Archive for August, 2008

August 31, 2008

And just in case you missed it

Two bloggers I’m very fond of are quoted in this TOI piece about child-free zones. The comments are excellent – apparently not wanting little Pappu howling at you in the middle of a movie hall, or sticking his finger in your dinner while his parents smile fondly on is a sign of the grossest inhumanity.

Oh well.

August 31, 2008

Spreading my tentacles…in LOVE

The first time I met Aadisht he gave me a copy of Ravi Subramanian’s* execrable If God Was a Banker. Some months later on a lovely November afternoon we sat in a cafe and roared over Tuhin Sinha’s That Thing Called LOVE: An Unusual Romance…and the Mumbai Rain. We haven’t read the new Chetan Bhagat book yet, but a certain pattern seems to be developing.

So in July I thought it fitting to gift him a copy of The Saga of LOVE Via Telephone…Tring Tring by one Pankaj Pandey. But he went back to Bombay the next day and I hadn’t had a chance to read it until I came across a copy this afternoon.

It seems that capitalising LOVE and putting in some ellipses is fashionable among young writers at the moment. Hopefully this post will find takers, therefore.

Anyway. The Saga of LOVE Via Telephone…Tring Tring (referred to as LVT for the rest of this post) tells the story of an engineering student named Pankaj and his girlfriend Shikha. Pankaj’s first encounter with Shikha is described in the first paragraph of the book:

She emerged through the lane from her classroom with open hair, a tinge of lip-liner, walking next to hundreds of students, some standing right in her path. Without getting perturbed, she walked across the lawn, went to the library, returned her books, and walked back on the same path before disappearing out of sight.
It was amazing…
I have never seen a girl behave in such a different manner.

Stunned by Shikha’s (apparently unique) method of returning her library books, Pankaj feels that he has to get to know her. So he approaches her on Orkut with a friendship request.

Within ten days of my love at first sight, I had started mailing her on Orkut. For the first six days I did not receive any reply. But I was not the one to be easily disheartened. I continued to mail her at regular intervals till she was forced to enquire about me. I just wanted to be noticed by her.

Pankaj’s methods of meeting girls are brought into some sort of perspective when we learn this about his roommate Anurag:

He possessed the knack for flirting, making friends and waiting for girls outside their houses, just in front of their windows so that he could catch a glimpse of them.

Anyway, Pankaj and Shikha begin to talk on the phone and fall for each other. As Pankaj himself puts it,

I would rather say that I gradually started spreading my tentacles in love.

Yep, we have hit upon what is possibly the only book published in India in 2008 to deal with tentacle porn.

Like That Thing Called Love, every page of LVT yields new treasures that I’d love to share. But here are a few favourites:

I was in search of a book which would help me in understanding girls – their worries, anxiety, what they liked and what they hated most in boys. I went to “Crossword” where such books are easily available.

She was an obdurate sort of girl, with a quiet nature. She always seemed lost in her world. She was blunt to the core. In real sense she was a ‘scrounge’.

“was she in nemesis?” I thought several times.

Then, started my saturnine days.

Every single moment two things were uppermost in my mind – Shikha and Shri Krishna.

“Trauma has restricted the movement of life force from one to the other centre and caused the energy system to go haywire. He needs serious attention. He has become dormant,” was the doctor’s advice.

I love her unconditionally. If the situation warrants, I’ll be manqué.

What will Pankaj do in this perplexed and imbroglio situation?

There are also some amazing clothing related sections:

“Why don’t you try that parrot coloured shirt and chocolate coloured trousers? You dazzle in that combination.”

Each one of us decked ourselves to the best in swanky clothes, cool hair-style and funky looks.

I simply say “grey” because I lack the vocabulary to describe the colour of her trousers.

And then there’s Pandey’s fondness for literary quotations – one at the beginning of each chapter and a few scattered instances in the text. Included are Ralph Waldo Emerson, Jane Austen, Marcel Proust and P.B. Shelley, among others. There’s a sublime moment where he quotes Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner at a time when Pankaj is especially depressed and earnestly explains that “The ice of Samuel Taylor had become my tears”.

LVT ends rather tragically, with Pankaj and Shikha parted due to circumstances. But the hundred odd pages that make up the book are only a part of the Saga of LVT. As we are informed on the last page,

This story cannot end here…
Saga of love is indicating evocative scenes of hubbub and excitement…
Wait for the next part…

I shall.

*Who I’m not related to, as far as I know.

August 27, 2008

I am easily amused

From here. Click to enbiggen.
August 23, 2008

Mary-Sue and the incandescent vampires

I’ve been aware of the existence of Twilight for a while now. First as a vampire book with shiny fruit on the cover, then as the Cedric Diggory movie, mostly (I suspect I am now middle-aged) as Something Teenagers Did. As a result I’ve been feeling rather guilty about not having read it, even after well wishers such as Roswitha (who described it as “a world of pain”) warned me against it. I read it anyway. There are many things I could say about this book; some of them are even vaguely complimentary. But then:

He lay perfectly still in the grass, his shirt open over his sculpted, incandescent chest, his scintillating arms bare.

Anyway. Some thoughts.

  • Good things first, since I’m nice. It was somewhat refreshing to know (in great detail) what the male protagonist of this book looked like and only have the haziest idea of what the female protagonist was like. I suppose not hearing too much about her looks was expected, since she was the narrator (and since Twilight is better than a lot of bad fanfiction, I’ll give it that) , but it’s just nice to have the girl being the one doing the looking and wanting. And having the uncontrollable sexual urges (though at some point in history this was the idea, right? Women couldn’t control their insane sexual desire?) and having the responsibility for stopping sex be on the man. Though I’m not sure how valid this is as praise for the book, since the negative consequences of sex (were it to happen) would be almost entirely to Bella.
  • Bint Alshamsha said over Twitter a few days ago that her daughter really loved seeing Native Americans portrayed as something other than drunks, killers, and the like. I am horrendously ignorant about most non-fantasy American YA literature, so she’s far more likely to be right about this. But while I haven’t read Meyer’s other books, plot summaries I have read have the NA characters doing some things that do cause a bit of a squick reaction. This whole “imprinting” thing, for those of you who have read the books. Still, I’m really pleased that in the movies these roles are going to be played by actual NA actors. Movies are sometimes awful about that sort of thing.
  • And on to less good things. For starters, this is an entire book about people not having sex. I’m not suggesting that not having sex is a bad thing. I myself often indulge in not having sex. But it really doesn’t make for a great plot. Scene One: Bella and Sparkles Edward are not having sex at school. Scene Two: Bella and Edward are not having sex in her house. Scene Three: Bella and Edward are not having sex in a forest. And so on. Around scene twelve another, less attractive vampire wants to kill Bella, but by scene fourteen everything is resolved and Bella and Edward are not having sex at the prom.
  • Edward the vampire cannot go out in bright daylight because he sparkles. When I first saw people talking about this book, I thought talking about Edward’s sparkliness was a mere metaphor for how fanficcish the characters in this book are. Nope, he actually sparkles.
  • Everyone is beautiful. Our narrator Bella thinks she’s unattractive, but she isn’t. She doesn’t even have a subtle, special beauty that only the hero can see. The minute she arrives at her new school, every male in sight asks her out. The vampire family all seem to have unearthly beauty as well, though we’re never told whether this is something they developed at birth or at conversion to vampiredom. The mere mortals at Bella’s school have bad hair (two of them, I think) or have pimples (geeky Asian boy who asks Bella out). One character pleased me by not caring if her boyfriend was shorter than her (and choosing to wear high heels anyway), and that was a positive moment. But obviously Edward had to be tall, or what would be the point?
  • Twilight has the most obvious Mary Sue I have ever read in a published work of fiction.
  • Actually, Niall at the Vector Editors blog pretty much sums up what I dislike most about Meyer’s writing in his review of The Host:
    The Host, you see, is a novel in which everything is special. It is not enough, for example, that humans be sufficiently willful that they are hard to subdue, and sufficiently emotionally intense that occupation be disorientating for the souls; they must be the most willful species the souls have ever encountered, and their emotional reactions must be the most emotionally intense the souls have ever encountered, such that Wanderer (the narrator) is driven to wonder how any soul could survive in a human host. (And this is not to mention humanity’s “physical drives”, the like of which the souls have never seen, although in fact Meyer does a very good job of not mentioning them for most of her book’s six hundred-plus pages.) Nor can the narrative simply be the story of a soul and a host wrestling for control of a body: it must be the story of an extraordinary soul, who has lived many lives on many worlds, and an equally extraordinary host, so secure in her identity that, one soul asserts, she would have “crushed” any soul other than Wanderer in days.

  • An observation: As I write this, a facebook group titled “Because I read Twilight I have unrealisteic expectations in men” (sic) has 59, 358 members. I’m sure some of the people on it do not in fact have unrealistic expectations in men (or possibly do expect men to behave in this way, see that it is horrific and are now celibate*. or have embraced political lesbianism.), but there’s still the possibility that 59,358 young women are currently fantasising about meeting a moody, obsessive stalker who is cold and clammy and intrusive, and who refuses to have sex with them. I find this alarming.
  • But seriously. What passes for a romantic relationship in Twilight is really very unpleasant. I suspect I was exactly the sort of kid who would have been receptive to some of the more warped ideas.
  • Bella’s clumsiness. I suspect this is meant to be endearing in the aww, look at Bella! She’s so smart and everyone loves her so much, but she can’t do anything without falling over! way. How it actually plays out is to make her too useless to rescue herself from any situation. (She cannot run away from men who plan to rape her because she will fall over). She is constantly being rescued. Edward’s scintillating arms lift her out of danger; his incandescent chest is hers to lean against. Plus (SPOILER, do not read if you care!) she ends the series a married teenage mother who has given her baby to her best friend. Said best friend has chosen this baby as his future mate. Charming.

For more (if you haven’t had enough or are actually interested), Cleolinda’s Twilight page is a morass of sparkly hilarity. Elizabeth Hand‘s WaPo review is also excellent.

* You’ve ruined sex for me!

August 22, 2008

A picture

I really ought to write some real posts.
For now, have a picture. Seen last night from
our auto on the back of another auto.

August 15, 2008

Ceci n’est pas une

Seen in GK 1′s M-block market, along the little path through the middle of the park. We think it’s supposed to be educational.

August 12, 2008

Not to downplay Abhinav Bindra’s achievement or anything…

…but surely I’m not the only one who thinks this is rather fucked up?


Silent killer, as described by his father, he is the one who spotted his son’s talent when Abhinav was 5 years old. “He kept a water balloon on our maid’s head and began shooting, knowing little that a slight mistake could have proved fatal. But his aim was so perfect that I couldn’t think about anything else but make him a pro,” says AS Bindra.


(From
here)

August 12, 2008

Magical Vanaras

Since I have blogged about weird parallels in myths before.Recently in a discussion elsewhere, Belle linked to the Wikipedia page on the “magical negro“. It was in a completely different context, but this caught my eye:

 

The magical negro is a reoccurring theme in Chinese Literature from the Tang Dynasty. Known as “Kun-lun” (崑崙, an ancient Chinese term that denoted all dark-skinned races), these African slaves were portrayed as having supernatural strength and the power to invade people’s dreams to reveal great knowledge. One tale known as the Kun-lun slave mentions a slave leaping over high walls while laden with the weight of two people in order to rescue his master’s lover.


This sounds rather
familiar. Though of course Hanuman does not carry Sita back to Rama. Nor does he carry two people – though considering his other feats of strength one assumes he could do so, if required. And Gods don’t have slaves, they have devotees. The parallel is strong enough, though, to make me curious about how closely Hanuman in the Ramayana could be said to conform to the type. Bear with me – this is pointless geekery.

  • The magical negro is typically but not always “in some way outwardly or inwardly disabled, either by discrimination, disability or social constraint,” often a janitor or prisoner. Nope. Doesn’t fit.
  • He has no past; he simply appears one day to help the white protagonist. Also doesn’t fit, Hanuman has a pretty well fleshed out back story. Then again, there’s this whole gigantic body of myth for said backstory to exist in.
  • He sometimes fits the black stereotype, “prone to criminality and laziness.” No, not that I’m aware of. Then again, since Hanuman isn’t actually black (and Rama isn’t actually white; he’s blue), there’s no black stereotype for him to fit into*.
  • To counterbalance this, he has some sort of magical power, “rather vaguely defined but not the sort of thing one typically encounters.” No, I think the incredible strength part, at least, is reasonably tangible.
  • He is patient and wise, often dispensing various words of wisdom, and is “closer to the earth.” Er. Not sure about this one, especially the “closer to the earth” bit. What do people think?
  • The magical negro serves as a plot device to help the protagonist get out of trouble, typically through helping the white character recognize his own faults and overcome them. Er. Again, not sure about this. He’s certainly a lot better fleshed out than a mere plot device. And Rama by definition has no faults.
  • Although he has magical powers, his “magic is ostensibly directed toward helping and enlightening a white male character.” It is this feature of the magical negro that some people find most troubling. Although from a certain perspective the character may seem to be showing African-Americans in a positive light, he is still ultimately subordinate to European-Americans. This, yes. Except with a blue non-vanara/ brown vanara dynamic instead of the black/white thing.


Of course, this would be easier if one could work out what the Vanaras were supposed to be. This being Hinduism there doesn’t seem to be a Canon answer, and one can get any answer along a scale from “really clever monkeys” to “tribe or community who the author thought of as kind of simian and not entirely human”. Which just carries all sorts of potential for winceage.

* Is there a Vanara stereotype though?The wikipedia page says they’re “amusing, childish, mildly irritating, badgering, hyperactive, adventurous, bluntly honest, loyal, courageous, and kind. They are at least a foot shorter than an average human and their bodies are covered with light fur, generally brown in colour” but I’d like a more learned source.

August 10, 2008

Further Things That Make Me Happy

This, found in a bookshop yesterday while I was buying this as a present for someone.

August 5, 2008

"Skin-coloured"

In primary school, where everyone in my class came in a different shade of brown, we unanimously referred to the peach coloured crayon in our boxes of oil pastels (we all had the same set, sold by the school stationery shop) as “skin-colour”.

I brought this up in a recent discussion on what colour tones are presented to Indian children as “normal” for skin. A friend (who I cannot link to because he doesn’t blog) reminded me that in our primary school textbooks, Indian historical figures were all generally presented as light brown. Thene linked me to this article, which talks about badly named crayon colours. Then there’re the skin colour issues in Amar Chitra Katha (I’d like to do a post on this in the future, but research is needed. or now, this looks interesting) and so on.

This is all ramblage. Why I’m really posting is to alert you to this project, which looks like it could be really interesting:


Skin Coloured is intended to be a collaborative, visual exploration of what it is to be non-white in a white culture. Make-up, plasters and tights – even when they’re marked “flesh-coloured” – are not the colour of skin that isn’t white. And whilst white women may have trouble matching these items to their skin, for women who don’t class themselves as white, this inconvenience is symptomatic of a wider problem.

To help illustrate this problem, therefore, Skin Coloured is looking for submissions. Send us photographs that illustrate the inadequacy of provisions for non-white people, and we’ll post them on the blog, and hopefully both those submitting, and those who’re here to learn, will gain something from it.

Further information can be found here. Please help us by reposting this.

So go over there, have a look, and contribute to it if you can.