Thursday, October 07, 2010

Help! I see UFOs everywhere

My life is a saga of UFOs. Not the kind that publicity-seeking folks claimed to see in the '70s. My UFOs are numerous Unfinished Objects that punctuate my life, waiting endlessly for me to fulfill the plan I once had for them.


There they lie. The 52,800-cross-stitches-strong piece of art that should have been framed and occupied pride of place on the wall of my living room, but is still at least 39,600 stitches away from the finish line, is an excellent example of this tendency to do tomorrow what should have been done yesterday.


Other UFOs are not even this lucky. Ask the six balls of white crochet yarn that appeal to me silently every time I look into the corner of the cupboard into which they have been consigned. They wait with the patience and serenity of a saint for me to decide just what I envision for them. My indecisiveness and, let me admit, my laziness and tendency to procrastinate conspire to exile them into the distant future where they remain stuck in limbo. Incapable, for no fault of theirs, of being able to fulfill the promises and expectations I had for them.


There are other UFOs in my life. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller is one of them. For some strange and inexplicable reason, I have never been able to read beyond page 9, even though I’ve attempted to often enough. Each time I start from the first page, determined that this time I will see this thing through to the end. But then comes that dreaded page 9 and something always threatens further reading. Another book, a film, domestic chores, too much office work, the need to spend quality time with my daughter.


Clearly well begun is not always half-done. The best of well begun intentions can remain frozen in the perfect beginning.


The coming of age novel that has given up on the hope of ever seeing the light of day simply because I can’t get a grip on how it will end; the 63-poem collection that I cannot submit for publication until I achieve the just-right (or so it seems to me) figure of 100; this blog and another one, Rheamyprincess, to mark the joy that my little darling has brought into my life — they are all projects that I once started with extreme excitement but which now languish for want of attention. They are all mute victims of this 'let unfinished things lie' syndrome.


I am reminded of Penelope from Greek mythology. This enterprising lady, queen of Ulysses, the king of Ithaca, had her marriage interrupted after a year of marriage by the Trojan War. During his absence, the beautiful Penelope was wooed by a number of suitors, all of whom sought to convince her that her husband would never return alive.


Unwilling to give up hope for her husband and unsure of how to get out of her predicament, Penelope busied herself in weaving a robe for the funeral canopy of Laertes, her father-in-law. She told the suitors that she would smile upon one of them once the robe was complete. Meanwhile, she worked diligently at weaving the robe during the day, and at un-weaving it during the night.


Her ruse has now become a popular expression for something which is always being done but never finished. The story of my life, although mine is not quite so Penelopian in its compulsions.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Zogwa: What an awakening!


I can’t remember the last time I have felt this distressed and disturbed on watching a film. I am talking about the Marathi film, Zogwa, which is a scathing indictment of the devdasi system that has victimised an untold number of youngsters in past decades. The film makes a mention of the superstition that perpetuates this heinous practice and debases thousands of innocent lives.

The film centres on the lives of Suli, a young girl, barely out of her teens, and Tayappa, a young man, who are forced into this inhuman system by others who are older and supposedly wiser.

For Suli, the ordeal starts with the discovery of matted hair. For Tayappa, it is the passing of blood in his urine. Conditions that could have been rectified by medical aid, if not common sense and home remedies, cause them to become entrapped in the web of fear and exploitation that the larger community, which benefits from it, and other zogtyas, who have made their peace with it, encourage.

And so Suli and Tayappa are both married off to goddess Yellamma. The families, buying into the belief that letting their children be married to goddess Yellama will guarantee happiness to the rest of them, become willing participants in the farce. They also fear that the goddess will curse their family if they fail to dedicate their child to her.

Caught up in a world in which superstition is everything, the families go back to their lives, while Suli and Tayappa begin to accept their doomed existence. Their days are now spent earning a living by performing song and dance routines in praise of Yellamma.

But that is not all there is to it. The vermillion on their foreheads, the mark of a zogtya or zogtin, is their undoing. From now on, zogtins like Suli must be prepared to be propositioned by the males in the village. Not for them the sanctity of marriage. Should they ever find a man willing to take them away from the stranglehold of their lives, they must expect to be kept.

Sexual exploitation is the hell they live in day after day. Dedicated to goddess Yellamma, they are exploited as devachya randa (Marathi for god’s prostitutes), available to any man.

For the zogtya, the male victim, it means living a life of humiliation and gradual and inevitable neutering. They live their lives not as men anymore, but not as women either. They gradually lose all pride in their manhood until they reach a stage when the touch of an attractive and sexually vibrant woman arouses as much feeling in them as it would in a stone.

Zogtyas are expected to be sexless, to have no desires of their own, but to willingly offer themselves for the service of the community, read – lecherous males.

Tayappa, like other zogtyas before him, initially refuses to accept his new reality. Later, however, when he is humiliated and rejected by his own family and the village, of which he once formed a favoured part, he willingly walks into the welcoming embrace of the zogtya community, the only place where he can hope to find acceptance and understanding.

The sense of abandonment that you get from the two protagonists is dismal. Assimilated in the ways of the zogtyas, Suli and Tayappa allow themselves to feel at ease in the companionship of others whose fates they share. But the sense of comfort does not last. They are still a trifle rebellious, not yet completely overawed by the zogta culture. The voice of reason, in the shape of the village teacher, More Master, who tries his best to educate the zogtyas about the evils they give in to, also helps to strengthen their resolve.

As their journeys wind down the same path, Suli and Tayappa reject the debasement of their zogtya reality and seek to escape its smothering and inhuman confines. And so they turn for comfort to each other as man and woman.

Tayappa, in particular, makes a brave yet hopeless attempt to assert his masculinity, even to cling to it, in spite of the saree and other accessories of a Hindu married woman that are the only garb he must wear. This causes him to be further ridiculed by the villagers and belittled by his own family.

Interestingly, the first time we see Tayappa, he is dressed up as the bride of Yellamma, his face a mask of resignation. Over the course of the film, he gives way to his new reality, knowing well that nothing can undo his circumstances. So well does his body language reflect his reality as a reluctant female that when he wears male clothing towards the close of the film to signify his breaking away from life as a zogtya, it startles and delights the viewer.

In the final sequence, Suli and Tayappa are defiantly standing off against the belligerent and angry zogtya community that is determined to quash the rebellion and the romance by castrating Tayappa. The atmosphere is taut with tension. Sitting on the edge of my seat, I found myself wanting to cry out physically, calling on Suli to pick up the bamboo sticks lying on the ground and hit Akka, the head of the community, who sought to restrain her.

The makers of this film have done a fantastic job of bringing the devadasi system into focus for mainstream audiences. The film is a visual treat, as delightful to the eyes as a Konkan village in the monsoons. The riot of colour that assails the screen is enticingly rich and leads you right into the lives of Suli and Tayappa, making you feel for them and resenting every slight against them.

Zogwa is indeed an awakening, not just for Suli and Tayappa but also for those of us who go through life thinking that we’ve got the rawest deal.


Monday, February 01, 2010

Snip Snip

It all started when MiL said to me, you must cut your hair; it’s the best way to stop hair fall. What she meant, of course, was, you must get your hair cut, but I mistook (what can I say? I wasn’t thinking) the passive voice for the active, and reminded myself that I had successfully snipped off an inch from the edge in the past. It was the easiest thing in the world.


At least that was what I had meant to do initially – lop off the split ends, no more. But a slight error in judgment proved to be my undoing and before I knew it, I had become a scissor-happy monster. There was something strangely cathartic about the whole business of going snip-snip.


I held the tips of all the strands together and let my scissor do the talking. Halfway through the scything, I made the mistake of stopping the exercise to drop the fistful of hair onto the paper. That was when I wished that life had an Undo button.


The face that looked back at me from the mirror had a rather asymmetrical finish. But it was too late to do anything about that now. The next few seconds saw a repeat of the ancient fable in which the monkey, seeking to equitably apportion a chapatti among two quarreling cats, proceeded to demolish bits of chapatti, reasoning to the foolish felines that this or that cat’s portion was larger than the other’s. The monkey justified his actions staunchly under the aim of doing justice by both.


Fortunately, I had the good sense to stop before the chapatti vanished completely. I was quite pleased with the results. But my husband was rather horrified. If he were familiar with the work of Greek dramatist Euripides, he would have said to me, “Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first drive crazy.” Or if Indian mythology were his thing, he would have said, “Vinash Kale Viparit Buddhi.”


Being a man of few words, he just goggled at me. Taking pity on him, I assured him that it would grow back. But he, satisfied as little with my chopping skills as with my assurances, has ordered me to go to a hairdresser and get professional help.


In the old days, men used to be happy if their wives displayed a new skill or talent. I guess the '00s man is made of different stuff.


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