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Rihanna Regains Consciouness

(I was commissioned to write this column, and once I submitted it, was told that I had missed the deadline by two hours OR maybe that was just them being nice to me while rejecting it, which I appreciate. Either way, I’m cleaning up my Google Drive rn and I saw this lying there. I figured I should put it out on this blog no one reads, at least it won’t be taking up space on my Google Drive. It was about the time that Rihanna’s tweet about the internet shutdowns in the farmer’s protest was in the news.)

Rihana’s place in Indian pop culture and history has been cemented after the now three hundred and seventy five thousand time retweeed tweet. In it, she asked the question- “Why is no one talking about this? Hashtagged it FarmersProtest and linked a CNN story on the brutalities (including internet shutdowns) being meted out by the police on the ongoing farmers protest. It led to a slew of international voices including Greta Thunberg and Mia Khalifa drawing attention to the state of affairs as well. 

In the past 3 days India has had to scramble to get to know Rihanana so that we could thank her or malign her depending on what Whatsapp forwards we believe. To the world she may be a global superstar- actor, singer, business woman, entertainer, one of the highest selling American music artists of all time, and have a social media following of over 200 million people across platforms, in India we didn’t know her. But not knowing something has never deterred us from judging it, in fact, it’s one of our specialities. The replies section to her tweet looked like a piñata of a drunk uncle had exploded on it. The misogyny and racism was like glitter in your hair- you would have to dust it off for days afterwards.  

When an attractive, successful woman speaks truth to power it is confusing for a hate mongering men-typing out venomous threats with one hand on their keyboard, and the other down their pants because they can’t decide whether they want to hate or masturbate. All Rihanna’s music videos on YouTube received millions of views in a few days from curious Indians. We have left our digital footprints in the comments section in the form of more misogyny and racism. The ad revenue from her videos has probably gone up by a bit.  

Now, I have enjoyed Rihanna’s music like millions of others for almost a decade, but never I imagined that the lady who sang about “diamonds in the sky” would rattle the government of allegedly the worlds largest democracy enough for it to rain reactions. Within hours, the “soft power” of Bollywood was deployed in a series of copy-paste tweets belched out by the Twitter accounts of Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgan, and other actors that have felt victimised by the success of the Khans in the past decades. Sportsmen, who may have worn the jerseys of Team India, but in reality only batted and served for themselves followed suit. The flood gates of testosterone had been opened. She may have sang about loving “Rude Boys” in 2010, and we’re going to give them to her. Even the Ministry of External Affairs flew in with a statement, reacting to Rihanna’s tweet more strongly than it has to China’s military forces at the Indian border. Allegations of her getting paid for her tweet is doing the rounds in publications as of yesterday. Even if these “anti-national” elements have that much money, why would they hire Rihana of all people, especially when they would have been able to purchase the support Indian Bollywood and sports idols for so much lesser?

By the night of her tweet Republic TV had labeled Rihanna a Minister of Agriculture from Congress.( Was “Umbrella” a song about agrarian distress due to undependable rainfall? That’s really good propoganda.) Another channel called her tweets “Anti-India.” When did asking “why is no one talking about this” become seditious?  The India they want to exist in asks no questions, and does not talk about things. And it’s worse sin of all- that it robs us of growth, of having the privilege to make new mistakes, because we are just repeating our old ones. CNN- News 18 asked her  “Kya aapko Gazipur border pata hai? Kya aapne krishi kanoon padha hai? Kya aapko pata hai ye kaise paas hue?” and such poignant questions that it has not had the audacity to ask our own beloved leaders. CNN News 18  taking digs at Rihanna is a study in irony, because the link that she had tweeted to illustrate her point belonged to CNN, and so does CNN News 18. No matter what side you’re on, remember CNN will make some money off of you. 

One influencer warned that Rihanna would never dance at an Indian wedding after this, which begs the question- is this the pinnacle of what the Indian market can offer her- the opportunity to dance with a patriarch four whiskeys down to “Ey meri zauharjabhi”? If so is she missing out on much? Protests were staged against Rihanna’s tweet, because protests were what our country was missing. The pictures of their placards “Rihaana hosh main aao” and it’s direct English translation by Google “Rihaana regain consciousness.” They burned pictures of her at these protests, because acting out tableaus of lyrics of her songs “just going to stand there and watch me burn” are a running theme with this government. Who can forget their wonderful tableau of “bitch give me your money” which they executed during demonitisation? 

As expected, the backlash towards Rihana left the inboxes of women named Rehana and cricketer Rahane in mess. User @miracle_teacher34  challenged Rihanna to a debate in the supreme court “whoever wins logically and ethically would get the entire wealth of the defeated side. Rihanna Vs. Vikas. Do you have the guts to accept this challenge?” As if “guts” was the thing stopping her from engaging with Vikas. Luckily, she has not accepted the challenge yet, Vikas’s wealth of mommy issues are safe with him for now. 

The reactions are still pouring in, this tweet has given our news media days of content so that we can avoid talking about the real issues she brought up. On the most logical level, what would Rihaana get out of tweeting about internet shutdowns during farmer protests? A whole lot of online harassment, a song dedicated to her by Diljit Dosanjh called “Riri” (It’s the ultimate puppy eyed tribute, cute, but…ahem… definitely not his best work. For some surreal courtship tunes to her may I point you to Rihana o Rihana, a 2016 kaan keeda by Baba Sehgal), and scores of Indian uncles negging her into debates? She’s enough of a business woman to know that its not worth it. The truth is, that our reactions to a popstars tweets revealed more about us than it did about her. 

But what has India gotten out of Rihanna’s tweet? And a chance at visibility at the struggle of millions of farmers all over the world, an oopsie to the world where our facist petticoats are showing under our democratic sari.  

Welcome to Indian history Riri. 

Currently obsessed with…

I am currently obsessed with the idea of story telling, in all it’s forms- TV, film, radio, comics, books, songs, poetry, comedy, books, newspapers, art, people. The centre of human existence are the stories we tell. Without them there is no craft, there is no art. Every moment we spend alive is a story we are telling ourselves. We are our stories. And we die twice; one time we stops telling ourselves a story. and the second when someone stops telling stories about us.

We begin, exist and end as stories.

This is why I do not want to by slipping in the bathroom and cracking my head open on a toilet bowl. My fear is that the way I die will be the last and clearly most memorable story of my life. My legacy will be some wise crack by a friend who will be like, oh at least she died near the things that she loved the most- shit and pot (but I wont be around to hear it so what eves)

It is a function of my skin color, my gender, my race, my caste, my class, my social capital, and plain dumb luck that I get to work as a professional story teller. But because I do,  I am reminded and staggered everyday  by the stories that never make it out, the ones that make it out but are misremembered, and misconstrued. It makes me protective over my own story-it’s agency, it’s form and it’s content.

And I REALLY don’t want to die after cracking my head open on a toilet bowl.


From the backrow

I FINALLY went and saw some theatre after nearly two years of not having seen a single play. The two plays I saw were IPTA’s Kashmakash at Prithv theatre and the second one was Yatri’s Chinta Chodo Chintamani at Veer Savarkar auditorium

For both plays, I realised I had the evening to myself after a very long time, and instead of calling up friends to catch up with them or taking myself home to fall asleep to Netflix- I decided to go watch some theatre.

I love theatre. It’s what I studied in college- and so most of my favorite college memories occur in and around theatres- the numerous times I have been caught trying to sneak in my water bottle into the auditorium (what? I get thirsty, and I swear I have not spilled a DROP in the times that I have managed to sneak a water bottle in), the numerous times I have fallen asleep when a show has not held my attention or I’ve had a long day (and the AC temperature and darkness and silence of the audience is JUST enough to lull me into a nap), the multiple occasions that I have cried silently at the emotional bits, laughed out loud at unexpected places getting well deserved stares from my fellow audience members.

When I walked into the back row at Prithvi the other day I remembered how much I loved it. The announcement to silence our phones at the top of the show made me so excited I switched off my phone and flung it deep into my bag. I had mentioned to mom that I would be watching a play, and nothing was going to be important enough to interrupt my next 120 minutes.

Now here’s the thing- both the plays I say were commercial Hindi plays.I am told that both these plays are not high-brow theatre- but commercial mass-appealing plays. I don’t know what that means in the context of theatre to be honest- but that’s what I was told.

Kashmakash was a Bengali play, translated to Hindi starring stalwarts such as Anjan Shrivastav and Sulbha Arya and Avtar Gill. To anyone who’s watched movies in the 80’s and 90’s these names might ring familiar. It’s because these very theatre actors populated the character roles of all these films. Chinta Chod Chintamani was a Marathi play translated to Hindi with actors such as Om Katare and Paromita Chatterjee  (I have worked with her in the past, and so I am ABSOLUTELY biased about how wonderful she is)

I’m not qualified (or have even seen enough theatre in the past few years) to “review” theatre but I did it immensely enjoy the experience of seeing both.  Both plays had similar themes- the struggles of a common man. Both stage sets were similar too- just a simple living room in the houses of the protagonists. Both were also family dramas (as does anything that is set in a living room becomes- since it does serve as the backdrop life to every charecter that walks in and out of said room) In terms of this- I think Chinta Chod Chintamani- as cast of 12 people had a much more in depth relationship with their sets. There was much more use of space. In Kashmakash- even though the set was modest-er and the actors fewer, they did not do much to claim the space as their own- it left me feeling like I was watching OUTSIDERS interact with a strange setting sometimes.

Kashmakash follows the life of a poor man who decides to pose as a freedom fighter so that he can get a pension out of the government since he has just lost his job. The play weighs in on themes of sacrifice for your country and the lament of the common man being trapped in a system and morality that allows and even compels him to seek out the wrong ways in to obtain a livelihood. Anjan Shrivasta as the protagonist and Sulbha Arya literally LOOK the part, these are roles we have seen them play several times before so it’s not much of a stretch of the imagination as an audience member to be invested in them. Avtar Gill as the somewhat antagonist is perfect. His comedic timing in the first half turns beautifully into menace in the second half. The end of the play is all too abrupt and very rushed. As if  they were running out of time and so they wrapped everything up in one rushed sweeping reductive gesture. All the time setting up dramatic conflict over the themes of the play , was brushed under the carpet and wrapped into a neat little spotlight and fade out in the end.

Chinta Chod Chintamani is a play I have heard TONS about in it’s Marathi avatar. So I was excited to see this one. The casting in this case was spot on and I of course loved Paromita Chatterjee as a the wife of the family. It’s TOUGH not like her, once again- she just looks the part- sweet faced, sassy and hilarious all at the same time. CCC explores the differences of generation between a large joint family. It was SURPRISINGLY liberal in places. The young kids were pursuing non-traditional jobs  (1 a cricketer, 1 a student who wants to be an actor and the other a professional Baba worshipper (more on this later)), the father was in a traditional banking job, the mother a housewife and the grandparents were the classic stay-at-home bickering couple who also served as sounding boards and advice givers to the generations below them. The parents openly encourage their children to seek a partner and even invite them into a home (the son AND the daughter) and most importantly question religion and caste.

The chemistry between the grandfather and his grand daughter’s latest Baba is fantastic.  My fav interaction between them coz something along these lines

Baba: Agar main shrap doon toh main iss poore makaan ka vansh kar sata hoon.

Grandfather: Badhiya, toh aap Bharatiya Sena ki kyoon nahi madad karte? Bas saare dumshmanon ko shraap de do aur humain ek bhi sipahi ki jaan khoni nahi padegi.

There was a whole scene dedicated  gay-shaming jokes with a deeply offensive portrayal of a famous gay directer- these also got massive laughs out the of the audience I was sitting in. Also- live in relationships were termed a “vahiyat khayal” which only I found hilarious.

Once again- CCC wrapped up all too soon. With both plays I felt like I was watching an extended set up with a very abrupt resolution. If anything though- this has reminded me of how much I love going to the theatre- to admire the resolve and committment of people who come together for months in advance so that they can create a magical world for just 120 mins, for just those people, in just that theatre, at just that show. The hard work that goes into it is very humbling and I want to pay as much tribute to it with my time, energy and of course, ticket buying.


My village- To Stella Aunty

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They say it takes a village to bring up a child-Stella Aunty was my village.

I have prevented myself from writing anything about her. Because all I have to offer about her are these stupid, selfish and ultimately useless sentences. Some cliched bullshit about how no words will be able to encompass what she is.  I just…really miss Stella Aunty.

All my love and affection rests in my cell phone. In the notes, there are lines from a Javed Akhtar poems, in the text messages there are testaments of love exchanged with my boyfriend and in my contacts, Stella Aunty is still stored as “Ma” even a year after she is gone. I sometimes panic when I realise that I don’t think of her as much as I used to but then in my cell phone and its various backups she is still a button press away.

When my masi, a single woman, decided to take responsibility of my brother (a 8 year old) and I (a 3 year old) when her sister (my mother) died she apparently asked Stella Aunty, “Will you help me take care of them?.” Because mom worked in television production, her working hours and schedules were best described as lunatic- she would not be able to bring up 2 children by herself. They say it takes a village to bring up a child-Stella Aunty was my village.

She was from a village near Karnataka. Her parents died when she was 11, all their property was seized by relatives and she was mistreated enough to warrant running away. Three train rides she landed up on the step of a Parsi couple in the building next to where my family lived. She often chuckled at the fact that she had run away from being a servant in her own house so she could be a servant in someone else’s house. I always felt goosebumps at the thought of her alone and when she recounted this part of the story of her life, I often reached out to hold her hand which she always shook off, it didn’t affect her anymore or she just wouldn’t let me see it. After that 3 generations of my family (my grandmother, my mother and masi, and I) have been left altered by Stella Aunty.

It was that Parsi couple that took her in, and gave her the name Stella. Her real name was Asha.

“How hard is it to pronounce Asha that they had to change your name to Stella?” I asked her more than once.

“Shut up, they were the ones who taught me how to cook.”

For the lack of a better word, she was my nanny. It’s the only word that comes to mind, because I realised there is no word for the relationship she and I had. At age 10 when I was particularly sick with a fever- I asked her if she would lie next to me on the bed. I just wanted to hold someone and sleep I guess. She smiled, and took my head on her lap to explain to me the truths of the world we live in. “Nahi Adu, main aapke ghar main kaam karti hoon, reheti nahi hoon, main pagaar dene waali ke bed pe nahi layte sakti. ” It always made me slightly ill when she referred to her self as “working for” my mother. I HATE myself for not protesting it every time she said she was “worker” in the house. I felt at a loss of words, unable to understand why my love will not override all these socially constructed limbos.

Stella Aunty was my food. I was spoiled rotten by her fantastic cooking- Sindhi kadi, to thai curry, potato chops to alu puri. Every time I mentioned to her something new I tasted she would hunt for recipes of it in her magazines to make it at home and always surpassed the original. If you think I exaggerate, ask anyone who lived in my building. The macchiwaali complains that ever since Stella is gone people buy lesser fish in our building, because no one can cook it the way she did. In college and school, I had a constant parade of  friends who would invade our one-room home for lunch made by Stella Aunty. I am suspicious that even my best friends were bigger fans of Stella Aunty’s Tandoori chicken than my company and this is a suspicion I never want to lay to rest.

Stella Aunty was my air. I knew the fortune of waking up to the gentle scent of agarbatti wafting in my house because she convinced my mother that praying in the morning before she left for work and lighting an agarbatti would be nice. Even now sometimes when mom does not have the time to spend in prayer before work, she makes sure to at least light an agarbatti, it is Stella’s wish, and that’s how it will be done.

She was my shield. When I lost my school blazer, 1 day before the new term started, I cried in fear at the thrashing I was going to get from my mother. Stella Aunty took my sobbing face to the tailor, and we returned with a replacement to the lost blazer which she paid for with her own money. My mother still does not know.

When a guy I had been chatting with online showed up outside my house (I have NO excuse how he knew where my house was. It was stupid, plain and simple stupid on my part). While I cowered behind the door, Stella Aunty went outside to talk to him and when raised his voice, one effective “hatt, phrrrr, bhaag yahan se” from her sent him jetting down the street.

Stella Aunty was my penance. She loved me unreasonably. While my mother’s parenting style was “figure it out yourself first you idiot”, Stella aunty was the hand that patted my head while I figured it out and the several mistakes in between. If she forgave me it meant that God forgave me. My heart and conscience rested in her. Everything from my first heartbreak to my latest failed audition for some T.V show happened under her watch. The fact that she stood next to me, laughing at me, cajoling me and comforting me while I failed miserably made failure less frightening. When I returned home with the news of some personal victory- she would let tears roll down her eyes out of pride while she giggled with glee and listened to me recount whatever it  was that was making me so happy.

She was my storybook- a seemingly endless well of stories that my mother was too busy to tell us, about my grandmother, about my mother’s childhood and her version of the countless ones that she read from her Kannada Chandamama Magazine.

When she died suddenly- it was not real. It was my birthday the previous day, she had handed my 3 hundred rupee notes, saved out of her own salary and we were supposed to go to Konkan Kinara for dinner that coming Saturday. We had just finished renewing her subscription to Crime and Punishment magazine, because she had been interested in reading thriller stories of late.

At her funeral- 200 people showed up the moment they heard of her passing. The small hut that she had built behind our building that could accommodate 2 people normally was bursting at its seams. I spent the day keeping her grandchildren entertained, while the rest of her family met the people who had come to pay their last respects. I focused VERY hard on that game of saakli with them so that I didn’t have to hear people recall stories of how Stella cooked them amazing dhoklas, when she bathed the dead body of their father before the funeral because no one in the family knew what to do, when she held off the Landlord from the family on the 3rd floor while they went through a financial slump and couldn’t afford rent for a few months, when she arranged a LPG gas for the couple on the 4th floor in the middle of the night, when she was a listening ear to the old lady who lived alone on the 1st floor.

When you lose a parent- you realise that you are not a child anymore, that’s what that entire day felt like- an odd feeling of being deflated and puffed up with a new and uncomfortable kind of air at the same time. Today, I smile at her smile whenever I play with her grandson, I hear the same gleeful giggle spree that she was so well known for when I tickle her grand daughter.

I dreamed about her a couple of nights ago, she rescued me out of a situation that I can’t remember anymore, but even in my dream I felt instantly calmed when she appeared. In the same dream, I asked her, “So does this mean you’re back?” and she looked at me with that same smile she did before when she had placed my head on her lap to explain to me the truths of the world we live in.“Nahi Adu, main jaa rahi hoon.”

As suspected, I wind into a series of platitudes when I’m talking about her. The vocabulary to honour her life still evades me. I just….really miss Stella Aunty.

Punching Up or Punching Down

My essay on “Power and Comedy” for the Power Issue of Verve Magazine, June 2015

We Indians have an iffy record when it comes to having a sense of humour. We

are accused of having none — the past few months have reminded us that we

will muzzle a joke while hate speech flows from the mouths of politicians. But

then again — if you watch our great democracy in action on the 9 o’clock news,

it’s hard to say that Indians don’t have a sense of humour. It’s like watching a

building crumble, one slow brick at a time, and yet we find the courage in us to

tune in the next day at 9 pm again. India has a confusing relationship with

comedy and humour. We will ban some comedians, and on the other hand we

will put some on prime-time television. In a country as full of idiosyncrasies and

idiocies, it is no surprise that the two things that we have in endless supply are

apathy and outrage. At the confluence of the two stands humour. The youngest

child of any family will recount how they are constantly teased and that’s how

they know they are loved. My chubbiness has been a punchline in my family for

generations. From being called ‘Adu-Kaddu’ by my elders, I have been moved

onto the loving epithet of ‘Kaddu Masi’ by my nieces and nephews. Even today at

almost every alternate stand-up comedy show there are requests from the

audience to make fun of their friend whose birthday it is. If the host of the show

obliges and time permits, it ends with the birthday boy/girl standing on stage

red with embarrassment and suppressed giggles, while the friends and the

members of the audience join in with good-natured laughter. Evidently, the

relationship between comedy and power is a complex one. To begin with, we all

know about the power of comedy. It’s replete in our adages like — ‘Laughter is

the best medicine’ — and the laughter clubs of people hahahah-ing seemingly

needlessly at city parks in coffee ads. We know that laughter is good for us, but

power and comedy in my opinion are both interchangeable. In that the power of

humour comes from both, being a weapon to attack as well as a weapon to

defend. In a way, power is comedy and comedy is power. You’ll often hear the

words ‘punching up’ and ‘punching down’ being bandied about in green rooms of

comedy clubs. This description of a joke is based on who the target of the joke is.

(I use words like ‘weapon’ and ‘target’ in humour but I have to reckon they are

too potent an analogy for jokes. Jokes, we often tend to forget are not physically

harmful; you’ll never hear of comedians rioting for their right to be ‘offensive’ to

audience but more than once audience members have gone overboard with their

right to be ‘offended’, even threatening and in some cases even killing comedians

in the process). When you are ‘punching up’, the target of your joke is higher

than your perceived and experienced status in the power structure of the society

you live in. That’s why it’s so easy to make fun of politicians and celebrities —

they are privileged, richer and more powerful than us and when you’re that rich

and famous, you should be too powerful to care about what people say. A joke on

Vijay Mallya never goes un-laughed at — Rahul Gandhi, Uday Chopra and

Tusshar Kapoor jokes are so common now, that they’re actually considered

hackneyed. It’s why the Internet exploded with memes when Alia Bhatt didn’t

know who the President of India is. It was too easy; she is a beautiful woman,

born into privilege, with a job description that includes the high life. We could

never be her. For the person cracking it, and for the person laughing at it — the

joke is a tool of survival, a defence mechanism. In the ninth standard, I had to

change boarding schools. As anyone can testify, it’s a traumatic experience. Kaho

Na… Pyaar Hai had just released in the theatres that week. On the first day of

school when the new kids are expected to be sitting in a corner and crying

because they miss their parents — I was doing my best impression of Ek Pal Ka

Jeena for my new friends. Hrithik Roshan will never know how he saved my life

that year. One of the earliest laughs laughed by the first primate may as well have

been a chuckle of relief when it had evaded its latest predator. Survival was

guaranteed for the time being. We are alive. Research conducted by Chaya

Ostrower (a gelatologist — that’s what they call scientists who study humour)

showed that humour was one of the primary defence mechanisms exhibited

during the Holocaust. Concentration camps would have stand-up comedy shows

where the prisoners would stand sometimes right in front of prison officials and

make jokes about them. One of the most poignant recorded jokes in this aspect:

Hitler to a fortune teller: “Tell me when I will die.” Fortune teller: “You will die on

a Jewish holiday.” Hitler: “But which Jewish holiday will I die on?” Fortune teller:

“Any day you die will be a Jewish holiday.” The function of laughter in this case is

— if you can’t be them, laugh at them. With that simple action, you are taking

away the power they have over you from them and bolstering your own

confidence. When we ‘punch down’, the target of the joke is lower than your

perceived and experienced status in the power structure. That’s why we crack up

when people walk into doors, slip on banana peels or get hit by pies in the face.

It’s why movie villains don’t hahaha, they Muahahaha. The element of power in

this humour is derived from relief. Thank God I am not the one in trouble.

‘Punching down’ also serves the function of establishing hierarchy. That’s why

it’s hilarious to make fun of Rakhi Sawant when she says ‘chitting’ instead of

‘cheating’ or exclaims ‘Jejus’ instead of ‘Jesus’. What she is saying is lost in the

melee of quips about her mispronunciation. In speaking out, she has exposed the

fact that she is not one of us magazine reading public and we use her incongruity

to make humour. In this case it might as well be that one of the first laughs

laughed by the first primate was when he saw his prey struggling in his grip —

dinner was ready. Survival was guaranteed for the time being. We are alive.

‘Punching down’ is the trademark joke style of Comedy Nights With Kapil. The

poor wife is a permanent nag and therefore the butt of jokes about nagging.

Dadima and Buaji are always hitting on the guest of every show, and therefore a

butt of jokes for that desperation. By that same merit, Alia Bhatt jokes are a

classic example of ‘punching down’ as well. In our muddled middleclass morality,

actresses are literally lowest in the pecking order — even today, a young woman

expressing a desire to be an actress is met by fevered opposition. It’s very easy to

make fun of her. This, in my mind, establishes the fluidity of the power of comedy

and the comedy of power, because every single individual perceives and

experiences status in a different manner — so ‘punching up’ and ‘punching

down’ become subjective. What is funny to some may be horribly offensive

others. And that’s what makes comedy so potent. It is so easy to create. The

three most basic components of a joke — a clever thought in your head, a person

to tell it to and the ability to be objective about your own place in the power

structure of the world we exist in — all are free. It’s all dependent on how much

power you, as a creator and even as a consumer of comedy, give yourself. Event

organisers often are thrilled to have a stand-up comedy track on their line-ups

because there are rarely background dancers, flashing lights and backup

orchestras. It’s just a person telling a joke on the mike, hoping to evoke laughter.

That’s why, comedy, in all its forms, is simultaneously the most simple and

complicated thing to process. The punches perceived are only as hard as you let

them hit you — only as powerful or powerless as you let them be.

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How to travel in Business Class- A Crash (and Burn) course.

This is my column for Femina Magazine, November 2014. Do pick up a copy!

(I am a stand up comedian and life gets pretty uninteresting when you’re touring alone for days from airport to hotel room to stage to airport to hotel room to stage to airport to hotel room etc. And even though my job may be to entertain others, I find it harder to keep myself entertained. It’s true. I always already know what I’m going to say next- it’s horribly predictable.)

I recently found myself in a business class seat to a flight to Delhi. To put it in context, I’m THAT middle class child who still cannot get over the fact that I get to take flights instead of a train. To find myself in business class was like sone pe suhaga pe giant scoop of chocolate ice cream with almonds crushed on it.

I dressed as I would for any normal flight where I would be sitting in economy class. Track pants and t-shirt with hooded sweatshirt. I maybe one hockey stick away from looking like a female Mika, but at least I’m comfortable. The idea was to dress casually, as if I travelled by business class all the time that it was like my second home. I put on those giant bee sunglasses to give myself a glamorous, mysterious look, as if the paparazzi is always following me around when I go to
get bread and milk to the kinara shop. I was disappointed that no palanquin came to take me to the airport, but it was something I was willing to let go of.

Flying Business class means you get access to the VIP lounge. Here was a buffet that included things like “Palak kabobs.” They tasted like socks and it made wonder why they chose palak, the least kabob-able vegetable for this purpose. Maybe pedestrian items like  potatoes and paneer did not make the cut. There was also a guy from that show on that channel where they fall in love but families have an issue and there’s one manipulative family member who keeps sabotaging the young lovers and the family. I may have described pretty much every single Indian T.V show ever, but the point was that he was a celebrity and I was within 20 feet radius of him.

When a voice announced, “We request all Business class passengers to proceed towards the gate,” I stood up and walked towards the line of economy class passengers who were already waiting at the gate. As a middle class/economy class person- I am totally used to a bit of pushing, shoving and line cutting, but now that I had the full permission to actually cut the line it felt awkward.

To celebrate my first ever Business class flight I had worn a string of pearls. These pearls were specially mined from the oysters of the Zambian lagoons, or as it’s known, Linking Road 50 ruppees, but trust me they looked real. It would add to my nonchalant glamour, as if I wear pearls in my pyjamas all the time. I hope everyone imagined that I was the child of someone very rich, maybe one of the first Indian programmers of Microsoft? Maybe I was married to a celebrity dentist in London who parities with Posh and Becks? Maybe they envy my wealth but feel sorry for me since I obviously did nothing to earn or deserve it? I hope so.

The sheer amount of space of my seat made me nervous. I’m too small in height and size to warrant all that extra legroom. It made me think of my brother’s long legs that would bang against the seat in front when he sat in an economy sized seat. In tribute to every bump in his knee,I stretched myself out the to the max.  In 10 mins I found a sweet spot and  (this will always be a regret) fell asleep. The excitement and energy required to maintain the air of being posh had taken a toll on me.

When I woke the flight was almost landing. I looked at the unread Economic Times that I could have looked intelligent while reading. I was hoping to strike up conversation with my fellow business class travellers and project myself as a whipper-snapper entrepreneur. “Current valuation you ask? Well, according to Forbes, $450 million dollars,” I would have said casually while taking sips from my shrimp cocktail. Even though the idea of seafood based cocktail was weird, I saw it on the menu when I woke up and was seriously upset at having missed out on it.

As they say, you can take the girl out of economy class, but you can’t take the economy class out of the girl. Maybe one day, when I find myself in the hallowed bowels of a business class airplane seat again-I’ll stay awake. Till then, I will go back to another stage, another hotel room and another airport.

The Razzle-Frazzle of the Indian Wedding

My column for  India Today Magazine (Simply Mumbai), Oct 2014.

If you are a middle class woman in Mumbai over the age of 20, then you know it’s in the air. Halls, banquets and grounds all over the city have been booked since June. Event management companies are fighting with decorators who are fighting with caterers about the placement of tables.’Tis the season to get married in Mumbai. Like dominos your friends and cousins and far off relatives fall into the world of shiny boxes of kishmish and menu choices (which are still the same at every wedding. Paneer Makhani anyone?)

The most integral question that any self-respecting human being will ask themselves during this trying time is “Oh God, what am I going to wear?” Fortunately my mother cares for clothes like a Jihadi cares for democracy. The first time I complained to her about having to wear the same outfit to yet another wedding she looked at me like I was clinically insane.

“People will think I have no other clothes”, I protested.

“Do you remember what Anvita, Muskan or Suniti wore to the last family wedding?”

I scrunched up my face in concentration “No, I can’t remember. Why?”

“If you have not thought about what other’s have been wearing then what makes you think that anyone cares about what you’ve been wearing?”

It’s true. No one cared. I never remember what anyone else wears because I am mostly busy obsessing over my own outfit. It made me feel let down and liberated at the same time.

We have sharas, ghararas, (which is also another word for gargling), tiharas and shikaras and though the last two do not exist I bet half of us are planning to ask for one the next time we’re at Santacruz station doing wedding season shopping. Strips of cloth pretend to be sari blouses and saris drenched in beads, sequins and crystals leave us one portable battery away from Amitabh Bacchan in “Saara Zamaana.” I wonder if aliens look up into their night skies and see the twinkle of the MASSIVE crystals in Pammi Aunty’s salwar and make a wish upon it. If you come from a family that has any jewellery to it’s name then visits to the “locker” in the bank will become de rigour, as if you’re Ajit or Dan Brown.

Bollywood sank it’s grimy paws into the Indian wedding narrative very early on in the game. Documents unearthed from Suraj Barjatiyas office reveal the template for Indian wedding movies.

Step 1 : A weds B but during this wedding C meets D, Cue Song #1 and Song #2

Step 2 : C weds D and during the wedding E meets F, Cue Song #3 and #4

Step 3 : After some minor Bapuji related issues, cue possible song #5 (sad song)  E weds F, cue song #6, every one stands around in a semi circle facing the camera spouting cloyingly earnest cliches about love and life,  desperately trying to bring this extended wedding video to an end.

Step 4: Alok Nath deposits a check in his bank account.

In that eternal dilemma of “Does Bollywood imitate life, or life imitate Bollywood?” the Indian parent now treats each wedding as a petri-dish where potential sons and daughters in laws are germinating . This is why a staple at every wedding now, is the  person in their 20’s either sulking in a corner or “Bole chudiyaan, bole kangana, and babu-ji pooja ki thaali ek minute laayi”-ing all over the place. Parents want to replicate the Suraj Barjatiya template and the kids are thinking more along the lines of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Most parents get the wistful when watching the couple at the mandap/alter because they’re thinking of their own children standing there. Their look of longing would put Romeo and Juliet’s love to shame.

Weddings are also the one time in your life when you will meet many relatives for the first, and probably the last time. Your cheeks will be pinched by fingers that have just eaten butter naans so there go any dry skin issues you may have. You will touch more feet than the average pedicurist does in a month. There are certain relatives in the family who’s face I cannot remember, but I’ll know they are Mom’s second cousin’s wife or Uncle’s Aunt’s 3rd cousin from the other side-simply by their footwear. Then someone will loudly recall the time that you did susu while they were carrying you when you were 5 years old, and isn’t that too old to be wetting yourself, but you always had a weak bladder. The person at the wedding who you had identified as your parent’s future son in law/daughter in law, gets extremely disgusted and leaves. This is not first date information.

It’s also the time that the family Saroj Khan, an aunt or an over enthusiastic cousin will choreograph 14 dances too many. Chachus will convulse, Phuphis will vibrate, building friends will shimmy and the DJ will try not to murder himself because he’s been playing the same playlist for almost this entire wedding season. The guests will politely clap along because they have nothing else to do with their hands since the food counters are not open yet. My over zealous Mamu, once entered the sangeet stage to the opening notes of “Dafliwaaaale…..” using a steel thaali as a dafli. He may have got a bit too in character when he frisbee-d the thaali across the hall nearly severing my brother’s neck. (If something had happened it would be a horrible inconvenience to everyone because, what are they going to wear to the funeral now?)  One of the older uncles will strike up “Ey meri Zohrajabhi…..” and his wife will shirk like a flower as if she’s getting married all over again. Since the poor children are already out on display in full finery- the parents and relatives feel the need to do the traditional “ beta uncle aunty ko dance dikhao”

The Indian wedding is heavily fetishised in the west. Technically, it’s the most easily packageable piece of our culture. Most weddings also seem to have the token foreigner (a white person only, we won’t invite black people because Somnath Bharti). This white person will exclaim with surprise at pretty much anything-ooooh look-the people are so happy, the music is loud, everyone is so well dressed ( and also mostly intoxicated) OOOHH THE GREAT INDIAN WEDDING! They will be encouraged to dance to Sheila ki Jawani to which they will do an awkward thrust or 5 but everyone will whistle and hoot in encouragement so much that they will actually begin to think they’re doing it right. The photographer will be explicitly told to photograph the token foreigner having a good time with the immediate family, so that pictures in the wedding album will remain testament to the racist and selective hospitality we take so much pride in.

Let’s face it, the frazzle and dazzle of the Indian wedding is very little about the poor bride and groom, who are hidden under layers of saris, generations of  jewellery, pagdis and seheras. It’s about people coming together weather it’s to criticise each other’s clothes, find someone to get married to, recall horribly awkward stories, or watch someone named Jeffery try to match steps with your cousin sister to Mutukudi kawadi hada. Now when I get an invitation to a wedding, instead of my wardrobe, the first thing I open are my eyes and mind. As I said, ’tis the season to get married. Let the celebrations BEGIN!

Whose cheque is it anyway?

My column for Femina Magazine Oct 2014. Do pick up a copy!

It amazes me that in 2014 we are still having the debate about who pays for the first date. Being a strictly middle class girl, I think that there’s a need to define the word “date” for the Indian context.

“Date” When two individuals, who have romantic intentions, set aside a time to meet, and explore if they have qualities that could facilitate a long term relationship. This might involve said individuals consuming coffee, alcoholic beverages and even a full meal together.

Traditionally, he pays, and the woman is supposed to look interested in her phone or go to the powder room while he handles the unpleasant business of paying for the food. This action is supposed to highlight his role of the ‘provider’ in the relationship. The preposterousness of him having to be the ‘provider’ is equivalent to the idea of her needing to be ‘provided for.’ The fact that he can pay for 1 meal is not really a standard to judge the “providery-ness” of your partner anyway. It’s like saying that because Neil Armstrong landed on the moon once he must have a  2 acre farmhouse there. Gender roles have altered drastically since the concept of “dating” as we know it today, came about. “He pays” is not acceptable as default. This does not mean that “She pays” is a solution either. That’s just flipping the problem around.

For the scores of ladies who “forget” their wallets at home, because he’s “supposed” to pay, stop embarrassing yourself. Leaving home without money for yourself is the most juvenile and possibly dangerous thing to do. No one, far from a person you’re meeting to explore a romantic life with, is running a charity. It’s a matter of self-respect and common sense.

The other common way to decide who pays is “Who asked who out”- the person who initiated the date has to pay the bill. This is unfair because the ratio is skewered inordinately to men. As an Indian woman, I am aware that being sharmili is supposed to be one of our trademarked qualities. The heroines in our movies have itrao-ed their necks off, blushing and smiling mysteriously as if we’re posing for the Mona Lisa. We have been taught that women are supposed to attracted men with beguiling smiles and lowered eyes, not through direct words and (God forbid) overtly sexual things like asking them to share a meal/coffee with you. Therefore applying this principle means its mostly the men who end up paying for the date. Moreover, what happens when it’s a family arrangement? How do you decide whose Phuphi contacted whose Chachi first to initiate the meeting?

The one smooth way out of the dangerous waters of ANY date (or even regular social situation), is to pay for what you ate. Because a date, no matter what, needs to be an investment of time, energy and money from BOTH the people involved. A friend once complained that she had gone on 7 dates in 7 days and she felt no connection. Dating is NOT a way of filling up a weekly social calendar, but a way of getting to know a person. You don’t mind taking the time to dress up, you don’t mind giving away a couple of precious hours, then you shouldn’t mind paying for your half of the meal.

If you cannot afford to pay at the place he is taking you out to dinner to, then mention it. The WORST thing that can come out of it is that he will offer pay for it, or he will change the venue of your date to somewhere that you CAN afford to pay. Just like you’re not judging him for his ability to pay, your inability to pay should not be a “deal breaker” either. You’re not dating each other’s wallets. (Unless that’s your thing-then you should probably ignore all this.)

I agree that doing maths when the bill comes, in order to calculate and pay for what you ate on the first date, may not be the most romantic thing in the world. But how quickly they do the math, or how you make each other laugh while doing that awkward calculation or- now THAT’s a better indication of how much of a “provider” someone can be.

Generic looking couple on date for representational purposes, because good Indian children do not go on dates.

Generic looking couple on date for representational purposes, because dating is against Indian culture.

Gym Jam: Notes from a sweaty corner

This is my column for Femina Magazine dated Oct 15th. Do pick up a copy!

It’s so easy to hate people at gyms. Because we live in a world where everyone is supposed to be polished, perfect and presentable at all times. You want to look hot but the impression to be given is that you just naturally have this ridiculously sexy body. That your rippling muscles, toned arms and protruding clavicles just come as a result of you existing. But it takes work. That’s why it’s so easy to hate people in there, even though you might be the chubby girl sweating all over the treadmill, panting like the engine of a Padmini Premier. (I’m totally, talking about myself here, to clarify. Sweating one of my best qualities)

The suburb of Mumbai that I live in, Andheri West, is kind of like a home for Bollywood and television actors. Everyone within 2 Km radius of here is  is going to be the next Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan and Aamir Khan combined and acting skills be DAMNED. What you need these days is a 6 pack. Because nothing conveys your emotions like those weird biscuit-y things on your stomach.

Being in Andheri West, I have also had the fortune of once going a gymthat was visited by television personalities and film stars. Now maybe their eyes are sensitive from all the stage and camera lights they face it’s almost like they’re scared that they will end up emoting from their eyes in person, which they only do for cameras thank you very much. You can tell the struggling actors from the established one because they still don’t have sunglasses on, so they can make better eye contact with themselves in the mirror while simultaneously admiring their own pectorals. As for the women, who show up in full make up to work out, it’s sad that they are still to discover that it also exists in the water proof variety. You go into the gym looking like a movie star, and come out looking like a Panda that has not slept for a month.

Having lost and gained over 100 Kgs in the past 5 years (I’m not even joking, I have more stretch marks a rubber band), I am an expert atgyms. My favourite workout machine is the jiggly machine(TM) . I’m not sure what it’s actual name is, but the jiggly machine has a belt that you put around your waist and it vibrates violently taking your body along with it for the ride. Anyone using the jiggly machine (TM) always looks like they are being electrocuted, but in the most enjoyable manner. I’m not sure how it’s supposed to help with losing weight (can you just jiggle away your fat? But then if you lose your fat then will you be able to jiggle?) I enjoy the paradox of treadmills, where we keep running but get nowhere. I feel like a hamster that’s powering a giant machine that is keeping humanity alive when I’m on it. Some machines are so complicated that I wait for others to use them, watch what they’re doing and then proceed to do it horribly wrong. The system of levers and pulleys that creak in response to my creaking bones is a solace.

As I have qualified, I am far too conscious to be the sports bra with short shorts wearing gym visitor. (I’m talking about the women as well as the men here) They look like they’re in a Sports ad and are doing some overachieve-y like training for an ultra marathon that raises money for noble causes like supplying water for wet t-shirt contests in Goa. On the other end are the ladies in the salwar kameez and sneakers combo. The one’s who will take the elevator to the gym on the first floor. Their best friend is that napkin which is used for everything from wiping their brows to fanning themselves to waving at the gym trainer when they are stuck under the 50Kg leg press.

And then, there is, the chubby girl in the corner working out in mismatched track pants and an old torn tshirt  who’s breathing like the engine of a Padmini Premier who’s weird because she has no place on the spectrum, hating everyone at the gym because she will never be as perfect. And hell, it takes work.

I workout

Scent of a Man

My column for Femina Magazine dated Aug 22nd, 2014

The conventionally unattractive man is ignored because he is, as the ad suggests, conventionally unattractive. He grabs the dildo shaped graphic emblazoned with a word like “Gravity” or “Deadly”, “Inflation” or something equally vague. He spurts it in the general vicinity of his conventionally unattractive torso. Every woman within a 12 km radius (who for some reason has only a 2 buttons per shirt allowance) gets a whiff of him. Like locusts with sexy breasts they descend on now formerly conventionally unattractive man. He is now covered in lipstick marks. Close-ups of women’s fingers clench on bed sheets, and bare male backs and backs of heads. End graphic. “Be awild animal, Lust your smell, buy this deo.”

It not only slays the single women but the married ones as well. This inference is based on the massive number of ads that feature ripped off wedding rings, mangal sutras and heavily panting bhabhi’s who cede to sexual encounters on their way toa Pooja. The logic is that you might as well squeeze in a few of your own “Oh God!”s while on the way to the temple. (Non-threatenting voice over:Just  Zatak her you guys.)

Last week,while looking for a way to postpone actually sitting down to write this column, I found myself where most procrastinators convene- On Twitter. I asked “What is your favourite thing about a man/your man/men (in general). Just 1 thing.” The most popular answer unanimously was “they way they smell”*.I am scared breathless by the question— are deodorant ads telling the truth?

Being in an all girl’s school, I knew few things about men till I found myself sitting in a class next to one in college. It seemed I was now supposed to interact casually with this brand new creature who I had pretty much no idea what to do around. I remember being amazed by way hair grew on their face and neck and how they had awkward voices, but most of all, I was awed by the way they smelled.

One familiar whiff can trigger a powerful memory. As a Bombay dweller, I associate the nose-crinkling smell of drying fish and sea salted air with a happiness that activates others’ gag reflexes. It’s the sense that will alert you of a coming storm, Dadar station,  and a potential mate even before your eyes and ears. Your sense of smell detects chemical compounds called pheromones that signal sexual interest and process them for your completely unconsciously.At times like this, I appreciate mother nature’s Cupid act- because society barely prepares us for sexual interactions. While you bungle awkwardly through nervous smiles and stilted conversation- your nose and body has already made some decisions for you.

Luckily thanks to free-will and common sense and not having nearly enough shirts that have only 2 buttons we don’t have the same response as the buxom beauties in the deodorant ads. If deodorant ads are true, then no one would ever get any work done.

Husband: Why is the breakfast not ready?

Wife: Arre first the neighbour put on deodorant so I had run over to leave lipstick marks on his body, then you put it on so I to stand here clutching bedsheets and breathing heavily. Where is the time to make breakfast? Even the maid had to run out to rip off her mangalsutra suggestively when Rohit from the 5th floor was getting ready to go to college.

I dare not suggest that deodorant is redundant, it is a welcome invention that has made the commute to work bearable.  But let’s face it- women and men fell for each other much before  the invention of deodorant and public transport isn’t exactly designed for finding a mate. On the other hand, having your nose hair spontaneously combust because the cloud ofdeodorant around you as has a human being in it is not the best idea in the world either. The rules of sexual relationships are confusing enough, let’s not mix it up it with the rules of our relationship with that little black can of insecurities.

*For public interest purposes I would like to share the other  #4.

#2 “His personality:” which was the vaguest answer of all. It’s like saying I like a man for his eyes. You can’t like a person for having eyes. Having eyes is not a special or specific quality. Everyone has eyes. Come on yaar.

#3  “Confidence”: Agreed. A man/woman/person who likes themselves is easier to like.

#4 “Empathy/Sense of Humor”: These both came in with equal votes but that’s because they’re kind of two ends of the same spectrum.  Twitter can be pretty deep at times.

#5. “Why has nobody said his money or his penis size”: Men on Twitter contributing to the discussion

(For those of you who want to check out the tweets. I’ve Storified them here. Huge thank you to all who indulged me with their answers and their insights. Twitter is amazing.)

(This edition of Femina Magazine also has a fantastic Article on “6 Men That Make Us Laugh” which feature the hilarious Sorabh Pant, Sanjay Manaktala and Ashish Shakya. I’ve seen them all be fantastic on stage! Check it out!)