Of Mice and Men

I like mice. I dunno why.

Somehow, I find them über cute. I like how they are warm to the touch. I like how they skid on slippery floors while zipping through corners. I like how smart they are.

Everyone else in my family HATES them. My girlfriend completely hates them too.

They spoil clothes.

They nibble through important papers.

They bring the plague.

Yadda yadda.

So early this morning, I walked bleary eyed into a family council of war. A mice had nibbled on one of mom`s favorite sarees and it was going to pay the price of its audacity. Plans were being made. The economy was going on a war footing. The best weapons would be purchased. No effort would be spared.

Now, there is a fundamental difference between the way we remove mice from the house. Everyone has a different way of doing it.

Last month, A’s room became mouse-infested, and she freaked out. She told everyone about it. She Googled for tips to remove them. She sprayed lemon and pepper essence until her roomie choked. None of it worked.

So out came the tactical nukes. Small, black bits of rat poison. You know what they look like – they’re squarish and kind of spongy, and have names like “Maxkill”, “Mortein” and “Finale”. They do really nasty stuff to mammalian blood. They’re potent weapons and should work – in theory anyway.

Unfortunately for A, it seems that only a severely dumb rat would eat something like that. HER rat never came near the stuff, preferring to feast on a pair of jeans and Engineering manuals instead. It fairly drove her up the wall. And the fact that she was mildly scared of it didn’t help that much.

Eventually, the rat went away on its own and life went back to normal.

By way of contrast, I caught OUR rat in a day.

My modus operandi was far simpler and far cheaper — all I needed was a breakfast cereal box and a fit pair of legs. Once the bugger had been located, it took me approximately ninety minutes to push him into a corner, cover him with the cereal box and deposit him in the Great Outdoors. No tantrums, no fuss, no nukes and no fur.

Somehow, I just can’t stomach using rat poison and all that junk. Why kill when you can simply remove them? It may have wasted ninety minutes of my time but hey, I saved a life and demonstrated the power of Gandhigiri, where violence fails.

So says this vegetarian. 🙂

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Five Handy Tips for an Arranged Marriage – The Male Version

So here you are, at crossroads in your life.
Everything’s good on paper. Your job is going great. Your boss loves you. You’ve just picked up golf. Your life is held up as a model in your community. So it’s all good on paper.

But reality tells you different. Something is not right. You’ve been looking at the indications for a while now. Your socks have become progressively dirtier. The craving for a hot, home-cooked meal is reaching epic proportions (since you can’t cook for nuts). Other, more…um…physical cravings have been growing as well. The maid has been throwing tantrums. And to top it all, your married friends have now taken to calling your house “the dumpster”.

So goddamn it, you’ve had enough. You’ve had too much to think. You need to settle down. You need the feminine touch in your life. And it ain’t coming from your momma. You, my friend, need a WIFE.

But how do you get one? After all, you’ve had a good Indian upbringing! You don’t have the time for that love crap and you don’t know the first thing about relationships anyway. Your parents would go into spastic fits if you even mentioned love marriage, so that’s out. But hey, all you need is a wife, after all, not a soul mate, and since you’re in India, arranged marriage is a great option.

Worry not, my friend, for CE is here. Through this post, I’ll provide you the hottest tips for getting a good arranged wife (yes, that’s the terminology for “woman you married through an arrangement between two sets of parents”). If you keep this stuff in mind, even the loveliest, fairest, homeliest MBA + PhD from Harvard will be within your grasp. The most important part to remember is that an arranged marriage is like a job interview. And this is how it works:

Tip#1: Have the right experience

No, I don’t mean the good times you had behind your favorite jhaari (bush) in college.

You must be experienced in handling traditional Indian sensibilities. You must know the correct placement of that Tulsi plant. You must know which feet to touch and which heads to give aashirwaad to. You must understand when to fold your hands in humility and when to display your implausibly white teeth for full effect. You may find it bothersome but if you can’t do this, you can forget about your nice wifey, and all the assorted benefits.

In an arranged marriage, the first impression is not only the last impression. It may well be the ONLY impression you get to make.

Tip #2: Know your priorities

Your primary goal is NOT to impress the girl herself. Your primary goal is impressing her parents.
Many rookies make the mistake of spending too much time with their future bride and too little with her parents. This may seem logical, but that’s only because you’re inexperienced. Typically, this sort of thing ends in heartbreak, elopement, honor killings and all sorts of nastiness that you don’t want to even hear about.

Don’t make that mistake. Remember that once you have the parents on your side, the girl is basically yours, whether she likes it or not (unless she’s exceptionally spunky and resists pressure, in which case you should think twice about marrying her anyway).

Tip #3: Keep your expectations reasonable

This is a bit like filling up the “expected salary” field. The key is to fill in what the OTHER person thinks is reasonable, not you.

Of course, you’re the greatest, most handsome man on the face of the planet. Your sexual prowess is legendary. You deserve the best bride money can buy. Etc. Etc.

BUT you must make allowances for other peoples’ egos. It’s unfair, yeah, but parents can be a bit silly about their kids (even if the said kids are female).
So unless you’re from IIT/IIM/The Ivy League, keep those dowry demands under ten million rupees and DON’T, for God’s sake, demand a car that’s more expensive than the one you’re driving.

Tip #4: Be tall, fair and handsome

This is self-explanatory.

Be a Complan boy.

Use Fair and Handsome for your tough, manly skin.

And remember that even a monkey looks handsome in an Armani. Use the three things together to your advantage.

After your sanskaars, and the size of your paycheck, these are the most important criteria to judge your worthiness, so pay attention to these things.

Tip #5: Be like a king

Be a man. Yes, I know you’re already male, but it sounds good to say it like that.
You’re going to be the head of your family, so your should act like that. Be stern. Be miserly with your compliments. Be scathing in your criticisms. The key is to have an eye for detail.
Is the spoon not angled properly? Comment on it.

Is the curtain not straight enough? Make it known.

Is the halwa not sweet enough? Make a hue and cry.

This builds your reputation as a manly man and gets you better service from your wife. The kind of service you deserve.

So there you have it. Grab a hat, get out there and make history!

The Cruelty of Fate

And everybody wants to see you suffer,

They know that you need the pain so much,

They throw you up a rope when you’re too high to,

cruise baby,

Lord, you lose, lady.

Then they charge you with the Rescue Blues

-Ryan Adams, “The Rescue Blues”

Is the universe a cruel place? I don’t think so, even if it seems like that sometimes.

The universe isn’t really cruel at all.

It’s unfair.

Unfair, because it doesn’t give a damn about fairness.

Unfair, because it doesn’t really give a damn about anything at all.

It just exists. It just IS.

Cruelty is something defined by us humans. It’s a label we apply to some particular permutation of fate and chance that strikes us as horrible, hopelessly unfair. To situations like this honor killing. And it is only us, self-aware, intelligent humans who really have the capacity to be cruel as well.

It’s so easy to take what you have for granted.

A’s minor whining grated on my nerves yesterday. I got angry. I didn’t say anything, but she figured out what was going on and shut up. And we relaxed. We talked about things we liked. We talked about movies. We discussed our day. We discussed coding.

No one will ever force me to marry anyone. No one will ever force me to take up a particular job. No one will ever force me to conform to social norms. No one can. The constitution, the law, protects my rights as an individual.

It’s unbelievable how different life trajectories can be in the same country, a similar cultural heritage, within a geographical distance of little more than a hundred miles.

What if I was like that guy from Haryana? A simple dinner with my girlfriend would be a threat to my life. Talking to a girl could end in my getting beaten up with sticks and rods. A simple touch could well make me a victim to someone’s misplaced sense of honor. The constitution would do diddly-squat to protect me from that. No one could really guarantee to save me. I’d be on my own, and in a very real sense, I’d be FORCED to confirm.

It’s just chance, isn’t it?

Chance, that I get to make my own choices, be my own person, be proactive about my own happiness. Chance, that I am not condemned to die for doing those things.

I wonder what the guy felt as he lay on the ground, merciful unconsciousness ending his pain, merciful death ending the entire ordeal. Did he feel angry? Sad? Resigned? Did he dwell upon the irony of honor being preserved by taking an innocent human life? Did he feel the bitterness of being the victim in that irony? Did he savor his last moments? Or did he, perhaps spit at them, in a final act of defiance towards an uncaring universe?

I don’t know. And I’m not sure I want to know either.

Because I don’t think my mind would be able to take the strain of knowing. It just wouldn’t.

Five Handy Tips for an Arranged Marriage

Are you bored?
Need a break?
Boss/Professors giving you a hard time?
Tired of taking a man’s load on your frail feminine shoulders?

 

If you answered yes to those questions, I have the perfect solution for you, sistah!

Get married.

That’s right. Get married.

And don’t bother with the love-shove thingy. An arranged marriage is so much easier. There are so many benefits to it, I won’t even bother listing them out here. From awesomazing Starbucks coffee to getting a truckload of pretty Saris, an arranged marriage has something for everyone. And the best part is, you don’t even have to fall in love.

Of course, anything that good requires a certain amount of work. And since I’m such a great guy, I’m even going to give you some free tips on how to get your dream arranged marriage.

Tip #1: Look like Snow White

When I say Snow White, I mean you should, literally, look as though you were SNOW WHITE. As in, make your skin look freakishly white. This is very important, because as we all know,

Darkness x Desirability = Constant

The Whiter you are, the More is your Desirability.

So if you’re going to be grabbing this opportunity, be about it and go purchase that Fairness Cream right NOW!

Tip#2: Be homely

No, that’s not an insult.

Around here, Homely is a Good Thing. Nobody can quite lay their finger on what it means, exactly, but you’ll know you’re well up on your homeliness quotient when you spend most of your time at home, intensely absorbed in elder-worship and daily soaps, being a general doormat for everyone around you. It may take some time to get to that point, but the aforementioned daily soaps can really help you along, along with affirming your homely credentials.

Believe you me, Homeliness looks very, very good on your Matrimonial Ad.

Tip#3: Be well up in your cooking

No Nice Indian Girl is complete without her cooking skills. Since marrying you would effectively bar you husband from ever entering the kitchen, your cooking skills must be top-notch.

But don’t get too creative! Go with the traditional. Specifically, go with the rotis. Learn to make awesome rotis. Tie in your entire self-esteem with how soft your rotis turn out to be. That is the real test of your womanliness, the agni-pariksha, so to speak. Average won’t cut it. You HAVE to be better than his mother.

If you think that’s too much work, think of the rewards. Giving your husband Gastronomic pleasure is a sure way to keep him happy, which in turn, ensures that you get to buy that pearl choker you always wanted. It all works out to your benefit, in the end. And compliments never hurt.

Tip#4: Brush up on your demureness

A good Indian wife must be properly demure. It’s the basis of our entire culture, after all (if you don’t believe me, you’re obviously an ignorant Westerner).

Many years of education may have robbed you of your demureness, but that’s okay because the entire structure of your arranged marriage will help you get it back. That’s the beauty of it.

Be demure. Be indecisive. Dither on minor decisions. Don’t offer too many opinions. Accept life as it comes.

Tip#5: Ditch the Femi-Nazi crap

Feminism is not for nice Indian girls. It’s an evil invention of weirdo, uncultured Westerners who have no idea how to run a marriage. If you need proof, just look at the divorce rates in countries which have active feminist movements. They don’t even stigmatize divorce! I mean, how sucky is that?

As a good wifey, you must have the proper amount of justified disdain for Indian Feminists. Obviously, these are just bitter, rootless people who mindlessly ape the West. You shouldn’t feel angry at them (anger is unfeminine); rather, you should feel pity. How sad that they couldn’t get their own Arranged Marriage, and their own pearl chokers.

So, with those five hot tips, you’re well on your way. Don’t thank me; I’m just doing my part as a chivalrous protector of our culture.

Just don’t forget to count your blessings when you wake up in the morning, and your amazing husband does something really lovable, like compliment you on the excellent Parantha.

Count your blessings and shake your head, as you think about how wrong those feminists were.

 

 

 

The One Time It Did Work

I’ve written quite a few posts (and even more comments) which talk about how I failed to get friends and relatives out of abusive or semi-abusive situations. It’s not an easy thing to do, because a lot of the time, people simply don’t WANT your help. They don’t want you to interfere in their life, however miserable it may be and I usually have to bow to that.

After all, I’m no savior from heaven. I’m just an idiot with my own ideas on how life should be lived. Just another random guy with a stubborn, abiding loyalty towards people I’ve come to like and respect. It’s that loyalty which causes me anguish when I see those same people suffer. But it’s their own life, and if they don’t want it to get better, so be it. I can make suggestions and help them out when they need it, but that’s about it. I cannot go any further than that without encroaching on their lives.

So most of the time, my arguments and assertions do not work. But there was one time they did, and I want to lay it out right here, in the vague hopes that it might help others who are in the same situation as the one I occasionally find myself in.

***

We trooped into our favorite Cafe Coffee Day as usual, me and Hardeep, for a little bite. Typical, bog-standard college chatter flew back and forth between us as we ordered our usual. I’ve always liked CCD, like maybe 50% of the college students here in India and just like most of them, I’m not sure why. But whatever the reason, the place was comfortingly familiar, and I expressed my heartfelt sympathies as H ranted unhindered about the “f*cking a**hole professor” who gave him a grand total of three marks on the last quiz.

That’s when H spotted her in a corner.

Nisha.

H had had a major crush on the girl since he was a wee first year, but he’d never really had the confidence to tell her. I guess it was her own personality which made him feel a bit shy. I mean, she oozed confidence. It radiated from her in all directions like the golden rays of the sun. A quiet layer of understated competence, warm when it touched you, and beautiful to look at. All three of us had been close in our first year, but she’d sort of drifted away over time. It was nothing deliberate. I still counted her as a great friend, as did H, but what with different branches and electives, and the complicated practical schedules, we simply didn’t get to meet each other as often as we liked.

But something was wrong today, and I didn’t need H’s swearing to tell me that. It was obvious from that face that her morale had to be at something like an all time low.

We waved to her and she waved back with a brave attempt at a smile, obviously surprised at seeing us there. We took the liberty of joining her and H didn’t waste  any time as he asked her what was wrong.

As I expected, she denied that anything was wrong at all.

But ten minutes of gentle coaxing, and it came out.

“He slapped me.”, she said with a choked sob.

“Who, Nisha?”

“Aman”

Aman. Her boyfriend. He was a slightly built guy, a bit of a nerd, really, but apparently he was more of an asshole than he looked.

I sat very quiet as H laid out with great precision what he’d like to do to Aman as well as the female members of his family. It didn’t cheer her up one bit, and what she said next was exactly on the lines of what I KNEW she’d say — and wouldn’t mean.

“I know. I’m going to break up with him.”

We did our best to cheer her up for the rest of the afternoon, and when it was time to leave, I promised her I’d stay in touch.

Two days, I saw her with him again. She looked terrible. Her eyes were lackluster and there was a horrible defiance in her face as I looked at her. It made me feel sick to the stomach that this bastard could have so much power over someone like her. I am prepared to swear that I actually felt truly, physically nauseated about the situation. And I didn’t know how to help.

So I decided to do the best I could. I talked to my parents. Talked to my sister. Talked to female friends. Asked them how I could help her.

And finally, I started to talk to her. I soon realized that there was no point telling her what I thought of her boyfriend, because she’d always come up with excuses for him. I resorted to more positive ideas. I told her that at least I was going to be there for her. I told her that I still deeply respected her as a person. I cut down on my free time a bit so we could spend some good time together, maybe in a basketball game or even just sitting around the campus.

At times, she’d grow too dependent on me. I had to tell her to back off a bit. I still had a life to live, and I had my own problems. Several times, I told her to stop using me as a permanent sounding board and to actually do something about the situation. It was probably a bit heartless, but I had to do it.

I was afraid of failing, or making the situation worse. I am no counselor, after all. But I knew there was little chance of making her go see a counselor, so I was all there was, and I was committed to doing my best to get her the hell out of this nightmare. There were so many times when I thought it wouldn’t work. On such moments, I even resorted to rhetoric. Would she want such a father to her kids? Would she like it if her own daughter married a guy like that? It wasn’t kind, but it was all I could do.

It took over a year, but then, one day, she broke free. She ditched Aman. And when she called me up to tell me about it one beautiful spring morning, it was probably the happiest I’d felt in a long, long time. Because the winter was gone, and the glorious, beautiful spring, was here at last.

***

The events here happened over a year ago, and I’m happy to state that Nisha is almost back to her usual energetic self nowadays. I have her express permission to publish this on my pseudonymous blog as long as I don’t mention the real names of the protagonists. H didn’t quite manage to get it on with her, but hey, you can’t have everything in life. 🙂

An Ordinary Drawing-Room Conversation

I’ve always been fond of babies.

According to my sister, I get two lactation spots on my T-shirt every time I get close enough to a baby. Now, I am familiar enough with my own biology and S’s hyperbole to know that this is highly unlikely, but the fact remains that I do tend to start insulting the Queen’s language with baby talk if I happen to meet one of those little gremlins.

So there I was last night, hammering away at a computer keyboard trying to slog my way to a better CPI, when the new neighbors decided to pay a visit. I’m normally too lazy and disinterested to take part in that kind of socializing, but since these neighbors had never met me before, I was duly ordered by my mother to get the dust off my face and get my lazy butt into the drawing-room in five minutes flat (okay, she said, “N, come here and meet Mr and Mrs P”, but that’s what she meant). I meekly obeyed.

I flashed my best “sleazeball lawyer” smile as I strode confidently into the drawing-room right behind mom. I looked smart. Confident. Killer. If Raymond was in the sweatshirt business, I’d have looked like The Complete Man. The neighbors looked suitably impressed and S looked suitably rolly-eyed.

I said hello to everyone. Shook hands. Exchanged greetings.

And spotted the pram in the corner.

It was small, blue colored affair and right inside it was an unbelievably cute baby girl. Deciding to go say hello to her too, I walked over, gave her a little smile and a wave, and made the usual meaningless noises.

To my surprise, the chatter level in the room fell sharply.

The neighbors were looking a bit weirdly at me.

And I understood.

In the neighbors’ opinion, a 6’3″ tall Raymond Man isn’t supposed to love babies.  Even if he’s wearing a sweatshirt. Just not done, you know. You gotta fit the stereotype and all that.

I glanced at my sister and exchanged unsaid words. Her eyes said everything. The rest of the evening was going to be a LOT of fun.

We deliberately talked a lot about the, ah, unconventional sides of our own personality.

I explained to Mrs P exactly why shiny pans are better for a Southern style cake.

Didn’t mention technology or engineering a single time unless asked a direct question.

Talked about every single “chick flick” A has ever coaxed me into watching.

Expressed my (very real) disdain for mindless action movies.

Showed them one of my more impressionistic watercolor paintings.

Talked about how relaxing cooking can be after a long day.

The expressions on the neighbors’ faces were priceless. S went on and on, lecturing everyone about the difference between Jamaican and Puerto Rican Rum, even as the Mr and Mrs P reeled in shock at the thought that a girl might drink rum.

They looked shocked enough for me to feel sorry for them, but hey, it’s not like they were being harmed or anything.

My parents struggled to understand what was going on and only cottoned on after I told them once the neighbors had left . We had a good laugh about it afterwards.

It’s so much fun baiting people who believe in stereotypes. So easy to shock them. So damn easy to make them raise their eyebrows right to the heavens in surprise.

They say it takes courage to challenge stereotypes. It does. But it can be a lot of fun too. It can even be an educational experience for the person who is doing the stereotyping. Who knows? Maybe, just maybe, they’ll be less likely to go by appearance the next time. Or maybe they just think I’m a weirdo. I can live with that.