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Category Archives: Personal
Why should hair be so inextricably tied to my emotions, I don’t know – but it is a fact that a good haircut can uplift me for a week, while a terrible one has left me in tears more than once.
And the reaction is instant. Serve me a bad meal and I can somehow suffer through it, making appreciative noises as I go. Take me out on the mother of all disaster dates and I will still thank you for a lovely evening and promise to keep in touch. I am the master of the easy let-down. But cut my hair (hell, just style it) in a way I don’t approve, and my reaction to it is completely physical. My face gets red, my throat chokes up, tears flood my eyes, I start breathing heavily – all symptoms, in fact, of my primitive rage. It’s always been this way, too.
When I was seven, for instance, my mother persuaded me to get a “smart crop”. Unfortunately, this turned out to be code for what you might recognize today as the Stereotypical Lesbian Crop. Imagine a really butch woman without access to a talented hairstylist. Back when I was a kid, it was the basic Modern Indian Working Woman Haircut. Short and extremely unfussy, you could probably come out looking freshly barbered on the other side of a tornado. The only people who ever complimented me on the results of that disastrous trip to the salon were my mother, the nice Chinese lady who’d followed my mother’s instructions against her better judgment, and a teacher of mine who sported that exact same boxy cut. Call me a diva but I did not appreciate looking like a middle aged schoolteacher whilst still in the second grade. I ended up throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of the salon, whereupon my mother promptly ordered an emergency pedicure for herself and banished me to the reception area where I spent the next fortyfive minutes cooling my heels, seething in fury, and frightening the rest of the clientele with my panting rage while tugging fiercely at my hair in an effort to make it come out of my head a little faster.
Before you think I was some kind of special needs child – the alarmed receptionist definitely thought so – I should say that I already knew that particular effort wasn’t going to work. It was just another example of my once-ungovernable temper driving me to do things that were the outside of stupid.
But the roots of my hair-related rage go back a long way. It all started, I suppose, when my grandfather decided the time had come to get the baby fluff shaved off my head. I rewarded him by screaming like a banshee – pressing every nerve ending you possibly could in a manic depressive, I imagine. I was brought back home posthaste, victoriously bearing a full head of hair. It grew and grew, curling into loose ringlets that charmed my mother so much, she forgot I was a baby and not her doll. I was, therefore, within sight of knocking on three before she decided to get my hair cut.
I don’t know why she stuck my dad with the job though. Maybe she felt it would be a waste of money to take me with her to the ladies salon where they had things like proper lighting? Or she saw what I’d done to her poor father and just didn’t want to deal with the hassle? Maybe my dad offered like the responsible parent he is? Who knows! But I ended up accompanying my dad to the barbershop he frequented. My first memory of getting a haircut is of a smiling man with a neat beard and Daddy sitting next to me, telling me Not. To. Move. An. Inch. To this day, I can’t relax and get all chatty with a hairstylist because my entire brain is hardwired with my father’s voice telling me Not. To. Move. An. Inch. And so I won’t by God!
At the end of this tense period, where I would sit scarcely daring to breathe while Daddy sat next to me and ostensibly studied me carefully to make sure I was Not Moving An Inch (I couldn’t really tell because I couldn’t see with all the hair in my face), we’d go for a treat.
Our routine was always the same. First came the haircut. Next came the ice cream. In my memory, the barbershop is a sort of antiseptic pale green-blue; the color of a government office. The ice cream shop, on the other hand, resembles an Old West Saloon, complete with wood paneling and rustic furniture as well as a noisy air conditioner. This can’t possibly be true since nobody else remembers my description of it and I think it highly unlikely that someone would go to the trouble of building a secret Old West Saloon for Ice Cream in deepest, southiest South India for my benefit alone. The reasonable explanation is that it somehow got jumbled up with a scene from one of those Westerns my brother was addicted to, but reasonability’s a party pooper so who cares what it has to say?
As I was saying… my father used to take me to an ice cream parlor that resembled an Old West Saloon. And for some reason this was behind the main taxi stand. Because that is a perfectly logical place to build an eatery. Vanilla with carbon monoxide topping. Mmm-mm-mmmmmm!
I remember the inside of this fine establishment as a crowded and rather dingy place, which means it must have been tiny indeed given my toddler’s perspective. I’m sad to say it did not survive the years and thus I have no adult contrast to offer. I’m also pretty sure it smelled like milk in there. I’m going to think of that as a positive. Anyway, as soon as we got in the door, Daddy would head straight for the glass counter and ask me for my preference.
I was three; my nose barely reached the part where the metal ended and the glass began. I couldn’t see a thing but I did enjoy breathing on the tiny bit of cool glass that my face could reach, and looking thoughtful. Eventually, I would place my order: strawberry. And Daddy would place his: vanilla. If he was feeling adventurous, he would switch it up to chocolate but I think that only happened once or something.
I don’t even know how we decided I was a strawberry aficionado. For all I know, my dad marched in there and growled, “What do little girls like to eat?” At which point the terrified man behind the counter probably said, “Strawberry!” because it was all pink and girly and he was afraid to say he didn’t know. Voila! I liked strawberry. And since it never occurred to Daddy to pick me up and show me the various options, I didn’t even know there were more than three flavors of ice cream until I was about five, which is when I learned about the glories of the mighty pistachio.
That was the summer my second cousin came back from the United States and opened a fancy parlor that both manufactured and sold ice cream that you could order and consume curbside in the luxury of your very own car! My auntie took me there one night and introduced me to my first falooda. And my life was never the same again.
But that is to fast forward. Back in our Old West Ice Cream Parlor, we were being served ice cream. Not scoops or scones, but slabs of it. There’s a small part of me that still thinks of waffle cones as exotic because my lizard brain thinks ice cream is naturally served as slabs on cheap white porcelain plates. Good times.
We would sit there solemnly consuming our ice cream, until Daddy had scraped his plate clean and I was still sitting there with half of mine on my plate. My mother was bringing me up to share so I always asked him if he’d like some of mine. My father, meanwhile, was bringing me up to not share eatables with him so he always refused. He would then sit in silence, watching me make heroic attempts to finish the entire plate before taking pity on me when I was about three-quarters through and proposing we leave.
It was powerful magic, for an undemonstrative man and his willful daughter. And like all magic, it was contained to that moment in time. For years afterwards, as soon as I graduated to the big girls’ fancy salon, I couldn’t stand the taste of strawberry ice cream. I would go out of my way to avoid it. Every mouthful tasted like melted plastic mixed with sugar and a slightly sour aftertaste that reminded me of spoiled milk. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it. I was disgusted by it. Even today, when I’ve made my peace with it, it still wouldn’t crack my top twenty flavors. I’d sooner eat blackcurrant.
These days, I tell my dad he should get a pedicure and take him out for coffee. That is our thing now – I push him to try and move an inch while he lets me order unfamiliar items off the menu. It’s a different kind of magic but one thing remains the same: we have a standing date anytime either one of us cuts our hair.
Alcohol might not be the answer but it’s the best time you’ll ever have failing. Unless drink turns you into a raging asshole, there’s nothing like a stiff drink to make you feel better. And if it all goes wrong and you wake up next morning with a horrible hangover and no magical solution to your troubles… well, now instead of feeling vaguely nauseated with a hole in the pit of your stomach, you’re actually throwing up your stomach! Progress!
This is very easy if you’ve been drinking. But even without the benefit of strong drink, a good scream lets the universe know what you’re going through. Find a pillow first if you have neighbors. Be considerate.
Go ahead. It’ll probably be the worst sex of your life because you’re spending all your time thinking about your problems but if you try hard enough, you might be too tired to do anything about it other than sleep on it. That’s good.
Really hard. There must be some secret hormone release mechanism in the nerve endings in your teeth because biting feels so incredibly good. You can just feel the aggression flow out through your molars. And unlike punching something, you don’t end up with bruises on your fists or a police report and a free psychiatric evaluation by your nearest state-owned mental hospital. Just make sure its not a human being or a small animal or something because… well, no need to go full psychopath. Yet.
For your life, I mean. Pack your essentials, buy a ticket out of town and get the hell out. Let someone else pick up the mess. It worked with your mother, why can’t it work now? Sigh. Dreams are free, right?
If you can’t actually afford to buy something, then hit up a large department store and window shop. What goes on in that dressing room as you try on clothes that you have no means or intention of buying is nobody’s business but your own.
So running away is not for you. Well, try some running but this time make it all about your health. By the time you work out all the fat and pound out your temper, you’ll be red, sweaty, and in the best shape of your life. You might even fit into your aspirational pair of jeans! If nothing else, this lets you take out that forbidden, half-melted credit card for a round of cute exercise gear.
So you’ll get fat off your steady diet of Hagen Daz milkshakes, but so what? It’ll make you feel better and you can work it off with some more of that rabid exercising or gratuitous sex you’ve already tried and discarded.
When in doubt and all else fails…
Surprise! Thought I’d forgotten all about you lot, didn’t you? Not at all! I’ve just been going quietly crazy trying to get my life back on track. Which is not going well, thanks for asking. So I’m still stuck in limbo and the hiatus stretches on.
I know, I know. Boo, Me.
Warning: it is very, very spoilery as befits a movie that has been out for a month.
Amrita: Also, this is proof positive that more women need to make movies. The way the camera followed the actors, especially the male ones, was significantly different from how a male director would have presented them. For example, there’s that scene in which Prateik is standing under the glow of a naked lightbulb and he’s all sweaty in these gross surroundings, and they shoot him in profile – it’s a shot I’ve seen in so many arthouse movies made in India before: “sweaty poor person in grotty urban shack”. I think people like Om Puri spent the entire 80s doing shots like those. But this time, there was a certain vulnerability and sexiness to that shot. We weren’t just watching a character, we were also being presented with the maleness of that character in a way. Obviously this has to do with Prateik being a hottie but even so… What do you think?Filmiholic: And he (Munna) was so guileless. I remember being really touched and impressed by Prateik in Jaane Tu… so I had good expectations for him here, but he so exceeded them. Yes, agreed, he is indeed a hottie. But the way in this role he was also vulnerable, and a stand-up guy, and unaware of the effect his smoking hotness was having on people around him. Like when he does that shirtless pose when Shai’s photographing him,Amrita: Yes! Great scene!Filmiholic: I really just took that as him aping what he’s seen filmi guys do, not him thinking “I’m too sexy for my shirt” And by the way it just occurs to me now, but three cheers for how the wardrobe people got his clothes right. When watching those Saturday morning desi entertainment shows here in the US, whenever I see them interviewing Bombay guys exiting cinemas to ask them about X or Y film they just saw, even if you can tell the dude may not have a stack of money in his wallet, 9 times out of 10 he’ll be wearing a somewhat flash, fashion-forward shirt, and probably with some accessories, and I’ve even observed this just being in the city – Mumbai guys often have quite a particular style and daring and a bit of the peacock about then, and I don’t observe the same in Madras when I’m there, no offense intended to the lovely men of Tamil Nadu, who have their own different vibe going on.
Right, my lovelies! Time to make things official instead of wishy-washying around hoping Santa can bring me an extra allowance of time.
The bastard real-world insists on intruding so I’m taking January off to handle a few things in my life that will hopefully bring me back to blog anew in February. See you all then!
In the meantime, do (continue to) check out the fine people on my blogroll to the right and join Beth & myself at Masala Zindabad, which will keep publishing our impressive backlog of podcasts. Don’t forget to send us your story about Going to the Movies.
Happy New Year!
Just a note to remind you all that Masala Zindabad is now up and running. We take no prisoners in this week’s podcast about Current Actresses – what’s wrong with them and how do we fix it?
Keep the red sweater but teach them some table manners, probably.
If there are topics you’d like to see covered, drop us a note. We probably won’t use them but it’ll be nice to know how far off base we are.
Yup, it’s up and running.
We kick things off with a podcast featuring MemsaabStory – part one of a wide ranging discussion about the largely forgotten/ unknown/ nameless character actors of Hindi cinema. The feed is in the sidebar.
I swear we aren’t on meth. That’s just my poor editing skills at play. We did our best to follow the advice of all you lovely people who wrote in; I hope it worked.
Thanks for listening!
6.40 for the good stuff (although it’s Rosie Perez – it’s all good stuff)
Ma: Who were you talking to?
Me: A friend.
Ma: Which one?
Ma: Is that her real name? I mean, are you sure?
Me (thinking): Uh-oh, somebody’s been reading about the dangers of online predators again.
Me: Yes, of course that’s her name. Why?
Ma: Well, what kind of name is “Depth?”
People who sound like narcoleptic chipmunks with a bad cold have no business participating in a podcast, which is why I never did. Until now.
As I slide down the other slope of my 20s towards 30, I’ve decided the time has come to stretch a little. This involves doing things I would rather not, such as talk. There’s nothing I hate more than talking – I’ve been taking John Wayne’s advice to speak slow and seldom for years without even realizing it – but I do love to listen. Left to myself I’d communicate in grunts and gestures but it’s kind of hard to convince people to have a conversation without saying something once in a while.
Thank God, then, for Beth! My partner in crime who is charming, articulate and very kind. The story of Masala Zindabad: The Podcast that Ought to Have Been a Book, our new project, is a long and not very interesting one but the topics it was to cover and the people involved are the opposite. Unfortunately, it was one of those things that just wasn’t coming together, hence our decision to present it in this format.
You can follow it here. I’ll warn you up front that this is about the most DIY amateur production ever (and it nearly killed me setting it up – so fiddly!) so if you know your way around an effort of this kind and want to share tips, they would be most welcome!
This is an example of our test run:
Back when I was a teenage asshole, I used have great fun yelling out important plot points at my extremely spoiler-averse BFF. I think she basically walked around with her hands plastered to her ears for a whole week after Gupt came out until she could see it too.
And then there was me – the girl who’d read Agatha Christie novels back to front because I always “like to know”. It’s earned me a number of puzzled frowns and blank stares over the years, even from fellow ending-addicts who prefer to leave at least their mysteries unspoiled, but it couldn’t be simpler for me: I derive very little satisfaction from figuring out whodunnit, I’m a lot more concerned with how and why. I’m not really looking for a two-in-one “Get a puzzle free with this story” deal.
I’m very specific about what I like.
The ends of things, especially a book, is often a good indicator of what the rest of the material is like. There’s a reason why the most famous line from Gone with the Wind is from the last chapter – that’s where authors often store their best work. A book that peters out or pulls its punches at the climax is not a recommendation, no matter how powerful the prose or sky-high the praise on the cover. I might still pick it up, but I’ll know how to manage my expectations.
Reading Matt Yglesias and Ta-Nehisi Coates on the subject, however, I was reminded of AMC’s Rubicon, which just wrapped up its freshman season this Sunday. I suppose you could call it a sort of bait-and-switch: you’d expect the story of Will Travers (James Badge Dale), an intelligence analyst and “pattern recognition expert” whose chance discovery of a mysterious code leads him down a deep, dark rabbit hole and soon endangers the lives of all those close to him as well as himself, to come with a lot more bells and whistles.
Instead Rubicon‘s the kind of show that the British still make, the ones that are put on a diet of speed and steroids when they decide to remake it for the American market. It’s a show unafraid to take its time, devoted to establishing not just the world in which its story unfolds but also its atmosphere.
Little things about Rubicon appear designed to evoke fleeting memories of uneasiness you might have experienced over the course of your life. I don’t have to be an analyst on the brink of a momentous, life-threatening discovery to understand that feeling of paranoia when you’re walking down a deserted street in the middle of the night and you start imagining that that guy who got off at the same stop as you might be following you home with evil on his mind. I don’t have to be planning catastrophic world events to recognize hushed conversations that fall silent at the sound of high heels clacking on the floor of a temple to modern architecture.
Half the season of Rubicon was seemingly devoted to building these little moments that might have made you impatient at the time but ultimately served to underscore later events. If you hadn’t heard Maggie’s sad observation to Will, “This is the closest we’ll ever come to that lunch date, isn’t it?” or glimpsed her face after her disastrous booty call, the scene where Will confronts her about her betrayal wouldn’t have landed with the punch it did.
But how many people stuck around to watch that take place? Not many if even reviewers needed to be lured back:
At one point, Rubicon was in prime position to set the world record for “slowest paced episodic television show.” I even joked that I wasn’t smart enough to understand Rubicon. As it turned out, though, it wasn’t particularly confusing, it was just boring. Through the first three episodes, no character ever seemed to turn on a light let alone say something interesting. Minutes of screen time would be spent watching a guy we barely knew sit alone in the dark. I’d think, wait, that’s what I’m doing right now; why would I want to watch someone else to that on television?
Somewhere, around the sixth episode, something happened. I mean that literally — something finally happened. But things kept happening and, most importantly, the characters started developing personalities. I’m not making this up, Kale Ingrim (Arliss Howard) just may be the best character on television right now.
I was hooked early on, but that little nugget about the 6th episode caught my attention since my general rule for a new series that I find interesting is 6 episodes: that’s how long I give it to reel me in, after which, 9 times out of 10, I’m as committed as I can be without a wedding ring. Just ask Bones – I even forgave it that all time low of a season 4 London-based premiere.
But not everybody hangs around as long as I do. Not even me, if I find it heavy going. It took me just three episodes to bid farewell to Boardwalk Empire although it’s apparently going through a renaissance of its own so I might have to revisit and stick around for the full six.
And that’s the point about getting spoiled – if somebody were to tell me “stick around because things improve at such-and-such point when this-and-that happens”, that only makes me more inclined to watch it. Unless those plot points don’t appeal to me at all, in which case I’d be grateful to save my time because the Lord knows there’s no dearth of quality television out there.
But I’m apparently the minority.