Wedding banquet etiquette

If you have lived sufficiently long in the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram , it is quite possible that you have at some point or the other been party to a feast served in a traditional wedding. Celebrities like Deepika and Ranveer who have been hosting umpteen numbers of wedding receptions for their staggering list of contacts should learn a trick or two from us. This celebrity couple have been getting married for over a month now. I’m sure they must be taking muscle relaxant shots in the jaw to recover from smiling after every reception party . They need to learn to handle humongous numbers and finish everything in one shot. Just like us. In Thiruvananthapuram, two or three thousand guests is the norm. Five thousand means you ARE somebody. A paltry thousand means you are nobody. If your wedding hasn’t caused a major traffic jam in the city , if the bride doesn’t develop cervical spondylitis on her bridal night thanks to the bludgeoning weight of heavy ornaments in front overtaking the weight of the flowers on her hair attachments and if there is no spanking new BMW decorated with flowers parked outside the hall, then it speaks volumes about your decrepit , non-existent, rub-your-nose-in-the-mud social status.

Now when you reach the venue, the important thing is to keep a beady eye on the shutter gate that opens to the thousand seater banquet hall. It’s usually a loyal member of the clan who has been entrusted with the responsibility of opening it at the right time. You can sweat and swear all you want , but it will be opened only at the crucial moment when the wedding is over. This will happen in a blink of an eye. So if you stand around daydreaming then you’ve missed your chance. Ever played Kho kho or Musical chairs as a kid? Well, this is the moment to put those childhood skills to the test while jostling in to grab a seat. Never played Musical chairs ? Then follow the motto of PUSH-SHOVE-BOLT. Outmanoeuvred still, by a thousand who raced past you and grabbed their seats? Then don’t lose heart. Make your way to the rickety stage for the customary photo with the bride and groom. At this point, let me tell you, if you’ve played Kabaddi as a kid, it will help . You have to stand in the winding queue till the point where you step on to the stage. At this precarious position, many queuecrashers will try to elbow their way in. It’s important to keep an eagle eye on the camera and JUST DART IN as the photographer shows a thumbs up to the group posing in front of you. Never played Kabaddi as a kid ? Then I would advice you not to even try doing this. You might end up spraining your ankle or setting fire to your sari or mundu from one of the lit lamps on stage. Identify the person who invited you. The boy’s mother or uncle or whoever. Make sure you make eye contact and convince them that you are going to stand in the queue . And the moment their back is turned make a beeline for the shutter gate. For round two of the wedding feast. Ever played Dumb charades as a kid? How does that skill help here you might ask. Well, even I don’t know. Just focus on that shutter gate. You don’t want to be last among the next one thousand, do you?

( Pic courtesy: A still from ‘Njan Prakashan’. )

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The lungi ban

As the name suggests, the lungi sometimes also called the kylie , is a loose, shapeless piece of garishly coloured cloth wrapped around the lower torso of men, originally meant to be sleep wear for them. But over the years, it had become a favourite daytime dress for millions of men, especially lazy husbands, good for nothing loafers, road Romeo’s, eve teasers, uncles and grand uncles across Indian cities, towns and villages.

Four months ago, a nine-member council in the village of Tokalapalli in Andhra Pradesh state, surprisingly headed by a woman, ordered that boys and men must not wear lungi’s from 7am to 7pm and those who did would have to pay a fine of 2,000 rupees. Those who snitched on anyone breaching the ban were promised a cash reward of 1,000 rupees.This order followed close on the heels of a similar ban with a similar fine on the women’s nightie which had been a huge success given the disappearance of this shapeless garment from the public eye.

Village council elder, Kavitha Murthy told a visiting colleague from BBC Telugu that the ban was to stop men from exposing their legs and more. “It is okay to wear lungi’s at home but wearing such flimsy clothing outdoors could lead to sociological problems like indecent exposure of genitals”, she said. “Efforts to prevent the ban are as repugnant as backing the gun lobby in the USA”, she explained. “What has that got to do with this?“ asked the startled reporter. Kavitha Murthy chuckled. “See, you give them easy access to the gun, then they will use it. You swathe it under tight underwear, pants with rusty zips and a belt , then they will think twice before whipping it out”, she said with a knowing smile.

The news of the lungi ban spread far and wide and the humble lungi found a few distinguished defenders. Designer Joseph Zach said, “It’s not the most elegant garment but it has become a uniform of sorts for men because it’s convenient and practical. It meets all their requirements – it’s a single piece of clothing so you just pull it on, it’s knee length and covers the crucial areas so it’s modest too.”

Designer Rizvi adds: lungis are so popular with men because traditional attire like the ankle length white mundu and adopted attire like pants are not the best or most comfortable garment for doing important work like climbing coconut trees. The lungi, he says, has set them free.

Writer Rajesh Shekhawat quoted a line from J. K Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ , in defence of the lungi :

‘Muggle women wear them, Archie, not the men, they wear these,’ said the Ministry wizard, and he brandished the pinstriped trousers.

‘I’m not putting them on,’ said old Archie in indignation. ‘I like a healthy breeze ’round my privates, thanks.’

A village elder, Nageshwar Rao said it was essentially the Western influence which had lead to the influx of the checkered lungi. ”The Scottish kilt- very similar, if you notice”, he explained in a threatening voice. “To think we were blind to this association so far”, he thundered, adjusting the belt on his pant.

“ But what about pants? Aren’t they essentially Western attire too? ”

He shook his head sagely, “ No , no , no my friend. We discovered the pants and the dhoti and the pajamas. Along with a host of other things. It’s just that nobody gave us credit for it”.

But talking to the BBC recently, Mr Ganeshan , editor of the Peppermint Lounge said he believed that the village council had been cuckolded into implementing it as part of the dictates of the ‘moral police’ which had banned the nightie a few months before, citing corrupting Western influence and declaring it sexy attire. Kavithaji, the only woman in the village council , who also happened to head it had fiercely defended the nightie saying that nothing could be as desexualised as the shapeless nightie.

But being one amongst nine, her opinion had been vetoed. In the light of the previous ban , he speculated that the lungi ban was simply a decoy ban to make things uncomfortable for both genders. A tit for tat , checkmate move was how he described it.

Needless to say, a few days without the lungi and the men of the village started to see reason. Last heard, an emergency village council meeting had been called for. Will they call off the lungi ban, asked the BBC reporter holding the microphone to village elder Kavitha Murthy. “ It depends”, she replied with a mysterious smile as she adjusted her sari pallu and stepped into the village council chamber.

Pic courtesy: Jimmy Devasia, Illustrations of the world. Pinterest.

( This story is a spoof ; my spin on an actual news article in the BBC about banning the nightie in the same village. It caught my eye because of the beautiful illustrations . 😊 https://www.bbc.com/news/amp/world-asia-india-46235692 )

The master stroke

The clapping, the cheering and most of all the booming laughter. It irritated him to no end. It would start at 7 pm in the evening and go on till the pendulum on his surly grandfather clock struck swung back and forth eleven times. Four big spotlights were tied up to different apartment windows to focus light on the central quadrangle where the badminton match was being played in full swing. The court was a makeshift one with a red and white net riddled with holes strung from two poles . 70 year old Robert Fernandes lived in an apartment on the first floor which directly opened onto this spectacle. There was no point in raising objections in the monthly apartment complex meeting. He was one against a thousand. Like David against a bunch of Goliaths. A losing battle from the start.

There were many arguments in favour of this activity. It kept the kids away from their mobiles. A few had even gone on to play in State level badminton matches. It gave the older folks some exercise. And the less inclined a good spectator sport where comments and whistles and claps would fly in the air. They simply did not feel the need to respect one old man’s discomfort. For them, he wasn’t even a real person. He was a caricature. A character straight out of Tintin comics. Cuthbert Calculus was his nickname. Robert looked critically at his reflection in the mirror. There indeed was a striking resemblance. The egg shaped head, the small goatee beard , his well combed mouchtache, the round rimless spectacles. He even was hard of hearing and struggled through unavoidable social conversations with his hearing aid. His nickname had caught on so well that no one ever called him by his real name. He was stuck with the moniker- Cuthbert Calculus.

The apartment members of this Catholic Christian community only knew this aspect of his personality. What they didn’t know was that like the erstwhile professor he had a penchant for inventing new things. He was the first person to invent the puri press. A handy device in the present day kitchen if you wanted to make perfectly even , round puris in a hurry. He had also invented the squeezy ketchup bottle. A small thing indeed, but it had helped in marketing Humma ketchup in a big way, making them India’s number one brand. The feather in his cap however was fast setting concrete reinforced with coloured glass which he used to make sculptures. The large fountain in the middle of the Taj hotel garden was his craftsmanship. The trick was in creating the sculpture in record time so that it hardened perfectly with the coloured glass fragments embedded in it reflecting sun rays . Just last month his chief apprentice and his team of three had come to meet him. His elves, as he liked to think of them. From his favourite bedtime story- the elves and the shoemaker. The parallels were there, because this technique involved an overnight installation. They would come with their materials and tools and work at it all night. A few hours would be spent in soundlessly drilling a foundation for it with their new soundproof power drills. Once this was done, the mould would be placed and the actual sculpture would be shaped within thirty minutes by an artist. In another thirty minutes the concrete would set. Time and skill were held to test here as these two steps could not be undone. Removing this sculpture also would not be an easy task as the foundation would be well set. The rest of the night would be spent in chipping, cleaning and polishing. By morning a resplendent masterpiece would be ready. They had come to meet him last month because there was a mother and child statue installation inside a spanking new medicity campus. Their team had won the contract . As it was inside a fully functional hospital campus, it had to be done soundlessly and as quickly as possible. And no one else could do it as fast as they could. While he had taught him all the requisite skills of his trade, his apprentice still wanted him to come and fix the mother’s expression in the sculpture. This had to be done live , in a matter of minutes, before the concrete set. They strapped him onto a bucketseat in a crane and lowered it just near the mother’s face. With a little concentration and focus he got the expression right. It all depended on the eyes and the slant of the lips , he explained to his elves. And as they swung him away so that he would view his work from a distance, the crew broke into spontaneous applause. All that it required, was his master stroke, explained his apprentice . This was one of the moments Robert cherished and held close to his heart. But who other than his nighttime elves knew or even remotely appreciated his talents. For his apartment residents he was a cranky old retired building contractor who detested social activities of any kind.

Robert quickly shuffled along the steps to the building anteroom. It was time for the monthly building meeting. Nobody would reach on time, but he could never be late. Punctuality was no longer a golden virtue in the present generation. It was one of the relics of the past which old fogeys like him held on to. As expected, he was the first to arrive. The secretary with the perpetually harassed expression on his face was there arranging his papers . He wore the harassed expression as a mask. As a shield to discourage too many demands on his time. His job was to provide accounts for the upcoming building repairs planned for this month. Robert as usual had come to register his protest against the badminton games being played in the quadrangle. Each time he would raise this objection. And each time the secretary would listen with his mask in place and quietly explain that he was helpless as nobody else felt so miserable about it. There’s was an Anglo Indian community and soon the air would be thick with swearwords and phrases like ‘what a killjoy’, ‘dog in the manger‘ and ‘spoilsport’. He had threatened, he had cajoled , he had promised a heavenly retribution. But they only laughed all the more. There was even a snide comparison to King Lear, given his obsession for studying Shakespeare’s works in this ripe old age. In Shakespeare’s King Lear, the protagonist on the brink of madness says, “I’ll do such things, what they are yet I know not, but they shall be the terrors of the earth!”

The meeting soon progressed onto more pressing matters like the building repairs. They had raised 5 lakh rupees from the annual X’mas bake-a-cake sale and badminton tournament . The question was now which contractor to award the contract to. One party – known players , had agreed to do it for 7.5 lakhs. While another party, new players in this field, in an attempt to undercut the competition had offered to do it for 5 with a few beautification projects thrown in , as a bonus. They had an impressive track record, doing similar projects in five star hotels and it seemed a bit strange that they would bother to involve themselves with a dowdy old apartment complex that was falling to pieces. After weighing the pros and cons , a decision was taken and the meeting was dissolved.

The repair work progressed with remarkable speed. Leaking ceilings were fixed. Overhead tanks were sealed. Damaged walls were replastered. A repainting of the exterior was taking place at a breakneck speed. The makeshift spotlights in the quadrangle were replaced with spanking new ones. The apartment members couldn’t stop congratulating themselves on this coup. The secretary was super pleased with the renovation efforts. As he handed over the cheque of 5 lakhs he surmised that this effort would mark the end of his glowing tenure. He could have waited till they finished, but he wanted to pay it off in advance in case they changed their mind, because they were clearly putting in more than they deserved. The contractor accepted the cheque without any mention of increased charges. And the secretary smiled happily. He could retire from his post with the satisfaction of a job well done. The contract work would end on 13th April. That was the last day of the board exams. From the next day, badminton matches would resume in the quadrangle in the glow of the new spotlights and they could once again generate more funds.

On the morning of 13th April, Cuthbert got up early. He was a pernickety man of punctilious routine. As he stirred the tea leaves in his teapot, he couldn’t help feeling excited at what lay ahead. He sank into his easy chair in the balcony that faced the open quadrangle and exhaled deeply. In no time the other sleepy heads of his apartment complex would be up and about. He didn’t want to miss the fun. He glanced at his old HMT wristwatch. 5:50 am. Old Ms. D’Souza would be the first to wake up and sit in her balcony overflowing with hanging flowering pots. His eyes went back to the smiling Madonna in the centre of the quadrangle. The early morning sun rays were reflecting off the coloured glass pieces embedded in the concrete creating a prismatic , heavenly halo. The arch of the eyes, the slant of the lips. He had got it right. Yet, once again.

Pic courtesy: Pinterest: https://www.diyncrafts.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/11-shuttlecock-lighting.jpg

Tell me your dreams.

“ What is it that you really wanted to be? “

He asked me this in the middle of a chatting session while we anxiously waited for our turn outside a crowded office in New Delhi in the year 1996. It was the All India Pre Medical Counselling session with an electronic board displaying the remaining seats left in each government medical college in various states. I hailed from Kottayam and grew up in Raipur and both these options were still left.

I replied with a return question, “ I’ll tell you, but first tell me your dream?”.

He sighed and said, “A guitarist for my rock band”.

“ And why didn’t you go for that?”

“ No money, no job security “.

“ That’s sad.”

“ Now, you tell me.”

I told him the dream I had dared to dream. Nobody actively discouraged me. They just told me that it’s more likely I may not succeed. In no time, my self doubt and low self esteem took over. And I squashed that dream.

“I wanted to be a journalist-writer”.

He turned and looked at me with a frown and replied shaking his head, “ You have to be really beautiful to succeed as a journalist. There’s so much competition“.

“ Beautiful?! What has that…”

But before I could complete my question my turn had come. My mum was with me. I had the medical colleges of both Madhya Pradesh and Kerala in order of rank before me. Bhopal and Trivandrum (the capitals) were already taken. Raipur was filled up. In Kerala , I could pick any college other than Trivandrum. Kottayam was the obvious choice as I had relatives in every nook and cranny. My grandfather lived there and he had promised to send me to college everyday in a chauffeur driven car. My grandmother was more pragmatic and said it would be better I stayed at the hostel and came home for weekends. My grandfather knew most of the faculty in Kottayam and I could picture myself turning into something jaw-droppingly phenomenal like a cardiologist or a neurosurgeon under his watchful eye. I glanced at the ranklist again and after Trivandrum was Calicut. Kottayam came third on the Kerala list. I told my mother I’m going for Calicut as it’s ranked over Kottayam. A crazy choice considering I had not a single relative there. To my amazement she said, “Go for it. It’s your choice.” For one grateful moment , at the threshold of adulthood, I realised that she had let me exercise my first right to make a decision for myself.

After the counselling I looked around for the guy who wanted to be a guitarist. I wanted to ask him what he meant by what he said. That you have to be beautiful to succeed as a journalist. I couldn’t spot him.

Maybe I lost him in the crowd.

Maybe he was watching me from behind some pillar. And knew I would want an explanation for what he said.

Maybe … just maybe… he abandoned the counselling and ran back home to pursue his reckless dream.

In case you are reading this- Delhi guy with spiky hair from 22 years ago. I understand today what you meant when I see with so much sadness, women in journalism speaking up with stories of shame.

( pic courtesy: Pinterest: http://pascalcampion.tumblr.com/ )

The buried talent.

In the treasure chest of my innumerable pointless talents, lies buried one that I never mention. My grandmother frequently admonished me over it saying that it stirred up snakes from their hiding places. I had successfully exorcised this talent after my college years when recently like a blast from the past, I heard a familiar song. It got stuck in my head, like a bee buzzing inside my ear until I finally succumbed. I whistled it, recorded it on whatsapp and sent it to my buddy from college. She laughed uncontrollably on hearing it as it brought back memories of an embarrassing incident from twenty years back that we both felt best forgotten.

“Do you mind if I write about it” , I asked.

“Oh, do that”, she said, “nobody will believe you anyway.”

So here’s the incident. A tall tale from 20 years back when we were in college.

Clangggggg!!!

The lift came to a sudden halt after a long drawn out creak and shudder. She helplessly turned to the person stuck with her inside it who looked equally startled. He ruffled his hair and cursed under his breath. They were on their way to labour room from the gynaec casuality. The lift was an ancient rusted contraption whose time had finally come. She tried screaming, but she knew it was useless. He kept fiddling with the buttons and pounding on the collapsible steel door but to no avail. It was 2 am in the morning. There was nothing they could do, until and unless someone noticed their absence and came hunting for them.

He was not one cut out for great chatter. Everyone knew he was crazy about her best friend as he literally stalked her across the campus. She sat crosslegged, on the floor of the lift , resigned to her fate. Of all the people in the world she had to be stuck in a lift, it had to be this guy! Somebody else’s stalker. Sigh! He stretched out on the floor, his arms folded under his head, legs resting on the door. Her weak attempt at polite conversation, “It’s so quiet in here, no?”, was met with a grunt. The writing on the wall was clear. He didn’t give a damn for small talk.

An hour later, while she was thanking her stars that she had gone to the loo just before entering the lift, he was whistling softly to himself. The tune seemed familiar, but he was whistling it so badly that it was difficult to pick it up at first. Then suddenly with a start , she recognised the song. It was the one she dreaded. ‘Jaadu teri Nazar.’ The song was a runaway hit from the movie Darr which starred Shahrukh Khan and Juhi Chawla. It was all about a crazed stalker with an intractable stammer and his muse. So HE was the guy who was leaving those strange love notes with lines from this very song in her books and satchel . He had probably given up on her best friend and transferred his craziness to her. She shuddered inwardly and glanced around. It was a confined space little bigger than a box with a small gap for air circulation. Was it possible that he had fixed the lift? If he decided to act smart, there was nothing much she could do about it. But on the other hand, he was only a batchmate, he wouldn’t have the guts to do anything , she consoled herself.

He gave a loud yawn and stood up and stretched himself. He looked genuinely bored out of his wits. She scrambled to her feet , wondering what he was going to do. He mumbled something about getting pins and needles sitting so still and started exercising in front of her. She flattened herself against the lift wall and watched him bend and jump and do push-ups and planks . Every time he jumped, the lift creaked noisily. She thought the lift would go hurtling down to the bottom in a killer drop, but was too terrified to protest. And he was too utterly indifferent to her presence to bother about niceties. Then suddenly he stared in her direction and moved towards her, with his thumb outstretched. She stifled a scream and stepped backwards. He reached out and jabbed at the lift buttons next to her ear one last time. She got so petrified that she jump-started into action and whacked blindly with all her might. She hit his solar plexus and he collapsed before her like a limp sack of sand. He was out cold. Unconscious but not dead, she decided after feeling his pulse. She realized that she must have accidentally hit him in one of the correct vital spots or the marmam that they mention in Kalaripayattu ( a traditional martial arts form) .

She then sat down next to him and waited for morning. They were discovered soon by an attender who raised the alarm and called for the repairman. When they finally opened the door, she daintily jumped out after stepping over the guy who was still sprawled out on the floor. He revived after a glass of cold water was splashed on his face. When he came to , she was busy giving some detailed explanation about how the poor air circulation had got to him. He didn’t say a word , of course. He just looked at her in a stunned manner.

Finally, when he got a chance, he whispered hoarsely , “Why did you try to kill me? I was only going to press the lift button.”

“Oho”, she said , arching her eyebrows. “I thought you were going to attack me.”

He looked aghast. “ Attack !?”

She said, “Why don’t you admit it, you are the guy who has been sending me those stupid love notes.”

“ What notes?”He sounded genuinely puzzled now. What an actor he is, she thought.

“Those littles notes scribbled in red sketchpen. With the lines Tu hai meri Kiran ….written on it. They were hidden in my notebooks and purse.”

His eyes almost popped out.

“I swear by all the deities in this world that I never did such a thing.”

“You whistled the exact same tune in the lift”, she said accusingly.

“Darr was playing on TV last weekend. I happened to watch a bit of it. The tune was stuck in my head.”

She just shrugged her shoulders and wearily walked back to the hostel , mulling over his words. Either he was a world class actor or he was genuinely innocent .

At the hostel entrance, she spotted me, her best friend. I was sitting in the lobby, reading the newspaper, with a steaming mug of tea next to me.

So I asked her, “How was last night’s duty? You look very tired.”

She collapsed on the steel foldable chair and told me what happened. I listened to the story wide-eyed and couldn’t help feeling a little agitated at the end of it.

“You knocked him out unconscious?”

“Yea, it was a flight or fight response. No scope for flight so I had to fight.”

“How is he now?”, I asked .

“Looks a bit stunned. Didn’t expect this from me, I bet. But of course he won’t tell anyone. It’s a disgrace for a beefy guy like him to have been thumped by a chit of girl like me. I have no regrets anyway. Such cheek, to send me those silly notes and then whistle the very same tune. What does he take me for? You know , he can’t even whistle as well as you. Yours rings so loud and clear. His goes Phweeet…at the end of the line.”

I carefully folded away the newspaper, looked into her eye and said, “He is innocent.”

She frowned, “How can you say that with such conviction?”

I cleared my throat uneasily. This was going to be hard to explain. “Those notes….with the song lyrics written in red sketchpen. That was me and the gang. We played a prank on you, sweetie.”

She groaned and cradled her head in her hands. “I should have guessed. Now what am I going to tell him!!!”

I grinned cheekily. “Try saying this. Would you believe me if I told you that this was all an embarrassing mistake?”

The ultimate mic drop

During my college days, in the late nineties in Calicut, I have come across this term multiple times in more flowery language. Vedi, charak, cheez, randee,whore, slut, pro. Mentioning this is considered the ultimate mic drop.The terminal insult beyond which none exists. The moment this is mentioned, is the moment of victory, because no woman in her right mind will dare respond to this. And all through my growing up years, I have been counselled about this. How to talk softly, how to walk slowly, how to laugh in hushed tones, how to sit with ones legs pushed close together. In short , how not to behave like a guy. Ooops! Not a guy.How not to behave like a prostitute.

When I first came to Calicut, I had come smartly dressed in a denim pinafore and white polo neck full sleeve Tshirt with oxidised earrings dangling from each ear. From where I grew up, in this get-up, nobody would give me a second glance. Here, at the principal’s office , while filling in the forms itself , there was a small crowd milling around me, pretending to be busy, but quite openly staring. Two weeks later when classes started and I actually joined college, I had wisened up. Only frumpy salwar kameezs’ were packed in my suitcase. No frocks, no skirts. I had oiled my hair well and plaited it as modestly as possible. Do in Rome as the Roman’s do, I reminded myself. The dupatta had to be folded in pleats and pinned severely on both sides firmly with a safety pin lest it give a hint of what’s underneath. “It’s our lajjavastra”, explained my roommate with a guffaw. Lajjavastra in Hindi, is translated as the article of clothing to cover your shame. After lecture classes came practicals and soon the lajjavastra had to be worn like a python wrap around one’s neck, with the white coat over it. “Simply pinning it won’t do”, she explained . “Cause’ if you bend to peer into the microscope ( the black , monocular ones which needed natural light for reflection), there is a good chance of some lajja escaping.” It was suffocating and it felt really hot to stuff it around your bosom in the summers, but there was no other go. This was the price you paid for saving your lajja.

On Fridays, we used to step out to town, some 10 of us girls , all dressed smartly , like how normal college kids would go for a movie. We were walking towards the bus stop in staggered groups of two and three. A stray man suddenly jumps in my path. This is mid-afternoon , at the busiest point in the campus. He comes close, his nose just an inch away and looks straight down at my chest. He utters some profanity which I thankfully don’t understand. I too look down alarmed, at my T-shirt wondering what was on it. Next second, my friend was dragging me away by the elbow. I remember crying in the bus afterwards.

Another thing I learnt the hard way was that T-shirts with captions on it is a bad idea.

This I realized to my discomfort, when I wore a T-shirt with Thanda thanda pani scrawled on it. (Remember that pop song by Remo Fernandes?) A man in the bus kept peering at it, pretending to try and read it aloud with gestures to go with it much to the amusement of the male co-passengers. I angrily retorted back , but that only made him more excited. The lady sitting next to me admonished me for responding to him in the first place. “These are unsavoury characters, stay clear of them”. Her spontaneous advice session ended on the note of, “Next time, dress more carefully, ok? ”

Once while going out to the public library in town, I tried out a red colour lipstick. It was

going well with my red bandhini work dupatta and it made me really happy to dab it on. Not exactly a khoon-choosi red. A dull cherry red. It was a gift from my cousin. I had barely reached the hostel lobby, when one of my batchmates, stopped me.

“Where are you going ?”

“Town. To the public library”

“Are you crazy to go with that red lipstick?”

“Why, is it that obvious? I thought it was a subtle shade.”

“Look here, in Calicut only prostitutes wear red lipstick.”

Of course, that was a bit too much to digest. I quickly washed it off and returned to the lobby.

“Now it’s gone”, she said inspecting my lips carefully. I thanked her for warning me about the social repercussions of walking around in red lipstick and returned back to my room. I somehow didn’t feel like going out anymore. The library books could wait another day. Seeing my woebegone face, my roommate asked me what happened. I told her and she agreed that our batchmate had a point. It was better to be safe than sorry.

“Moreover, do you know what lipstick is made up of?”

“No”, I said.

She leaned over and whispered into my ear, “Monkey’s blood”

“You gotta be kidding “, I said rubbing my lips.

“Of course I am”, she said, bursting into laughter.

Another occasion was when my mother was coming to visit and I was going to receive her with my friend in the town bus. I was excitedly talking about all the places I planned to take Mum over the weekend, when my hand got stuck in the jagged edge of a steel window rod. I yelled out “Ouch!”. Everyone in the bus turned around and glared at me. One of our senior batch girls sitting behind us in the bus, told me to speak softly and avoid saying words like ‘Ouch’ which sounded sexy. Apparently, again only prostitutes spoke loudly in public spaces to attract attention to themselves. It was as if someone had done a randomised controlled trial on behavioural characteristics of prostitutes.

With time, I became more Roman than the Romans themselves. I barely looked like the smartly dressed teenager I was when I first came to Calicut. The focus was to be as inconspicuous as possible, to merge and if possible dissolve into the surroundings. Like that Old World Lizard. The garden chameleon with protruding eyes that rotated independently to spot every potential voyeur and a highly developed neurosensory ability to blend into the background. I had learnt my lesson. Do nothing to trigger the ultimate insult. Do nothing to tempt the caveman hidden in every Malayali man. No sudden movements. The same logic one applies while dealing with wild animals.

For the occasional long weekend I used to catch the overnight bus and escape to my aunt’s house- a sprawling bungalow in the heart of Bangalore city. The big attraction was piping hot food , a nice western toilet with no worries about anyone waiting in queue outside and a big,soft bed I could sink into all by myself. One afternoon ,my aunt

had some visitors. A couple with a restless ten year old kid . In no time, I found myself

sitting with an uninterested kid in the verandah. I’m not too great with kids so I smile at her, and get her some paper and pencils, thinking I’ll make her draw something to occupy her so I can avoid kiddie conversation and continue reading my paperback in peace. She peers curiously at my dupatta secured carefully to both sides with safety pins.

“Are you a teacher?”

” No”, I say, ” I’m a medical student”.

She isn’t convinced. She gives me a once-over and asks again,

“Then why are you dressed like a teacher?”.

I wallow in self pity for a while to the depths I have descended. I had hit new lows in my own personal sense of fashion . I swear to never, ever use those safety pins on my

dupatta again. I restock my wardrobe with glitzy net dupattas and well-fitting salwar

kameezs.They could ogle till the cows came home. This is the way I wanted to be-beautiful and bindaas.

A shout out to all those women who feel sad about being awarded by this epithet. Don’t worry, you aren’t the only one. Except for a few fiercely protected birds in golden cages, every little bird who has tried to fly has heard this word. Don’t let a single word clip your wings, sister.

Sacred Games: Netflix series: my review.

Getting Netflix took some convincing as I never watch TV at home. The hubby kept insisting that I would never find time to see it. I was wondering how to go about it when an opportunity presented in itself. A Saturday evening and as we were getting ready to go out for a drive to the regular beach-cum-dinner, he apologetically tells me he has just got a call from his friends and he would like to go out with them instead. Like a good South Indian wife I didn’t cauterize him. Instead I wistfully say, “Ah! If only I had something interesting to watch , I wouldn’t have minded staying at home alone with the kids on a Saturday evening.” And the rest was history. Within minutes we got Netflix. I explain to my kids that this is A stuff and you can’t even be in the same room when I watch it, so both of them are locked inside the study with a novel and colouring books and the smaller TV which nobody wants to see. Forty minutes later , I’m into two episodes, I want to watch the remaining six, but I feel guilty and let them out and get down to making dinner. My elder one isn’t much bothered, because she’d rather read her book in peace. My younger one, however is flustered at this new approbiation of her Peppa pig TV time. “Ammayuke mobilil irinnu kutthikalichoode?” ( Isn’t it enough for you to sit and play on your mobile?) she asks me,with an annoyed look. One more lock out the next day, a binge watch to the finish late into the night and I watch all eight episodes of the series.

Ganesh Gaitonde is the underworld don with a God complex. The ‘I am God’ stuff gets mentioned multiple times, enough to get any surgeon worth his salt really mad. I don’t think it’s really advisable that surgeons watch this. In fact, there should be a statuatory warning to this effect right in the beginning. The irate surgeon gets up and switches off the remote and mutters in disgust. “I am God, I am God”……..“bleh!”……… “ every Ganesh , Girish and Gaitonde now thinks he is God !” Nawazuddin Siddiqui plays Gaitonde, to perfection. The narration is lead by him as a gangster with a compelling story to tell. A countdown story set in the grim underbelly of Mumbai with his three baap’s who moulded him into the fine fellow he turned out to be. He chooses to tell his story to Sartaj Singh, the only honest cop in Mumbai. Saif Ali Khan gives a sterling performance. It was a relief to see a tech savvy and quick on the uptake cop here for once. Honesty goes hand in hand with brains, thankfully. Anjali Mathur is the Delhi girl who is a RAW agent played by Radhika Apte. She disappoints. She plays this character in the same way she plays her other recent role in ‘Lust stories’ . As an incredibly nervous wreck of a Professor who has an affair with her student whom she ends up stalking. A bit like watching a firecracker crackle under the stress of what she has got herself into. While she was fascinating there, she plays this role with the same nervous, edgy energy which over here seems a bit off. Besides the lead characters, there are a few well etched out smaller roles. Top cop Parulkar , Sartaj’s boss played by Neeraj Kabi is brilliant as the sold-his-soul –to-the-devil bad cop. Sartaj’s aide , constable Katekar, played by Jitendra Joshi is a natural. Bunty, Gaitonde’s right hand man on an automated wheelchair played by Jatin Sarna is spot on. Kukkoo, a cabare singer who adores the former actress Parveen Babi, is played to stunning perfection by Kubbra Sait. Zoya Mirza , the mysterious Bollywood actress with a past she is desperate to bury, played by Elnaaz Norouzi, sizzles in her role.

Now I haven’t watched too many Hollywood gangster movies or any similar web series so I really don’t know how this stands in comparison. I found the script , taut and gripping. A bit too much of macabre sex , but then that again, is I suspect, essentially behenjispeak. I grew up in the late, flowers-nodding-for-a-kiss eighties and clueless , Internet-charged-at-30- rupees-per- hour- in – cramped- cafes nineties. The torture scenes are gory and despicable. It’s no use pressing the fast forward button, because you might miss a crucial dialogue or two. One thing I found intriguing is that though there is mention of the Congress, especially Rajiv Gandhi, in a disparaging light, and though I think someone did protest, nobody is screaming for this to be banned. Rahul Gandhi’s singular statement on this deserves a round of applause. “ My father lived and died in the service of India. The views of a character on a fictional web series can never change that.” In these days of easily offended sensibilities, this comes as a veritable surprise. The crux of the series lies in Gaitonde’s realization that ‘sabse bada dhanda is religion’. He sticks to his sense of fairness initially and steers clear of this Hindu-Muslim nonsense, as he puts it. But later on ,he realizes that nothing can ignite our country as swiftly as religious divides can. From the highly educated professor to the man on the street, nothing makes our blood boil more than religion. Drugs, smuggling , guns are all small fry compared to this business- the biggest business of all. The gangwar between Gaitonde and his adversary Isa Suleiman eerily mirror the one between Chotta Rajan and Dawood. The episodes get more gripping from the third onwards. It’s simply unstoppable from the fifth one.Definitely worth a watch if you can stomach a good deal of violence.