26-Jul-2010

Finding Mr Right

The first time I had to meet someone as a serious prospect to get married, I was totally stumped. Er…me…getting married? At a purely academic level, I knew this is what happened to girls when they reached the ripe old age of 23. However, sitting in my room off the hall where my parents and the eligible boy’s relatives sat, staring greedily at all the goodies spread out in front me but demurely desisting from eating them was as close to an out –of-the-body experience as I was going to get. In a short while, I quickly lost the demureness battle and begin munching the snacks in steady succession. Especially when the eligible young man opposite me launched into a long tirade about the Congress government’s appalling behaviour in the Shah Bhano case.

Crunch.. mind quickly thinking ‘bloody hell, who is Shah Bhano and what did they do to her..is it too early to help myself to the next thatai or should I make some sort of a remark at this stage to show I am not really that dumb?

And boy was I smart. Here I was, a freshly minted MBA from a Top B-School in India. The young man opposite me was from the same school as well, give and take a few years. He was also from my community and fit my and my parent’s requirements of a groom to the T.

In which case, why was I not feeling anything but a slight wish to escape the increasingly stifling confines of my room?

When I was told that it was time to bite the dust like all Indian girls my age, I handled it the only way I knew – making a list of all desirable characteristics in a guy and then throwing numerous tantrums pointing at every shortfall in every potential groom paraded in front of me.

If I thought that my parents where picking out the worst specimens on earth, was I in for a rude shock when I signed up online.

Looking for fair, luvely girl who will be my best friend for life

I come from an educated and broad minded family. I am open to both Iyer and Iyengar girls.

I would like who will help me soar into the sky to reach my ambitions.

Our son is fair, IIT-IIM,,cooks well, is an investment banker who lives abroad and any girl marrying him will the luckiest person on earth

Option A - Archies cards inspired freak
Option B - self-deluded bigot.
Option C – What about me, you MCP?
Option D – ‘No girl is good enough for my son’
Option E - die alone eaten by Alsatian dogs a la Bridget Jones diary
What would I choose from the above?
Option E,E,E

Yet more and more friends were leaving the singleton brigade and walking into the gloaming, glowing.

Another list zeroed in on the various reasons that the right guy was eluding me

1. I belonged to the wrong community. Everyone in my community is an MCP. (Ha, like any other community in India is any different)

2. I was too good for everyone (MBA Pay – check, decent looks – check, intelligent and well read person - check)
3. I was not at all good for anyone (dusky complexion and taller than the average Indian male – check, independent and outspoken – check, on the wrong side of 27 - check)

Sigh. Getting into B-School had proved easier. Being shuttled around like a football in between all these reasons was my ego which had rapidly began shrinking to the size of a tennis ball.

Finally I gave up the search in futility. Various relatives had stopped asking my parents about my wedding and had concluded that I would burn in singleton purgatory. Instead of feeling like the family pariah, I felt nothing but plain relief wash over me.

Why was I so happy instead of anguished?

Time for more lists

I was thinking of getting married

1. because it was the right thing to do when you reached the correct age

2. so my parents would not stand out like social misfits in a culture governed by the progression towards spouse, house and progeny

3. so my ego would be satisfied knowing I was not so repellant that not a single guy liked me

Conclusion – I am not getting married since the above reasons seemed completely inane.

So began a happy existence getting to know the long ignored me. It turned out I loved travelling, hanging out with friends, trying my hand at new stuff and basking in the pride of being an independent woman. And finally when I got to know me better, I realized after all that I would like to give marriage a shot someday because it seemed like fun if you were with the right person.

Of course, that meant getting back into the game. But no more looking for The One like a desperate Dan Brown character looking for the Freemason’s secrets.

It would be more like reading or travelling – something I would enjoy doing but which would not consume my life. The really fun part of my thus-far distressed love life finally began.

Dating, it transpired was not the shrewd psychological game designed to assess a person’s suitability as a life partner over the course of an iced tea at Barista. It could be just plain fun and anyone who seemed intelligent and interesting was fair game for a movie or coffee.

So it was when D came along a long while later. He was definitely intelligent and interesting and probably at an earlier period would have had me stressed about not meeting every single criteria in the Mr. Right list. D also turned out to be smart, kind, fun and we had a vibe that no list could have predicted or I could have missed entirely by being focused on the end result rather than the person.

So it was that we got married.

Of course it turns out that ‘happily ever after’ is a state not caused by marriage but rather by two people working on it. But then, that is a whole new story in itself…

20-Jul-2010

Hong Kong tales

Long before I went to Hong Kong, I had two contrary images of the city. The main one was that of a largely western city, firmly holding onto its colonial past, filled with smartly dressed bankers from all over the world. Infact, a sort of twin to Singapore.

The other impression had been formed by Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express. The lanes filled with food stalls. Sea creatures awaiting the axe in the bubbled tubs outside the stalls. The shrieking chatter in Chinese. The quick paced, compactly built Chinese men and women hurrying to their compactly built homes.

As my cab drove into the heart of the city, I was shocked by an entirely unexpected aspect of the city – its sheer height. Hong Kong itself is a hilly island. On top of its natural height, the city had sprouted thin, multi storeyed buildings that made you understand why skyscrapers are called so. Despite being a tall Indian among the short Chinese, I felt strangely dwarfed by the city.

One impression was dispelled though. Hong Kong is not like Singapore. It was definitely efficient, had big roads and like Singapore, had Asians dressed in top line, smart western clothes. Yet, there was a feeling that it is a Chinese city, with cabbies who sometimes needed to hear your destination from the bellman in Chinese and the occasional food wrapper that wouldn’t have dared to float around in Singapore.

Our first tourist stop brought us in touch with its Colonial past. Victoria peak, one of Hong Kong’s highest (and home to it’s poshest homes) points offered a panoramic view of the island. Grinning Chinese couples stood in the chilling air flashing smiles and ‘V’ signs. We followed suit caught up in the general excitement.

Our exploration of heights continued the next day with a trip to the Lantau Buddha Island. The ferry took us past a coastline filled with the same tall buildings we had seen the previous night. Only now, the glittering lights had turned into plain, invincible facades, stern and solid.

The Lantau Buddha was a pilgrim and tourist trap. Wiki says that it “was the world's tallest outdoor bronze seated Buddha prior to 2007”. Despite all these qualifications to its magnificence, and the fact that there have been better and calmer Buddha statues we had seen, we still felt compelled to climb the 268 steps to get closer to the statue. An unwise choice.

The wise choice was eating the special vegetarian meal served at the nearby Po Ling monastery (Chinese vegetarian? Seemed like an oxymoron). The spread included yummy bean curd cakes, lots of leafy vegetables, sticky jasmine rice, watery soup and an interesting array of items that made one realise that there was more to vegetarian than paneer mutter and lettuce salads.

The absolute highlight of the Island visit had to be the cable car ride back to the city. Seated in carriages fully covered in a transparent material, we swooped like eagles, watching the trees, the wide expanse of sea and the roads pass slowly below us.

For all its spots on the tourist checklist, Hongkong’s biggest tourist attraction had to be its shopping and the restaurants. The city offered both high end brands and outlet malls and everywhere you could find something you liked. The locals bustled about stocking their wardrobe and appearing the next morning in offices in clothes found in the latest American magazines and sitcoms. The tourists made their contributions too, grappling with excess baggage.

The restaurants spanned every range and cuisine. Soho and Tsim sha tsui, both had choices ranging from Vietnamese to Italian. I discovered Shanganese food and realized it tasted a lot better than Cantonese food. A Chinese colleague ordered dishes for a couple of meals leading to a culinary exploration of fried eel (quite crunchy and nice) and chicken’s feet (delicate and light but admittedly a disgusting concept). D and I were adventurous on our own as well and ordered snails, cooked in continental style. They were rather like calamari, soft and chewy.

We also discovered Hongkong’s Chinese side in Kowloon and parts of Tsim sha tsui. These areas had made themselves inaccessible to foreigners by sheer virtue of the lingua franca on the streets. We took a shared private van filled with locals and went past relatively run down areas. The buildings were older and more tired looking and washing lines crisscrossed the apartment windows. The streets had Chinese signboards. The community grounds in front of temples were filled with stereotyped images of old men playing mahjong. Glamorous branded stores were replaced by stores selling day to day necessities of life – metal vessel stands, incense, foul smelling dried fish, discounted cosmetics. The ordinary Chinese, like ordinary people everywhere, lived in a relatively duller world, made edgier only in a Wong Kar Wai movie.

Hongkong was a smooth amalgam of both the images I had in mind and just that little something more.

09-Jul-2010

Books I have been reading


When I started reading Pico Iyer’s Cuba and the night I had not expected it to be one of those books, I would read a few pages of and then finish a whole other book before coming back to it. His other book, Lady and the Monk which read in a similar vein – a sort of fictional love story – was an engrossing read from start to finish. This book is engrossing too but there is just something missing in the endless agonizing of the protagonist in sorting out his feelings for his lady love. Move on and stop being such a first world bastard, you feel like screaming.

The first diversion was with the late Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The book’s reputation had reached me before the book. The cover also tantalizingly promised that it was several layers more complex than the ordinary thriller. Which it definitely is, with its patiently drawn out story, characterization and a potent female protagonist that made me wonder when was the last time I had come across such a powerful, disturbed female character. Personally though, I thought that Larsson’s real skill is in describing. With every word, he managed to paint vivid images of Sweden in my head till I could feel the cold in my bones and see the blond heads bobbing in the street. A good read for a long rainy weekend.

The next meandering was into John Grogan’s Marley and me. The book chronicles the life of Marley the dog, who becomes a valued member of the Grogan family. It made me smile a lot and also secretly thank heavens for never having been tempted to own a dog. It is just too much effort! The only complaint was the long drawn out chapters on Marley’s last years of suffering, something incongruous with the cheerful tone of the rest of the book.

This was followed by a few more pages turned in Cuba and the night before jumping into Samanth Subramaniam’s excellent debut novel Following Fish. The essays cover a range of experiences associated with fishes – be it eating it for pleasure, or consuming it as a medicine or having it as an aside while drinking alcohol. For a country with a coastline as large as ours and a fish eating culture as predominant as our, I don’t remember having come across a book covering this topic. That and Subramaniam's ability to suddenly delight with a neat turn of phrase, makes this one quite charming.

I suspect I will leap into a couple of more books before finally wrapping up Iyer. I must admit though that I have quite enjoyed the parlay into all the books and somehow the guilt from knowing I am ignoring Iyer is making the interludes all the more delicious.