Writing practice

Recently, I walked past the first, and possibly one of two clubs I have been to, and I was a little surprised by how dingy and wretched it looked. In my memory, it was a shiny place, filled with high spirits and raucous young people making the most of their night. I imagined it to be exclusive, but now I know the five dollar entry was pitiful. There is a story, as always.

When this country on the other side of the world was still new, my worldly, sophisticated, slightly older friend found out I had never been to a club. She said it was her responsibility to change that. She had lived and worked in Mumbai, she had partied and spotted celebrities. We’re going on my birthday, she declared to me. When the day came around, she remembered what she’d said. She was dressed in a sparkly bandage dress, she looked like she belonged in an advertisement for hair care, or wax strips, she walked like she knew how attractive she was. I kept looking at her. I also felt guilty, for I considered this to be an Unnecessary Expense, and perhaps I should have been working on my assignment. But I was excited too, I wore heels and lip gloss, I couldn’t believe any of it.

We went to the club and the man standing guard wouldn’t let me in. I’m twenty two, I told him, and he laughed. Okay, he shrugged. I saw my friend’s disappointment, her rehearsed pout, and I panicked. I said to her, I’ll be back before you know it, I’ll get my ID. I wasted many minutes waiting for a bus that had just then decided to be late. Eventually, a car came to a stop, and an elderly black man rolled down the window and said he could take me where I wanted to go, for ten dollars. I waited a minute too long, I had recalled another Indian woman asking me to “be careful with the African Americans.” He smiled at me and I got in the car, and he said he hoped I’d have a good time that night. I retrieved my ID and presented myself at the club. I can’t tell you if I had a good time, I think didn’t know how to have a good time. I couldn’t move in time, to the beats of unfamiliar music, the frenzy was too alien.

Sometimes I like to tell this story when I am introduced to stereotypes in a conversation, when I notice that it only takes one person, one instance to generalize, to stand in for populations. Black people are always angry, and they tell you about a colleague who doesn’t like small talk. South Indian men are all chauvinistic, and there exists an anecdote to prove this too. Another example is presented, this time of someone from another caste. There is a reason society was divided this way, they explain, it is to do with what people are good at.

When I offer stories that counter their view of the world, using their means, the tales are quickly dismissed. Is it possible they realise the futility of their arguments, constructed without logic, laced with what-abouts? They are suddenly pragmatic. But that is just one story, they exclaim. Surely you cannot be so naive? 

In an episode of The Great British Baking Show, a contestant who is a stay-at-home father mentions more than once that being at home with his two children, while wonderful, often leaves him without a sense of purpose or notions of success. I found this a bit strange, and on following this thought, I learnt that my slightly off-centre reaction had to do with him being a man. It felt strange, and new, to hear a man share these sentiments, so far categorized in my mind as feelings claimed by women. Housewives: that category of women I resist being lumped with, whom I uncharitably envision as a homogeneous group, content with unimaginative television programming, often seen in nightie and dupatta. My pettiness is not lost on me. Yes, I understand housewives are not the problem, a system that romanticizes them is, and yes, stay-at-home fathers don’t have to be revolutionary.

The Tamil film Aan Devathai makes clumsy forays into this territory, by choosing to depict the problems that visit an ambitious woman who is not maternal, and her husband, a nurturing character with a job that doesn’t pay well. Of course, the movie takes the easy way out, by vilifying the woman and subjecting her to disgrace. Her list of crimes runs long. She does not want to cook nourishing food for her children, she is content ordering in at mealtimes. Her colleagues are frequently Christians with bad attitudes—they are unable to repay their debts and they chase a lifestyle without meaning or value, they influence her to make wrong choices. The man is conservative and idealistic, he dreams of the fresh air and morals of a pastoral life, he does not want to be shackled to a profit making enterprise. He revels in his role as a househusband, playing cards, enjoying aerobics, and exchanging recipe notes with other housewives in the neighbourhood. 

This is all relevant, and even important, but not when portrayed without nuance, when every opportunity to depict an event seems to lead the way for an argument against working women. The man wins, and the movie leaves us with a shot of him going to work, cheerfully dropping his children off at school on his way to the office. The woman waves bye to them, in a nightie. 

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8 thoughts on “Writing practice

  1. I loved to hear your take on Aan Devathai. I have come to the conclusion that movies can not work for me anymore. I seem to empahtically disagree with any movie almost on principle. I feel an almost indescribable disconnect. When I read your take on these movies, I feel like I am finally able to connect with someone at least to the extent that we both feel disconnected from the same concepts.

    Aan Devathai sounds like Mannan-sans-Goundamani.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You might remember Ki & Ka, another supposedly feminist movie. Aan Devathai is the version that takes itself too seriously.
      I didn’t get a chance to read through all the reactions to 96, but it didn’t work for me the way I expected it to. Maybe the flashback was sweet, but everything was overwrought. The only strong feeling I got was that the movie might have been made by someone who hadn’t experienced love.
      The question is, why am I still watching these movies? 😅

      Like

  2. Loved this piece Anu. Glad that the woman in the nightie at the end of the movie did not have dupatta 🙂

    Yes, I liked portions of 96 especially the flashback portions especially. But just couldn’t believe that the teenage Ram stalked Jaanu and knew everything about her but she somehow didn’t know any of this from their common friends. 96 movie is for our Virgin pasanga who think that their love is purrrrreee.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is all relevant, and even important, but not when portrayed without nuance, when every opportunity to depict an event seems to lead the way for an argument against working women.

    –> This line, about nuance, is a nuanced observation! I feel that such kind of subjects work best when they focus on the individuals in the story instead of constantly striving to make the characters mouthpieces for the philosophies that the writer believes in. The more specific the characters get, the more universal the appeal will be. Because good writers realize that the more nuanced they get with their observations, somehow amazingly there are truckloads of people that have had similar, very specific things happen in their lives. A case in point is the argument that Maddy and Shalini have regarding Shalini’s father. Maddy is seething with anger and gets all indignant when Shalini suggests that they call on him. But quickly realizes the error of his ways and first thing next morning, even before he has gotten out of bed, he makes up for his questionable behavior the previous evening. The observation made me smile because I have been in situations where I try to utilize the first available opportunity to make up for a mistake. To me, the nuance here is that it was a bedside conversation. To me personally, it wouldn’t have worked as well had it been a conversation on a train ride back after the next day’s work.
    Visu, the master of the family drama that didn’t have much subtlety found a way around this – He would make several sharp observations, albeit, in a loud manner stripped of too much nuance. But he would invariably have multiple perspectives on the same issue. As a result, despite the lack of nuance, you would still be able to relate to at least one of the characters in a movie. Kudumbam oru kadhambam might look and feel dated now – after all, it doesn’t have a woman character that goes to work because she simply likes to. But in Suhasini and Sumalatha, and in Pratap Pothen and S Ve Sekar, he had meaningful, contrapuntal scenes.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t think I have the patience to sit through a Visu movie now…though I have watched a number of them in the somewhat distant past.
      Too many directors are eager to pander to populist sentiments (how a woman should behave, who is a Tamil man, what love means and so on), that they don’t treat circumstances with integrity.
      Thanks for the comment. 🙂

      Like

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