Lashings of Ginger-beer

I hope I mentioned at some point I love lists, because here is another and I’m too bored to write an exciting introduction to lists. They’re neat. Let’s move on.

A List of Quintessentially English  Authors I Like For No Earthly Reason:

1) Enid Blyton: Um, yes. She is unabashedly racists, sexist, xenophobic, and simple. Even for a children’s writer, her style borders on laughably limited. Every story she ever wrote has at least one of these things:

- a girl being told she can’t do several things because she is a girl, by boys who are her peers, and her accepting it or at best, rejecting it but only because her helpless struggle against the patriarchy is such an excellent source of humour.

- a disparaging remark being made about foreigners of any and every category

- stereotypes being perpetuated for any and every category of people that are not English, and/or are the lower classes, other races and women.

- straight out declarations of the superiority of the English

- absolute skin crawling racism

BUT I LOVE HER. SO HELP ME GOD.

2) Roald Dahl: Much better. He’s excellent, a very good writer and really comparatively lacking in overt sexism, racism, and classism. But really, you know, all his stories are set in England and feature little English boy and girl protagonists. The whole set up is so alien to anything I ever knew. So it’s really a mystery that I felt so violently in love with his books.

3) Agatha Christie: OK, so you could argue that her books have a universal appeal.  The plots are brilliantly intricate and deliciously shocking even today. In a way, her style provides this quaint little window to the past, to this long gone era of little old ladies, war time rations, English manors and manners, and the colonies. All very satisfying.  IF you happen to be white, anyway.

But I’m not white. I’m brown. I have no place in this beautiful golden era she describes. I’m not one of ‘us’. I’m the ‘them’.  What drew me to her books, yes, were the amazing plots. But why have I gone out of my way to read every single thing she ever wrote? Why have I re-read my favourite Christies multiple times? Why is it that reading her books, including the racism and sexism and classism and god-awful  hypocrites reaping the benefits of the blood-soaked tyranny of colonization , make me feel so…nostalgic? It’s nothing to do with me, except in the most distant and negative terms. I could and probably never will be a part of that world. So why is that I love it so? Why is it that I find myself wanting more and more and more from that period, knowing that it’s all just a fantasy that never really existed anyway?

Gah. Hence this stupid list.

4) P.G. Wodehouse: Same period as above, but oh, infinitely more justified in enjoying! For one thing, it’s all parody in his world. No holds barred. Pokes fun at any and every aspect of English livin’. For another, he is a genius. The quality of his writing is nothing short of sublime. And the subject he chose is the perfect instrument to convey that sublime, perfect language.

And yet you know…

I know nothing IRL of what he speaks. What do I know about the people he is making fun of? I’m not in on the joke, not at all.  So why am I laughing?

5) Jane Austen: She is so English. Loving Jane Austen is what white girls with English degrees and brains but no curiosity or guts do. So what am I doing, loving her? What does she have to say to me or to my experience in life, that I should love her enough to seriously consider devoting my life to her work? Do you know how much imagination it required, getting into the mindspace of those Bennet girls? Do you know how much I was hurt, when, later, I learnt that it was these same people in these novels who sent their brothers and husbands and fathers to systematically exploit, loot and drain the wealth of my ancestors?

So why is it that I continue to love these authors, none of whom ever paused to consider that a young brown-skinned Indian girl might someday read their work. None of whom thought of how their words might shape her life. None of whom probably could imagine the natives to actually have intellectual and emotional depths, or consider them equal.

The truth is, I got invested in their world. The English idyll: manners, conversation, tea, and a beautiful country day. Honour, courage, drive, and honesty. The lovely, beautiful English language and wealth of English tradition and culture. But this world that I love so much, it isn’t real. It’s a fantasy. A fantasy that was rudely shattered the day I started doing modern history when I was 13. Because the same civilization I so love and want to be a part of, rejected me long before I was born. The manners and the tea and the values and the culture were all created to keep me, and people like me, separate.

Is it possible, for me, to extract the goodness from the horror and thus adore it? Or is the goodness too inextricably tied to the horror: to adore one is to condone the other and commit an unforgivable blasphemy towards my dead, colonized ancestors, not to mention display a perverse kind of masochism?

In any case, I do adore that particular brand of Englishness. In spite of everything and it’s post-colonial cousin, I do. Inexplicable stuff, what?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

I like living. …

I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow; but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.

Agatha Christie, describing the difference between all other emotions and depression. When you feel this quote no longer applies to you, GET HELP. 

Quote | Posted on by | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

So much gas (and that’s all the humour for this post, folks)

It’s my fault. It’s entirely my fault, and I don’t mean that in a facetious way where I then go on a long rant to explain how it was my fault but actually strongly implying it wasn’t and I’m just saying that to feel like a martyr. No, I’m saying it seriously: it is all my fault the shitty way I feel and am right now.

Never mind what I’m really talking about. You can guess if you’re clever. It’s all a bit complicated, so let me explain with a convoluted metaphor:

Imagine if you’re entering an environment with a poisonous gas. You yourself are poison-free before you enter.  You’re so healthy, you begin to believe yourself immune to the gas. You think you have knowledge and amazing lungs that will protect you from the gas. You enter the house. Wonder of wonders! It works. You are immune. Others stumble around, dazed and blind, but you can see clearly where the gas is coming from. You head to the source and cover it up. Great, you think. I’ll hold this gas in as best as I can while I search for the switch. It doesn’t matter how long I take, because I am immune: I can stand here, stop the poison from escaping, and all the while figuring out how to stop it. I am the hero. I can save this whole situation.

It doesn’t work out like that.

The gas is harder to contain than you thought: it escapes when you aren’t looking, and sometimes when you are. It’s pretty insidious. Your immunity protects you, but the other victims aren’t improving as quickly as you thought they would. They aren’t coming to help you, eventually, as you thought they would. Sometimes they are grateful. Mostly they are credulous. Never mind, you think. That is the way heroes are. They are always vindicated in the end. Meanwhile, the off switch is nowhere to be found. Once or twice you think you’ve spotted it, but always you have to rush back to stop the gas. You lose it. It’s gone. Now what should you prioritize? The switch or the source? It’s becoming difficult to think. You can’t think straight. There is more and more gas escaping, and your hand slips, and you are overwhelmed. But I’m immune! You cry to yourself. I can’t be affected by the poison.

Actually, you’re not. You’re not immune at all. You were healthy to begin with, it is true, but standing there and trying to protect everyone, you simply harmed your own lungs. You got more of it than everyone. And eventually it caught up with you. Now you’re just one of them. You’re one the hapless victims stumbling around, feeling defeated, angry and foolish.

As you should! I mean think about it. Why did you think you were immune? Did a doctor tell you? Did the world cry it out? No. You were simply so healthy, you could not imagine being affected by this gas. You felt pity for the victims, but also impatience. It wasn’t at all hard to resist the poison, from where you were standing. WRONG. Arrogance.

Why did you have to attempt to save anybody at all? They didn’t ask for it, did they? The opposite, if anything. You didn’t want to save them, really. You wanted to walk in, turn off the source, and be the hero. Sorry, WRONG. Vanity.

So now here you are, totally weak and hating on the other people. But it’s not their fault! They didn’t ask you to be the hero. They didn’t ask for anything. You were the one with the arrogance and the vanity and the stupidity. What you should have done was, walk in. Cover your mouth with a protective mask. Use your health and clarity to sit as far away from the poison as possible. Provide sympathy and advice: that’s all you are here for. But avoid the gas. It is poison. Resist the urge to stop it and turn it off: you’ll only weaken yourself. And then, the back-up that was the only saving grace of your original plan, and which might just save you now if you’re not too late: you can get out. Unlike the others, you can leave, if you’re still healthy enough to see the way and find the door.  Sure, you’re weaker now. Sure, you lost precious time. But it’s not too late. You can get out.

And I am going to get out. I have too. I was a fool to think this would work, living in a fantasy world. Maybe there is nothing but loneliness and hardship for me out there, but hardships with self-respect and peace is miles better than this, whatever it is. These people, these relationships, are driving me mad. I’m becoming a person I don’t like. I know it’s not all about me, but I’ve given up now on the others. I am not an angel who can change everything by walking in and glowing with hope and rainbows. I had only this much to give, and I have run out: now I have to look at myself, at my own survival, that is the only thing left. I can’t give up on myself too.

I guess for all my efforts, it did turn out facetious. On rereading it, I do come off as a wronged soul. No, I don’t really believe that. I blame no one but myself, and my own weakness. I still do wish the switch could be turned off. I just now realize it could never have been me.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Love and Like; Mirrors

Why is it so hard for me to write something honest? So much of what fiction I write rings with insincerity. I used to think perhaps it has to do with my choice of genre which is so often speculative fiction. But all fiction derives its power from the reality it is interpreting. My words just ring hollow sometimes. My style seems so contrived. I have a way with words, yes. But does that amount to me being a writer, much less a good one?

Have you ever watched yourself in a video? I don’t mean a video where you’re acting or reciting something prepared. I mean a video of you just being you, without artifice. Its disturbing. I mean, we all mythologize ourselves. But the size of the gap between what I imagine myself to be on my best days and what I actually am astounds me. I think if I met myself I wouldn’t like myself. I’d be annoyed by myself. And I don’t mean just the big things. I mean the little things, too. I have this really annoying way of pursing my lips. And my smile is lop-sided, in a non adorable way. My stare is disconcertingly smug. I have an air of forced reserve combined with hearty brusqueness and nervous insecurity that is really grating. I could be cute, if I wanted. That is the only kind of attractive I ever could be, if I abandoned those personality traits that cancel out and indeed, make a grotesque joke out of any potential cuteness. Such as that empty intensity. But who the hell wants to be cute? I hate cute. Cute is the thing I never aspired to. I would rather be ugly and loud than cute.

I so often state, to others and myself, that I don’t care what people think. It’s so comforting to think that. Then you don’t have to feel miserable when others judge you and don’t like you, or, worst of all, don’t think much of you. It’s empowering in a way.

But what if all that bravado is built on a lie? If I don’t care what people think it means I don’t think their opinions are worth changing my behaviour for. But what if their opinions are right? What if I’m an annoying, sanctimonious, lazy, uptight, angry little person with little wit and no banter? What if all the things I thought were good about me don’t really exist at all. And what if the rest of my life I have to choose between these two horrible options: either always maintain that facade of being a cute, pleasant, kind, non-confrontational, calm person I’ve actually already perfected until I’m basically everything I hate, or embrace my annoying personality and instincts and be left with a few people who love me and no one who really likes me?

(One thing is certain. Throughout it all, narcissism will prevail.)

Because this is my life right now. This is my big problem. I have people, wonderful people, that love me. But I’m beginning to suspect that no one really likes me anymore. And I love myself — I always have, because I’m an aspiring writer and this grants me vanity if nothing else — but I’m beginning to wonder if I ever liked myself. I keep doing things to ‘improve’ myself. I think I’ve matured and grown and learnt and changed. But then suddenly a mirror pops up, and I have to laugh at how ridiculous I really am.

Ah, well. Maybe a little dose of revelatory self-ridiculousness is good in the long run.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Home, heat, and happy families

Oh my dragons, I’m back home! It’s extremely weird, unsettling, enjoyable, joyful, and painful.

For one thing, my tumblr feed is full of Community and Sherlock gifs that I don’t get because I’m so behind on my TV because I’ve actually spent the last 10 days like, meeting people and being social.

This is essentially what happens when you get back home after a year or more:

1) you eat like a motherfudger, anything and everything, and your stomach gets motherfudged

2) You constantly meet people you haven’t met for a year, and realize that some people stay exactly the same, while others grow; and old friends are the best and questions about your future are the worst and that if you suck at keeping in touch people WILL hate you a little bit.

3) You learn to appreciate your family and especially your mother and her unconditional love and care a thousand percent more, after the year of eating crap and being sick and mucus-ful ALL BY YOUR LONEZIES.

4) Some things you only get in your home country. For me: the ability to stand on any fucking side of the escalator I want (CHAOS!), affordable food and shopping, really flavourful food, SUNSHINE, Bollywood, auto rickshaws, cheap public transport, and that feeling that you belong.

5) You miss your lonely, stressful, challenging, exciting, scary travels and travails already.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

A journey ends

You know what’s really really really really really hard? Good byes. I can’t deal with them. And this is probably the biggest baddest goodbye I’ve ever had to do.
Edinburgh, you special beautiful wonderful place, I’ll miss you so much I can’t bring myself to even put it down in words right now.
Good bye, and know I’m leaving a good sized piece of my heart here with you.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Holiday rituals

There was a famous (well) philosopher (Barthes, maybe?) who commented on how the ritualistic nature of holidays is actually a part of the capitalistic system to provide the oppressed workers with just enough refueling to keep at their drudgery without rebellion. This grim take on Christmas (and equivalent holidays) rings true, undoubtedly. The true and good thing to do, I suppose would be to break the system and refuse to buy into this manufactured commercialized glitter fest. 
And yet!
It’s all very well to say you agree, but what about the enormous emotional attachment we all have to the holidays? How are you supposed to do away with something that, in the end, does bring so much joy to so many people? 

I don’t know, honestly. I do know that like everybody, I have my own set of rituals I follow every December, a sort of annual refreshment of the soul. Some of it, of course, is food and glitter based — I won’t deny that — but I have a few special things I do that are only for me and from me.

1) Every December, I re-read Wuthering Heights. There is something irresistably haunting about Emily Bronte’s imagination that just does not go with a blazing sun and light breeze. Cooler temperatures required. It’s not my favourite or even in my top 5 (or 10, really) favourite books. So why do I re-read it? Because it makes me mad, but it also makes me think. It’s the one book that every time I read it I still cannot figure out what is going on with those characters, and every time I read it I discover something new. And spiritually, it’s a refreshing take on the concept of a human soul. 

2) I also re-read at least one or more of either the Harry Potter, Narnia or Lord of the Rings books. These were all books I read at a time in my life when I was incandescently happy (because they were so fantastic!) but I didn’t really know it. This is terribly cliche, but it also reminds me of a time when I was so much more innocent. Not in a blooming lily of feminine delicacy kind of way, just in a youthful, naive pre-college level Sociology and T.S. Eliot kind of way. I would never want to be that silly again, but sometimes I like to try and recapture that rare feeling of life being simultaneously safe and full of adventures. December is perfect, because I have time, and it’s the end of the year and world-weariness is at it’s highest. And it puts me in a good mood to interact with people. Which brings me to the next point:
3) I can be a hermit sometimes, it’s true. But come December, I like to open up my social calender. I go out more, I drink more, and I like to look at my life and evaluate the people that are in it, and that aren’t. Figure out who the people are that just drifted away that I actually miss and get in touch with them to see if they might miss me too. 
4) I wear my ugly clothes that I love-hate. They make me look ridiculous. I hate it. But so freakin comfy! God they’re comfy.
5) I eat mince pies and listen to Christmas carols and make my desktop background red and green and candle-ey. This one is conventional, of course. But I honestly only do these things at this time of the year. It doesn’t feel right otherwise.
6) I learn at least one new skill. I know this is more of a January thing, but I do it now because I feel like it. This year, it’s baking. I’ve mastered cookies, and I’m thinking of stopping because really once you’ve mastered cookies, what else do you need in life?

7) I travel. In a small way, in a big way, I like to hit at least one new destination every December.

I’m sure everyone has these strange and not-so-strange little rituals, without which their holiday isn’t complete!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments