Why I avoid Engineers

PHOTO: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Or specifically: engineering students. More than once, when I’ve bothered to talk to them, they respond in analytic breakdowns of everything I say. They do it to seem clever, and because they think it’s attractive to take everything literally. So whatever I throw out there, observation-wise, becomes a premise in an argument, to be understood in a + b = c formats.

And every time I am corrected by a man who knows a lot about math or computers, I think: With each counterargument that comes out of your mouth right now, you are proving how bad you would be in bed. Or to rephrase, if X=you talking, Y=time spent talking, and Z=me, then

X x Y = Z

X x Y =        Z

X x Y =               Z

X x Y =                                                                                Z

X x Y =


Boy meets girl. Boy is an engineering student and talks like one. Girl beats it. Boy meets his right hand, again and again for all eternity.

Questions I wish I hadn’t been asked by University Kids

Photo: The Non-Blonde (http://thenonblonde.blogspot.com)

A note I wrote when I was 18 and angry in my second year at UBC Vancouver. It’s a little hyperbolic, but I enjoyed writing it nonetheless, and peeps had similar stories to share.

1. Do you believe in the Kama Sutra? (on discovering I was half-Indian and live in India)

Yes, I believe in a series of sex positions written by an old guy nearly two millennia ago. Especially its sections ‘Acquiring a Wife’, ‘Other Men’s Wives’ and ‘About Courtesans’…that I just discovered. On Wikipedia. In fact, in India we regularly worship the book by practising in the streets whenever we can on unsuspecting partners. ME (assaulting roadside peanut vendor): “SURPRISE! You’ve just been hit with Position 61319833!! Pass it on to 10 people in the next 10 minutes and the love of your life will turn up at your stall within the hour (Disclaimer: She won’t want anywhere near your nuts)”

But we never share courtesans because everyone knows that’s dirty.

2. Is India hot?

Are you referring to that subcontinent that spans a mere 3,287,590 SQ KM adn therefore has one uniform climate? Yes, it’s absolutely torrid, but the blasted sun can’t seem to melt the snow on the Himalayas. We’re heating it up with our sweet Kama Sutra moves, though.

3. Do you feel safe in India? I mean, isn’t it dangerous?

No, I don’t feel safe. This one time I was chased by a variety of hungry, man-eating pygmies, and while cooking me for Kali they paused just a minute to fight over my watch… at which point I bolted. And these pygmies are everywhere in India, because, again, India is a uniform land mass where everyone looks the same and the landscape doesn’t change.
YES, genius, PARTS of India are not safe. Just like the parts of Canada where there are giant polar bears with metal fangs they use to chisel ice for their igloos…

4. Do you believe in the caste system?

Won’t answer that till you tell me where you’re hiding your slaves.

5. Doesn’t your mother walk 5 steps behind your father? (Ok, that wasn’t a university student, but it bugs me anyway…)

Yes, she does. They carry a measuring tape between them and if she at any point gets closer than 4 feet 8 inches, they have to go back to where they started and walk it all over again. She also puts the toilet seat down when he’s done peeing, polishes his shoes with her eyelashes, and sleeps on a foot stool…in a closet. This is not cruel- we feed her everyday.

More Bridesmaids, Less Hangovers

Bridesmaids is a breath of fresh air for female moviegoers with brains everywhere. Hollywood has realized it might have slightly underestimated the size of this demographic. Instead of merely including female characters that suck in ‘funny’ movies like The Hangover the boys of Apatow Productions serve up a girl version that might actually be better

After The Hangover I just couldn’t see what the big deal was. So it was another film about boys over 30 putting off adulthood just a little longer on one last play date in Las Vegas, while their tyrannical wives sharpened their claws at home. All five laughs in the movie weren’t worth the pain of watching these unattractive men hook up with beautiful women (who also happened to be doornail-dumb), fall a lot, drink a lot, and run from authority figures.

It’s our turn to be gross. We are not the fairer sex without make-up. And it’s always going to be that way short of desperate measures that turn you into this. So finally, here is a movie about pretty ordinary-looking women dealing with men who are bad at sex, drug-and-drink-induced gong shows, and the most common rite of passage in everywoman’s life: defacating in the street in one’s wedding dress. But most importantly: female bonding. A much-caricatured relationship, female friendship has always had a bad rap. But not inBridesmaids. The central plot upholds women’s friendships as valuable, and worth fighting for (albeit with other women who happen to be very bad).

Kristen Wiig is genius. If you’ve seen her skits on Saturday Night Live, you’ll know that she likes to mumble and taper off her sentences unintelligibly, which is frustrating and funny for reasons I can’t explain. Her character Annie is on her way to rock bottom when the movie begins, and definitely hits it hard before the movie ends. She has lost her business, her fuck-buddy is about as skilled as a tractor attached to a dildo, and her best friend’s wedding preparations are fast being usurped by a rich bitch. As she wrestles control from her best friend’s potential new best friend, Annie meets a cop with a dry wit and a good heart. But alas, she does not recognize love when it is coaxing her to reopen her bakery or making her coffee in the morning, rather than turning her out of its house.

In the meantime, her nemesis Helen (played by Rose Byrne) is a powerful force against Annie’s maid-of-honour efforts. Byrne lends facets and subtlety to a role that would be easily flattened into a stereotype: the jealous new friend who plays dirty. Maya Rudolph plays the coveted best friend, Lillian. Annie also acquires three new buddies: Rita, the jaded, dry-witted mother of teenage savages, Becca, the newlywed of little life experience, and Megan, the very fat female counterpart to Zach Galifianakis‘ ‘Alan Garner’ in The HangoverMelissa McCarthy should really get an award for this role. A good number of the side-splitting moments belong to her. Megan is socially inept, inappropriate in any situation, and borders on obnoxious. But she’s wise and loveable.

Bridesmaids manages to keep your attention from gag to gag, and there’s rarely a dull moment in Annie’s life. It’s never a saccharine ‘chick-flick’ until the end. Now that was typical Hollwood cowardice, and a let-down. The movie-makers got cold feet after making a pretty funny, hard-edged movie and then sugar-coated it when it would be most damaging: the conclusion. In short, frenemies should not have reconciled, and someone should have punched someone else out. I expected that. I wanted that. Instead, bad people showed soft sides and everyone went about being nice, no matter what damage they’d done to each other before.

See it, though. There’s lots of good dirty parts with female-driven comedy, which is new territory in film. And I mean gross-dirty, not sexy-dirty. Kristen Wiig co-wrote the script, which is not all barf and faeces. Watch out for the airplane scene when Wiig rebels against first-class segregation from economy, citing ‘civil rights’.

Anna Part I: My visit to Ramlila

First, a bit of background telling. I got on a metro train to Ramlila on Saturday around 5.30 in the evening. As I mentioned in ‘So what about this bill?’, I was drowned all week in news desk talk about Anna Hazare.

It’s hard to care about the movement when I’ve never dealt with Indian bureaucracy one-on-one. I have, however, waited hours at visa offices and in lines, just to have bureaucrats twist my parents’ arms when they got desperate. What frustrated me most is that my parents never, in my memory, just paid the damn bribe. Before you judge me, think of Delhi at 50 degree heat in an office packed with bodies and one sleepy fan.

I didn’t want to be one of those people who dissed the movement only to get the comeback: have you even seen what it’s about?

So I met my friend at the New Delhi metro station. We had decided to document goings-on at Ramlila. We dodged cycle rikshaws and psychotic traffic all the way to the protest grounds.

Between the station and the field, the scale of Anna’s movement became apparent. Hordes of young men came at us shouting slogans. They were all Anna, apparently. I steeled myself: one starving geriatric on a stage is all very fine, thousands of adrenaline-pumped youthful righteous ‘Annas’ is quite another.

But at the Maidan I encountered the most civil of rituals: queuing up.

Women, men and children filed past a man holding a box, handing out free biscuit packets. (Who was funding all of this?) But he was gone by the time my turn came.

My friend and I were pointed in different directions after the police checked our bags. Three female cops sat behind a screen. One beckoned to me, gave my chest a cursory feel lest my bra was housing bombs (sorry, they’re real), and sent me on my way without getting out of her chair.

Tents stood ahead of us just beyond a large area of the maidan that was strewn with metal poles with sharp edges, probably for makeshift-shelter construction. I had to step carefully over them to get a good angle on the people under the tents from a relatively less-crowded area. And I took my first photo of some men with flags taking a breather from the chaos.

No sooner had the shutter clicked than I had a boy in my face shouting something. He wanted me out of the area: photo-takers belonged ‘there’, he said, pointing to the path that led to the tents and crowded section in front of the stage at the other end of the field. I barked back, “Why are you only getting in my face?” Kisi aur ko kyo nahi bata rahe ho? and he yelled louder that he would go tell other people, and I yelled even louder that he should get on that. Finally he left saying I had been warned.

Later it turned out some footsoldiers had been entrusted with the duty of managing the crowd. They made a noble effort.

I had no hope of getting near Anna and Kiran Bedi. My friend and I weaved through the crowd taking photos. While we got lost in the fringes, disembodied speeches from the stage at centre became a mere backdrop for the outskirts where the real action was. People who wanted to do more than watch or listen, danced and sang.

A few thought I was media, which I used to my advantage to get them to pose for me. The man with the moustache bang in the centre of the photograph below politely asked me to send him the photos by email.

As I milled around I gradually relaxed. People were jubilant. The feel of the crowd was not threatening at all. These guys don’t look it, but they only struck this suspicious 19th century family portrait pose for me. They were different people after.

Boys wanted to be photographed wearing flags as capes and holding up hand-painted banners. An old man danced in slow motion for me with his arms out and his palms turned upward so I could get an action shot. Toddlers perches on their parents’ shoulders looked in all the wrong directions for Anna.

They all saw themselves as characters in something big. I am reminded of a line from a cheesy movie (I think it’s Into the Wild), that basically says that in life it’s not so important to be strong as to feel strong.

That’s precisely what stayed with me most about the chord Anna has struck: what with all the comparisons to the freedom struggle against British rule, the tone set by the supporters of India Against Corruption is that of a gargantuan population longing to be recognized and to stand for something. Faces in this crowd are not just faces in any crowd, they represent something big.

The Lokpal Bill is important, but not so much as the take-charge feel of appropriating the freedom struggle that gives the ‘common man’ a rush. He may be saying he’s Anna, but he is the ‘aam aadmi’ that is taking charge of public space and rewriting the country’s rule-books with Anna as his pawn of choice.

Now I can understand why any criticisms of the Jan Lokpal are taken so personally, both by the rabid anti-Congress commenters on the website I work for, and in the streets. Attacks on the Jan Lokpal are attacks on Anna, ergo attacks on the present vitality of the Aam Aadmi and his status.

It’s no minor detail that Anna supporters shout slogans that obsessively cast Manmohan Singh as impotent or Sonia Gandhi‘s sari-wearing slave. The movement is more than a war on corruption. It’s mixed in with an intense desire especially in young India to recreate the virility of movements that preceded its birth, except it is growing frustrated with an unworthy opponent. The rather lost Congress government is not nearly as exciting a force to reckon with as the Emergency or the British Raj.

The Truth About Beauty: Women Need it to Attract Men…and other Not So Novel Ideas

I read this article on Psychology Today last week called ‘The Truth About Beauty’, by Amy Alkon. Alkon argues that, shockingly enough, women actually do have to be attractive to land themselves men. So if you hadn’t noticed that there’s, oh, a multi-million dollar industry devoted to plastic surgery, that magazine covers and men’s websites never feature ‘inner beauties’, and that when you go to a club barefaced it’s like you made a bad smell…then Alkon is here to tell you that physical beauty matters.

Two things: she could be right, or she could be exaggerating from media intoxication. Plain women have realized long-term sober mating opportunities, probably with men in their own leagues. So what? Tell me something new.

I think Alkon is lashing out at touchy-feely backlash against media retouching and shallowness. She says there’s a real basis for it. Men are visual, women are the eye candy. I’m not ruling out its truth, but where’s the proof that this is anything but learnt?

I’m skeptical of the tired refrain that may as well go: Women are products, men are the buyers. Are men the buyers because they’ve tended to be in control of their own financial lives going back for eons now, while women have had to market themselves to men who can give them access to resources? Or is it that only men are visual, and only women look for providers, because it is natural to us? I tend to be suspicious of arguments that favour some kind of essece.

We don’t know what women and men are like in a ‘state of nature‘. Cavemen and their clubs are still just piecemeal fiction and tidbits of the archaeological imagination. We don’t know that women didn’t in fact lay their hands on those clubs and fetch their own meat.

As Alkon would acknowledge, the visual image of a person is their first impression on you. If you don’t feel attraction at that stage, you’re less likely to get to flirting.

Even if we are looking for providers, why would this trump looking for well-rounded handsome youthful genetic material? There’s a pervasive rhetoric in media, movies, and social interactions that women are primarily looking for caretakers and men for gene-carriers.

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that what marries hot women to guys who look like Donald Trump has nothing to do with attraction or provider-snagging-instinct, and a little more to do with an acquisition ‘instinct’.

So what about this bill?

I’ve been working at a news desk where I’m constantly up to my ears in website visitors’ comments about Anna and their declarations of undying love for the social activist who has become the symbol of a growing movement against corruption. Only about 10 per cent of feedback on opinion polls and stories is critical of him. While Anna Hazare‘s methods and the ethical implications thereof are up for debate, there’s no denying that he has tapped into a bottomless well of frustration in the Indian psyche. Every section of society has its own gripes about corruption.

Anna’s movement is a great unifier with a wealth of Gandhian rhetoric at its feet that links the pacifist movement to its predecessors that ousted the British Raj. Feeling like you’re fighting a second freedom struggle against Congress Raj has got to be heady.

This is a year of revolutions, riots and mass movements worldwide. But in a nation that already has democracy, the goal of the ‘India Against Corruption’ bunch is to cleanse that democratic system of its cheaters.

It wants a body that is extra-governmental, and has the power (to my knowledge) to investigate, then prosecute, the entire governmental system. The current Congress government has proposed its own version of an anti-corruption bill that doesn’t hand over quite so much power to a non-elected body.

There’s huge support for Anna’s Lokpal Bill. So much so that the term ‘Jokepal’ Bill for the government version has caught on nation-wide. But contrary to Anna’s supporters’ beliefs, nobody, including the government, publicly adopts a pro-corruption stance.

There must be good reasons that the government can justify its bill: principled ones, that at the very least can be said to mask its pro-corruption stance (if you want to be the ultimate cynic).

So I’ve decided to do some research on what his version of the Lokpal Bill says and how it differs from the government’s proposed version. I’ll also compare them to Aruna Roy’s once I find out a bit about that. If you’re anything like me and have only a vague sense of what’s been going on, stay tuned for a laywoman’s investigation of the fight for the Lokpal. In the meantime, enjoy these pictures I took at Ramlila Maidan today, on the second day of Anna’s fast there.