Book Review: Uncomfortable Conversations With A Black Man

The problem with stereotypes is that they tend to persist, no matter how they started out. No matter how much of a fallacy it/they may be or how close they may also get to hitting the nail on the head. There’s a similar element with discrimination- it persists because it has a tendency to become hardwired into our DNA. Whether it’s something we personally subscribe to or not; it becomes a part of our environment.

The stereotype I dealt with was when I found out the author was a linebacker. I mean who expects a guy who crashed into others for a living, to be able to churn out this kind of a sensitive, hard-hitting, factual and yet engaging narrative. Aren’t all football players hugely built dumb jocks anyway? We’re all prone to judging and discriminating then; some more than others.

Often the stereotypes and discriminations go hand in hand- one feeds the other and keeps it alive. The dumb blonde stereotype could and possibly often does, lead to a blonde woman being considered as a good fit as a front office staff, ornamental and aesthetic but not necessarily one in a managerial position or as someone who could have a good amount of situational intelligence. A blonde guy could and often does get slotted as a Ken doll if he’s chiselled and happens to be a looker. Rarely does capability and potential enter the picture. And while this is a very loose kind of a parallel to draw, it’s one that exists up and down the country this book is set it.

Why go so far away? Right at home in India the stereotypes of and about the people in the Northern part of the country vs the Southern part have led to generations of ill-informed notions about people, their food, their lifestyles; which may not be accurate but often rear their head as discriminatory thoughts and actions.

And that’s why this book is so relevant, more than anything else, in today’s date. Because it forces a conversation about a long-standing, maladaptive, dysfunctional and degrading discriminatory system against a group of people. This ages-old discrimination has sadly become a way of life and the each side- discriminator and discriminatee both, living a self-fulfilling prophecy without always questioning it.

I don’t consider myself as a person of color because in my own country, everyone is like me. Just a few tints separate us on the melanin-distribution scale. If I were to go to a country that’s largely Caucasian then yes, I would be a brown woman there. But this book talks at length about why being colourblind is one of the worst things a population could be. Because being colourblind to the Blacks essentially ends up meaning being blind to their history, their struggle and their entire existence.

My interaction with people who are black was almost solely restricted to my classmates and people I would see around me, while living in New York as a child. We had Black History Month, we were told about Rosa Parks, Dr.King but all from the perspective of a child would understand. Sitting here in circa 2020, a couple of thousands of miles away from the BLM movement, I am not directly impacted by the injustices happening. But it pings on my radar. It talks about the state of the world, albeit restricted to one geographical area, where it’s possible to forget the core value of humanity and still be selectively humane to the rest of the world.

The reason this book took me a few days to finish is mainly due to me going back in time from 2020 to 1998-1992 (the years I was abroad)…I was trying to see if the child in me inadvertently picked up on vibes that the adult me now understands as any kind of oppression, ignorance or even outright discrimination. I can and I have.

The narrative of the black people and of the author isn’t just a lesson to be learnt from history about subjugation of a race of people in a specific country. It’s the notion of a person being less than human than another, purely on the basis of their features and skin color and how that’s become a staple tradition, becoming woven into the country’s historical tapestry.

The author, a black man from a family that never lived in the projects, went hungry or was ever on welfare, still feels what it likes to be a man with the skin color he has, when instances of police brutality, negligence and an overall suppression of a class and a race become the norm rather than the exception.

That essentially ends up being the crux of the book…to raise questions, to talk, to try and understand why things are the way they are. It’s not about currying favor for the blacks and get more than the liberals championing their “cause” but more about lowering the barrier and finding out why there still needs to be situations which call for the creation of the BLM in a nation which also touts the Emancipation Proclamation has a watershed moment in its history.

Whether you read the book or not, whether you feel that if sitting in a country that’s not the USA, this book’s relevance is less or lost; no one can argue that things can’t go on the way they are. There needs to be dialogue. Open dialogue where voices can be raised and blame placed but the kind of dialogue which spell out how people can and should be treated. There needs to dialogue about how extrajudicial measures need to be noticed and dealt with appropriately and how the rule of might needs to take a back seat to the rule of law.

Sounds utopian? Maybe. Possible. Probable even. But that doesn’t mean it’s not time things changed. In the US and whenever suppression occurs on the whims of those in power.

Movie Review: Veere Di Wedding

I almost didn’t watch this movie. Kareena Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor aren’t quite the draw for me personally. Add to it, the reviews had been less than stellar and I didn’t want to watch a badly made chick-flick when I could use those 2 hours to sleep or read instead…color me pleasantly surprised!

Now this movie isn’t a must-watch or even a repeat-watch but for a one-time watch with a buncha gals or even guys who get the Punju colloquialisms, it’s worth the money. The rest of the movie is about relationships. Between friends who become family. Between parent and child and definitely between a woman today and the world around her.- Bottom line? It’s entertaining and that’s what’s to be remembered about movies. Thought-provoking or not-they serve to entertain.

Is this movie hatke? Well…it is woman-centric for one. Guys are a part of their lives the same way they happen to be in real-life rather than a larger-than life reel-life man with bulging muscles who romances onscreen for a 3-minute song spanning from Switzerland to Botswana with 5 attire changes which often includes a sari pallu longer than Princess Diana’s wedding train. Phew! Head-spinning global lau (Gujju-ishtlye love).

This is a story about women who are believable; especially in this day and age. There are plenty of them out there who run from marriage, structure, socially sanctioned relationships and having to do Mata ki chowki at the drop of a pin! And Bollywood being Bollywood, would have them all be from the upper crest as well so impromptu trips abroad are also viable.

I was watching this movie with a Dally-based (aka New Delhi) friend (she’s a veere too I guess if one goes by the definition in this movie) and she, amidst gales of laughter, assured me the depiction of Wast (West) Dally (Delhi) was a very apt caricature.

And let’s not even get to the bling…if there’s no bling, there’s no big fat Indian wedding at all. All families have their skeletons and dirty secrets, every couple has stuff that rips at their seams, every girl is prevailed upon at some point in her life to “get-married already” by her mother. Same as the characters in VDW.

I’d read somewhere that the F-bombs in the movie seemed contrived or excessive. I guess it’s a matter of perspective. My gal pal reminded me how “unpolished” my own speech was before the advent of motherhood. It contained allusions to human anatomy and mothers and sisters quite a bit. Something I engage in now primarily while driving.

I think people should watch this movie. It’s fun. It has a lively pace. It’s not excessively dramatic or melodramatic and I made a fun memory watching it with someone with whom I have a 17-year-old history. That’s what makes this movie relevant. It won’t win Oscars. But it wasn’t meant to.

I left the theater dancing and laughing. Paisa vasool.


Of Middle Fingers And Snakes

I recently changed my ride from a hatchback to an MUV. When I say recent I mean just a few hours ago.

I was picking up the offspring from school and he was happily frolicking in the backseat, bouncing with joy and making crinkly sounds in the plastic covers that I’d not had a chance to take out as yet. All in all he was a happy camper. And as the case is while he’s camping happily, he asks me a series of ‘Do you know’ questions. Today was no different.

We started with a question trap that I’d inadvertently fallen into when I told him I’d seen a monitor lizard cross the street very close to his school. After interrogating me about the size and the gaping maws and the venom of the said reptile, he gave me a disdainful look when I told him I’d only paused briefly while trying hard not to squish the lizard when it scurried off into the bushes. It, unfortunately, hadn’t stopped long enough to give me its life history and venom potency details.

Then began the story of reptiles and their offspring. We spoke of ovi and viviparous snakes; something I’d rather not have spoken of at all. All while I was enjoying the smell of a new car, listening to songs on brand new speakers…which apparently is the most apt time to speak of baby cobras.

Anyhoo, on special request he agreed to stop talking about king cobra babies hatching and killing grown people and then he threw me for a toss! Here’s how he did it-” Hey Ayu…do you know a boy in the 2nd grade showed someone the middle finger in school and then he got into trouble?!! Have you shown (he said showed but my grammar mode refuses to let me be ungrammarly) the middle finger to anyone?

And this is where you cross the realm from being a good, honest parent into one who lies to their kid because isn’t 8 too young to be flippin’ the bird?! Or talking about it?

I told him piously that NO I hadn’t and what did showing the middle finger mean anyhow? I was told very solemnly that it’s a very bad thing and kids can go to jail for saying it. And that’s when I had to know more about this oh-so taboo word that sent kids to jail. So I did a dramatic,” Oh no…really??!!” And pat came the reply-YES!! It’s worse than saying F***!! I never say F*** because you told me that saying F*** is a bad thing so I never say F***. Ever!!”

I think some days the universe has a smartass mode it activates just to give parents their comeuppance and to prevent them from being smug-knowitalls!

My Temporal Lobe Hurts

I have a great memory for useless trivia. I have a pretty good memory for remembering everything my husband didn’t do but should have.

I also have a pretty strong recall for little things with the help of even vague-ish associative cues et al…but getting to the fag end of my 30s, my (declining) memory for numbers is killing me.

And the person causing bats in my belfry is none other than the offspring. As usual. Sighs.

We keep quite a few things under digital lock and key to keep him from giving into temptation and over indulging viz- iPad, t.v, Kindle, laptop etc but I’ll be damned if that isn’t coming back to bite me on the hieney.

With passwords for the phone, the Wi-Fi, the iPad, the Firestick, certain channels, it gets to a point sometimes when I need to unlock things, I sit with a blank look on my face, desperately searching in the memory banks for some kind of a clue to help me find the elusive #s; and no help is forthcoming. Totally a case of GIGO.

Earlier I had passwords, codes, credit card #s everything memorized and it wasn’t tough to recall them when needed and without too much prompting.

Now, my brain plays a Hot&Cold game with while I sift through data. Of course the process would be easier if I didn’t have a kid draped over my shoulder like a boa (imitating reptile and an accessory both), hissing in my ear, “Do you remember it Y-E-T??!!”

What would be best is if I could keep it unlocked and trust that agreements about t.v. time, play time on iPads were stuck to but that’s a bit unfair to expect from a kid when his parents are binge-watching Criminal Minds or Suits even though its ostensibly done without him being in the know.

But the brat knows us so well, when he sees the last played item on the watch list, he gives me a tsk-tsk look and takes the name of the person who’d have been watching the program and says, ” Someone was watching t.v. after I went to bed!”

I can’t begin to explain how amusing and confusing it is to be chastised by your child in a manner which he’s clearly picked up from you and then having to show your contrition even if you don’t feel the slightest bit contrite!

The things we do set an example for our kids. And while I try and set the aforementioned example, there’s a mini-me tapping his feet impatiently and saying,” Ahem….I’m waiting.”

Ye Gods!

From One Woman To Another

I can’t help but use labels although I don’t always like them. But labels help in identifying things, people or events and Kiran Gandhi’s running the London Marathon while “free-bleeding” has definitely become an “event” on the internet.

Now it might be a knee-jerk reaction to go ‘WTF’ followed by an “ewww” but I wanted to understand her reasons for putting herself through this kind of a discomfort before I started to dish out my personal reactions to the whole thing. And here is where she elaborates further on her decision to run without donning a pad or a tampon.

In a nutshell her reasons seem to be that, the moment topics which aren’t usually aired in general (aka bodily excretions et al) and make people uncomfortable; are touched upon, we all shrink away. This maybe from something which is naturally occurring and can’t or shouldn’t be shoved under the rug.Essentially, our bodies are for our consumption and not anyone else’s. And I quote, “If we don’t own the narrative of our own bodies, somebody else will use it against us,”.

And this is what don’t understand. Had the lady in question been menstruating during the marathon and taken steps to hide that she was, what would have been the set-back to the cause of women in day and age? And when I write ’cause’ I mean everything that women have to face regarding their bodies, appearance, safety et al from the outside world.

The decision to not use a pad or a tampon is a personal one but to bring it to everyone’s notice and attach a label of some kind of intellectual statement to it doesn’t sit well with me at all. Women bleed. Check. They bring eventually forth children as a result of that bleeding. Check. Should people know that a women is bleeding? I honestly don’t know about that.

Should people shun a women and condemn her as being “dirty” during those days? Definitely wrong! Ludicrous in fact. But should a women inconvenience herself, make others awkward around her, ignore hygiene factors all for the sake of making a statement? It seems rather a farfetched thing to do.

Pass out sanitary pads to those who have limited or no access to feminine hygiene products, in the presence of the male members of their family and society if you want to make a statement that would stick and actually jolt people to becoming aware.

Running a race in tight fitting clothing with your menstrual blood staining your body and clothes and being on display for the benefit of others isn’t the kind of role model or any kind of person I’d like to look up to. And it doesn’t do a thing for me personally as a woman.

And it actually made me think what will people think of next. It’s the same thing I thought when I read Germaine Greer’s quote-

  • If you think you are emancipated, you might consider the idea of tasting your own menstrual blood – if it makes you sick, you’ve got a long way to go, baby- The Wicked Womb (p. 57)

I found it distasteful (excuse the pun) and don’t subscribe to it at all. One woman stating what another woman ought to be or do to be considered “liberated” seems to be more along the lines of men trying to “enslave” women with their notions of being barefoot and pregnant all over again.

This man however truly makes a difference.

Funny how gender doesn’t make much of a difference if you’ve got your heart in the right place and your priorities straight!

Nuff said.