What a thing of beauty it is when you can pick up a book and, without reading it’s jacket or even it’s name, march confidently to the cash counter solely based on the name of the author. After The Martian – another solid entry into The Book Was Better Than The Movie Hall of Fame – Andy Weir became one such name for me.
Artemis did not disappoint. It is often with trepidation that I approach a story with a female protagonist, written by a man. However, Jazz, the heroine of Artemis, turned out to be the coolest, smartest, cockiest, funniest, and geekiest women character since #Hermione. Much like the central character of The Martian, Jazz often thinks quickly on her feet to narrowly evade Death By Space; she always plans one step ahead of you so she keeps you guessing; and, my personal favorite trait, she comes up with comebacks you didn’t see coming.
Read Artemis if you are a space buff, if you wonder if Mr Musk is going to make it possible for you to leave Planet Earth in this lifetime, if every flight you take gives you pause about human ingenuity and makes you wonder where it’ll all lead to, or if you just enjoy reading smart and smartalec characters. Personally, I could not have started the freezing 2018 swaddled in my quilt with a better book.
I’d like to begin this post by recounting a conversation I had with some colleagues over lunch recently. The conversation began with all of us sharing our worst work travel stories. Inevitably, a female colleague eventually shared a story of feeling concerned for her safety on a tour.
She told us about the tour when, after a late night flight, she found out that the host organization had made stay arrangements for her at a shady hotel where she felt very unsafe. No electricity, low boundary walls, doors that didn’t lock very well, a singular caretaker who looked like he might be drunk. She felt unsafe to the point that she insisted on changing hotels at 2am. The story made me share what I do in situations like these – and insensitivity of corporate and government travel agents ensures that this happens every now and then. If I feel unsafe staying in a hotel and have no option to change, I latch the door from inside (because locks can always be opened from outside with the hotel master key) and I move a table or chair to block the door. It may not help much if shit happens, but it makes me feel not-uncomfortable enough to fall asleep at night.
When I said this, there were five other people at the lunch table. Four women and one man. Four hands immediately shot up in the air when I said this, and they all said – “Me Too!” We were all fairly surprised to see that what we all thought of as our own personal paranoia, was actually a fairly prevalent practice among women travelers everywhere. Of course, no one was as shocked as the singular man at the table. I will never forget the look on his face. He was so shocked that for a while he legitimately insisted that we were all bluffing. The idea that someone will feel scared enough on a work trip to blockade their hotel room door with furniture was absolutely alien to him.
That was a moment of truth for all of us – a reminder of the very different planets men and women inhabit. Not on Mars or Venus, but on this very Earth itself.
Our male colleague said he couldn’t believe this happened on all those work trips he took with us. I said I couldn’t believe he didn’t already know it did. All the other women on the table said, “Me Too.”
What is “Me Too”?
The social media trend running all over Facebook and Twitter over the last week, in case you have been living under a rock, was that of women putting up two words on their posts: “Me Too”. Posting these two words essentially marks their attendance in the list of “women who have suffered sexual harassment in their lifetimes” – which, as the campaign proved, pretty much translates into “every woman ever”.
Why is “Me Too” important?
A conversation between Seth Meyers and three female writers of ‘Late Night with Seth Meyers’ – Amber, Ally and Jenny – about the Harvey Weinstein scandal best describes my views on the Me Too campaign:
Amber: Seth, how did you feel when you heard the allegations?
Seth: I was disgusted and shocked. How did you feel?
Amber: Well, I was disgusted and not shocked.
Ally: I was disgusted and shocked that it took so long to become a story.
Jenny: I was disgusted and shocked that people were shocked.
Women, everywhere, are not shocked by the numbers of women that shared that they had been sexually harassed by men at some point in their lives. Men, everywhere, were.
And that is a problem. Most men are not aware that “women who have been at the receiving end of gender based violence and discrimination” translates to “every woman ever”.
That, to me, is the power of the “Me Too” campaign: To make men notice and realize the humongous percentage of women they know and care about, who have been at the receiving end of gendered violence or harassment. Men who care, but are simply not aware. Men who are aware, but simply don’t care. Men who are aware and care, but are in denial. Men who actively try to understate the all-pervading active misogyny that is like a bad debt burden or a genetic disorder modern day society has unfortunately inherited from its past.
It is a fact that most men, good men, well-meaning men, men who care – like my colleague in the story above – are simply unaware of the world women inhabit. They don’t know what it means to live with rape anxiety every moment of everyday. My male colleagues don’t realize that when we work late at the office, I hold my pee in because I am too afraid to walk down the dark deserted corridor that leads to the office ladies loo. But my female colleagues know it instinctively – because they do too. My father is going to read about the hotel story and positively freak the hell out, but my mother will likely not be surprised – because when she travels, she feels it too. My brother was enraged beyond words when I told him about a harassment incident that happened to me as a child, a full two decades after it happened. His girlfriend practically shrugged and said, “me too”.
These are all Good Men – the best men I know, in fact. They live and breathe with us day in and day out. How is it that we have still not been able to convey this very real part of our lives to them? How is it that the Good Men are still oblivious?
And this is why “Me Too” is important. Because of the Few Good Men.
There are some men who will never change, who cannot be convinced or converted. Goalpost Shifting, Strawman, Appeal to Authority, Ad Hominen, Ad Populum, Arguing by Example – the number of logical fallacies deployed by detractors to debunk the blatant fact that life is tougher for most women than it is for most men is unparalleled. By extension, these folks deny that this is a situation that needs to change. Many of these happen to be men. For people who wish to create a safer world for women, these are not the men we need to start conversations with – it is simply not a productive use of our limited energies. No, the Good Men are the ones to focus on.
Who are these Few Good Men?
Good Men are those who are truly touched by campaigns like “Me Too”.
Good Men are genuinely horrified by every reminder of gender-based violence faced by women around them everyday.
Good Men don’t turn a blind eye to this reality, even though it is a deeply uncomfortable one.
Good Men listen. And even though it is really hard to relate to something so alien to their everyday lives, Good Men try to empathize.
Good Men do not try to minimize the lived experience of half of humankind as “one-off instances”.
Good Men do not ask “what was she wearing” or “why was she there” or “who was she with” or “was she drinking” – they ask “what did we do as a society that gave him the audacity to do this”.
Good Men don’t see women speaking out about their experiences as “attention seeking” (yes, I saw that one too).
Good Men don’t start with #NotAllMen, they want to do something to put an end to #YesAllWomen.
The Good Men are the ones who are going to be our partners in creating a better world for everyone.
So what should the Good Men do now?
I took the liberty of making a list of some of the things I could think of that the Good Men can do to help getting out of the house a less unpleasant experience for the women around them.
These things go beyond the physical safety stuff that goes without saying. Keep doing those things anyway. Drop a lady home if it gets late in the night. Or at least make sure she gets a cab and gets home safe. If you are two people vying for the same public transport in the evening, let the lady take it – she might never reach home if she misses this one. When you see a man’s hand roving around a lady in a bus, put yourself between the man and the lady. When you spot a man lechering at a woman, tell him off. When a woman rebukes a man harassing her in public and the man answers back trying to legitimize his behaviour, don’t just stand by and enjoy the tamasha unfolding, speak up. Basically, always be the buffer between women and the creeps around them.
Since you are the Good Man – you already do all of the above. And we thank you for that.
I am writing this to bring up the subtle things that even the best of men sometimes miss out on. Things that you can do in our everyday life to help create a safer world.
Admittedly, we could use more women doing the following as well. But this post is just for the men, because it is a sad reality of our social conditioning that everything is taken more seriously when heard in the lower register of a male voice.
So here goes:
Forward with care
When you get a WhatsApp forward with a gender-based joke that paints women with stereotypes likes nagging wives, gold diggers, bitchy, catty, bossy, friend-zoners, mother-in-law haters, daughter-in-law haters, haters of all fellow women, husband dominators, irrational, over-emotional – do not forward these jokes, we beg of you. Do not award them with smileys and thumbs ups. If the sender is someone you can be frank with, tell them how the stereotype perpetuated by this jokes are used as justifications by sexual harassers. Men who rape, kill, and mutilate women feel justified in doing so because women, to their mind, are one or all of the above. At the very least, every seemingly harmless joke fuels this perception of women in our collective societal mindset. And at the very worst, it makes a man who was rejected by a woman feel justified in throwing acid at her face.
Be aware of Double Standards
Watch out for changes in your perception of the same quality when seen in men and women. E.g. is a man keeping his foot down for something he believes in being “assertive”, and a woman doing the same being “bossy”? Is a man lashing out at someone without reason “having a bad day today” and a woman doing the same “being really bitchy today”? Be mindful of these perceptions in your own head. Watch out for them in your everyday language. Speak out when you see it in other men and women. These subtle things add up and systematically encourage misogyny around us.
Don’t fund the misogyny industry
Don’t pay to watch movies that feature men harassing women in the name of love, passion, or comedy. Don’t buy tickets to movies that use the objectification of women as a selling point. Discourage others around you to drive business to such movies, and help Bollywood accelerate its long overdue process of growing the hell up.
Don’t buy products that advertise themselves by painting women as mere objects of male desire. Trust me on this – no woman out there is going to fall in love with you over your perfume or your shaving cream. And products that perpetuate this notion are adding to men’s misplaced frustration and rage against us women who happen to live outside hair gel ads.
Don’t raise rapists
Resist the urge to keep a compulsive hawk eye over all movements of the women in your family, to the point of suffocating them. We know that “hope you will not get raped” is every family member’s wish for us. But if the boys were watched instead and “hope you will not rape” became the new Indian family motto, rape would magically vanish overnight.
Teach the Children
Notice subtle cues that we give our children that train them in gender stereotypes. Don’t just gift cars and Operation sets to boys, and princesses and kitchen sets to girls on their birthdays. Take equal responsibility along with your wife for your household chores. Do traditionally female tasks like cooking, cleaning, managing the maid, changing the diapers. Do them publicly and with pride. Remember – children don’t learn to do what you say, they learn to do what you do. And everything you do is absorbed like a sponge.
Notice what happens at Every. Office. Meeting. Ever.
Your female colleagues at work are constantly struggling to get their ideas noticed, put their point of view across, and do simple things you take for granted like being heard at work meetings. Notice when this happens. Next time a woman in your team makes a point at a work meeting, notice how often it gets drowned out because someone talks over her, or a man repeats her idea and gets credit for it, or everyone simply ignores that she spoke at all. This happened at Obama’s White House, so be open to the idea that it might be happening around you as well. And when you do spot it, stop it. Make an extra effort to draw the attention of the meeting to the point made by a woman, even if you do it by expressing a disagreement. We don’t need your endorsement for all our ideas. But your help in getting them heard would mean a lot, and it would encourage a lot more women to find their voice.
Help make workplaces safer
When you see men objectifying women co-workers – whether it is a compliment for ‘the beautiful saari she wore yesterday’, or horror at ‘that bright red lipstick’ that endangered samaaj ke sanskaars, point out how male dress code is never a point of conversation in the gang. We come to work to do our jobs – help us be treated with basic respect and professionalism. In a world where even the British Prime Minister is not safe from objectification at the workplace, imagine the plight of us common women.
Help us not be reduced to objects of male entertainment, curiosity or virtuosity. Help your male colleagues keep their opinions about our attire to themselves – over time it will encourage many more women to join the workforce and discover the power of financial independence.
Most importantly, when you watch a woman stand up against any of the above, support her. Understand that it takes a disproportionately large amount of courage for a woman to speak for herself and her rights in a male-dominated room. It means that she has either gone through intensive internal turmoil to find her voice. Or that she has undergone some traumatic external experience that taught her to speak up. Or, in most cases, a combination of both. Don’t wait until later to tell such a woman how she was very brave, in private. Don’t think it to yourself. Don’t just rave about it with your wife later that night when you are telling her about your day.
Speak up then and there. Be vocal and loud and public with your support for a woman who showed the guts to speak out. Repeat and endorse what she just said in your lower voice register – sadly, it will make others take notice of the merits of her point.
And finally, if you are a company travel agent or hosting a work trip from a partner organization, please please please book us on better hotels.
Can I get a “Me Too”, ladies?
I must begin with a disclaimer that this is not a totally unbiased review. But then again, which review really is. I suppose when you buy into any review you are first agreeing to buy into the reviewer’s lens of looking at life.
So let me declare upfront that I am a major toilet lover. My said love for toilets has grown to insane levels over the past 2 years, when, as part of the Swachh Bharat Mission team, I spent the better part of my waking hours working on getting toilets to everyone in our country, and getting everyone in our country into toilets. And so, my review of a movie with the word ‘toilet’ in its title is bound to be far from objective.
That said, let us dive in to this (unpaid) advertisement of a review for TEPK.
You must watch Toilet Ek Prem Katha. I won’t even pretend to do a pros and cons analysis here. Except the pros. Pandering to this age of listicles, here is a list of 5 reasons you must watch TEPK:
1. Because Potty Jokes!
When you book a ticket for a movie dealing with a social issue, you pretty much expect humour to have gone down the toilet. Thankfully, when the social issue is toilets, there is always potty humour to the rescue. And TEPK leverages this abundantly.
My favorite thing about this movie is that it will go down in history as a comedy film.
It is easy to make a dark and serious film about a dark and serious issue. The makers of TEPK, especially Akshay Kumar, have done a great service to this issue, however, by choosing to tell this story through a mass entertainer. The movie has all the makings of a mainstream Bollywood hit – songs, dances, action, romance, Sunny Leone – but my favourite part is its riotous humour.
Watch TEPK for the stomach ache this movie will give you laughing!
2. Because (Bhumi Pednekar)/2
Bhumi Pednekar, or at least what remains of her since we last saw her in Dum Laga Ke Haisha, is awesome. (And I am not just saying this because the lady is my new personal weight loss hero.) What a star she is. Only 2 films old and already lights up the screen every time she is on it. Bhumi will make you fall in love with Jaya – the girl who dared ask for the toilet.
While Jaya falling for her stalker in the first half is no-doubt an opportunity lost for an iconic character (some behavior change needed within Bollywood on that front), my favorite Jaya dialogue in the movie comes after the interval. When asked who she holds responsible for her woes, she does not blame her spineless husband, or her headstrong (and very wrong!) father-in-law, or the villagers who have rallied against toilets because of their reluctance to break old habits. She blames every woman who will step out of the house again, tomorrow morning, lota in hand, to answer nature’s call. Topper Bahu, as she is scornfully called by the villagers who cannot fathom this insane demand of hers, truly essays the role real women of rural India are playing today in the Swachh Bharat movement.
We have all seen and heard enough of the narrative that portrays women as the poor abla naaris who get molested when they go out to defecate and who have to put nature’s call on hold till its dark outside due to a lack of toilets in their homes.
Jaya, and thousands of Jayas of India, have turned that narrative on its head. They play, not silent victims, but leaders in this movement of change. Refer this physically challenged lady sarpanch who made her village ODF, and this pregnant tribal woman who got her hands dirty and built her own toilet instead of waiting for a man to rescue her, and this absolute star of a woman who went to the extent of mortgaging her gold jewelry to get herself and ladies around her a toilet. Poverty, illiteracy, lack of a man’s support – none of these things are stopping these women champions in our country today – a fact that TEPK brings beautifully to light through Jaya.
Watch it for Bhumi. And for all the women she plays.
3. Because Liquid!
Fellow fans of Pyaar ka Punchnama (part 1) would feel my enthusiasm for this one.
Sorry, Divyendu Sharma, you are a fine fine actor, but you will always be Liquid to us. Perhaps it is not possible to pay a higher compliment to an actor, than when a character they play becomes their identity to viewers.
Liquid stars in TEPK as, well, Liquid. His name is different, of course, but his character is just as in-your-face hilarious. His comic timing is perfect as always, and his dialogues are pure gold. As a result, not one line delivered by him goes without receiving an uproarious laugh by the audience.
Watch the movie for Liquid Returns, PKP fans, especially those who, like me, jilted PKP2 because how dare they make a sequel without Liquid!
4. Because “Duniya Chali Mars Pe”
TEPK is a wonderful mirror to our increasingly sanskaari samaaj, which is turning sanskaari in all the wrong ways. A lovely dialog from the movie is, “Sanskriti ko toh aapne bas Sanskrit bana ke rakh diya hai.”
In a time where the scriptures are quoted to justify the most ridiculous of stances – whether it is open defecation or the efficacy of Hanuman Chalisa in ghost extermination – TEPK depicts hilariously how the reciters of scriptures often bend their interpretations to retrofit them to the mood of the week.
Right from Frame 1, which shows this side-splitting wedding, TEPK never really eases on the satire on our so-called values that are inflicted on an unwilling disadvantaged majority to serve the interests of a handful.
Watch TEPK if you think double standards and sheer logic-fails in the name of sanskaars is an insult to both logic and sanskaars.
5. Because Toilets!
Okay I am probably more excited about this last one than you. So let me draw a thoroughly presumptuous character analysis of you based purely on the fact that you are reading this article right now. Which gives me 2 data points about you: You are an English speaker and you have access to an internet connection. Here goes the extrapolation from there:
- You are a city dweller who has never really known a life without a toilet.
- You probably think that that one time you had to poop in the open that one time on a trek was an experience of a lifetime.
- That story is probably your best party story to tell friends over drinks.
- You will probably be found fondly reminiscing about that experience with your grandkids in a few decades.
- And you probably think that everyone who does not have access to a toilet is a poor downtrodden person living in abject poverty.
- You are probably imagining a crying malnutritioned kid with a visible ribcage even as you read this.
So far so correct?
I am sorry if I am wrong here, and even more sorry if, more likely, I am absolutely right and you hate me for it now. But the reason I may be right is that this was also me until I started working with the Swachh Bharat Mission a little under 2 years ago. The reality, as I have discovered now, is really surprising. Here are just some of the fascinating things I have learnt in this time:
Did you know that there is a village in India which is called the chaar choodi gaanv – meaning the four bangles village, a reference to the logo of Audi. Every family in this village owns at least one Audi. And every morning, the family sits in their air-conditioned Audi to drive to the village outskirts to take a dump.
Did you know that many families that have toilets use them sparingly, or not at all, out of fear of ‘who will clean it’? It is usually the women of the household who have to maintain a toilet, and often the entire family wistfully imagines the good old days of rampant casteism when certain communities would have done this job without complaint.
Did you know that there is a village in Rajasthan where every family owns an average of 13 cars, every house is a multi-storeyed pucca structure with lavish interiors, and yet no house has a toilet?
And did you know that many rural men think it is manly to go out for defecation, many women think it is their only time to gossip with their girl friends, and many people find a toilet too constricted when compared to the open air arena where they usually do their business with natural ventilation?
At the same time, were you aware that over 1000 children die in our country everyday due to diseases that spread due to open defecation, such as diarrhea? This is equivalent to 2 jumbo jets full of small children crashing every day. Imagine if one such accident actually happened – imagine the hue and cry, the media coverage, the demands for resignations of Ministers. And yet, this happens quietly on a daily basis and we hear nothing about it.
The two points I am trying to make here are that (1) open defecation is a problem that goes beyond just the ickiness of shitting in the open, and (2) that it is not always people who don’t have a choice that practice it. There are many in our country who choose to defecate in the open. TEPK tells us the story of one such family.
And this, to me, is the most important reason you should not only go watch TEPK, but why you should tell all your friends and family to watch it. Send you driver, your housekeeper, your cook to watch the movie with their families – fund their tickets if you have to. Drive business towards this film. Make it a commercial success, so that more mainstream actors and filmmakers start telling such stories, until there are no more stories like this left to tell in our country.
My salute to this film crew and to everyone who buys a TEPK ticket.
Watch it because you give a shit!
HIMMF is a new series of blogposts I recently started. I have been struggling with the review format for a long time, feeling torn between my (usually) strong opinions on most of the content I consume – books, movies, TV shows, plays – and the knowledge that my opinion barely qualifies as amateur whining of a passive couch potato when compared to the humbling amount of time, effort and creative genius it takes to produce the simplest form of content. And so, more for writing practice than anything, I decided to go ahead with HIMMF – How It Made Me Feel – a series where I will air to the Universe what I felt when I read a book, watched a movie, or ate a shameful amount of ice cream while spending a shameful chunk of my limited time on this planet watching a TV series on Netflix. My first post on the movie Phillauri is here.
All that out of the way, here goes nothing. HIMMF. To whomsoever it may concern.
Sarah Silverman is a stand-up comic I have somehow followed rather intermittently, over the years. But I have always loved what little of her work I have seen so far. Recently, while indulging in our staple dinner-diet of Seinfeld reruns with the husband, I screamed in delight when I noticed that she featured in one of the episodes as Kramer’s girl friend. The husband, of course, having mercifully not devoted as large a chunk of his life as me to YouTube stand-up videos, looked befuddled and started scanning the room for rats. Which only made me laugh harder, seeing as we already have a cat and dog in the house, and a rat would really have completed the family photo.
So when Sarah Silverman’s stand-up special came out on Netflix, I instantly downloaded it. And there it lay, for several months, eating up precious phone memory space, while I staunchly refused to delete it and accept defeat in the face of not being able to find a decent one hour chunk in my life to devote to it.
Enter Jet Airways, flight 9Wwho-gives-a-shit, from Delhi to Lucknow, that was supposed to fly me from Delhi to Lucknow one fine evening. Only it actually landed in Lucknow in the middle of the night after a mind-numbing 3 hour delay and a harrowing 1.5 hours spent sitting cooped up in the plane while it stood adamantly on the runway. Seriously, they did not even have the decency to taxi around and make a show of movement. I have never seen such enthusiasm for a taxing flight in my life as when the pilot turned the engines on towards the end of this wait. The passengers literally applauded. I must say the sense of sarcastic humour was downright impressive, especially when considering that half the flight was full of Delhi-types, and the other half UP-vaale. That is a typecast, yes, but, as Sarah Silverman says in the special, it is a horrible stereotype… based on facts.
Here is how binge-watching comedy has made me a better person though. Every time I feel the urge to criticize how I was treated on a flight, my brain switches to this genius video of Louis CK, and I shut up and sit down and appreciate the miracle of human flight like I was taught to by The Master.
Back to me on the stationary aircraft. Trying to appreciate the miracle of human flight like a good girl. And admiring the even greater miracle of my co-passenger’ atypical behaviour. Mind you, at this point, we are surrounded by Delhi-boys with their steroid-pumped biceps bursting out of their tight t-shirts and tiny brains floating in pools of testosterone in their bloated heads. And there they were, defying laws of physics, sitting good-naturedly in their seats, spectacularly managing to not have indicated even once so far that the pilot or crew members engaged in sexual relations with their family members. (The ‘good-natured’ bar is really low for Delhi-boys, yeah.)
I suppose it certainly helped that they were distracted by the arduous task of flirting with the air hostesses. Or, at least, their version of flirting. Which largely involves making Netflix-worthy jokes such as “Madam, aaj Lucknow pahucha toh doge na?” while their unibrow dances suggestively. And which I might have considered harassment, if the air hostesses were not Delhi girls themselves, laughing their heads off at said non-jokes of said flirters. To give them the benefit of doubt, may be it is in their training for emergency situations. Here is how that training manual goes in my mind:
“When faced with an inconvenienced Delhi-boy – hereafter referred to as The Subject – always act like he is the most hilarious man on-board. Laugh at The Subject’s jokes, however hard you have to grit your teeth for it. Incentives will be offered on a per-bad-joke basis.
Keep The Subject calm with assurances that you can’t wait to listen to Honey Singh in his Audi and impress Mummyji with your round rotis.
There are two doors to your front and two doors behind you in the aircraft. Upon landing, when The Subject tries to take you up on that offer, smile and tell him to not let any of them hit him on his way out.”
The whole ridiculous display had me tittering to myself, which, I am sure, the Delhi-boys took as further certification of their undeniable charm. And since all of this was keeping them from throwing punches and asking people if they knew who their fathers were like little angry lost orphans, I wasn’t complaining either.
Hilarious as the non-flirting and its undue reciprocation was, it reminded me of that 250MB space of actual entertainment lying on my phone. I thank Sarah Silverman deeply for providing me with an alternative source of humourous entertainment in these extenuating circumstances. Bonus points to the Special for providing a worthy escape from the non-food the airline seemed to be serving as compensation for the delay.
And so, I kid you not, I watched the entire special right there on the runway. Time well spent.
There are no two ways about it: Sarah Silverman is a comic genius. For starters, it somehow felt humbling to see her walk on stage with her cues written on a notepad. This is the first stand-up I have ever seen where the comedienne came with notes written on a paper. And the fact that such a senior and experienced stand-up comic did that made me feel really warmed up to her somehow.
Over the Special, she covers a wide range of topics, from abortion laws in the US to her experiences at camp, from sex to fun facts about squirrels, from a near-death personal experience to religion. All of it is intelligent humour, and all of it is super funny. A lots of segues through the whole thing, with her asking the audience repeatedly to put a pin in a topic she’s talking about to circle back to another related story they need to hear first. While the segues felt a bit disconcerting at times, they give the whole thing the feeling of a friend telling you a funny story, and realizing midway through the story that they haven’t told you another story from the past that you need to know to understand why this one is funny. It would seem that the notes ultimately didn’t help her keep track too well, after all. Or that the segues were actually flowcharted in those notes, in which case it would seem that she is an even greater comic genius that I originally estimated.)
My favourite part, ironically, was not actually a part of the Special at all. It was a cellphone video shot by her friend right before a life-saving surgery she had, which plays during the end credits. In the video, she is drugged for the surgery, and explains Brexit beautifully to prove to the doctors that she “isn’t high enough”. If half the people in the world understood political issues half as lucidly when sober, as she did when legitimately “high enough” on anasthesia, we would have much less suffering around us. And, borrowing a joke from her set, America would not be becoming great again right now.
All in all, an hour very well spent. Highly recommended if you are on a humungously delayed flight and trying hard to not be thankless by complaining about… you know what, Louis CK, screw that. I appreciate the miracle of human flight. But, God dammit, I will not let you take away from me my right to crib about human taxing on the runway. And as for you, Jet Airways, on my flight before this one, a guy’s seat was wet with the pee of the last passenger’s kid. And it is a little tough appreciating the miracle of human flight when flying in the wetness of human urination.
Let me end with an open letter to Jet Airways.
Dear Jet Airways,
I like you. I am a frequent flyer, which is basically fancy-speak for frequent air-polluter. But I am hoping that that is a good thing in your books anyway. I am writing to draw your attention to a quote by Ms Silverman, who puts it so beautifully in her Netflix Special when she says that we are all specks of dust sitting on a speck of dust hurtling through the Universe. To which I would like to beautifully add that I prefer to do my hurtling sitting on a pee-free speck, if that is all the same to you.
Unless you would like to offer me some extra frequent flyer miles and an upgrade to compensate for my troubles (and to pull this post down). In which case, we can probably work something out. Because while we may all be flying specks of dust and all that, the speck flying Business Class is definitely the more comfortable one.
Wink Wink Nudge Nudge,
A Non-Contributing Zero
PS: Fun trivia about this film. The CBFC wanted a scene in the movie cut because it showed the character Kanan reciting Hanuman Chalisa to ward away Shashi’s ghost and she doesn’t budge. The reason, and I love this part, that Hanuman Chalisa is a sure shot solution to ghost infestation and the movie inaccurately portrays it as being ineffective against one. So many incepted levels of idiocy there that it makes me laugh and cry for humanity everytime I think of it. Watch this movie, if for nothing else, then to piss off Mr Nihalani and his band of enlightened brothers.
This story was published in DailyO in February 2017, right after this issue came out. Re-published here in its unedited form.
I am an ardent reader of HT Brunch. Every weekend, I look forward to their latest edition to devour from cover to cover. As an engineer myself, I absolutely adore Mr Rajiv Makhni’s tech column. Ms Seema Goswami’s thoughts of the week always make for a fun and interesting read. Mr Vir Sanghvi’s rude food is always enlightening (I only wish it was sometimes accompanied by an English translation alongside the original Greek and Latin!).
Point is, it is a great magazine and makes for a wonderful showcase of everything that is new and young and worth knowing about in modern culture. Which is precisely why, I was highly disturbed to see their cover this Sunday.
This week’s cover story of HT Brunch is about the women’s football team. Normally, this should be a story that would fill one’s heart with pride for our girls, and pride at being a woman oneself. Normally, this should be a story I should want to recommend to all my friends who are parents of little girls and are looking for a bedtime story to read out to them – a story that would make them believe that anything is possible and any dream they dream that night can become a reality if work hard for it. Normally, this should be a story of grit, determination, blood, sweat and sheer girl gumption.
But the moment I picked up the issue, I saw from the cover image itself that this would be no normal story. The cover image showed two photographs of the sportswomen – one, with them in their jerseys, posing with footballs, and the other, with them posing in fashionable clothing, wearing a ton of makeup, and high heels. The first photo was tagged “3k views” and the second “301k views”. Below the images was written in bold lettering, “It must be the make-up!”
My heart sank as I took in the monstrosity that was this cover image.
Even without opening the magazine, I felt let down by this publication that is supposed to be a herald-er of “what’s cool” and “what’s in” for the youth. Here it was, portraying women – sportswomen at that – in a light that reduces them to objects to be dolled up, and reduces their worth to “views” based on their looks and their make-up. I felt shocked that this horror passed the editorial process of the HT group. I felt shocked that, in this day and age, where feminism is finally becoming a point of discussion at family dinners, such a major magazine could still present a picture of women that sets their legitimacy as professionals back by decades, and reduces them to being pretty little things, valuable only because of their aesthetically pleasing bodies. While some in popular culture are making an effort to celebrate stories of parents encouraging their daughters in female infanticide-ridden Haryana to pursue sports, here is our national team being objectified on the front page of a leading pop-culture magazine.
The inside of the story offered no redeeming features either. It is frankly depressing that the magazine did not deem our national football team worthy of being covered by a sports journalist, and sent a beauty journalist(!) to cover their stories instead. The beauty journalist did what beauty journalists do – gave the ladies a makeover and spent time discussing their lip glosses, while their struggles and journeys as sportswomen went glossed over.
And then there was the utterly laughable section of the article where they brought in Mr Baichung Bhutia to comment on the girls’ makeover, because why would a woman dress up, if not for the approval of the nearest alpha male. It is a deeply awkward piece, where Mr Bhutia is clearly uncomfortable with what he is expected to comment on. Here is a picture of him in the magazine, where they have him shrug his shoulders in that “Who are these women and what did they do to my players?” kind of way. Not sure whether to laugh or cry at the self-goal there, pun unintended.
I am sure Mr Bhutia must’ve felt far more comfortable talking about the game these women happen to play, and spoken about it at length as well. But here is the pearl of a quote the journalist picked and included in the article: “as a former FIFA chief once said, Indian women dance and move their bodies so well that they can definitely excel at football.” Downright educational to read Indian women’s sporting talent being traced back to gyration at wedding baraats. If this isn’t demeaning and belittling their respective struggles, and the hard work it must have taken to rise to where they have, I don’t know what is.
Someone I discussed this article with pointed out the responsibility of the women featured in the article and the role played by them in the angle the magazine chose to cover them with. To that, I can only respond by placing myself in their shoes. 20-21 year old girls, many of them from rural backgrounds, being covered by media professionals, cannot be blamed for trusting these ‘professionals’ to know their job. When I was their age, I was far behind them in terms of accomplishment (heck, I am a decade older and still far behind them in terms of accomplishment). And I cannot say with confidence, that if someone had asked me a decade back to put on some make-up and pose for a cover story in a leading magazine, I would notice anything terribly wrong with that.
Which is why I feel that the responsibility for the irresponsibility shown by the Brunch team here lies squarely on their shoulders. Perhaps shared, in part, only by history and the way women – even exceptional achievers like these girls – have always been portrayed. Unfortunately, that is where one looks at the media of today to move forward and bring about change. I sincerely wish the Brunch editors had chosen to play that role, instead of repeating and reinforcing the mistakes of the past for a shinier cover picture.
I am eagerly awaiting the next issue of Brunch with bated breath. I wonder if it will feature the men’s football team. I wonder if they will send a beauty journalist to cover the boys too. I wonder if we will read all about their favorite hairgels and exfoliating skin care routine in the story. I wonder if a senior female football player will be brought into the room after the sportsmen undergo a makeover to comment on how pretty they looked, and how Indian men are naturally good at footer, given the practice they get dancing at weddings.
I wonder if we will ever try to legitimize the achievements of our sportsmen by giving them a makeover and a thousand times more views! It must be the make-up!
This piece was originally published on the website Gradstory in 2014, soon after the UPSC results for the year came out. Back then, I was a little under 2 years old in the civil services. Today, I am a little over a year old out of the civil services.
I continue to work closely with the Government of India in my professional capacity. I continue to be close with friends still in the trade. It continues to be a job I deeply respect and admire. And I continue to hope that, with time, more and more young and talented people will choose to join the services for the right reasons.
Meanwhile, here is the article I once wrote from the other side, reproduced again in its original form, in honour of Civil Services Day 2017. Go (self-dabba-carrying) Babus! You know who you are.
It is that time of the year again. The UPSC results are out. Over a thousand new entrants make their way jubilantly into the bureaucracy of the country. Many will be publicly felicitated on this grand success of theirs. Village panchayats will put up pandaals to celebrate the good fortune. Local Godmen and goons will wash their feet with milk. (True story, happened with a colleague.) Much merriment and press coverage shall ensue.
Every year, around this time, as my Facebook feed gets inundated with these declarations of success, I wonder how many are thinking of this moment as the beginning of their life’s hard work, rather than as the culmination of it. If my personal experience is anything to go by, there are precious few.
What attracts you most to the job a bureaucrat? Is it the power? The prestige? The under-the-table income? The government-sponsored car? The peon who hurriedly comes to open the government-sponsored car’s gate and carries your dabba up the stairs for you?
If yes, let me save you some long reading. This piece is not for you. Also, while I have your attention, I do not like you. Seriously. Do us all a solid, and carry your own damned dabba for once. Kthxbai.
Assuming that you are continuing to read on, you are either insulted and fishing for an excuse to hurl insults back at me, or belong to the camp that is attracted to this job for its contributive potential. You probably want to give something back to society and see the Civil Services as a means to that end.
You are among the precious few.
Welcome to bureaucracy. I like you.
And since I like you so much, here is a token of my appreciation – a heads up about the life you just signed up for:
#1 I just called you “the precious few”. That makes you a minority.
Most people you will encounter in the coming few decades of your life (should you choose to stick around that long) define their existence by this day, this rank, these marks – and will continue to do so ad nauseam. Your unenviable job for the rest of your bureaucratic career is to walk the tightrope between living among them and not becoming one of them.
#2 The bad news: a new caste system awaits you here. The good news: membership is optional.
If you thought that you have made it and life will be a bed of roses hereon, welcome to the civil services caste system. We have many castes here – the IAS and the “IAS-allied” / the “home cadre” and the “have-to-learn-a-new-language cadre” / the “Group A” and the “Group not-A”, etcetera etcetera. Notice that all of these castes are sealed for life based on the subject’s performance in a fundamentally flawed examination (s)he wrote once upon a time – and are in no way a reflection of the quality of person they were or have evolved into since.
The identity associated with these castes – higher or lower – is a self-inflicted albatross most babus wear around their necks to their retirement. Some, to their grave. These are the often the ones that will demand your respect.
At the same time, you will come across some amazing people who have shunned the caste system altogether. You can recognize them as the ones that command your respect based on who they are, and not the office they occupy.
Who you wish to be is up to you.
#3 Never forget who you were before this day.
Just because you do, it will not mean that the world around you will ignore the caste system too. All your life, you will come across those who will either put you on a pedestal, or try to bring your spirits down because of your service, or your posting, or your cadre, or some other irrelevant tripe linked irrevocably to these marks you scored in UPSC all those decades ago.
Existential crisis is likely to be a constant occupational hazard.
Develop a thick skin. Tune these voices out. Cherish your old friendships, stay in touch with the world you are coming from. Your roots will keep you sane.
#4 You cannot change the world single-handedly. But always be on the prowl for the small differences you can make.
It is easy to get frustrated if you seek to cure cancer on Day 1. Here is a reality check for the fellow romantics. This is just another job. Many out there are contributing more to the task of nation building than you are. And there are many problems here that you can do absolutely nothing about.
My advice – focus on what you can do. No task is too little. The beauty of being here is that small steps for a babu can often mean big leaps for the system. For instance, I am crazy about technology and paperlessness. I may not have cured cancer yet, but the few trees I have managed to save so far give me a decent night’s sleep.
This also makes it extremely important to have interests beyond this job. After office hours, I shell out bullet-pointed satire and advice no one asked me for. And I suggest you find something crazy to do too. This is going to be a long journey and you’ll need something to keep the seasickness at bay.
#5 This is just another job. You are not God. Stay humble.
Among the many things we inherited from the British is the maibaap culture. When everyone around you treats you like a demi-God, staying grounded becomes a challenge. Never forget that you are here to serve the public and not the other way round.
I once met a senior officer who took this spirit to the next level. The nameplate outside her office read “Smt XYZ, Public Servant” instead of a heavyweight designation most bureaucrats derive such smug satisfaction from. She said the gesture earned her flak from her colleagues for “denigrating the stature” of her office.
And that is the sort of appreciation you can expect for your humility too.
Oh, I almost forgot. Congratulations on your grand success.
Okay I am freezing as I type this so I am going to make it worth my while. And yours, dear angry-feedback reader at Bluber (cab service company name concealed for privacy). Your job must be tough enough without me dumping another poorly written poor review on you. And so, I am going to try to make it worth your while as well.
So here goes: The cab stank of marijuana.
Like, enough to leave me coughing from delayed second-hand smoke level, stank. The cabbie had the windows rolled down when I boarded, so I assume he wasn’t entirely oblivious to the fragrant interiors of his car either. Which brings us to the question – was it the driver who relished the herbs or a previous occupant of the cab?
I tried hard to stare into the eyes of the former the entire journey to discern any signs of crimson through his rear view mirror. He might be confused about my degree of interest in his eyes so if he has given me a 5 star rating, we all know where that came from.
However, to be fair, apart from some suspiciously slow-mo blinking, I have little proof to go by. Unless you count the under speed limit driving and complete absence of road rage, which, frankly, for any self-respecting Indian driver, is pretty damning evidence of a DUI.
To give the man the benefit of doubt though, I do suggest you also check up on the trail of cabbie feedback my predecessor in the Bluber is leaving elsewhere in their wake. If (s)he is consistently getting 5 star ratings, we all know where that is coming from.
Which brings us to me. Right now. In the backseat of this car, inhaling a mixture of banned substances and B.O. Typing this review on my mobile with shivering fingers on a cold winter night, with my windows rolled down rather suicidally – in part, to keep my access to oxygen open, and in part, hoping to sober up our man Mr Sunil here.
As tempted as I am by this under-speed limit driving sans references to people’s mothers and sisters – and believe me this level of gentlemanliness is unprecedented in my past experiences, not only with cabbies, but nearly the entire male race – I cannot help but worry about Mr Sunil’s reaction times in case of Indian-style driving by our less-gentlemanly brethren around us.
PS: I request you not to Nihalanize this situation and ask how I recognize the smell of marijuana in the first place. I have functional olfactory senses. And I live in Delhi. Near IIT Delhi, to be precise. Case closed.
“Idhar tauji apni duty kar rahe thhe, udhar gaon vaale apni.”