Alternative Lifestyles

The BBC has been running a Climate Watch series the past month. It’s been one of the few channels that have taken climate change as an apolitical issue that needs to be covered comprehensively at this point of time. For the most part, it has shown a sincere concern in what it is trying to convey. There is a bit of the colonial condescension here and there, but it is honest journalism – academic, in-depth and detailed.

It has had a report or more from all the most important corners of the world--the ones who are at both ends of climate change. In each report you can hear phrases like “at least a few million people will be left homeless”, “several thousands of people have been displaced”, “famines of this kind are likely to be responsible for at least a million people’s death every year.” People, people and more people.

Without having to go into details, it’s safe to say that increase in population is not helping any of the problems we are facing; climate change not being the least of them. But hardly do you come across anyone making a suggestion about that. Sure, people talk about birth control just like they have been for over fifty years, but not in the context of climate change. At least, it’s not a popular discussion point yet.

I really wonder what they have in their mind when right-wing intellectuals in India patronize ‘developed’ countries like Norway and Sweden for having low fertility rates. That their liberal, rather individualistic, lifestyle has landed them in such misery that we should feel ‘blessed’ to have our culture? A culture that makes procreation—obviously within marriage—and bearing children the prime responsibilities, or duties if you will, of every human being? “Do your share, have at least one child” is the subliminal message that is not so subliminally spread in everything that constructs social reality, in India and most of ‘less industrialized’ world. Then there’s the economically charged version of the same kind of flaunting--“we are one billion consumers”, “we are one billion strong labour force”, “it’s a billion people market”--subverting a very obviously worrisome number into something that we ought to feel excited about. Some are actually happy that we’ll surpass the Chinese in the next decade.

Coming back to the BBC Climate Watch series, they had an interesting documentary last week titled ‘Ethical Man.’ It’s basically about an average white, white collar Englishman with a wife and two children trying to adapt his life for changing times, for a better, lesser carbon emitting life. It’s a documentary meant to suggest an alternative lifestyle. One that is out of the current norm – without a car, without centralized heating, and reduced air travel. The concept is not so unique though. It’s something that many of the ‘environmentally conscious’ people have been campaigning for. Of course there are those who take the side simply because it makes better economic sense.

Here’s the connect: isn’t it high time that documentaries, soap operas, movies and other popular media start suggesting more alternative lifestyles? If they did I would probably not have to face a fellow Indian who thinks that I’m being selfish because I said I’m never going to have any children. I’m selfish for not having children? Really, what kind of a world is he envisioning? Whatever it is, I’m sure these 'reality constructors' had a big role in it.

Let’s bring in the philosophical side of the debate, just to the extent that it’s relevant to the main discussion. Most people who don’t plan to have kids don’t need a special recognition or claim that they are sacrificing their lives in order to save the world. They’ll be happy, I suppose, as long as they are not be pitied, ridiculed or patronized. There are several reasons ranging from conventional 'selfishness' that guides them to avoid the bullshit that children can bring, to having infertile spermatozoa. Given that there’s no macro goal or purpose for our existence in this world, at least to the rational mind, there’s no particular reason to believe that one of them is better than the other. Or worse than the other lifestyle altogether--one with children and 'stable family'.

I was evangelizing the ‘alternative lifestyle’ to one of my cousins and he had an interesting point. He said that he knows only two old unmarried men from the entire community and both of them had to resort to some ‘ashram’ type life before they could be left undisturbed. He said it would be practically impossible to live the regular life--going to work every day, hanging out with friends and relatives, watching TV and movies (let’s leave the sex part aside for now)--in our society without getting married. Not after you’ve crossed thirty.
He’s right. In India, every TV channel, every magazine column offers advice on managing your family or your relationships. There’s hardly any mention of the desirability of having a family without any children or being single for that matter. Mornings in Sun TV start with Sugi Sivam offering advice on doing random things citing random stories. All that with unwavering authority; doing his part to perpetuate the same lifestyle whose only uncontested merit (if you can call it that) is that it’s been around for a very long time. But these are strong forces. Omnipresent and overbearing. They build yardsticks for you to measure yourself--your 'progress', your status etc. So it takes quite a bit of training, reflexive deconstruction if I may, for a 40 year old Indian bachelor to not envy a 'happy family' with children. Or simply, disconnect from one's cohort in this regard.

As someone who trusts positivist knowledge for several things, I have little hope that the ‘alternative lifestyle’ will be embraced even by a tiny minority, in this century. Because, I don’t think the ‘forces’ are going to change their ways anytime soon. We may have more “ethical men” who cut down on their carbon emissions. We may develop better technologies that bring down green house gases. But the climate is going to worsen. Wars are going to be fought over water. Population growth is going to go on as predicted.
At least the ‘alternative lifestyle’ will ensure that there will be fewer, however marginal, people to witness all that.

Disclaimer: I have left a few points out because of the post’s length. I hope they would find a mention in the comments. Some of the references are specific to the South-Asian context.

Either stand straight or fall flat

Left hand: WTF?

I've been proctoring exams the past few days (I know, some irony!). I just noticed that at least 10-15% of the students in each exam were left-handed. It reminded me of an incident that happened in Dindigul when I was 11.
We would go to 'tuition' classes every evening and one of those times my eyes landed on the dough that was being prepared for 'brottas' (adhan pa, parotta). The 'master' was working the dough with both his hands, flavoring it with his sweat and other bodily fluids (hopefully just sweat). Yeah, this is one of those little hotels where they do everything out in the open -- mostly under a 'puilya maram' -- proudly putting their hygiene for public display. That scene triggered a craving in me and I couldn't wait for the tuition get over. When we were returning I stopped by the hotel and approached the master right in front,
Master: ennapa venum? (with a stern tone)
I: annei parotta sooda irukka?
Master: ellam ippo potadhu dhan
I look at the basin in which they're piled up--all wet and dead. I touch one of them just to make sure if it's even moderately hot. Suddenly I hear a loud voice that throws me off balance. It's the master.
He yells, "adhan sooda irukku'nu solren illa, appuram enna mayithukku nottangaila notti paakra? ippo adha ungoppana dhinban?"
I: !!!! --- ****?

Note: For "tube lights" who didn't get it - 'nottangai' is the offensive expression for idadhukai, oranttangai, peechangai etc. He was angry that I polluted that parotta by touching it with my left hand and now no one else would eat it.

Tamil TV

This one was a decent show.

Try parts 2 and 3 as well. It's pretty good.

The missing ‘rush': the narrative

It’s been close to 2 years since I left India – the same time it has been since I experienced genuine adrenaline rush. You know, the one that gets your heart so hot that you can feel it outside (no, I’m not being metaphorical). I’ve been addicted to that ‘rush’ as far as I could remember. As with most Indian children, there were very few means that I could exploit when I was very young. The most common was to ride your cycle fast down a slope with your hands in the air. Sometimes make turns too. Of course, the occasional accidents do scare you enough to stop doing it for a while. That’s the point though – the looming sense of danger is what gives you that rush.

As I grew up, more avenues were exposed. I lived in a relatively untamed environment. Fish was a major part of our lives then. And I imagine this craze with “kalar meen” was shared by children from other parts of TN as well (and probably, all of India). Some were so crazy that they wouldn’t care if it was a tadpole. But people like me, who wouldn’t settle unless it’s the real-2 inch long-thing, would stretch our permitted limits. Each class had its share of renegades who didn’t bother their teacher’s warning about what might happen if anyone is caught “fishing” in the “kenaru” near the school. Dindigul had several little pools and wells where you could “fish.” They were the unforgiving, ‘taken several lives’ kind of water sources – the ideal spots for us little wannabe ‘heroes’ to test our nerves. Some wells were so treacherous that you wouldn’t know difference between day and night once you’re in it. The neatly wound snake skins wouldn’t make the place any less scary. Not to mention, that’s where we usually learn swimming; with some ‘adult’ supervision, of course.

Then we moved to Madras. For a kid from Dindigul--not even Ooty, Mettupalayam or some exotic place like that--Madras seemed so lame. Only thing you can do is play underarm cricket in your street or pedal all the way to IDPL to have the ball lost in some bush. Oh yeah, you can also get on the terrace and spend all your money in some ‘kaathadi’ and watch it bite the dust because of a “deal.” But I can’t think of anything that could have replaced the things I had mentioned I did when I was in Dindigul. The times I almost drowned in the beach come somewhat close.

But it all changed when I got my hands on my father’s 100cc motorbike – I was 15 then. It provided a much needed upgrade to the stale TVS 50 I was riding around once in a while. For once I could hit speeds as high as 100 Km/h. As many teenagers, I didn’t care about holding a license. I didn’t till I was 21. But I took his bike to almost every corner of the city. The fact that I didn’t have a license made those rides a little more adventurous – helped that rush a bit more.

It got better during my college days. It was the time when we had group rides to Pondicherry, New Year nights to Besant Nagar and all the clichéd “adventures” most young men in Madras are known to go through. These occasions usually give you the opportunity to experiment with other bikes. But I always had a big fetish for Yamaha RX 100. I think all bike enthusiasts would agree that it’s the ultimate thrill machine for Indian cities.

I got my lessons directly from my cousins who had mastered the art of crowd control to crazy stunts with the bike. I got to own one myself when I was 21 – just when I got my license. The next two years during which I got to ride it, mostly in Bangalore, had some of the best moments of my life. I haven’t taken any drugs so far, but I think that’s how it feels to be high. When you are rushing through fellow motorists – like you’re travelling in a Star Trek space cruiser with the rocks and other objects disappearing in nanoseconds – your mind operates in a subliminal level. Only then would you be able to not worry about all the lives you put in danger. The top speed of my Yamaha was 120 Km/h 1.

In all my years of bike-riding I’ve had quite a few accidents. Most of the damage done to myself and to my bike(s). Nothing fatal though. To be honest, each accident would slow me down quite considerably. It will take at least a few weeks before I can go above 80 Km/h without getting all shaky and anxious. As if there’s a dog or a bitch waiting just to jump in (pun intended). This is what differentiates bike riding from most other forms of adventure – you can never get used to getting hurt, at least not thoroughly. You get methodical and systematic about how you fall, how you roll and even how you heal. But nothing that will quite make you feel like it’s ‘routine.’ Of course, I’m talking about myself here. I’m sure there are several people who can do exactly that – get used to getting hurt with no residual effects.

Driving, I think, is slightly different. When you’re driving, the whole “I might die” effect isn’t as obvious as it is when you’re on a bike. It’s mostly the ‘got to get home without any scratches or dents’ urge that gives you that rush. And driving is slightly more comprehensive in its experience. Good music, good company, reasonable comfort plus the rush - they are mutually elevating.

Ever since I got here, I’ve driven a few times. That’s about all the “rush” I’ve gotten. Even the fairy ‘ride’ in Niagara sucked. I’ve missed the daily dose for a very long time and it’s taking its toll on me. I’ll write about it from a pseudo sociological perspective in the next post. As of now, I’m just looking forward to my trip to Madras and hopefully get a half-decent second hand car when I return.
1The bike was tuned for high speed. It usually doesn’t exceed 115 Km/h, but it was a long sloping road and I weighed just 54 kilos (still do).


Amar Singh is an Indian politician from the state of Uttar Pradesh.
He is infamous for his weakness for women, especially top bollywood actresses. He has affairs with Jaya Bachchan, Jayaprada, Hema Malini, Jayalalitha, etc.

I hate these people, kind of

Although I don't have the luxury (ability) to sit and write fresh posts as of now, I do while away doing other random things. But this post is not only an empty filler - my last few posts - it's also meant to give a brief idea about where I stand about certain movies and movie makers that I may not be able to discuss in detail anytime in the future. This is another casual conversation with a very good friend. It wasn't supposed to be intellectually stimulating or inquisitive or whatever. I think we were in the mood to bash a few people and that's we did. Nevertheless, a lot of it is academically grounded and I stand by all of what I've said. Only that I may not engage in a detailed discussion in the comments section to defend everything - mostly because it's time consuming (and yeah, "subjective"). Rest is self-explanatory.

Edit: The exchange has been removed. I didn't ask my friend before I published the conversation and I think that was a terrible mistake on my part. To an extent makes me an untrustworthy person and an asshole. For that and just that, I sincerely apologize to my friend and to my 'better side' that I didn't care to respect when I published it. Thanks.

Note: An academic critique of a movie is quite different from conventional ones, try this one to get a rough idea. From the article,
Roja is not Mani Ratnam’s best film. It is not his only film that deals with politics, it is not the only one that won many state and national awards and is not the only one that is controversial. It is as flawed and fulfilling as many of Ratnam’s other, greater, better films. It is as ambiguous and paradoxical and as simplistic and superficial as his other classics. Yet, it is his most successful film till date and his only true all- India success...It can take on many forms, champion many causes, some more sinister than the others and can still be over-analysed in many an essay, this one included.
Disclaimer: This post is not intended to draw comments or to show what's supposedly a characteristic of this blog - put down "popular figures" just for the heck of it. But you're welcome to reject this disclaimer. The exchange has been edited spatially to fit the margins better

adhu seri

Source: Thuglak - 09/04/07 cover page

Sexual innuendos: WTF?

This is one of those excited/good natured wtf moments. I was watching 'Aan Paavam' after a long time. I couldn't believe the sexual innuendos I had missed earlier. Here's one for sample (conversation between a woman and her husband in hurry to leave for a "big function")

Man: enna pannikittu irukka? seekram kelambu
Woman: kolandhaikku paal kudukkanumnga
Man: adha dhan naan kudichtanla!
Woman: adhilleenga, naan butti paala sonnen

Don't believe me? Here's the movie - the link will take you the exact scene. I think this movie will easily qualify for one of the top 30 comedies of Tamil cinema*. It can be called the Tamil village version of the Clerks series. Pandya Rajan's 'Oora Therinjukitten' also attained a cult status among certain sections of the audience - late 70s and early 80s born - but the movie had a weird mix of tracks. Cheesy sentiments, slapstick styles lifted from 'Project A' etc., and some genuine sequences. They didn't gel together all that well. It had some memorable dialogues though - "rendaayiram, naalayiram...bimbilikkibilikki(?)" was the most catchy. That's what makes 'Aan Paavam' more special. It has its share of tragic moments and cheap sentiments, but nothing that will derail the comedic flow of the movie. One of the first few movies to bring the comedic sense of the rustics.
I've enjoyed almost all his movies in the 80s, especially 'Kadhaa Nayagan', 'Vaai Koluppu' and 'Nethi Adi'. He is someone who's definitely worth doing a podcast on (just saying, it's quite unlikely I'll do it anytime soon).

Watch out: Rajini be damned

* - If I put that list together.

adhu matter!

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