Archive for January, 2012

Bad Teachers

Posted: January 31, 2012 in Uncategorized

We’ve all had them. Given, some people are born teachers, with all their grace and compassion and teacherly knowledge – but I think it’s the really bad ones that we remember best.

There’s that one who doubles as the spawn of satan.
He (or she as the case may be) picks on kids — while probably cackling maniacally — for not bringing the right brand of pen to class, for wearing a uniform that hasn’t been ironed enough, for wearing shoes that aren’t white enough, for asking a question he doesn’t approve of, for not asking a question when supposed to, for writing the assignment too long, for writing the assignment too short, for having the audacity to answer when interrogated, for not answering when interrogated, for breathing basically. Confiscates cool stuff like playing-cards and skipping ropes, just to inflict random pain. He is Hitler and the students are all Jews. Probably hates his job and is secretly miserable and functions along the lines of how misery loves company. He is hated by the children he has for breakfast, served with a side of sorrow and crushed dreams.

The eccentric one who spazzes out a lot.
That one who wears bell-bottoms and cardigans on a 30 degrees island in the 20th century, the one who spits all over you while talking, the one who goes on a tangent halfway through the lesson to give way to a sudden violent outburst about something like secret communists in the parliament, the one who pats her students on the butt for doing a good assignment even though they’re 12th graders, or the one who has a bizarre repetitive Tourette Syndrome like habit which makes you count the number of times he said ‘am I right’ or picked his nostril or made the deeply-contemplative-gopher-face in the last half an hour (42 and counting).

The scary one (not to be confused with the spawn of satan one).
Everyone jumps back into their seats and falls silent at her arrival. Fear is struck in the heart of the student who is called to her table. She’s too cool for evil; doesn’t try to be intimidating or pushy, but subtly uses her well-honed skills in personal insults and her so-calm-that-it’s-scary voice to scare the bajeezus out of students she doesn’t like. Nobody wants to piss her off, it’s like poking a bear, but a really silent ninja bear who wants to kill you while you sleep.

The lame joke one.
Oh god, that sad one who wants to be ‘friends’ with the students but fails so miserably that it hurts to watch. He refers books titled ‘Jokes’ and ‘Ice-breakers’ to get material to use on the class, in hopes he’ll become the ‘cool teacher’ and really ‘get through’ to them (has watched The Ron Clark Story 39 times).  Practices a joke in front of the mirror every morning to use on the class. He laughs at his own lame jokes and occasionally slaps a kid on the back while lol’ing hoping they’ll laugh too but it aint gonna happen. I feel sorry for these ones, I just want to give them a big hug and tell them to stop telling jokes.

Finally, the worst teacher — the boring one.
These teachers make me want to kill myself. In class. Via flinging myself out the window. Even though I’ll probably just break a few limbs from this height. Zero ability to teach; reads monotonously from the book instead. You know they’re saying something, but all you hear is blah blah blah blah blah. Doesn’t really care if anyone’s listening or not, keeps speaking at the. same. monotonous. tone. and. beat. for. next. hour. Till you find yourself zoning out and soon lost in a reverie of nothingness, and then you snap back into the present, and you’re all, woah I don’t remember the last ten minutes of my life. This is before you lay your head down on the desk and sleep to the soothing lullaby of his static voice. He’ll ask the class a question, then stare at everyone for the answer, but nobody’s been listening so no one knows what to say, so there’s just a very long awkward silence, before he goes back to reading again. Feels like this one’s ambition is to bore everyone into a coma, slowly and painfully.

an artist’s interpretation of the lame joke one

Advertisements

So this is one of those rare moments I blog about something serious. Cue gasp.

The face-cover, also known as the Niqab in Arabic, has been the subject of so much controversial talk world-over, first gaining fame for heated discussion in Middle Eastern countries. Is it oppressive? Is it a matter of freedom of choice? Is it necessary at all? Blah blah blah blah. Having been brought up till most of my teenage years around practising Muslims, I have come across many women who donned the Niqab.

Some of them did it on grounds of a personal decision, on basis of the general Islamic belief that men and women should simplify and dress-down, to such an extent of minimal physical adornment, in order to detach from the material world (which is a common theme in almost all religions and philosophies that preach detachment, ref. the bald monk in simple robes).  And some were just told to by their parents or do it because of their cultural setting without knowing why they do or how not to.

Islam in itself, according to a majority of scholars, does not declare it an obligation on women to cover their faces, although some pious women of the Prophet’s time did and so it’s looked upon as an admirable commitment by many religious people.

What do we think the Niqab is?

So let’s just examine what the Niqab really means in today’s context shall we? The media’s coverage of it through pictures and videos taken of women in Middle Eastern countries, has been — let’s not sugar coat it — extremely negative, bordering on sinister. It has, like the Hijab (the covering of the head), become ‘symbolic’ of a patriarchal type of oppression against women, as stories of men forcing their wives and daughters to cover themselves against their will have been sprung onto our eyes and into our ears through television and newspapers. Women in sombre blue Burkas (an entirely shapeless garment with barely any defining seams inclusive of a face-cover) crowd in a street corner in Afghanistan (supposedly) in a photograph captured by a British journalist. Captions under such pictures paint the mood of the moment an ominous and pitiful colour; ‘do these women know freedom?’ says a comment below the picture. And so, as a rule of classical-conditioning in the human brain, it becomes a natural assumption that a woman covered up either in Hijab/Niqab/Burka (mostly the latter two), is a victim. Pictures in the media of (some, not all) powerful and successful women, in little clothes, staring fiercely at the camera on the cover of a magazine, proudly presenting their physical beauty, in an era where physical beauty has become of such importance — has also helped with labeling negatively the image of a woman who covers her face.

‘Why would anyone cover their face?’

This is a question that plagues most people who are often completely outside Islamic and conservative spheres. Why would anyone do it? You can’t see the person’s face, I don’t know who I’m talking to, it’s unnatural. Different people may do it for different reasons, and even though I wouldn’t cover my face because I don’t feel strongly about it and it would definitely be at odds with my lifestyle — I believe that any women who chooses to wear the Niqab only has to justify it with a ‘because I want to.’ If we claim to be a progressive universal society of humans who are all for personal freedom and individuality, and we allow some people to wear teeny weeny polka dot bikinis, some to wear shiny ugly clothes that are a crime to fashion, and others to wear whatever they want, why not a woman to wear a piece of cloth on her face if she feels like it?

But let’s get real

I feel like it is, however, asking too much, to expect average society (except in an Islamic country) to suddenly just be OK with women walking around with covered faces. As time and places have shown, people stare, people ask questions, people are puzzled about it — I know, because one of my closest friends covers her face in public. She is extremely pretty, intelligent, creative, confident, has a mind of her own and is great fun socially – and in today’s context, when covered-lady has become almost synonymous for Middle Eastern victim of oppression and flirty-lady-in-short-skirt has become a positive connotation, she feels at odds with things sometimes. The reality is that there are some people who, for some reason, downright disapprove — I’m not even speculating here, I’ve heard people say they just can’t accept it. The reality is that you cannot expect miraculous open-mindedness from people; the reality is that most people out there will feel sorry for or feel uncomfortable around a stranger who appears with her face covered; the reality is that many of them have already made up their mind up about you and your life before you even spoke a word. You have been judged.

It’s ironic, said my friend, that some people walk around saying they are oh so very liberal and open-minded and preach no judgment for all, but when they see me, with a simple cloth standing over my face, I am almost immediately subconsciously categorized into a little folder before I can provide the first impression.

This is however somewhat of a generalization, there are some people out there who don’t care what you wear and are fair enough not to have preconceived notions shaped by the media’s classical conditioning. But I’m very sure it’s a small number compared to those who do.

What the Niqab really is

In fact, and not in historical symbolical terms, the Niqab is a piece of cloth, often black in colour, often worn along with a long loose dress. It is a piece of cloth attached around the face either with a knot or velcro. It is a thin light piece of cloth, she can still breathe and see from behind it because there’s usually a slit for the eyes, it does not obstruct her view in any way, no it is not going to interfere with her driving skills, and yes it is a little warm than without it but barely really because she’s used to it, it isn’t uncomfortable. In a majority of cases at least in Sri Lanka today, it is worn because the person wearing it wants to. On wearing the Niqab, the woman does not suddenly become a different creature – she’s still under there. It’s just cloth. It isn’t some diabolical transmogrifying device, and there are others who are much more deserving of your disapproval such as that fat hairy guy in the short-shorts and that school teacher whose skirt barely covers her posterior and that man with the nazi swastika on his tshirt.

She still has ideas, a voice of her own, she can still see you staring at her in wonder and she feels self-conscious and uncomfortable, she can still hear you call her ‘ninja’ and laugh at her, she still has feelings, she still gets hurt when your child points and says ‘bakkamoona’ and you don’t even correct the child, she has a laugh, she has aspirations, she has opinions. She has interests, she has family and friends, she’s just another person, except with different clothes on her body. Yes, it definitely seems ‘unnatural’ in today’s general context to see a potentially vivacious and confident woman in public with a black cloth concealing her face, but get over it. I’d like to think we live in a world that has the mental capacity to look beyond the cover of a book; when writing for the rights of women, which at the time in 19th century England, seemed a rather ‘unnatural’ thing to do, J. S. Mill said it best: So true is it that unnatural generally means only uncustomary, and that everything which is usual appears natural.

Sounds familiar am I right?
No?
You have no idea what I’m talking about? And you’re facepalming at my ridiculous and long blog title?
Sigh. Okay. The usual then.

Ever since I can remember, me and female friends of mine have had weird boys texting us or calling us or FB-ing us in hopes that it would result in us holding hands and running in slow motion across a green  meadow in proper Tamil movie fashion (needless to say, such attempts have ended in painful-to-watch failure). Now most ordinary boys and people who don’t live in Sri Lanka, and those who just have never heard of such a phenomenon, will assume that my story about boys virtually stalking me is my implication that I am just that irresistible; though this may in fact be true, it is definitely not why these weird boys do what they do.

Ask most girls, especially school girls, in Sri Lanka. I don’t know whether it’s a Muslim thing or a particular cultural thing? It probably isn’t. It probably is just this massive indiscriminate attack by Raging Godayas. They’re everywhere, man. They are very persevering. They may seem nervous, but are immensely optimistic creatures as evidenced by their conviction that they actually stand a chance. And they don’t have a type. Oh except for some of them, who are very calculating about race and religion — example, the Muslim variety of Raging Godayas will be very specific about stalking Muslim females, because, you see, after texting and calling a bunch of times he will ask her to marry her and so assuming she says yes to a complete stranger who has the additional charm of being creepy – her being of the same community will just make things run smoother when the wedding comes around.

Where do they come from? Well in school, I have this suspicion that the creepies were cousin brothers of people in school – because we used to write our numbers down in our friends’ ‘autograph books’ at the end of the academic year, and they probably got access afterwards. Why do I say cousin brothers? I don’t know, cousin brothers are dodgy like that.
After school, it’s a bit of a mystery. A lot of girls get harassed by these guys through ‘Facebook’ and its lameass distant relative ‘hi5.’ If you’re the average guy or have never heard of this, you probably think I’m exaggerating. Because people don’t really talk about this so much. But I’m not, believe me.

Most often than not, the Raging Godaya won’t even know what you look like. They get your number/email/socialnetworkID from – hell if I know where – and will randomly contact you and start up a very non-subtle conversation that will baffle your MAIND. When I was about 15, this guy kept calling and was all ‘oh I is liking yous’ and I was just all, bitch please. Just a handful of annoying phonecalls in, he says he likes me so much that he wants to ‘marry’ me. However keep in mind, he has never met me in his life or doesn’t know me in person even remotely and has never had even a phone convo that didn’t involve me telling him to get psychiatric help. He gives me the story of his life and shit and just to make him go away I pick on his age and say, you’re way too old anyway (he was 23 or something.. pedo anyone?). And then he, very seriously — I kid you not — quotes an Islamic story of the Prophet who married his wife Khadjija despite their huge age gap. Seriously? I yelled at him for being such a hysterical moron and hung up so he could go cry into his palms.

TWO WORDS: CLINICALLY INSANE.

Friends of mine have similar stories — of weirdo strangers calling and literally professing their undying devotion, and often of someone or the other texting and online-inboxing, perpetually, albeit in really, really bad grammar. So in addition to this being irritating on the general grounds of ridiculousness, it was extra maddening on grounds of me being a grammar-nazi.
Classic Raging Godaya pick-up line: U R VERY BEAUTY
How does he know I am ‘very beauty’? My profile picture is Patrick the starfish devouring a Krabby Patty!
Another overused one: u r frm dehiwela? can u pls be my frnd / letz b frndz / can i friend u?
NO.

One guy about a year ago would call almost daily and say ‘I lau you’ – just like that. I’m sure I wasn’t being trolled either, he sounded very serious and english was very obviously a second fourth language. And when I asked who he was or how he got my number he would just dismiss all questions expressing in broken english that he couldn’t answer my questions and would conclude with an inappropriate ‘it’s ok, I lau you.’

I reiterate. CLINICALLY INSANE.

A friend of mine today gets calls several times a day, from someone who has never met her in his life, insisting that they be together forever before asking her earnestly ‘will I call later today?’ My friend, confused, realizes she has no crystal ball that will help her answer this question, but then it hits her that the idiot actually means to ask ‘shall I call later today?’ No you will not call later today.

Honestly, what is this even?
My friend JB is being hit on by a creepy co-worker who just says really inappropriate things like ‘u r sexy’ before obliviously stalking her around the office,  so she whines to me, why is it that the hotties don’t stalk me? Why is it always the really, really weird disturbing people?!

Srsly. Why can’t a really awesomely charming gentleman for once send the FB-message containing (grammatically correct) ridiculous flattery? Or call repeatedly and say I LAU YOU, or do the perpetual stalking. It’s always gotta be the creepy bastards. Sigh.

So a few days ago, I packed my bags and got on a train to Jaipur, Rajasthan, mostly for the Jaipur Literature Festival (Indian version of the Galle Lit Fest). Set at the Diggi House in Shivaji Marg, the fest promised a star host of literary celebrities — including Michael Ondaatje, our very own Shehan Karunatilaka (who bagged the DSC prize), Kunal Basu, Fathima Bhutto, playwright David Hare, Amy Chua, Vinod Mehta, Willian Dalrymple, Deepak Chopra, 1994 Booker Prize judge Alastair Niven — among others – and then an added bonus — Oprah Winfrey! The queen of American telly is trotting about India itseems for inspiration for her upcoming documentary. Salman Rushdie sadly cancelled cuz of crazy people wanting to kill him though.

Needless to say, I was kind of star-struck. Though I’m not really the type to get all hyper over getting writers’ autographs, I was still pretty much all, I can’t believe I’m going to meet Michael Ondaatje and Oprah Winfrey.. for free. O_O

Anyway, let’s start at the beginning.

A room of one’s own!

After sharing an apartment with six teenagers — getting my own hotel room at a snazzy little inn was nothing short of heaven. Also, I’d never really had my own hotel room all to myself before, let alone with cable TV and room service and a fancy swipey-card thingy.. the possibilities buzzed through my brain.. ordering craploads of lasagna to my room, standing under the hot shower forever (without the interruption of roommates knocking on the door!), lying in bed watching The Simpsons reruns for hours while eating a packet of Oreos, hell, I could dance around in my underwear! All these things may or may not have been committed, I cannot specify on grounds of Too Much Information.

I really savoured the peace and quiet and just coming back at the end of the day to my absolute own personal space. Also the privacy conducive to the act of flailing around like a happy little lunatic.

The Indian Literati

I met five of my Sri Lankan friends at the Fest and we did our secret Sri Lankan handshake. The place was decorated in loud primary colours, and the presentations much like in Galle were scheduled at separate locations and you had to pick and choose which to attend. But unlike in Galle, there was a togetherness about the JLF locations, since they were all inside a sort of compact Diggi House (something like Park Street Mews minus ugly warehouses) which was essentially a massive outdoorsy area divided only by gates and tents — as opposed to the locations at the Galle Fort which are so far apart that I get distracted and lost on the way to the program. Ticketing and all that jazz was surprisingly organized for an event that was FREE to the public. And the crowd? — You know, there’s this particular Colombo crowd that goes to Galle for the GLF, in their best shades, best shoes, all fashioned up, going all oh my, I’m going to the GLF, are you? Everyone who’s anyone is going to be there! I haven’t read a goddamn book since ninth grade but hanging out at the Fest makes me feel like an intellectual! ..? Well, news flash, this species is most probably universal. The same fashion, the same pretentious ‘I’m going to get my book signed by this awesome writer though I’ve never heard of him or his book before today in my life! yay!’, the same English intelligentsia accents, the same everything — at the Jaipur Lit Fest. You even found the Hipster, the Cross-Dressing Guy and the Flamboyantly Coloured Hippy making their appearance as part of the ‘liberal minded literati.’ I have nothing against them though,  the ones in Galle or the ones in Jaipur, just that it was hilarious to find out they were common to ‘literature festivals’ in general.

However, you don’t notice any of these silly things at the JLF all that much because your mind is too busy being befuddled by the fact that all this is free (as opposed to the ridiculous cost of the GLF). I listened to writers tell me about how they overcame natural obstacles that writers face in this century, to Booker Prize judges tell me how to write prize winning fiction, to world renowned gurus tell me how to earn big bucks as a writer without having to sell your soul, and to useful anecdotes, advice and discussion — about everything and anything to do with the art of literature — for the price of nothing. Michael Ondaatje talked to us about writing historical fiction, Samit Basu discussed ‘creating imaginary worlds’ when writing, Alastair Niven explained the things that factor into writing something of ‘literary excellence,’ Katherine Boo talked passionately about journalistic literature and how the issues written are more important than the writer himself. The music concerts at the end of each day, though, was at the cost of only 500 Sri Lankan rupees, and featured epic indigenous music styles, some Hindustani vocals, some Rajasthani dancing, and even some world fusion. I made some good buys at the Fest’s bookstore, including a book of poetry by Rumi — whose work I have never seen in a bookshop before.

The Oprah Mob

So on my last day in Jaipur, Oprah Winfrey was going to descend upon us mortals at the Fest. I am a huge fan of Oprah and her work. Getting there about twenty minutes before her presentation, all excited, I found myself right at the front of a big mob that had gathered outside the gate of the location Oprah was gonna be at; the gate was closed, and the security guys said ‘no entry, too crowded.’ We peeped through the gate and saw that the security guys were lying! There was loads of space to stand though the seats were taken up — ‘Oprah would not approve, Security Guy!’ I protested. Huge ruckus as we all fussed and fretted out loud outside the gate, only a few minutes before Oprah begins, we pleaded, an old lady next to me got a bit hysterical and screamed ‘kutta!’ (you dog!’) at the security guy for not opening the gate for her. I was almost to tears when I heard Oprah receive applause and still the guards wouldn’t let us in. The angry mob and I really bonded.

Random mob guy: They can’t do this, this is a free event!
Me: Totally, what a bunch of douches.
Random mob girl: I mean can you believe these guards? I’m going to report them!
Me: Yeah I should write about them..
Random mob girl: DO IT and send it to a paper too. Nice bag by the way.
Me: lol thx.

Suddenly I found myself rubbing shoulders with the Bhutanese Queen and Princess and some other members of their court — and by rubbing shoulders, I don’t mean we went to a tea party together, but they were literally standing next to me and brushed past me in the crowd to get through the gate. They floated past all majestically in long silk robes, porcelain skin framed by long straight dark hair, before disappearing behind the gate.

Finally a policeman came and flung open the gates and we stampeded into the venue. Oprah — in an orange shalwar kameez — was about twenty feet away from me, and talked to us hundreds about her life, about literature, about what she thinks of India, and all that, nothing short of inspirational as usual, and I got some relatively good shots from where I was standing (mostly because I yelled ‘media! media!’ and trudged through the crowd to a good spot with  my camera like a sneaky weasel).

Deepak Chopra thinks hard work is for luzrs

‘I don’t believe in hard work… Do nothing and accomplish everything!’ said the spiritual guru, and I was like, HMMM sounds like my kind of job description. So at the very end of his seminar — which was totally fascinating cuz he related quantum physics to everything which made everything seem cooler than it actually was (and I quote, ‘we are all essentially stardust’) — I waved my hand frantically in the air and he picked me as his last question. Um, how exactly do you do nothing and accomplish everything? I asked, getting my notebook out to write a step-by-step procedure.

By being, thinking, feeling and doing — he said, all profound like, before exiting the stage. Wow. Way to be specific, Deepak.

Palaces & camels

Jaipur is a beautiful, beautiful city! It had perfect weather this time of year, cool enough to have to wear two layers, but still with fresh hot sun streaming through the windows. Pink, yellow, orange powdery walls for miles and miles, decorated with shapely arches and intricate trellis work.

A friend and I spent our second day in Jaipur at the Ameer Palace, where the movie Jodha Akbar was filmed. It’s this seriously epic palace that looks straight out of some arabian-nights-esque movie, built by some ancient king, featuring amazing Islamic architecture — all inclusive of those faded orange/yellow walls, vast courtyards, lush oases and mini-palaces — some with corridors and ceilings covered in mirror work, some with innovative roofs, some with dark long narrow passages that carry you to some other mystical part of the place. Before exploring the place we visited the zillions of pigeons perched on the floor outside the palace, and three of them sat on my arm eating birdseed from my palm. After leaving the palace we rode a camel in traffic — and damn, camels are tall as hell, I felt like I was 10 feet above ground.’I am camel driver, give me tip!’ demanded the little boy pulling the camel. So I did.

The case of the missing shoes

I had half an hour to get packed and be at the railway station on my last day in Jaipur — I threw things into my bags and made a run for it, I was going to be late. Idiot that I am, I always, as tradition, leave something behind when I’m leaving some place from vacation. When I got to the railway station, barely fifteen minutes from my train’s arrival, I realize I’d left my beautiful turquoise blue sneakers in the hotel room. I looked at the railway station clock — do I, don’t I, do I, don’t I, what’s wrong with you? Who runs back to their hotel just minutes before their train arrives?! I’m going to miss it and I’ll have to stay in Jaipur another day, don’t be stupid, yeah I’ll just forget about the shoes and get on the train.

A minute later I was in a tuk-tuk speeding to my hotel.
Grabbed the shoes and sped back, barely in time, jumped into the train a few minutes before it took off.

Mad skillz, bruh.

The four-hour train ride was peaceful. Except for this weird little child who kept walking around and staring into people’s faces. She literally had her face an inch away from mine, staring into the pores of my skin. ‘You’re weird,’ I told her.

I took a lot away from the JLF, and it was extremely memorable; but to be honest, of my memories of going to the GLF twice, I hardly remember anything of the Fest in itself. The JLF, though welcomes celebrities from all over the world, I feel is overflowing with celebrated Indian writers. But I feel like Sri Lankan literature is not celebrated enough at the GLF — too many books written by our Sinhalese and Tamil writers remain untranslated and so less attention to this vast library we’ve got full of rich old indigenous literature and more to our modern written-in-English literature- which is okay, but I feel makes the event so much less than it could be. Maybe we’re getting there though? People back home, how’d it go this year?

Sigh. Anyhoo, all in all, epic weekend. Sucks to be back.

That Awkward Moment

Posted: January 15, 2012 in Uncategorized

…when you’re sitting in the backseat of a bicycle rickshaw, and everyone stops for the traffic light.

And I’m looking into the faces of all these Indians behind our rickshaw.

What do I do? They’re looking right at me.
Do I smile?
*smiles*
Oh shit that old lady looks pissed off, I’m sorry old lady my smile was not meant to scorn you.
Okay I’ma stop smiling. Urgh that guy in the car is grinning creepily at me, look away.
*looks away*
I can’t keep my head turned to the trees for this long, it’s too weird.
Wow that guy’s turban is so tall and green. Like a tall green anthill.
Haha a tall green anthill.. that’s funny.. omg stop laughing to yourself, they’ll just stare even more.
Oh my, this motorbike man is literally a foot away from me. It’s like we’re in the same room.
I feel obliged to say hi to someone who’s a foot away from me for this long. Should I say hi? Maybe ‘good morning, rough traffic huh?’
No, what if he’s a rapist. Delhi has rapists everywhere. Look away.
*clears throat*
Wow these people don’t blink.
Um..