Archive for September, 2008

September 30, 2008

Contains Language

It is banned books week once more. And reading that link, it’s hard to forget that I live in a country where books actually are banned, and where people feel justified in committing acts of vandalism and violence if they aren’t. We need a banned books week a lot more than most countries.

September 28, 2008

Oddly enough…

Every “No Parking” sign I’ve seen so far in Dublin has been subtly altered to read “No Barking”.

I haven’t been posting this week because I’ve been busy moving to Dublin. It is an excellent city.

In the intervening time people have been visiting my blog having searched for:

little boys dhotis and kameez
show photos of men clad in dhoti between the legs
does aishwarya shave her g-spot
waist size japanese teenagers
anil kumble shirtless
what is it like being a hindu

I’m sorry I could not help them.

September 21, 2008

What duck?

This + this + this?

= win.

September 19, 2008

I am in the know

A couple of years ago Alie sent me What Every Married Woman Should Know, a 1951 book by one Dr. R. Martin (an Australian, I think – though his consistent abuse of commas leads me to suspect Tam ancestry somewhere) that is dedicated to “all those unhappy people who do not know”.

It’s actually rather lovely. Dr. Martin reminds us all in his foreword that science is the dominant factor in our lives whether we realise it or not, and insists that in providing facts about the human body (with very good diagrams too) he is not being vulgar.

Chapter one deals with evolution, which Dr.Martin thinks everyone must understand if they wish to have a successful marriage.

Evolution teaches us that all living things, both animal and botanical, had common ancestors which gradually climbed up the ladder of time, on every step becoming more perfect, until they culminated in man – the Lord of Creation.

Okay.

When it gets to the sex (after a long discussion of things like amoebas and the romantic life of, for some reason, the stickleback), the book is really almost impressive. The diagrams, as I said, are excellent. The location of the clitoris (something people still seem to have difficulties with) is given clearly. The idea that sex is something that women can actually enjoy is also put forward. This should go without saying, but I spent part of this morning getting a pedicure and reading the advice columns in some of the more regressive women’s mags, and…trust me. It doesn’t.

In chapter 6, the chapter summary thing under the title promises us “a masterly summary of menstruation”. Why be modest, Dr. Martin? Personally I prefer this 1946 Disney movie in which women do not have feet. (Via) But.


The youngest age at which the author of this book has seen a woman delivered of a child was 13 years old… the child mother certainly looked much older than her 13 years, and had her child without much trouble to herself or the attendants, but the thought of that poor girl (and she was a nice, well-spoken girl, too) being saddled with the care of a child…left an impression upon my mind that only death can wipe away.*

Also,


The changes , at puberty, come on very gradually as already mentioned, and it is not until the age of about 19 or 20 that the girl becomes a fully developed woman – beautiful to behold (if she comes of good stock) capable of not only having children, but also of looking after them and her household as well.

Chapter eight condemns masturbation…I think. At least, it condemns “gazing at lustful pictures, and reading novels, etc., the sole purpose of which lies in their sexual appeal” because it will lead to “habits of the worse sort”.

Chapter eleven, according to the summary, “deals almost exclusively with varicose veins”

Chapter twelve, however, takes up “the vital subject of childless marriages”. It is necessary to quote.


Had the populace maintained the rate of 1881 during the period from then to now, we would have a native-born population of over eleven million people rather than the seven and one half million that we boasted of having!
The Government, through its Ministers, decries the low population figures and insists that we must populate and develop the land if we are going to hold this fair country from the expanding races of Asia.

On childless couples:


To these unhappy people we can only extend sympathy as they face advancing years without offspring to brighten their path. And also the yellow peril. They are not to be envied, but our deepest sympathy should be extended to them.

On pregnancy:

It goes without saying that the utmost care must be taken lest any impurity should find its way into the internal organs. If this should occur, septic mischief with its attendant danger will follow as night the day.

(The rest of the pregnancy chapter deals with practical things like not wearing corsets, hardening the nipples against breast feeding and avoiding constipation. I will not go into these, though the nipple-hardening thing seems like it might be useful)

Chapter fourteen warns against inter-religious and inter-racial marriages (“not considering the problems of the half-caste child, with its social ostracism”. Most of his reasoning against these marriages seems to be related to the raising of children. Theoretically the couples could just not have children, but then the Asians would take over.

And finally, here’s Dr. Martin on menopause:

Some women exhibit the change more than others, but generally profound nervous conditions take place. The patient becomes very nervy, gets headaches, hot flushes, blushes easily and also shows sexual excitement. In very bad cases the victim sometimes becomes temporarily mentally deranged.

*Question – who does Dr. Martin sound like here? Email me your answers!

September 17, 2008

Small Beer Press continue to please me

Via Shaken & Stirred, Small Beer Press are going into children’s books. I like children’s books and I like Small Beer Press, so I’m really looking forward to this. Add to this the fact that they’re starting with an author I love. I think everyone who has/knows/is vaguely acquainted with children should make sure that there is some Joan Aiken in the house.

And speaking of Small Beer, Kelly Link’s Magic For Beginners is surprisingly widely available (in the 2007 Harper Perennial edition) in Indian bookshops. I see it frequently. Which is why it surprises me when friends discover it and talk about it in such amazed, revelatory tones – why don’t more people know that it exists, is available and is excellent?

September 15, 2008

Two book related things.

Last week Aadisht paid a surprise trip to Delhi, bringing with him a pile of books he’d borrowed from me sometime in July. These included Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness quartet (incidentally, Alanna recently turned 25). In the couple of months since he’d borrowed them, the space they occupied in my shelves had been taken up (by Elizabeth Bear, if you’re curious) and so the books have been perched on a pile of papers at the foot of my bed for a few days. Which is why for the last couple of days I have stayed up all night rereading the Alanna books, the Daine books (I’m on Emperor Mage) and will probably be rereading the Kel books after. This is the fourth or fifth time I’m reading these, and that they can still keep me up reading all night is, I think, impressive.

***

A friend has been supplying me with hilarious and excellent Mills&Boon publications. I’ve been captivated by the Sheikhs and Desert Love books since Aadisht and I read King of the Desert, Captive Bride in Starmark in Calcutta back in March. In the last week or so, I’ve also gone through The Sheikh’s Defiant Bride, The Mediterranean Prince’s Captive Virgin (which does not feature a Sheikh. Or indeed desert love) and Wanted: Royal Wife and Mother.

These books sound outrageous, as do many of the titles they’ve been coming out with recently – Bedded at the Billionaire’s Convenience? (Reading the new M&B titles is a big part of my book-shopping routine) And yet they’re really not any more regressive or shocking than most M&B books I’ve read – nothing like as bad as the titles would lead you to expect. So I can only assume that books that sound like they’re about powerless white women being held captive and raped by rich, powerful, often brown men are selling well. Oh good.

September 13, 2008

In which terrorists attack my city

(Contains geography)

Yesterday in the afternoon I met Neha in Connaught Place*. Beverages were consumed and we phoned Jai, who had just returned from a trip to Palika Bazar. I then decided to stay in Connaught Place and look for new jeans (much required) instead of going to the M-block market (much closer to where I live) for them. I walked along Barakhamba Road for a bit, bought new jeans, walked the entire inner-circle of CP looking for autos, cursed lack of said autos, and finally got home just in time to look presentable before dinner guests arrived.

Today, bombs have gone off in multiple parts of Connaught Place (in the central park, a couple on Barakhamba Road, and I think one inside Palika Bazar? Not including the ones that were found and defused) and M-block market, as well as in Ghaffar Market in Karol Bagh.

I was lucky. Other people weren’t. And I’m angry, and not really ready to write in any sort of meaningful or intelligent way about this. And I hope everyone reading this is alright, and your families and everyone you know.

*Interesting how none of the news reports even mentions “Rajiv Chowk”

September 10, 2008

In which I support book burning

(More on Twilight. An edited version of this appeared in the NIE last week)

If you have been into a bookshop anywhere in the last month or so, you’ve probably noticed a pile of shiny black books with dramatic red and white cover art displayed prominently somewhere in the vicinity. These are Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight books, an enormously popular series of young adult fiction about the relationship between a young girl and a vampire.

Reading the first book in the series did not awaken in me any desire to read the rest. So I haven’t read Breaking Dawn, the fourth book in the series that was released at the beginning of August. All I know is that some fans, horrified at the sheer badness of the book, have reacted by burning it.

Confession time: At the end of one school year, I came home and gathered all my textbooks for a particularly hated subject that could be dropped next year. I then burnt them. And it was a wonderful feeling.

I like books. I buy them all the time, refuse to let go of them and despair of ever finding storage space. I don’t look like a book harmer. When I browse, I’m not secretly imagining myself mutilating the magazines, breaking the spines of hardcover editions or even burning the paperbacks alive. But I certainly don’t treat books with the kind of reverence that is often expected of me. I cannot, in a room full of books, throw a fit if some are on the floor. Sometimes I accidentally sit on them, or touch them with my feet. I have occasionally fallen asleep on one and woken up to find it bent into terrible shapes. My liberal views on the subject of dog-earing shock and horrify many of my more religious-minded friends.

In school sometimes, if my foot happened to touch my bag, there was none of the horrified hand-touching-bag-touching-forehead gesturing that seemed to come automatically to so many of my friends. Yet the basic idea behind the action makes me happy. I love living in a culture where books are revered in that way, even if only a few of the people doing it are actually reading. Books do have a strong symbolic value.

And because books themselves have that symbolic meaning, so do censoring, banning, and yes, burning them. Throughout history, the people who have burnt books have been exactly the sort of people one doesn’t want to associate with – people who simply cannot accept perspectives or thoughts other then their own. I cringe automatically at the thought of books being destroyed on a large scale; stories like that of the destruction of the library of Alexandria are liable to give me nightmares.

Then again, once you’ve bought a book and read it (historically, most book burners omit this step) it’s yours to do with as you please. And as someone who has bought much-anticipated books in the past, and stroked their covers (eyewitnesses claim that crooning and baby talk were also used) all the way home, I can’t demand that our reactions to books we care about not be physical, even when those reactions are destructive ones. I understand where those Twilight fans are coming from, and I sympathize.

September 6, 2008

Relevant Political Question

DUSU elections are occurring, and there are NSUI and ABVP posters all over the city featuring attractive, smiling and usually fair-skinned men and women.

Not having ever taken part in the DUSU elections, I’m not sure how they work. But I assume that (and feel free to educate me) either the various parties choose their candidates based at least partly on their looks, or their pictures on the posters are manipulated rather a lot. Or a combination of the two. It’s possible that everyone in DU who enters into campus politics is just unusually conventionally attractive, but I don’t think we need seriously consider that possibility.

At the national level I can think of five or six reasonably good looking politicians at most.

What I wonder is this – if the candidate’s looks are such a major factor in the DUSU elections, is it different at the national level? If so, why? If not, why don’t we have more attractive politicians? Teach me, O internets.

September 3, 2008

George MacDonald and nineteenth century science

I’ve been reading through some of the more pleasing bits of my syllabus – including The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald (not, under any circumstances, to be confused with George MacDonald Fraser) and its sequel The Princess and Curdie. Both of them are far more appealing than At The Back of the North Wind, which I really did not like.

I read both of these in school, and the titles always annoyed me. In The Princess and the Goblin, there isn’t any one particular goblin set up in opposition to the princess. There’s Harelip, who wishes to marry her, but he’s barely mentioned. The Queen of the Goblins distinguishes herself somewhat, but hardly enough to name the book after her – and anyway, her main conflict is with Curdie, not Princess Irene.

Curdie and Irene both have prominent (and in many ways similar) roles in this book – each of them rescues the other, each of them has to learn to believe in Irene’s great great grandmother, each of them follows a thread to lead them out of danger, and each of them gets a good chunk of the book devoted to them.

So why is the sequel called The Princess and Curdie and not this book? In The Princess and Curdie Irene is hardly present, and even when Curdie joins her in Gwyntystorm she doesn’t do much. If TP&C has a heroine (other than the great-great-grandmother Queen Irene) it’s Lina the ugly dog. I’ve seen these two books together referred to as the “Curdie books” which makes much more sense.

Here’s something that struck me:

The first was, that some grievous calamity was preparing, and almost ready to fall upon the heads of the miners; the second was – the one weak point of a goblin’s body; he had not known that their feet were so tender as he had now reason to suspect. He had heard it said that they had no toes: he had never had opportunity of inspecting them closely enough, in the dusk in which they always appeared, to satisfy himself whether it was a correct report. Indeed, he had not been able even to satisfy himself as to whether they had no fingers, although that also was commonly said to be the fact. One of the miners, indeed, who had had more schooling than the rest, was wont to argue that such must have been the primordial condition of humanity, and that education and handicraft had developed both toes and fingers – with which proposition Curdie had once heard his father sarcastically agree, alleging in support of it the probability that babies’ gloves were a traditional remnant of the old state of things; while the stockings of all ages, no regard being paid in them to the toes, pointed in the same direction.

It’s not that interesting till you realise that TP&TG was published in 1872. The Origin of Species was published in 1859, and The Descent of Man in 1871.

And then there’s this wordy bit on mountains at the beginning of TP&C (1883):

I will try to tell you what they are. They are portions of the heart of the earth that have escaped from the dungeon down below, and rushed up and out. For the heart of the earth is a great wallowing mass, not of blood, as in the hearts of men and animals, but of glowing hot, melted metals and stones. And as our hearts keep us alive, so that great lump of heat keeps the earth alive: it is a huge power of buried sunlight – that is what it is.
Now think: out of that cauldron, where all the bubbles would be as big as the Alps if it could get room for its boiling, certain bubbles have bubbled out and escaped – up and away, and there they stand in the cool, cold sky – mountains. Think of the change, and you will no more wonder that there should be something awful about the very look of a mountain: from the darkness – for where the light has nothing to shine upon, much the same as darkness – from the heat, from the endless tumult of boiling unrest – up, with a sudden heavenward shoot, into the wind, and the cold, and the starshine, and a cloak of snow that lies like ermine above the blue-green mail of the glaciers; and the great sun, their grandfather, up there in the sky; and their little old cold aunt, the moon, that comes wandering about the house at night; and everlasting stillness, except for the wind that turns the rocks and caverns into a roaring organ for the young archangels that are studying how to let out the pent-up praises of their hearts, and the molten music of the streams, rushing ever from the bosoms of the glaciers fresh born.

(There’s another couple of paragraphs on this, but it’s a bit ridiculous to quote the lot. Also, my emphasis)

I haven’t studied any of this except cursorily in school. But from what little I remember and have gathered in a very scientific manner from Wikipedia, Sir Charles Lyell (the author of Principles of Geology and someone who had quite an influence on Darwin) was a believer in Uniformitarianism,* the idea that the geological processes we observe in the present are the same as the ones that shaped the earth in the past. The alternative theory was Catastrophism** – that catastrophic events over a shorter period had been responsible for the shaping of the earth. Religious people liked this one better, for reasons that should be obvious. MacDonald was a Christian minister. In the section that I’ve quoted above, it would appear that he was a catastrophist as well.

There isn’t much point to this (there never is, is there?) but I suspect George MacDonald and his friends and Charles Darwin and his friends didn’t attend the same parties.

*If they’d enlisted a few decent liberal arts people they might have come up with better words for these things.

**Which sounds slightly better, but you see what I mean?