Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby

The latest verdict from the Madras High Court which recognized a couple’s live-in relationship as marriage has led to a predictable barrage of opinions in India. In a country where it is forbidden to talk freely about sex lest someone overhears or, worse, notices the population explosion, we sure love to jump at the first public mention of the word.

One would imagine that a verdict that says couples who have been living together and have what the court calls “established sexual relationships” are entitled to the same legal rights as married couples would be a sign of progress in a society still grappling with ancient mores and Victorian values.

Given that the verdict was for a case where an unmarried couple with two children were in court after separation because the woman claimed that her children were entitled to maintenance expenses, it is heartening to see that we are finally acknowledging civil unions.

But the nature of the verdict is such that several problems present themselves. For instance, it is not clear what it would take for couples living together, but without children, to prove that they in fact have established sexual relationships.

Of course, of vital significance is that fact that Indians are morally superior to the rest of the word and therefore the upholders of the law in our blessed country must exceed their call of duty. And so the judge has helpfully ruled that if any unmarried couple of the right legal age indulge in sexual gratification, this will be considered a valid marriage and they could be termed husband and wife.

And just like that we crawl back into the hole. This constant need for everyone – right from the government, to the courts, to our parents and even our teachers – to play holier-than-thou is a large part of the problem and is grossly overlooked.

In a way, the verdict signifies remarkable cunning. At once, the courts are addressing a social issue while also imposing what they think ought to be the ethos of our nation. After all, sex for pleasure is so base an action that one should grab the opportunity to “elevate” it to a more meaningful status under the right circumstances.

But I digress. Annoying as these details are, they were not what struck me first. What I want to know in all earnestness is this: Why is the legal age for marriage 21 years for men and 18 years for women in India, while clearly the age for consensual sex is 18 for both? What does this mean in view of the verdict in question?

Let’s assume a couple starts living together at 18 and decides to separate at 20. They do not have children but may have shared responsibilities and related disagreements that take them to court. Although I shudder at the debauchery of people living together out of wedlock at 18, I’m desperate to know if the courts will recognize their union a valid marriage when resolving the case.

As a side note, in country where men significantly outnumber women – 1,000 men for 919 women – why the need to have different ages for marriage? My biggest gripe is the tacit assumption that men need more time to find employment and earn a living, whereas 18 years is plenty for women to learn how to keep a house.

Another equally troublesome issue is that most people who have voiced their support for the verdict say that it is particularly helpful in avoiding situations where a man and woman live with each other, have kids and then the man “dumps” her and shuns all responsibility towards the children, as was the case presented before the High Court. All noble thoughts, but I’m amazed that more people are not taking offense at the underlying premise, which basically is man = bad/dog and woman = aw, poor thing/victim. 

How can we have a real debate about progress in our society if we so comfortably accept these stale stereotypes? Is it so outrageous to believe that a woman too can also choose to walk away from a family or even just her partner and that she is not Sita or Devi who needs to have a higher moral authority than a man?

I’m painfully aware of the fact that Indian women are light years away from emancipation and that the majority do not have the luxury of harbouring my urban “equal gender rights” views. This makes it all the more necessary to ensure that the language used in a legal ruling is not biased, whatever the facts of the case in point may be.

Judges are duty-bound to do the most basic of things: Promise justice to all the citizens of a country even if it means stuffing their own moral penchant in their closets. If they simply must embody moral authority in doing their jobs, then I sincerely hope that it is led by the spirit of equality.    

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Aaron Sorkin, the Third World, and me

With Aaron Sorkin’s name appearing so very often in every magazine, newspaper and tweet I happen to read, it’s only fair that I contribute the news flow.

Let me state upfront that I am a fan of his writing. And I’m currently watching reruns of West Wing.

Moving on.

From what I gather from my media colleagues, The Newsroom is a preachy, self righteous show with no real focus. Things don’t really work the way the show claims and the politics of it is disturbing.

Whatever induced Sorkin to that think that his show will get anywhere with the very media he is so gloriously thrashing, I do not know.

What I do know and want to talk about is the politics of the show. I did watch the pilot episode and I do believe my opinion as a third-world fan of Aaron Sorkin matters.

There is not a shred of doubt that the politics of his shows are disturbing. It is no surprise either that things don’t really work the way they are portrayed on TV. Surely, we all know that? Ask Kal Penn, who was as disappointed as I am to learn that you can’t get food delivered to the White House. You don’t say…?

Let’s start with Will McAvoy’s rant. He was very articulate about why America is not the greatest country in the world. But nostalgia about “who we used to be” was loopy at best. “We stood up for what was right. And we didn’t get scared so easy.”


Is this the same country that treated Communism as if it were a toxic, communicable disease that could eliminate humanity? We didn’t get scared so easy, which is why we fought two wars half way across the world. We stood up for what was right, which is why we screwed around with the Taliban and armed them in the first place.

What kind of nut makes bizarre claims like these? There’s nothing wrong with loving your country but the oh-so-Americanism of it all is nauseating.

I really don’t have a refreshing take on The Newsroom. It’s hard to judge the show based on one episode. But I can confidently vouch for the politics and idealism of Aaron Sorkin’s shows. When you ask for a Sorkin show, a Sorkin show is what you will get.

So, I’m confounded by the rants against his idealism in The Newsroom. Were these the same people who religiously watched West Wing and applauded it as a great show? I love that show only because I completely disregard the politics. It was great drama, with an outstanding cast and exceptional writing. But don’t for a moment think that I didn’t cringe every single time Jed Bartlet was referred to as the Leader of the Free World.

With West Wing, Sorkin never once attempted to conceal his idealism or his Liberal views. And that’s fine. If you don’t like what you get, look elsewhere. What I don’t understand is why the rant now? The media are peeved only because this time around Sorkin is telling them how to run their houses rather than telling the President of the country how to manage his. Is that it?

To someone like me, who lives half way across the world (and whom Sorkin thinks America needs to enlighten), the reviews of The Newsroom are… well, First World Problems.

Really, who cares that Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer think that news is so precious a commodity that only the very best and smartest people deserve to consume it?

The point of this long rant is that the moment you start dissecting a show, a book or a movie to this extent, you realize that there is no point in attempting to watch something or read in the first place.

Do I want to come home at the end of the day and spend time contemplating the larger implications of a TV show or do I want watch it because I enjoy the banter, drama and the entertainment package?

I know I want to come home and watch Josh Lyman hammer out policy details like he’s reading out English alphabets and Jed Bartlet take sarcasm and narcissism to new heights.

And that’s all there is to it.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: A quick recap

What an year 2011 was! I spent exactly six months being jobless, literally, and oh, how I enjoyed doing whatever I pleased. It was such a good year mostly because I travelled. A lot. Five new countries in a year has been my personal best.

It was a year of catching up with friends, making new ones, exploring several cities, discovering incredible TV shows (!), getting back to books, getting excited enough to take a stance -- and all this with great company! It was even the year the first boy (my nephew) in our family of girls was born.

I discovered Adele, my baking and cooking skills, saw Eric Clapton live (!), learnt how to live within 600 square feet (with a boy), converted to Apple, and learnt how to Scuba dive.

So, even if the world ends in 2012 (Mayans, bring it on), I will take a bow happily. In no particular order, here's why:
1. Finally watched Broadway shows
2. Had the honor of stepping into Max Brenner's world
3. Saw Kevin Spacey and Robin Williams perform live
4. Saw the most amazing corals and underwater life in Thailand and Fiji
5. Watched India win the cricket world cup!
6. Wore a winter coat and boots for the first time ever
7. Learnt to use chopsticks
8. Discovered Pimm's!

I have a nagging feeling that I will have a list to share in 2013 as well. Later then.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Politics and Gumption

I didn’t think it was possible to be inspired by a dialogue from a feel-good, happily-ever-after movie to comment on politics, but well… stranger things have happened.

When Eli Wallach explains the virtue and importance of “gumption” to Kate Winslet in the 2006 movie “The Holiday,” I’m certain the “most powerful” men of modern day politics were not paying attention.

They should have.

Perhaps it would have helped prevent this wave of gumption-less decisions that are being made by politicians across the world.

Let me start with my motherland. (Happy Independence month, by the way).

The hot potato in our government’s hands right now is Anna Hazare. Yes, it’s the same potato the government has dropped, squashed and tumbled over in the past few, actually several, days.

Without getting into specifics, here’s the crux of this mess –

Mr. Hazare, a veteran in the fight against corruption, has been criticizing the current Congress-led government that’s been basking in a swamp of corruption. He wants to put together a bill that he believes will do much to curb corruption.

And his mode of protest to ensure that he is being taken seriously is the old Gandhian way of going on a hunger strike. He has been on hunger strikes before and he threatened to go on a new one from yesterday, Aug. 16.

This return to Gandhian ways as opposed to barking and yelling into the microphone or being responsible for violent protests has struck a chord with many Indians. No, there is no Indian spring in the offing, but people took notice of his efforts and nodded in agreement from a distance.

So far so good. Harmless protests - just another day in the life of a democratic country.

Except, the government, adding to its list of jobs well done, decided to arrest him before he went on his latest hunger strike.

And that’s where it made a big boo boo.

Much uproar ensued and the government came under fire from several different corners and realized its blunder. (And when I say blunder, I’m not referring to such comments from Congress leaders as – The police is not under any political influence. They are working independently.)

And what could very well have been just another incident that most urban Indians discuss and dismiss over coffee, has turned into social media and phone/SMS crusades against the government and in strong support for Anna.

Nothing wrong there, but from a political perspective, the government could not have handled this any worse. And, of course, buckling under sudden pressure, the government decided to release Anna from custody. (Anna, on his part, has scoffed at this and is still in a room in the prison where he began his fast yesterday).

And this brings me to this post’s theme – Gumption.

Where is it?

One cannot help but wonder why the government cannot 1) make a wise and tactical move in response to a crisis and 2) stick to its decision once it has made one.

I’m certainly not saying that Anna should have remained in custody. No. I’m wondering why the government did not even try to explain its thought process. Surely there was one? (I’m ignoring “It was Delhi Police’s idea” and PC’s talk on refusal to obey prohibitory order etc. for obvious reasons.)

By jumping up and down like a petrified and possibly electrified rodent, the government is simply giving more weight to the opinion that there was in fact NO thought process. That by jailing a protester, the idea was that the protest would die and no one would notice.

To be fair, I want to give the Congress party more credit. They are stupid yes, but this stupid?

But look at the other global stalwarts. Mr. Manmohan Singh is not the only one hearing the word spineless ever so often these days.

Mr. Barack Obama certainly knows it all too well. I even hear he believes he deserves to patent it. He’s willing to give up rights to the word “change” in exchange.

The debt crisis and the healthcare bill were too jarring to dismiss as the president having a few bad days.

Mr. David Cameron too could use some reminders. He seems to have lost focus… what with all the schmoozing with Murdoch and his cronies. Riots? What, pray tell, is that?

And look who is on the other end of the spectrum.

China would do well by doing what they did to the US credit rating – take it down a couple of notches. Let the trouble begin before taking action. What fun is to clampdown before things get even close to exciting?

Libya – Mr. Gaddafi, are you there? Please don’t be.

I spent some time trying to come up with a masculine and political equivalent to the genius that is the following sentence. But words fail me. Suggestions?

Eli Wallach to Kate Winslet – “In the movies, we have leading ladies and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason you are behaving like the best friend.”

PS: Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, I meant to use the above as a metaphor. Please don’t take these lines seriously.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Macau - the gambling getaway

One of the advantages of living in a place like Hong Kong is that it is a convenient hub that provides easy access to the rest of Southeast Asia. And Macau and Hong Kong are just like sisters - both are what is called a "special administrative region" (meaning the big brothers in the "mainland" are not going to directly involve themselves in running the government), they both serve as faces of China (albeit with different functions) and they are both hounded by mainland Chinese as well as foreigners.

While Hong Kong is the face of China for the world, Macau is the gambling capital of this part of the world – though I reckon it's fair to say it's the gambling capital with Las Vegas and Atlantic City still some distance away.

It has the same make-believe world that was made popular by Vegas and it has the same players too – MGM, Venetian, Wynn and Las Vegas Sands. Where the difference lies is that companies continue to flock to Macau where construction and development remain on the rise. Just a 45-minute ferry ride from Hong Kong and about an hour’s ride from Shenzhen (in China), Macau serves both as a weekend/quick getaway for Hong Kongers aka Hongkees as well as the IT place for Chinese people to quench their voracious thirst for gambling. (The hyperlink is for the uninitiated and folks who may doubt what I’m saying – though for us frequent Macau visitors it’s a fact that needs no backing.)

And so you have the hordes, no matter what time of the day or night, pouring into Macau. Should you decide to plan your visit to Macau and book a room at one of the casino hotels in advance, you get all kinds of deals from free two-way ferry tickets to vouchers to gamble at the casino and complimentary tickets to plays/performances by troupes such as Cirque Du Soleil. All you have to do is get on the ferry in Hong Kong/China, get off at Macau and get into one of the many, many shuttle buses run by the resorts that swallow people up for free and drop them off at the casinos. The whole sequence always strikes me as a way for the casinos to ensure that their patrons have no distractions whatsoever and that they engage in the one thing that they have all come to Macau for – gambling.

And sure enough, no one’s complaining. The Chinese come in throngs with bags and bags and kids and families to a world where there is a colossal cascade with dancing lights as soon as you enter a resort (Galaxy Macau), gondola rides in fairly clean water (unlike the real deal in Venice), it's hard to tell if it's night or day once you are within the casino hotels, all the shopping you will ever need, food courts with diverse cuisines, free water/juice/alcohol in the casino area where…..SMOKING is allowed! AND all this so you can gamble and possibly earn tax-free money -- a one-stop shop for everybody’s needs. Who needs the American dream when you have the Macanese one?

The best part of the whole arrangement is the diversity of people who come to Macau and how much they are willing to spend on gambling. Never mind the high-stakes folks, I will stick to my league – the average resident of Hong Kong who thinks going to Macau once in a while is fun and is willing to risk a 1000 (HK) dollars in the casino. So when I found myself in this utterly ordinary situation recently, tides turned for the worse and soon enough I was at liberty to put my great powers of observation to use as the casino table I was at gave me the boot. I looked around hoping to take in the sea of emotions of the sea of people around me and I did – the screaming, war cries of victory, the hoots and the silent walk-aways. But after a while, all I took in were the zombies. I was thoroughly amazed to see the tenacity with which people stuck to the tables they were at – Blackjack, Poker, Baccarat, Sic Bo. It didn't matter whether they were winning or losing, they just stayed. And the tenacity is put to test when you running low on dough and are on the brink of leaving when another average guy, who does not look like the brand-conscious wealthy Chinese, comes to your table and places ten notes of 1000 dollars each and asks for chips in return. And you look at the man, who frankly smells of alcohol you can’t really place, and wonder what in the whole wide world you have been doing with your time when clearly the rest of the world seems to be earning enough money to afford these luxuries. Or when a rickety old lady who needs a walker to get by is sitting at a table with two huge stacks of 1000 dollar chips and all you can do is bow down and walk the walk of shame. It’s simply mind boggling, how these people are able to take on the risky business and come back week after week to the one destination in China where gambling is legal. But then again, isn't that what an addiction is all about?

Doing this drill a few times has left me with the impression that I've at last found THE Californian hotel in my backyard. People are checking out for sure, oh but are they leaving?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Of judgement, redemption and the saviour

You have 38 days to embrace Christ, judgement day is here!

Those were the words I heard from an earnest old man while waiting for a train in the sleepy suburban New York town of Suffern. Under normal circumstances, I would've smiled politely and refused the pamphlet the man was shoving into my palm. But obviously, today was an exception. After all I needed some meat to write this post.

So, when thus addressed, I simply said - oh, but I'm not Christian. The last I saw the hurt look he gave me was on my husband's face when I told him that we would not be buying iPhone 4, IPad 2 or the new version of Wei. The old man with his faded cap, as soon as he found his words, then asked me quite genuinely - What are you?

Seeing that this was going to be a memorable conversation, I informed him I was what they called a Hindu. He wondered for a moment as to why I was making random noises and calling it a religion but quickly ignored what I said and proceeded to inquire whether I knew about Christ and the bible. I said I had vaguely heard about them (little did he know that I had studied in Christ's temple of knowledge). By now, the man was visibly agitated and said I simply must read the pamphlet because I was running out of time. "He is coming next month."

He seemed to so absolutely believe in what he was saying that I didn't have the heart to refuse. He approved solemnly and asked me if I wanted a copy of the bible and reassured me that much could be accomplished with in 38 days.

Just then my train arrived and his parting words to me were - "This is not a joke. I'm not trying to make money. I just want to help."

I thanked him for the effort and boarded the train. I'm now wondering what he would have said had I told him how I really felt about the issue.

As luck would have it, he will never know. And thank god for that.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Of late, I’ve been wondering a lot about parenting. What with the furore caused by Amy Chua’s passionate article and book, it certainly seems to be a wildly fascinating topic. More so, since I belong to the Indian society where the family unit is tightly knit and parents naturally tend to have tons of expectations from their kids and children take a lot of things for granted when it comes to their folks.

Chua’s theory basically is this – Just keep pushing your child and you’ll produce one of the following: a prodigy, a genius, an all-round star, a wildly talented kid. And for all this to be possible, the kid can basically have no fun at all and cannot do most things that fellow kids do. And this in comparison to how “western” moms raise their children in an article titled “Why Chinese mothers are superior”. No surprise then that the article has and continues to generate passionate responses. Here’s one of the responses the Journal carried.

While I can see why a “Western” reader will be appalled by what Chua has to say, I’d be lying if I say that Chua’s style of parenting does not sound familiar. I’m certain that most Indian kids know of someone who has a demanding parent, if they don’t have one themselves, though it’ll be unwise to think these stereotypes are not changing, both in terms of the “Chinese” and “Western” style of parenting.

Case in point: Judy Murray – mother of rising tennis star, Andy. Now, while I cannot claim to know the exact style of her parenting, those of us who have watched her be a part of the audience while Andy’s playing, may find it hard to not lean towards the possibility that she is a tiger mom. The woman has nothing to do with the Far East but it appears that being an overbearing parent has worked really well for her and even her kids.

The "tiger mom" style of parenting is based on the assumption that competitiveness is absolutely necessary for excellence and if your child is not naturally competent, it’s the parent’s duty to instill this “virtue” in the child. Though there may be some shred of truth to this, I believe the theory largely is largely flawed. Different kinds of incentives work with different kids.

Since tennis is the flavour of the season, let’s consider another example – Li Na. One wonders how much her Chinese mother had to do with her success. Or perhaps, her husband chose to be the tiger mom in her life. Something tells me Ms. Chua has a better theory.

But at the end of the day, it all boils down to one simple fact. Most parents just take a leap of faith and earnestly hope their kids turn alright. And I reckon regardless of the style of parenting, they secretly wish they never have to take blame for their children’s failures and get some credit for their successes.