickled his chin. He gazed up at me adoringly and I was mesmerized.

And then he yawned, his enjoyment evident on his amused crinkled face.

After a good five minutes or so,as more people gathered around, he slowly moved away, possibly to compare notes with another comrade. The two of them soon seemed engrossed in deep contemplation with their heads banded together.

As I left, I silently thanked that tortoise for according me such a remarkable moment. True, it was a simple moment. Nondescript even. With a grey and wrinkled tortoise.

Life gives you many special moments. But how many of those come ensconced in a tortoise shell?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Turbulent Tailwinds

There were plenty of surprises in store for me at Zanzibar.

To begin with, I’d never flown in a Cessna before. As I boarded the plane at the Arusha airstrip (it would be pure hyperbole to call it an airport), I found there weren't any seats left.

Refueling and maintenance work in progress
 “Co-pilot’s seat!” said the usher cheerfully and led me out and up to the front where he strapped me into the co-pilot’s seat.  The pilot clambered in shortly, sneezing and sniffling into a handkerchief. “I’m sorry, I have a terrible cold,” he said. “If you have any bad feelings, just hold onto this,” he added, gesturing toward the top of the dashboard. I wasn't having any “bad feelings” until I spotted a “how to fly” manual perched between our seats.

As we took off, I battled the near-sickening thrill in my tummy – like the feeling you get sitting in the front seat of a roller coaster just before it rolls off the peak. “Expect some turbulence,” said the Captain. “Don’t worry,” he assured me, noticing I was gripping my armrest quite tightly, “The plane won’t fall down. It will only float in the wind.”

Gee, that’s reassuring. Thanks much, you Xanax in human form!

What he did not warn his anxious passengers and amateur “co-pilot” about was flatulence.

We reached cruising altitude. I was more comfortable now - gazing around me, examining the dials and controls with interest. That’s when I smelt something. “There’s a rank odour around,” I thought, wondering if I were imagining it. Oh, no. It was real. Very real. Phew-whee! Somebody had had a lot of beans for lunch!

There was some serious chemical warfare on at 1257 metres above sea level. My mind raced.

Will oxygen masks drop down in front of us gagging people? Did they stash sick bags under the co-pilot’s seat? How do I alert air-traffic control about this serious assault on the olfactory senses? Dear God, I am going to pass out.

The Captain seemed unperturbed.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen. We seem to have identified our gaseous perpetrator. It is your very own pilot. Fasten your seatbelts and brace for flatulence.

I struggled to keep my face impassive.

I hope to God it really is the pilot. What if it isn't? What if it’s the big German built like a war tank behind me? Or could it be his dodgy-looking Indian neighbour sleeping with his mouth slightly open? Yeah, quite likely. Luke Skyfarter.

Oh, sweet mother of God! What if everyone thinks it is me?

I cursed. The Captain looked up from scribbling in his flight logs. He casually leaned forward and pulled a lever labelled “Vent”. Fresh air rushed in. My lungs sang hallelujah even as the clouds in front of us parted in alarm.

The Captain showed me how to identify other airplanes in and around our flight path by looking at a screen. I watched it with keen interest while he went back to compiling his flight logs or doing his grocery lists or whatever.

He then leaned back in his seat, put his arms behind his head and closed his eyes. I glanced behind at the other passengers. Their looks of alarm mirrored mine.

I then noticed a little dot on the umm… flight radar thingy. It was headed straight for us.

Should I alert him? Is that why he showed me how it worked? So that he could nap while I kept watch? Urrrgh! I hope there’s a parachute under my seat. If only I hadn't mocked cuckoo KO's flight simulation Google doc.

The Captain awoke. He studied the flight radar a moment and then radioed the ATC. The dot was quickly closing the gap between us. My heart began to pound.

My travel insurance covers repatriation of remains. Nothing remains in a midair collision. 

The Captain shook his head, still staring at the radar. The dot was still approaching. Head-on. We looked out. And there, clearly visible in the sunny blue afternoon sky, was a plane. Still barreling straight at us. The same flight path. The same altitude.

“What is he doing? Crazy fellow!” the Captain mumbled, radioing ATC again. I just leaned back with thoughts bouncing around in my head like kids on a trampoline.

I’m too young to die. I haven’t seen Spain yet. Who will look after my dogs? I might get my chance to skydive now. At least that would be off my bucket list. I am going to kick the bucket. Because of a “crazy fellow”.

The plane ahead quickly veered to our right and there was a collective sigh of relief from our plane as it passed.

“If he hadn't moved, we would have…” said the Captain, ending his sentence by dramatically clapping both his hands together. "Crazy fellow."

Bad feelings. Clutch the dashboard. 

And with that, he resumed scribbling in his notebook.

I have never been so glad to feel the ground under my feet as I shakily clambered out of the plane when we landed safely in Zanzibar.

The only person I thanked before my Creator was the Captain. He simply waved me off and went back to writing in his notebook. Just another day, another dollar as far as he was concerned.

Crazy fellow.
That's me with the heroic albeit somewhat flatulent Captain in the background

"Departure lounge" at Arusha Airport, Tanzania

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Who Invited the Corybantes?

I am not a New Year’s Eve celebrating kind of person. It doesn't make sense nursing a massive hangover or just general fatigue on the first day of the new year. So most years, I've spent a quiet evening with my closer friends, watched TV at home or simply slept through it all.

This year was different. In the last hours of 2012, I found myself gawping at a bunch of dancers wearing grass skirts and engaging each other in frantic pelvic-thrusting and postures that would make the Kama Sutra blush and feel like a gymnastics handbook for toddlers.

I was at the picturesque Season’s Lodge on Pongwe beach in Zanzibar. A waiter, whom we fondly referred to as the Laughing Kenyatta, proudly informed us about the resort’s New Year’s Eve party at dinner the previous evening. He beamed from ear to ear as he read out the menu for the proposed party. “There will also be an acoustic band from Zambia,” he trilled, Cheshire-Cat grin spreading to reveal at least 53 pearly whites glinting in the moonlight.

The prospect of listening to some traditional African music appealed to everyone.

The “acoustic band” turned out to be two guys with bongo drums. The rest – about five men and three women – were dancers. A few men wore grass skirts. The leader had a whistle dangling around his neck, which he blew from time to time as the group pranced around in a circle, singing, clapping and hooting in an indecipherable tongue.

Then the group began pairing off in turn. Each couple would stand in the middle of the circle, gyrate suggestively and end with very frenzied coital poses. Once in a while, a few women would break off from the group and head over to a man in the audience. She’d then do what I have only seen some naughty male dogs do to unsuspecting human legs.

I pride myself on being very open-minded, a progressive thinker and by no measure a prude. But this proved too much even for me. I glanced over at the rest of the audience. Everyone – westerners and us from the subcontinent alike – had the same perplexed and somewhat stunned expression. My neighbour's eyes threatened to pop out of their sockets while his lower jaw fell into his champagne glass.

I clicked one picture of the group and then hastily stuffed the camera away. “Bad light,” I said, but the truth is I did not want to look like a skulking pervert. The resort clientele’s conversation at breakfast the next day was peppered with “shocking” and rolling eyes.

The performance seemed endless. The moves did not change. The only ones having fun were the dancers themselves. A couple of enthusiastic resort staff sang along and clapped with glee before their Punjabi manager told them to stop standing around together.

Soon, the complimentary bubbly, the wine and the incessant drumming and gyrating began to take a toll. Fatigue and headaches set in. With about an hour to go for midnight, we slunk off to our villas.

Lying on a sunbed, gazing up at the star-flecked African night sky and contemplating a lazy ocean gleaming silver in the moonlight as a cool breeze gently tousled my hair seemed a far better way of bidding adieu to 2012. I fell into an easy slumber.

As the clock struck 12, I mumbled sleepy “happy new year” wishes and nestled into bed, enjoying the sound of waves breaking at the villa front. It struck me only much later – the entire resort was quiet. The sound of the bongos had ceased. It would appear that the Whistler and his merry bunch of African Corybantes had successfully driven everyone into the refuge of their villas well before the witching hour.

It was an auspicious start to 2013.

Happy new year, y’all!