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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Henna for the Broken-Hearted : A Review

This was originally published in the July edition of DASHING MAGAZINE Pg 23-24

It was one of those days when nothing made sense. Life seemed like a meaningless itinerary I had to stick to, only the only places on it were work and home. I questioned life and its purpose. I sat at work wondering why I was there in the first place. Aimless blog hopping led me to a blog named ‘The diary of a white Indian housewife’. Piqued, mostly by a picture of a tall brunette clad in a red lehenga, I read more. In no time, I was on Flipkart looking for the cheapest copy of Henna for the Broken–Hearted.

This is one of those books you begin to like even before you read; it’s the essence of the theme, perhaps. This book, you can quite judge by its cover. The calm waves, a blend of azure and frothy white, nudging the side of a lonely boat and the intricately patterned teal floral designs on top of the cover page are certainly indicative of the pacifying story in the pages to follow. The illustrative description of the henna/mehendi designs adorning a woman’s palm and the possible implication of something on a level much beyond is nothing less than brilliant.

When Sharell’s husband breaks to her one day, that he is having an affair, it ruins her happiness and breaks her world apart. Suddenly life feels empty. Work was never fulfilling, but now, every second seems to bellow that into her ear. Lost and anguished, she decides to find a new life; one all for herself. She travels all the way to India, on a volunteering stint. In Kolkatta, where she stays initially, she meets a lot of new people: both Indians and visitors like her. One of those days, she meets Aryan, a rather calm and a calming man with a beautiful smile. There is definite attraction and liking. In India, Sharell finds something to keep her going, despite the initial glitches. She learns a lot, to adapt: hindi, handling the pestering vendors, bargaining, shooing away the pesky strangers and the nosey acquaintances and also what she sees as the amusing Indian washroom ways. Eventually, she quits her job back in Australia and moves to India. And that, she sees in hindsight as the best decision she ever made. The story goes on, along with Sharell, partying in Kolkotta, traveling to the Varkala beach down south and then high up in the valleys nestled in between the frozen white peaks of the Himalayas and then finally, to Mumbai which she makes her home and lives with Aryan for a long time to come.

Sharell puts out her emotions in every other paragraph of the book, hiding nothing. I empathized with her when she had a tough time fitting in, when she was gazed at by strangers, when she was unsure and scared and angry. To anyone that’s unsure or scared, the book is comforting and heartening. Sharell becomes a new friend, you relate to. Suddenly, all that you thought was not practical seems plausible. It certainly leaves one with conviction and hope.

If you’re looking for just any good book to lounge with after work, parts of this book might seem like a repetitive rant. You might not want to read twenty two times in two hundred pages about someone longing to run home and hide herself from people to find solace. Forty instances of the concept of Indian time, unexpected visits and wet bathrooms might not be the best choice for a world you want to engross yourself in. The zigs and the zags and the ceaseless vacillation can cause the book to get slightly draggy. The writing style is simple, too simple that it may seem dreary. At a point, my dream to write a book didn’t seem like a task as colossal as I thought it to be. However, this book is certainly more about the experiences and emotions it recounts than the writing itself, which can cause you to overlook the latter.

As the name goes, Sharell soothes the broken-hearted, inspiring them to keep faith. For all the others, it can be a fascinating read about a brave girl, a seemingly unfeasible decision and inconstant, nomadic life which all ends well or a passable almost daily written diary of a white Indian housewife.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

From a stereotyping hypocrite...

Arnab’s voice rises up, as he dramatically bellows out “Your channel poses a question; a question that the nation has in mind. Is Bollywood perpetuating stereotypes…” And the debate continues, with panelists desperately attempting to complete a sentence without being cut short by Arnab. The questions are rhetorical perhaps; he appears to have no interest in the answers. He seems more resolute on dramatically shooting shouting out more questions in relatively higher pitches of his ear-splitting voice. One of the panelists is evidently stifling a smile at the drama happening; it isn’t just me finding the talk funny.

Down south, everyone is all enraged. At ShahRukh Khan for Chennai Express. I suspect it’s mostly because of his earlier antics such as his famed “Enna rascala dai mind it” which ignorant people recited repeatedly in pride, to show the Tamilians they knew a new language. The rage, I think mostly about the men ShahRukh is flanked by. How comical the state would be if Tamil men actually don gaudy lungis while sporting a mammoth, hairy pot belly that causes the lungi line to drop to a massive U and Tamil women sounded like Deepika! What if it wasn't just Vadivelu walking around in boxers that reveal their unabashed self below the folded lungi. It would be a "bokwas" state if it was Shah Rukh’s way in actuality. Oh did you notice the difference in skin color between the whites at the forefront and the Tamils surrounding, in the poster? The contrast is starker than in my grandmother’s ‘contrast pattu sarees’. Bring in a few more whites and rearrange them; Voila: a human chess board. Someone tweets, “The men in Chennai Express look like the cohorts of Tamil movie villains.” and I wonder why no one ever called that stereotyping. Who said bad Tamil men aren't fair-skinned? In the same Tamil movies, the women always manage to look like walking goddesses. They even make us forget that they are just walking figurines mostly a result of the brilliance of make-up artists, sellers of cosmetics and Veet of course. Poor men, even their stereotypes are ugly.

But big deal! These are movies after all. Similar to what a caricature is of a person, an unreal and hyperbolic representation of reality, like this movie, exaggerates aspects of the subject it represents. If we can enjoy comics, if Anna Hazare is okay with cartoons that give him a mammoth sized parrot nose, we got to learn to be okay with wearing lungis on screen. How sad is it if we aren't okay with a joke made out of us? If the comedy isn't hilarious enough, laugh at the attempt or the movie itself. I did that watching Aiyya and it was a jolly good evening. 

Talking about stereotyping.. to the richer nations, India is that crowded picture that TLC paints of us: we pray to cows, charm snakes, read palms and prophesize, spend hours in the yoga room, ride buffalos and horses on the roads, sit on the pavement dressed in rags and scream things raucously in the already cacophonous street where vehicles try to find a way to get through the stubborn crowds. We are too many people and too small a land that we can mostly be found in herds doing the aforementioned. It was funny when Oprah got her backsides kicked and handed to her after her melodramatic show of poverty in India and not so much when Slum Dog Millionaire was resented for its biased exposé of a few aspects handpicked from the massive arsenal of “the world’s most diverse country”. Anyone stereotypes us, we get all mad; we run on the roads, burn effigies and paint their pictures with coal. And our channel calls Harsha Bhogle or Khushbhoo or any person they find, so Arnab can do what he does: let’s not talk about that further. The whole of India jumps up and down. And then in the evening, we sit down for tea. We talk about the world and politics and then about countries like Somalia. Arrey you don’t know Somalia? It is that country with malnourished children and anorexic people. It has dangerous, life-threatening insects too; it’s in Africa after all.

Stereotyping is an amalgam of partial comprehension, ignorance, creativity and a lot of exaggeration. It’s human to classify and stereotype. We can’t abstain from it, yet we make a loud hoo-ha when it’s not us that’s doing the doing. What hypocrisy!

And I talk about hypocrisy: again, what hypocrisy!