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Author Archives: Amrita
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.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you
- are wondering what the hell happened to it
- know friend-of-the-blog Banno from Banno, Dhanno and Teja in Bumm-Bumm-Bhole-Land
And while you’ll have to keep wondering about the blog for a little longer, I’m happy to share that I interviewed Banno for Women’s Web and we discussed things like how awesome she is and how difficult it is to be an indie filmmaker in India. No, seriously, check it out! And once you’ve read it, come back to read the outtakes.
Yes, of course there are outtakes! The interview was done in my usual expansive style, after all. I have been away a long time if you can’t remember how I like to go on and on.
Amrita: Let’s talk about India Reborn.
Batul: India Reborn was a series for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. One of the episodes was on the Indian economy, and I worked on that as the Indian producer. An international documentary crew is typically very small, a director, a cameraman, a sound recordist, and a local producer like me. This one had a producer their end as well. My job usually is to help with finding stories, research, interviews, apart from the logistical co-ordination. I loved this job because after a long time, I worked with people who were still old-school journalists, we travelled through the country, and I learned so much about the Indian economy.
Amrita: I know from your blog that one of your British documentaries affected you deeply on a personal level.
Batul: The Slumdog Children of Mumbai came in the wake of Slumdog Millionaire‘s success. It was part of a year-long programming by Channel 4, UK. This was one of those jobs where we worked for long months, also the only job I did which was entirely during the monsoons. We had the tiniest crew: Nick Read, who was the producer, director, cameraman and sound recordist and me, working as an associate producer, conducting the interviews, etc.
It was physically grueling, the combination of rains and slums made things very, very difficult to bear at times, and I did come out of this experience traumatized.
Amrita: Any war stories?
Batul: I think the day I landed in Bhuj after the earthquake on Day 2, is the single most devastating day of my professional career. The dead bodies, the smell, the destruction of the entire city, people’s homes, and in the midst of it all trying to get a story. At that time, I was working as an associate for a cameraman who was shooting the International Rescue Corps.
I learned the gruesomeness of news in that one day, and in many ways, my own docu-feature 150 Seconds Ago was a back answer to that.
Amrita: Tell me about that experience.
Batul: 150 Seconds Ago was based on the lives of a few people in Bhuj, over the span of a year after the earthquake there in 2001. The people I followed included a rickshaw-wala, the erstwhile Maharajah of Bhuj, a doctor, a school teacher, and so on. It was very observational and exploratory, with no fixed narrative. The film travelled to many prestigious festivals including the Cinema du Reel, Paris, and the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, Japan. The Yamagata Festival curators then included the film in their traveling festival package and showed it around Japan for a year.
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…
…or When Bad Ideas Happen to Good Intentions.
I’ve always wondered if the “you can do it all” theory, the Superwoman tag, was geared toward men just as much as women. On the one hand, you praise the woman and tell her that she can handle doing everything on her own without any help because she’s awesome like that. And on the other, you pacify her husband that she won’t leave him holding the diapers and cooking pot while she’s off being awesome outside the home.
And of course, there are women who can do it all. There are even men who do it all – there are so many kids from single family homes these days and more than a few of them are headed by a single father.
The question is whether that’s the ideal to which you should be raising a family in this day and age. What’s the kid going to grow up thinking – “My mom works and cooks and cleans and dances and sings and is nice to all the birdies in the sky. My dad… um… he drinks tea and goes to work.” Way to be a hero to your kid.
What really struck me about that Star Plus anthem is that the dad did absolutely fuck all around the house other than flirt with his wife and help his family put up a few decorations which apparently tuckered him out so he fell asleep along with the senior citizens and the little child. Meanwhile, his wife:
wakes up at the crack of dawn, salwar kameez-and-dupatta in place, to fix her adorable toddler a school lunch, before bullying her mother-in-law into sticking with her vocal exercises and her father-in-law his diet. She makes out with her amorous husband in the bathroom, hangs out with a senior citizen, circles around to blow her husband a goodbye kiss on his way to the office, and then jogs in friendly fashion around her neighborhood.
A round of socializing with the family, friends and random passersby is interspersed by her communing with nature. Next comes a dance class at home and flying kites with her devoted family and helping out with the household chores. She ventures out in between to direct traffic and beat off villainous-looking political types trying to plaster the walls of her home with illegal posters. Afterwards, she heads off to anchor a TV show where she works overtime like a good employee even if it means she’s late to her own birthday party. But that’s all right, because she makes up for it by rousing her family and showing them a jolly good time before cuddling on the rooftop with her husband and stargazing late into the night. When the sun comes up, we are left to assume, the cycle begins all over again.
I ask you again: when does this paragon go potty? I’m sorry to be so fixated on the petty details but I’m told that’s where God likes to reside.
Seriously, it’s men who should be offended.
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!