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If Steve Jobs were a woman…

October 7, 2011 Leave a comment

…he’d be treated as a CEOILF.

…there’d be incessant carping about his sense of fashion (rather, the lack thereof).

…he could either be hard-working and unlikable, or incompetent and likable. Pick one.

…the over-pricing of his products would be evidence of his narcissism and be seen as a personal failing, not as evidence of his good/bad business sense.

…TV commentators would complain about his boring presentations, and wonder if he was *pimping* out his products a bit too vulgarly.

…late night comics would make jokes about raping his kids. Only the girls, of course.

…people would say ‘why doesn’t he just GO AWAY already?!’ while simultaneously clicking on every news link about him.

…people would make videos about punching him in the face, strangling him, and sexually assaulting him. In humor, of course.

…people would complain for years about how he was selfish in not having kids.

…people would be horrified that there were rumors of a kid he didn’t acknowledge.

…people would complain about how selfish he was in having kids and not staying home and taking care of them himself.

…people would complain about how selfish he was that he stayed home and took care of his kids for a few years, thereby *abandoning his company*.

…battle-lines would be drawn around his parenting choices – whether he chose to breastfeed or not would indicate how good a parent he was.

…his falling out with John Sculley, Gates and others would be seen as evidence of his b*tchiness, and he would NEVER get past it.

…sleazy pseudo-journalists would camp outside his house and write tell-all books about his family.

…sleazy journalists would say *good lord, isn’t it horrifying* about the brown and black (wo)men he slept with in India and elsewhere.

…his ideas would always be ignored. Even when they were good.

…his ideas, if un-ignorably fabulous, would be appropriated sans acknowledgement.

…his product names would be treated as evidence of narcissism rather than personalization (iDevice)

…there would always be deep insinuations about how much influence, exactly, Laurene (who? his spouse!) had on his work and the firm.

..he would never, ever, EVER be seen as a visionary. No matter what he did or said.

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Battle for Bittora

May 3, 2011 2 comments

Battle for Bittora is Anuja Chauhan’s second book, another wickedly funny, light-hearted romance set in contemporary India, and it’s been very interesting to see how she’s evolved/changed as an author from The Zoya Factor. Not to mention, it’s such a great read by itself.

*Spoilers galore, mind*

UPDATE: I deleted this paragraph before posting first because it seemed too corporate & ‘pat’, but I really want to make the conclusions explicit, so I’m putting it back in…I think the big change is Chauhan’s increased confidence – in her content (#1 below and #5) and in the business (#3 & #4), and in her craft (which comes across in #6 and #2 below, where the confidence wasn’t as warranted). Content and business are maybe easier to learn than craft? Or does the learning curve for craft, as opposed to content/business take up some funny plateaus on its way? Or worse, does success lead to a flattening of the only learning curve that truly matters for a fiction writer – craft (as opposed to a technical writer for whom content is key)? Anyway, here are my thoughts…..

First, let me just state how much I love the casual feminism in Bittora:

  • The plethora of fantastic, fully realized female characters here makes this book easily pass the Bedchel Test, and I’m not sure The Zoya Factor does that.
  • She wins!!! She wins!!! They have a political battle, and she wins, fair and square. I was dreading reading the ending of the book because I was expecting it to be something like Zain winning, and Jinni totally making an unbelievably submissive cop-out at the end, like realizing at the last minute that she never had wanted the seat, and then Zain offering to make her his second-in-command, which would’ve left such, such, such a bad taste in my mouth.
  • I love how she has an internal life and a purpose throughout the book, and that the reader can believe that she has a life path ahead of her after the ending, too. Unlike Zoya, where the romance was the main story, and you were left wondering if she quit her job afterward or something.
  • The protagonist’s last name is the same as her maternal grandmother’s, and there is no explanation of this. None whatsoever. Smart writing, too, because saying anything there would’ve just sounded contrived and defensive. This is an unlikely scenario, but not all that unbelievable, especially in the anything-goes world of Indian politics (Indira Gandhi appropriated the ‘Gandhi’ name quite randomly, for instance).
  • No Disney-dead-mother syndrome here, thank you very much. And the woman character gets a cool, permissive mom, too, the likes of which usually cool male characters get. The women get cool dads and dead, or absent, or subservient moms.
  • Chauhan dismisses Rahul Mahajan categorically. I wish she also dissed Salman Khan less subtly.
  • How fantastic was Ammaji’s comment about wanting to ‘settle’ her granddaughter – i.e., her career, not her marriage. For all her religious bigotry, how very, very far-thinking and impressive.

Second, and hopefully not caused by the first point above: somehow for me, the romance isn’t that very strong. It’s still amazing, and better than most other books, but Zoya Factor wins, very slightly, here. It’s not for lack of a fantastic hero in Bittora – if anything, Zain Altaf Khan is even more ‘eligible’ than Nikhil Khoda – he is equally handsome, of royal blood, is an environmental engineer and an MIT graduate, and as a teenager, wrote a superhero series – and has compelling vulnerabilities! All of this should’ve totally made him more compelling than the sports-quota-type, back-story-missing Khoda, at least for someone like me (erm, I still swoon over liberal young handsome Indian Muslim men with the nostalgia of my own love. But, TMI). What gives, then?
Maybe it is just the fact that this is a repeat performance, and nothing beats the first, unspoiled, original version.
Maybe it is the fact that the first book was focused more on the romance and less on the Zoya Factor phenomenon, and the second book was focused equally on the political battle and the romance (actually this one is hard to say. I think both were equally split!).
Maybe because Zain never does something completely unexpected and out-of-the-blue in the romance, he’s never pushing the envelope, unlike Khoda with his ‘I’ve been wanting to kiss you all evening’ and his random intimate text messages especially in public, his popping-up-in-her-hotel-rooms-when-least-expected, etc.
Maybe it is because all the back-story of the romance is between sixteen-year-olds and thirteen-year-olds in Bittora, and that for me was borderline creepy and often boring.
Maybe because the first time they meet, they instantly jump into their make-out session, with no build-up for the reader. Anticipation is half the fun.
Maybe in said ‘first-for-the-reader-make-out-session’, Zain disregards her non-consent and kisses her. Somehow that wasn’t as hot as I think the author set it out to be. Khoda does a similar thing towards the end of the first book and that played out as playful (ha!), here I found it distasteful.
Maybe it is because I was put off by the crude ancillary references, e.g. Tawny uncle’s son The Rapist, the crowd’s groping at the mela, etc. that were all supposed to be casually laughed off (and were pretty much correct-for-context), but which totally put me in a defensive, disgusted mood, not receptive towards the actual romance. In Zoya Factor, the ancillary references are equally crude, but they refer to sex (not rape).
Maybe it is because the supporting cast in Bittora – especially Ammaji – was so solidly crafted that your attention was split, vs. in the first book where no one else apart from the main characters got to monopolize reader attention & affection.
Maybe it is the fact that in the Big Contest in the book, Khoda won his battle, but Zain lost. Did ‘loser stench’ ruin the latter’s alpha male scent?
Maybe it is that Khoda kept his hands and nose very clean and never lost the high moral ground during the book, even in times of stress with Jogpal & Sons. Zain was doing as much mud-slinging and dirt-throwing as his competitors in the electoral battle. A Bauji-type honest man would’ve called for suspension of disbelief, but wouldn’t’ve been totally impossible, would he?
Maybe it is that Khoda was shown to be a leader of men, literally, but Zain was only shown to command his friends’ loyalty, which is admirable, but less sexy.
Maybe it is because the captain of a successful Indian cricket team is unattainably desirable, but there are a hundred former-prince’s-son-types around?
Maybe, paradoxically, it is because there is a close real-life analogy to Khoda in M S Dhoni but someone like Zain isn’t really around today (no, not even Omar Sharief).
Maybe it is the face that the power and social status imbalance is so little, almost negligible, between Zain and Jinni, rather than the insurmountable gulf of celebrity between Khoda and Zoya. And obviously power imbalances are what make (straight?) women swoon with lust, or something.
(Oh, and of the four main characters, I only referred to Khoda by last name in my first draft of this post, then went to correct it, and stopped myself. Maybe my subconscious is telling me something. That I think of Khoda as more male? That the author thinks of Khoda as more male? She keeps calling Zain ‘Zain’, but called Nikhil Khoda ‘Khoda’ almost throughout. Men are usually called by their last names, especially in situations of power and authority, and women are called by their first names – through history, and for various reasons. Remember how everyone back in 2008 called Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton ‘Obama’ and ‘Hillary’ respectively?)

Third, the Hinglish was so much more obvious here in Bittora. There was not even the perfunctory attempt as in the first to ease the way for readers who didn’t speak Hindi or know local references. This is an unapologetic “of Indians, by Indians, for Indians” book. While I’m impressed with such confidence and a little intimidated (what to do, I’m a pasty-faced NRI), a part of me does wish they would care for their overseas readers, even if it’s just so readers like me could share the book with local friends here. But yooooohooooo for no more stupid substitutions like ‘unleavened bread with clarified butter’ for roti-and-ghee, like in English books by Indians published even as late as 2002.
This means the economics of the publishing/book selling business is so sound in desh that it can sustain itself, which is more than the US publishing business can say for itself. Despite nakli books sold by eight-years olds at traffic lights. Good for you, desh.

Fourth, and related to the above, the target audience seems to be a more mainstream Indian than the SEC A, urban woman target audience of Zoya Factor. There aren’t too many highbrow riffs on people who use unnecessary plurals (‘anyways’/‘grands’/‘butts’); instead, the riffs are now on people who ask politicians for favors. The internal demon that gets defeated is not a nation’s harmless superstitions during cricket matches but the violent, all-pervasive, gut-wrenching religious bigotry.

Fifth, and this is not a change in Chauhan’s writing as much as a repeat performance. I’ve also recently read a couple of other desi chick-lit books, and wanted to gouge my eyes out. The plot is non-existent. The heroes are vapid. There is absolutely no originality to the stories or the characters or the conflict or the treatment. There is liberal lifting of entire narrative arcs from Sex and the City and Bridget Jones’ Diary, the wannabe-ness of it all is depressing. Oh, and the editing is SO disgusting, SO terrible the editors should commit hara-kiri. In Advaitha Kala’s Almost Single, the very first line has the protagonist waking up from a ‘deep dreamless REM sleep’ and I read that and threw the book across the room in disgust. Unfortunately, in a moment of weakness I picked the book off the floor a few days later and continued reading, to my eternal regret. Another book – Kkarishma’s Konfessions, was it? – has a blatant error in the first page: someone is someone’s elder sister, then suddenly becomes the younger sister in page two and goes on. And that typo is not even an ironic insight into the idiotic world of Indian soaps. If it was an insight, it was way too subtle as irony and way too obvious as a typo.
So, compared to genre, Chauhan’s books are high literature, which is not saying much. But even by themselves, her books are well researched and grounded in their industry and setting (rural India and politics for Bittora, cricket and advertising for The Zoya Factor), have lots of in-jokes about Bollywood and pop culture, and lots of really funny random insights (“like all visiting NRIs, [mother] was obviously hoping to squeeze both a funeral and a wedding into one India trip” – Bittora, or “People who knew only one language…what would they switch to if they started getting pally, or angry, or fell in love?” – Zoya Factor)

Sixth: I love that this one had a much more satisfying ending. This book had closure. Of the relationship, and also, for the character’s individual lives. Zoya Factor didn’t. I kept turning the page to see if I’d missed the last part. That, if nothing else, makes author confidence very clear, as I’m realizing in my own writing.

So what’s unchanged?

As before, Chauhan’s own stated real-life inspiration for the hero (Saif Ali Khan for Zain Altaf Khan) completely rings false (like Rahul Dravid for Nikhil Khoda. Ew.) Saif when younger was too dissolute and completely unlike current-time-Zain or even younger-Zain. And current Saif? Oh, please. The guy is more and more like a real-life Macbeth, with his insecurities and his younger, prettier girlfriend.
As before, I can imagine only Farhan Akhtar in today’s Bollywood doing any justice to Zain’s character. Stretch it to Imran Khan, or (ugh) Ranbir Kapoor. I actually know some people in real life who’d play this role perfectly, too. Jinni would have to be Ayesha Dharkar, I suppose, just to be able to do justice to the ‘abnormally wide smile’. Konkana & Kareena are good stretch choices.

Finally, if she were to ask me: dude, what should I change in my next book, I’d say:
Please have a genuine love triangle. I’m curious to see how you’ll write that. Oh, and please don’t have a creepy, precocious pre-teen male child with an inappropriate obsession (women’s panties/human torture). It’s too done, and done irritatingly. And get yourself a website, woman, it is 2011 already, and even fans have needs – e.g. to obsessively stalk their authors.

Oh, oh, and write more. Please.

Deepika IS or DOES?

November 9, 2009 Leave a comment

Via MissMalini, yet another example of ‘men DO, women ARE’.


Deepika Padukone: “Killing them softly with her smile” – Deepika’s feminine mystique prompts us to dig deeper into….. what makes Bollywood’s current dream girl tick
Imran Khan: “I should lead by example” – Actor Imran Khan writes….on how he works on greening life in the metropolis.

It’s like palmistry when I was growing up – they all kept saying you should read the right hand of men, and the left hand of women. And then, further, that the left hand is what you start out with, what is ‘God-given’, and the right hand is what you make of it. My mother, then still a feminist, said categorically that I should always extend my right hand – because “nowadays women are also in control of their destinies – or should be”.

If women even today in 2009, in the most privileged class of Indian society, including the most visible, most successful career women – are only about their beauty, their looks, and who their families are, there’s very little chance that they can do or be anything different from the cards they were dealt. And one of the fundamental ideas, if not the fundamental premise, of modern human civilization is that no matter who you are, you get a chance to make of your life what you want to – through hard work and smart use of the resources available to you. It’s still not an equal playing field by any means – but each one of us has the right to try, the right to the ‘pursuit of happiness’ (and not just in the US of A). And when half the population is denied that basic human right, how on earth do we call ourselves civilized?

Ghar ki murgi vs. bahar ka murga

September 23, 2009 Leave a comment

Contrast:
Palin Attacks Fed on Hong Kong Visit, Wants ‘Responsible China’

with

Ahmadinejad urges Obama to see Iran as friend

They couldn’t have said for the former: Palin urges ‘responsible China’, cites concerns about Fed direction. Like the German POWs who were given priority seating in concerts and musicals in New York over black Americans in the 1950’s (read here), the average American today shows more restraint and respect when talking about a demented male dictator from a country far away, a potential threat to the US – than a domestic female politician. Maybe a hundred years from now, we’ll see real change. Or maybe not.

Asked about the difficulties of balancing her political career with her home life, Palin said today: “I have a husband. I could have used a wife.”

Like my own grandmom told me when she visited my chaotic house as I’d started working – I need a housewife myself.

What’re your weekend plans?

August 20, 2009 Leave a comment

Keep your weekend free. This Sunday, I’m getting myself a copy of the New York Times’s special issue. Yup, after nearly four years of being increasingly distrustful, disappointed, disillusioned and disgusted with the NYT, I’m actually recommending to everyone that they buy and read this issue, because of the most heart-warming, well-researched articles they’ve put out in a long, long time.

The Women’s Crusade
Nicholas Kristoff talks about the ‘alchemy of gender’ in a deliciously long article, excerpted from his and Sheryl WuDunn’s book. I was alternately in tears and alternately giggling with excitement and nodding in vehement agreement through the story (but it could just be undiagnosed bipolar :-))

A New Gender Agenda
An interview with Hillary Clinton (swoon already), but I’m shocked at how much and how often she references India. It’s clear she’s actually one of the rare Westerners who can wrap their heads around the fact that one nation can be both more liberal and more conservative vs. another at the same time; that progressiveness is not a one-dimensional continuum. She gets that India is, in many ways, a model of development for the West and desh seems to be as top of mind for her as it is to me. And most effectively of all, she’s understood that advocating to the rest of the developing world (argh, I hate that term) that development = American values will not get them or her too far, that she needs to use someone else, someone closer to the developing world as an example – therefore the frequent references to Indian democracy in Nigeria, and to Liberian elections in Congo. Wish someone would smash some of her wisdom into Aaron Sorkin’s pathetic little brain sometime.

And hey, I’m suddenly more respectful of journalists again. Who knew.

Maharani Gayatri Devi

July 29, 2009 Leave a comment

What is it with these iconic Indian women – that makes three of them about whose exciting lives and activities I last heard in college about 10 years ago in dusty books in the Miranda House library, about whom there were mysterious references thrown around in conversations between my mother and her parents, three women who were always for me, part of the hazy past, the paradoxical and confusing 60’s, all now gone.

She passed away yesterday, and was hardly in my mind a feminist icon, though definitely a strong female aspirational figure. The one thing I did always know about her was that she was once accepted by Vogue, that bastion of strict stereotypes of female anatomical acceptability, as being one of the ten most beautiful women in the world. Oh, and that she was the brand ambassador for a diamond jewelry brand, and that caused a big debate on whether celebrity endorsements have gone too far, too cheap.

But, like Princess Diana, or Grace Kelly, or Marilyn Monroe, or Aishwarya Rai, she has the irresistible appeal of someone who ‘s young, beautiful, intelligent, connected, royal and unattainable. These women all hew so close to What Constitutes GlamorTM, and do so well per the unfair standards imposed on them that they’re celebrated so much more than any ordinary achievers who didn’t have to confirm to such standards.

So I went and did some research, and discovered six kewl things about the late Maharani Gayatri Devi:

  1. She had a governess named Miss Oliphant (ha! beat that, Kipling, or Saki)
  2. She helped set up one of the oldest girls’ schools in Rajasthan. While I think that sex segregation in schools is actually not good for equality, sometimes that is the sweeter pill for orthodox cultures to swallow: the first step to getting girls an education. And I know from my experience in a girls-only institution that once you take the boys out of the picture, the excuses used to keep women away from physically intensive and stereotype-challenging activities (e.g. leadership of various student councils, sports, public speaking, mechanical/mathematical contests, even lifting heavy objects, like desks and tables) mysteriously melt away. So, thanks, Maharani.
  3. She drank (alcohol) and played sports, both openly and publicly, and was good at tennis and riding: “Apart from tennis, she was an expert rider herself and both husband and wife greatly encouraged young polo players”
  4. She and that other legendary post-Independence royalty, Gwalior Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia, had a lot in common, – both of them were members of non-Congress parties (like most Indian royals, really) and they held elected office. Their power was not necessarily derived from the powerful men they married or gave birth to or were fathered by – their power was derived from exactly the same source that all political power in India has been derived from – class, wealth, income, education, caste, royalty, and an existing powerful family structure or genes (could be maternal or paternal).
  5. Gayatri Devi’s mother, Maharani Indira Devi of Baroda, was a regular Princess Kickbutt herself. She was supposed to marry the Maharaja Madhavrao Scindia of Gwalior in 1910 (she was eighteen, he was forty). She didn’t want to marry him, but it was an arranaged marriage she couldn’t get out of. So she sent him a secret letter explaining her position – this by itself was really bold, but she stood her ground and Scindia graciously called the marriage off (why hasn’t this been made into a kickass Hindi movie again?). And then she had a roaring clandestine affair with the Prince from CoochBehar and married him a couple of years later. Now the sordid wedding-scandal could’ve affected relations between Baroda/CoochBehar and Gwalior, but the women held it together.
  6. She not just held elected office, she was a regular ultra-achiever there as well: she was “the woman with most staggering majority that anyone has ever earned in an election.” Contrast this with Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, who received barely 5% of the vote in a two-way contest in Haryana.

This is exactly the paradoxical nature of things in desh, especially of social change movements, that P and I were talking about the other day. For instance, Rakhi Ka Swayamvar and our (my) obsessive interest in it: it could and does stand for the cheesy, cheerful oppressive triteness of reality shows everywhere – for gender stereotypes, for bad fashion choices, for drastic invasion of privacy, for utter Lowest Common Denominator dialogues – which it does, but it’s such a breath of feminism still! (Rakhi deserves a whole ‘nother post – she’s getting to be a fascinating, intriguing character after all). For another instance, see this: “In Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh, 40 former rulers decided to fight with modern methods: they formed what was, in effect, a trade union to battle for their rights”. I fear sometimes that I’m totally forgetting how to grasp complex ideas by staying out here in the Wild West.

Anyway, I’m revising my opinions of the Maharani as just a pretty & privileged lady – I’m so off to read this woman’s autobiography.

Google endorses sexism

July 7, 2009 1 comment

If you haven’t already read Dr Violet Socks’ amazing new post, go read here. It’s got 300+ comments last I checked, and seems to be an online clearing house for everyone, on the left or right, Dem or Republican, male or female, who’s disgusted by the stupidity of the reactions ‘provoked by’ Sarah Palin for some reason.

And then if your stomach can still take it, go here. What, you say – it’s a Google blog, for Chrissakes. The Official Google Blog. Pretty neutral, considering Google rules the Internet and, by extension, the world. What may that have to do with the topic on hand?

Well, to the right of the main post is a section of ‘what’s hot’ – not necessarily the most popular sites on the Intertubez, but the ‘kewlest‘ ones that Google recommends. At the moment, the third one there is this: Deadspin’s Diagramming Sarah Palin’s “Full-Court Press” Metaphor…with comments such as –

TimCouchFanatic Where exactly on that diagram does Eminem nail her?

Matt Sussman
2:15 PM Sarah passes the ball to Trig, open for three … YES! From Down’s town!

NordoftheBlings
2:16 PM Calipari coached Levi on how to use Dribble Drive Penetration to beat the Palin Press.

TTZop Shouldn’t Trig Palin be bigger since he has an extra…

Chuck Knoblockhead 2:35 PM I think we should be more concerned with diaphragming Bristol Palin.

Brando 3:57 PM Those thigh-high boots of hers are really going to scuff up the court.

What is it about the woman that encourages utterly demented behavior? Why do people think they can get away with incessantly insulting her, her sexuality, her very existence? What insecurities in these idiots compel them to forget humanity, forget civilization, forget brains – if they had any in the first place?

Either way, good to see that Google, that which Does No Evil, endorses violence against women, sexual harassment and violence against special needs’ children, not to mention endorses sheer stupidity.

Welcome to our new overlords.