The Not so Petit Prince

Or Don’t Panic. Just take me to your leader

“Hi, my name is Peter, aged twenty three,

I have a terrible fear of growing up”, says he.

“Not very different to other millennial men,”

I laugh, “you should fit right here then.”

He flirts. “I am all paid up on a nice asteroid,

Right off Hyde Park, just into the Oort Cloud.

And, if you’d like, we can live there comfortably,

In the asteroid, just the three of us, honey.”

“Three of us?” I echo. (not quite a witty repartee)

“You, me and my robot valet, Jeeves, ‘Tis three.”

“Does this asteroid have three volcanoes?”, I enquire,

“Yes!” he says, “Have you been to this land of extinguished fire?”

“No. But it does seem you have come a long way,

From pining after a rose to having robots”, I say.

“Well yes. I did make a few billion rupees, *

From this book I call the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”

My mind works in ways that are too mysterious even for me to fully comprehend. So, if anyone asked you what you’d get if you combined the works of Antoine de Saint Exupery, J M Barrie, P G Wodehouse and Douglas Adams in a hodge podge of Futurama meets a romantic comedy, the answer is this poem. Just so you know.

* Clearly, the Prince knew I was Indian

When love dies

Her screams were like those of a bird of prey. “Don’t touch me. Just leave. Just LEAVE.”
He was threatening her, “You do know it’s your fault, don’t you?”
I was awake in my bed, at 3:30 AM listening to the neighbours playing out their tumultuous relationship.

The screaming match had started at 2:30 AM – or maybe that was when the sound had penetrated the fuzziness of my sleep. I tried muffling the sound with my pillow for a while, but that didn’t work. One hour in, I was lying on my back staring at the spotlights in my ceiling (the previous owner was an artist, apparently), wondering if this fight was going to cut into any more of my precious weekend Zs.

“I wonder what happened here. Was it a case of she-cheated-he cheated? Sounds like it… or was it just a case of gradual drifting apart, till no love remained? Is this how love feels – in the middle of the night, hoarse voices and aching heads, many threats – right in the middle of a wintry Australian night?”

There was some clattering from next door. A mundane thought struck me, “Is she throwing his stuff downstairs in a fit of theatricality? I hope not – we are 16 floors up.”
Downstairs, the sounds of drunken revelry floated up; the last of the party-goers were winding their tipsy way past the Surry Hills Police Station. Next door, the fight was still in full swing.

“Why aren’t you leaving? There’s the door.”
I was lying still in my warm bed, hoping to hear the bang of a door and to hear the end of the argument. Common sense, however, dictated that there was nowhere the man could leave to in the wee hours of the morning.
“Why don’t you leave? It’s MY house.”

“Ah,” I thought, “the plot thickens. I hope they don’t own a pet. Or a baby. I wouldn’t like to see the fight about that.”

Another ten minutes of this back and forth followed. This argument was becoming tedious. The voices, however, had gotten fainter – it seemed like someone was getting closer to the front door.
Suddenly, the woman raised her voice, “Help me, someone, help me.” Her voice had become less bird of prey, more cockatoo.
It became more insistent, “Help me!”

I sat up, wondering if I should do something. Bang my fist on the common wall and ask them what was going on? Walk out and knock on the door, asking if everything was alright? Or do nothing? Because doing nothing is easy, isn’t it? My fickle mind threw up another thought, “Am I suffering from bystander effect? I am the neighbour that did nothing, aren’t I?”

The man murmured something. It sounded threatening, if murmurs could sound threatening.
I was still in two minds, thinking in run-in sentences – “Go to the flat, knock on the door, check if the woman is okay – will we become best friends because I helped her out in bad times? Or is this a normal couple’s quarrel? After all, they had fought last week too and will I be interfering in what was a weekly routine? Wait-a-minute. If it’s a weekly routine, should I ask them to pipe down? What’s the etiquette in this situation? Will she throw dishes at him next?”

There was silence. And then again, the croak of the cockatoo-woman, “Leaveeeee!”
This was the theatricality of the mundane. And there we all were, the players and the writer, the theatrical and the mundane – existing side by side. Watching the last embers of love die.

Ring in the changes

Hello, blogosphere-waasis,

I know you missed me terribly. I know that, in the words of some immortal Mallus (my mother usually), that you were waiting for me, kannil ena ozhichu (with oil in your eyes – isn’t Malayalam very descriptive?)

Things have changed, muchahos. I no longer live in the so-European of cities – Brussels. This is what transpired…

Sometime in the end of last year, I took stock of my life and decided that, whilst I really loved travelling, I wanted a place to call home, and a home I loved. I then decided that I would either change my job, or my home. Things fell into place, I decided I would move to Sydney and 3 weeks later, the decision was made.

So, now I live in Sydney.

And-I-saw-a-submarine-parked-in-my-backyard-bay-isn’t-that-amazeballs? Yes, I have regressed; I use the word amazeballs in a non-ironic manner. It WAS amazeballs. 

I am utterly, un-cynically in love with Sydney.  I wake up every weekend, with vague plans of what to do. These plans are usually scuppered, because all I can think of doing is curling up with a book in the park next to home and watch the million dollar yachts bobbing in the water. And of course, skip over to the Opera House to watch a show or two. And whilst there, pinch myself; because the weekend has just been perfect.

I am also utterly in love with my flat. For once, the house feels like home – it has things I love in it. (The story of how I sidled sideways into my couch will eventually be told… someday) Books, paintings, a kitchen that is big enough to use, and horrors, a home office with a chair!

have grown up. And I even bought a washing machine. 

It’s ridiculous really.

Kids say the darndest things

So, the nephew runs in my mother’s house at Mach speed, enroute stopping at the sofa to throw two cushions at me.

“Sweetie, do you want dosas? Ammachi has made the batter for you.”

“Dosaaaaa. I am SO hungry.”

My sister told him, “We need to go to the house and have lunch in an hour. So don’t eat dosas here and make ammachi cook.”

He was insistent and this went on for a while – “I want dosas. I am hungry. Ammachi, can I have some dosas?” 

So my mother made him a dosa whilst my sister took a break and went downstairs. He wolfed the first down as if a pack of wild dogs was chasing him to partake of it and went back to the kitchen for another.

Ammachi, can you give me another one before mamma comes back?” (His mother still hadn’t give him permission)

My mother’s heart, of course, melted for his innocent button eyes and she gave him another dosa. In the meanwhile, his sister was eating cupcakes.

He immediately decided he needed a cupcake. “Ammachi, can I have a cupcake? They are so yummy.”

My sister came back and my mother went to report the success of I-made-your-son-eat-food-so-hah plan. She’d, by then, seen her son munching on the cake and turned to my mother saying, “You have spoilt his appetite”

Meanwhile the scamp had decided he wanted to get out of any (prospective) trouble with his mother. “Mamma, ammachi gave me cupcakes. I don’t know why.” Again those innocent I-don’t-know-why-people-give-me-stuff eyes, just a little let-down by the fact that he was still eating the unwanted cupcake. 

Everyone laughed, which gave him a little courage. So he went downstairs to the car and told his father, “Please wait, dadda. I am having my cupcake.”

Everyone laughed again, which pleased the little clown no end. By then his cupcake was over; so he turned to my mother, raised a little finger and declaimed, “Next time, ammachi, listen to my mamma.”

This is what is known as having your cupcake and eating it. I see a bright future for him as a politician.

The gender revolution

My first and only experience with Delhi was not good. I was 15, just fresh from my Board exams, on jaunt through Himachal Pradesh, Punjab (oh, birth state) and Delhi. We’d clambered on to the Rajdhani Express – my mom, great uncle and aunt and I – in Mumbai and we had found ourselves, a day later, in Hazrat Nizamuddin.

And I felt eyes on me. I looked around and saw a man leering at me, gesturing. I cringed and moved back, trying to break eye contact and feeling just a bit disturbed.

I was, after all, a salwar-kameez wearing, very sheltered and nice little Kerala girl, who (perish forbid) did not even take buses in her home town or venture out alone (or with friends) after 4:30 PM. I did not know how to deal with this.

Then we came from Chandigarh to New Delhi railway station one night. We found ourselves on the wrong side of the station and then attracted the largest crowd of men I had ever found myself in. Around 15 men surrounded us, sensing that we were not the typical Delhiites they were used to seeing. I kept saying, “Please chale jaao” to them in a kind of litany, hoping they would leave.

But they didn’t and they pressed closer and closer, groping a 15 year old girl in front of their guardians. I simultaneously lost all trust in Delhi as a city and my wide-eyed small town girl naiveté that day.

***

Walk with your head down. Don’t make eye contact with the boys at the junction. Pretend to not hear what they are saying. Walk with your head down…

Life in Kerala 70 years ago was different. We come from a matrilineal society, from a culture of tolerance fostered by the Nair-Nasrani-Mapilla amalgamation, where education is prized beyond all and which was not always tainted by the effects of (No, not the West) North India.

We contemptuously dismiss the Northies, yet post-Independence, the Malayalees pounced on that disturbing habit of dowry. The bride’s family pays for the 100-sovereign bedecked Malayalee Manga and for the boy’s fragile ego.

Make no mistake, the Malayalee man has a fragile ego. It must be nurtured like the bright little flower it is not. I had no intention to do it when I was young, and I have none now.

There was no phrase I hated more from my well-meaning mother than, “… but you are a girl…” My answer, then and now, is the same. “So?”

But I did learn to walk with my head down.

***

Everyone knows this. Everyone knows women are not treated the same as the ones blessed with a Y chromosome.

You can agitate all you want on Facebook, around India Gate, and vent to your heart’s frustration on your blogs (how ironic, Shruti). Unless the Indian attitude towards women changes from “… but you are a girl” to “of course, you can do it”, there will be more atrocities against women. And ultimately, there will be indifference.

India, it’s time for your sexual (wait, well brought up Indian women don’t use the S word)… gender revolution.

***