Tag Archives: fundies in their undies

The Shame of Young Adults

Video NSFW

Auntie: What are you reading?
Child Amrita: Gone with the Wind. Have you read it?
Auntie: What?!
Child Amrita: I don’t really understand all of it but I think it’s great! The drama is out of this world! I think I’m addicted to good trash for life now. In fact, I’m gonna get the movie now and watch it.
Auntie: Stop it immediately or you will lose your childish innocence too soon!
Child Amrita: *grumble* When I grow up, nobody’s gonna tell me what I can read or not.

Teacher: What are you reading?
Tween Amrita: The Giant Book of Murder. It’s great.
Teacher: What?!
Tween Amrita: Look, it has sections devoted to axe murderers, serial killers and poisoners. I’m totally going to mine this for information that I will cunningly introduce into my English school essays to blow my competition out of the water!
Teacher: Stop it immediately! Or you will grow up into a psychopath.
Tween Amrita: *grumble* When I grow up, nobody will tell me what I can read or not!

Friend: What are you reading?
Teen Amrita: The Wheel of Time. It’s great!
Friend: What?!
Teen Amrita: Yeah, I’m really into fantasy fiction! It’s like science fiction but better! There’s parallel universes and alternate realities and magic and strange creatures and –
Friend: Stop!
Teen Amrita: Why?
Friend: I dunno. It sounds stupid and I’ve never read any. Here, read Chicken Soup like everybody else.
Teen Amrita: *grumble* When I grow up, nobody’s gonna tell me what I can read or not.

Internet: What are you reading?
Present Day Amrita: Young Adult fiction. It’s great!
Internet: What?!
Present Day Amrita: Yeah, I was too busy reading regular adult stuff when I was kid but now I find that there’s a lot of YA fiction out there that’s really good. So now I’m catching up.
Internet: Stop! Or at least have some shame! You’re reading stuff meant for children.
Present Day Amrita: *grumble* When I grow up…

I didn’t even know I was supposed to feel inferior about it. Should I cover my copy of Mockingjay with brown paper the way some women who read sexy romances on the subway do? What about graphic novels? Are those cool? Or is everybody sneering at me for choosing to read a comic like a little baby?

If only I read less and monitored the reactions of random strangers to my choice of reading material more, I bet I’d have the answers to all these pressing questions.


Posted by on September 2, 2010 in Books, Personal


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No Joke Here, No Sirree!

Opponents of gay marriage in Hawaii celebrate the Governor’s decision to veto a bill legalizing same sex unions by getting on their knees, opening their mouths and emitting a “roar”.

True story.


Posted by on July 8, 2010 in News, Politics


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Dressing to Please

I guess I should be happy I can wear clothes at all.

Do any of you remember the slew of articles that came out in the wake of 9/11 when people (in the West) suddenly sat up and discovered that there was a significant – significantly Muslim that is – population of women out there who walk around covered from head to toe?

Reporters were dressing up in burkhas to walk the free streets of London to find out first hand what it felt like (Answer: confining, scary, got stared at a lot. Alternative answer: safe, confining, got stared at a lot.); there were roundtable discussions on newschannels about what it meant to be an Arab and a woman and a Muslim and how they could make it all work (Answer: Arabic for “adjust maadi!”); and everybody was very concerned about how this was a violation of human rights.

I thought it would slowly fade away because it’s not like Muslim women just started covering up. I’m pretty sure they were wearing those things even before 9/11 and all they got in return were double takes and stares. But no, they’re still at it.

Meanwhile, lots of Muslim women went, “Thanks but we’ll drop you a note when we need you to talk for us because right now all you’re doing is creeping us out.” Turns out a lot of these women really like wearing the hijab/niqab to various degrees and saw it as their ethnic wear. Then a bunch of other Muslim women spoke up and said, “Hold on! We never signed on to this! Doesn’t our opinion count?”

So then everybody went back to the drawing table and it was finally decided that it was terrible that some countries (*cough*Saudi Arabia*cough*) control what women wear but if the women themselves want to wear it, then that’s because they’re brainwashed victims but hey! at least we told them so now it’s on their own head and let’s get real here for a second, is Saudi Arabia really going to pay attention to what the rest of the world thinks about how they treat their women? Ha! So enjoy snorkeling in a hijab, ladies! We hear the sea around your country is awesome. The Israeli end of it anyway.


My last year of high school, right before the Board exams, my friends and I were casually sauntering past the library on our way to catching the mid-morning bus home. Seniors were invited to come in a for a couple of hours each morning and put in some extra practice under the concerned teacher’s supervision if they felt they needed it and a bunch of us thought it was an excellent idea: we’d study in the morning, hitch a ride back to town, get something to eat at our favorite hangout before going home to study some more. Teen life in a small town where everybody knew who you were and what you were supposed to be doing was always a matter of extreme forward planning.

We didn’t have to dress in uniform and could pretty much do whatever we liked in school as long as we didn’t disturb the rest of the students, which was fine by us. It was like having a picnic every day and we thought it was a great way to end our school life.

So on this particular day, we’d just wrapped up and were about to go find the school bus when we heard the librarian screech: “There she is!”

We turned around and there she was, finger pointed dramatically and accusingly at… me. What had I done?

“Look at her clothes!” she screamed as though I was poking holes in her eyes.

I looked down. I was wearing my baggiest jeans, the ones that had never fit me properly but I loved to wear because it was so comfy. You could just see its shapeless legs peeping out from under my tent-like pink t-shirt, the one so large, its shoulder seams hit halfway down to my elbow. Not that this gave me a cleavage of any kind, mind you: like all Indian t-shirts sold within the country, it had a round neck that was so tiny, it would have strangled a person of the right size.

So I stood there in my hobo outfit, wearing flat ballet slippers, and completing the look with greasy hair, thick spectacles and a mouth full of steel and rubber. Damn, I thought. I should have listened to my mom when she told me I looked like a bum.

“What are you wearing, Amrita?” asked Miss X, the teacher we’d come to meet this morning, the one the librarian had apparently been complaining to.

“Uh, jeans and a t-shirt?” I said, hoping for the best.

“Well, such tight clothes are not appropriate for school,” she said with a straight face.

I looked at her. She studied her nails. The librarian looked victorious.

“Ha ha,” I said at last. Sometimes the teachers like to crack jokes. Nobody ever got them because they were incredibly lame, but maybe this was one of them?

Nope. No such luck.

“Why don’t you wear something like your friends?” she asked.

I looked at Pops and Sangs, wearing tight-fitted salwar kameezes and identical WTF expressions. Contacts placed discreetly in their eyes and no braces in sight. Then I looked at myself. If I was so inclined, I knew who I’d find attractive amongst the three of us. (Hint: it’s not me.)

I opened my mouth to argue when one of my friends jabbed me discreetly in the ribs. “Jeans,” she muttered significantly.


Denim. Cloth of the Devil. It’s a wonder they let you buy it over the counter considering the accessories that come with it – a libido that won’t quit, teenage pregnancy with mandatory termination, the morals of a sociopath, a junkie-unwashed-hippie boyfriend, and an alarming tendency to take away the free will of all men in sight and turn them into slavering rapists by force! Oh, did I forget the Western Bug? It’s an advanced parasite that hides in your pants leg and drills into your bone, instantly changing your nationality, your morals and your personality.

For fuck’s sake! They’re pants! Durable, comfortable, easy to wear, easier to maintain, pants!

Tell that to the good fathers who ran the Catholic college I attended. In Bangalore. Shortly after I joined, they actually banned jeans on campus. No, I’m not 100 years old. This incident took place at the turn of this century, not the last. The fathers did it with the best of intentions – they were shielding the pristine minds entrusted to their care by anxious parents. I failed to understand then and I still don’t understand how wearing a skirt or salwar kameez to college protected our virtue whereas denims would absolutely destroy us.

What I did understand then, and continue to understand now, is that when you are a woman, the world is entitled to not just have an opinion about the way you dress but enforce it as well. As business school students we were required to dress in formal attire three days a week and were allowed to dress as we pleased the other two days.  The gender ratio in our class was five girls to about twenty boys. We studied together, we hung out together, we got in trouble together, we partied together, we paid the same amount of money to attend the same classes taught by the same teachers about whom we all bitched in the same rooms. For three days of the week, we were all equal. For the remaining two, five of us had an extra rule based on nothing but gender.

The ban didn’t last long, its utter ridiculousness becoming more and more apparent as the college tried to modernize itself into a sleek, Western-friendly environment in a city being touted as India’s Silicon Valley. India’s success brought down a rule based on lingering Indian bigotry. But I’ve never forgotten the sting of that relatively minor injustice.


The burkha is not a garment that I would wear. Unless I was hiding from the police or something. I don’t even wear a dupatta every time I put on a salwar because I often feel suffocated by things touching my neck, so the whole hijab-niqab bit is lost on me. I don’t care if it’ll make me feel warm and fuzzy like I’m back in my m0ther’s womb, I don’t want it.

Other women do for various reasons of their own. It’s hard to understand them from where I stand but you know what? They don’t need me to understand. I’ve never in my life put on a set of clothes hoping some random person I don’t know and will never know, somewhere out there in the big wide world, approves and understands my sartorial decisions. Why shouldn’t the woman who wears a niqab have the same right?

That said, Yasmin Alibhai Brown, a journalist I greatly admire even when I find myself disagreeing with her, makes a strong point when she says:

We communicate with each other with our faces. To deny that interaction is to deny our shared humanity. Unreasonable community or nationalistic expectations disconnect essential bonds. Governments should not accommodate such demands. Naturists can’t parade on the streets, go to school or take up jobs unless they cover their nakedness. Why should burqaed women get special consideration?

Why? Because there actually are women living in the West today who cover themselves not out of choice but because that is the requirement for stepping outside the house at all.

Take for instance the woman who was fined for wearing a burkha in Italy. Her husband thinks their only alternative now is for her to just stay where she’s put, where nobody else can look at her. A law meant to “help” her ended with her imprisonment.

Europe’s response to Islamic nations forcing their women to dress a particular way is to tell Muslim women living in their countries how to dress, thus isolating them even further. Well! That’ll certainly show those stupid women in Saudi Arabia and Iran and elsewhere!

Amazing, isn’t it, that the right and the left come at it from two completely different political viewpoints, but they agree on one thing: the best way to help a girl out is to tell her what to wear. Once you’ve taken away her choice in this one thing, she will magically find herself surrounded by a multitude of “correct” choices and the world will be a better place. For her and for you.

India doesn’t have this problem, of course. Shikha Dalmia thinks it’s because India has a secular ideal based in the tolerant strands of Hinduism. Maybe. I think it’s because conservative Hindus up north practice their own version of the burkha. Any Indian politician who runs around saying Muslim women need to set aside the veil runs the risk of running into hordes of pissed off Hindu men vehemently opposed to their women taking the pallu of their sarees off their face.


So, basically, I wanted to say: Argh.


Posted by on June 1, 2010 in Life, News, Newsmakers, Personal, Politics, Video


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The Wisdom of Whores


“When people ask me what I do for a living,” writes Elizabeth Pisani in The Wisdom of Whores, “I say ‘Sex and drugs.'” Not only is it succinct, but it’s also a conversation starter as, she observes, “Everybody has something to say about sex and drugs.”

But seldom do people have anything as interesting, perspicacious and entertaining to say about these two things as Pisani in her book (and related website). As a bureau reporter turned epidemiologist, Pisani accidentally found herself in the right place at the right time just as an ominous new disease was spreading across the world – Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

Others before her have discussed what it meant to live on the crest of that deadly wave in the 1980s – back when it was called GRIDS (Gay Related Immune Deficiency Syndrome). The Lancet called it the Gay Compromise Syndrome. The fear, stigma, judgment and ostracization; the horror of attending funerals of your friends every week. On an episode of Inside the Actor’s Studio, Tom Hanks confessed that he still finds it traumatic to watch Philadelphia because so many of the people on screen have since died.

For Pisani, the impact was double – she witnessed its devastation first hand as a New Yorker in the early 1980s and she was just finishing up a degree as an epidemiologist in the mid 1990s when AIDS was finally becoming a matter of international public policy. The Wisdom of Whores is a fascinating account of those first few years when “AIDS” was no longer a dirty word (or at least, it had reached a point where politicians could actually say the word in public without fearing that its residual cooties might latch on to their pristine characters).

There is a sense of wonderment about the early pages as if Pisani still can’t believe that she and a bunch of other young punks were actually the ones calling the shots at UNAIDS as it set about trying to handle one of the greatest epidemics of our time with immense social consequences. You learn things about international bureaucracy and its functioning that makes you wonder: Is that really how the world is run?

It appears so. And it would be awesome if it didn’t leave you the teensiest bit queasy as you try to digest the implications. But the meat of the book comes later when Pisani sets down roots of a kind in Jakarta and begins to explore the local ground conditions. What she finds is that the theory she and her colleagues have spent all their time massaging to fit various governments (all at once, in that one-size-fits-all way of the United Nations) doesn’t always equal reality or as she puts it, “real people don’t have sex in boxes”.

The Indonesian man who brings about that realization is “a self-proclaimed heterosexual guy who has unpaid sex with a woman who sells sex to other men, while himself also selling sex to other men and buying sex from transgendered sex workers.” Does that sound like a person at risk for HIV? Can I have a “duh”? And yet, he didn’t fit a single one of the criteria on the questionnaire prepared by the Indonesian government to find out how many people in their country were at risk for the virus.

When it comes to AIDS, you quickly realize, it is not the disease itself that presents the biggest challenge – it is the baggage it brings with it. To mention just a few of her many examples:

– There are well-intentioned international church groups that block access to sex workers because NGOs that preach safe sex through condoms are messing with the church’s own plans to “re-educate” the women by teaching them vocations like baking. This in spite of the fact that the condoms save many more lives than the few converts who eventually start bakeries.

– Democracy is a wonderful thing but sometimes it brings religious fundamentalists into power like the Islamic political parties who tore down the centralized brothels sanctioned by the authoritarian government. That sent a strong statement about the new Indonesia, especially to the prostitutes who then had to move elsewhere without access to health clinics and the many benefits of living in a centralized neighborhood where the government kept a close watch on the activities.

– Morality says premarital sex is bad and is a sign of the West’s slutty influence. Except under the proper, puritanical ways of the old traditions, astonishing numbers of young men in Thailand were buying sex from workers with a high risk of AIDS who frequently sold sex without using condoms. As women began to get educated, they began to wait before getting married – but chose to have sex before. The young men who were now having sex with their girlfriends were still having sex without condoms but now their partners weren’t as likely to have sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS.

– In China, the government suppressed a painstakingly gathered report by international experts on the number of estimated Chinese citizens with AIDS. A massive Communist cover up in action? Sure. The Chinese didn’t want to kick off another round of international speculation about the validity of their methods due to possible draconian government interference when the estimated numbers came in below what an earlier, similarly controversial report sanctioned and carried out by the government had been published.

And if you think sex workers and horny young people from formerly cloistered societies have it hard, you should see the junkies. It doesn’t matter where you live in the world, as the fairly kneejerk response to needle exchange programs prove, everybody’s cool with a junkie if he wants to die of AIDS.

The reasons governments around the world do what they do and the massive amounts of corruption and sheer bizarreness of the many groups that surround an easily and cheaply preventable disease, are legion. The Wisdom of Whores is part memoir, part expose about a significant event that’s taking place right now in your backyard. Perhaps even in your house.

At the same time it is also a witty, empathetic, fascinating window to a foreign world filled with characters so odd in circumstances so strange to most of us that they would strain credulity if presented as fiction. I couldn’t recommend it more.

[Pic via The Daily Dish. They ought to put these guys in charge of AIDS-awareness campaigns everywhere. If you think ol’ Saddam above is bad, check out Hitler. He even has a sex tape.]


Posted by on December 1, 2009 in Books, Entertainment, Life, Review, Video


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