The train rhythmically drones on it’s way. All the passengers are staring at you. One teenager nudges her friend, points and both of them giggle.
You fidget in your seat and wonder what’s the problem. Is it your clothes? Have you worn your shirt inside-out again?
You pull at your clothes, and the lady next to you turns her face to fix you with a hostile glare.
You sink back into your seat sheepishly. People are still staring. Small smiles are playing around some of their lips, like they’re at a circus and you are the freak.
You wish you could, like a chameleon, merge with the ugly blue colour of the train seats and gain some modicum of invisibility. You wonder again if it’s your posture – are you taking up too much space? You shuffle your feet and straighten your back.
To no avail, people are still looking.
And then you realize………….your earphone jack isn’t locked in properly. Your mp3 player is blasting music not only to your ears. The entire train compartment can hear Shakira crooning.
Before I loved writing, I loved playing with dolls. The thrill I got from weaving tales around my dolls and imbibing traits and virtues into their personalities, I later translated to my characters in my stories. But most of my stories involved princesses not because I was especially fond of them but because the dolls available in stores, when I was young, would invariably be dressed in flowing, lacy gowns or printed summer frocks. Indeed the fact used to irk me sometimes. I remember wanting to buy denims and tee shirts for my dolls but even the size XXS would fit them! The last doll father gifted me when I was 13 or 14 wore a pair of cloth trousers. Though I was nearing the stage when I would soon set aside my dolls for real life dramas, that doll was the apple of my eye, and the envy of all my playmates. When enacting fashion shows, that pair of trousers was the most coveted item, because the fashion magazines we had just started browsing told us that real life fashion models did not wear floral gowns.
Yesterday when I went to the department store I was hard pressed to find those flowing gowns I so fondly remember from my own childhood. All dolls I saw were dressed in practical denims and crop tops or short cocktail dresses. Even the Disney Princesses dresses had undergone a modern makeover. They had become more practical, and the gowns less restrictive.
On the surface, I was happy to see my childhood dreams finally translating to reality 6 years later. Feminists who argue that dolls propagate patriarchy as they teach young girls that their role in life is only to cook food, manage the house and look after children will be happy with the change. When I was young, the slogans behind the dolls boxes were different variations of the generic theme: “I want to be a princess”. Yesterday I spotted dolls with different slogans – I want to be a reporter, I want to be a rock star, I want to be a doctor and so on. Kelly too I observed had left her girly frocks and was now driving a red sports car.
Maybe on some level this indicates a slight shift in how our society perceives women. She is no longer a simpering beauty meant to be pampered like a princess but an independent, career-driven lady who can kick ass. Being a woman myself, I can only celebrate this change.
Someone, like my mother’s cousin’s 100-year old aunt, would undoubtedly click her tongue disapprovingly, and rant about the rising immorality among girls nowadays. Maybe the short skirts and plunging necklines also indicate a downward shift of our moral values. Some of the dolls were dressed in flashy revealing dresses and maybe we are teaching the children to be insecure about their body image. It cannot be argued that Barbie wears make-up, which has only grown more prominent over time. Her stomach is totally flat, her legs and waist trimmed. She wears high heels, straightens her hair and short dresses. Why don’t we have normal sized dolls? I recently read that before releasing the doll version of their infamous villain, Ursula, Disney reduced her curves. Insecurities over body size and body image are plaguing girls as young as six years old! Here is a poetry performance by Melissa May, titled ‘Dear Ursula’ on the topic. I find the poem to be really good and hard hitting and couldn’t resist not sharing it:
(You can check out my previous article, published on Campus Diaries, on ‘Is Disney Propogating The Ideal Body Image Myth?’ here).
I don’t know what impact the dolls will have on children’s psyche for certain. Probably the makers do not either. But there was a small part of me that felt a slight twinge at the thought that young girls would no longer dream of becoming princesses. Practical, calculating reality barges in on childish dreams too soon.
I wish I could preserve my princess dreams, when anything was possible with just a bit of hard work and pixie dust. They weren’t so bad….
Today morning in The Times of India I read an article about a boy who has been arrested in Jaipur for illegally appearing as a proxy candidate in a medical examination in the army recruitment process, for another candidate. He was caught when the astute army recruiters noticed the discrepancies in his signature and the signature of the actual candidate. He had been offered 5000 rupees for the job, and he had readily accepted the same as he wanted to celebrate Valentine’s Day with his girlfriend in style. He had previously been depressed for not being able to afford gifts for his girlfriend. Now his affection for her has landed him in jail. What do you say to ‘Love’ like that?
What’s ironic is that this incident occurs in a country where certain right-wing activists have already forbidden all Indian couples from celebrating a West-inspired festival. Any couples found roaming in the streets, holding hands or exchanging gifts and roses shall be forcibly married!
Not that this has in anyway deterred lovers or marketeers, for you see:
Love triumphs all. And if not love then definitely cash.
Storefronts, window displays, spam emails, billboards, hoardings and TVCs are all busy advocating the message of love and busy arguing over which branded chocolate, which diamond cut, which neck tie and what oversized teddy best screams L.O.V.E.
Love is definitely in the air, and so is consumerism!
Valentine day offers galore – from candlelight dinners in posh restaurants, themed cakes (and its expensive, younger sister – cupcake), chocolate boxes, helicopter rides, diamond rings (or bracelets or pendants…girls aren’t really picky when it comes to diamonds), rose boquets and fluffy teddy bears – everything you need to give your date and your wallet a day they can never forget! Newspapers and magazines publish articles on what to wear to allure your date, the list of the most expensive and hence most romantic restaurants in the city and which coloured rose conveys what.
Which brings us to the question – Is this all that Love is supposed to be? While there is nothing wrong in organizing a special day for your special one why enter a rat race with the rest of the world for that? Your love for him or her should be what matters, not the carats of the diamond ring. Amidst the riff-raff of cosumerist and materialist gifts it takes a lot of effort to find love. How is it love if he spends more than he can afford to get you a gift on Valentine’s Day, but fights with you and hits you the rest of the year? Even if he is a sweet, caring boyfriend, will he not resent you for burning a hole in his pocket? How is it love if you let it happen?
There is nothing wrong with celebrating Valentine’s Day, but it is important to remember what one is celebrating is not a Western festival rooted in consumerism and materialism but your love for each other. The dozen expensive roses shall wilt in a day. The box of chocolates shall be eaten and digested. The teddy bear shall lie in a corner, gathering dust and in the age of tiny apartments you shall curse it as a waste of space at least once. What shall remain is the sweet fragrance of cherished sweet moments spent together. And that’s what this is all about.
Once upon a time people were ready to die for their lover. The generation now is more pragmatic. They are ready to go to jail in their attempts to organize a special Valentine’s Day for their lover.
It wasn’t that I wanted to go home,
Who knew home? I only knew alone.
What I wanted was to be elsewhere,
Somewhere, anywhere but there.
Nacropolis by Jeet Thayil
I was walking up the steps of the subway when I saw this – a butterfly desperately trying to get back to the greenery and fresh air it loves. Some stray gust of wind had probably brought it bumbling into the subway by accident … And now the poor creature was desperately trying to find it’s way back. It fluttered hither and thither in its panic, banging its wings against the glass, and being taken aback every time by this invisible barrier yha it just couldn’t cross. The sight reminded me a little of human nature. We weep and moan and call a situation desperate and bleak, but if we spend some time in thinking we would realize that the door to our dream destination was always open. We were just wasting time, weeping. In a dark room we can either curse the blackness….or feel along the walls, to find the light switch.
Traveling in locals (assuming that they are working) during the heavy monsoon showers is an unique experience. You have the surreal pleasure of enjoying the beauty of the gray skies and the cool moist breeze – without getting wet or squashing through mud!!
You can watch the silver droplets rain from the sky, you can see the thirsty trees spreading their branches out towards the heavens, and some will even dance to the preppy beats of the wind. You can marvel at the gray clouds with streaks of pale sunlight cutting in between. They seem to have thrown a dark blanket over the city, and Time has curled itself up in it, and gone to sleep. It’s hard to say whether it’s 6 in the morning, 2 in the afternoon or 5 in the evening, if not for your dogged watch – the ultimate workaholic!
You can bring your face close to the window bars, close your eyes, and enjoy the soft, wet kisses of the raindrops.
Or you can be like me – you can take a seat back, and enjoy the masterpiece.
Today while returning from a friend’s birthday lunch (on Mumbai’s lifeline of course – what else would I use?!) I had a sudden moment of epiphany about Life. As I watched the blue sky dappled with sunlight and the green trees wet from the last shower, flash by, I realized Life isn’t so different from a moving train ride.
We board the train at birth, and can only alight it after Death. All that lies in between is a magnificent journey. There are beautiful sights sometimes, like sprawling green meadows and rambling silver brooks which make me feel happy, and ugly sights like a garbage dump which makes me sad or angry. But they both are transitory. I can’t stop and gaze at them. One second is all I get, to be jubilant or dejected in, before the train moves on, and all that is left is a memory.
Our friends and family are like our co-passengers. They get on the train at some point, and for some time we travel together, but soon their stop comes, and they get down, while I must go on. I can try holding onto their hands, till momentum tears us asunder; I can try craning my neck, craving that one last look, but no matter how hard I try to hold on to the moment, it’s gonna fly away on the wings of nostalgia.
The train however moves on……..
Let me at very first tell you that only people who have experienced the vagaries of Mumbai Western locals will be able to empathize with my current predicament.
To go to college, I needed a fast local and so I decided to catch the morning 9:00 fast. My usual dilly-dallying not withstanding, I arrived at the station at the exact moment the train arrived at the station! We couldn’t have planned it better even by intention. This resulted in the usual clogging of the overpaes stairs, with panic-stricken passengers like me hurrying to alight the stairs and board the train, before all the seats were taken; and other harried passengers, who had just alighted from the train attempting to rush up the stairs and to their connecting train/rickshaw stand/bus stand.
In the moment of panic I just let the crowd carry me to the coach, got in and made myself comfortable. It was only after the train left that I realized that:
a) It was running before time, something that hasn’t ever happened or was likely to happen. Running behind time – sure
Running ahead of time – oh no,no
b) There was another train standing on the other platform, marked for the same destination!!
A little conversation with my co-passengers established that I had indeed boarded the wrong train!! A slow, instead of a fast, which added some extra 20-30 mins of travel time. So I did what any (in)sane person would do – get down at the next station, and wait for my train. A Word Of Advice: In Mumbai, once you get on a train, you hang on for dear life till you reach your destination!
My train guide told me the next train to come would be a fast, BUT the neon railway indicator and the people waiting on the platform assured me it was a slow, indeed supposedly the same slow my railway guide told me I had been on!!!
When the train arrived I asked (unwilling to believe my trusted source could be wrong) one of the passengers in the train, whether it was a slow or fast. She assured me it was a fast. I quickly got in.
Like with doctors, it is my personal dictum that one should always take a second opinion. Like with doctors, it only further adds to the confusion. Doctor W will tell you that you have fever and the stomach infection is just it’s offshoot, and you must follow X prescription. Doctor D will tell you that it is clear you are suffering from stomach infection due to improper functioning of your liver enzymes, and the fever is just a reaction to the same, and you must follow Y prescription, while following X will only make you sicker!!
On the train, the second person I talked to assured me it was a slow local, when her neighbour chimed in “No,no. It’s a fast!” I was just about to thank her, when the lady near the window burst out, “What nonsense! This is a slow!”
Now the debate intensified and people started voicing their own opinions. One was of the belief that it was neither a fast nor a slow, but a government propaganda to create strife. Another blamed the underground militia. One was of the opinion it was going in the opposite direction, and nothing anyone said could change his mind. It was his belief, and by God, he was going to stand by it!
Let’s just suffice that the station left, and the one after that, but no one could reach to a conclusion. I am still on that train, like the rest of them, hoping and praying that it is indeed taking me where I want to go. But who knows, who can predict?! Man proposes, the Railway Company disposes.