Thursday, June 28, 2007

In all fairness

It is not unusual to find an Indian matrimony ad that would read:
“Looking for a (insert caste) well educated girl, fair and respects tradition.”

The ad might as well say, “Wanted a (virgin) woman who would serve as a sex slave and chambermaid. P.S. Blacks do not apply.”

In the same spirit Dhanashree M. gives her beauty tips to the brides to be. The article is titled ‘Whitening tips for you’ :
Fair complexion is a dream and achievement of everyone. In the marriage market
and dreams the first preference will be to those with a fair skin. Why should
you stay away from this perfect appearance? Try these handy beauty tips and see
the changes within a short period.

Growing up, I had come to accept that fairness of skin is the foremost standard of beauty. A song praising the beauty of a woman would inevitably have the word gori in it.
“Dhoop mein nikla na karo roop ki rani, gora rang kala na padh jaaye.”
Keeping in line with the lyrics, every well-adored Hindi film actress was fair.

Living in a white supremacist society, my lifesaver was that my parents did not hold the ‘white is beautiful’ outlook. But even so it was hard to keep me protected from the ire of the white skin worshipping neighbors.

The incident I am about to narrate happened when I was 5 years old. Being the first born child I was the apple of the eye…the star performer of the house. But after 4 years of my uncontested rule in the Blur household, my soon to be nemesis made his debut. I wasn’t a happy camper to find out that I suddenly had to share my fame and celebrity status in the household with my brand new brother who was a doodh ka dhoola, white complexioned baby boy.

My parents tried their best to keep the sibling jealousy (on my part) on the down low. But there were visitors and they came in waves. Comments about how pretty and fair the baby boy looks were made over and over. There was one woman (I fondly remember as the racist bitch) who lived in the house across from ours. She would make her friendly visits more often than I’d liked. She would say to me, “Oh how is it that your brother looks so fair and you look so dark?” I would feel very hurt and angry but I could never think of a good come back.

One evening, the woman paid a visit to our house and she sat on the couch conversing with my mother. I knew that it was inevitable that she will soon take a jibe at me. So the moment came. She decided to tease me a little differently. She said, “Crys, do you like your little brother?” Frankly, I would’ve liked the things to be the way they were before my brother arrived. Ever since my brother had made an appearance everything had changed for the worse. I did not answer. Then the woman continued, “I am going to take your brother with me”. This was it. This was my opportunity.

I quickly climbed on the couch and got hold of the woman’s hair and yanked it with all my strength. Even though I was five years old, I gathered enough strength to give her a professional hair yanking if there was any such thing. The woman started howling in pain. My mother tried hard to stop herself from laughing. She somehow managed to summon me in her best disciplining voice, “Crys! Let go…NOW!” I was determined to make a Jain monk out of that woman but my effort was thwarted as my mother pulled me away. The woman was visibly shaken. She said, “Bhaarich poolka aahe bhavacha.” (Loosely translated: My! I didn’t realize how attached she is to her brother). My mom escorted the woman out of our house.

The woman kept her distance from me but the social conditioning never stopped. I believed that to be appreciated by boys, I had to literally be the fairer sex. By the age of 12, I initiated the process of bleaching my skin in hopes of becoming a white princess. I bought a tube of ‘Fair and lovely’ dream cream which is doing just as well even today and is expanding its sales by marketing the ivory dream to Indian men.

I am not sure how I eventually opened myself to the idea that a dark skinned person can be beautiful too. Today, as I read the words of Maya Angelou in her book “I know why the cage bird sings”, my mind races back to my childhood.

Maya Angelou:
Wouldn’t they be surprised when one day I woke out of my black ugly dream, and my real hair, which was long and blond, would take the place of the kinky mass that Momma wouldn’t let me straighten? My light blue eyes were going to hypnotize them after all the things they said about my daddy being a Chinaman because my eyes were so small and squinty. Then they would understand why I had never picked up a Southern accent, or spoke the common slang, and why I had to be forced to eat pig tails and snouts. Because I was really white and because a cruel fairy stepmother, who was understandably jealous of my beauty, had turned me into a too-big Negro girl with nappy black hair, broad feet and a space between her teeth that would hold a number-two pencil.

The last time I visited India, a cute old lady who I love dearly gave me some advice, “Girl you have finished your education and now it is time you found yourself a good man and you should not be picky. You are not fair skinned after all.”

I laughed a hearty laugh when I heard her say that. I laughed the way I do when I hear nine year old Eric Cartman crack a racist joke.

Friday, June 22, 2007

A strange encounter

I was standing in a hotel lobby wearing a designer gown. Stitched to perfection by the fashion Gods, the gown was a chocolate ecstasy with a hint of delicate azure beading. The lobby was grandiose. The marble walls looked pristine, standing tall with pride. The ceiling was embellished with sparkling chandeliers and a soothing babble of bubbly fountain caressed my ears. Kids were running around and parents were ushering them. It was all very pleasant and peaceful. I approached the owner of the hotel, an old guy standing by the balcony overlooking his empire. He was none other than Hugh Hefner. I said to him, “You know, I have to hand it to you. I would’ve never guessed that you could make such a great family friendly hotel. You’ve done a spectacular job.” Hef smiled and said, “Thanks”. I woke up. I have been having some crazy dreams lately.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Moral combat

I finally update my resume (one small step for me, mankind couldn’t care less). In the process I dusted off some dust-mites on my certificates from what seems like a lifetime ago. Turns out I was quite the winner growing up. My favorite certificate was for ‘bunny jumping’ when I was 6. For all the pervy pervertsons, bunny jumping is an innocent sport where kids hop like bunnies to get from point A to point B. Anyhow, I was saying that li’l Crys was quite the winner and so it was inevitable that I asked myself, “What happened?” This self-deprecating humor is killing me. Who am I kidding, of course I’m still quite the winner…solving 1024 pieces jigsaw puzzle in 3.25 days and all.

Anyway, I came across this particular piece of paper.

At the time, it didn’t strike me as anything odd but now I find it incredibly audacious of the school. Being the moral authority must be quite something. I was blissfully unaware of the fact that I was being graded for morality in addition to math, science and stuff. It is pretty amazing that we were expected to behave morally even before we understood the concept of morality. The least the school could do was hand out a book of moral codes …wait they did pawn off some mini bibles to us.

But all said and done, I am a certified moral person. In fact, I have decided to carry my character certificate with me. Next time a traffic cop pulls me over for speeding, it will be his word against mine and little would he know that I have a small piece of paper that would undeniably prove that I am right and he and his little speed gun gizmo is wrong. A moral person would never lie and if I say that I wasn’t speeding, that has to be the truth because I am a certified moral person. In your face cop! Burn!! He should know better than pull over a moral citizen. The only loophole in this plan being that the cop has a character certificate. But as far as I know, Americans don’t hand out character certificates. So ha!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Re: Mahabharat fan club

G. bappa morya!
I want to give a pointer to this excellent post by Falstaff titled "Brothers in arms". Falstaff does an analysis on the role (or lack there of) of Nakul and Sahadev in Mahabharat.
P.S. Don't even think about asking, "when is the next MB post expected?"

Friday, June 08, 2007


She stood in a cold wooden cottage along with 8 other girls. Some of the girls stood there defiantly while others looked distressed and disoriented. The girls were surrounded by a group of armed men, who were parading their weapons threateningly. The girls weren’t welcome. An abrupt questioning began.

A man, who seemed to be the leader of the group, spoke sternly, “You know what you have done. There is one thing you women have in common.”
One of the girls interrupted, “Being an Asian has nothing to do with my actions and you are fully aware of that.”

She didn’t know what the girl spoke of but there was no doubt in her mind that the girl’s words could cost all of them their lives. Why was that girl being brash? They were clearly not in a position to challenge the authority.

The man yelled, “It has everything to do with you being an Asian.” The other men get the cue. A gun is placed on the defiant girl’s throat, piercing into her skin. Then a gun is pulled on another girl’s forehead and one more into another girl’s mouth in quick succession making it clear that no one is safe.

At this point her brain kicks into survival mode. She couldn’t hear what the guy was saying…just some muffled sounds. It was clear that she had two options. Either she could stand there cowering like a sheep and hope that the men would have mercy on her and release her or die trying to save her life. She felt it in her gut that the men had no intention of sparing anyone’s life. She made a run for her life. She dashed out of the cottage, expecting bullets to shower her back. The only clear path in sight was to take the wooden bridge going downhill from the cottage. She turned around but the men weren’t on her tail yet. Maybe they were unprepared for this or may be they wanted to secure the other girls. Either way, she had a head start.

She ran some more and turned back and saw the men emerge out of the cottage. Cold, dark metals strapped firmly to their shoulders, the men sprinted effortlessly. She tried to increase her pace and by now had almost made it across the bridge. She looked beyond the bridge as the men were closing in and felt sick inside her stomach. She realized that the bridge dead ended into the ocean. The men were gaining on her. She thought of jumping into the water, but how long could she stay afloat? Drown or get shot at? She decided to jump. She hit the turbulent waters. Even though she had learned to swim as a child, the training hadn’t prepared her to remain afloat in the ocean. Swimming in the ocean was a completely different ball game. She looked for something to hold onto. After almost getting knocked unconscious by hitting against one of the pillars holding up the bridge she somehow pulled herself onto a ledge under the bridge. The men retreated knowing that she was as good as dead in the ocean. She knew she was running out of energy and would not be able to hold up there much longer. She was going to die trying…she was not ready to give up.


She was in a house, reunited with her clan. She was a part of some organization, perhaps? It was all hazy to her now. But she remembers that there was a sense of urgency as if they were in some underground resistance. She felt a strong kinship to the group, although she wasn’t related to them. She and her boyfriend were about to leave the house to go to a regular eat out place. A close ally from the clan got word that the place they were about to visit was a trap. There were snipers waiting for her to arrive, ready to take her out. They knew that she had managed to escape alive and that she knew too much or may be she had done nothing at all. Maybe she didn’t have to be a heretic to get in trouble. The times were such that trouble found you, whether you asked for it or not.

She was on the run again. No place was safe for more than a day. She had to move constantly. This time she had an accomplice…her boyfriend. They made their way to the railway station and waited for the next train, trying to look inconspicuous. How easy it is to take a life nowadays. One click of a trigger is all it takes. It is easy…too easy. Her eyes were constantly moving across the crowd. The train arrived and just as she was about to exude a sigh of relief, she heard a loud explosion shatter one of the compartments of the train. The two of them ran out of the station. They didn’t know where to go. They got into a taxi and asked the driver to take them north.

They finally had a sense of some relief. They sat in the taxi in silence. The driver was now close to the place where she was held at gun point just the day before. Or was it a couple of days back? She had lost all sense of time. The taxi driver pulled over and declared he couldn’t go any further. She was trying to talk him into driving forward, but her boyfriend realized they were wasting time. They were in the lion’s mouth and had to find a way out. They had to hitch another cab before they were spotted. As they made their way on the street, they realized that there weren’t any cabs in the vicinity. She was as vigilant as could be. She stopped in her tracks as she saw a line of snipers waiting in the balcony of a building which was less than a block away. She signaled her boyfriend and they quickly took cover. Her boyfriend’s composure was about to break down. She could sense desperation in his voice, “My father is dead and my mother is all alone. She needs me. I don’t want to die.” How could she have been so oblivious? What had she done! She had jeopardized his life unthinkingly. She rubbed her forehead anxiously. How could a selfless act of heresy become a selfish act of a wayward child?

She decided to run back to the cab and force the taxi driver to drive them out of this mess to safety. The driver was reluctant but they somehow managed to coerce him into driving. The hesitant driver was driving too slowly and that was drawing attention in the fast moving traffic on the street. Two men accosted the taxi. The men reached for their guns and opened fire.


I woke up…feeling vulnerable, tense like I was about to be hunted down and killed like a house rat. It was a sick feeling. Dreams have this disconcerting quality of seeming more real than reality. The colors are vivid, intentions are transparent and the emotions are gripping. My brain probably concocted this dream from what I have been reading and watching recently like Sophie Scholl (the strong defiant woman), Nazi Germany, Idi Amin’s murderous rule, the dot buster gang, religious intolerance and the recent rhetoric of patriotism in the US. Four hours after waking up, I still can’t shake away the tense feelings in my mind. What is really scary is that there could be someone out there living this nightmare…probably in one of the warring countries…being hunted down, for having the ‘wrong’ ethnicity, skin color or simply the audacity to speak their mind. I shudder.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Unite and conquer

Date: 1 June 07
Time: 5 ish o’clock
Location: Crys Blur’s living room
Weather: Raining billis and kuttas
Mission: Solve 1026 piece photomosaic jigsaw puzzle (that’s right, 1026)
Motivation: Strong

Day 1:
Subject 1 (Crys) and Subject 2 (Buck) clear the dining table and dump all the contents of the puzzle box on it.

The subjects are confronted with a tall mountain of jigsaw pieces.

Step 1:
Demolish the mountain.

Step 2:
Straighten up all the puzzle pieces such that no piece is hidden from the eye.

Step 3:
Realize that the eye needs light and lots of it. Also realize that there isn’t any space left on the dining table to assemble the puzzle.

Step 4:
Move the dining table to a well lit room. Take over another table and designate it as the assembly table. Assort the puzzle pieces into groups based on color. Call the pizza guy.

Step 5: With tummies full, the subjects seriously stare at the task at hand.

Step 6: Subject 2, being a veteran puzzle solver (relatively speaking) decides to isolate the border pieces (with smooth edges) first. Meanwhile subject 1, a puzzle virgin, deciding to take her own approach, begins assembling a random part of the puzzle.

Step 7: Subject 2 gets immersed in resolving the border issue, but the line of control starts getting out of control. Subject 2 furiously begins to calculate the number of pieces on each side for a 27 inch by 20 inch puzzle with 1026 pieces. The math-phobic Subject 1 stares in disbelief that Subject 2 could somehow find a way to introduce a math problem in the middle of such a unique spatial orientation problem.

Step 8: Subject 1 realizes that she would be alone for a while as Subject 2 unleashes the inner engineer/math nerd, and equipped with his arsenal of tape measure, calculator, paper and pencil, goes into a serious number crunching mode. Subject 1 studiously continues work on her part of the puzzle muttering “Blue Flowers Red Thorns…” over and over.

Step 9: Subject 2 screams, “It is 38 by 27! We need 126 pieces for the border!! Wait a minute. That is 3 times 42. Maybe we’re on to something.” and resumes the hunt for the edge pieces.

Step10: Subject 2 starts randomly aligning the edge pieces based on previously measured and marked dimensions. After an impressive 100 odd pieces, Subject 1 eyes Subject 2’s progress enviously, and shelving her modest assembly of some 10 odd pieces, joins the volunteers for the border control efforts.

Step 11: Even with all the edge pieces located, the border control project progresses at snail speed.

Mood: Gloomy

Step 12: Subject 1 has a ‘waaaiit a nimit’ moment (#1). All the mini-pictures on the jigsaw puzzle pieces are facing north-south. In a jiffy the border is done.

Mood: Ecstatic

Step 13: The subjects celebrate their success with the border securing project with a high five. 136 pieces down, 888 pieces to go. The subjects retire to bed recouping for another day.

Day 2
Time: Noonish

Subject 1 rolls out of bed and goes through the ritual of brush-tea-cookies. Subject 1 decides to give the jigsaw puzzle a crack by herself.

Step 14: Assort jigsaw pieces in the north south orientation.

Half way into step 14 there is a rumble in the tummy. Rumble is pacified with yet another take out.

Step 15: Subject 1 hunts and fetches puzzle pieces by hunching over the dining table and realizes that at this rate, she is going to end up at the chiropractor center to realign the spine that is twisted from hunching. Subject 2 decides to join in for a couple of hours and quits again. Subject 1 continues obsessively.

Step 16: Subject 1 has ‘waaiit a nimit’ moment (#2). Instead of hunting and fetching for puzzle pieces she decides to pick up pieces with distinguishable pictures and hunts for the location on the template poster. Even with recurring motifs in the puzzle, it is easier to look for patterns on the poster than located a piece in an ocean of puzzle pieces. Plus this strategy gives relief to the spine as hunching is not required anymore.

The strategy works well but it is 3am and Subject 1 decides to reluctantly retire to bed.

Day 3
Time: Noonish
Subject 1 is excited to continue with the new and improved strategy. The pace of progress is much quicker now.

Subject 2 realizes the weekend is almost over and there is much laundering, grocery shopping and such to be done. Subject 1 finally relinquishes the task at hand to join in with the chores, partly out of guilt but mostly because her eyeballs had turned many shades of pink and red. (I know there is a visine for that).

Time: 10pm

Subject 1 coerces Subject 2 to take a crack at the puzzle for 20 minutes. Five hours later (yes it is past 3am now) the puzzle is oh-so close to be done. Out of sheer exhaustion and obligation to worldly duties, the subjects decided to call it a night.

Day 4:
Subject 2 is in cubicle bright and early. Subject 1 strolls out of bed at around 10:30 am and calls Subject 1 to plan another outing for lunch. (Hehe). After a satisfying lunch Subject 1 takes a final crack at the puzzle.

Before you know it, Subject 2 is back at home and joins in with fervor of finishing the puzzle.

Finally at around 10pm the last piece of the puzzle lays to rest as do the subjects.

Mission: Accomplished!

The puzzle now hangs on a wall, neatly framed and all.

--The end--

{On a side note, I think that anyone considering a research career should buy one of these and use it as a diagnostic tool for one’s liking for research. It tests your patience and organizational skills to no end. Of course there are so many other skills that you require to be in research but looking for a needle in a haystack along with repetitive mundane experiments and a thirst for puzzle solving is very much a part of the process. If at the end of solving a 1026 piece (or more) jigsaw puzzle, you think you would buy another one of those then you would probably enjoy research. }