Sunday, August 3, 2014

Losing my mind, not my weight

HUGE! HUMONGOUS! ALMOST OBESE! Hands gesture holding a medicine ball

People have been demonstrating the subtlety of a monster truck in telling me how much weight I’ve gained and need to lose almost as immediately as football WAGs do post pregnancy. The feedback wouldn’t be unwarranted if my lifestyle had only consisted of excessive drinking, absolutely no exercise, a regular routine of late night snacking and exclusively living on take outs. I won’t deny some weekly highlights of this behavior yet I’m one of those unfortunate ones whose metabolism is slower than snail mail and these occasional indulgences with a lack of consistency in working out or a healthy diet has taken a toll on my body. Beyond body esteem issues, there are alarming problems with my stamina and level of energy as well, which has been more troubling for a former school athlete like myself, who never wasted even a single physical education period in school outside of the court or playground.

But I don’t want to crib about body esteem issues that women are faced with or recall the sweet memories of my relative childhood in repeat shuffle. There are 2 important realizations I’ve had since entering adulthood in more milestone (27th birthday, FTW) ways:

  •       Just like pulling an all nighter of drinking and going to work next day becomes less and less feasible as you spiral downward towards 30, it becomes more and more easy for your body to pack on pounds as your metabolism rate lowers. Yep, that innocent glazed or cream frosted donut costs you more heavily than it ever did before 25.
  •      With work and responsibilities that comes with adulthood, finding time and energy for physical exercise (that came as naturally as ‘playtime’ in childhood) is a management skill. Regardless, we need to work towards it and take our time to master something so well managed by our parents for so long.

I’m consciously not including anything about food, even as I have and am making more changes to my diet, because of the vast subjectivity there is to it. I believe there’s no such thing as a ‘bad food’, just excesses. Every food contains some nutrients in it, including that evil donut with its high glucose content. Even if you were to consume any food rich in nutrients, excess of that would consequentially mean a deficit of another.

Relationship with food is just as unique as any person’s relationship with God or his or her vibrator. Some of us eat to survive whilst the much cooler people you’ll love being around, LIVE TO EAT. Given the choice between living on a GM diet for Kate Moss’ body and a balanced diet that allows the occasional cheats for an average Kaley Cuocu-ish body, you know what I would pick. The point is neither should be subject to judgment, given respective individual priorities.

But the point of all this ramble is to drive the single most significant thing missing in all this talk of weight loss around me – where the fuck are the positive reinforcements?

Almost all weight loss regimes work on negative reinforcements, whether the emphasis on the kgs still to lose, the miles one needs to run, the hours you need to punish your body or the food you have to deprive yourself of. The post ab crunch body is supposedly the bait and the light at the end of the tunnel but lets face it – only the most strong willed see the light of this day! And surely for that, they must receive some reward, something superficial like your dream wedding or have a gallantry award in this category alone.

But fuck strong willed or semi-super humans. I’m not one of those and I humbly take pride in my mediocrity.

Positive reinforcements? How does that work? I’m likely not the first nor will be the last average Joe to ask this. But here are a few thoughts that sound legit enough to blog and maybe, try out.

Health vs Taste – Remember when I said that there's no such thing as bad food, I lied. There is badly cooked or prepared food. Thanks to a few good humans that still walk this earth, what is healthy for you doesn’t have to suck in taste. I used to hate eating my greens until I discovered Italian food and cooking, which has also moved me towards raw food to quite an extent. My current thing is to replace all my flour and sugar loaded snacks with these little green munchies with the right seasoning. Make boring food in more interesting ways rather than dwell on the fact that you can’t eat the sinful stuff.

Exercise vs Playtime – I talked about how we all loved (almost all of us) our evening or vacation playtime when we were little. Well, one of the many things that suck about adulthood is how everything turns into a task and anything associated with play is almost always a sexual euphemism. While sex is a great way (although much acrobatic) to shed those extras, I’m gonna focus on those exercises that you publically claim your membership for. You don’t have to do Zumba if you hate anything close to what resembles dancing. I actually hate the word ‘exercise’ for the nobility that is attached to it. Fuck, I need and miss my playtime. Not saying that if you engaged in what you naturally like will ensure you’d stick to it but it will help your attitude a lot more. Say, would you like going dancing everyday or prefer exercising in the dance studio? See what I mean.

Age vs Next Big Thing – From all my talks with girlfriends and ill advisors, age is quoted like the most damning thing to happen. I’m embracing age with all the wisdom, experience and the opportunities to look forward to. But hearing “Oh, it gets harder as you get older” for the nth time (factually true it maybe like gravity) is a dampner. As a late bloomer, I evolved in a lot of interesting ways that I never imagined in my early years. I don’t know about you but I get the most inspired not by obnoxious child prodigies but older and regular folks who achieve (and yes, surprisingly) something much later, in their journey of self discovery. Move over Mark Zuckerberg 'coz I’m digging that 50 year old who finished the ironman or climbed base camp at Mount Everest! Similarly, the chance of rejuvenating yourself (mentally or physically) for a new feat as opposed to the idea of saving whatever’s left of your withering being is a lot more tantalizing, no?

Let me caution you or put a disclaimer that this is mostly something that I’ve been ruminating much about, not a tried and tested formula. Maybe negative reinforcements do work better and I really don't know better right now since I'm still wading in the far dark swallows of the tunnel. 

Knowing that it is normal to find ourselves in this dilemma, as the fatty or the ‘concerned’ friend, I considered it worth sharing with others to get their thoughts and experiences. If I haven’t made it obvious till now, I’m very open to feedback J

Friday, December 27, 2013

5 Reasons Why Don Jon is NOT a Chick or Dick Flick

Don Jon (the American spin off to the infamous Italian womanizing character, Don Juan) will give any viewer the false impression of a chick or a dick flick. For firsts, it has Joseph Gordon Lewitt (500 Days of Summer) and Scarlett Johansson (He's Just Not That Into You) on the lead that would make anyone gush about how cute as a button they make for a pair. On the record, 500 Days of Summer was a romantic comedy unlike any other, so folks can surely expect more substance from Lewitt. Secondly, it's a movie about a guy who has an apparent porn addiction that might give the impression of it being a 'guy movie'. While it is hard to say how much is too much for porn, save this character can't go a day without it inspite of an active sex life.

So how come it is neither? Here's why I think this movie makes the right mainstream cut while making an important cultural point.

1. Don Jon doesn't debase porn and leave it at that

I've seen a lot of movies either taking the higher moral ground about pornography or condoning it as, pretty much, a rite of passage that, well...continues on. This movie is critical about it but specifically for how it objectifies women (As the protagonist crosses a checklist of ass, boobs and blowjobs), how it lacks soul and creates unrealistic expectations in our mind. It also gets us a lot closer to the average male mind when Don says, porn is better than sex because of the lack of inhibition that women display apart from just how perfectly sculpted they are.

However, it also pokes fun at girlfriends like Johansson who believe that only sick people watch porn and breaks the myth that regular women don't watch porn. SPOILET ALERT but in one scene, the character of Julianna Moore comes up to Don Jon to share something more aesthetically crafted from her dirty collection, which he takes much offense to.

2. Don Jon is a satire on romantic comedies

Clearly, his character isn't the only who has an addiction or a problem of unrealistic expectation. His girlfriend dopes on movies that show bonny looking couples who fall in love in the most dire or unusual of circumstances, where the guy gives up everything to be with the girl he loves. "Don't you think it's a little one sided?", he asks her and she brushes it off with no inkling that porn and romcoms could be more similar in constructing the 'perfect' caricatures of a man or woman.

3. Don Jon is a serious movie on human connection, not what gets flouted as love.

Thanks to what sells that feeds off and into our fantasies and the apparent heteronormative convention of society, Don Jon challenges safe structures that society accepts on the surface, never once glancing into the real underlying and largely repressed emotions. It's easy to dismiss his inability towards any real connection because of his porn addiction but a closer examination of his family and religious values and practices hints a much stronger influence. A family happy enough for him to bring a tight assed white girl and a church that absolves him of all his sins with x number of 'Hail Mary' prayers with no real question or concern for his actions or feelings will maketh a very mechanical man out of anyone.

4. Don Jon is, most surprisingly, a very feminist movie

A very miniscule minority of men today can offer the male perspective and without a feminist witch hunt agenda, criticize women's behaviour patterns on theories based out of 'Women from Venus'. Feminism doesn't favour one gender over another but aims to equate critcism and reflection for all, including the queer community. Mills and Boons has pretty much been porn for women for ages now and this movie is a very polite wake up call. It tells men that you can be all beefed up and smooth with women and yet never make a real connection while it would take care of your progeny and social status. It tells women to adjust expectations that the ideal man isn't a dog you play fetch with.

5. Joseph Gordon Lewitt

Move over Ryan Gosling fandom and the much-too-conceited James Franco. JGL is no new kid in the block but this bloke is making us weak in the knees and our thinking minds sharper with every instalment of his. It might seem to many like the child artist has finally grown up but much like Leonardo Di Caprio, JGL has always been a mature actor, wise and crafty in the roles he has played. Who else could give this kind of depth to the role of an average jock who cares about 5 things only - his car, gym, family, women and church.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Too ‘Silky’ for your shirt?

This piece was written for a blog when The Dirty Picture (2011) had just released. For reasons unknown, it never got published where it was intended to be. My two cents on the sultry siren, Silk Smitha, even if 2 years too late.

I was 8 or 9 years old when I first saw ‘Sadma’ (1983), a Bollywood movie featuring Kamal Hassan, Sridevi and the recently riveted, Silk Smitha, in a role uncommon for those times. Released in the 80’s, I watched this movie in the 90’s on cable television, when it often aired as a matinee show and not necessarily as a ‘late night fiesta’.  Yes, those were the golden days of uncensored television viewing, following the significant privatization of industries and networks in India.  

Silk Smitha in Sadma (1983)

Originally christened Vijaylakshmi, Silk Smitha was once the most sought after actresses in the Tamil Film Industry in South India for portraying little clothes and character in raunchy scenes and vamp roles in the 80’s. By the 90’s, with a declining career and demand, she met with a tragic early demise. Even at a very young age, in the movie mentioned above, she didn’t quite appeal to me stereotypically as a ‘vamp’ on the sole basis of her explicit sexuality but just a woman who had excessively high ‘physical’ needs than most (men & women) displayed and was ‘trapped’ in a situation that did not meet her ideal expectations. She wasn’t out to hurt or offend anyone; she just wanted to complete herself.

The point of this nostalgic narration is that while most of us, including myself, waited in great anticipation for Vidya Balan to portray the personality and sexuality of a woman like Silk, my expectations were a little different, in the impression she had left as a kid. I could sense from the beginning and was right on target about the fact that most people were eager to see how Balan could portray a ‘character less’ (I love this term for its many connotations) woman without some of her own merit, as an A grad actor, taking a blow. I, on the other hand, was more eager to see how closely could Balan emulate the Southern Siren because frankly I haven’t really seen that kind of uninhibited & ‘shameless’ sexuality in too many women since her.

Balan makes many brave attempts in the movie at elucidating Silk’s sensuality whether it was making love to the whip as an extra in a song shooting or to the froth and bubbles in the bathtub. Yet, what was most interestingly shown was how (before stardom struck & she was just a ‘commoner’) she made orgasmic noises to tease the neighboring couple while they were busy at nature’s best business. To Balan’s ‘loud’ meddling, the dutiful wife lying underneath responded, “While I suffer, she enjoys!”

There were two things that struck me: one, the culminating ending in the movie and two, media treatment of Silk Smitha post her departure from the industry and the world more than a decade ago.

Milan Luthra denies the story being based purely and solely on Silk’s life and agrees that the character was a stereotypical portrayal. Through the movie, what we witness is someone who boldly crossed those boundaries of modesty set around women yet could not break them and eventually, got broken by them. Yes, they showed a humanistic side of her but as much exaggerated the dramatics showdowns with the superstar’s wife (whose husband she was sleeping with), a rival sex kitten and a gossip columnist. Her eventual downfall, as a woman who took a stand and stood by it, with the alcohol, nicotine and loneliness was portrayed as if reprimanding her of her actions. It was such a demonstrative lesson of that’s-what-you-get-for-using-your-sexuality-as-a-tool! 

The features and editorials leading up to the previews of the movie and post reviews have been like obituaries written too late. Most of them have sympathized with her as someone who was ‘ahead of her times’ and ended up in the rear end of the hypocritical society that loved to hate her. But I don’t really see us as any different or more progressive as we’d like to so easily believe sometimes.

If it was Marilyn Monroe in the fifties and Silk Smitha in the eighties, we do have our current brigade of Kim Kardashian, Poonam Pandey and Veena Malik of the post 2k generation. I agree the comparison maybe way off but their routes to ‘stardom’ in congruence with the demands and desires of the audience (i.e. us) are much too similar. We do love despising these women for just boldly doing what they do…whatever they do, that is.

Are we a society always dismissive of female sex symbols and sirens? Men flash all the time and make all kinds of ‘dirty pictures’ but they still don’t seem to be reeling in the same spotlight of the moralistic flack.

Will we always keep demonizing our desires, in particular when women mirror reflect them?

To many, Silk promoted skin. To me, she promoted pleasure.

Monday, June 10, 2013

TOI's idea of change is anarchist

The Times of India is (almost without doubt) one of the mightiest news publications in India has a huge marketing budget to promote the same idea to its readers. This, of course, has everything to do with the advertisment revenue that it earns from the four wheel full spread page and inappropriate placements of baby care products or food alongside captivating headlines that read like, "3 in 5 children in India are malnourished". But you know, that's all okay.
The Times of India is all about the latest in news and views of all current topics and burning issues that the youth especially like to be keyed in about. Never mind that the 18-25 age bracket know little about the depth of any issue, they must be given enough fodder everyday that energizes them enough to rant and be outraged about on Twitter and Facebook. Who wants to live in the adage of "old is gold" when it is small townish, slow, bureacratic and stuck in a time warp (as they targeted The Hindu in an ad war series last year that created much unnecessary furore) when you can wake up to The Times of India today.

The latest in their efforts to mobilize the country comes in their advertisement, 'I Lead India 2013 - I Will be the Change' where people suddenly pick up the chairs, couches and beds they were blissfully seated on and carry them while marching forward to build a collective bonfire. I, at first, thought this was an advertisement for Lori but even when they didn't throw ground nuts in the fire, it still didn't convey the message. Was the act of carrying your chair and burning it like having your cake and eating it? No. Or was it symbolism for getting off your behind and taking action rather than talking about it over tea and tweeting?
My problem is that TOI's wake up call comes at an imperfect time. The case studies of social media bringing people out in the streets of Tahrir Square, Jantar Mantar, Wall Street, India Gate are contemporary histories now. This isn't to say that they've been forgotten or that they haven't become user template guides to starting a revolution in your country. But whether it's respect to corruption in the system or rape of our women by the system and society, the revolutionary spark has come and gone.
For India, right now we're at that time of the revolution when follow up on the progress work of resolving the issue is critical. This, in fact, is the most challenging part since the onus to lead, self monitor and institutionalize the change in system against bureacratic resistance is mostly left to individual resilience. This is also the part of the revolution where groupies and social loafers are sieved out of the movement leaving the committed few to build the blocks.
Everyone can join a movement just like anyone can join a mob regardless of knowing what's really on the agenda (You could try speaking to a few of them in Gujarat). Taking to the streets and braving water bombs and tear gas shells is really the peak of the party but the actual hard work comes in the preparation to it and its cleaning up. The loud party, however, is the first critical step in taking everyone's notice to something that was paid little or serious attention to before.
But we've done that in the summer last to last year and just the winter that went by. Now is the time for the empowered individuals and bodies to continue to stand on their ground and sync their efforts towards this change.
The noise has been made TOI. So why are you still asking us to burn chairs?

Sunday, June 2, 2013

A stranger in the mist

The policewoman at the airport security check scans me with her beeper and asks where I was from. I looked surprised at the question given that anyone catching a flight to Imphal goes there because of one reason only – they belong there some way or the other. I, on the other hand, am one unique tourist, foreigner and outsider who doesn’t need an inner line permit.

Boys at dusk near Loktak lake, the largest and perhaps, the most beautiful lake I've ever seen anywhere in India.

It has been 6 years since I was last here, long enough to make me feel guilty about being so distant from my roots. However, as soon as I left the premises of the airport eager to see the changes in the capital city of Manipur, I felt like I hadn’t missed much in the last half decade. Barring billboards featuring a formerly unacknowledged sporting legend, the place hadn’t changed from its local ima (run by women) markets, plentiful kirana shops and the omnipresence of armed security forces posted at different city centers.

I carry the identity of an outsider everywhere I go – whether it is in the capital of the country, which groomed me to the harsh realities of the big bad world of adulthood in 11 years or the IT capital where I moved for greener grasses and a more metropolitan culture. I, often, am asked about either the troubled insurgent political situation of my home state and my stand on AFSPA and Irom Sharmila’s struggle or the souvenir I can bring back for cultural enthrallment and the exotic locales that remain unexploited in the little state, often submerged in the singularly misleading identity of the ‘seven sisters’ or the North East. But what do I really know about my state except for the few towns and villages where different variations of my extended family and tribal community live? Home for me had only thus far been the meaningless charade of meeting relatives who spoke in an alien language and failingly attempted to familiarize me with their way of life each time I visited.

I put my foot down this time, telling my mother I was grown up enough to choose how I spend my limited paid leave. She humored my appeal to be treated like an adult and neatly sifted through the pages of Air India in-flight magazine to design an itinerary for my trip. My parents don’t exactly fit like puzzle pieces in their home state anymore despite having grown up here and having links to the community in each town and city that my dad was posted to while serving in the Indian Army. The Army takes you places, exposes you to diversity and development and mainstreams you into the great Indian aspiration of earning a 6 figure salary in a prominent metropolitan with an annual vacation abroad. This while people in Manipur still struggle with power and water supply, unprecedented curfews in the city every alternate week and the looming threat of insurgent terrorism or exploitation at the hands of those pledged to protect them, both the militant groups and the Army.

As I travelled past the old familiar towns and districts, I noticed the many billboards of the Indian Army, many of which boasted of their welfare work for the local communities. Much has been written about the inhuman atrocities committed by armed forces personnel under direct and urgent instructions to weed out militants with unparalleled power and immunity in their line of work. I sat and drank tea at an Assam Rifles base perched atop a hillock at Loktak lake, the largest freshwater lake in the entire North East, that was formerly occupied by militant forces. The hospitable commanding officer, who has extensively been part of many operations in the state, talks about the many areas his dispatch had conquered from the militants. It would have been contentious to ask about the details of these operations in my circumstances as a guest (and him knowing that I work as an online journalist) so I refrained for the better wisdom of knowing he would hardly reveal anything worth a quote.

I’ve always wondered about the diplomatic positions of people who grow up outside of their homes that are declared unfit for peace. I’ve always been somewhat in the grey about the challenges Manipur has faced, especially when AFSPA has been the most notable one in the last decade or so. Vicariously knowing the realities through close cousins and relatives at home, I’ve rarely heard of incidents relating to any harassment by armed forces personnel themselves, however.

On the other hand, an uncle’s car being “borrowed” at gunpoint by militants and people being routinely subjected to extortions when they open up a new shop or built a new house is commonplace, at least in Churachandpur district of Manipur. What I most closely and disturbingly know about is how militants disturbed the peace in my own extended family some years back when my grandfather (who is no more with us) was taken by militants and my uncle was subjected to such torture, that he hasn’t mentally recovered from it till today.

The violation and loss of those who suffered in the hands of the Army must not be dismissed away as collateral damage. But to my mind, AFSPA has been a convenient scapegoat for the Central Government to focus mainstream media’s attention away from the many inconsistencies in the system – whether it is the widespread corruption, project development lags and a dysfunctional tourism to pin point only a few in a list of problems piling up. The presence of AFSPA does make life uncertain in Manipur but its full departure will not restore the state back to its normalcy, forget glory. Not when a rising number of militant groups are all independently asking for a separate state when, much like Maoist groups, are just asking for attention to their problems long tucked away from the nation’s bigger challenges – corruption in T20 and naked mannequins, to name just a few of the gripping ones.

People in Manipur have more than accepted corruption, not just for better standards of life, but the only way to survive. A handful make it to the cream of the Government services (and are lauded to infinity), most others bribe their way into positions at district councils while a few others venture out to work in various sectors ranging from hospitality and BPO to academia, journalism and even entrepreneurship in rising metropolitans. But the degree of resilience is a lot to ask from everyone to either have the resources or assert their identity in mainstream societies. Instead, a place in a militant group aiming at a revolutionary coup, that coercively commands respect among the commoners, becomes all too lucrative a career option for the youth in the absence of a career day at school or college.

Sex, drugs and rock and roll is how Manipur's glaring issues of HIV rates, western idealism and misguided youth is often romanticized. 

AFSPA is yet another shame of an excuse by the Government to justify its lack of concern for a region that largely comes under the scheduled tribes and castes. Yet it isn’t the cause of all things wrong in the society and system today in Manipur. If anything that must be blamed, it is the Government that cares more towards maintaining its status quo authority through more than a decade than delivering any of its promises for systemic improvements. When you don’t have the necessities of water and electricity and are neglected and treated like a stranger in your own land, you will feel like shooting somebody…anybody!  

Maybe we need to start questioning the ‘divide and rule’ governance of the various sects and tribes that has been costing the people of Manipur since the ethnic conflicts in the 90’s aside from the collateral damage conducted by external forces.

A torrential hailstorm, that occurred a month back, wiped out houses and uprooted trees in many districts of the state. The losses people suffered and the status of Government compensation is not the kind of news that would interest mainstream media or Abhay Deol.  Why? Because Manipur's problems would become akin to any other state, like Bihar, when it is Indian media’s very own Congo war. 

Manipur trends only because of AFSPA because its real problems are not news worthy or social media virality. 

Disclaimer: This is an overdue post of my homecoming in Manipur (April 2013) and must warn that my analysis of the socio-political situation is still pretty much from the perspective of a native outsider looking in.