Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Bourbon Street


“Titties… come inside for titties!” – shouted the man across the street. The famous Bourbon Street in New Orleans, the place that's famous for fancy drinks (Fish Bowl!), seems to be a place from another era. The casualness in the air in this distinct road is only broken by the urgency of this man trying to hustle “gentlemen” into his club. The windows are covered with dark film as is usual with any strip club but what’s not usual is the openness of the locals to display their “items.” The girls stand outside wearing bikini, trying to pick their potential customers. A few over enthusiastic ones even jump on the road and stop the men walking by and try to get them inside in an almost pleading voice. The bright pink neon lights flash behind them advertising that the men will not be disappointed. My friend asked me – “Who would pay to see a naked girl?” And then continued in the same breath while looking at the drunk men leaving the bar next door – “Of course, who else.” Bourbon street can probably pass off as a place in Vegas if those voodoo shops had not been there. The voodoo shop two steps away promises to relieve you of your spiritual pain and stress and proudly display their dolls. Add some men standing on the balcony of a club shouting “Show your tits, show your tits...” and throwing bead garlands down on the street as tourists walk-by; Bourbon street holds on to its title of a street from another era. These men standing on the balcony are probably married or have girlfriends or female friends with them who are also shouting “Show your tits, show your tits.” Next, I see the women tourists walking underneath the balcony actually pick up the bead garland and flash their breasts to the people standing on the balcony. People take pictures, laugh, cheer and move on, happy and smiling. The woman who flashed just now is also happy, the men standing on the balcony are definitely happy and the women accompanying them are also smiling so they must be happy. Business as usual on Bourbon street.

Another usual thing in New Orleans is its open drink policy- you can walk on the street with open alcoholic drinks. But what’s unusual is the surprising large percentage of sober crowd on Bourbon street. The men on the balcony and the women walking by seem to know their limits really well! No one is puking or has passed out on the street. However, Bourbon street still manages to smell like a dirty toilet. But something stronger than this smell has captivated me here. I witnessed raw human nature, sexual provocations, unrestrained but civilized demonstration of the equation between men and women, and restrained yet animalistic instincts devoid of social norms. Actually the social norm here is to be wild, untamed, non-conforming and provocative; both for men and women. The outcome is what is so interesting. The women working in the strip clubs are doing their jobs by flashing themselves but why were the women tourists walking underneath the balcony flashing themselves at the slightest provocation? It was almost like a “dare” game and the women who did not flash were booed away; they were not “women enough.” Before you jump and say “what about the men?” let’s think, what about them? The men going into the strip clubs are going to meet the opposite sex within a designated place to do whatever they need to do with a shared understanding but why are the men standing on the balcony brazenly provoking strangers? Why are the women accompanying them happy about it? Why is this scene playing out on Bourbon street only and not on any other street in downtown with lines of clubs (e.g., Frenchmen street has bars but it’s known for it’s live jazz, not this debauchery)? I have to give it to these merry men and women that there’s no forced physical contact on the street and there are boundaries that are not crossed and everything happens under an umbrella of having “fun” but when does it stop becoming fun? Our Uber driver was telling us stories about drunk women in revealing clothes passing out on his backseat. His voice reflected excitement – “beautiful girls wear short shorts showing their butt cheeks and revealing tops… girl do you want me to touch or watch but not touch or not watch at all? What do you want me to do?” He explains that obviously he wakes them up politely and urges them to step out and he makes sure that they enter their homes safely. But why did he think the girl was “saying” something to him through her clothes? If there was a guy who had passed out in the backseat wearing short shorts and revealing clothes, would a female driver have had the same thoughts? If a man had his penis attached to his chest where it was clearly visible instead of being tucked between his legs, would he have faced the same issues as women did? Would he have been asked to flash it?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Face-off with Facebook

So it has come to this! (yes, that's a popular line that I didn't invent. Go figure out the reference)

I have been noticing a disturbing habit that I have developed ever since Facebook became a thing. I wake up and the first thing I do is tap the 'f' icon in my phone or start typing 'f' in the browser. It's very comforting, perhaps very refreshing even to scroll through all the things I missed while I was sleeping. There are wonderful heart warming videos, extreme videos, interesting shares, personal anecdotes, war of words about politics, tons and tons of pictures, HONY and also the entire world's comments to everything you can imagine. It feels a very newspaper-like thing to do first thing in the morning - catch up with the world. It's even better! It's dynamic, has a new update every second and that too from your very own "friends"! Very fascinating but very time consuming as well. Before I realize, I've already devoted 2 hours of my precious morning to this comforting blue and white interface (the color was actually designed to soothe). And then, it is also very addictive to quickly browse through the FB newsfeed between tasks or when you don't feel like working.

So here I am trying to think about the next paragraph that I should write to complete my dissertation proposal argument but I get this sudden urge to "utilize" this gap to check on the FB updates. Poof! I lost my train of thought and I'm not sure when or whether I'll catch the next one. Oh well! Now that I have lost my thought, might as well "utilize" the time by scrolling through some of my friends' profiles and see what they have been up to. After 5 min of scrolling, I feel very content. Somehow knowing what time they woke up, brushed their teeth, went to gym, had breakfast, what they had for breakfast, how they look (selfies) when they left for work, what they thought about the guy next to them in the train/bus, where they went for lunch, with whom, what they think about the game last night, their lack of desire to work (and spend time on FB instead... exactly), what their kids/spouse is saying and even that they have an upset stomach or are doing some sort of countdown to some mysterious event in their life (that they don't want to share but still want people to know that something important/terrible is going to happen), is very reassuring. I feel connected to the "world." Never mind that I just ignored what my friend sitting next to me said. I would have "liked" what he said if he said that on FB. Why waste my precious FB time that I want to spend virtually shadowing all the people in my friend list?

Perhaps the biggest reason for my addiction to this endless stream of updates is my desire to know something new. My wife reminded me of this just now and I think it's pretty accurate. As human beings (this is the only philosophical line, promise!) we all have an innate tendency to be attracted towards learning new things. Had that not been the case, we would be still living on trees (perhaps there is a TailBook for our monkey friends?). The point is that FB newsfeed very nicely caters to that innate need. There's a new update every second so how can we look somewhere else! The other reason is that I feel very connected with my friends. To a large extent, FB really has helped me get in touch with friends from my childhood days. It feels good to catch up with them once in a while and stay connected. But beyond that, I don't think I want to "live" with them. The FB newsfeed essentially makes me feel that I am living with all my friends in one giant house! That's the level of connection that I can do without. It's not even meaningful after sometime. There's also the gratification that you get by seeing how many people approve of what you are saying a.k.a Likes. That symbol is perhaps Facebook's biggest contribution in this century. But do I really care about that kind of approval? It's like paying importance to what your neighbor thinks about your new socks.

So why this long rant about my FB habit? First, it needs to stop, hence the face-off. Second, I think I have found an alternative for myself. Yes! From now on I'll feed my curiosity to learn new things by actually reading about innovative things and cool projects. Feedly (or any other RSS feed reader) effectively pulls together all the cool things happening around me. So I'm replacing my FB newsfeed with more relevant feeds (you know, still trying to keep that newspaper-like feeling). I also want to start reading books again (it's been so long!). Actually ReadBook, not FaceBook.

This public rant also means that I want you, my friend, to help me break my habit. Maybe, next time if you see frequent updates from me, send me a reminder? :) Yup. I'll use Facebook to help me get rid of Facebook. How cool is that?




Saturday, August 24, 2013

Retarded rapist

Retarded rapist,

Normally I would have started my letter with "dear" but you are definitely not dear to me or deserve any bit of politeness. You are not even fit to be classified as an animal, forget about belonging to my species. Even animals don't pin one of their own and force themselves in. So what are you?

In my species, we have a unique gift - mind along with a conscience that helps us decide what is wrong or right. Sorry to say, but you don't have either. Probably you never had them (which surprises me because you were born out of the body of some woman who belongs to my species) or you lost them while mutating into the rapist species. I guess you are finding it very satisfying or even somewhat glorifying to be made a separate species unto yourself. Tell me, are you happy? Is it the same happiness or joy you get while you are shoving yourself into the body of a helpless girl (yeah, that's what we call them in my species. Nope, not an object or thing but a "girl" who has a life and feelings and emotions... in short things you won't understand)? Do you feel any emotions?

Perhaps you are thinking - "What's the big deal in this? I have my d!@k and she has her thing, aren't they meant to go together? Ain't I doing the normal thing?" Well, let me try to get down to your level and try to help you understand (which I'm not sure you have the remote ability to do because you don't have a mind in the first place... but I'll still try because you were born out of one of my species). There's a thing called "consent", which of course you won't get now but try to think of it in terms of your thing. If someone were to ask you - "Can I cut off your d!@k?", you would obviously say no. That asking part is called "consent". If someone bypasses that question and just goes ahead with the cutting part then how would you feel? Probably intense pain but probably not violated because you don't know what violation means. When you force yourself into her, without her consent, she feels that pain along with the violation because human beings respect one another and every one of us has their own private space. Probably, I lost you in that previous sentence when I was talking about "respect" and "private space". Just assume that they are concepts more important than your d!@k that's hanging down there, probably in shame because even it did not expect to be used in this way.

Perhaps you are now thinking - "She was the one who wandered into that desolate area dressed in short clothes. I am a man and she provoked me, so it's her fault. Plus she needed to be taught a lesson." First of all, you are not a "man". So dare you try to call yourself one of my own. Second point, you are the one who got provoked and acted. You start by staring at her and then proceed to ogle her. You've already invaded her privacy at this stage. Still not satisfied, you decide it's up to your supreme authority to teach her a lesson. Why? Who gave you that authority? Every person in my species has a mind of his/her own, so keep your lesson to yourself. You are so pathetic that you get these urges and so weak that you cannot curb those urges. What makes you think that having a d!@k gives you the right to act in such retarded ways? Look the other way if you are feeling provoked. Or go home and use your hand. It's your problem and your fault.

You won't understand "rights" and "freedom" so I won't even go there. But please don't get married with one of my species. You are not fit to be a husband or a father. Those roles need responsible, matured and caring men, not a rapist like you. Of course your curriculum vitae would grow bigger if you land up in those roles. It will read something like this - Year XXX1: Raped a stranger; Year XXX2: Raped wife; Year XXX3: Raped daughter. It flummoxes me to even think that you came out of a woman's body. Poor woman who carried you around and nurtured you for 9 months, if not more.

I'm not sure where evolution is headed but surely your species won't survive for long. Not because of some law or cruel punishment (you are obviously not afraid of those because nothing has changed since the Nirbhaya case even after all the policy changes and death-penalty announcements). Your species won't last long because we men and women will educate ourselves and our kids. Not what to wear, but how to think and behave and listen to our conscience. We will empower them with sex-education and gender-awareness so that they don't mutate into your species. We will teach them how to empathize and care. We will treat them as we would like them to treat others. We will make a "good samaritan law" which would encourage men and women to come together against rapists like you without worrying about getting harassed. We will make sure that you are the one who is the social outcast, not your victim.

Sounds too philosophical? Trust me, the work has already begun and people are getting fed up of your acts. That's why I am writing this letter to you and my friends are getting angry on your actions. When we attain the critical mass, you should run with your d!@k in your hand because you won't have a place in my society at that moment.

- A human




Monday, July 1, 2013

Going back

Will I return to India once I finish my higher studies in US? This has been a topic of much discussion ever since I came to the US in 2007. Initially my friends and relatives were more concerned about this than me and kept on probing me. My stand was very clear - I will definitely go back to India after I am done! They laughed and professed that I will stay here forever once I am here for 5 years. They said it would be hard to adjust to the chaos and inefficient system in India if I return after 5-6 years. I brushed off their concerns saying that if I can adjust to a foreign place, culture and system without any problem, then I can definitely "adjust" and be comfortable in the country where I have grown up and spent 25 years! I failed to understand why this was such a hard concept to grasp! After my Masters degree, I saw some of my friends return to India. I was very happy to see them go back. It gave a boost to my conviction to return back to India. I started my PhD program in 2009, strongly determined to return back as soon as I graduated. I saw some more friends leave lucrative jobs in US and take up jobs in India. My resolution to return became even stronger. My parents, relatives and friends were in India. I was visiting them every year and every time I craved to stay more. That is enough reason to go back! Right? The answer to this question was "Definitely right!" till 2012 but now it has turned into a "Maybe"! Smiling faces of people who had told me that I will change my mind after 5 years were grinning now and saying "we had told you!." Were they actually right? Is it really the case that I cannot adjust with the Indian system anymore or is it the case that I do not want to adjust? Is it actually about staying in US or is it about not returning to India? What about the love for my parents, relatives and families? Was I lying all this time that I will go back to India? Why don't I want to go back? 

It is true that a place changes a lot in 5 years. I have seen Delhi (the place where I grew up) change every time I go back for a visit. This time when I visited India in the winters of 2012, I was still determined to come back to India for good after my PhD. So I was scouting for possible jobs related to my research area. I met many interesting people and became aware of interesting opportunities. However, academic opportunities aside, I was shocked by the cultural and moral degradation of the society. I am not a moral police (popular for thrashing couples enjoying quiet moments in the park... nope that's not me) or nor do I claim myself to be an epitome of morality. But I do respect human beings and give them the politeness they deserve. I wasn't expecting Delhi to be a chart-topper in this aspect but I wasn't expecting it to fall off the chart completely!

The day after I landed in Delhi, I had my visa interview at the US embassy for renewing my visa. I was helping my taxi park at a designated spot that had been identified by a security guard. As my taxi was positioning itself to occupy the spot, a white luxury sedan zipped in and parked in my spot, almost running over my feet. I knocked on the window to get the driver's attention. The driver, a "gentleman" in his early 30's dressed in formal attire (he looked like a CEO of some company), stepped out and started abusing me - "teri gadi hai yeh bh* ch*? haath kaise lagaya toone?" ("Is this your car? How dare you touch it?"). I was taken aback but I tried to reason with him and looked around trying to find the security guard. He was standing at a distance, trying not to get involved in the whole mess. The driver retorted even angrily now - "tu guard hai? teri himmat kaise hui meri gadi mei haath lagaane ki?" ("Are you the person in charge of parking? How dare you touch my car?"). At this point, I saw this conversation going in two directions - I could just shut up, walk away and do my business calmly OR keep on arguing with this dumbhead and risk getting shot (pretty much every person in Delhi is some politician's someone and has a gun that is used to end arguments.... no this is not my figment of imagination but the actual state of things). I chose visa-stamping instead of getting shot. So I shut-up and went away. My friend later said that this was usual and I found it alarming because I had lived in US for too long. He suggested that I would get used to it if I lived in Delhi again. Fortunately, my wife and her sister were not there. Who knows what humiliation they might have had to suffer if they were at the scene (it's a different story that while I was having this argument, the coffee shop they were sitting in nearby forced them to buy a mineral water bottle worth Rs. 80/- because the staff had not clarified that it was not complimentary and not the usual Rs. 15/- either).

This brings me to my next experience. After wrapping up my business in Delhi, I went to visit my parents in Kolkata. While I was there, the Nirbhaya rape case happened in Delhi. Rapes had become a daily thing, especially in the north. There was no age based discrimination. 3 year olds were being raped every week in addition to the usual teenagers and young adults. The police and government blamed the females for provoking men to rape them (a 3 year girl provoking, really!?). Skimpy attire was blamed. Rapists roamed around freely, proud that they had taught the females a "lesson" for not adhering to the social norms of dressing "properly". There was a section of the society which blamed Nirbhaya and her male friend for daring to watch a movie together at night and then taking a bus back home. Their arguments gave a thumbs-up to the rapists. This is not a singular case, neither is the reaction. I used to work in a multinational software company in Gurgaon till 2007 and it discouraged females from staying late in office as it would get unsafe for them on their way back home. This atmosphere of panic and fear was further fanned by the stance taken by the various government officials and police. Whenever a female was raped, she was ridiculed and asked embarrassing questions by these authorities that tried to find fault in what the girl was wearing or doing. It's a different story that none of the accused were ever punished. After the Nirbhaya case, there were mass protests all across the nation. The government passed a law that increased the punishment of rapists. Everyone rejoiced but the rapists raped some more females and went about their daily business. Nothing changed. To come back to my point, in Delhi (and other northern bordering areas) any girl could be raped any moment, irrespective of their attire. Is this a healthy atmosphere to live in? You never know if your wife, sister, daughter, mother will return home safely or not. I still remember my horrified reaction when I heard about this incident. I was startled by the hypocrisy of the so called "cultured" society that prayed in front of female deities but still objectified and disrespected women. While the "system" was busy saving the rapists, it was also making sure parents of young girls were not spared. Take the Talwars' case in Noida. 5 years ago their daughter and domestic help were found murdered inside the house. The case has been dragging on till now and the parents have been jailed. When I read the detailed account of this incident and the injustice that had happened, only one thought ran through my mind - this could have been any parent! I started reconsidering my decision to return back. I certainly did not want to expose my wife and family to those uncivilized animals in the streets and the paranoia of disrespect. Was I overreacting because I had stayed in US for 5 years?

Now, there are still lots of good people around and I had many wonderful experiences - both of remote rural and urban India. But I am left wondering what to do about the vulnerability of human life and eternal fear in the minds of women on a daily basis. My friends who had returned back to India are still there. Another close friend recently returned after staying in the US for 10+ years. They are all doing fine (at least they claim that till now!). One of my friend said that as long as your daily schedule revolves around office and home, you should be fine. The events around you will not bother you that much. But again, is this a healthy environment to live in? It's not about the fascination of staying in US that is making me stop and rethink. There are things that are wrong in US as well but I can at least live my daily life without the perpetual fear. I have not closed the doors yet and hopefully the time to return to India will come soon. After all, where else in the world can you enjoy dhaba ka khana (roadside restaurants) while traveling on a highway or have a samosa-jalebi pitstop while walking on the road?



Monday, June 10, 2013

Apartment 1005


It is hard to imagine that we will not be staying in this apartment anymore. I submitted the notice stating that we will vacate this apartment at the end of the current lease term in August 2013. It was 2010, the year we got married and moved into this studio apartment in South Loop. I had never lived in a high-rise before. I grew up in a house that was on the ground floor and never gave a thought to what it would be like to live in a high-rise. When I walked into this studio on the 10th floor, I remember getting mobbed by so many thoughts and emotions! My first home as a married man, my first home with Neena, my first experience of high-rise and my first experience of living in a building with a 24 hrs doorman and maintenance! 

Looking down from the window, I remember thinking - "look at those tiny people and vehicles on the road!". Everything seemed like a game with a pre-destined outcome - vehicles running around on their own and stopping obediently at the traffic lights. Little men, women, children and their pets crossing the road hurriedly and going about their business. Everything was happening smoothly and systematically. I almost felt like god - looking down at the world and it's tiny inhabitants. But the minute I was back on the street, the same setting seemed so chaotic! There was noise all around with people shouting, cars honking, cars and bikes jumping lights and children running away from their parents. From the 10th floor everything seemed to be planned out and certain but walk down to the street level and you did not know what was going to happen the next moment. This was so much similar to how life goes, I wondered. When you are living your life and trying to plan things on the ground, you do not know what is going to happen the next moment. But when you zoom out and take a holistic view of your life (from above), it seems well planned and systematic. 

With one entire wall made of huge windows facing west, every evening was magical. We saw the sun set over the horizon, leaving a crimson red sky in it's wake. For the first time, I actually noticed the sun setting at different places in the west at different times of the year. The universe was alive and I was seeing it every day! After the sunset, the city beneath us transformed. What was once filled with people rushing to their offices in the morning, was taken over by neon lights garlanding the pathways through which vehicles went like a procession with their red tails high in the air. When I woke up in the middle of the night for water, I always used to stand by the window for sometime. The garlanded road was mostly deserted except for a few taxis. A couple of homeless people walked across the street to the Roosevelt train station or the #12 bus stand. Some cars stopped at the gas station opposite to our building. The 24 hours Jewel-Osco was still alive and people came out of that place with huge shopping bags. I always wonder who shops at those odd hours! Some houses still had their lights on. I could see a TV playing in a dark room. The city was surely alive even at this odd hour!

It is incredible to think that the first three years of my marriage were spent in this apartment. These walls have been witness to so many emotions, feelings and conversations that if walls could speak, they would tell the story of an ever-growing love and understanding between two people. I consider this apartment very lucky from that perspective. A female car-rental agent at Midway airport had once mentioned to both of us that the first 6 years of a married life are always the most important and difficult (yes out of all the places, a car-rental agent at the airport!). In a way, this home has given us the strength to survive 50% of that time and grow strong together. I believe having good vibes is very important and this place has excellent vibes that helped us grow as friends and lovers. We had fun cooking together in the small but cozy kitchen that was just the right size to fit the two of us :) The kitchen was the place for long conversations and unwinding after a hectic day. We used to stand there and cook and see the sun setting down over the horizon… it was just magical! 

I wish we could stay here forever and forever but nothing can remain constant forever… especially the rent! So now the market has decided that these walls, the windows, the closets, the kitchen and the view are worth more than what we can afford. We will pack all our memories, love, adventures and vibes into small boxes and move out (thankfully to a great neighborhood in Wicker Park!) soon. It is still hard to believe that 3 years have passed by so quickly. We will miss the apartment and also the great South Loop neighborhood that has developed so much in front of our eyes. Trader Joes, Flo and Santos, Pita Heaven, Nepal House, Potbelly, Yolk, Wabash Tap… we will miss them all. Both of us love to eat out and explore new places and that's why we chose the Wicker Park neighborhood! Life is too short to waste it living boringly and we don't know what will happen next moment. So we might as well enjoy an awesome egg salad sandwich at Jerry's and then some amazing home-made tiramisu at Letizia's on an evening stroll in Wicker Park. In the end, like this apartment had taught us the first day, everything works out and seems to be planned and systematic from the above :)

Friday, April 6, 2012

5 minutes

.

The last 5 minutes of the evening class are always the hardest. Trying to summarize a three hour class in those 5 minutes when our attention is already somewhere else, is really tough. As we wrapped up the discussions, I started packing my stuff. The laptop charger went in first and then the papers. Time up, laptop closed and put away in my bag, I rushed out of the building. It had been a long day and I was eager to get back home to my love. I was actually very hungry too. As I descended the flight of stairs into the Blue Line train station, I saw many students waiting to catch the train. The train rolled in after 5 impatient minutes and swallowed all the souls on the platform. The ride was boring as usual. Everyone around me was dead tired after their long day. Some were yawning while some were already asleep. I stood by the door, waiting for my stop - Jackson station. "This is Jackson. Please change here for the Red Line train." Obediently, I got off and tried to dodge my way through the wave of people walking towards the Red Line train station. There was oncoming traffic too - people who had got off the Red Line and were trying to catch the Blue Line. Everyone was in a rush. I was in a rush.

As I ascended the stairs to the Red Line station, a beautiful music filled my ears. It was some sort of a violin-like string instrument. My hurried steps slowed down and the music lifted me through the final flight of stairs. I saw an old man sitting just a couple of steps away from the stairs and playing a 2-string instrument. He had his cassette player churning out karaoke tunes one after the other and he was adding his beautiful composition effortlessly. I stared at him for 5 minutes. His left hand deftly plucked one string or the other, at particular points. Sometimes two fingers touched the same string at two different points. With his right hand, he effortlessly guided the bow over the strings. The smooth movements of his hands with sudden rapid motions in between to match the tempo of the music, made it look like his hands were dancing to the beautiful tune. It was hard to believe that I was not at a concert but instead standing in a train station waiting to catch my train. As I re-entered my real world again, I looked around and saw that other people were also watching him play. The platform was crowded but no one clapped when he was done playing one composition. The old man had his suitcase out in front of him, open and requesting alms. My hands instinctively reached out for my wallet and I pulled out a dollar. I dropped the dollar in his suitcase - my offering in return for the soul lifting music that he was playing. He bowed his head acknowledging the donation and continued to play. This time I clapped when he finished his composition. He looked at me and gave me a huge smile. I could see his shining eyes, squinting behind his glasses. The cassette player jumped to the next track and he focused his attention on the strings once more. I looked around. No one was really paying any attention to his music. He was just another street musician playing to himself. Most people had their headphones on and were oblivious to what was going on in the Jackson Red Line world. They obviously did not care much about a live human playing in front of them. I clapped again but I was the only one. There seemed to be just two people on the platform - that old man and me. It was strangely lonely.

And then I saw a young couple walk past me towards the old man. The girl stopped in front of him and reached inside her purse. She was looking for something particular. Her hands came out, tightly holding on to the pennies, quarters and cents. She let them fall inside his alms bag. A couple of more searches inside the purse brought out more quarters and pennies. These ended up in the alms bag as well. Her partner was smiling and watching her in amusement. Once again, the old man bowed to acknowledge the young girl and continued to play his music. He finished his composition and stopped. The young girl clapped and the old man gave her the big smile. She looked around to see why no one else was clapping. Her face questioned the existence of the crowd around her at that moment in time. A soft melody once again filled the air and she started dancing very nimbly. A couple of quick ballet steps and then her feet stopped. Her body was still swaying to the melody. As the beautiful composition finished, we clapped. She held her partner's arm and they stood there listening to the music with a smile on their face. I moved a step closer to the old man.

His instrument seemed really old. The head of his instrument was taped to the rest of the body with a scotch tape. The strings had rusted from areas where his fingers did not dance. Splinters were projecting out from the base and the instrument seemed to be as old as the old man himself. I did not know his name. I would just remember his soul-lifting music and his big smile. He made me forget my rush and connected me to my love there and then, on the train station. I felt like I was dancing to his music with my love. My train finally rolled in. I did not feel like leaving. I did not want this experience to become a memory. I wanted to continue enjoying the present. The doors opened and swallowed me along with the huge crowd once again. As the train pulled away from the station, the old man was left alone, for real. He continued playing and the music slowly became a memory, a beautiful memory that took me to a different world and back in just 5 melodious and peaceful minutes...

.

.

.




Friday, January 6, 2012

The business of heels

It is funny to note the symbiotic relationship between various businesses as we have them today and the apparent ignorance of the general public in helping them grow at their expense. Recently I went into a retail store and as I was strolling by, I noticed the section with all types of support pads for your feet. Nothing wrong with that. Everyone has a right to customize the shoe they bought the other day and make it more comfortable. But what caught my attention were the n number of products for making heels comfortable to wear for the women. Think of a cushion for any part of the feet and it was available. As I understand from my wife, wearing heels is not very comfortable so one would require these AND one looks very sexy wearing heels. I see the point in that argument but what doesn't make sense to me is the entire chain of events which happens once a woman starts endorsing heels regularly.

I've had the good fortune of holding a heel in my hand and analyzing its shape and form. I was amazed at the poor design of this product which was supposed to make a woman look sexy. First, the front of the heel is generally so narrow that the normal 4 toes have to literally fight for space. Unfortunately, the fight resolves only when the big toe agrees to twist in a weird way and land on top of the next toe. Have these fights and resolutions a couple of times and one can very well start to see the beginnings of bunion. Given the popularity of heels, its not surprising to see the increasing number of bunions. Wait, I have never heard a man with bunions. Perhaps we know the reason now! Secondly, the material on the inside of the heel (the portion where the foot rests) is just a piece of wood with a fancy fabric cover on it. As I felt the form of the material, I remembered the wooden footwear (khorom) that monks used to wear ages ago. I used to think that there was a universal consensus and shift to shoes that cushions your steps. But what I had in my hand was defying that universal belief. No wonder one would need extra cushions! Thirdly, the oh-so-sexy design of the heel makes it impossible to walk around wearing them for a long time. Can you imagine walking on your toes for a long time? That is what the posture amounts to when a woman puts on heels. So in comes a second pair of boring-not-sexy-but-very-comfortable shoes. One can find them without fail hidden inside the faithful purse that follows a woman everywhere. This completes my analytical tirade but I still haven't got to the business part of the story.

As I was standing in that retail store, I realized how the medical industry, insurance business, shoe industry and shoe accessory industry were having a feast together. Women are encouraged to wear heels to look sexy. But they get bunions as a result of wearing them. So they go to see their doctor who very wisely advises her to get proper cushions for her heels. Maybe getting a physiotherapy is also on the table. So another business avenue. Every medical advice costs money and that's what the insurance businesses are for. The shoe accessory business starts flourishing. But it is still not possible to wear these heels for long. So the not-so-sexy-but-functional shoe business picks up as a daily wear and also as a post-heel trauma wear.

Well, it may not be this simple but you get the idea about the connection. It is an endless loop because women will always want to wear heels with or without knowing the repercussions. It is sad that in such a design obsessed era, style and fashion are becoming synonymous with uncomfortable and non-functional designs. Any takers for the challenge to design comfortable and functional fashion? You can start with designing comfortable heels...