Saturday, January 19, 2013

Meow again!

Do you remember the candid cat that saw me off when I went to Australia? She delivered kittens in my mom's linen closet a few weeks after I left. One of her daughters stuck around and she had her own litter. Then one of her daughters had three kittens last year and now, she is found gallivanting around with a rather handsome dude cat with mysterious green eyes. She also carried forward the legacy and left us one of her daughters to take care of.

I don't want to like cats. Cat-women friendships freak me out. I have seen way too many women going home to cats. Old ladies sitting on fur laden couches with one of their cats arrogantly perched on their shoulders, little bowls of preservative infused tuna fish and that one corner of the house, where the dreaded litter box sits, with its enormous potential of turning your stomach inside out. I reject all these things associated with cats. And I have had some unfortunate experiences of my own. But it is also true that wherever I have traveled, I have always made new feline friends. Whether it was my friend Kyle's obese cat Doc, or his parents' dainty little eighteen year old Ally cat.
Or Elodie's gracefully French cat Mirabelle (below). Growing up, Elodie lost five cats before Mirabelle, and all of them were called Mirabelle. So for a long time Elodie thought that all cats are called Mirabelle. :)

As  Elodie would approach this, maybe this is related to my childhood. Well, it is. Who can forget those endless hours that my cousin and I invested in throwing cats off our first floor balcony? Or putting two kittens under one upside down cardboard box and watch them go berserk? Or trying to wash them and reacting in absolute bewilderment when they escaped and ran for their lives. We never loved cats. We just tortured them. But it was their fault too. Try torturing a dog. It just doesn't work. Even when they love you, you sometimes pity them. Cats invite dislike. They walk into a room with an air of Oh-I-am-better-than-all-of-you and now, you are going to get up and feed me. When you try to tease them, they would attack you. It is like fighting with an equal, and I personally derive great satisfaction from an even fight. A confrontation of two minds that are equally manipulative, intelligent and ruthless.

So back to the current cat in my life. She has this obsessive need for cuddling. It is as if to her eyes, I am a couch. So I started making her life difficult, just to encourage dislike for me in her mind. I would put her on top of an open door and leave her there. I would pick her up from her annoying cat nap and suddenly throw her out of the house. I also put some diluted Eucalyptus oil on the floor of my room to discourage her from coming in. I only feed her because she fights with me for it with really threatening meows. I put her out and close all the windows to the house. But she squeezes in through the exhaust opening and cat walks all over me declaring her triumph. Her end goal is my lap. And it is hard to concentrate on throwing her out when you are busy writing pointless posts on cats. But nonetheless, most of the times, she wins, only because of laziness on my part. One morning I talked my dad into giving her away. But I don't know how, she mysteriously disappeared for two hours when he was supposed to drive her.

Sometimes she looks into my eyes and blinks slowly, as she sits on my lap. And sometimes she licks the inside of my elbows. I didn't quite get this gesture. I thought it was related to her territorial rights over me, which made me a bit angry. I am not her property! But then I looked it up and found out that maybe, it is her way of, yes, expressing love! I think it is now my turn to run for life. :)


Thursday, January 17, 2013


Some of my recent reading (and listening) has made me think about "my generation". Although this may come off as a gross generalization, I have observed in me and around me that we are all overwhelmed. I know that I might be getting an eye roll for using 'overwhelmed' instead of 'lost', but I really do think that we are not as lost as we may appear to be. We are just overwhelmed. In our defense (God! this sounds like the opening of a debate) we all just have too much thrown into our faces. First of all, we were brought up to believe that we could achieve anything we wanted to achieve (that's probably because our parents met each other in the 70s). As feminist Courtney Martin puts it, we were raised as precious little snow flakes. We all inherited, to a certain extent the uber-progressive-liberal ideologies of our parents. I still remember how blissfully  unaware  I was of the caste system in India, until I changed schools and was confronted, by the group of popular girls in my class who asked me about my caste. I came home and asked baba what caste we belong to and he told me to go back and reply, "I am a human being and that is enough". I was innocent enough to do it. I spent two lonely years before I was finally accepted as one of the popular girls in my class. :D

In my travels abroad, I met many men and women with a similar (or even a more left leaning)upbringing. People who grew up in communes, who lived in communes themselves, people who knew more about Yoga than I did (You don't really have to think liberal to be liberal. All you need is a headband with a peace sign on it, a $100 Yoga mat slung across your shoulders and a bicycle), people who could trace their ancestry back to about seven different countries and people who did not really care about social structure.

Of all of these, I have always found it very difficult to agree with the last kind. Some of my friends have blamed it on my Indian upbringing (which also came from the stereotypes for India they grew up with) or my personality (I come out as a strongly judgemental type on the Myers Briggs test). Being Indian and preferring order over chaos, were apparently my 'undesirable' traits when I was in the company of  liberals. But when I traveled to America, I realized that there were many twenty five something people around me who actually preferred a clear social structure, had faith in the institution of marriage and family and were also very progressive on issues such as women's health, education and immigration. It really messed with the black and white parts of my head. Jonathan Haidt explains it better than I can.

Some of us in our zeal to change the world, forget what we really owe to all the religions. It is true that we have grown up in a world which has a potential to induce a severe identity crisis in us, depending on how far we let our guards down. We have perhaps witnessed the fanatic and divisive side of religion to a greater extent than our parents. But by not opening up to religion, we also deviate from the basic quality of being liberal -- being open minded.

Another common practice of my generation is to associate freedom with actions. Maybe we have inherited this from the previous generation. From people like Kerouac. We think that traveling will set us free. We think that preserving the habits of our youth, all life long, would keep us young and set us free. I was fascinated with On the Road, by the sheer span and the events of the book. But I was also filled with resentment for the life that Sal Paradise lives. Particularly to the slightly begrudging allusion to the women in the story line. Somehow, women seem like an obstacle in men's way to freedom. The road is more enticing than setting up a home, a resting place on your way. Perhaps that is why my generation has also witnessed an age of long lasting female friendships. Maybe someone could come up with a feminist version of On the Road!

Whatever we "do" to become free ties us down in some way or the other, maybe as emptiness, loneliness and insecurity. Too much choice has the potential to at best slow us down, or at worst, lead us astray. And an overarching structure if not social, emotional, would perhaps put our lives into perspective. So it is not surprising that I have always met people who think like I do, in Yoga or Meditation sessions. Why do we need it so early? Why do so many of us seek peace of mind at such an early age? Is it because there is pressure to constantly display the best of us? Is it because our existence is so virtual that we never log off to face the seemingly ordinary yet essential activities of everyday life (watering the solitary plant in your room every day, at the same time?).

Maybe we seem overwhelmed now. But at this pace, I think we would end up either as perfectly balanced fifty year olds orstubborn lunatics. :)


Friday, January 11, 2013


I recently watched this Israeli film at the Pune International Film Festival (PIFF), which is happening in Pune from January 10th through 17th. The festival opened in a sombre mood with Epilogue, directed by Amir Manoz. This film has already been showered with many accolades in other film festivals and it certainly speaks for today's elderly across the world.

Hayuta and Berl reside in a tiny, decrepit apartment, in a low income neighborhood of Tel Aviv. Their somewhat painful, yet comfortably familiar routine is disturbed, when a welfare officer visits them to assess their "fitness levels", by conducting a short but humiliating exercise. Although the incident itself is small enough to ignore, Berl and Hayuta's pent up frustrations get ignited by this one event and both express it in their own ways. The movie is open ended but the beauty of this film is in the details.

In his youth, Berl has been the follower of the romantic Jewish socialist movement, which in spite of its failure, is still alive in his heart. He remembers himself as a revolutionary. But the couple find themselves lost and ignored, and in Hayuta's words, irrelevant in the new wealth consuming world. They grow older with an expectation that people would care for each other in the end, but find themselves left alone. In addition to the grief of failed dreams, now in their eighties, they also have to face the reality of failing health, and not enough money to cover the cost of medication. In a touching scene, Hayuta slowly takes off one item at a time from her list at the pharmacy, to fit the most urgent medicines within her budget. She has to let go of her insulin in the end, but the young man at the check out takes pity on her and brings it to her outside the shop as she is on her way out.

Another outstanding element of this film is the use of humor, even at the saddest turns in the storyline. The humor transcends the nationality/cultural background of the actor-directors  because it comes naturally, as it would between any couple who has spent their entire life together. And the plot also goes beyond the film as it is our reality too, especially in the developed world, where the populations are aging. Social welfare looms over many European economies as the next big peril. However, when you are in the prime of your life, it is hard to imagine just how lonely and helpless you could become when you are sick and helpless towards the end of your life. These people often end up being an election statistic but it must be a very emotional period of their lives, when they look back with happiness, pride or regret and look forward with apprehension, as they go through the aches and discomforts of their present.

PS: For some reason, Google doesn't let me save images on my computer. Is it me or Google?

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Keep scrolling, I am Pinterested!

About five months ago, as I was finishing lab work and settling into manuscript writing, I started feeling really old. It had been a while since I had tried to "keep up" with the times. For example, I did not know what Instragram was and why everyone on my newsfeed used it. Plus, I found one grey hair comfortably hidden away under my side fringe. So in retaliation to all these panic attacks, I decided to find out what Pinterest and Instragram were. Two weeks into it and I was extremely Pinterested.

In the beginning, I was sure that Pinterest was going to be another Twitter for me. I have not been able to get Twitter. I tried to study how others use it but I still prefer Facebook. Over time, I accepted that I am not a Twitter person. When I first read about Pinterest, the description "time waster" stayed with me. Three weeks into getting a Pinterest account, I could see how it lives up to that nickname.  What I really like about Pinterest is that it is all about images. Originally, it was a hit among fashion followers. Big clothes and shoe brands have a "pin it" option if you want to share your find with friends and followers. It pins the image of the merchandise you liked on your board, which brings me to the point where I should tell you how this works.

You can create boards on your page (similar to a story board, which is a common illustration technique used in the fashion industry). You can pin various images on your board and you can organize your boards according to their utility. For example, you could have a dedicated 'recipe' board or a 'quotes' board. You can also use your creativity and make boards on a specific theme that reflect your taste. If you click away, the pins lead you to the original source of the image and this is precisely what makes it a big time waster (and a money waster too if it leads you to shoes). No wonder around 80% of its user base is female. :)

Some users desribe the Pinterest experience similar to that of leafing through a magazine. And perhaps that is also why it is so popular with the girls. Maybe, we associate it with the time we spend getting our nails done or getting a foot massage, as we browse through the latest gossip. But it is not just that. It is relaxing also because it is an entirely visual experience. It doesn't involve the opinionated Facebook and Twitter chatter. It does not involve direct interaction with other users. It gives you the opportunity to browse and escape in what grabs your attention.

It also gives you an insight into what interests people who are not like you. For example, even though I have sufficiently long hair, I had not thought about braids until I saw a board dedicated to, yes, braids! You can also see very inspiring boards dedicated to various causes. Right now, I am back home in India, taking a  break before I decide what to do next. My day goes by effortlessly, managing the diet food I need for my weight loss program, watching NatGeo and Comedy Central on T.V., spending an hour or so browsing through pins, reading a book, and spending my evenings with friends. I should write this down now because some day in the near future I am going to be jealous of this past me. :)

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Silent battefields

After my dismal performance in the 12th grade exams, my mom took me to a counselor because I was depressed. During our sessions, the counselor was mostly sympathetic but at times, he also reminded me of the trivial nature of my problems, in the face of the bigger picture. Then, he recommended that I talk to more people, outside my social circle, which at the time consisted of highly competitive eighteen year old kids. My anguish had two layers: the first layer was my disappointment with myself;  the second layer was my anger at God or whatever operating force there was, for making me least successful in the set of around four friends.

Since then, I tried to trivialize my mental blocks and struggles to see if indeed, I was the product of the "rich kid" syndrome. One of the biggest differences I found between developing and developed countries was the nature of emotional struggles of  the people. But over time, I have realized that  trivializing "rich people problems" by placing them against the apparently larger struggles that the less fortunate go through, is not exactly being fair.

One such example, is the issue of female beauty and body image. I read this article in Huff Post on the 24 best moments for women in 2012. Out of those, 3 focus on body image related issues. The most prominent being the war Lady Gaga declared against people of the media who criticized her for her recent weight gain.It also features 12 body image heroes including Adele and Stella Boonshoft, who writes the Body Love Blog. There is of course, Aishwarya Rai, our own body image hero, who walked the red carpet at Cannes gracefully in the face of YouTube videos of her overweight pictures with elephant sounds for background music.

The problem again is two layered. First, it is our own struggle trying to maintain a healthy weight amidst crazy work schedules, motherhood, slowing metabolism and sometimes, just taking it easy for a bit and not hitting the gym. The second layer is always the bench mark we are compared to, or at least women in the entertainment industry are compared to. Sadly, most of the benchmarks here are airbrushed before they are published. You don't even need to be Aishwarya Rai to get criticized for gaining weight. It happens to everyone at some point. What with all the skin lightening creams and diet pills being sold in the market! Every Fair and Lovely advert on T.V gets on my nerves, not just because it tells us that having a darker complexion is an unfortunate predicament, but also the fact that the ads are so well accepted by everyone.

But above all, it is the critic within us that is the harshest. There is a point where we tend to echo what we see around us and what we put up with. Sometimes, the opinion of a few or even a single person matters so much to us,  that we turn blind to ten others who think otherwise. And when one Lady Gaga challenges her fans to fight for a cause, we can see thousands rallying for it. It is important to know our limits and to take care of our bodies with compassion. But it is equally or perhaps more important to surround ourselves with people who do not make us feel ashamed or helpless about something we may not have complete control over. Becoming aware that you are unique and you cannot be a "standard" anything is not easy. And standing up for yourself after that realization is an empowering experience. In the end, it is a silent battlefield but I am sure that it is one of the most significant victories for the woman who goes through it and comes out triumphant.