English Mem Desi Babu

Waiting at Dadar station with mum, minding my own business, when:

Random guy next to me: “Is this your first visit to India?”
Me (replying because I am a slave to my love of absurdity): “Um no. I live here.”
Rando: “Where are you from?”
Me: “Mumbai.”
Rando: “Nonono. From from?!”
Me (desperately trying not to laugh): “Well I’m half Malayali and half Maharashtrian, so I guess India?”
Rando: “Oh! You are Indian only! Then why is everyone staring at you while passing?”
Me: “People who stare have very little work.”

Well, that was fun. And I was a little overdue for weirdness anyway.

[Title is a reference to a Bollywood movie from the 90s. Although, in that movie the couple end up together. In my case, I ended up with a hearty chuckle.]



After much cajoling, my aunt and I finally convinced my mother to have a health check-up. She is clearly diabetic, but doesn’t take any meds. It has plagued her (and us by extension) for years now. So this week, we finally got it done.

The clinic we are visiting is new for us. It is cheek by jowl by my aunt’s place, and is run by someone she knows. We purchased a package with tests typically necessary for a diabetic. One of these was a session with the ophthalmologist.

Now, the way the clinic is set up, there are doctors in at different times during the day. We went across in the morning for a dental check, an ECG, and a meet with the dietician. So far, so good. We enquired about the eye test and the hobnob with the GP, and were told to come around 7 pm.

So around that time, we hauled ass to the clinic. We were tired after a long morning and afternoon out in the Indian summer, although to be fair we were in and out of shops. But yes, tired.

We were taken straight to the ophthalmologist’s cabin, and he clearly had an attitude to begin with.

My mum sat down in the the chair, and I stood out of his way facing her. He started with checking her eye sight. My mum is 65 years old. She is tired and she hasn’t been too well. Ding ding ding. We were at a clinic. Duh.

He kept barking at her to keep her eyes open and not to blink. She tried. He then held her head hard against the machine. I objected. He backed off.

Then, he tried to test her power. The sneaky bastard kept trying out the same lenses, certain that she was just being difficult. I knew this because I was standing behind. She was clear in her communication: I cannot see; it’s blurred. Yet, he continued to test the same powers, convinced that she was being difficult.

Then he moved onto the next machine, but she couldn’t keep her eyes open long enough. I don’t know where these blokes get their egos from, but my goodness. What an appalling bedside manner.

Finally he says: “You aren’t cooperating.” And I lost it. I told him off, very politely, saying that he had no business speaking to my mother like that. She stayed calm, and tried to comply. But I was furious. I was trying to get her out of the seat, and the man continued to argue. I couldn’t respond to what he was saying because I was in a red haze.

The centre manager got involved, and we walked out of the ophthalmologist cabin quickly, rejecting his services. My mum was angry and a little weepy, my aunt was fuming, and I was transcendent with rage.

Only when I heard my aunt explain to the centre manager, did I realise why I was so angry. Till then, it was a purely subconscious reaction.

On 4th of April, 2016, my mother took my father to an ENT surgeon for a check up, because he was having breathing issues. Due to the ENT surgeon’s enormous ego, which was inflamed with my mother trying to explain that my father was unable to take medicines orally, he said to her, in my father’s hearing: “He is not a small boy; he should cooperate.”

The day after, I lost my father due to an undiagnosed chest infection. He went into respiratory arrest, and then cardiac arrest. And eminently avoidable situation, if the condition had been treated with antibiotics the previous day. That ENT surgeon is one of the people I hold directly responsible for my father’s death.

I was not there to fight for my father, and my mother was unaware of the iniquitousness of the medical profession. I have always been there with him. Except that one last time.

So when I heard: “She is not cooperating.” I should be congratulated for not rearranging the features on that bastard’s damn face.

Attempted Homicide

As I mentioned in my previous post, I love horror movies even though they scare me A LOT. I thus have a few criteria that need to be observed:

  1. No watching at night. [I used to do this, because ambience, and gave myself nightmares AND night terrors.]
  2. No watching when I’m alone at home. [Every sound is terrifying. Everything creaks. There are ghosts and beasties everywhere. FACT.]
  3. No getting disturbed while watching. [Why don’t you just kill me with a knife? Less painful.]

It is a very simple set of rules, which my mother well knows. After a great deal of procrastination, I fired up The Conjuring on Netflix one afternoon. My aunt was over, so she and mom were chatting in the living room. In eye sight.

I plugged my ears, because I live in Mumbai and the traffic drowns out everything. Nothing is scary when some idiot honks all the way down the street. Those are times you kind of wish you could set a ghostie on the idiot any way.

I was well into the second half of the movie, and the reveals were coming in thick and fast. My heart was beating hard, and I closed my eyes at many instances. That’s the moment my mother chose to tap on my shoulder.

It is a wonder I am alive to tell the tale.

Movie Review: The Conjuring

I adore horror movies, even though I am desperately afraid of watching them. When I was young, I devoured movies like Poltergeist and the like without feeling the smallest twinge of fear. As an adult though? Total. Chicken. Shit.

To be fair, horror movies aren’t that scary any more. I found Scream to be a total yawnfest. But I heard the buzz about The Conjuring, and I was agog to watch it. Now, no one in my family enjoys horror, much less paying for the experience. So I had to wait till it was released on Netflix.

Worth it.

Story: The Perron family, parents and five daughters (!), move into a huge house in Rhode Island. The family is mostly keen to settle into this big house, with room for them all, except for the eldest. The dog too refuses to enter the house.

From the first night itself, weird stuff begins to happen. Clocks all stop and the family dog is found dead outside. An unseen force is taking control of one of the daughters too. In mounting panic and dread, the family consults with noted demonologists.

Enter: Ed and Lorraine Warren. They set about bringing in the church and trying to figure out what is happening in the house. It is bad, very, very bad.

Review: The movie is insanely frightening, because the family seems so normal. Mother, father, siblings, and dog. Straitened circumstances. Old house that needs fixing up. The scares are legitimately awful.

Story: I read somewhere that there were continuity goofs and so on, but I couldn’t care less. I was gripped with the steadily escalating horror. In the climax, it could really have gone either way. [I know this is a movie, and everything usually turns out well, but they killed the dog! All bets were off.]

Characters: Fantastic characterisation. Fear and terror brings out either the worst or best in people. This movie was an excellent showcase of that.

Acting: Excellent, understated performances.

What I liked: It wasn’t a predictable plot, although the plot isn’t new. The cinematography and editing is tight, and extremely well-executed. There is no spare fat in this movie.

What I disliked: They kill off the dog. 😦

Rating: ✩✩✩✩



No Need for Sorry

Culturally, India is a bit of a hotch-potch. Truly, there is no such thing as “Indian culture”, because the country is peopled with so many different groups, who live together (sometimes harmoniously, many times not), and they are rarely homogeneous.

In the case of my family, we are from India, but have lived for a long time abroad. It was in Dubai, which is another melting pot of humanity, except there it was nationality that made us different, not regions. Granted, Indians predominantly interact with other Indians, seeking inclusion in the comfort of known and recognised, but we did interact with the others. So there was some amount of cultural transference – again, some bad some good.

After moving back to India, there was the instant realisation that we were “different”. I don’t really know how, but there was a divide. It wasn’t physical or even economical. It was somewhat behavioural in retrospect. It was the way we spoke, or the way we dressed, but mostly the way we interacted with other people. In Dubai, it was customary to be polite. Please, thank you, sorry, and excuse me are words that are hardcoded into our behavioural processes. In spite of being told many times to stop “being so formal”, I couldn’t help myself. I thank taxi drivers, I apologise for bumping into someone, I excuse myself when rising from a table, and so on. Hundreds of tiny behavioural patterns that made it us and them.

The other day, my mum, aunt and I went out shopping. I was in dire need of jeans. We trotted off to the nearest shopping plaza, and after some arduous selecting, settled down to have dinner at Domino’s Pizza.

As we were clearing the table (self-service at fast food places is another thing that was built into our systems in Dubai), there were other people waiting to be seated. They got really close to us, as we gathered our things. It was uncomfortable, and borderline offensive. I initially ignored it. I was with two older ladies, and courtesy demanded that they wait at a respectful distance so as not to crowd us out.

But they didn’t. I barely rose from my chair, before one of the fellows nipped behind me and sat in it. I couldn’t help myself: “It’s a good thing you waited till I got up. You’re in such a hurry, you would’ve sat in my lap otherwise.”

He ignored me, and refused to meet my eye. I let it go. But I had awoken the beast: mum. She proceeded to lecture the two blokes on etiquette. About waiting till people had left. About having courtesy for ladies. About not being so self-absorbed that their own comfort was paramount, and exclusive to all else.

It fell on deaf ears for the one who slipped into my chair, but the other one was sufficiently riled to respond. He adamantly refused to apologise, actually saying that! “It’s OK! It’s OK! No need for sorry. No need for sorry,” he chorused in broken English.

Of course this fanned the flames with my mother. She read them both the riot act, whilst he continued chanting his mantra. It was a stalemate. Finally, I got fed up and dragged her off.

It was an unpleasant experience, but finally what did I expect? This isn’t the first time nor will it be the last that people have been downright rude. It greatly saddens me to think that my countrymen are so often obsequiously deferential but lack the barest sliver of respect for their fellow beings.

Strong is Easier with Support

I would consider myself a feminist. I want equality for womenkind, and I prepared to stand my ground when I encounter any patriarchal nonsense. I am a strong, independent woman after all.

But that’s because I have feminist parents. So, it isn’t that big of a deal for me.

During a relative’s wedding (please note: not ‘family’, but ‘relative’) I was asked the inevitable question about marriage that every unmarried Indian girl/woman above 18 gets:

“So beta, when are we going to be dancing at your wedding?” an uncle asked archly.

I was irritated of course, but I was in a loving relationship at the time, and personally would have liked nothing better than to get married to my hunk of a boyfriend. But he was getting a divorce, and it wasn’t happening. So sore spot. Also, the ineffable cheek that Indians have to ask such personal questions. Argh. So:

“Uncle, why should I get married? I’m quite happy the way things are. Freedom!” I quipped with a grin.

Arrey, marriage is an experience.”

“Of course, my my parents are married, so I have that experience already. Big deal.”

“No, it is different. You have to experience it yourself.”

“Oh?” Then, drawing upon vast reserves of fake innocence that I didn’t know I had, I said: “What I could I possibly be missing?”

Of course he was flummoxed, because he vaguely meant sex + children, but couldn’t really say that to a young relative. I let him stew uncomfortably for a few minutes, before I decided to really make him squirm.

“Oh uncle, do you mean children?” I asked, batting my eyelashes with the wide-eyed wonder of a toddler.

“Yes,” he gasped in a flood of relief. “You should have the experience of having children.”

Poor sap, because:

“Ah but, uncle, I don’t *need* to be *married* to have children no?”

That finished the bugger. But, while it was immensely satisfying, it was not a victory. Why? Because if he had turned around to complain to my folks about their out-of-hand daughter, my parents would have laughed in his face and said I was right.

It is so easy to be strong and brave when you have support like that. So the feminists I truly salute are the ones who fought against everyone they loved for what was right. My grateful wishes to you all.

Book Review: Killing Floor

I have to admit, I only picked up this book because it was the first in the series of Jack Reacher novels. And I had watched the film and loved it. I thought I had outgrown this genre of novel, having subsisted on an diet comprising Robert Ludlum (not the ghost-written rubbish) and Arthur Hailey and the like, for a large chunk of my teenage years. Both the authors, especially Hailey, wrote well, and wrote gripping tales with a great deal of sadness and loss woven into the violence and action. I was tired of it. I think the last one I read was Arthur Hailey’s Strong Medicine, and I had had enough of gritty, complex thrillers.

Author: Lee Child

Story: Jack Reacher is an ex-military policeman, jobless and roaming America driven largely by whims. He alights from a bus at Margave, Georgia, again on a whim, and decides to have breakfast at a cafe. In a matter of hours from his arrival in the small, sleepy town, he is arrested for murder.

He is innocent, but spends a weekend in prison with another man. When he is almost killed in a clearly staged prison execution, he gets out angry and wanting answers. His weekend cellmate disappears, but leaves behind more questions than answers. Reacher knows something big is going down in the small town, but he has no idea what.

Writing: The writing is in first-person, so there is no information the reader has that Reacher doesn’t have. It is an interesting perspective for me, because I haven’t often read first person narratives. The scene is unfolding in front of my eyes, and all Reacher’s back story is contained in his thoughts. Fascinating!

Secondly, the sentences were in short staccato bursts. Fragments and clauses in punchy adjective-noun pairings. (<- Like this one.) It made so much sense because it mirrors a person’s thought. Who thinks in full sentences anyway? I found myself devouring pages and pages of the book at a rapid clip.

Characters: Jack Reacher is a tough, intelligent, salt-of-the-earth protagonist, who is fair and loyal, but not sweet or nice. He appears to be good-looking, doesn’t discriminate, and is a pin up for both boys and girls alike. He is the hero. Plain and simple. But he is also human, and prone to mistakes. What he isn’t is depressed, moody, alcoholic, generally plagued with nightmares and moralistic morasses. Whew. After the Bourne series, I was done with that sort of broodiness.

Pace: There is action on every single page. There are twists that are unexpected, but since you are following along with the story in Jack Reacher’s mind, you can see how things unfold. He reaches the same conclusions you have, because you have the same information he has. I loved the fact that Child doesn’t assume an idiot will read his novel. Early on, the first murder victim was kicked around by a maniac. Reacher doesn’t know who this maniac is; but he finds out eventually. It is a dawning realisation of putting pieces together logically, but the conclusion isn’t spelled out at all. You only know he knows when he sees the same man come after him, and he thinks about how this maniac kicked around the victim. Brilliant stuff.

Conclusion: Loved the book, and now want to read the whole series. I was under the impression that I had lost my taste for thrillers, but I haven’t. I am just tired of the grittiness in all the others. I like this one very much indeed.

Rating: ✩✩✩✩✩