Friday, September 30, 2011

Stay hungry, stay foolish

"In return, I want to offer you a few pieces of advice: try to keep it real. Stay true to what’s best in yourself and to the best of what you’ve experienced here at Vassar. Continue to expose yourself to new ideas. Trust your instincts and think for yourself. Make art, or at least value it. Look for the core of what makes each person human, appreciate the details that make them unique.

Find something that moves you or pisses you off, and do something about it. Put your self out there. Be brave. Be bold. Take action. You have a voice. Speak up, especially when something tries to keep you silent. Take a stand for what’s right. Raise a ruckus and make a change. You may not always be popular, but you’ll be part of something larger and bigger and greater that yourself. Besides, making history is extremely cool.

Hold our elected officials accountable. They work for you. Ask them anything you want. If you don’t, you’re giving up on democracy. Inez Milholland – Vassar class of 1909 – didn’t let people silence her and she didn’t let anyone stop her. She became one of the pivotal leaders of the suffragette movement. If you forget everything else I’ve said here today or if you choose to ignore it, remember Inez and remember to vote. It’s a radical act that’s still legal, and we need to keep it that way.

Speaking from my own experience, I also want to offer a warning: you will, undoubtedly, meet people who will try to shut you up or entice you to compromise your principles in any number of ways. They’ll try to seduce you and distract you with money, power, security and perhaps, most dangerously, a sense of belonging. Don’t let them; it’s just not worth it. One of the biggest threats to our world is the culture of silence and compromise—politicians who compromise their beliefs because they’re scared they’ll piss off their voters and won’t get re-elected, corporate executives who put profits above principles. You can have a conscience and still make money. You can have genuine values and still get elected. You can even make movies that do well at the box office without playing to the lowest common denominator.

And try not to let love silence you. And don’t let it kill you—always wear a condom, for god’s sake. Partner with someone who loves you and loves your voice, who loves the very core of who you are and believes in your dreams, not someone who is hell-bent on changing you."

- excerpt from Samuel L. Jackson's 2004 Vassar College commencement address

Monday, September 19, 2011

This Cradle of Civilisation

It's ironic that the one place that I find it hardest to believe in God is in a nation where there are millions of them.

You can feel the absence of a divine presence when you look into the greasy tired faces of the people around you. Their eyes bear the dull cataract of low expectations. I wonder what God the barefooted children covered with rags and mud believe in. This is a country where people are realistic, practical, territorial. There is no room here for dreams. This is the world's largest democracy, a country where its starched leaders fatten as if feeding upon the souls of its withering citizens. The real Indian is an anonymous face, and scores of them fade away everyday without leaving behind their stories. In India, death is a relief, a welcome escape, something worth believing in, like God.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Bharat Mata ki Ek Beti

If I have ever been judgmental of gold-diggers or mail-order brides (and I have), then I'm sorry. It will never happen again. I now know how they feel, even in some small tiny laughable way.

I've now been living in India by myself for over a year, and it is solely to that fact that I can attribute my metamorphosis from a fiercely independent and principled pseudo-American career woman to a shrunken Indian version of said pseudo-American who's just waiting to be rescued by the capitalist man of her dreams. Rich socialist bhhi chalega. Do we have any takers?

Don't judge me, my own medicine tastes terrible. Everytime I almost fly off of the cycle rickshaw as the rickshawala decides to speed over a pothole, I miss the shock absorbers of the cars I've ridden in in America (and Canada. You too, Oman). I curse the elements everytime I have to devastate a good hair day by savagely pulling my do back in a behenji ponytail just because it's too damn hot/sticky/windy. Over the past year, I've only ever shopped off of the street because clothes, like people, just seem to fall apart faster in this part of the world. It would hurt too much to have that happen to anything I paid more than 100 rupees for (what is that, like 2 dollars?). I never seem to want to dress nice or comb my hair here anyway. I don't even wear makeup anymore. What's the point? Two minutes on the outside, and either the wind from the autorickshaw ride will ravage the curls that usually set beautifully on their own in a controlled environment, or the monsoon mud will artistically splatter itself all along my calves and precious toes. I now scowl or even fling a dirty look at every car that screams its neverending banshee of a horn into my poor ear. I wonder if the smog and traffic exhaust has formed a permanent layer of hopelessness on my once 20-something-year-old skin. I think of all these things and then fondly remember my vanilla-and-cinnamon-scented sparsely populated existence of the West. What's a pretty girl to do when the shadow of socialism falls upon her?

I'll tell you what she's to do. Visit the parlour regularly, dress the best she can in her budget wardrobe, flash a carnivorous smile or bat a virginal eyelash (both if she's talented), and pray to the gods of sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll that Prince Charming (age never a bar) will whisk her away to a capitalist country far, far away. Or at least to the nearest suburb in a nice air-conditioned apartment and car and never let her pretty soles scrape the soil of the motherland again. Inhein zameen pe mat rakhhiyega, mailay ho jaaeinge.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Pretty Woman

He was paying her to look at him that way. It didn't bother him. She was beautiful, soft, clean, and all he wanted was her to spend some time with him. There was no way a woman like that would ever be with someone like him. He knew he had paid for the softness of her eyes, he knew she did not love him, want him, she was only letting him breathe in the perfume in her hair because he had paid for it. He didn't mind. He wanted to rest the scars on his face against the dew on her shoulders, he wanted to feel her soft feet under his cracked soles, he only wanted her to not flinch as he reached out for her skin. He knew that every look of hers, every move of hers, every sound she was going to make was going to be a lie, but he didn't mind. He wanted her to lie to him, he was paying her for the performance. He wanted her to lie to him with all she had, the best she could, the biggest lies she could tell him. He would believe her. He was paying her for the illusion that someone like her could want him, that that was all it took to find a face like hers by his side, looking at him, only at him, reaching out for him with her small soft hands the way he was reaching out to her. It was beautiful. So beautiful. That something in this life could be so simple, such a small easy transaction, it was beautiful.