The Internet Personified: Is Indian TV finally going to show things relevant to you and me?
I watched Made In Heaven, Zoya Akhtar's dreamy luxe vision of rich Delhi and the weddings they have, over the last week and of course, I had some thoughts, which I attempted to tweet about at the time, but now it's been like a week since I watched the show, so I feel like my opinion has fully slow cooked, and is ready to be placed on the table properly.
I'm not a very Bollywood person. I've seen the iconic movies, your Dil Chahta Hai, Lagaan, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (Segue: This last one because I used to know this guy who was O-B-S-E-S-S-ED with this movie. He lived in West Delhi somewhere, and was friends with my secondary friends, you know who I mean, not the people you hang out with all the time, but the people who will do when your first choices aren't available. Anyhow, I remember sitting in his large, very adult bedroom, like it was all matching counterpanes and thick ornate curtains and some scenery type painting on the wall. We were in college, so my room at that point was postcards on the wall and poetry/lyrics I thought were damn deep written on the back of my door. Also, my room was yellow and purple with spirals on the ceiling. I was about eighteen. Anyway, this dude would light a joint which my secondary friends would smoke--not me, I might have had spirals on the ceiling but my vices were few--and then we'd all pile on to his bed and watch K3G, which made them laugh a lot more than me.... oh.) But I wasn't into Bollywood, I found it hard to suspend my disbelief when two people suddenly burst into song, or some dad came down very hard on his daughter and she didn't scream, "I hate you, I hate you" but actually went along with what he said? And we were supposed to be rooting for this chick? PLEASE. (Segue part two: Of course, I never found it hard to believe in all the bullshit Hollywood was feeding me, like a prostitute getting a millionaire who paid for her sexy services to be decent and kind to her and eventually falling in love or that a man and a woman can never be friends, which is SO RIDICULOUS and please do not buy into this myth, ladies and gents.)
(Potential spoilers ahead, so read at your own risk etc) (But this is not really a show I can spoiler, no murders and shit)
All this to explain that I have no Zoya Akhtar CONTEXT, you know? I'm not sure what to expect from her, but I did get very Monsoon Wedding-y vibes from Made In Heaven, which is about this STUNNINGLY BEAUTIFUL WOMAN all fragile and clavicle-y with a surprisingly emotive face who comes from this lower class family and marries rich and her business partner who is a Modern Gay Man and so of course the show is just his big old gay story--I would like for once an Indian show to treat homosexuality as casual, something that ALSO HAPPENS instead of lighting it with all these deep dark art house vibes with background music that basically tells us LOOK LOOK GAY PEOPLE HAW. That being said, it IS a relief to have homosexuality actually spelled out in a show, Karan is someone we all know, there's this one sex scene in his flat which is really sexy and lingers over all of it, the nakedness, the writhing, in a loving way before panning out to show (SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT) the landlord masturbating to this image, so you're suddenly taken from witnessing a private moment as a participant to a spectator like the landlord, it's very cleverly done.
Of course, because Karan is Gay, there's a whole 377 story, getting arrested, deciding to file a PIL and so on, which again, is GREAT but also, this is supposed to be a show about Delhi weddings, so it's all very confusing, what with the Great Gay Story as well as this adultery unhappiness betrayal social climbing plotline which is what is going on with Tara, the other partner, I guess to undercut that no marriages are happy? And literally, you guys, the show could not pound this point in more: NO MARRIAGES ARE HAPPY. One client discovers that her fiance has asked for a dowry, the other has to come to terms with the fact that her rich in laws have had her background investigated, one cheats on her fiance with the Bollywood superstar he has flown in, one is drugged by her parents so she goes through the motions without kicking up a fuss. Literally the only unequivocally happy ending is one where a widow remarries and her kids (my friend Charu Shankar plays the disapproving daughter with great flair!) disapprove but eventually come round.
A lot has been said about how the show is supposed to be about Delhi but is actually a Bombay person's perception of Delhi, which I didn't notice in the first couple of episodes but soon began to see is true. There's shots in the Delhi metro, a bride shooting a music video in "some ruins or something ya" but they got the accents wrong, all the people have rich SoBo accents, not SoDe at all. But okay, accents are a small part of it, there's just little details, for example, the rich husband of Tara and the best friend of Tara (Jim Sarbh, who apparently everyone except me knows and Kalki Koechlin who I do know because I try and keep track of the cool ladies) (I mean knows of in like a celebrity way, not personally) who are naturally banging each other because Tara is in a Strange New World of rich people and large dining tables and a farmhouse home from where she apparently commutes all over the city without once being stuck in traffic, and ALSO I don't know what weird time of year they've set this in, but everyone is wearing sleeveless/half sleeved clothes but not sweating or shivering. Maybe it's March! They're supposed to be Delhi, but they aren't, they're very Rich Bombay and I can't explain how those two are different only say that they ARE, fundamentally two very opposing kinds of beasts. One of the little details that struck me, and this is quite a small quibble but adds up nonetheless was how when Tara decides to slum it in Old Delhi, she's thinking a lot about her roots and so on, she eats gol gappas from a streetside guy which okaaaay calm down Tara you've been drinking RO paani for like five years now you're definitely going to get sick but also she holds the gol gappa shell delicately in two fingers and SIPS FROM THE LEAF CUP FIRST which is exactly the opposite way to eat it, which someone who was returning to their roots etc would def know.
But for the first time ever there's people like us on TV doing people like us things, I mean, rich people cray etc but you see their crayness through the eyes of our leads. I'd get rid of the SUPER ANNOYING photographer/narrator summing it up in the end, there's one bit where he's giving us a lecture about dowries, every episode ends in a mini-lecture, I got so annoyed I wanted to mute it, and he goes, "something something OUR WOMEN." I'm just like fuck off I'm not your women. I'd emphasise the working class girl Jazz who comes to work with all the rich folk, some of her scenes are delightful--her first time in a five star hotel and she does what all of us do: takes a long tub bath.
It's getting there though. With Amazon and Netflix commissioning a bunch more things (if any executives are reading this, I do have several novels which are PERFECT for the small screen!) I think we'll see more and more representations of people we know, scenes we're familiar with and so on. It's a small step, but it's a step.
This fortnight in stuff I wrote
New Mythology for the Millennial column! This time: all about Hanuman, the man, the myth, the monkey.
You can't divorce Hanuman's simian nature from his godliness. In fact, the very thing that makes him such a perfect ally to Ram in the Ramayana is his monkeyness; his long tail, his ability to leap great distances. In natural history terms, he'd look a little like a grey langur, but in the same way, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle looked like a turtle. Grey langurs are also called Hanuman langurs (and allowed free access into a lot of the temples dedicated to the god). They can leap twelve to fifteen feet horizontally and up to 40 feet downwards. That's about the distance from our third-floor balcony all the way to our car parked downstairs, so pretty superhuman already.
And in my monthly book recommendation column, Tsundoku, I talk about points of view re: a very cool kung fu novel, rabbits and wives.
This month’s column is about those divisions of opinions: Who is a hero, who is a victim? Who gets to tell the story and who is reduced to passive voice? What does it mean to look at a classic from the outside: Whether it’s a shift in a point of view, a change of language or as an adult reading a book meant for children? For me it felt like a shift while I was reading the books themselves. But, as always, here are the three books I feel you should read this month, for those reasons and for many more.
This fortnight in the Link List
Speaking of rich people, here's a great piece about class rage (US specific, but could apply here also)
I completely understand why people downplay their wealth. I would probably do the same thing if I were around someone with a lot less money than me. But what annoys me is the hypocrisy of it, acting like you haven’t had a leg up. I would just prefer people to be honest. Just accept that you’re privileged. Accept that you’re lucky. Accept that certain things are easier for you because of money. But people never do. Sometimes I wonder if they’re even aware.
Also love this story about Barbie, who is growing older.
But in the comments on the article, one woman pushed back on the entire premise. “I cannot believe that doll destruction is a new phenomenon,” she wrote. “I am 46 years old. By the time I was eight, all of my dolls had been decapitated, delimbed, or otherwise defaced…. But my cars and stuffed animals remained intact, displayed around my room. I suspect little girls are more attuned to the world women inhabit than we think.”
On hiring women to look after your children while you write. (This is one of Delhi's former expat mothers.)
We were all working mothers. That was the basic thing. The women who shifted my thinking and cleared the way for my work and cared most lovingly for my children were migrants who’d left their own children behind to work in the city and ended up in my house. We spun webs of compromise and sacrifice and cash, and it all revolved around me—my work, my money, my imagined utopias of one-on-one fair trade that were never quite achieved.
LOVED this piece about lies and a girl who vanished and what really is an identity.
What complicated the search was that Brianna was hazy about many parts of her past. The mental-health professionals in Vancouver who had interviewed her believed she suffered from amnesia or some sort of post-traumatic stress syndrome. Brianna, for instance, was not even sure what her real name was. She knew only that when she was a little girl her stepfather had started calling her Brianna, which he had told her meant “Bright Eyes” in Navajo. “I probably wasn’t always Brianna Stewart,” she told a sympathetic reporter from a weekly Portland newspaper who interviewed her in 1999. “I may not know who I was before I was three.” But then she added adamantly, “I do know who I am now.”
Eek, I do this to sushi all the time.
Her friend has the last piece of salmon nigiri clenched between slivery, pale wood chopsticks and is dangling it above a sauce dish, which, though shallow, shows a hefty volume of soy sauce cloudy with wasabi. I watch as the friend, focused on dispensing sympathetic outrage, lowers the rice end of her nigiri into the slurry, swabs the dish with it, rotates her wrist so the salmon tile faces down (its free ends, the parts ungripped by chopsticks, flop lazily sauceward), and gives it even more swipes through the soy mixture. The thing she raises to her mouth appears soaked, like a shore bird after an oil spill. She chews and goes right on talking, looking unaware that she has just done something heinous, violating the integrity of a small, rectangular piece of orange-pink flesh striped with dental-tape strands of connective tissue. The former food critic in me winces. This is a crime against taste.
Does wearing high heels compare to foot binding? (I'm just soooo much more comfortable in flats though.)
A lady never admits that her feet hurt,’ says Marilyn Monroe’s character in the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. But why is that? Perhaps, despite its ubiquity in the female experience, expressed pain is an indication of damage, or impending damage. Like the princess in ‘The Princess and the Pea,’ but in reverse, a true lady of quality will not feel the pain inflicted on her, by herself or society, so that she can be considered feminine and beautiful. The pain belongs behind the scenes. To admit to the pain is to admit that there is a backstage to the scenery at all, that there is artifice, which is a kind of fraud. If pain means injury, and injury means damage, then because women have long been seen as part human, part-commodity, the expression of pain indicates an admission that she is damaged goods, and of lowered value.
That Facebook moderator trauma piece you've been avoiding is linked here once more!
It’s a place where, in stark contrast to the perks lavished on Facebook employees, team leaders micromanage content moderators’ every bathroom and prayer break; where employees, desperate for a dopamine rush amid the misery, have been found having sex inside stairwells and a room reserved for lactating mothers; where people develop severe anxiety while still in training, and continue to struggle with trauma symptoms long after they leave; and where the counseling that Cognizant offers them ends the moment they quit — or are simply let go.
This is a glorious weird catfishing story which is quite old but which I just discovered and want to share with you all.
“Blythe was involved in an [online] attack on a 14-year-old girl back in May 2012,” Parker said. The teenager had written a glowing review of a book Blythe hated, obliquely referencing Blythe’s hatred for it: “Dear Haters,” the review read. “Everyone has his or her own personal opinion, but expressing that through profanity is not the answer. Supposedly, this person is an English teacher at a middle school near where I lived… People can get hurt,” the review concluded.
In response, Blythe rallied her followers. Adults began flooding the girl’s thread, saying, among other things, “Fuck you.”
And finally, what it's REALLY like to win lifetime supplies of things!
Storing it was a problem. I made a bedside table out of it, put it under my desk, in my wardrobe and in the garage. Christmas 2014 was the cheapest ever; everyone got toilet roll. At work, I wrapped up an 18-roll pack for our white-elephant game – a bit like secret Santa – and everyone fought over it. I gave them out for family birthdays because they were coming so thick and fast, but they sent a mix of qualities and I always kept the more expensive mega rolls, which were softer and more luxurious, for myself. When I moved across state, I had to rent a trailer to take the toilet rolls with me.
Have a great week! Here's a picture of an owl I drew
Where am I? The Internet Personified! A mostly weekly collection of things I did/thought/read/saw that week.
Who are you? Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, writer of internet words (and other things) author of seven books (support me by buying a book!) and general city-potter-er.
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