The years have come and gone, as have two of the Beatles. They brought us beautiful music, music that will be left behind for years to come. My mother began my lifelong love affair with the Beatles, the most fruitful of my life.
It led to me making a pilgrimage to Liverpool when I lived in England, spending three days on what can only be described as a pilgrimage, after years of having devoured every bit of Beatles literature that I could lay my hands on, that friends sent me, that relatives sent.
Cassette tapes lay around the house, in the cabinet behind the push-in bed in my parents’ room. They lay in the car, the car my mother drove me around in every day. Two of my favourite things – listening to the music my mother had playing around the house, and her driving me around. The only two things that could really calm baby me.
The music, those beautiful string arrangements. They appealed to my mother, in her thirties, they appealed to me in the single digits. My mother had listened to them as a child, my uncle had grown up with them. They were loved. They are loved.
Their faces, John, Paul, Ringo, and George. The four lads from Liverpool. We’ve all read the stories of the Cavern Club. Of Germany, of their debauchery in and out of European borders, and we’ve enjoyed them.
But before all of that, they were a struggling, albeit immensely talented set of lads whom nobody wanted to sign. Rejected, spurned, like an amorous lover who kissed like a fiery Italian but was tossed by the wayside regardless.
Until George Martin. The Beatles were being managed by the talented and tragic Brian Epstein, who has also been called the Fifth Beatle for his pivotal role in their careers. And there was this trained musician, this civil engineer with movie star looks, who would be their saviour.
But they had been repeatedly rejected, turned down by Decca Records. He didn’t think they were ‘that great’, but loved the Lennon-McCartney sound, as one does.
It was Epstein, the legend says, whose eager nature was the final step in convincing Martin, at Abbey Road Studios, to give the Beatles – who did not yet have a Ringo among their ranks, an audition.
And it was George, George Harrison, who joked around with Mr. Martin and sealed the deal.
He was behind the scenes on some of their biggest, earliest hits. Love Me Do, From Me to You, all of which started that brilliant enduring craze otherwise known as Beatlemania.
The first album I ever heard, strangely, was Yellow Submarine – brilliantly arranged and orchestrated itself, and my mother, whose favourite album is A Hard Day’s Night, played that again, and again, and again, and we’d sing along together on the paisley carpet in her bedroom, both of us sitting cross-legged and rewinding the cassette.
Later, when I was older, we got a 3-in-1 CD change player with a radio antenna and cassette deck. The greatest! We’d sit there and change CDs and arrange them on our CD rack.
That album is special and beyond. My mother had a flat tyre one evening as we were driving back after dinner, and we went at all of 10pm to have that flat repaired. I was humming And I Love Her, one of my favourite songs, and my mother, who doesn’t sing or play music herself, finished the line for me and we had a good chuckle at it and sang on the way back home. It’s a memory even she may not remember, but one I cherish.
The Beatles were famously known for not all being trained musicians – but Martin, a musical prodigy who played piano, oboe, guitar and a number of other instruments – and was properly musically trained – filled that gap for them.
They were like a tapestry – a beautiful tapestry, albeit one with holes in it, holes that needed to be patched, darned, to Come Together. And that thread, that tailor, that magician was named George Martin.
Many who listened, and listen to the Beatles may not know the little things – that it was Martin who had to wheedle McCartney into accepting a string quartet on Yesterday, when Macca wanted only an acoustic rock sound. The result is evident, and when the song hit No.1, maybe Martin felt vindicated.
He arranged their most beautiful work. Penny Lane (the second Beatles song I ever heard) and that lovely little trumpet that I remember dancing to on that same old carpet.
Now, back to A Hard Day’s Night. It was one of the albums we had lying around the house, and possibly my mum’s favourite one. The film was re-released in Indian movie theatres, and my mother simply HAD to go. I went with her.
I had only ever heard the songs, never actually watched the film. I did. I fell in love, too.
It’s one of my favourite limited edition DVDs, one I ended up buying in my late teens many years after the incident, but I’ve watched the film a million times.
That bit when Ringo goes off by himself, falls in a puddle, down a well? Those funny little bits of music behind him, behind Paul’s grandfather? That was all George Martin, who also composed in secret.
Also perhaps my favourite Bond film of all time, as a massive fan of Paul McCartney (obviously) and Roger Moore (whom I still have a crush on!), Live and Let Die, was scored by Martin as well.
He was like a second father figure, said Paul McCartney, in a touching tribute to the man who, only 15 years his senior, had guided and held his hand through a dog-eat-dog world, and truly, it may be said, got their talent to hit the stratosphere (and go to outer space, quite literally).
Every time I pick up my guitar, or play my piano, I think of my love for music that started when I was a toddler. When my fingers glide across ivory or strings, and when that first bar of Here Comes the Sun comes to life, that spirit, that love, that was the Georges at work.
Their mentor in both music and life, Martin outlived half the band he had nurtured and seen grow. Remastered their music, which was truly also his.
The Cute Beatle famously said “If anyone deserved the fifth Beatle tag, it was George (Martin). Martin played that off, saying it was Neil Aspinall (their longtime roadie) who deserved that title, but it was always George.
Help, we need somebody.
Help, not just anybody.
Help, you know we need someone, they cried out.
That someone was George Martin, and now he’s left home, with that lovely music in our ears and in our eyes.
Thank you for everything.
JNU. Jawaharlal Nehru University. One of the oldest, most prestigious, highly-regarded universities in the country. If you mentioned the name today, at this moment in time, you’d be referring likely exclusively to the obsessively politicised issue that has seen reams and reams of newsprint and hours of airtime dedicated to it – and not necessarily productively.
The Telegraph ran a poignant cover a few days ago, but all photography and pithy headlines aside, the true worrying fact that we are ruled, and sadly, surrounded by jingoistic ‘nationalists’ persists.
That persistent rhetoric – of ‘nationalism’, ‘patriotism’ and ‘country-love’ is one best served only in the history books, which have shown us exactly how this has turned out in the past. Badly for those who stand against it.
And yet, for a country that would like to describe itself as having ‘arrived on the world stage,’ with big-money mining projects, invisible Foreign Direct Investments that our leaders are bringing in, projects that are yet to entirely materialize but come guaranteed to adversely affect the environment.
To those who are not as yet completely abreast of the situation at JNU, a group of students held a demonstration allegedly condemning the hanging of Afzal Gru, who in 2013 was hanged for the 2001 attacks on the Indian Parliament.
That case is itself shrouded in mystery, and whether one agrees or disagrees is a new can of worms entirely, and its own separate debate, one that will not be alluded to here.
This, and alleged ‘slogans’ that were chanted at the college, were described as ‘anti-national’ by politicians who have opinions on every issue that goes on in the country – barring those that actually matter and are truly consequential.
These ‘anti-national’ statements led to police action. Delhi Police, who I presume are a bit short on work considering how women are incredibly safe in the capital and need no police assistance whatsoever, that there is no gun (or other violence) in the capital, you know, the things it has become notorious for worldwide, picked up on this and promptly took a student leader into judicial custody, in the sort of speedy action perpetrators ofsome seriously heinous crimes seldom receive.
And therein lies the first problem. Whether or not one agrees with their statements, personal opinion of no kind should be able to have you imprisoned.
Being contrarian, and now labelled controversial instead has had student leader Kanhaiya Kumar arrested. The same political figures who are shockingly mute when issues need to be addressed have, in the past few days, done various things, each of them vocally.
They have cried themselves hoarse reiterating the same nationalistic, jingoistic rhetoric that had them elected in the first instance. The irony being that these very same parties, back when India was still under colonial rule – as was the case not too long ago on a historical timeline – did nothing for the freedom struggle, for the actual nation.
These parties, and the members thereof, were the ones who insisted on wanting to remain under the Raj. It is then a bit odd that they have somehow successfully (at least to their worryingly unthinking target demographic) marketed an ideal of being the one true upholder of freedom ( a concept they have completely misinterpreted, incidentally) and nationalism (a concept that really should not exist.)
Would those who fought for our nation’s freedom in the many years gone by have condoned the fact that those very freedoms, freedoms the Raj tried to quash – the ability to express oneself without the fear of legal retribution, without worrying about arrest, bodily harm and with true freedom – of expression and speech, none of which have been given to protesters.
Upholders of the law (at least on paper), in their black robes, have reduced themselves to what the bulk of our political parties have all always been – a bunch of weapon-wielding, non-cerebral goons who want to impart vigilante justice with no real understanding of the issues, but carry out what those who are playing them so conveniently mention.
In the day since student leader Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested, he has been called ‘seditious’, a traitor, words politicians in India have used for anybody who disagrees with their views. Contrarian? Seditious. Anti-establishment? Traitor. The responses roll off forked snake-tongues like oil off a duck’s back.
(For more, see Arundhati Roy, Aseem Trivedi)
Our ministers have, in joining with the goondas, nay, being them in full force, failed us entirely in upholding what our country – and really, any democracy – should really be about.
So when a BJP MLA says he was ‘upholding his duty’, an MLA who happens to be a lawyer, that duty he refers to is not justice – it’s goondagiri and hooliganism.
Perhaps a step back would be in order for the same netas who are so proud of our nation and all things saffron (which incidentally, Iran is the world’s biggest producer of). In aggressively marketing their own brand of nationalism – waving what is simply a gigantic orange dick at the general public, some of which holds on tightly to it, they have failed the ideals we fought colonial rule in the first place for.
Of the ability to think, to speak, to exist for oneself and not as an instrument, an extension of the powers that be.
We have been told how to love, whom to love, what to eat and why, how we must behave and dress (to prevent rape, of course! If we women dress ‘provocatively’, we’re asking for it because those poor men can’t control themselves!).
We are now being told what to say, and what we cannot, and shown exactly what the consequences will be if we do.
The terrifying thing here is that it is not just political hardliners (but considering our powers, everyone is a political hardliner, now) but even our home minister and ministers of state, people who should in fact distance themselves from this, the most vocal of all against the students at JNU.
When even those who protest against this manhandling, this throttling of our freedoms are routinely beaten by police, it is more than worrying – it is the proverbial Grim Reaper come to visit, telling us to bid our liberties goodbye.
Instead of an unhappy public expressing dissent with the government, it is now the government that has expressed that dissent. In ways that should not be legal and have no place in a democratic society.
And therein, dear politicians, ministers, and those who do not stand with the students, lies the real terrorism. It is when the police see the student who was attacked identify his attacker and let the man walk out scot-free.
Not in a political rally at a college where students are encouraged to think critically – a skill it appears you will never possess.
That word, nationalism? I don’t think it means what you think it means.
As obviously evinced from the many, many posts dedicated to him on my blog, I absolutely adore David Bowie, and his life, music and death have all, in turn, had a profound impact on my life.
[More on that here.]
Today, I covered his iconic hit, Space Oddity.
Have a listen here:
Today, a normal Monday. Many of us woke up, went to work, listening to the man on our commute.
Two days ago, Blackstar. A seminal album for the ages, just as every single one of his others had been. Like many others, I enjoyed it, replayed it, enjoyed it again.
Two days ago, I was in a tattooist’s chair, having Aladdin Sane permanently etched into my clavicle in ink.
Sat down at work and got onto my laptop, got through some work, and logged on to Facebook.
Like all of us who are now utterly shattered, I read that David Bowie was no more.
I immediately called up a close friend who loves the man as much as I do. I spoke to him. “It’s not true.”
Both voices shaking. Neither wanting to believe.
Later, confirmation. From his son. That the great man was gone. No more. Just like that, snuffed out in an instant.
It wasn’t in an instant for him, or for Duncan, or Iman, or his daughter.
18 months is a long, hard fight, and in a sense it’s better that it was not longer.
But this was a loss the world was not, has not been, would never have been ready for. How can the immortal Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke, just leave?
My brush with Bowie began in my teens, when I first heard Life on Mars. It blew my mind in ways that I still remember today. Every bit revelatory, every bar of music, every single word of the lyrics touched my soul in a way that is truly indescribable and still, even using every word in existence, every emotion we know of, is somehow not enough.
It was the freakiest show.
Like a starved man who had tasted his first morsel of food, I, in my Teenage Wildlife, devoured his music. Lapped it up. Every single piece of it.
Each album brought out nuances, subtleties in music that one may have never believed existed. Themes and motifs all the writers of the world may not have been able to come up with even put together.
Every album behind a mask, behind a character – or perhaps, written by it. The young, hollowed out Aladdin Sane wrote of himself, of Ladies Grinning Soul, with pianos that sounded like flamenco guitar.
The lyrics inspired even the least creative of minds to conjure up images they may never have seen. Lady Grinning Soul. A tall woman by a piano in a bar, perhaps, her body shrouded in mystery and feathers, her eyes afire as she held a microphone.
Who knows if that is the image he intended. But it was always the one it brought to my mind. It’s one that is vivid, as if it were in front of my eyes just now.
Drive In Saturday made me want to fall in love. Hard. And hold someone close, and kiss them harder. And not let go.
And know what it was like to hold them as we both fell away, tired, sated and still at peace.
It’s absolutely one of my favourite songs to this day, and I’m playing it as I write this just now.
A song, an album that opens parts of you you didn’t know existed.
To anyone who is reading this, please, just go, turn out the lights, and play Aladdin Sane. An album for the ages if there ever was one.
He covered Pink Floyd, The Beatles, his own friends – the Stones. He did the Kinks and did them beautifully.
But his sheer capacity for songwriting – across genre, subject, lyric, music, instrument, absolutely anything – cannot even be described as monumental. Bigger than the ever-expanding universe, even. For a slow, flamenco-meets-piano Lady Grinning Soul, there was a Starman.
For a Starman, there was an Ashes to Ashes.
For every poignant song that could evoke tears at a moment’s notice, there was a Kooks, written for his son, about going to school and being a normal father. No, scratch that, not a normal father, a wonderful one.
It made me want to be able to come home to my own dad and laugh with him as I ran home from school, and in a sense, as I grew older, I did sometimes have my mother to be able to sit after school with as we watched TV together, and I’ll cherish those memories forever.
Before Aladdin Sane came The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Written from the point of view of an earth-visiting Alien. AKA David Bowie himself. A truly otherworldly being. Not human, not religiously divine.
Just a mortal with the potential of a superman.
In my darkest, most suicidal days, I overplayed Quicksand over and over again. And the Bewlay Brothers, as I imagined my life gladly slipping away from me, wanting to end whatever pain I was going through. And even then, in that darkness, those songs were things of sheer and utter beauty and nothing else.
The album was also special to me in that the first song I ever performed in public, for an actual audience, was a little ditty named Moonage Daydream. I’ll be a rock and rollin’ bitch for you, David.
The memory of walking into that dim light as my friend Laura set up a stool and microphone for me, announced me in and allayed my jittery nerves, that memory is so vivid.Adjusting a microphone for me, and a microphone for my guitar as the low screeech of the feedback echoed.
The smell of beer, good and bad, the low hum of what was perhaps a semi-interested audience that cheered me on as I sang and played on, and then it never stopped.
Memories of some of the best times of my life have become inextricably tied to David Bowie, to his music, to his legacy. The first time I ever tried to smoke a cigarette, I was listening to Life on Mars, and to this day it is reminiscent of that breeze, that smell, that burning ash.
I then introduced one of my young, closest friends to it, and she fell in love with it too.
Letter to Hermione, a wonderful gem off Space Oddity, holds a special place in my heart. On a date with a man I had fallen deeply for as a young woman years ago, he held my hand and sang it to me on a beach in the heat of mid-day and my young, impressionable mind that had never known love, opened up and soared, and melted into his arms.
I spoke to that man this morning as I cried, and he did not want to believe it either.
Even teenage me, wanting to die, holding a swiss knife to my wrist, listened to Quicksand over and over again, with no belief in or love for myself, and still somehow was able to enjoy the music with every fibre of my being, sink into the lyrics that spoke so deeply to my soul I felt like the man, the musician knew me, knew my fight, as I struggled to deal with being unloved, alone, bullied and hurt.
As I finally took to fiction, each story a cathartic experience, those were inspired by Bowie too. A homeless young girl (with the mousy hair). A Major Tom, who lost his mind.
Wanting truly to know the happiness that came from love, I listened to Kooks. Of a father who just wanted to put his son in the car and drive him around when homework got too much. A simple melody was Kooks, and still inspired so much happiness.
Lady Stardust. A transvestite. Playing into Bowie’s beautifully fluid gender idols. Androgyny. The male. The female. All one, and one with each other. And it didn’t matter if you were gay, straight, male or female. You were attracted to him, in love completely with a man, a being, walking music himself.
And he reinvented himself, year after year after year. After year.The Thin White Duke. Throwing darts in lovers’ eyes.
The Next Day was a new Bowie. The talent of and genius of old. The music of now. And his old personae came out to play.
Ever the consummate actor, Bowie was not just prolific in film as the iconic Nikola Tesla, whom he portrayed in The Prestige – perhaps his most well-known film role to date, but as the Man Who Fell to Earth (a must watch, if you have not already). Of Jareth the Goblin King, with a beautiful voice and a just-as-beautiful bulge.
An innovator in music, in writing in film, in truly every sense of the word was David Bowie.
And if you’ve ever watched his interviews, he was devastatingly funny (and handsome), disarmingly charming, honest, baldly open, just himself. And you couldn’t help but fall completely in love.
Only three days ago, Blackstar came out. His video, his song. Lazarus. The biblical character whom Jesus resurrected.
The musical character, the man, the enigma, the riddle, the genius. Not a mortal at all, but resurrected in death to live for all eternity, just as that final video.
In a way, it is just as well that 18 months of hard-fought suffering have come to an end, but it is the sheer loss that we, as fans, as lovers in our heads, find it hard to come to terms with.
I guess we all just thought he was immortal. And in so many ways, he is, and he will be.
Now one with space and time and the energy of the universe, there really is a Starman out there somewhere.
Ashes to Ashes, funk to funky.
Yesterday, Chris ‘Lad of the Lads’ Gayle played a strong knock at the Big Bash League.
Of course, this prompted journalist Mel McLaughlin to ask him about his performance and what he “looked forward to.”
“Looking forward to looking at your ass later” somehow seemed to Gayle an appropriate response.
He then proceeded to ask her out for a drink, telling her “not to blush.”
Despite her insistence that she was not, in fact, blushing, he continued. Of course, this made its way to the internet – as everything does now.
Unfortunately, it also saw Gayle’s behaviour repeatedly defended by ‘lads’ who saw his behaviour as a bit of ‘banter’ (I’m going to go crazy with the quotes because it appears to the only way to truly convey both sarcasm and utter disgust.)
I went onto the internet and attempted to address the issue by commenting on a BBC Sport article with my public profile. I expected abuse and backlash. I may not have been able to predict the sheer volume, though.
A couple of shining examples:
Not pictured are the ~50 more comments I got later, telling me I “don’t need to worry about needless sexualisation you c*nt, have you seen your own face? You don’t need to worry about any sexualisation” and “bitch, F1? Do you even know who Kimi is?”
Yes, because any F1 journalist worth their salt is completely unaware.
Internet abuse and trolls have been around since the inception of the internet. It’s easy, fun (for them), a quick way to attack someone and pass your day without having to worry about the consequences to someone on the other side of the screen.
What bothered me was not only how dismissive Gayle was of McLaughlin’s questions, but also how quick most people were to defend that behaviour. Among the various excuses I read: “he’s Jamaican,” “he was just flirting,” “it was innocent.”
Sadly, it’s not innocent when you’re trying to do your job and someone, like I said to my lovely internet trolls up there, neglects that entirely, instead choosing to focus on your sex, sexuality, and all things unrelated.
As an F1 and tennis editor (and obsessive enthusiast), I’ve had seemingly innocuous tweets directed at me that say things to the effect of “oh, you’re a chick who does motorsport? That’s really cool. Sorry if I sound sexist.”
I’m not sure the man was sorry at all.
(Here, I’d mention Jennie Gow, whom I look up to for Formula One – and a lot of my information.)
There seems to be a very pervasive attitude that what is between your legs dictates what is between your ears, what you enjoy, your skill.
Unfortunately, that seems not to have stopped the men who implied I went to the gargantuan effort of paying a man to ghostwrite for me so I would seem like a ‘cool chick’, which speaks more to me about the shallowness of the idiot who took time out of his day to send me that letter.
Flirting may be fun, and it’s human. Like everything else, it also has a time and place, neither of which is ‘on national television when you’re being interviewed.’
Still, the constant (and still continuing) comments that seem to suggest I am ‘frustrated because I’m not getting any’ anger and upset me in equal measure, and not for the reasons these men likely expect.
The behaviour implies somehow that my self-worth, and that of every other woman, is tied into the opposite (or same) sex finding us sexually attractive. It’s a malaise that has plagued society a long enough time that many women have grown up believing this to actually be true, with several self-esteem issues tied into various forms of perceived attractiveness.
I say this as someone who spent a majority of their youth being bullied and called exactly that – ugly – in addition to qualifying for another very undesirable label – the ‘nerd’.
Live television, and during someone’s work, is not an appropriate situation in any way to bring up wanting a ‘coffee’, a date, or being boastful of admiring someone’s posterior (not something to be proud of in any event).
Neither is shirking what the person (man, woman or otherwise) in front of you is asking you. Address the question, move on as every sportsperson does, as does everyone who has been on the news. There is humour and there is inappropriate creeping.
As anyone who has had to deal with unwanted advances has definitely experienced, all you want to do in that moment is extricate yourself from the situation entirely, which, given the nature of McLaughlin’s job, she was unable to do. It is to be admired that she continued to stand there and powered through Gayle’s continuously disgusting behaviour even as he asked her “not to blush” – something she did not even do.
To those who bring unrelated factors into Gayle’s advances – unwanted attention can come from any source whatsoever. If it is unwanted, it is unwanted. Mutual consent is really not that hard to understand, as is taking someone else and their job seriously.
Here, sadly, because McLaughlin is a woman, those factors somehow have culminated into it being ‘okay’ and ‘cool’ for Gayle to behave the way he did. As a person doing her job, I’m sure she simply wanted to be able to finish it effectively. Which, considering the circumstances, she did with aplomb.
I may not be at McLaughlin’s scale of reporting – but as a journalist who focuses on what people sadly consider a ‘male’ sport – Formula One – I have men emailing me saying I “don’t know”, “am pretending,” or quite simply am shit.
This is just to recount the experience of the many, many trolls who have tried (unsuccessfully) to break me down with expletives, implying my knowledge is somehow lacking because I am a woman, that I do not know my sport, that I am somehow lying about enjoying watching someone bat.
Considering the way the internet and attitudes are, to expect trolls to understand truly that their spite, their awful profanity, is actually reaching someone on the other end of a screen, is likely a big ask. [It still doesn’t mean you stop trying.]
Until then, we all need to Lean In and end yet another disgusting disease – that in 2015, there are still people who believe there are things women ‘can’t do.’
To the man who messaged me saying “goddamn feminist,” yes I am.
And darn proud of it.
Miss. It was such a strange word, and it meant so much.
I miss what she looked like – the silver-grey-blue eyes, the eyes nobody else had, the eyes she prayed so hard I wouldn’t get. The eyes she told Ma were ‘strange’, the eyes she celebrated me not having as I screamed bloody murder in her arms.
I miss the way they twinkled every time she smiled, like a tiny little star glistened inside each of them, more than the diamonds in her ears ever could, as the corners creased and crinkled ever so slightly.
The same eyes that spewed forth tears and tears of laughter as we were doubled over on the sofa laughing at something all too inconsequential every single day.
Her constant laughter around her house as she imitated everyone we knew, down to their most subtle tics and quirks.
Peering over the balcony full of the plants she loved so much as we watched people go by on the streets below and she imitated them too.
Her neologisms and nicknames for everyone and everything, something I can’t resist doing now that I’m an ‘adult’ just like she was, whatever that’s supposed to mean.
I miss the extra puli in everything, just because I loved it like that, though nobody else could stand it. That little tongue smack we both did when the zing hit.
Talking to her over endless glasses of Cad-B as she cracked the silliest jokes, the funniest jokes, and sometimes the most scatological ones I’ve ever heard. Dirty jokes are even funnier when they’re from your grandmother’s youth, I’ve learned. And dick jokes never get old, they’re just flayed away.
The sound of the big steel drums as the lids clattered everywhere, as mixture and murukku and everything from paati’s last Grand Sweets haul came tumbling out of packets hidden away just for me.
The child who lay in her lap recounting absolutely irrelevant information became an adult who did much the same. Curls knotted from swimming, gentle hands pressed oil into my scalp and patiently detangled every last bit as stand-up comedians did their bit on Star Vijay.
I often find myself thinking of a stupid joke she would have loved, or that macroeconomics theory she would have explained to me had she been around. My grandmother, the economics genius who would likely have explained the Grexit, Tsipras and everything in between to me in the span of a few minutes was also the woman who watched what seemed like a ridiculous Tamil version of Grey’s Anatomy as we ate in silence.
I miss the situationally inappropriate giggling, the laughter that never needed a reason to be, but just was. The knowledge and security of those two arms, so similar to my own, enveloping me as I felt the things I needed to feel without saying the words I could have.
As I hurt, seeing the tears fall from her eyes instead of my own.
Of the parcels that came every month for that little girl when her grandmother lived quite far away, of the dozens of pattu pavadai that always arrived in brown paper bags, of sweaters that smelled of naphtha but were cherished for years like a dear friend.
I miss hearing “paati, Anu wants to speak to you!” in the background as you scrambled to the phone.
Of the crinkly silk sarees you loved so much and the best toilet humour I will ever hear. As the strictly vegetarian you watched me eat my very non-vegetarian KFC and made that ridiculous breast joke weeks before you left for good. That time Joey paraded your bra through every floor of the house and then dropped it on the porch as we cried with laughter.
Of the smell of love, now encapsulated in sambar and mothballs, of the coconut barfi that has remained a memory since you left.
To the warm, living being with two legs who is now a picture on my wall with those same twinkling eyes, consumed by the sizzle at the crematorium that fateful January morning.
Today, Caitlyn Jenner came out to the world, happy and finally free to live her life as herself, and be true to her own identity. She debuted some beautiful pictures on the cover of Vanity Fair, and they were deservedly lauded.
As a cis*-woman myself, I have never and will never know the struggles of being trans. However, the cover got me thinking about gender binaries. Is femininity, merely the idea of being a woman, so closely associated with an external, physical ideal of beauty? Why must being female necessarily mean fitting some external ideal of ‘beauty’, whatever it is?
It is one thing to applaud Jenner’s admittedly gargantuan courage in taking the step publicly – it will doubtless provide some inspiration and courage to those who could not, for whatever reason, come out as trans. However, it seems as though it is the ‘prettiness’ that is being publicly lauded, with plenty of online commenters comparing Caitlyn to her ex-wife, Kris, pitting the women against each other.
And that brings me to a more pertinent question – is the gender binary so pronounced that dressing in lingerie, hair styled, posing and makeup are construed as a true portrayal of femininity? Is that all there is to being or identifying as a woman?
Humanity begins the binary at youth. Dresses versus shorts. Pink versus blue. Barbie vs G.I Joe. (This brings to mind an old episode of Friends, where Ross was correctly called out by his ex-wife’s wife, after constantly trying to replace his son’s Barbie doll with an action figure.) Short hair versus long.
Left to their own devices, children have been seen to play with whatever toy is nearest them, or whatever catches their fancy. The gendering of those toys, if they are humanoid, does not matter. Unfortunately, people gender the most inanimate, genderless things – like Lego or Meccano toys, which contribute to children’s analytical and cognitive development – and they somehow take on the label of being ‘for boys’.
As adults who could know better, these same children, as all of us once were, are trapped in a cycle that we do not know how to get out of. The cycle of fitting, or being made to fit into boxes and compartments that as fluid beings, mentally, sexually or otherwise, we do not need to belong in. And thus femininity comes to be associated with dresses. With lingerie and red lipstick and roughly tousled hair that looks as if a woman is in the throes of amorous passion but still immaculately made up. That is our ideal of ‘sexy’, of ‘feminine’, when those words cannot either be defined or boxed in. As many women adhere to conventional standards of ‘fashion’ as do not. Does that make the latter group any less feminine?There are women who are fond of heels, high, low, anything in between. There are also as many women who would rather wear slippers or trainers. It does not make either group any more or less feminine either.
But Caitlyn’s cover, and so many Vanity Fair covers before hers, seem to ideate female beauty as being just that – a dressed up, made up, posing, pouting being on legs.
There is often an interview that accompanies the glossy, high-end pictures of a Vanity Fair spread, but the interview tends to be secondary to the photographs. Every bit of publicised coverage about Caitlyn mentions that Annie Leibovitz is the photographer, but there is no mention of the writer assigned to the job – his/her job is a secondary, cursory thing. The interview may focus on Caitlyn’s struggles, her transition and what came with it – but the piece at large focuses on her new physical attributes, which while I am sure are important to her, unfortunately seem to connote that that physicality is the essence of femininity. There are several other things popular media seems to label as decidedly feminine, in the absence of which women are ‘less woman’ somehow – however, those are not relevant to a discussion of Caitlyn and her journey and will be discussed separately.
Is Jenner an icon for inspiring many young transwomen to be able to come out? Yes. We must remember that transwomen and transmen are not all from the same circumstances – they may not have access to medical facilities, counselling, healthcare and the other things Caitlyn has had access to. Will Caitlyn’s courage still inspire them to be able to be able to publicly embrace their identities? One hopes so – but we should not denigrate, belittle and compartmentalise women and box ‘femininity’ whilst we try to publicize and bring attention to what it means to be trans, and help the public understand it.
One should not be at the cost of the other.
Either way, I wish Caitlyn every single happiness, and I am sure she will have more of it now that she is able to freely embrace her life in all its glorious entirety.
*cis implies that your gender identity matches the sex you were assigned at birth
and you WON’T believe what happened next!
Apologies. If that clickbait headline didn’t suck you in, I hope what I have to say will. Recently, a well-known website ran a piece on a British blogger, Lucy Hemmings, who visited the country, but went through some horrific experiences and felt the awful effect of our completely patriarchal society first-hand. I would like to preface my piece by saying I do not wish to belittle her or her experiences. I’m certain they must have been extremely traumatic, I’m sorry that she went through them and I wish her luck in healing.
This is addressed to the Indian men ‘apologising’, and that being seen as a wonderful thing. It isn’t.
The motive of these ‘apologies’ is suspect, as is the language used in them. One reads: “thank you for showing that India is not Slumdog Millionaire! Thank you for showing people we have a beautiful culture.”
‘Culture’ is not just one thing. It isn’t the backwaters or the marshes, or the palms swaying in the background. ‘Indian culture’, that oft-repeated term, is also a fictional angel or demon, depending on who is playing that card and how. It is as much ingrained in the Indian psyche to stoop to patriarchy as it is to boat in the backwaters. Or likely far, far more. Going by the state of roads in every single city in this nation, open defecation is also part of this ‘culture’. So is marital rape, which somehow still has no legislation against it.
Comments on various websites show men saying “its all a feminazi [do NOT fucking use this word] activist for dowry (sic)” or somehow implying that a) feminism and feminists are evil incarnate, or b) working for women’s rights is somehow unnecessary in ‘Indian culture’. These comments, many of which declare allegiance with an idiotic concept known as ‘men’s rights activism’, are ironic in their very existence, displaying exactly why India needs feminism so badly.
Another comment read, and patronisingly so: “So I just thought to say sorry (on behalf of everyone in India). I know you have moved on, learned the rules to live with more security. But I thought a sorry would make a difference.”
A ‘sorry’ for what, exactly? For reaffirming the patriarchy? For ‘ensuring’ she ‘learned the rules to live with more security’, security that is a basic human right and should not be tied to what I wear, how I look, how long or short my clothes are, my size, and so on and so forth?
What about all of the INDIAN women who face this garbage on a daily basis? Are we supposed to have internalised the ‘rules’ this wonderful man reminds us so we can ‘live with more security’, and a failure to adhere to these ‘rules’ is an instant ‘rape me/molest me/sexually harass me’ license?
Another man wrote about how he felt bad because he “had a little sister at home” that he “could not imagine all these things happening to”. Maa-behen feminism is the bane of Indian feminist existence. Is the only way for a man to know how to respect a woman as a human being to imagine her as his mother or sister if he has one? Must one need some sort of personal visualisation to be able to understand the issues women face? Or does human empathy not exist anymore? I have never needed to imagine myself as a dog to feel the pain of a dog (my own) that injured his leg. I felt sympathy and understanding for what he was feeling.
Pain does not have to be somehow astrally projected onto a loved one for one to fully comprehend its effects, something the people who espouse maa-behen feminism do not seem to understand, or even want to. Signs plastered all over the Bengaluru metro say “she is your daughter or your sister – do not steal her innocence.” Can one not feel sympathy and understanding for a victim of molestation unless she is related, or we somehow mentally pretend she is?
The men apologise furiously for a ‘foreigner’ having had a man masturbate at her. Except that there are millions of women every single day who are masturbated at, or have been masturbated at in the street. I am one of them, and I was too mortified to inform the police. I continued on my morning run, but the incident is quite unfortunately burned into my memory. I have had men ‘accidentally’ push me aside, their hands too close to my chest for comfort. I am a hundred percent certain I am far from the only person this has happened to, and I’m sorry to say it is likely happening to somebody as I type this.
Where are the Indian men apologising for the people who do this to Indian women? Plenty of them are guilty at staring 6 inches south of a woman’s face whilst talking to her. Where are the men apologising for the fact that our ‘culture’ promotes products like Fair and Lovely, which by its very name implies that fairness is lovely?
This entire incident proves how rampant racism is in India – and it’s entirely reflexive. In the Indian obsession with white skin and white people, these poor, apologetic men seem to have entirely overlooked the biggest demographic that suffers the repercussions of our wonderful ‘Indian Culture’ – Indian women.
The article ends with a letter from a man who writes: “P.P.S thank you for wearing kurta and kameez and respecting our culture and traditions”, which seems from the letter to have been something she did after being masturbated at, to prevent it from recurring.
Which would be fine… if that ‘kurta and kameez’ wasn’t what more than half the population of women wear in this country, every single day, and get masturbated at, catcalled, sexually harassed, molested or raped in spite of wearing. And that, dear man who wrote the letter, is because sexual harassment has nothing to do with what’s on my body, and everything to do with what is in your mind and those of men all over the country. That a woman exercising her own right to wear what she pleases, do whatever or whomever she wishes to, is a license to judge her character, and an open invite from her to sleep with you. It is not.
This somehow seems to all tie in with an attitude I have observed to be a very Indian phenomenon: the obsession with how others perceive us, our nation, our everything. These letters seem less to do with actual concern for Lucy or the awful incident that happened, and more with how people perceive India – as a ‘land of rapes’, a place where women are not respected, treated as equal beings, a country so steeped in patriarchy it’s emanating from the street, from the urine of all those men who piss on the street with impunity, with neither civic sense nor the risk of getting raped as so many women and young girls do when they are forced to void themselves in the middle of nowhere because there are no toilets for their use.
Instead of sweeping, insincere, misappropriated apologies that reek of desperation, the best ‘apology’ would be changing attitudes. This means not questioning what a woman was wearing, or her character, when she was sexually harassed. This means not condoning marital rape, not excusing its legality. This means treating women with respect, as equal human beings, which is what they are, and respecting their choices. This also entails not poking fun at an actor for starring in a video that may have been an ad campaign, but held a pertinent message all the same, a message the large demographic of Indian men want to deny – that sex is not something a woman is ‘expected to give a man’ – it’s an activity that is supposed to be pleasurable for both sexes. Marriage does not give a man the right to demand sex as he pleases. But our sex-starved nation, which is depraved enough that our ministers think sex education will somehow lead to promiscuity, will not acknowledge this.
This means not posting ‘behen ki ****’ on an online forum, or leering at a woman’s legs or breasts. No disparaging Sunny Leone for her choice of career. She chose to be in adult films – that was her prerogative. She now chooses to be in Bollywood cinema, which I argue is possibly more covertly sexual than adult films, and in the dirtiest way possible. That, again, is her prerogative, and it is not any more or less ‘respectable’ than anything she chooses to do – because she has chosen to do it.
Is anyone going to apologise to the women in the Sports Authority of India hostel, for the authorities who harassed female athletes for consuming alcohol and drove them to suicide?
A final rejoinder to the man who wrote in thanking Lucy for ‘respecting traditions’ by ‘wearing kurta and kameez’. Hey, the skirt I wore the other day was longer than the veshtis most men wear to go about their daily business – is that an open licence to molest them,too? [Hint: It’s not. What I’m wearing, or not, gives you NO license to touch me, or even look my way.]
I thank Messrs Rodgers and Hammerstein for providing me the inspiration for my conclusion, which is what I truly see as the reason for the ‘viral’ nature of those insipid, sickening letters.
White skin and ‘Indian culture’ tied up with string, two of the populace’s favourite things.
A barbaric attack this afternoon at the Paris offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo left 12 dead and several others severely wounded.
“…in [what is purported to be] an apparent militant Islamist attack, four of the magazine’s well-known cartoonists, including its editor-in-chief, were among those killed, as well as two police officers.”
Reports from several reputed news sources claim the attack as being carried out by people claiming to be part of Al Qaeda, although this has not been entirely corroborated yet.
While multitudes [myself included] have come out in strong support of the cartoonists following the attacks at Charlie Hebdo, some media outlets seem to highlight the ‘fact’ that Charlie Hebdo persisted in its irreverence, subliminally implying somehow that they deserved it. A perverted apologism of sorts for a violent, ruthless attack.
Irreverence can go to extremes, and it has done so repeatedly. In its most modern form, it has all but regressed in its entirety to its original iterations: to use, manipulate and control masses, a tool for power, whether that power is political, monetary or plain old physical might.
That oft repeated quote still stands: “Religion is like a dick. It’s fine to have one, but don’t go waving it around in people’s faces…”
AND don’t go stabbing people with it.
I would like to openly aver that there may be personal bias in that I am personally against the concept of religion in and of itself, and of the opinion that it has done far more harm than good in society. However, it is not anybody’s place to state to another what they may and may not believe [a job extremists take entirely upon themselves, and have done violently in this case].
Extremists seem convinced somehow that their beliefs are the ‘truest’, the strongest, the most faithful to an imaginary sky being on which they base their entire set of values and morals. (To the woman in Central London who once told me atheists ‘have no morals’, we choose to found ours on a reason unrelated to fear of punishment, retribution, becoming a Christmas turkey et al.)
Is your belief so weak that pens and pencils can shake it, cause it to be insulted, irreparably damaged? Is your ‘all-knowing’, ‘all-powerful’ being, the creator of all humanity and everything in existence, the one for whom you commit these crimes, so fragile that words will hurt it? The same being that threatens to punish a being for eternity for being ‘evil’ needs guarding and protection from a few words? Less reminiscent of a god, more reminiscent of a schoolyard bully too chicken to get a taste of his own medicine. Is THAT your belief?
Is belief asking people to ‘multiply’ to ‘replenish their numbers’? To arrest, silence, kill those who disagree?
Censorship is a world issue; Indian cartoonists have in the past been arrested for what was interpreted as ‘seditious work’. Protests are currently on in India against a film that showed, according to detractors, the country’s biggest religion in a ‘bad light’. [It didn’t – it was a sardonic, much-needed take against godmen and the money-spinning, divisive business that is religion.]
Multitudes protested – on the internet, vocally, in their homes, which, while I personally disagreed with, is perfectly alright. Extremists took it further, with picketing, physical violence and threats.
No physical harm came to any being, however, which is a significant relief, but does not condone the attacks.
Extremism, specifically extremist religion, is a plague. A veritable cancer, seemingly attempting to eat humanity and peace from the inside out; by attacking people, education, free speech and thereby, rational thought.
People have protested from time immemorial, with religion as their goal, their instrument, tool, their means and their end.
To protest film, literature, thought or dissent. In an ideal world, Deepa Mehta would never face widespread protest, and neither would Rajkumar Hirani. Salman Rushdie would never have had to flee, and neither would M.F. Husain. In a sane world, nobody would die as a result of the rabid insecurity of extremist factions, and their cowardly, bloody violence.
Perhaps we should remind ourselves today that if our beliefs (whether in a sky being, a tenet, a school of thought) are as unflappable as we believe them to be, names will never hurt them. It is that belief that should be under question in the end.
To those who believe an absence of religion necessarily means an absence of morality, where is YOUR morality now? In the pointlessly spilled blood of 12 innocent people?
Today, instead of backing down to those who have proclaimed themselves defenders or protectors of faith, each one of us must make a conscious effort to defend something ourselves: the license for others to say things we may not like or agree with, but respecting utterly their choice to express it anyway. The freedom of expression includes the freedom to offend (and being offended is one of humanity’s favourite pastimes).
With these attacks, extremists hope, in silencing those who disagree, that others who disagree will silence themselves. Fear for self censorship. That the threat of attack will lead them to ‘fall in line’.
Today, write more than you did yesterday. Say something you were afraid to say. Speak up about atrocities against everyone. If you protest the Paris attacks, protest those threatening the freedom of expression in your own political and geographic arena. Each time you feel personally slighted or violently offended at a film meant to point out exactly that, check yourself.
Murder is never defensible, and this was not merely an attack on the 12 victims at the offices of Charlie Hebdo. It was an attack on the freedom of expression, of the expression of that opinion without threat. It was an attack on every one of us with a voice that wants to be heard without silencing itself in fear. It is now up to us to not be cowed down; in the words of the slain Charlie Hebdo editor Stephane Charbonnier, to die standing, rather than live on our knees.