Tag Archives: humour

The Venus Flytrap: Loosen Up And Love The Lungi

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When our very own humble lungi made it onto the pages of the acclaimed street fashion photography blog The Sartorialist a few weeks ago, I was thrilled to bits. Cultural misappropriation and decontextualization? Oh pshaw. That Caucasian guy rocked that indigo lungi the way indigo lungis are meant to be rocked: by men with serious balls, metaphorical and otherwise.

Needless to say, I’ve been trying for awhile to get men out of their pants. And into their lungis.

Veshtis are too formal, kilts just trying too hard, regular skirts too evocative of transvestites (and if you’ve been following this column, you’d realise that would mean all amorous hopes will summarily be squashed but we could be BFFs). But the lungi – ah, how I would love to be taken to a fancy dinner by a man masculine enough to wear an indigo lungi with a white button-down shirt.

Of course, this takes quite some coaxing. I once made a guy come to college in a miniskirt (ah, the perks of being a slightly scary chick with a college magazine editorship!). He refused to take his track pants off from under the red wraparound, but not only did he very sportingly attend lectures and go out to lunch and let himself be photographed that way, he loved it. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that he’s graduated to the liberating lounge-cum-luxury wear that is the lungi by now.

Then there was Lungi-Man, the superhero who fought cultural imperialism and mental colonization – and thankfully didn’t go commando as he bounded over traffic and tall buildings. Our intrepid crusader was invented for a friend who is quite severely desi-challenged (you know the type). Lungi-Man’s partner was the über-feminist Pavadai-Chatta Girl (yeah, she liked ironic statements). If I ever get tired of writing dysphoric verse and self-indulgent columns, I’ll do a graphic novel starring the two of them. Installment one: it’s laundry day, the wife’s on strike, and Lungi-Man is forced to wear the attire of his archnemesis, Veshtimeister. Things climax with Lungi-Man and Veshtimeister glowering at one other in a showdown, tweaking their own moustaches and striking dramatic poses, while Pavadai-Chatta Girl unties herself from the train tracks in her sheer boredom, then spits paan onto the both of them, staining their garments irreparably.

I guess you could say my lungi fascination started early. Some of the most fun I recall from my childhood was something called “the aeroplane game”, the key components of which are one lungi, one person to wear it, and one very small and easily amused child (two if the lungi-wearer has long legs). My father, in lungi of course, would sit down with his legs up on an adjacent chair. His lungi would fall in such a way as to create a sort of hammock-cradle, in which I could sit and swing around. I always thought I had discovered this by accident until I met a girl in my teens who had played the exact same “aeroplane game”. My guess is it may have been a common thing in Indian households until people started getting paranoid about the perceived ickiness factor of a kid being so close to the family jewels.

Some time last year, it was reported that a UK distributor had put in an order for 11,000 lungis from Kurunjipadi. No news since about what happened or is in store for what could very well be biggest fashion invasion of Europe since jodhpurs. Take heed, men of India! You can pre-empt the fashion capitals of the world starting today.

And trust me, the girls will love it.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my weekly column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.

The Venus Flytrap: Grace In Aliases

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I have a friend who has a name so supremely cool that I’m concerned it cannot even be mentioned in this column without incurring royalties. It is Chandrachoodan, which despite meaning something as poetically wimpy as “the one with the moon matted into his hair” sounds like “the one who will have you eviscerated if you take his parking space”. I unfortunately, am a Sharanya. The prettiest name in South India – as all of about 20 million sets of parents seem to have realized, including mine.

However, as only people with access to my legal documents and hardcore stalkers may know, it’s not my real name, in a technical sense. My real first name, my spiffy business-like alter-ego who collects cheques, signs debit card bills and occasionally gets interrogated at immigration, is one that really does live up to my (entirely fictional, my also-fictional lawyer insists I add) reputation of eating men for breakfast. But what follows that secret sobriquet takes the cake: an alias sign. Also known as the @ in an email address. I bamboozle you not. I have a glyph in my legal name.

There are even more interesting reasons to be grateful for my monikers. I got to thinking about this topic because of the excitement over what the new Brangelina twins have been christened: the perfectly sensible names of Knox and Vivienne. Is normal the only remaining fetish in celebrity baby-naming? Not being called Apple or Audio Science might be the last taboo, a curse guaranteed to make you really unpopular in Hollywood playgrounds, and your parents total revolutionaries.

This, therefore, would make my parents incredibly ahead of their time and cool. Which doesn’t exactly compute with data already at available to me, but still.

The great disadvantage of a common name that can be pronounced two ways, however, is that mine inevitably gets pronounced in the way that I don’t like. Without the H. Ironically, one of the names I hate most contains only letter less than my own.

But there’s one specific advantage to so unexceptional an epithet: there’s already a planet that shares it, and I’m not even very famous yet! Minor asteroid 17092 Sharanya was named for an upcoming scientist from Coimbatore. Do you know who else has one of those named for them? Andy Warhol. That makes at least two things that put me in his league: incurable kitschiness and planet co-baptism.

If that doesn’t make me cosmically cool, I don’t know what will.

I could accessorize the planet with a star bought off the Internet, but that’s not extraordinary anymore. And a perfume or clothing range is just too boringly bourgeois, so the unimaginative can keep those options. I’d rather have the quirky stuff.

So among my dreams are to have two seemingly paradoxical things named after me: a cocktail and a hurricane. The second will be an act of god and the first will be simply divine.

In some folklore, such as in the story of Manawee and his twin brides (as retold by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women Who Run With The Wolves), knowing the name of something indicates power over it. The truth is this: I considered reverting to my legal name even as recently as last year. And then things beyond my control pushed this name, the name you know me by, into a public sphere. There was little I could do but take possession.

Now I know both my names. And I am powerful in both. To the world at large, I have a common, frequently-mispronounced, everyone-has-a-relative-who’s-a… name. But I plan on owning it like none of the others ever have.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my weekly column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.

The Venus Flytrap: Idli And A Screaming Orgasm (or, Spicing Up The Menu)

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In preparation for the Olympics this year, the government of China has released a tourist-friendly 170-page book recommending new English names for some 2,000 delicacies – all of which till now go by some baffling monikers. What a pity this menu makeover is – it would be such fun to hang out in China and order, among other things, “chicken with no sexual life”, “husband and wife’s lung slice” and “fat man with straw up nose”.

Food and cheap thrills – what a deadly combo. The only reason I’ve ever asked for a Screaming Orgasm (that’s a drink, by the way) at snooty restaurants is because I love the expression on most waiters’ faces when I tell them what I want to have.

So now that the chicken who can’t score becomes the much less colourful “steamed pullet”, and “Chinese buttermilk” is all that’s left of the chubster snorting his drink, I think it’s time to come up with a few good replacements. What’s world cuisine without tact, political correctness, prudery and the taste-buds of the tame getting lost in translation?

First, let’s take the idli. Ah, the idli! Plump, perfect, pillowy and so very native – no? According to the 7th century writings of Xuang Zang, vessels for steaming came to India via the cooks who accompanied the Hindu kings of Indonesia back here. The idli, therefore, was born of the marriage between Java and the South. Ergo, we have the Chubby Marriage Pillow.

Chubby Marriage Pillows go best with sambar, which is made from toovar dal, also known as pigeon pea. I say we rechristen it Pigeon Pea Broth. As a committed carnivore who rolls many an eye at the prissiness of too many vegetarians I come across, I think the confusion can only mean more for me. Great! Pile on the ghee while you’re at it (also known as Distilled Cow Blood – don’t you good veggos know where dairy products come from?).

Before we move on the meaty stuff, let’s linger a moment on one more chaste item: the ubiquitous khichdi. There’s a story about the king Shivaji, who wandered lost and hungry in the forest one day. Coming upon the hut of an old woman, he asks to be fed, and she gives him some khichdi fresh off the fire. When he burns his fingers attacking the hot, hot dish, the old woman chides him for being like “that impatient king Shivaji”. Not recognizing him, she instructs him to approach the thin outer layers of the khichdi first, which are easier to handle. In learning how to eat this simple meal was how Shivaji was supposed to have learnt a valuable military strategy.

In the centuries since, the good king’s name has been taken in vain, in gain, and in disdain many times over. I don’t have to tell you where it most recently appeared. All I’m saying is, it’s not for nothing that khichdi will henceforth be called “Hot Hot Rajnikanth”.

All this food smut has made me really hungry, so before I absolutely have to go devour something, I’ll make one final recommendation. Like any funky Indian goddess, I’m usually very well-satiated by a good goat sacrifice. And to keep this new menu locally loyal, one of my favourite desi dishes is mutton rogan josh. Let’s be literal, for a change. Mutton is mutton, rogan also means mutton, and josh means mojo. The sum total of which we can take to mean Twin Mutton Mojo. Ooh. Two sets of horny things are always better than one. Bon appetit!

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my weekly column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.

Nursery Rhyme For Brana Bono

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Posted this on a more private space this morning. Thought I’d share it here, just for fun.

Medusa-seduca, you declared,
and crossed your legs at tea.
Rapunzel-schmunzel, I shrugged.
You don’t mean little old lady me?
But don’t take me at my bashful blush,
I was only feigning surprise.
I think we already know: my hair is
a certifiable home-wrecking device.

The Venus Flytrap: Between Bread and Betelnut

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I was raised by my Sri Lankan Tamil maternal grandparents, and among my various cultural heirlooms comes that famously recognizable accent. That conversation-stopping, glint-in-the-eye, connotations-stirring, “Yaarlpanam-ah?” accent. The one my mother, in her less matriotic moments, tries to pass for Malayali. That political, poetic, deeply personal dialect that I call my mother tongue.

As fiercely in love as I am with this tongue, I have had to rein it in. Living in Chennai and having to haggle with auto drivers on a daily basis does that to you – do you have any idea how much they charge otherwise? I learnt to imitate the coarser rhythms of Madras Tamil out of the need for defense – like a stereotypical Ceylonese, I keep my allegiances close but my wallet closer still.

Still, it’s an accent that never fails to surprise me. The affirmative om that perks up in place of the ama I’ve conditioned myself to use in India. The fact that I cannot bring myself to use the personal nee when the neenga I am used to is just that much more pleasingly polite, and somehow, to my ears, more intimate. My accent gives me away when I least expect it to, like a blush-inducing pinch that makes sure I don’t forget. Just like how my v’s and w’s mix when I argue in English, any Tamil conversation in which I wholly participate is jazzed up (or if you’ll excuse the blatant exoticism, baila-d up) with my real accent. The one I had before I knew it was an accent.

My accent is too pretty to make fun of, I think. But some of my island-inflected vocabulary isn’t.

When I was 18, I spent half a year living with my local grandmother. Bless her, for she tried her best to take care of this half-and-half foreign-returnee. I think her patience was sorely tested by a few incidents in the kitchen (which is not called quisine here – sigh!), in particular.

I wanted some paan, I told her once, incurring her disdain. Paan, as far as I knew, was bread. Paan, as far as she knew, was betelnut. Not getting the hint, I tried to describe a sandwich. Finally, a wave of clarity broke upon her face and she exclaimed, “You mean roti!”. But roti, as far as I knew, was what’s known here as the Malabar paratha.

Equally flummoxing was when I asked for kochikai (chilli, to the Ceylonese). “What you mean”, someone corrected me, is “mizhagai“. “No”, I insisted. “That’s pepper!”

But the linguistic faux pas that I didn’t stop using until literally months ago is the one that takes the cake.

Grand old Ceylonese ammammas, at least in my experience, greet children by grabbing their chins, sniffing both cheeks, and muttering in rapturous tones, “Enda kunju!” Or (once again, to show you how little I knew), “my little one”. Fancying myself a grand young Ceylonese lady, it’s a term of endearment I also use to embellish my speech.

Imagine my glee and horror when my very irate sister informed me recently that kunju, as far as Indian Tamil is concerned, means penis.

So don’t blame me for my dirty mind. It’s genetic.

I love that my Ceylonese accent gives me away, because years and years from the first home of my childhood in Colombo, not so far away at all from losing my grandparents, it’s one of my dearest possessions. An accent like the surprise of sweet in mango pickle, I wrote in a poem once. So leave me to my broken Tamil and my quaintly scandalous expressions in it. It’s one of the few ways that I know how to love and remember love.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my weekly column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.

The Venus Flytrap: The Great Indian Guilt Trip

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I have a proposal (actually, my friend the professional alliterater Deesh Mariwala, alleged by one publication to be the most charming man in Chennai, has a proposal, but I’m the one with the column). As a passionately patriotic poetess, I’ve spent a preposterous period of time pondering the position of the paise. Poor punnery aside, one doesn’t need to know a lot about economics to know that we need to get some foreign inflow into this country pronto.

So here’s the deal: what can we offer tourists that no other place on earth can quite replicate?

Why, the Great Indian Guilt Trip, of course.

The Great Indian Guilt Trip allows tourists an authentic experience. A package tour with customizable options, the price includes full-time residency with a bona fide, certified Indian Family. This is the single unique factor that makes this Trip indelible in the memory of the vacationer.

As an honorary member of an Indian Family, the wide range of experiences one can savour include: wedding, funeral, divorce, runaway hysterical young woman’s elopement, visit by relatives settled abroad, discovery that eldest son has been in the same room as a cigarette, serious illness in the matriarch that has been recurring for twenty years (usually in presence of daughters-in-law) and at least one suicide attempt.

More adventurous travellers can also sample of these experiences: only son coming out as gay, unwed heiress daughter coming out as pregnant and house-arrest of the girl who wants to be in films.

Of course, given that we’re the bunnies who gave the world the Kama Sutra, the Taj Mahal and the overpopulation crisis, we must sate the palates of those looking for romance, masala ish-style. The intrepid female traveller may particularly enjoy the experience of looking in the general direction of a random male and discovering herself to be engaged. Male travellers may like the prospect of liaising with beautiful women who are as free with their tears of remorse over their technical (always regeneratable) virginities as they are with their amorous advances.

In fact, the Great Indian Guilt Trip is so genuine that all passports are confiscated upon entry into The Home. Getting them back is easy. Usually, one only need wait between two and three decades before relatives in positions of authority die. Alternately, the traveller who longs for the truly holistic experience may suitably assimilate themselves into The Family and rise to an authority position themselves. However, it must be noted that most participants are so convinced by the experience that the concept of the passport and its uses is often forgotten by this time.

The Great Indian Guilt Trip is a complete journey. Unlike most packages that unceremoniously dump visitors at the airport, the send-off we give is truly fantastic. As a nation of many customs, we offer the finest farewells, typically in the range of cremation, burial, and being laid to rest at a Tower of Silence. Further options include a last leisurely ride on the Ganges. Most options involve an embarrassment of flowers. All options involve wailing, chest-beating, and professionally penned dialogues. Masochists may also enjoy the sati option.

Some will call the Great Indian Guilt Trip the experience of a lifetime. We, generally, call it life.

Since even dirty old bachelors are no exception in one of our great traditions, that of respecting one’s elders, and since I am about to save the economy of India by spinning off on his idea, some credit is due. So ladies, I have Deesh’s number (and gentlemen, here are my apologies). If you want it, I’ll throw in my entire family as a special bonus. No strings. No guilt. I promise.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my weekly column in the Zeitgeist supplement.