Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Male Bastions

This appeared in Today in Oct. 2004.

Women everywhere seem to be soaring through glass ceilings practically every day. Recently I gate crashed a male bastion too. I took my son to a gents beauty parlor (Is
that an oxymoron?) to get his hair cut.
Big deal, one may say. But just think. When we were kids, the words salon and beauty parlor were unknown. Saloon was a fancy place with mirrors and talcum powder where a man went on Sunday and came back with short back and sides, hair slick from a good champi and chin glistening after a professional shave. Such a visit entailed an immediate “head bath”.
As kids we lived in Army cantonments, away from the town proper. Maybe for this reason, a barber used to come home to attend to my father, rather than Dad going to him. Once in a while, the barber was directed to “bob” our hair too—my sister’s and mine. That was the height of hair-fashion!
The humble barber shop became the hairdressing saloon, or just the saloon. Its latest avatar is the parlor, and its up-market cousin, the salon. Men don’t just go there for a shave or a haircut, but for everything from threading and waxing to perms and facials.
When my son was much younger, I would nonchalantly whisk him off to my parlor to get his hair trimmed. Now, it was out of the question. I dared not even suggest it, knowing I’d be met with an exasperated “Mommmm!”
All these thoughts chased across my mind as I sat waiting while my son was in the chair. Wodehouse’s “cat in a strange alley which expects a half-brick bunged at it any moment” must not have been half as jumpy as I was. Though not really expecting a half-brick, I was nevertheless acutely aware of invading somebody’s privacy. What if a guy wanted some waxing done? Would he go ahead anyway or come back later when the parlor was free of pesky intruders?
There was a father-son duo getting their haircuts side by side. I gazed wistfully at them and rued the fact that my husband was working on that Sunday, thus depriving my son of male bonding. On the table beside me lay a couple of magazines, their covers hidden by newspapers thrown carelessly on them. I reached for one, then checked myself. What if it turned out to be a “men’s-eyes-only” sort of magazine? The point was not whether I would get embarrassed, but that maybe the men there would feel uncomfortable.
From time to time, the hairdresser would ask me for any preference in style for my son’s hair. I replied in monosyllables, my knowledge of spikes and mushroom-cuts woefully inadequate. Not to mention the fact that my son was probably outraged at the hairstylist going over his head (literally!) to consult me.
At last it was over and I thankfully got up to pay. Stern resolve: No more taking such jobs off hubby’s carefree shoulders. Bank work, car servicing, yes. Ferrying kids, dealing with laborers, yes. Gents salon, no.
The door opened and another lady came in with her son.
Sorry guys!

Cell's Bells

(Woman's Era July (Second) 2004)

The cell phone is a glamorous accessory to be flaunted everywhere--- at parties, the theatre, PTA meetings and on the road. This is what I felt especially when I saw the characters in TV soaps, clutching a cell phone each. They do take things a tad too far. Calling each other from one room to another, for heaven’s sake! Of course, one may argue that the houses are palatial, so it is an elegant alternative to hollering down the corridor or up the staircase! (Whatever happened to the intercom?)
I recently became the not-so-proud owner of a cell phone. Not so proud, because it was a hand-me-down from hubby dear, who wanted to get the latest model. Anyway it serves my purpose, which is to keep tabs on the house when I’m out of it (and to let those at home keep tabs on me!)
I may be computer savvy, but I feel like a dinosaur when it comes to using the mobile phone. The other day, I tried to SMS a list of school uniform items to my husband’s phone and simultaneously tried to use the built-in directory to send it to him. The SMS went all right, but not to him. My phone still has the numbers of some of my husband’s colleagues and associates. So somewhere out there is some associate of my husband’s, feeling very puzzled indeed about a message that reads, “2 shrts, I shor, 4 prs sox”. Did I mention that I’m not very good at word-contraction either? I just hope that it didn’t go to his boss. I fervently hope that my mystifying message is lost in the cellular equivalent of cyberspace!
The mobile phone and driving don’t mix, just like one is not supposed to drink and drive. So the alternative is the hands-free attachment, which lets you talk, and still keep both hands on the steering wheel. The fun starts when people use the hands-free option when they are walking or sitting—they look like they are talking to themselves!
The kids dare not touch their Dad’s phone, but they have a proprietary interest in their Mom’s mobile, because I am always asking them for help about it! Their fave pastime is changing the ring tone. This results in great confusion when I’m out, because I do not respond when my phone rings, but frantically try to answer when some other person’s does! When I do hear it correctly, I waste precious seconds fumbling for it in my voluminous purse, which is stuffed with more odds and ends than the attic. Of course it stops ringing the minute I finally lay my hands on it. I have deleted missed calls before retrieving the numbers they were from, because--- yes you guessed right--- I pressed the wrong button.
So where does one keep the pesky little thing so that it is easy to get at? There are purses with a special pocket for the purpose, but one may not want to carry such a purse everywhere. The cell phone case which can be attached to the belt is fine, so long as one is wearing trousers. And having it dangling from your neck seems to give the little gadget too much importance.
Well, I have now joined the ranks of women who walk around with it in their hands.

Empty swings

Pulished in Today (10th April 2003) under the title, My son and 'toosun'

One warm winter afternoon, I watched my son swinging in the park, all by himself. A laborer working nearby broke off to speak to me.
“Doesn’t he go for tuition?” she asked, indicating my son with a nod.
“No,” I said, refraining from adding smugly that he didn’t need to.
“Neither does my son,” she said.
I was wondering what to make of it when she went on, “He is supposed to, but he plays hooky, runs off somewhere to play. Me, I have to come here to work, so I never know whether he has gone to study or not. He doesn’t realize--- if he doesn’t go for too-sun, he’ll end up like me, breaking stones for roads.”
My first reaction was indignation. Why should she suppose that because my son was playing in the park, he was playing truant like her son? By “does not go”, I had meant “does not need to go” whereas she took it as “is supposed to but does not”.
I shook myself out of this grammatical reverie and thought about her remark. My indignation dissolved as I looked around. Where were all the children? Was not my son playing by himself? Everybody was at tuition classes. They are now the rule rather than the exception. No wonder the swings are empty. No wonder the laborer thinks my son plays truant. It must take a sizable chunk of her wages, but it was worthwhile expenditure for her.
A vegetable seller I know says he prefers to finish off his entire stock in a couple of hours. I am curious. What does he do the rest of the day? A job perhaps? No, he wants to get home and supervise his children’s studies. “Of course, they have tuition, but unless the parent takes an interest the child slacks off,” he says.
After TV, tuition seems to be the great leveler --- everybody has it.
I am aware of mixed feelings—wistfulness about the empty swings but also a gladness that those whom we consider uneducated are enlightened enough to dream of a better world for their children.


Then and Now

A shorter version of this article, titled Nuances of Now and Then, appeared in Today (24 Feb. 2003) the afternoon paper of the India Today Group. A column called My Space was started with this article.


Then: A ‘tallish’ girl stooped and wore Kolhapuri chappals. Her parents wrung their hands in despair.
Now: A tall girl stands up straighter and wears at least four-inch high stiletto heels. Guys around her wish they were six-footers.

Then: A girl went from frocks to lehengas to half-sarees to sarees. Even then, she tripped, clutched her pallu and relied heavily on safety pins. Georgettes? No-no!
Now: Sweet-sixteens go from jeans to sarees overnight (for Teachers Day, or the farewell party). They carry themselves with grace and élan. Backless blouses? Sure!

Then: ‘Real’ men didn’t know where the kitchen was. They were stern fathers. They didn’t show their emotions.
Now: The ‘complete’ man wields a mean skillet. He changes diapers with the same ease as he changes gears. And sometimes, he sheds tears.

Then: Padding.
Now: Liposuction.

Then: The vamp wore sheer clothes, sang a ‘cabaret’ number and temporarily stole the hero away from the heroine.
Now: The vamp is extinct. The heroine gets her clothes and songs.

Then: Our parents left us at home when they went to watch an “A” movie.
Now: Our kids change the channel when they foresee a ‘scene’.

Then: We spoke to our grandparents in the vernacular and looked forward to grandma’s laddoos.
Now: Our parents speak to our kids in English and take them out for pizza.

Then: The maid gratefully accepted whatever food and clothes you gave her.
Now: She criticizes your culinary skills and your fashion-sense with equal disdain.

Then: Shopping with a jute bag was the equivalent of ‘dorky’.
Now: We flaunt eco-friendly jute shoppers with bamboo handles.

Then: “Sorry for the interruption.” “Rukawat ke liye khed hai”
Now: “We’ll be right back--- after the break!”

Then: “Frogs and snails and puppy dogs’ tails, that’s what little boys are made of.”
Now: My son has seen a frog once, and a snail, never.

Then: We paid attention in class and scrupulously noted down the homework to be done.
Now: They go to the phone as soon as they get back from school and ask, “What was the HW, yaar? Can you fax me the diagrams?” or, “My notebook has gone into your bag, can you courier it to me, please?” or, “Chill and go on that trip, you can photocopy my notes later.”

Then: We spent hours in the library.
Now: They spend hours on the Net.

Then: I swore I would never say, “When we were kids……”
Now: I swear and say it!


Children's book: Bahadur, The Tiger

This book for children came out in 2002, copyright Pauline Publications, Mumbai(www.paulineindia.org)
It has three stories.

(A story about a tiger, who, contrary to expected norms, is not at all brave. He seeks a solution to his problem, in magic.)

In a jungle, there once lived a tiger cub. His mother had named him Bahadur. He was a scared little tiger who jumped when he saw his own shadow!
He went and hid behind his mother when his father roared. He froze when the leaves rustled. He didn’t like it at all when the monkeys chattered at him. And the monkeys, being monkeys, teased him all the more for it. They pulled his tail. They swung down suddenly from a tree above him, making him back away in alarm.
His mother, the tigress, was very upset about all this.
“Oh, Bahadur,” she would say sadly, “You are a TIGER! Other animals are supposed to be scared of you!”
“But I’m so little Ma,” Bahadur would say miserably.
“So what? All animals are small at first. If you carry on like this, you will grow up into a great big tiger, of whom nobody will be afraid! Would you like that?”
“No, Ma,” Bahadur shook his head and slunk away. He wandered aimlessly until he came to a quiet pool. He looked down into it and saw himself. No, he was not a baby any more. Soon he would be a young tiger. Did he want all the other animals to laugh at him? No! They were supposed to tremble with fear at the mere mention of his name.
If only he could become brave by some kind of magic! -----


(A baby rhino has no friends because he is perceived as ugly.)

Ramu Rhino was sitting all by himself again, his back to the others.
"What is the matter Ramu," his mother asked. She had sent him out to play and now she found him sitting away from the other baby animals. “Don’t you want to play with your friends?”
“Friends? They are not my friends, Ma. Nobody wants to be my friend. They say I’m too clumsy and big. When I run, the others are afraid I’ll crush them.----And they say I’m ugly too!” Ramu sniffed.------

----Now, among the playmates was a handsome young peacock named Parimal. He had just grown a beautiful long tail and was very proud of it indeed. All day, he strutted around, showing off his plumes.He kept twisting around so that he could admire it himself. He would not pass the smallest pool or puddle without stopping to look at himself adoringly. Oh, how he preened! The other animals and birds made him even vainer. They would admire his tail, his rich blue colour and beg him for any fallen feathers.------



(A lazy crow neglects his studies at school, with dire consequences)


Papa and Mama Crow were very excited. They had built a cosy little nest up in a shady tree and mama Crow had laid three eggs in it. Now they seemed ready to hatch.
“Yes, I think our babies are ready to come out,” mama Crow cawed in joy. Papa Crow looked on with his beady eyes shining. A tiny tapping sound came from within one egg. Soon a crack appeared and the egg shell split open to reveal a fuzzy little crow-chick. This was soon followed by another egg splitting. The crows had two daughters. But mama Crow was worried about the third egg. Why wasn’t it hatching? -------

-----Old Grandfather Owl held a school for young birds. As soon as the birds were strong enough to fly up, they joined the Treetop School!
Oh, the things that were taught there! The birds learnt a lot from the old owl. What things to eat and what to avoid; how to clean their beaks. A class was held separately for those birds who could sing. Madam Koel was the music teacher.-------
------Shyam just spent his time playing hide-and-seek with his friend Chalu Cuckoo.----