Monday, February 18, 2008

crossing over

This year Valentines Day came and went with what seemed to be less than the usual amount of demonstrations. There was a line of students shouting about how Earth is their Valentine. When later confronted their eco-friendliness turned out to be a direct result of a threat of low grades from the college working.

And the only anti-Valentines’ Day action I witnessed was a single man with an orange flag who thought it was his mission to disrupt a flower-seller’s display. All that this seemed to do was help a lot of strangers to unite with their efforts to help the poor man pick up his flowers.

Later that day I got an email that explained the lack of enthusiasm from the conservatives.
Valentines’ Day is actually an Indian tradition. Here’s the story straight from the email:

One day, a brave *Patalani *(Patel lady - her name is unfortunately lost in oblivion), had enough of *"Atyachar"(Torture)* perpetrated on her, by her husband, and then she finally chose to rebel by beating up her husband with a *Velan*... the same Velan with which she made chapattis for him everyday. This was a momentous occasion for all the Gujarati women and a revolt soonspread, like a wild fire, with several housewives beating up their husbands with Velan.

The men quickly learnt their lesson. However, there was no putting down the burgeoning feminist spirit of the times, and the beatings continued incessantly. As the men improved, the frequency of the beating was reduced to once a month -usually towards the middle of the month, so that they would remain "disciplined". Further improvement reduced the need to more of an annual ritual, to ensure that the *Patlanis* can demonstrate the "Credible Threat"; least the men-folk forget and get back to their olden ways. And so each year that day (Middle of February, i.e.14th) the womenfolk, if only gingerly and lovingly, as a token gesture, beat up their husbands to commemorate that eventful day, which had contributed substantially to better their lot.

The men folk also submitted to this, in good humor, since they didn't really get beaten up other days of the year. The entire ritual soon became a caring and loving affair, with wives having the satisfaction of beating up their husbands, their husbands cringing in mock fear and pain, and the guys having the supreme joy of submitting to the whims of the women they loved.
This custom continued for many years, even when the British occupied India. As Gujarat fell more and more under the influence of Western Culture and language, some of the more fashionable and educated women, sometimes wearing leather boots and clothes (this even created a fad for leather *Velans* for a short time, but it soon passed, as they could not use them to make chapattis) on that day appeared with a *Velan* in hand, and called out to their husbands *"Velan time"* before starting off.

The British noticed this, and they were quite amused and endeared by the peculiar ritual. They also saw it for what it really was, i.e. amanifestation of love, not of hate. The ritual soon spread to Britain and many other Western countries, specifically, the catch words *"Velan time"* Of course in their foreign mouths, it was bastardized to *"Velan tine"* and then to *"Valentine".* And from that day onwards, 14th of February, since it was indeed that day that 400 years ago an irate *Gujarati Patalani* housewife nearly committed manslaughter, came to be known as Valentine's Day. The custom of hitting with Velans died a natural death as more modern (and lethal) equipment was made available to Gujju Girls with the advent of time and technology, but 14th of Feb still stands as a symbol of undying and universal love.

My views on the 14th of Feb are still unchanged. Given a chance I’d miss the day altogether. I do have a cunning plan that somehow never seems to be put into use.The idea is to leave Florida on the evening of the 13th for Australia. And if the International Date Line works as it’s supposed to, I would have missed the date entirely.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the International Date Line, if crossed correctly, can be the answer to eternal youth.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


The first time I heard about plate tectonics, I was 10 and visiting London, marvelling at my proximity to the queen, the abundance of escalators and the Natural History Museum.

This was when the only Indian at Madame Tussaud’s was a very wooden, wax Gandhi and google was either a number I wouldn’t want to count up to or a devious cricket ball, both badly misspelled.

I had then only vaguely heard of Pangaea, but with the museum’s interactive touch screens in front of me, it now seemed to make perfect sense. There even was a timeline with estimations of what future landmass distribution would look like. I was sure that if I only closed my eyes, I could feel England inching towards the rest of Europe. After all, according to the map, 50 years down the line when I was more grown-up than I could possibly imagine, Arabia would be drifting in a sea it could now more rightfully call its own, the Atlantic Ocean would have overtaken the Pacific becoming the new reigning World’s Largest Water Body champion and Australia would be much quicker to get to.

And if entire continents were changing shape, I didn’t dare imagine what countries or even cities would be going through.

I thought about it for a bit and came to the conclusion that tectonics (despite its deceivingly modern sounding name that at first made me think, like ‘fantabulous’, had its origins in two distinct words – technical electronics, perhaps), had been around for quite a while. Besides, even if there was some danger, it was up to the adults to figure out what to do next.

It was only later, with a mixture of disappointment, relief and quite a bit embarrassment, I realized that in my screen touching frenzy I had skipped a word between 50 and years. ‘Million’ was never my favourite number anyway.

Of course, by then in my mind the continental drift had given away to more pressing concerns - namely buying batteries for my walkman. Backstreet’s Back was just out on tape.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

it wasn't me

The bad news is that the earth is rotating slower even as I type.

The good news is that the speed of retardation is so slow that by the time a day becomes as long as a month the sun would have evolved into a red-giant and there probably wouldn’t be anyone left on earth to complain about how even a really large lunch is just not enough to get through the rest of the day.

Even better news is that this slowing down of the earth is because of the gravitational pull of the moon. It’s not our fault!

Nowadays everything to do with the earth and the changes it's going through seems to be our fault. Even the fact that ‘environmental’ and ‘conservation’ make sense in quick succession is evidently something to worry about.

When I first heard about the concept, I wanted to help. Then the bell rang – it was time for Maths and I forgot all about it.

Recently Global Warming came back in my life. I think 2007 is to blame, first with constant complaints about climate change, then Al Gore’s movie and finally the Nobel Prize. Now it refuses to leave. Conversations seem to steer towards it, every thing I’ve watched on TV makes me think about it – Tata Nano, Reliance Power, Britney’s Rehab.

Sometimes I get up in the morning feeling worried and guilty. It takes me a while to realize that the feeling isn’t because I’ve missed a deadline or haven’t studied for a test. It’s Global Warming.

Surely there are other people who feel the same.

Surely I’m not the only one who is weighed down by the burden of it.

Surely all this guilt and worry isn’t good. For all I know, it probably is a major cause of stress, heart problems and even cancer.

I think Global Warming has a lot of potential. With a bit of research it could probably overtake “my dog ate it” to become the best excuse ever.

Friday, January 11, 2008

do a little dance

The day I agreed that it was about time I got a life (which, according to the version I was agreeing to could mean anything from ‘job’ to ‘real degree’, ‘gym’ or ‘prawns’) was when Anu told me about this entire generation that exists with no knowledge about the Macarena, for the only reason that the phenomenon took place before their time.

“It’s a real generation,’” she insisted, “not just babies born last week.”

I thought about it and a horrifying moment later, realized Anu was right. There are teenagers out there, and not just a few, but thousands of them, dancing at clubs, listening to music and probably making some of their own, who wouldn’t be able to coordinate dance moves to the song. For all I know, the Macarena according to them might be

  1. more manly than macaroni
  2. a careless spelling of the Scottish boxing ring MacArena
  3. pizza topping
  4. a Goan folk song

I guess I’ve never noticed the songs I listen to becoming part of retro hour, because by the time I discovered the music I like, it was 30 years since it had been recorded. The guys I listen to, now just sit back on the shelf at music stores, grooving with the others from classic rock, occasionally making an appearance as themes for tribute shows or inspiration for Jet and Franz Ferdinand.

Besides, I’ve always thought (with what I believed to be good reason) that 21 is not old enough to have listened to retro music as new singles just out on the charts.

Maybe it’s the age in which we live, with its notoriously quick pace of life. Considering that fast food and technological advances share similar time spans between production and best before dates, this particular Macarena update shouldn’t have come as such a shock.

Maybe I was wrong and 21 is old enough. After all everyone else my age is going through the same thing... aren’t they?

Maybe it doesn’t really matter, the Macarena already got more attention than it deserved, and I should probably take my agreeing to ‘get a life’ more seriously.