Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Pea-brains, paisa and peanuts

While going to the gym this morning, which is right next to a college, I saw some young guys getting out of a car. From their appearance, I could make out they were Marwaris. They came out of a swanky car and were dressed (rather unflatteringly) in the latest fashions of the season. My instant reaction was “There go the brainless usurpers of Kolkata.”

But then, I stopped myself. Who was I kidding?

We have been brought up to believe that Bengalis are this great race who are intellectually so superior to the rest of India that mundane things like money don’t matter to us. We dazzle the world with our intellectual brilliance and bask in that glory.

One may say that this is a belief held by the previous generation, since they are from the times when they could confidently say ‘What Bengal thinks today, the rest of India thinks tomorrow.” But what about our generation? In spite of all our education and rationalism, we do have an unconscious sense of superiority which makes us look down in a kind of reverse snobbery on all those who are rich and powerful – most of them being from the Marwari community.

But on what rational basis does this sense of superiority rest? Can we really call the people who are working in the same industrial environment and using the same resources to make millions more than any of their Bengali counterparts (maybe with a few exceptions) pea-brained? Haven’t we all noticed the excellent attitude they have towards their customers – you only have to visit a shop run by a Bengali and one run by his Marwari counterpart to understand why people will always come back to the latter.

One may argue that being more culturally inclined, the Bengalis are not interested in money. Let’s not kid ourselves. All of us want our ACs, cars, movies at Inox, designer clothes and the works. Even the most intellectual of Bengalis will not refuse an AC refuge in the energy-sapping, clothes-sticking-to-the-body heat of summer. Let alone creature comforts, the more cerebral pursuits, like travel for instance (I dream of visiting Europe and watching the sunset at the Parthenon), need money. So, if we want these things and don’t have the means to get them, of what good is our so called superiority?

The way I see it, the boys I saw this morning, whether pea-brained or not, will go on to make some serious money. While I, with all my genetically ingrained sense of superiority, will still be counting peanuts.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

He looked at her, with some amount of apprehension. “What about dinner tonight?”

She hesitates. Then, haltingly, she replies: “Actually, you see, I have to attend a friend's wedding today, so….”

He finds her resistance even more alluring. Quietly, he says: “No problem! By the way, you are looking great.” He knows he has to be patient. He doesn’t mind. This one is special.

A few days later he calls her and tells her that he has fixed everything. The others are also coming for the party. It won’t be very late, he promises.

She dresses carefully for the party. In spite of the others, his eyes never leave her. She can’t help blushing.

She enjoys the party and now, it’s time to leave. He offers to drop her...

Next day, she resigns.

Sexual harassment at work is a reality that every working woman has to live with. There are policies against such behaviour in most organisations. But who has the guts to complain, when the deciding authorities are also the guilty ones? You can take them to court, but again, money and power are on their side. And after the publicity, where will you find a new employer?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Are we younger than our parents?

Most of our generation (people who are 30+) have grown up hearing about and experiencing the generation gap. Today, in the days of gadgets and gimmicks, the generation gap with our parents seems even wider. Let alone being able to explain ‘what we do’ in our new-age IT-enabled jobs, it’s a task even making them understand the working of a simple cell phone. Our parents’ generation really seems Jurassic in their inhibitions against anything remotely technical.

However, when it comes to the divide between our children and us the difference is more qualitative than quantitative. Our children have learnt how to use a computer or a cell phone at an age when we were still grappling with the alphabet – on paper. But we can still understand their language, be on the same wavelength when they talk about the latest game on mobile phones or the most recent Internet innovation that’s taking the online world by storm. Of course, we still feel inadequate – Ana, my six-year-old daughter, taught me how to use the Calendar option on my mobile phone after keeping a reminder message on New Year’s Eve which completely mystified me by its sheer existence. Since then, however, my learning curve on this particular option has been pretty steep – now I’m leaving reminders for anything and everything, from birthdays to bill payments and for ‘time to stop Ana watching TV’! If she only knew…

The point I’m trying to make is that unlike our parents, we have been able to take that leap into the digital world and this achievement, among other things, has kept us younger. We are not only using technology for work but also in our personal lives – from keeping in touch with relatives and friends abroad via email to carrying on conversations , often of the romantic kind, over SMS. Indeed, writing letters, which our parents did with dutiful regularity, is as passé as clothes that don’t offer a skin show. Add to this the modern obsession with keeping fit and the refusal to don the physical and mental image of a wife, mother or grandmother (or for that matter, husband, father or grandfather), and we have 30 and 40 somethings whom you cannot really classify into any age group. We happily accept a Shah Rukh or an Aamir as college going kids, knowing full well they are over forty.

We are younger. It’s the young who keep us young – youth has never been so ruthlessly exhibitionist or so intensely attractive. At every step, we are competing with the youth (I know many people would disagree, but that’s what we are doing, if not in terms of physical appearance then in terms of keeping our minds young). And when we are not competing, we are just ensuring that we are up-to-speed with our children as they step on the threshold of adolescence (which comes pretty early these days). We are creating preventive measures against the inevitable “Mama, you are so stupid!”

Friday, April 21, 2006

Of rotis, cats, murmurs and Freud
On second thoughts, I will give childhood a go. Well, not childhood in its entirity, but the kind of memories that have a 'sticky' quality to them - you don't know why you remember them over more apparently important and critical things.

Like, for instance, I remember this huge problem I had with the way our boy-servant Mantu used to make rotis. I would complain to my mom that he makes the roti turn around in circles as he rolled them out ('Ma, o abar rutigulo ghuriye ghuriye belche!'). Now there must be some complicated, Freudian explanation for this, but to me, it's a funny memory from those days. Funnier, since I became one of those circuitous roti makers myself!

Then of course there were my daydreaming sessions. As a child I used to love role-playing (I guess every child does) and often, my 'performances' would extend into family gatherings. I would be happily muttering to myself while my more 'normal' cousins would smirk at me. My mother would be mortified - anyway she was accused of spoiling me and on top of that I was offering a fair impersonation of a demented child in front of the critical eyes of relatives (most of whom don't really matter, as far as I am concerned).

Lastly I remember the total heartbreak and emotional trauma of being refused my 19th pet cat! In retrospect, I can see the practical side of not wanting to increase the cat population in the house but to my child's mind it was the worst kind of oppression that could be dealt out by a tyrannical centre of power.

Select memories from a fairly eventful childhood - I wonder what makes them stick to this day? While I understand that these were pressing existential problems for a child, there were other events that were far more momentous in nature and impact, which I don't recall vividly - the quarrels between my parents, my father's alcoholism or his death...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Having created this blog by accident (while posting a comment on another blog), I thought for a few days about what I should write. The blog name immediately suggests two very broad topics - dance and life. But they are just that - broad topics. So should I start with some subsets? Should I write about my childhood? Nah, too personal and maybe a bit boring too. Should I write about my passion for dance? Well, maybe...but that again is too large a topic. Then I thought I will take up a topic that's pretty current these days and one which has touched a lot of people in this 'brave new world.'

Extra-marital affairs or monogamy, whichever way you want to look at it. Having been at the receiving end of one such affair (yes, that's rather personal, but what the hell!), I had, at that time, heaped the most macabre of curses on the 'other woman'. But later, when I could dissociate myself from the emotional fallouts, I started looking at it objectively. It's probably unrealistic to expect two people to be forever faithful to each other, in every which way. Man(and in this I include both sexes), by nature, is not monogamous. Even before marriage, I think all of us go through a series of crushes, some of which turn into 'love' (I frankly don't know what this word means) and some just fizzle out. But it is possible to feel intensely attracted to several people over a span of few days, months, years - with some of these feelings overlapping each other. So what makes us think that after marriage, by some miraculous effect of law, society and a few holy words, this nature will change? I think every married person has been attracted to the 'other' - some deal with it while others opt to choose the other over the current partner.

Which brings me to the question - how common are these affairs? Or how easy, in terms of subduing your conscience, is it to get involved in something like this? If reports are to be believed, then Rituparno Ghosh's latest film on the topic, 'Dosar', suggests that all of Kolkata is indulging in extra marital affairs. Now, though I don't form opinions based on what this director has to say, I'm intrigued with such a claim. This would seem to suggest a total disintegration of the institution of marriage. Are we really moving towards Huxley's ‘brave new world’ where being monogamous invites ridicule?

I personally think it’s not easy to get involved in these affairs. People with a certain kind of upbringing, education and social conditioning cannot violate the sanctity of marriage on an impulse. Of course there are some people who are addictively polygamous. But would usual (and I avoid the word ‘normal’) people brought up to believe in the institution of marriage easily betray a person to whom they are emotionally, morally and socially bound? Or are we facing a situation where such affairs are accepted and they continue without the marriage breaking up on paper? There are many such instances where partners in a marriage have their own affairs but continue as a couple for various reasons – financial security, the fear of social stigma or for the sake of their children. Isn’t this as much of a disintegration of the institution as a clear break would be?