Month: August 2015

Life is like that Chilli Crab

[Image source: http://www.loverofcreatingflavours.co.uk/2015/02/like-hot-birds-eye-chilli-singapore-chilli-crab/]

After the travels of a long day which had now turned into the night as the city buzzed with clinks of wine glasses, bursts of laughter and the clatter of knives and forks, the sounds of dinner, we were starving. Starving and tired, so we could have collapsed anywhere, after a busy and exciting day, on our first trip outside the country as adults, we really could have collapsed anywhere.

Seeing a little diner, not crowded, not loud, we went inside and slumped on the chairs, with bags on the table and sighs of relief, oh how we slumped. Starving stomachs look for one thing, and one thing only: the menu. We picked it up and scanned, up and down, left to right, judging, deciding, for each meal on a holiday is precious, an empty stomach is precious. It enables you to taste and explore, to literally take in the country, to smell and touch and feel what the place is made up of, how do they live, what do they eat; a meal can tell you so much. So each selection in a meal needed to be carefully curated: is it the local flavour? Can we get something like that back in India? Will we get to try something new?

We discussed and debated despite our rumbling stomachs, and finally decided our order, the highlight of which was the Singaporean Chilli Crab. After the day that we had and the hunger that had struck, we could want nothing more than the gorgeousness of the Chilli Crab. Smiling a satisfied, deranged smile, we called to be served. “Yes, we will have three steamed buns, two cokes, chicken..” I began and ended proudly with the Singaporean Chilli Crab. There. Done. Dusted. I almost sat back and turned away but the server made a pained expression. “What happened?” I asked her tentatively. “No have,” she said, as we looked around in confusion. “Chilli crab, no have”, she repeated.

Our grief-stricken looks said it all. But collecting ourselves and moving on from the disappointment, we searched the menu again for a replacement. Nothing appealed to us as much as the beautiful chilli crab. Okay we tell you after some time, we said. She nodded and left. We frisked through the menu once again, up and down, left to right.  We talked some more, appreciating, praising, getting impressed- aah, what a skyline, what roads, what transport. How immaculate it is, everything in order, everything on time, what variety, what food, oh it is dynamic, very dynamic, very fast, changes every six months, has to change, lives on tourism, Clark quay, what a place, dazzling lights, delightful bars, stunning riverside…

And so came the coke. How cold and refreshing it was, with the little bubbles, so we’d go to Universal tomorrow, yeah the Universal Studios, yeah its one of the four in the world, Hershey’s store, the giant roller coasters, the Hollywood walk of fame, and came the chicken and the buns, and don’t forget the mini New York, we have to go there too. We ate a little, talked a bit, but waited and then waited some more, for the star dish, what we saved up for, oh and also the safari, yeah we must, Bugi’s street, Orchard road, they have slow service, very slow, hope it will be worth it..

Remember Mike, and we laughed, yes Mike, the Mike who drove us, he said you girls are crazy, as we waited, we laughed over Mike, what Mike said, how we laughed, we laughed on how we laughed, and we waited a little bit more, and I’ll have a nice dessert after this, me too, oh me too, and then again we waited some more, as the tissues lay unruffled, too white, too clean, waiting with us, hoping they would hurry, and the chicken got over, and the buns were rejected, and the coke lost its fizzle and then we finally decided to call out once again, call out for the highlight of the night, call out for what was taking so much time, too much time, we had been waiting so long for the exquisite chilli crab, and I opened my mouth to say excuse me…

And with a jolt of understanding, a dawn of realization, a surge of comprehension, we looked at each other: in stupidity, in foolishness, in inadvertent neglect, in distractedness. Our head in the clouds, all throughout the meal, as we waited to be served as we talked about our grand plans and this day and that person, we had been waiting for the chilli crab that would never come, because it never existed. Too much talking and excessive excitement made us forget that we had to order a replacement and like idiots, we sat and waited for the chilli crab, after being told that they don’t have it, imagining it getting washed and grilled and spiced, when that never happened: the chilli crab simply did not exist.

Many times, we make up things. We see something, read somewhere, hear someone, and we take it all together and make it all up in our head. We create our own idea of it, which materialises soon into a solid, tangible, living, walking, talking person in our head who tells us that this is how it is. It makes our should be into is, and seeks to impose our fantasies on the world outside of us. Life is one of those things. We wait for what never was or will be.

We build expectations around something that probably never existed, and then irrationally, we wait for it, wait for it to turn up, without cause, without reason. We build up ideas that say, this is how you should be when you are 21, and this is what you should wear at 40, and this is what elegant is like, and this is the money you should have by 35, and this is the number of countries you should have seen by now, and this is how college is, full of nights that don’t end and days that give way to nights..we always wait for a life that will be one day.

Life isn’t something out there that you will do one day; life is here and life is now. Life will never reach that ideal that you always made for yourself; at every age, and every day, you will wish you had gotten up a little early, or done more for your health, or not have eaten that extra dessert, or said yes to that offer, you will always wish for some kind of do-over. You will never arrive at a stage in life when everything will be perfect from then on. The chilli crab that you ordered will never come, no matter how much you wait for it, because that chilli crab you made up for yourself never existed and you were too busy thinking of other things, waiting for the non-existent chilli crab.

And so I say, life is like that chilli crab we never got to eat. It is nowhere else, but with you, all along, and it really isn’t that chilli crab you thought it would be.

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Masaan and the Many Faces of Love and Sex

[Image source: http://www.filmimpressions.com/home/buzz-masaan-at-cannes.html]

One of the best things I read in the reviews of Masaan after watching the movie is the underlying irony of the story: Varanasi, the city which is believed to be the gateway to ultimate liberation of the soul, can entrap the soul just as well. Masaan narrates two storylines depicting the lives of particular individuals who sought to break away from the lines of caste, class and gender that divided small-town Varanasi.

Except for a couple of aspects, I found the movie absolutely fascinating with subtle and insightful portrayals of new versus the old, illustrating the many ways in which technology is seeping into homes and families, lives and its loves, attempting to break age old barriers as traditional institutions battle it out against this unstoppable force whose victims are the people of this tragic generation, forever stuck in the middle.

But the facet of the movie that I wish to touch upon is Devi’s storyline, who checks into a hotel room along with her boyfriend and then proceeds to have sex out of curiosity. Trouble strikes as police barges into the room, intimidating the couple as a result of which Devi’s boyfriend locks himself into the bathroom and slits his wrists, as the police threatens to call his parents. The police also clicks a photograph of Devi while she is naked in bed, which they will later use to threaten and blackmail her- the Great Fear of the Scandal.

There are two striking features at this volcanic start: a woman in a small town watching porn on the internet, who then goes to have sex with her boyfriend, admitting that she didn’t want to do it under the so-called pressure to ‘put out’ but because she was also a human being who had sexual urges and a curious mind. What? A woman who wants to have sex?! Out of choice?! How blasphemous!

This is the reason why Masaan, despite its confused storyline and untapped potential, still managed to win my heart because it not just acknowledges female sexuality and natural carnal needs, but is also accepting and unapologetic of it. When her boyfriend commits suicide out of fear of his parents, she doesn’t die of despair- one could even say she was just plain disappointed. Despite the threats of ‘an MMS scandal’ that the cop blackmails her with, she goes back home to face her father, taking his anger, and telling him after a while that she did nothing wrong. Her eagerness to pay off the blackmail money is her desire to put this nasty episode behind herself and start anew not by marrying and settling, but by bravely visiting her deceased boyfriend’s family, in spite of knowing they would blame her for his death. She even moves out of her ageing, lonely father’s home in Varanasi to Allahabad, because, as she says, ‘jitni chhoti jagah, utni chhoti soch’, an action which is particularly laudable in the Indian setup.

Taking the issues that Masaan raised, we, as a society, need to ask ourselves why are we so uncomfortable with sexuality? Why are we so prepped up against any kind of sex that is not legitimized by a heterosexual marriage? What is so wrong with pre-marital sex, with marrying a person you love while disregarding his or her caste, that it drives parents to murder their own children, and children killing themselves out of terror of their parents’ wrath? Why is it a crime at all if a grown man or woman chooses to sexually engage with someone of their age in a private hotel room, a crime that a police can arrest you for, socially, if not legally? At a time when the Indian government decides to ban porn, this is certainly a very important question to ask. What is it that makes us so very, very afraid of the most biological eventuality in the world?

And when I say we, I do not just imply Indian society- most major societies in the world are intolerant of, or atleast once were, any sex outside of marriage. There are also many societies in the world which are even more intolerant than ours; but because I have grown up in this particular society and can form the most informed opinion on this one, I choose to question my Indian society.

Any discussion about ‘unnatural sex’ is always guised by two constructs: that it is a ‘western’ import and a development of these ‘modern’ times that does not understand culture or tradition. Both these arguments are doomed from the start, as neither of these have any concrete basis, and are actually themselves constructs created by certain groups. It would be foolhardy of me to cite history, for neither am I learned student of history, and nor are there enough resources even in the deepest recess of the web to capture the multitude of traditions and cultures that have existed in the world over the ages. So I decided to go over a couple of examples that general knowledge and the elusive ‘common sense’ provide us.

Everybody has heard about the Kama Sutra, the ancient Hindu treatise on sex, which describes the many ways of pleasuring your partner. We have even heard about the Khajuraho temples, and similar temples in the south, which show carvings of men and women engaging in all kinds of sex, be it homo or heterosexual, be it with a single partner or multiple. We know how Draupadi was forced to accept five husbands, and it is a known fact how the princely, dynastic families used to practice polyandry and polygamy to ensure succession. The ruling classes, just like the present times, were known to lead hedonistic lives which were quite different from the simple morality of the lower and middle classes, and again just like the present times, the lower and the middle classes allowed themselves certain freedoms and liberations of which the upper classes remained scathing.

The point is, ancient attitudes towards marriage-less sex were as ambivalent they are today; while there were communities who condoned it, there were groups who condemned it. While sex was considered the lawful dharma of any husband and wife, sex without a higher, righteous purpose was akin to sin. Such codes were respected by some and dismissed by the others- while the brahmanical classes maintained tight rules by the word of the Vedas and the Upnishads, there were many,many other whose lifestyles were quite different.

One good example for this is the Muria tribe, an adivasi tribe in the Bastar distric of Chhatisgarh. Muria are known for their open and embracing attitudes towards sexuality- from the onset of puberty as young teenagers, Muria girls and boys are sent to ghotuls, which are mixed-sex dormitories and are encouraged to make love to their partners. While some are told to go ahead with monogamous relationships, many of these teenagers are told to adopt multiple sexual partners in the course of their lifetime.

This is not an ideal, nor a debasement: it is simply an example of the variance in sexual practices not just all over the world which are many, but within India itself. The key here remains in sex education and acceptance, rather than imposition of one particular morality over others. We have a huge world with so many traditions and cultures that a lifetime is not enough to even study them- then how can we, insignificant, pathetic human beings that we are, living for a measly, little time period, even attempt to tell someone else that this is how it should because it is written in this book or because it’s done that way in one society, when we are nothing but dots in the cosmic infinity of space and time?