Hell yes! Helena Bonham Carter has the right idea!
If I had a baby, this is what that unfortunate child would have to put up with. It might moan about it then but when it grows up, it’ll know I did it a favor.
The world is full of people who like to snigger at other people who have a hard time planning a party. What’s so difficult about it? they ask. You simply invite a bunch of people, make sure they’re well fed and watered and then send them home.
Yup. That sounds about right. Think of them as sensitively-reared prize cattle and you should be all right. The devil, however, is in the details.
Where is this party going to be held? How many are you going to invite? If you invite Person X and don’t invite Person Y, will this doom you to years of social awkwardness as Person Y thereafter erupts into noisy flames of righteous indignation whenever s/he catches sight of you? What can you do when you must invite Person A and Person B when everyone knows that to put the two of them in the same room together is to invite all hell to break loose?
Next, what are you going to serve them? Is anyone allergic to anything? Nothing kills the mood faster than a person falling dead with a bloated face, clutching their last bite of a tasty but deadly hors d’oeuvres, right in the middle of the party. Are there religious considerations to be made? And ever since fad diets became, well, the fad, things have only become even more difficult – what does one offer a guest when she tells you that she only consumes raw fruit and vegetables that have fallen off the tree by themselves? Offering your guests vegetables is one thing, serving them alongside their provenance is an entirely different matter unless you’ve received advance warning and can thus dump your catering problems in the lap of the local produce guy.
Everyone assumes meat eaters must be an easier crowd – carrion eaters as they are! Well, they couldn’t be more wrong. This person will only eat white meat, that person likes red meat but only when it’s cooked to a certain consistency. This person will anything you put in front of her – as long as it was raised locally on a farm where it got to gambol in the grass and feel the wind against its snout: because eating happy animals makes the world a better place!
And then there is the drinking – do you coordinate for courses or is it sufficiently informal enough for people choose their own drinks? Is anyone an alcoholic or temperance? Should you just opt for drinks beforehand and after, but serve plain water or lemonade or some other fruity drink with the meal? Or would that be an insult to the food or, even worse, be misconstrued as putrid stinginess? Believe me, you’d rather be the host/ess left with a month’s worth of leftover food, all about to go bad in 24 seconds straight, than get people muttering about the quality of your hospitality. The world is not kind to the person who doles out the happy juice by the thimbleful, my friend.
These were complexities I learned early. When you have a father who is a master planner of parties, as a confident young child you begin to have delusions that this is something you could do just as well. I was perhaps seven when I decided the time had come to put this to the test. Sadly, that is my one unforgettable dinner party.
My favorite restaurant at the time was an intimate little Chinese one that, for reasons that are currently unclear to me, I was convinced was a revolving restaurant. I think there was an actual such restaurant very near the Chinese one, but it had shut down a few years previously. Anyway, I had it fixed in my head that if you sat down in the Chinese restaurant and closed your eyes, you could feel it slowly moving round and round. I was probably anemic.
It certainly wasn’t the cuisine that drew me there. I ‘liked’ precisely two things on the menu – both staples of the well-stocked Indian Chinese restuarant: sweet corn chicken soup (I liked this because my aunt liked it and I liked my aunt) and crispy shredded lamb (leathery bits of mutton that they didn’t know what to do with so they deep fried it – I liked this one because my brother said it was good and I thought if I did what he did, it would automatically make me a grown up). Left to myself, I would have haunted the ice cream place but my brother implied this was because I was greedy so I left it strictly alone.
So when our cousin came to visit, I decided I had the perfect treat in store for him. I would take him and my brother to the revolving Chinese restaurant and it would be a cousins-only date – no adults allowed. What fun!
I chose my outfit for this marvelous event with great care: a denim mini skirt, a white cotton tank top that laced at my shoulders and my beloved snakeskin high-heeled sandals that I had blackmailed my horrified mother into purchasing by threatening to put on a ten-alarm tantrum in the middle of Connaught Place no matter what the consequences thereafter to my person might be. My ideal self-image was apparently that of a hooker, but I thought I looked fly. And self-confidence matters.
I sashayed into the restaurant with my two long-suffering brothers in tow at five in the evening (my curfew was six o’clock and my parents were disinclined to relax it this once even if I strongly felt it was the acme of my social life) and took a seat at the best table in the thoroughly empty restaurant that was just setting up for the evening crowd.
I would like to digress here and express my intense love for my brothers. I like to (rightly) give them a great deal of grief for the many horrors they perpetrated against my childhood dignity but I’ll hand them one thing – they never laughed in my face when I made a fool of myself. They’d always wait until they’d made a fool of me so it didn’t hurt my feelings, only my ego. There can’t be a lot of teenagers / twenty-somethings who would willingly indulge their pesky little sister’s nutty desires when they have a good idea of the horrors in store for them. Like Chinese food at five in the evening. Make that: Chinese food they absolutely did not want at five in the evening.
Cousin (reading menu): What shall we eat then?
Me (magnanimously patting tiny back pocket of miniskirt): Anything you want.
Brother: I like the XYZ here.
Me (even more magnanimously): Eat the sweet corn chicken soup!
Cousin: Sweet corn chicken soup? Oh, I didn’t want any soup. Is it good?
Me: It’s excellent! Right?
Brother (rolling eyes): It’s soup.
Me (getting upset): But you like soup! You eat it with crispy shredded lamb!
Brother (looking hunted as he recognizes the telltale signs of my fraying temper): Yes. Alright.
Cousin: Is that what you want?
Me (peace restored): Only if you want.
We finally share one bowl of soup and one plate of crispy shredded lamb between the three of us. I felt it was quite filling. I advised them to shut their eyes at the conclusion of the meal so they could feel the restaurant spin. Waiter grins like a fool the entire time. I decide to leave him a tip even if he doesn’t deserve it because that’s the grown up thing to do. Cousin thanks me by putting me in a fireman’s lift over his shoulder and walking me back home, flashing my panties to the world. I vow eternal vengeance even though I secretly had a good time.
It all took me a while to process, but you can bet I no longer invite people to my favorite Chinese restaurant to eat what I want them to eat. And I make damn sure nobody even thinks of spinning after a meal.
What on earth can I possibly say today that hasn’t already been said, and much better at that, elsewhere? His life, his music, his troubles, the allegations, the courtcases, the many weirdnesses – you’ll find them all written about in extensive detail pretty much everywhere you turn for the next few days.
But it’s also one of those moments when I’m glad I have a blog because I’d like to think that at some point, if I can just hang on long enough, IndieQuill will be a record of sorts of my life over a certain period – and the passing of Michael Jackson is definitely a milestone that deserves its place here.
As weird as it sounds, Michael Jackson and Talat Mehmood were my introduction to music.
My parents had a deep fondness for Talat Mehmood (here is my mom’s favorite song from her favorite movie!) and would play his songs all the time. I quite liked them although I was almost five before I figured out that those sounds he made were actual words and they meant something. I’m not being mean – I truly didn’t make the connection until one day I was listening to O Panchhi Pyaare from Bandini and realized Asha Bhonsle was telling me a story. Well, not telling me specifically… you know what I mean.
Meanwhile my brother brought home a copy of Thriller one day and the moment I saw the video, I was hooked. Talat Mehmood was nice, sure, but Michael was something else.
It took me even longer to figure out that he too was singing words instead of just stringing together interesting sounds, but it was Michael himself who caught my attention above all else. I don’t know how old you were when you first saw Thriller, and I know you’ve seen it because even my grandmother knew that one (he was the only international – or domestic for that matter – pop star she could recognize, both by sight and by sound), but it’s quite something to see it through the eyes of a five year old who’d never even imagined that things or sounds like that existed.
My brother, being much older, had not only heard it much earlier but had already switched his allegiance to Prince, and as such I was allowed to play and replay the video to my heart’s content – something that was strictly verboten in the norm because he felt a five year old was not a proper person to press buttons on his beloved VCR (remember those things?) or handle his favorite tapes (oh, the battles we fought over The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, our favorite movie to unwind to when we were growing up!).
We’d go down south for the summer and in the evenings, the four of us would visit my aunt, and my brother, my cousin and I would go round back where Michael, my aunt’s houseboy, would put on a performance modeled on his namesake. South Indian Michael’s impression of Beat It was quite something. Not Chiranjeevi-something perhaps, but something! Sometimes, we’d get the dog to play audience while we joined him and the poor thing would sit by, puzzled but game, watching the crazy humans hop around to the music blaring from the ancient tape recorder (yup, it was that long ago!) hooked up to an outlet in the garage, volume on the highest setting we dared without bringing down the wrath of the parents on our heads.
And then, a couple of years later, my brother brought home a copy of Moonwalker. One glimpse of Smooth Criminal and my obsession went into overdrive. I have no idea if little kids were his target audience with that video, but for a time it even replaced Mary Poppins in my affections. It was like converting to a different religion.
Eventually, as I became a tween and Michaelmania around me began to reach crazy heights, the contrarian in me started backing off a bit. My best friend got me a copy of The Joshua Tree, an album that’d come out about the same time as Moonwalker and Bad but couldn’t have been more different, for my birthday and once I got over the fact that here was an album that I couldn’t dance to (Why, God, WHY?!), I liked it very much. MJ began to resemble a much loved childhood artifact, now laid aside.
And once the 90s took hold, as he began to get snowed under allegations, tabloid reports and legal troubles, the era of Michael seemed more and more remote. I don’t think I’ve thought of him as a musician in years.
But my childhood will always be set to his music. As an adult, I never know how to feel about him – my childhood icon, the pedophile? My childhood icon, the kid who had the hell whaled out of him so he could come up with the kind of performance that brought so much joy to my own carefree childhood? My childhood icon, the weirdo with the smushed-in nose who made his kids wear masks in public? My childhood icon, who was now a completely different color from the man who’d first captured my imagination? But my inner 5 year old knows better.
Michael Jackson was the 80s. Red coat, epaulettes, jheri curl, the shyest, sweetest smile, baddest beats and all.
What kind of crazy weather is it when the husband is sweating out his armpits and the wife is huddled up in a sweater? Either Katie Holmes needs to eat a few more meals to get a comforting coat of blubber insulation or Tom Cruise needs to invest in a better quality of antiperspirant.
Of course, they could just be suffering from a case of The Marrieds: a condition in which a man and a woman can never co-exist in the same weather conditions, even if they’re stuck in the same room or the same bed, because it’s a violation of the sanctity of marriage.
Think I’m imagining things? Look at Cameron Diaz – she’s clearly in the same climate zone as Tom. Why? Because she’s not married to him. The rules don’t apply.
When Ram and Sita were stuck in the jungle, I bet Sita was huddled under a ton of moss blankets and refusing to let a sweaty Ram poke a hole in lieu of a window in the hut because the nights were “so cold”. He probably wanted to make a nice blanket for her out of the golden deer so she’d at least let him get some damn air at night.
What is it with married people?
… my whole life for the past week. Still playing catch up.
And when I did get online, what did I see? That video of Neda Agha Sultan, an Iranian girl my age, shot through the heart and bleeding to death on the street as horrified onlookers try to help. Logically speaking, I understand that this hardly an unprecedented event – people like Neda, whether innocent bystanders or active participants, are dying every day for their cause around the world. But as Indians found out during the Taj siege last year, there’s a difference between knowing that something bad is going on and seeing it happen. It’s the longest 40 seconds of my life. (Much more graphic video here.) And as fucked up as it sounds, I’m thankful I only got to experience it second hand.
It is with pleasure, therefore, that I bring you these videos of the PS22 Chorus singing Just Dance and Don’t Stop Believing. It’s definitely an incongrous juxtaposition and you might disagree, but it did me good to remember that this also exists. They’re so awesome, they even made me like Lady Gaga for a quick minute.
It shows me stuff like this. A former slave owner from Tennessee writes to his former slave, Jourdan Anderson, in 1865 offering him his “job” back. Anderson replies. An excerpt:
Sir: I got your letter and was glad to find you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Col. Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living.
In answering this letter please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up and both good- looking girls. You know how it was with Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve and die if it comes to that than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters.
P.S. — Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.
From your old servant,
Sir, I freely and cheerfully acknowledge, that I am of the African race, and in that color which is natural to them of the deepest dye; and it is under a sense of the most profound gratitude to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, that I now confess to you, that I am not under that state of tyrannical thraldom, and inhuman captivity, to which too many of my brethren are doomed, but that I have abundantly tasted of the fruition of those blessings, which proceed from that free and unequalled liberty with which you are favored; and which, I hope, you will willingly allow you have mercifully received, from the immediate hand of that Being, from whom proceedeth every good and perfect Gift.
Sir, suffer me to recal to your mind that time, in which the arms and tyranny of the British crown were exerted, with every powerful effort, in order to reduce you to a state of servitude : look back, I entreat you, on the variety of dangers to which you were exposed; reflect on that time, in which every human aid appeared unavailable, and in which even hope and fortitude wore the aspect of inability to the conflict, and you cannot but be led to a serious and grateful sense of your miraculous and providential preservation; you cannot but acknowledge, that the present freedom and tranquility which you enjoy you have mercifully received, and that it is the peculiar blessing of Heaven.
This, Sir, was a time when you cleary saw into the injustice of a state of slavery, and in which you had just apprehensions of the horrors of its condition. It was now that your abhorrence thereof was so excited, that you publicly held forth this true and invaluable doctrine, which is worthy to be recorded and remembered in all succeeding ages : “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Here was a time, in which your tender feelings for yourselves had engaged you thus to declare, you were then impressed with proper ideas of the great violation of liberty, and the free possession of those blessings, to which you were entitled by nature; but, Sir, how pitiable is it to reflect, that although you were so fully convinced of the benevolence of the Father of Mankind, and of his equal and impartial distribution of these rights and privileges, which he hath conferred upon them, that you should at the same time counteract his mercies, in detaining by fraud and violence so numerous a part of my brethren, under groaning captivity and cruel oppression, that you should at the same time be found guilty of that most criminal act, which you professedly detested in others, with respect to yourselves.
To which Jefferson said basically: “Oh, phooey!“
I’m an aunt once more. To a beautiful little girl who took her own sweet time to make an appearance but didn’t mind letting her mom know at great length that she was contemplating her arrival.
“Nearly six pounds,” said my cousin with some awe, radiant and glowing but clearly in pain as I studied her brand new baby, all swaddled up and cute as could be. “Mother always told me my first delivery was way too easy,” she laughed with the childbirth-version of gallows humor, “but this one took care of that.”
“Hmm,” said Ma. “This one was eight pounds,” she said casually, indicating poor little me.
My head whipped around as my cousin’s jaw dropped in horror.
“Eight pounds?” I squeaked, taking another look at the sleeping infant who suddenly seemed very, very large for a newborn child.
It’s true that I’m taller than the rest of the women in our family, frequently towering over them in my beloved heels like a rampaging T-Rex over a herd of bright-spotted deer, but didn’t all babies at least start out the approximate same size? Was I the giant of the baby ward as well? Ignominy.
“But how did you manage?” asked my cousin, wide-eyed as her mother made tsk-ing sounds. “I mean, they were ready to slit me open because this baby was so large.”
Slit open, I mouthed to myself. Slit what open? They couldn’t be saying what I thought they were saying!
“Yes,” said my mother. “They did slit me open. She had to come out, you know.” She shuddered. “The pain of it!”
“Was the she the one they had to use forceps to extract?” my aunt wanted to know.
Forceps? Was my mother pregnant in the 19th century?
“No,” said Ma. “That was the other one. The doctor just plonked herself in front of me as I sat in the stirrups and pushed it in. I had no idea what was going on!”
So this is why they don’t tell you anything about pregnancy and childbirth beforehand.
My mother looked at the expression on my face. “But really, apart from her size, she was very easy. I didn’t even know I was having contractions – I just went to get my check-up done and the doctor told me I was all ready to give birth.”
Too late, Baby Mafia, too late! I’m on to you now!