Rain, rain, fuck off

It’s October and everyone who paid attention in grade 5 tells me knowingly that it’s the maha monsoon and will go on till November. As far as I am concerned it feels like it’s been raining since the beginning of time and its high time for it to just stop. Like most Sri Lankans, I love the sun but few I think, detest the rain like I do. I know, I know, we need the rain for stuff to grow and for the farmers to make a living and we must marvel at the great cycle of the seasons etc etc., but really.

In Sri Lanka, most houses are naturally built to be cool, with verandahs, high roofs, good ventilation and indoor gardens that let in the light and breeze in the stifling heat of April and May. Even rural homes built in the traditional style of clay earth walls and thatched roof are designed to suit the local climate.

That is, when it’s dry.

When it’s pouring down for a solid hour or two at a time though, that’s when you get to experience all the design flaws of local tropical architecture in an unplanned city. The water beats into the verandahs and open areas, furniture is ruined, roofs leak, potholes turn into ponds, lawns turn into lakes, storm drains overflow and roads flood. Everyone drives like it’s the Apocalypse and they have to get home in time to rescue their families – especially those fuck-off monster SUV’s whooshing tidal waves upon everyone else as they pass, laughing gaily because this was exactly what they bought them for. Meanwhile the littlest cars proceed timidly down Havelock Road at about 2 miles an hour with water upto the windows and their headlights on high-beam all the way.

The monsoon effective umbrella has yet to be designed. You get wet getting into the car, you get soaked getting out again. In buses people stand packed and dripping on each other and poke each other’s eyeballs out trying to fold umbrellas turned inside out by the wind. Everyone’s socks are soaked through and smell. Trishaw drivers efficiently put up those black canvas flaps to keep out the rain but they always come loose and you get drenched from both sides while the driver stays relatively dry. In any case their engines fail as soon as they get into a large puddle and that’s that.

Back home, after weeks of non-stop rain, the garden has gone mad and is about to destroy the house with leaves stopping up the gutters, falling trees, trailing vines, waist high grass and thriving leafy plants that turn into perfect homes for dengue carrying mosquitoes.

You can’t get any exercise because it rains in the morning and it rains in the evening, so you can’t even go for a walk. You can’t swim because there’s crazy lightning. Cable TV dies and so does the internet and most people are terrified of taking a phone call in a thunderstorm. Usually the lights go out so you can’t read. In the end, everyone lights candles and stays nervously at home while the dog barks madly and runs around and around the house.

I’m just waiting for December when the sun will be back.

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How to celebrate your birthday badly

A hundred years ago, I’m reliably told, the average household didn’t bother with the day you were born. Silly parties were reserved for the day you first read the first letters of the alphabet, when you started menstruating, and so on. But then soon afterwards we embraced the birthday with such passion that we now try to outdo everyone else on this side of the universe.  Particularly when we reach numbers with zeros in them, which we moronically think are more significant than turning 43 or 59.

After getting left out of the guest lists of several worthies trying to outdo each other celebrating their big four-ohs and five-ohs, but of course being forced to see the pictures on social media, it’s time to take a long and vicious look at these… er… events, because they seem to be getting scarier by the passing decade.

Scary celebration type #1

Let’s begin with a segue to the past: twenty years ago, a svelte birthday girl celebrated her 30th with new and handsome boyfriend and a few friends. Just a couple of pictures of the dinner at home remain. Twenty years later, she’s morphed into an overdressed, overweight, overexposed deep sea creature shoved into her teenage daughter’s outfit, cutting a gigantic cake lit with 50 sparklers and feeding chunks of it to her overdressed, overweight, over successful husband, her children, her motherfatherbrothersisterrandomcousin, and a motley mass of guests pretending to be friends in the hired hall dancing and posing in twos and threes for the hired paparazzo, a hundred pictures littering social media even before the thing finishes.

Scary celebration #2

#1 is actually not the scariest type of party. There’s another one, when a 50th is celebrated en mass, and all surviving people who sat in the same row of classrooms 45 years ago come down from all expatriate corners of the world not just for one but a whole bloody series of parties. Yes, the rich, the poor, the widowed, the divorced, the learned, the stupid, the corrupt, the bankrupt, the cheated, the beated, they all swoop down like a murder of crows for a fortnight-long celebration where MULTIPLE cakes are cut in multiple posh locations and enough candles to keep the power grid going for a couple of days are blown out. You better sort out your outfits, mesdames, of evening wear, beach wear, day-trip wear and high-tea wear, because there’s hardly any time to change from one merry celebration to another. A wonderful, frenetic time to renew old friendships and grudges, take sneak peeks at the state of other people’s wrinkles, sags, nips and tucks, and to rekindle fond memories of all the hormonal teenage ups and downs that other people would actually like to forget about.

Scary celebration # 3

Equally, or perhaps even more scary is the third and last kind, of those who have, with the passage of time, discovered their religious side. A very scary type, the spiritual birthday boy. Of course, not too spiritual to avoid making a big deal of the big-O day or to revel in the narcissism of it, but enough of a killjoy to ruin any opportunity for fun by turning it into a frightfully dull, totally religious ceremony, which, if you’re lucky enough to be invited, will cost you the same effort in obtaining appropriately religious clothing and religious-themed gifts. The sermon will be as loud as dance music, the almsgiving food as sumptuous. No different will be the desire to show numbers (see how popular I am!) social position (see what a leading religious institution I’m having this in!) and to record and display (can’t wait till I stop levitating to post the pictures on fb!).

With all this hooha to emulate, going back to the past never looked better. At least when you get your first period, you only have to suffer through one awful party — it’s not turned into some ghastly annual event. If you look a fright (you will), you can always blame your relatives’ taste in jewellery and your mother’s taste in pink dresses.

Arrested forever at 2

“Akki, it’s time to have lunch, stop playing and bring Malli to the table.”
Pause.
“Thaaththi come and eat, we are all waiting no…”

Why is it that perfectly sensible people have a child or two and instantly start using childish names between themselves? Parents seem to love calling their partners as well their kids by whichever name their infants have managed to master. Thus, one frequently overhears adults calling each other Ammi and Appa or Mama and Dadda or whatever, while the children’s pet names are fixed by the time they are able to lisp – Sonna, Darla, Malla, Girlie, Nangi, Nanga, Punchi, Puncha, Thanga and Thambi and some others that are too cringe-worthy to write down here. Everyone grows older but you never get to outgrow your pet name however awful. So you spend half your adult life using a 2 year old’s name at home and with your extended family as well.

So what’s the point of all those carefully planned christenings and naming rituals on which so much time and anxiety is spent, in order to pick the right name with the right sound and the right vowel sound? (How about the family tradition to start everyone’s name with a P? Prasad marries Pushpa and their offspring will be Premali, Prasanna and Pubudu. Or the other one where each child’s name is an anagram of their parents’? There’s lots of ghastly methods to use….)

What a waste of all those heated arguments over whose grandfather’s second name will do for young Malla? Or the weekly discussions about the wisdom of choosing the name of the heroine of the last fantasy novel we read just before Nangi was born? (Sabine, Lyanna, Tasha, Leia…) and will it be nice next to Thanuja, Susanthika or Ayanthi?

What’s the point when they’re never going to be called any of it?

They’re just going to be Malla and Nangi until they have kids and then they’ll be Amma and Thaththa and that’s it. Arrested forever at 2.

Shorter and shorter fiction

Among many Sri Lankan writers, brevity has often been the only way to get round the lack of talent and staying power that is required to produce longer works. When the great Sri Lankan short story (in English of course) made its popular entry about 50 years ago, everyone was too polite to say, that’s a terrible short story, but it might be a good novel if you add a few, say, 250 pages. Instead we were excruciatingly polite. We said how sociopolitically significant the stories were, and how nice that you’re writing about Ran Ethanas and Podi Menikes, all thrusting breasts in diya reddas, having uninhibited sex under the goraka trees with brown and muscly Ran Bandas and Juvanises. We were so thankful for the opportunity to drool over their pastoral lives that we know so little about, in a language we were comfortable in.

The short story carried on like this through the years, merrily gathering more writers, some even snaring international fans. But most didn’t. They didn’t even find many local fans, they were mostly self-published and mostly read by long suffering family and friends, the faithful spouse who really prefers Andy Capp in the Sunday Island and the friend with the literary pretensions who abandons her usual diet of Georgette Heyer for a minute. And now her grandson wants to be a writer like his archchi and is secretly filling his Atlas exercise book with his own fantasy story based closely on a cartoon he saw on cable TV. His grandmother also writes by hand, pages and pages of her scribbles are sent to husband’s clerk who first used to bang them out on an old Olympia and now on a desktop, and then off they go to the street-corner printer who is delighted, once more, to get another big order from the nona. And what with the end of year submission deadlines of coveted literary prizes our printer is more than happy to push aside orders for calendars with large pictures of Anarkali in favour of our liyana nona’s latest offering. Whether she wins or not doesn’t matter to our printer because anyway, by next December there will be another order. Along with this are the smaller orders for invitations to be printed for the book launch, for which he’s willing to give a small discount to the lady, after all. So the lady soldiers on industriously, she goes for her writer’s club meetings by the seaside or in another writing friend’s house, and makes note of other people’s bad marriages, race issues, and her servants’ poverty, she drafts and she redrafts, knocks up another 20 stories in 150 pages, goes back to the printer, and finally, there she is, happily fingering the bundles of ten that Banda brought home, and thinking of all the finger food and VIPs to get for the launch.

And now it seems the great Sri Lankan tradition of short writing is getting even shorter, with stories that threaten to be as miniscule as possible. This youthful offspring, cutely prefixed by hint or chap, is the afterthought, the lovechild of the traditional short fiction. Already two tiny oeuvres have come out, making a noise as loud as a baby with a bad colic in the new media, filled with one- or two liners by a multitude of creative people. Aney darling, so short and so sweet. The traditions set by the aunties have been faithfully followed as far as the launches and readings go, though thankfully with a few less trees in danger this time. And instead of being rather long and monotonous, the readings now sound like several disjointed mobile phone calls in a bus.

But their short sweetness is packaged far more slickly, so much better proofread than our aunties’ offerings. And they are endorsed by such good brains and accents that the dreaded next generation of writing enthusiasts should all but abandon any thought of writing anything longer than quarter of a page. In another few decades we will face the prospect of even shorter stuff, maybe one-word fiction, or even one-letter fiction. And while we’re on the topic, let’s get ready with our own offerings, because, after all, darlings, I certainly can’t resist seeing myself in print! So voila, here are two takas-stories for the 2065 edition, curated by the aunty’s grandson:

 

May 18, 2065
By Liyaanaa Liyanaarachchi

Mullivaikkal Mall

—–

To the cyclist who swerved to avoid the big CTB bus and crashed into me
By Liyaanaa Liyanaarachchi

Y?

—–

Not bad, no? I do so love creative writing in my spare time!

Ayyo immigrant relatives

I don’t think I will ever understand them.

There is no future here, schools are bad, teachers don’t teach properly, and how to send the kids to university they are always closed no? And so hard to have a good lifestyle everything is expensive and no way you can save. And look at the state of the roads.

And so they leave. And then while you are here, sweatily getting on with Sri Lankan life, there they are living through the four seasons, so cold you have no idea, not like nuwara eliya, and building their houses by themselves, no masons and all like for you, we have to do everything ourselves in these countries. And the next time you meet them on their summer vacation, they are bringing you liver paté, real marmalade, and canned beef, looking for a Sri Lankan husband for their daughter who speaks only First Worldese, and complaining about the terrible cost of educating kids in those countries, we are all in debt, things are quite difficult there you have no idea. And why don’t you visit us, good chance for you to see some sights!

And then when you take up the invitation, here you are eating rice and curry in the US, just like in Sri Lanka the taste, all the spices from this shop in New Jersey, and walking around in Paris with relatives dressed in the worst fashion, very Sri Lankan you know his daughters, and as a treat taken to some gathering of fellow Sri Lankans in Brisbane, and didn’t you recognise that was Sirimal Fonseka’s son who is singing? Just like his father his voice. Why? Don’t you listen to these songs in Sri Lanka? These are the best songs. Last week we had a concert with that seventies group, we flew them here to play for us, you should have been here then.

And during leave-taking, here they are planning to come back again! Apoh, can’t shovel snow when we’re sixty, and now this government is developing the country no? Can you tell amma to look for a piece of land in Hikkaduwa?

Trust the zebra

“You know this new rule they have brought in,” said my friend T indignantly, “about the zebra crossings?”

“No,” I said curiously, expecting the worst. “What’s this now?”

“You have to stop now, if you see someone on one.”

I think about this for a while.

“I actually got stopped recently,” she continued on a rising note. “And the cop said it was a court offence. He was getting ready to write a kolé and all. I had to put on my best smile and call him officer. They like that I’ve heard, being called officer.”

“Oh.” I say, trying to keep up.

“Yes. So he let me off. Bloody nuisance though. Most people don’t stop at the crossings because those pedestrians can’t seem to make up their minds anyway. They just hover around the edge of the pavement and you’re never sure if they’re trying to cross or just stopped there by accident to have a chat.”

“Hmmm.”

“Then when they do decide to cross, they walk so slowly, you’re waiting forever.”

“That’s true.” I say feebly, although it’s not.

“And if there’s a traffic light, you’re even more delayed because everyone crosses on the green light and then you have to wait for the red light to change again. It’s too bad.”

I have no response to all of this because I am as guilty as every other Sri Lankan driver, of speeding through the zebra crossings ignoring the hopeful pedestrians crowded at the edge of the road, waiting for the road to clear ENTIRELY before they place a trembling foot on the yellow lines. (If anyone tells you they always stop at the crossings they’re lying). When pedestrians do screw up their courage to cross, they scurry across guiltily, the men looking scared and the women self-conscious because they know that every male driver on either side of the crossing is checking them out at leisure.

No one seems to know that it’s their RIGHT to cross at any speed and at any time they wish, (unless the lights are green) except for those few elderly gentlemen one sometimes sees doing a Heil Hitler arm action and glaring at the lunging drivers as they march across the road, which always seems to work.

As a feminist I always used to stop for women and not so much for men, on the principle that men have a better life experience in general and can jolly well wait, for once. Now it seems the rules are suddenly being enforced and I must stop for everyone, what cheek.

And I was as astonished as my friend T the other day when a policeman tapped on my window as I waited for the light to change and said sternly, “Do you know where you have stopped?”

I glanced wildly around me, panicking and couldn’t think what I had done wrong.
“You have stopped ON the zebra crossing,” he snapped, “How do you expect people to cross the road, with a ladder?”

To this sort of question one somehow has no answer so I waited for him to calm down and he eventually did. But I had never been chastised for stopping on the lines before, it was like the time they took my license for “Crossing from one lane to the other in a wrong manner.” Whatever that meant. It was around the New Year and I figured they were short of revenue.

In Sri Lanka one has to deal with numerous lovely driving situations where one has to perilously take one’s vehicle through four lanes of speeding traffic, each lane of which is fighting to get to a different lane before we all hit some three or four-way junction. (Reid Avenue upto Thunmulla Junction, Torrington upto Reid Avenue/ the entirety of Duplication Road and Galle Road…)

This is like some terrifying Death Race and leaves no time to consider little issues like signaling lane changes because you’re too busy trying to save your car from being sideswiped and yourself from getting killed in a multiple pileup. It is not for the fainthearted who will certainly end up taking the wrong turn, but then driving in Sri Lanka never is.

Road rules and their enforcement seem to change from day to day. One never knows where which rule applies and every day you find out about a new one that wasn’t in force the day before. It works though. I never ever stop on the zebra crossing at the traffic lights anymore. It makes the haphazard queue of drivers behind me completely crazy, but that’s ok. I know I’m getting at least one rule of road etiquette absolutely right. Until I meet another policeman that is, who will ask me why I’m not pulled up to the bumper of the car in front of me and can’t I see I’m wasting everybody’s time.

Road rules, man. You have to learn to trust the zebra.

Hot on the heels of Mother’s Day comes… yes. Conveniently.

You only had a few weeks to get over Mother’s Day and then came Father’s Day. Yes, after the hundreds of advertisement about buying all sorts of stupid things that your mother never wanted, we had the next deluge of junk for your dad. But the thing is, if you happen to be overseas, it’s hard to resist those efficient anything-delivering services. They’re just so convenient, so perfect for your guilt. All you have to do is to click a few buttons, type in your credit card number and lo, you’ve done your duty by your parents till next year.

While back at home, your parents will be the bemused recipients of a gaudy tangle of flowers and foliage (when what they really want is to Skype more often), a calorie-filled cake (though they’d really prefer to spend some time with their grandkids who are growing up so fast), or best of all, an all-inclusive health check for five grand at one of the money-grabbing machines we call private hospitals (when all they really need is for you to be around a bit, make them a cup of tea, and ask them how they’re feeling).

But why worry? Now we have both days set up so well, you can deal with both parents in a span of six weeks. Just send five ugly handkerchiefs for mum, and then five ugly ties for dad. A hideous handbag-shaped cake for mum, followed by a monstrous shirt-shaped cake for dad. Yes, even a tool-set and a spoon-set that will never get used.

And for a two-pronged attack of filial love, what about a unisex health check-for-TWO? After all that cake, they will certainly need it. Imagine the blurbs – you won’t be able to resist them! Get a blood sugar test-for-two after a romantic night of fasting! Take a couple-cholesterol test and find out you’re both about to have strokes together!

See, my dear Sister-in-the-States, Brother-Down-Under, how convenient it all is? Your lives can be perfect after all. You are such good, caring children, after all.

 

Dare to ask

Service industries in Sri Lanka actually aren’t. For the most part they’re a series of transactions cloaked in mystery and hopeful anticipation, where a mechanic will energetically fix the weird sound from under your Toyota for weeks on end, your OPD doctor will enigmatically treat your abdominal pain without ever quite revealing to you what’s going until you’re prostrate and screaming to know why and you just know the contractor you hired to build your new house is massively overcharging you for every single brick and bag of cement.

It’s the same at the bank, the RMV or the insurance company. They make you fill endless forms in which you reveal everything about yourself including your age, your phone numbers and your email address. Then they take the forms away without a word of explanation and leave you waiting wondering what’s happening and who’s out there fascinatedly reading your personal information while you try to focus on yesterday’s copy of the Daily News.

These are all industries where the average citizen knows little about the actual workings of the process- applying for a loan, having those funny spots on your back diagnosed or what to do about the way your computer keeps re-starting itself over and over again….

We go to the experts and we would like to know what’s going on. But no one ever wants to explain to the poor Sri Lankan consumer exactly what they’re paying for; how the bank processes work or if they’re going to die next week of a brain tumour. Every service takes place behind a veil of secrecy where the bare minimum is revealed to the client, presumably to protect the provider from being sued later when it’s all gone horribly wrong or because they themselves don’t quite know what’s happening until they’ve trial and errored their way to a conclusion, or they think we’re all a bunch of fools who don’t need to know all this stuff anyway.

Many Sri Lankans are meek in these situations and don’t like to draw attention to themselves in crowded places by having arguments with the person serving them. We’re also usually anxious about antagonising the clerk or matron or teller who might then deliberately delay or fuck up your request and make you start all over again. So we hardly ever question why, what, when, where, who…

We take what we get, whenever it transpires and are ingratiatingly grateful once it actually happens successfully. Alternatively (or simultaneously), some of us set out to learn as much as we can about whatever it is we’re trying to do or get. So we sit up half the night anxiously googling ‘stomach pain’ on medicinenet.com and getting remote diagnoses from our friends in the medical profession. We visit Noorbhoys in Armour Street to buy door handles and measure our bathroom floor area before spending a hot Saturday morning at the tile shop in Nawala. We learn how many bags of cement we need to build the house and how a proper job of grouting is done. We study books, we ask friends at home and at work, we research online and we learn how each and every task that we should be trusting to our service providers should be done so we can figure out when we’re being robbed or cheated or we can do it ourselves.

It’s great though. Very soon we’ll be a nation of multi-skilled amateur doctors, lawyers, mechanics, IT experts and architects who will hopefully share – not mystify – the knowledge we’ve gained.

 

Who let the children out??

There is something about being around too-loved children that is profoundly irritating. It is nothing to do with the children themselves. In and of themselves, the little humans are quite nice, all beautifully brushed and fed and clothed and high-spirited. Yet, in the hands of adults who believe they must at all costs tolerate anything kids do, just so that they show how loving and tolerant they are, kids become the very devil.

Brought to an adult social setting in their wonderfully shining state, sweet-smelling kids suddenly morph into screaming banshees, running around and around spindle-legged stools, climbing over your guest describing a visit to the hill country, dragging their large toys into the middle of the drawing room and generally making sure that your ears are deafened and mind is spinning. This can happen at any point in your once-in-a-while dinner, lunch or tea gathering and go on for an unspecified time duration. Usually, you must endure this until they collapse in sleep (heave sigh of relief!) or start crying en mass and your friends pick them up mid-way in a description of the new restaurant in Colpetty and rush home.

On no account must you, of course, expect these children to be stopped from their high-pitched displays of energy lest their spirits be cowed. You might also be required to continue your conversation on the situation in Syria ignoring the little elf pulling your friend’s hair, shirt, or shoelaces. Further, you must smile benignly while they scream and lovingly pounce on your shivering pet. Neither must you ask, feebly, if adults gatherings are quite the time and place for kids to run amok.

Because heaven forbid that you label yourself a child-hating misanthrope by requesting that your friends instill some discipline into their children or request to have a conversation in peace and quiet.

going native vs visiting scholars

How come when some European comes to Sri Lanka to research, they “go native” with little visa requirements, but when we go to Europe or the US, we are ”visiting scholars” of 9 months?

And how come no one asks the invariably white researcher what a Russian scholar is doing in Sri Lanka when we have to apply a year ahead with a 200 page application file and told only 10 can come?

I know I am around my own people

or at the very least around South Asians, when you walk around an airport and hear conversations that couldn’t be from anywhere else.

Man gets on shuttle to airport. Kelinma gravitates towards closest white, youngish woman, hopefully with mid-thigh hemline. Stands very close or looms over her, and starts making her feel welcome in whatever place they are by making small talk:

“where do you want to go?”

“where do I want to go? Bahamas maybe”

“Bahamas? Which flight?”

“well, actually the flight to Bangladesh”

“Ah, you are from US?”

“UN”

“Ah UN. You are alone?”

Or there is the other conversation, where the Cleaning Lady of the Airport Bathroom screeches not to put water on the floor. To thin air or so one thinks, until one sees Lady From Far Off Cubicle emerging with skirts held up, ignore more shrieks of ‘you washed your feet no?’ and walk off.

I don’t know about you, but it makes me feel like I’ve come home.

Need help

Remember the glorious days when if you needed help around the house with cooking, cleaning or keeping the garden tidy, all you had to do was send off to Talawakelle and a six year old from the family tea estate would be yours for the rest of his or her life?

Yours to adopt and teach a variety of life enhancing skills – basic English, or how to take the Alsatians for a walk without losing them or the art of baking scones for tea. Yours also to keep up till three in the morning till the last guest has left and then expect up at six to grate the coconut for the master’s breakfast pol sambol. Yours to beat up or violate if that was your thing. Yours, in fact, to do with as you pleased.

It’s not half as easy nowadays. The young men have better things to do than work as domestics in Colombo and you can’t hire girls under eighteen, by which time they’re already ruined by watching too much Shakthi TV. They eat more and want money to buy perfume and Sunday evening off every week which is not at all a good thing because then they go for walks in Wellawatte and find boyfriends. This opens up multiple potential problems such as forbidden sex in family bedrooms during family holidays, leading to pregnancy and a sorrowful return to the estate and everyone annoyed as hell. Or the boyfriend turns out to be a burglar with a prison record. Worst of all, he might want to marry her and then they both fuck off back to Talawakelle to open a kadé and you have to start all over again from scratch.

And the absolute worst is the bloody New Year when everyone’s maid goes off home back to wherever village swearing to come back when the holidays are officially over. (That’s usually a week later once you’ve factored in The Day, The Day After The Day and The Day In Lieu Of The Day That Was A Sunday etc). But of course they never do show up on that Monday (no phone call, nothing…) and there you are, back from the 5 star beach hotel in Passekudah, husband gone off to catch up with the boys and you’re trapped at home with three hyperactive kids and no one to cook, clean or accompany them to Otters.

Sometimes you have to think, you know, how much simpler life was in those days.

 

Kevun-kokis, lamprais and culinary purists

Now that the ethnically defined New Year celebrations have come and gone, a slight annoyance lingers like a fallen yellow Ehela petal in the evening rain.

No, no, wrong image. More like the fragrance of a post-kevili fart.

The kevili is the question.

This year, I decided to buy them all, in mass-produced polythene packs of 15, from the cardboard boxes of a lower-middle-class eatery.

Are the kevuns fresh? Are they made with good kitul treacle? Are they made with ANY kitul treacle? Are the kokis crunchy? Did they come in propah kevili vatti? The voices of the purists tried to cry in my head.

I didn’t really care, and warned guests at the avurudu table that they were not made with the best of gamay products. They didn’t seem to care either.

This aspiration for the best ingredients for the best culinary offering according to the perfect standards of some great-grandmother’s recipe is beginning to sound like society folks and their designer handbags. Ouh, I only like kevun made with the best kitul peni from my village” (tapped by the poorest illiterate in the village, no doubt, but that’s not a festive thing to say, no?) and The best kokis in the world were at my grandmother’s place when it was made with the flour of freshly harvested rice from her own paddy fields (now sold to some dodgy real estate fellow to be sliced up and resold).

And we know it’s not only kevili. Mention the word lamprais in genteel company and you will see several elegant noses immediately going up in the air. Ouh, what is available these days is such a jouke! They put chicken and egg in it and call it lamprais! The ounly propah way to make lamprais is to have three types of meat and ….. blah-di-blah-di-blah.

Who gives a frikkadel, men? Like we really know how anything was cooked in 1701.

You know that even the blogosphere is full of dull unimaginative fellows by the number of paeans to ‘original’ lamprais. No one really wonders how alukehel and pol kiri became ‘authentic dutch’.

If my kade mudalali wants to call his dish lamprais or buriyani or fried rice on alternative days of the week, or makes kokis with his left-over godamba dough, he should be given an award for culinary creativity, not crucified by the purists. Particularly if my mudalali knows how to fill the average rice belly better than those puny ‘dutch’ offerings that cost three times more.

And perhaps a more original person will now start carrying on about coconuts. What about… they are best plucked by a man who’s too poor to send his children to school? Or … they are only scraped propahly by my cook who slaves 18 hours a day?

Why not, no?

 

Packing to go to Florida for a conference

facebook selfieI just want to know whether you really, really think that announcing your accomplishments, inane musings, and lusty cravings (very loudly) to a roomful of 300 people, most of whom you barely know, is a wonderful thing.

Yes, announcing. To family, some good friends, colleagues that you may or may not like (the feeling is probably mutual), the random man you met at a conference, random woman you met at a party five years ago. Because that’s what it looks like when you post these things on Facebook.

“Babe I love you more than ever”. Or variation of it every three days.

“Packing to go to Florida for a conference”. While you idiots are going about your boring lives in boring wherever.

“I am so nervous about my ph.d. applications.” And it is so hard to be so educated. Sigh. Especially since you may have forgotten this since my last post on it 3 hours ago.

Oh and let’s not forget the wordless posts! Photo of me posing in front of the waterfall [15 likes and 10 comments]. 10 photos of me and boyfriend staring at each other [102 likes and 40 awwws]. Photo of me in best new smile, looking straight at camera [best put it as profile pic, it only got 23 convulsive likes].

Note to self – post selfie from Wizarding World of Harry Potter visit at 8 in the morning lest it be buried under other people’s updates.

Did you really mean to say these things on that stage?
Or pose in that dress on top of that pillar?
Really?

 

 

Bikinis. Breasts. It’s 2014.

It’s 2014.

Not 12 BC. Not 1656. It’s 2014 and we have the internet, the i-phone, birth control, women’s votes, space programs, DNA technology and Lady Gaga.

You know there are still corners of the world where women are not allowed to drive, others have their genitals slashed at birth and infants can get arrested for attacking policemen. Those corners need to get with the program. But still, it’s 2014 and all around the planet in free, progressive – oh I forgot to say – FIRST world nations, the beauty pageant thrives.

Wikipedia tells us that the first modern beauty pageant was held ‘in 1839 and was won by Georgiana Seymour, Duchess of Somerset.

Entrepreneur Phineas Taylor Barnum staged the first modern American pageant in 1854, but his beauty contest was closed down by public protest. He previously held dog, baby, and bird beauty contests.

None of whom (except hopefully the Duchess), would have had much choice about being used in this manner.

Beauty pageants are conspiracies devised by a mafia of calculating individuals only a few of who are beautiful. Mostly it’s the chairmen and corp comm managers of the sponsors, the creative directors, account managers and VP’s of the advertising agencies, the networks, the event organising companies, the hotels and the journalists, photographers and various entourage whose salaries get paid by such glitterfashionfrantic events.

Bringing up the rear are the actual beauties and their mothers.

The debate about brains vs (or plus) beauty has been massively discussed and is only of minimal interest to us. This and this is quite enough. One imagines the parents of little girls across the globe suddenly realising what a revenue generator their little curly tops could be and thereafter launching their two year olds into a series of events from Toddlers & Tiaras to International Super Teen. Their tiny stilettoed feet are set firmly on the path to international fame as Miss Something or the other, after which they will most likely disappear from the public eye. The French interestingly, suddenly realised that children’s beauty pageants were not very 21st century and actually banned them last year, thus closing down the training ground as it were.

Child pageants come in two types, one learns agog from the always helpful Wikipedia: Glitz and Natural. Glitz means heavy makeup and adult outfits while Natural allows ‘absolutely no makeup and children must dress age appropriately’. I bet the Natural type pageant organisers feel they have the moral high ground on that one.

There are thousands of child beauty pageants that can carry children through from 1 to 18. Then before you know it they’re all growed up and competing for what one presumes is the Holy Grail of beauty contests – Miss Universe (one billion worldwide viewers in 2013), where the world annually gets to observe women display their breasts in a bikini and be tick box rated by Russian pop stars and Japanese chefs.

I mean what the fuck?

It is 2014 no?