Sunday, September 27, 2009

An ode to blogs?

It's true I write about myself
Who else do I know so well?
Where else gather blood red roses & kitchen garbage
What else has my thick heart, hepatitis or hemorrhoids -
Who else lived my seventy years, my old Naomi?
and if by chance I scribe US politics, Wisdom
meditation, theories of art
it's because I read a newspaper loved
teachers skimmed books or visited a museum.
--- by Allan Ginsberg, Objective Subject, March 8, 1997, 12.30 am.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The racist Greek

As an Indian living in Europe, I've naturally had my brush with institutionalised (usually airport-related) racism - getting picked for security checks at airports, endless paperwork regarding visas, being asked strange questions at immigration borders. But the people of the cities that I lived in - Aarhus, Amsterdam, Hamburg and London - never made me feel unwelcome for a minute. Never did I smell a whiff of racism in the restaurants, shops, universities and neighbourhoods that I lived in. Of course, it helped that my lifestyle barely differed from my European counterparts.

And then it hit me straight in the face last Wednesday.

Sid and I were holidaying in the sunny, jagged island of Rhodes in Greece. It was our last day there. Over our weeklong stay, we had puzzled over the fact that we seemed to be the only Asians on that entire island. The island was filled with white people, and we had encountered two to three blacks at the most. But then again, the islands biggest attraction is its bikini-filled beaches, and Indians are famously awkward on beaches.

On Wednesday, thinking of the rainy London that awaited us, we started browsing through some umbrellas displayed on a shop window. But as we tried to enter the shop, a middle-aged balding man barred our way with his portly body, elbows akimbo. He said we must choose what umbrella we want from the window first. There were many people browsing inside the shop, and at first I thought it was a joke. But as he continued walling our way, the penny dropped. He didn't want us in his shop, and since we were well dressed, the only reason for that was our brown skin.

As heat rushed to my face, my instinct was to run - run as far as I could from the hedious shop. But Sid being braver called him a racist bastard to his face before we left. I don't think our abuse shamed him in the least. If we called him racist, he could live with it within his white skin as long as he could keep us out his shop. The term, and its unattractive connotations, held no meaning to him.

As we left, I for the very first time in my life truly thanked the likes of Gandhi, King and Mandela for their fight against racism. What that fight meant, and how it affected me came to life in that instant. For they made it unacceptable in most societies to treat people differently by colour. The shop owner was not a marginalised Neo-Nazi seeking a fight. He was a perfectly respectable Greek businessman who thought it acceptable to turn someone out of his shop for being of the wrong colour. I thought we had won that war. But in Greece, which is only beginning to have its brush with the rainbow-coloured world, the fight has only just begun.

And Sid started it with calling our Greek opponent what he is - a racist bastard.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

September Issue

Caught September Issue, the documentary by RJ Cutler on how the september issue of the American edition of Vogue is put together, last week. More than Vogue or even fashion, it explores the personalities that run the magazine. Naturally, Wintour looms large over the documentary.

What caught me by surprise was how Wintour's body language contrasted against her reputation. She has a tiny, little-girl body and an angelic page boy haircut. She walks with her arms folded, her body shrinking inwards rather than projecting outwards. When she would talk to the camera, a coyness would take over - her eyes would become big and she would look at the camera through her lashes in a Diana-esque manner. And yet, she is known to be (and is) a barracuda and an iceberg rolled into one. She is also perfectly aware of how her iceberg-y personality affects people, and uses it to the hilt.
I wonder then, what do the shrinking body language and shy, little girl mannerisms of Wintour say about her. 

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Caught quoting

Chetan Bhagat on why critical acclaim eludes him:

‘‘So what if I write for the masses? So did Shakespeare. He was probably the Ekta Kapoor of his time.’’

More on Bhagat:

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Anonymous Ltd: Or Hello, I am Chetna. And You?

All this week, the subject of internet anonymity kept popping-up everywhere before me.

First, on the Times ethicist blog I read about Liskula Cohen - the supermodel who dragged Google to court in the US to find out the identity of an anonymous blogger who called her a “psychotic, lying, whoring … skank” among other pretty things. She wanted to sue the blogger but had to sue Google first to find out who the blogger was. The court decided that if someone calls her a "skank" publicly, she might as well know who that person is.

Second, I picked up the Guardian, and there was David Denby, my favourite film reviewer, talking about how most public conversation in the US has gone snarky - mean and unconstructive in the garb of funny and witty - and listed internet anonymity as one of the reasons. The piece was connected to his recent book titled Snark (helpfully subtitled It’s Mean, It’s Personal, and It’s Ruining Our Conversation).

And today, my very funny friend and fellow blogger - Anon - has written why despite all the temptations to reveal her true identity, she continues to remain Anon(ymous) in her blog. (Of course, Anon has a clever blog name - Going Anon and On - that I would consider reason enough for her to remain anonymous. )

Which made me question, why am I anonymous? After all, my blog name will not suffer if I reveal my identity.

For assistance, I went through the discussion on the Ethicist blog to find out what makes me and my fellow anonymous bloggers hold on to our precious anonymity.

a) There are crazed whackos out there who are waiting to do unthinkable things to me. And the only thing keeping me safe is my anonymity. (Comment 4)

Err... As a journalist in Mumbai for five years, I've probably met more crazed whackos in person than most people meet in their lifetime. None of them found me exciting enough to do unthinkable things to me. I am somehow not convinced that my blog entries will ignite that desire in them.

b) If I was being sexually harassed at office, I could write blog about it and seek the cyberspace sisterhood for tips and tricks, without the fear that anyone from office would find out? (comment 41)

I have already had that pleasure. It was difficult. I decided to take it to the management and flog it out with my full name and face showing. I am sure that my cyberspace sisters would have given me the same sensible advice, had I blogged about it anonymously. I am 29 and I hope that if I need help, I will have the courage to seek that help in my name. And I encourage the whole sisterhood to do the same. Learning to deal with problems in our own name is a part of the empowering process.

c) Revealing my name would inhibit my freedom of expression. (comment 11)

The only thing revealing my identity would inhibit is the desire to take irresponsible digs at people that I wouldn't with my real name showing. Writing in my own name, doesn't stop me from writing anything that I think is the truth.

d) Because if my political views were something that my colleagues and clients didn't like, I could still express them without facing a backlash in real life. (comment 5)

And be hypocritical to my colleauges and clients? Besides, expressing political views eventually lead to political action, which would be visible to my esteemed colleagues and clients. So either I can act differently than I anonymously speak and be hypocritical to myself and fellow bloggers, or I stand to be outed eventually anyway. I would rather be outed from the beginning and take my chances.

e) Because.... I can be nasty without being accountable for it :-)

It all comes down to that eventually, doesn't it?

So towards more responsible public conversation - as requested by Denby - I am Chetna Mahadik. And you are...?