Archive | October, 2013

About discovering new skills and making the world a better place

29 Oct

I have acquired a brand new skill to add to my ever-growing list of skills, that include for example, things such as my natural talent for eavesdropping or the ability to read from exceptionally long distances. And while we are at it let me not forget to mention my natural flair for almost always forgetting the names of people I have been introduced to or known my entire life and the other priceless gift that I have of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time to the right persons.

But this new skill of mine is different because it concerns what could somewhat pass off as wild life. I never thought of myself as a wild life enthusiast but with this, I may well be  moving towards that direction. It so happens that I have begun to spot a dengue mosquito from a malarial one and both from the innocuous chap that only bites you now and then to remind you that you are still alive. This, I can do with the naked eye. I know, it is a commendable thing to be able to do and truth be told, I am beginning to feel like I could be the Salim Ali equivalent of the insect kingdom already.

This kind of a skill does not come without its occupational hazards as you can understand. I have been so busy spotting the bloodsuckers in my building that just following their trajectories has rendered me somewhat squinty eyed.

The initial seeds of this rare talent that can easily qualify me for a much sought after job in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), were sown when my older child fell prey to the darned dengue mosquito a few weeks ago. Alarmed as I was, with her dropping platelet count, I was also tres’ embarrassed as dengue just felt so slummy and downmarket on the tongue.  A few years ago, when this virus first made headlines in the newspapers, people were mispronouncing it all the time.  I for one, was not even sure if it was called dengue or dengay or was the ue silent as in ‘tongue’ and that would make it ‘deng’. If I had an option of choosing, I would go with deng mostly because it sounds like the first name of some Chinese premiere and therefore loses its lowbrow feel.

Dengay sounds good too and would be my second choice. Dengay, for example, could be a Japanese dessert made from an exotic pulpy fruit served with sweet red bean paste. But Dengui (its real pronunciation) sounds like something you picked up living out of a concrete pipe under a flyover on the eastern express highway in Bombay.

Be as it may, by the time the child got discharged from the hospital I realized that Dengue had managed to upgrade its status. From a pedestrian disease it had become a glamorous one because even movie stars were succumbing to it. The dengue toll in my own lane was rising like the Mc Donald’s ticker what with at least 20 cases in the building next door from me, a few in my own and another 10 odd in the buildings across from mine. We were in the midst of an epidemic (don’t read that our aloud because the government isn’t calling it one yet) and BMC had deployed a fumigation machine permanently in my lane to smoke out the bastards (I mean the mosquitoes, any verbal resemblance to real persons living in my lane is purely coincidental and unintentional). So fumigated were my surroundings that I began to feel that I had died and gone to heaven each time I looked out of my window. Clouds of smoke hung all around my building and cascaded over the trees lining my street. Although the threat from mosquitoes was still imminent as they managed to find their way in anyway, one felt really safe in the knowledge that Google earth was no longer able to capture ones building.

So coming back to my mosquito spotting abilities, the dengue chaps have black and white spots on their legs and they usually attack by day. The malarial ones are fairly large and are most active around dawn, or so I am told. The lackeys, or the harmless ones, are just black and boring to look at and I have really not paid attention to their preferred time of shikaar. I cannot deny that I live in mortal fear of mosquitoes now that they have claimed so many of my kind. In fact, I fear them more than I fear terrorists. My waking moments are spent planning ways to kill them after spotting them and when I am asleep I dream of going after them with my electric racquet (it resembles a tennis racquet). In both my dream and reality, by the time I find the racquet and switch it on, the mosquito has escaped. But there is the rare moment when I manage to fry the sods with the electric charge and I feel that my life’s purpose has been achieved.

Some times I feel like a fencing pro as I move my racquet-wielding arm through space for minutes at length till I hear that crisp sound that comes when the mosquito comes in contact with its maker.

The husband is a behaving like a Gandhian and has refused to kill any mosquito personally. He has, however, made provisions for cartons full of citronella oil and candles from Sri Lanka. With diffusers burning away in each room, our house smells like a citronella plantation itself. In spite of such strong measures to defend our home from them, the blasted pest manages to sneak in now and then and bites us (much like the Pakistani soldier that manages to slip in through to our side of the LOC). I then mark that date on the calendar and offer prayers till its incubation period (10-14 days) are over and we are out of danger. This is also the time when I decline all social engagements.

The other day a friend rang me to invite me to her third marriage. “Hey Shunali, how are you blah blah blah, I hope I am seeing you at my sangeet and reception.”

“I am not sure I can make it Rhea because I got bitten by a mosquito today.”

Rhea sounding confused, “Uh, what do you mean?”

“Oh I did not look at it when it was biting me, as it was a rather sneaky mosquito and so I cannot be sure if it was the dengue one.”

“What has that got to do with my wedding??”

“Well your wedding is in two weeks. If I get dengue by then obviously I will not be able to make it. But I will make up for it by attending your next wedding.”

As you can see, my social life has been rendered anemic for fear of the disease and I do not know how much longer I can go on living like this. But I take heart in the fact that I am making the world a better place by eliminating one mosquito at a time.






About brining a Souza woman home and living with her

15 Oct
FN Souza

FN Souza

We have it now. We are , what would have been, the proud owners of a gigantic painting by FN Souza. We would have been proud owners of this particular Souza if our last name were Hefner for instance. But the truth is, it is not. There is nothing playboy about our house and it is by no measure, even a mansion.

So how did it come to pass that we ended up owning this naked woman of proportions so wide that it borders on the surreal? I would go into the details of how this happened, but I have been asked by the husband to refrain from writing too much about him by the utterance of this simple, and yet pregnant with illusion, phrase, “I do not wish to be your muse anymore.”

“Muse? When did I say you were my muse?”

“Oh you did not say it, but you write about me all the time. I am done with this kind of stuff. I indulged you while I could but now enough.”

“I am assuming you are unaware of how attractive my blog makes you sound.”

“I don’t want to sound attractive.”

“Don’t you see, it make you appear so real. It focuses on your ‘human’ aspect.”

“I am alright with people thinking I am not human enough. So thanks, but no thanks, I don’t wish to be featured.”

“Is it because I wrote once that you ate up my food when we were both on a diet?”

“I cannot remember what it was but now bas. Please.”

“You know how emancipated you sound in my writing? Do you know how rare it is for a man to laugh at himself without feeling compromised as a man?”

“Whatever it is, I am sure there are other things and people you can write about.”

“I could, but then that would be gossip and I don’t want to write gossip.”

The ex-muse remained silent. Silence is always a man’s last refuge. I took my cue.

The ex-muse is a reserved and somewhat self-effacing man and I had no choice but to grant him the only request he has made of me in my young life and thus I shifting the spotlight away from him.

The reason for my rather lengthy digression is that, I am at pains to disclose how we ended up with this particular work of art by one of India’s most prolific artist ever.

She is a typical Souza woman, only larger. Many paintings have been moved around to place it in a discreet manner so as not to draw too much attention to this Ms Vitalstatistix, she of the humongous thighs and a bosom that may well have been a close up shot of Jupiter and Saturn taken by a NASA satellite.

But art is a matter of perception and must not be judged, is the line we are going with. The older one whose mordent humour we are all aware of, shrieks when she sees it. “Mom, there is a large female demon in our house.”

She is just being her usual self. I tell her it is art and it is a Souza.

“Please. Whatever it is, it is ugly. It is hideous. Please remove it from here,” she begs. I inform her that it is art and all that and that it is a Souza no less and we cannot speak so disparagingly about the work of a great master.

“This is his perception of women and we’ve got to respect that,” I tell her.

“Ok but we don’t have to hang it in our house to respect it mamma? Anyway, I am going to speak to nani about it.”

“Oh no. You will do no such thing,” I warn her.

“Ok then when my friends come home, can you cover it up with a sheet?” she suggests.

The younger one, who is pretty fascinated by this gross female form is walking close to it, observing all her vital parts and giggling coyly.

We have placed it in a passage that is dimly lit so as not to draw attention to it. This has not helped. You could be walking around the house with cataracts in both your eyes and not miss her. Many other paintings have been moved around to accommodate this woman but her imposing presence in the house still commands attention.

The staff at home is surprised by the addition of this substantially proportioned Amazonian member to our household. The women who work in my house are avoiding looking at it directly almost as if looking at it directly will turn them to stone.

The mother in law decides to drop in unannounced and shudders as she sets her eyes on it. The ex-muse is not at home and I am left to explain. I don’t wish her to think that her daughter in law is a pervert. However I have no problems with her forming such an opinion about her son.

We are a liberal family and an ordinary nude would not evoke such a reaction from the mother in law. But this one is anything but ordinary. I tell her that I intend to put flourishing potted palms against it to help conceal the voluptuousness of her body leaving only the Souza ’84 signature to be seen.

The son walks in and finds his mother shaking her head with disapproval. “You cannot have it here. You get workers and carpenters in your house, this will give them ideas. This is India!” she warns me. “And what about the tuition teachers, the cook…they are all men.”

I never thought that one would have to get moral or apologetic about art. But this is India and I concede, one has to take all these factors into account. What is art to us may be a dirty picture to others.

The ex muse sees sense in what she is saying too. The mother is always right. I never thought I would ever have to be apologetic about owning a Souza…but if I have her around much longer, I might have to be. Ex muse and I have to now decide to either pack the Souza away or buy a new house where it can be placed on a discreet corner. I think we’ll go with the second option. For packing away a Souza this size would be blasphemy.

On my issues with ‘looking healthy’ and the awsome Nigella Lawson

9 Oct
Nigella Lawson

Nigella lawson is Ms Awesome

I got called healthy today. The friend who said this was commenting on my Facebook picture taken with my dad two years ago. Although she hastened to add that ‘she meant it in a positive way’ I knew better. In my perception being told that you look healthy is not a compliment. Tall, big bosomed/bellied and wide cheeked girls, who guzzled creamy buttermilk with breakfast and lunch in Punjab, are what I consider ‘healthy looking’. Since I have a fair amount of Punjabi blood in me, I am aware of just how short the road is from being like me  to becoming like them. Before someone pounces at me and calls me a size-ist for saying this, I need to offer my disclaimer that I have nothing against ‘healthy looking’ girls personally, it’s just that I don’t want to be them. The same way that some people don’t want to wear their hair short or perm their hair. It is a matter of personal choice.

I asked my friend, who  incidentally thinks she was paying me a compliment, if she thought Nigella Lawson was healthy looking and she answered in the affirmative. For a few seconds that made me feel better.

For some inexplicable reason, Nigella has been on my mind a lot lately. I keep some of her cookbooks at home and skim through them on rare days when I am feeling domestic. On such days, I usually pull out ‘Nigella Bites – from family meals to elegant dinners’ or ‘How to be a domestic goddess – by Nigella Lawson’ and flip through them till the feeling passes, which it does usually. On the rare occasion when it doesn’t, I fix my hair, put on my pink Mac lipper that, reflectively enough, goes by the name of ‘Satiate’. Once I am feeling sufficiently glamorous, I enter the kitchen to bake. This is the reason I like Nigella, because she makes cooking and eating full fat food look glamorous and desirable.

It cannot be denied that while women think that Nigella Lawson is a bit too broad in the beam, most men find her ample proportions toothsome. Men, the world over, watch her show with decided enthusiasm, not so much for her flair in the kitchen, but for the flare around her other vital parts.

Let’s face it, Nigella gives food porn a whole new meaning when she seductively tucks into that cheese soufflé or devours that gooey chocolate pudding with her signature elan. You can tell that she loves her food and wine and unlike most of us, is absolutely unapologetic about it.

I wish I could be like that. I wish the world wasn’t full of skinny icons. I wish models on the runways of Paris and Milan were more filled out. I wish one would not feel lesser just because one was more.

If only, the standard concepts of physical beauty were not so unforgiving when it came to ones body weight. Isn’t it a pity that we are raised to believe that thin is beautiful, not by our parents mostly, but by the media that portrays girls and women in an unrealistic manner?

During my childhood, even though there wasn’t as much exposure to fashion and beauty as it is for kids today, the little we had, was enough to communicate that being thin was one of the key aspects of physical beautiful. It started with the skinny Barbie and progressed to Betty and Veronica, both of who were very thin and very fashionable. So were the Hollywood stars like Olivia Newton John and Audrey Hepburn, whose movies I was occasionally allowed to watch with my mother. I was too young, however, to comprehend, that I was not thin like them. Maybe I did not give my physical appearance too much thought back then. Be that as it may, I knew that there was this time in her life when suddenly, my full-figured mother wanted to be thin. Very thin. She began putting artificial sweetener in her tea and walked several miles a day and sustained herself on meager portions of food to keep her weight off. No matter how gaunt she became, my mother never truly believed that she was thin. Little did I know then, that not only had I received her healthy and wholesome genes, I was to also inherit this way of thinking from her in my later years.

I was and am, by virtue of genealogy, related to an exceptionally skinny person who I call my (kid) sister. Everywhere the two of us went, in our identical clothes, aunties would comment, “Oh your little sister is so thin. But it is good that you are so healthy.” I had not yet come to the conclusion that healthy was the opposite of thin and that being thin was important and so at that time, this felt like a compliment to me. When I was well into my teens, I retained my chubbiness, but my mother never let me feel like I needed to be any other way. As far as she was concerned, I was the most gorgeous thing around town and a possible doppelgänger of Princess Diana. And so I continued to smile through all the ‘You are very healthy looking’ comments that came my way. Thanks to mother I was on the other end of the ‘distorted views of self’ spectrum where I believed that I was perfect the way I was and that it was my lissome sister who, in fact, needed to gain a few pounds.

So far removed was I from reality  that it wasn’t until I was in my twenties and around the time that the Spice Girls had made their way onto my cultural landscape, that I realized that I was but a chubby girl. This realization too, came by happenstance when I lost a lot of weight due to the jaundice virus, god bless it. Lo and behold, I looked like a new person without my padding.

Today I shudder with disbelief when I look at my old, pre hepatitis pictures. I look like the human equivalent of corn fed chicken in those snaps. How could I not have known that I was so well upholstered back then? How did I feel so amazing and so awesome back then? How did I ever think the H word was meant to flatter me? I spent the rest of my twenties basking in my new form but living in mortal fear of lapsing into my old size. I continue to do so, to date. I love my food and my idea of a good life includes waking up to pancakes for breakfast. But I indulge rarely because as Shakira has so profoundly said, ‘Hips don’t lie’. And so I tread the fine line between between the two worlds of guilt ridden indulgence and self denial.

Now you can see why, by calling me the H word, my friend had unintentionally touched a raw nerve and if it wasn’t for Nigella’s luscious image that popped into my head at the right time to rescue me, I might have been feeling awfully sorry for myself and living off celery sticks and horse fodder for the rest of the month.

I hate to admit but I feel happier when I am feeling awfully thin. When my clothes don’t fit me anymore and I feel the need to buy a wardrobe a size smaller.

My friend and designer Gavin Miguel looked at me incredulously when I recently told him that I needed new clothes because I felt I had piled on a few pounds. “What is with you women? All of you come to me complaining about your size and then when I measure you, you are more or less your old size. I was beginning to wonder if there is something wrong in the way I measure, but after looking at you I am certain, there is something wrong with all of you.”

Gavin is straight, so he was not going to be able to understand why women felt this way.

“But Gavin,” I told him unhappily, pointing at a dress that I had wanted to alter after it was falling off me ”this dress you had made for me two years ago, it had become too loose on me and was falling off me, but now it fits,” .

“But it fits you so well,” he exclaimed when I wore it on for him.

“But that is the problem, I want it to fall off me like before,” I told him feeling woebegone.

As I said this to him, his expression was all that was needed for me to fully understand the degree of my insanity. I know how crazy any normal man must think women like me are. We are happy when our expensive clothes don’t fit us anymore on account of weight loss.

But it is too late for us to change now. Maybe we can be more careful with our daughters by exposing them to full sized, confident and happy women who eat all they want and do not feel guilty if they gain a few pounds because to them being healthy is important, being thin isn’t.

I have decided that I am going to be that woman, as long as my dress size does not change. I can always invest in clothing that has more spandex than silk in it and learn to suck in my breath and hold it in for an entire evening.

That, and I will have to stop hanging out with my sister.

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