Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Tall, Dark and Ugly

I recently wrote a casual blog post on the popularity Nina Davuluri has gained in India post winning her crown. My blog was a short piece ranting out my thoughts over a quick cup of coffee; however a few light hearted comments that it generated left me brooding all day.
Nina wouldn’t have won the crown here in India…we are the land of the fair and lovely’s… sometimes wheatish does not make the cut either . If these comments were not enough, this Firstpost article and a certain quote from Susan Runkle’s observations left me feeling all the more depressed and saddened.

What is it with fairness and us Indians? Despite being descendants of the brown race, this penchant for the white skin has been around for ages together. With the advent of education and exposure one would expect the mindset to change but if anything it seems to have only worsened. This stagnation of the mind is not surprising given the fact that India only hosts 27.8% of its population in urban areas; India even today is predominantly made up of rural towns and villages. Given the extent of education coverage this unfortunately implies higher rates of illiteracy coupled with rigid mindsets and orthodox beliefs… or so I would think to be the reason behind this craze; but when you really take a look you realize the picture is equally hazy in the seemingly educated strata of our population.

Lighter “fairer” skin translates into a higher societal status, glamour, charisma and a suave and refined persona as far as the average Indian goes; No, it does not stop there.This image is not just limited to the world of showbiz and entertainment. This mindset more often than not carries over to everyday life at the workplace, for marriage alliances and goodness knows where else.

Years ago a senior manager from my team was interviewing a candidate and had asked me to sit in as an observer. The lady walked in dressed in bright colours and some obvious makeup. The interview lasted twenty uncomfortable minutes with the observer driving the conversation. Once she left, I didn’t even have to ask to know the outcome; she was rejected. Oh did I mention she was dark skinned?

The Indian marriage market is driven by looks too. Behaviour, upbringing, family and all other niceties are secondary. What matters most to most prospective mother-in-laws is how fair the potential daughter in law is; that their son might not fit the bill really does not matter. If the girl turns out to be an Aishwarya Rai or Kareena Kapoor look-alike then she has definitely arrived! Mind you, this is a fairly common trait in the so called “urban” areas; we are not talking rural here.

We meet a stranger at a friend’s party or bump into someone at the neighborhood Kirana store, without speaking to the person we form an opinion based on their appearance. The damage is already done there; after all first impressions are usually the last impressions right?

I have been watching their ads since I was a kid some thirty odd years ago. The same concept, the same objective…nothing has changed- Fair & Lovely and Emami have been doing roaring business over the years. I still remember a maid we had back then; she would insist that Fair & Lovely made her look fair just like those “girls on TV”. I failed to see the difference then; I find it tough to see it now either.

Today many more fairness brands have jumped onto the bandwagon and all seem to have carved a spot for themselves in what I am convinced is a multi-million (if not billion) dollar industry. And why should they not? They deserve each and every paisa they make I tell you. Indians never tire of fairness brands... if one does not bring the desired outcome they will try another and then another and then another...the tryst with fairness is never ending. They would be fools not to leverage such a lucrative market. Add to it the rural consumer base and you have your annual revenues met.

Finally that all so important factor that ups the glam quotient for fairness- the Indian entertainment industry. Now tell me, how many dark skinned popular actors do we know in Bollywood? A few yes, mostly in the “Art” scheme of things; but when it comes to mainstream cinema, fairness rules all over. These very actors then take it onto themselves to endorse fairness brands. So what message are we spreading out here?
In India beauty runs skin deep literally.

The masses; the brand ambassadors and the brands; all share a symbiotic relationship. It seems to be a tenacious vicious circle- wonder if there is any end to it.

As cities turn cosmopolitan and exposure to the world yonder increases; an optimistic hope takes birth.. One that believes this helpless divide will thin out eventually.

Meanwhile the Fair & Lovely’s and Emami’s will continue to make hay while the sun shines.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Banoongi mai… Miss America!

Miss India must be jealous. After all, her days of limelight hardly lasted a couple of newsprint columns and a few slots in the evening news. She definitely did not make it to everyone’s Facebook pages. Thankfully no racial slurs made their way to her but wait! Hold on a minute. Says who those comments mean any harm? Especially in Apna Des? Remember Big Brother a few years ago? All the racism did was bounce the then Miss Shetty back onto Page 3.

Why should things be any different now? India has already begun her sympathy vote. We have always been partial in our treatment towards our “Firang betas and betis" haven’t we? Err... it does depend on how glamorous the achievement mind you (Click here to know what I mean). I say, why should anything be different now? The stage is setting up, the newspapers and social media are testimony to this. Felicitations must be being debated right now; I am sure our Netas will not be letting us down. They never do right?

Miss India must be worried as well. Wonder if she is having sleepless nights right now. All those advertising campaigns, modeling offers and Bollywood scripts. ..Will they come her way now? Only time can tell.
For now scoot over Miss India, make way... Miss America is here!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Of Sense and Nonsensability

What does “MS” in “MS Word” mean? Think am off the rocker, eh? Don’t… it is indeed an innocent question stemming from worldly ignorance…

It all started with Bhaskar and me deciding to take a coffee break on a lazy Friday afternoon. We were thinking of beginning the weekend early but lady luck had other plans for us. Just as we began browsing through the movie shows with the rest of the gang we heard a bellowing sound. Praveen, one of the managers we worked with hissed into our ears making us jump out of our skin. “I have been looking for you two all day, where have you been?” That being more a rhetoric, he continued- “There is a strategic presentation that needs to be shipped out ASAP and no one but you two can do the job! There has been a special request to get you’ll to work on this!” We did not miss the genuine fakeness in his flattery, something we had learnt to recognize; “Btw”, Praveen added; “Veena will be working with you on this tonight, I have asked Muthu the designer to hang around too”.

Muthu was a good friend but Veena a complete stranger. We wondered how this manager would be… smart? Arrogant? A delegator?... nothing we imagined could have prepared us for the onslaught that followed.

We returned to our desks to find Veena impatiently waiting. Before we could introduce ourselves she took off “ I am stretched for bandwidth and…”  Bhaskar tried to interject; her displeasure was all to be seen on her already frowning face. “We have to blow the clients away and you have to help me do it!” she cut him. We stared after her open-mouthed as she swaggered out of our bay area.

Shaking our heads we sat down to create the slides. Muthu was working his magic, bringing our points to life using his gift for colours when Veena appeared out of nowhere to “supervise” what we were doing. Mind you she was quite stretched for bandwidth to work with us; after all talking on the phone does take up time doesn’t it?

She (thankfully) ignored us this time and walked straight up to where Muthu was seated. The awestruck look on her face told us that she had never seen graphics in the works before.  “Muthu! This is so beautiful! How did you do this??” Like a school kid excited by the sight of a candy she exclaimed. Muthu happened to be working in Word at that moment. He turned around and said very matter-of-factly “this is just MS Word Veena”.  Veena looked very thoughtful and then seemed to have a Eureka moment “I know what Word is! ... But... but... what is this new thing MS Word??? Is this a new tool in the market used to make such graphics?? It must be!” She said with a smug look on her face.

There was a moment of silence; we stared at each other... Muthu looked like he was struck by the Confundus Charm. Bhaskar and I were trying hard to keep a straight face but he lost the battle and burst out into what seemed like a concoction of a giggle, a snort, a laugh and a cough. Veena immediately turned around sensing something to be wrong. Not understanding what was going on she yelled “Do you want to say something Bhaskar? Come to the conference room next to my cabin, I don’t like doing this in public, we can do it in private!” That was the last straw; both Muthu and I burst out laughing uncontrollably making Veena leave in a huff and turning Bhaskar red with embarrassment.  It took a while for us to get a control over ourselves and get back to work.

An hour later we shipped out the presentation and called it a day; but Veena was nowhere to be seen. As we stepped out, one of our friends called lamenting over us missing the movie and some Friday evening fun... It didn't matter much... after all we did have our share of entertainment... didn't we? ;-)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Through a Goan’s Lens

Miramar Beach

Probably the most favoured tourist destination, Goa is more often than not looked upon as the perfect gateway… for friends to celebrate, newly married couples to honeymoon, stressed out office colleagues, enthusiastic HR teams working on overdrive to develop team building exercises, you name the occasion, the solution is usually a trip to Goa.

Soaking in that feeling of freshness and rejuvenation, that enlivening experience of a place so different from your regular Indian “shehar” where days are not driven by traffic jams and local train timings, where you bring in the evenings with molten sunsets and the quiet rustle of the coconut palms that dot the Arabian coastline. No wonder Goa is a spot to be ticked off every escaping reveler’s map.

It makes me break into a smile when I witness the craze everyone has for this western state, the ooohs and the awwwws that I get when they hear where I hail from. They think the world of this place, a never ending crush for some, an affair for many… those who have visited with triumphant glee and a longing to do it again… those who haven’t with a strong sense of jealousy and urge to plan their next vacation there. Vacations could not get anymore blissful now…could they?

Through this torrid love affair I wonder if anyone takes a minute to look around to give the locals a thought, those very locals whose hospitality they enjoy….to wonder what they feel about these frequent escapades…

Goans are a relaxed and friendly lot, they love having visitors over to whom they can proudly show off their land’s abundance, their friendly nature makes them extremely accommodating too… yet sometimes things happen that cross their tolerance levels, however high they may be.

Litter on the roads and beaches, plastics suffocating those wavy palms, indecent behavior along the golden and silver sands, obscenity and most common of all drunken behavior any time of the day… any time of the night… truly 24X7.

Yes, Goa is a place where one can let loose… be free…but does that mean one takes the place for granted just because the locals are nice enough not to openly protest or comment? - There is a thin line of difference between revelry and taking liberty, a line that gets crossed more often than not.

Men, dressed in ensembles typically worn in the privacy of one’s homes, found fallen along the country side at 2PM in the afternoon with beer bottles for company do not make a pretty sight anywhere. Nobody enjoys watching women dressed in barely anything gallivanting around regardless of the place (read places of worship, public places etc.) or the time of the day. One wonders if the lot is held so fiercely captive back in their hometowns, that all sense of decency and courtesy are shed in gay abandon. Nothing else could explain the blatant lewd behavior many tourists display on the beaches, as if they haven’t laid their eyes on the fairer sex before. God forbid she turns out to be a westerner soaking in some sun at a beach! Empty packets of chips, groundnut shells… beer bottles, however hard one tries it is impossible to see how they add to the landscape that everyone seem to feverishly gravitate to.

With time the helpless deterioration of the state has become all the more blatant.  Turn the pages of history and you can see the difference from the fifties and sixties to today.

All said and done Tourism is and always will be one of the main factors that drive economic growth for Goa. Goans will always welcome tourists with open arms despite the pain that is many a times unknowingly inflicted onto them… for they know the love for their home land is genuine, they just fervently wish that the love would be accompanied with a feeling of respect, accountability and commitment as well… that there would be an urge to keep Goa clean and pristine so that everyone can enjoy and love its treasures for posterity..

If this wish were to be granted it would warm the cockles of every goan heart for sure…

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

What’s cooking?

The Oil sizzles and smokes awaiting the raciness of its dear old friend. In no time does the onion join...making the oil squeal with delight as both dance away turning the world into a wonderful shade of pink.  More friends join to add their own colour to the frenzy…The juicy carrot, the slim and trim bean and the slightly overweight capsicum. Not to be left behind the perfectly rounded pea jumps into the medley.

In the riot of colours something seems amiss... The air is soon filled with a loud crackle as the block breaks and plunges into the vegetables. The silver foil packet is not to be left behind. It sprinkles its content over the block, sending a mouth watering aroma wafting around. A sudden gush of water makes them all jump as they get drenched and happily boil away.

A hungry pair of eyes eagerly watches as the clock chimes away… breaking into a big broad smile when it ticks 120 times signaling the end of the endless two minutes wait.
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