Archive for ‘culture’

January 24, 2010

Girls are important

This story is amusing


(Click for embiggerance)

Notice that all the important people in this particular advertisement are men.I realise that the government have issued lots of public-service ads in the past highlighting the idea that women are actually worthwhile, contributing members of society and that we might want to keep them around… but this? The girl child is important because she may some day give birth to boy children who are what really matters. Never forget that that is what we’re here for.

November 16, 2009

Wholesome TV for kids

Last week I was sitting around with my grandparents and youngest cousin (who has just started primary school). The cousin was watching TV, which is how I ended up seeing an episode of Chhota Bheem, a cartoon on Pogo.

Here are the main characters of the show:

Three of the people in this picture are villains. I bet you can’t guess which ones. It couldn’t have anything to do with that subtle colour gradation, could it?

This is what Bheem, the main character is like (taken from here):

(all pictures can be embiggened by clicking)

This is Kalia, the bad guy. His name, FFS, is Kalia.

Kalia also has henchpersons of sorts, twins called Dholu and Bholu. They’re not as bad as Kalia. Colourwise, they’re somewhere between Kalia and Bheem.

Incidentally, here’s the show’s main female character; a role model for little girls everywhere.

She is “simple” (always a useful trait in a woman), really likes housework, and is feminine even while being able to play with the boys – which is a relief considering she views the only other young female character in the show as a rival for Bheem’s attention.

This article in Mint quotes parents who applaud these new cartoons (including Chhota Bheem), not only because they’re entertaining and well made but because they apparently inculcate “traditional values”. I don’t believe that literature, television, or any other form of media directed at children is under any particular obligation to impart the right set of values, just because they’re children and impressionable. Nor do I think that Chhota Bheem is such a powerful piece of art that it’s going to singlehandedly convince my young cousin (who does not live in a household where this sort of thing is discussed/debunked on a regular basis) of the validity of traditional gender roles, or of forms of bigotry relating to skin colour and how melanin turns you evil. But that’s just the thing, these are traditional roles. Which means that Chhota Bheem doesn’t have to do anything singlehandedly, because all these ideas are already out there, influencing Young Cousin (and me, and you, and everyone) and all this show has to do is tap into this larger set of narratives about bad, dark-skinned people and fair, docile girls.

And the reason the previous paragraph reads like The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Ideology (assuming such a thing exists) is because I don’t know what level of basic political awareness I can take for granted anymore. Because it’s 2009 and the creators of this show are apparently both clueless and unchallenged.

October 20, 2009

Mother tongues

By now it feels like about half of the people in this city have congratulated me on how well I speak English, and I have gotten very good at smiling through gritted teeth. So really, I can do nothing better that quote from this mad/awesome/explosive interview with Ashok Banker at the World SF News blog.

I’ve met this particular cultural bogey before and it remains as unfunny as ever! My mother tongue was English, not Hindi, and in fact, there are more English-speaking people in India than in the US [...] I grew up speaking only English, learned Hindi only later in school because it was a compulsory subject (as were either Marathi or French – I took French), and English remains the only language I’m completely fluent in even today.

(I picked French too, after a year of Sanskrit established that I was completely useless at it).

October 6, 2009

High expectations

One of the more memorable moments in the new Dorian Gray film (of which I did not approve*) is a scene where Dorian is partaking of tea and scones. As he sips his tea and slathers jam onto a scone, we are treated to flashbacks of his recent debauched activities. There is whipping and screaming and blood that is visually very like the strawberry jam that plays a central role in his seemingly innocent high tea.

In the three weeks or so since we watched the film, my friend T has consumed vast quantities of scones, with increasing desperation and disappointment. Why, he asks, when the scones themselves, weighted down with jam, are so decadent, are no orgies forthcoming?

I myself expect nothing of scones. Baked goods are fundamentally wholesome in any case, however hard they try. But I do sympathise.

I first encountered fondue as a child through Asterix in Switzerland. This was a mistake.I grew up under the impression that this

(click for larger image)

would lead inevitably to this

and maybe some of this.

It looked exciting.

Years later, when I finally encountered fondue in real life, it was something of an anticlimax. It was delicious, of course, and cheese is capable of a decadence that baked goods can only dream of. Still, it was bread and cheese. Where were my feisty Roman matrons? My nine year old self was severely displeased.

And this is why, I think, the frequent association of food and sex is not necessarily a great thing. Think of that nine year old. Think of T, sitting at home with a plate of scones, looking around him hopefully. It’s harsh.

* I did approve of the kiss between Ben Chaplin and Ben Barnes, though. More Ben Chaplin, please.

September 10, 2009

cfs and a bit of useful information

So, Crossed Genres has an upcoming LGBTQ themed edition, and they’re currently calling for submissions. This is the ad:

Unfortunately, Flash Fiction Online have chosen not to run this ad because it is “sexually themed” (because, the editor clarifies, “GLBTQ issues are inextricably linked to sex”). I mention this because it’s useful to writers of queer fiction to know where they are and are not likely to be accepted.

In the meantime, Crossed Genres are still calling for submissions. And they clearly are queer-fiction-friendly.

EDIT: Submissions are closed.

August 31, 2009

Toilet humour

Samuel Beckett estate, you have made me sad.

I came to Beckett in the most unliterary of ways. I was fifteen, there was a boy, he was older than me and probably very, very pretentious. And I wanted to know what had excited him so much and I read Company, then some of the shorter plays, and it went on from there. At seventeen I thought the fart-counting in Molloy was hilarious and got raised eyebrows from friends. In college I writhed in a back bench when gloomy classmates whined about the depressingness of Waiting for Godot which I had finally read, a few years after I’d started reading the man’s work.

There’s a wonderful introduction by Salman Rushdie (who I love most when he’s talking about other writers he loves) in one of the Grove Centenary Beckett collections that expresses a lot of what I feel for this writer. Here’s a bit:

Death was as you might say still a word in a book to me. I had not at that time washed my father’s short, heavy corpse or murmured a farewell to the open-mouthed body of the first woman I ever loved or wept tears of rage when I was denied by circumstance the right to stand beside my mother’s grave. Consequently, I still felt immortal, and immortals deal differently with the subject of mortality, knowing themselves to be immune from that strange, incurable affliction. Thus, when as a young man I first faced these texts that deal so intensely with the matter of our common ending, which Henry James had called the Distinguished Thing but which, in Beckett, is always grubbily undistinguished, a bleak prat-falling business made up of flatulence, impotence and humiliation, I experienced the books, their ferocious hurling at death of immense slabs of undifferentiated prose, as essentially fabulous, fantastic tales told by the voices of antic ghosts. I experienced them, in sum, as comedies, and so they are, they are comedies, but not of the sort I then imagined them to be, darker, and, yes, even heroic, for all that comedy scoffs at heroes, pulls down their drawers and pushes custard pie into their faces, still there remains, in the comedy of these broken, scrabbling personages, a stale whiff of odorous heroism. Some of this I when green in judgement only half perceived or neglected entirely to grasp. However, in failing to respond glumly to an oeuvre that wears glumness like a favourite unwashed shirt, I got something half right, at least.

I’m 23, and I suspect that over the next howeversomany decades my way of reading Beckett is going to change too. And that’s fine. Because I’ve always felt welcomed by his work; it has never situated itself above me. And that is at least partly because it’s never been on its dignity with me. The slapstick, the toilet humour, the banana peels; they’re important .

I know that the technical aspects of the plays are vital as well, and that Beckett himself did not like even minor deviations from his directions in productions with which he was involved. And I don’t blame him. But I can’t imagine that the man who wrote Murphy (whose main character wants his ashes flushed down a toilet – the novel ends instead with them scattered on a pub floor “with the sand, the beer, the butts, the glass, the matches, the spits, the vomit”) would be particularly bothered by this version of his play.

[Fun fact: On the evening I first heard about this story I discovered "wait for me Godot!" scrawled on the inside of a pub toilet wall. Positively copasetic.]

July 18, 2009

Tender Morsels and loss of innocence (the horror)

When I was first told that I was going to be reviewing something titled Tender Morsels (and before I’d realised it was that Margo Lanagan book that people seemed so impressed with) I wasn’t sure what to expect. But what the title did not make me think of was a “paedophile website”. I wonder what that says about the Daily Mail’s Danuta Kean.

The Daily Mail article is (predictably) the worst, but there’s been quite a bit of horror and clutching of pearls across the British media over Lanagan’s book and the cruel, brutal way in which authors are snatching away children’s innocence. (It’s not like we’ve been through this before or anything anyway).

There’s plenty to criticise about these articles – including the writers’ seeming inability to see a difference between seven year olds and fifteen year olds, as well as the odd belief that children’s books have never been violent before. (Flowers in the Attic? The Chocolate War? How about Watership Down, that scared the life out of me?)

But what fascinates me most about this particular point of view is that it takes for granted that violence is simply not a part of children’s lives unless forcefully introduced by malevolent writers. It’s a world where there’s no schoolyard bullying, and if there is it’s because the bully is insecure and misunderstood and everyone is friends in the end. It’s certainly a world where there is no sexualised violence. No children are abused by members of their family or other adults they know. No one is raped. Homophobic bullying never leads to death. Everything is lovely.

And apart from one big news story every year or so about how all these children are being abused and nobody’s talking about it, nobody talks about it. We’ll still get outraged columns about how teenagers are getting more violent and attacking each other (what is going on? how can this be?) but not where things like the family and the church are concerned. Not enough, considering the sheer enormity of these statistics.

I’m not trying to suggest that Lanagan in any way wrote Tender Morsels for the purpose of educating people about sexual violence, or to raise awareness for young readers (though I believe that if the book does those things too, that is a good thing). But consider a child (or a teenager, since this particular book hasn’t been targeted towards younger readers) for whom sexual violence is already a part of life; and who, like so many people, has been unable to get it out there or talk about it or begin any sort of process that would allow her (or him) to heal. I can’t help feeling that some people need for books like this (that will admit the existence of violence, confront it honestly, allow its full horror to be expressed) to be available. I could write at length on how good Tender Morsels is, and how it both impressed me and gutted me, but for reasons apart from it being a very good book (though the two are clearly interconnected), I’m glad it exists.

July 2, 2009

Two open letters

Dear Mr. R.K Sharma

This was what I woke up to this morning. I thank you for giving me such a wonderful beginning to my day.

I’d be interested to hear how you take pride in “being different from Western countries”. There are things about this country I take great pride in. This isn’t one of them. Nor is sharing a nationality with someone who spouts the sort of poisonous bigotry that has him believe that people I love (and their love) is “unnatural” and “hideous”.

So fuck you, Mr. Sharma.

That is all.


Dear Delhi High Court.

Thank you. Seriously, thank you so much for finally seeing sense over this. Thank you for not being R.K Sharma or the commentors on this article (I’m afraid to go over to Rediff)

Also, what took you so long?

With much love and pride in my city


P.S: 105 pages? You really are quite long winded, aren’t you?

June 16, 2009

Unnecessarily long and disjointed thoughts on Tolkien (part 1)

(I cannot guarantee that I will subscribe entirely to this post tomorrow)

China Mieville on Omnivoracious provides us with some Perhaps In Some Cases Somewhat Insufficiently Stressed Reasons We Should All Be Terribly Grateful To Tolkien:

For some of us, there’s always been something about this tradition–and it’s hard to put your finger on–vaguely flattened out, somehow; too clean, maybe; overburdened with precision. Alan Garner, perhaps the most brilliant sufferer from this disaffection, once put it thus: to him, the Greek and Roman myths were ‘as cold as their marble’.

Compare the knotty, autumnal, blooded contingency of the Norse tales, with their anti-moralistic evasive intricacies, their pointlessly and fascinatingly various tiers of Godhead, their heart-meltingly bizarre nomenclature: Ginnungagap; Yggdrasil; Ratatosk. This is the tradition that Tolkien mines and glorifies–Middle Earth, after all, being not-so-subtly a translation of Midgard.

(Unrelated: Mieville is a Garner fan. *squee*)

A few months ago, Richard Morgan wrote this post about Tolkien’s work (well. Lord of the Rings) and said some interesting things. And he’s right up to a point – that line from Gorbag opens up a whole new set of possibilities. I want that story, I want to know what life is like in inner city Mordor, I want to know what it means to be an orc, and ugly, and evil (but not with free will, or presumably some orcs would choose not to be evil – and if you don’t have free will can you be evil?). Tolkien chooses not to tell it.

There are other stories he chooses not to tell. The blue wizards, Alatar and Pallando – I could have done with a bit more about them. The East in general. What was happening to the less-Caucasian men while the Numenoreans were busy enacting the Atlantis myth. Haleth (who is kickass). Maybe some more actual soldiers in the war – that dead guy from Harad who Sam feels sorry for for a few minutes. He did actually start writing one story I wanted to read – “Tal-elmar”, set in Middle-earth when the Numenoreans begin to return. It is quite possible that if he’d gone on with it he’d have screwed it up and been hopelessly racist (more than the story already is, I mean) and I’d be very annoyed. It’s unfinished, though, and so certain possibilities are left open.

I actually subscribe to most criticisms of Tolkien. Including this one, also by Mieville. And bits of this one by Moorcock. And of course I did not know the man personally, have no real access to his mind, and cannot know what he was aiming for when he wrote what he wrote.

But more and more I find myself seeing him as a man who was really into structure. The Silmarillion is an obvious example of this. It’s not the history of a race, it’s a mythology. It is told in exactly the way such a mythology would be told. The minute you come to that conclusion, you’re asking who the “teller” of the Silmarillion is. And it’s no longer how Tolkien envisioned the history of the elves, it’s how Tolkien thinks the elves would tell their own history. This is probably obvious to many of you, but it took me about 10 years to figure out.

The Lord of the Rings is, as Morgan says, about “the ponderous epic tones of Towering Archetypal Evil pitted against Irritatingly Radiant Good (oh – and guess who wins)” (and at the risk of being attracting his contempt I’m willing to admit that I find that stirring and often moving) because that’s the sort of text it is. That’s the structure it’s modelling itself upon. Very rarely do I feel any deep interest in all these noble people, because it’s not really about them. And things like realworld racial issues, realworld gender issues, realworld class issues; those things that affect so many actual people may have no place in this grand Good vs Evil narrative, and black and white as colours for your characters can be Archetypes if you’re willing to not think about their implications for actual people of colour. So when he leaves out the stuff that’s actually happening in the world he’s living in, I’m not sure if it’s because he’s “in full, panic-stricken flight from it”. You could criticise Tolkien’s choice of this form - it’s probably easier to choose a literary form that allows you to ignore this stuff if you’re a white dude in Britain. But having chosen it, you would hardly expect the books to offer any deep insight into the human condition.

What interests me is actually how much he allows to slip through the cracks.

Take the battle in The Two Towers, between the Rohirrim and the Dunlendings. Saruman has fired up the Dunlendings by reminding them that the Rohirrim took their land centuries ago (The movie version shows this bit rather well, incidentally). Tolkien never addresses this or tries to prove that the Rohirrim were justified, or that Gondor had a perfect right to take land from one group of people and give it to another. Now you could assume that this is because it’s self-evident within the text that Gondor and Rohan have a right to do whatever they like (also the Dunlendings are kind of swarthy). But it’s open; an accusation has been made and not disproved, the Rohirrim are no longer unstained, and the Dunlendings might actually have a point.* That’s pretty big.

And there’s that bit Morgan points to, where the Orcs turn human, just for a moment. And (however much he may fail at women in general) Gandalf explaining to Eomer that Eowyn’s life was actually not that much fun. And the deliberate use of Merry and Pippin who, when they’re not being the comic relief, are the most human things about the text. It’s not enough, but that it’s there at all frequently fascinates me.

Which would probably be a good reason for me (an adult) to read “something like that” even if it didn’t move me as much as it so often does.

(Part 2 will follow, containing my own list of things to love Tolkien for and insightful insights into the trouble with literary criticism about the man! Eventually.)

* I’m not going to talk about Tolkien and colonialism here. Mainly because I recently wrote a 7000 word paper on it, and anything less than 7000 words would seem simplistic and not really what I want to say. But I do recommend that you read (if you can) Elizabeth Massa Hoiem’s “World Creation as Colonization: British Imperialism in “Aldarion and Erendis”” in Tolkien Studies Vol.2. It’s rather excellent.

May 18, 2009

10 things Star Trek taught me about the future

1. We might still have capitalism: The original series is actually pretty socialist - it’s certainly evolved beyond capitalism. We’re not (as far as I can remember) shown any actual exchange of money in the new film, but the product placements are pretty blatant so it’s easy to tell that Nokia and (horrifyingly) Budweiser are going strong.

2. Most people will be white. Oh there will be POC. There’s Captain Robau. And Uhura. And Sulu. So we haven’t actually died out yet. We’re just not the majority of the world’s population or anything.

3. Despite the fact that people are zooming across the universe, fraternising with all manner of creature and barely notice aliens standing next to them at the bar counter, non-American, non-English accents will continue to be hilarious.

4. Voice recognition technology will be used, and miraculously all the alien types who might need to use it will have physically evolved in a manner that will enable them to do so. But not human Russians, because they talk funny.

5. Women who go to the bar to buy a drink will still have to contend with random arseholes. Random arseholes will go on to have successful careers by way of an old-boys-club-ish set of values – “I knew your dad”, “You were very brave, there, when you punched out those colleagues”, etc, and said women will have to work under them and it won’t be awkward at all.

6. Appropriate clothing for women will consist of impractically short skirts.

7. Yo mama jokes will continue to be in use and effective.

8. School bullies will continue to exist. No one will actually do anything about this except maybe vaguely disapprove of it.

9. The Beastie Boys will continue to be awesome.

10. There will probably be sandwiches.

(Having said all this, I loved it. I was entirely uncritical while the film was actually playing, and plan to watch it again. “It makes my Id cum heaps all over”. )


11. Humankind will still have not come up with a way to make childbirth less painful. (What is this “epidural” of which you speak?)