Sunday, June 29, 2008

Feminizing justice

Is it just me, or is the world going upside down? The National Commission for Women (NCW) has asked that maintenance be given to a woman who is deserted by her live-in partner. They are asking for an amendment to the Section 125 of our Criminal Procedure Code, which defines 'wife'. They want the definition to include women in long-term live-in relationships. Hence, upon termination of such relationship by the man, they want him to pay alimony to his partner. This seems to be a perverse form of feminizing the laws of the country which is somehow in vogue today.

The very beauty of concubinage is in the liberal nature of it. It is seemingly taking over the youth of many developed countries who choose to exchange physical and emotional satisfaction without the ties of marriage. The lack of rules in such a system provides a flexibility which is attracting more and more people to it.

There is no need to cast moral aspersions on such a relationship, for some of the happiest relationships exist namelessly. Also, there are many valid arguments supporting the thesis that human beings are not naturally suited for monogamy, at least not all of us. Those that subscribe to such notions can enjoy the benefits of cohabitation without complications today, and they need not fear moral debasement from their peers.

But this may be pushing it a little. When a person enters into a marriage, it is pretty clear that they are in a serious relationship, and in absence of a pre-nuptial agreement, a division of the marital assets upon separation seems fair. People may approach a live-in relationship with varying levels of commitment. In such an event, forcing the issue on men to provide financial restitution to their partners should they choose to exit, seems like a flaw in the system. There is of course, no mention on any consideration to men if their liberated partner should choose to leave them. The NCW couldn't care less if the men suffered. Consider this, live in relationships are more common among the young, educated and liberated. Women of this sect are rarely abused, nor are they financially dependent on the men. If they must deserve our applause for being independent, (which they do) shouldn't they be asked to shoulder responsibility?

There is another demand of the NCW which is scaring me. They ask that adultery of the wife not be considered in divorce settlements. Now this gives some pause. A lot of states in the USA are 'no-fault', which means they don't care if any partner has been adulterous. The divorce settlement is statutory. This is pretty practical and forward. If only the NCW had asked for a complete 'no-fault' divorce law. That would be a progressive move. They ask for this to be applied to women alone, claiming that many women are wrongly accused of adultery and thus defamed. While there is some sense in that, when will this group ever consider the potential for abuse in such laws?

The man can be accused of adultery and punitive measures can be taken, but women should be exempt. I don't understand where this world is going. If someone makes a statement in public, "Women are smarter than men and they can do everything that men can, and better", he or she would get (and has got) an applause. When the President of Harvard University, Lawrence Summers said that "innate differences between men and women might be one reason fewer women succeed in science and math careers", he was boycotted and drew a lot of flak. Women walked out on him while he spoke, in a country which claims to be a beacon of free speech. I do not readily subscribe to that man's views, but I would hear him out.

I do not mention this to digress, but to point out that any success of a woman is applauded and failures are blamed on the 'glass ceiling', which I'm sure exists in some cases, though not all.

If this feminization of laws and rules, and even norms in our society is not checked, I predict a complete wave of female domination identical to the male domination that we consider neanderthal and chauvinistic. To those who feel such a wave is warranted, all I can do is remind you of the dialogue in the movie Disclosure, "a woman in power can be every bit as abusive as a man."

Now I know that I'm going to be branded a chauvinist for disagreeing with an extremely feminist point of view. I do welcome rebuttals from my small set of readers. Please debate the merits and not the emotions.

Friday, June 27, 2008


I walked through the road

And not over it as you might think

The dust rose as it always does

And yet my eyes did not blink

All I could see was distance

And more and more of it ahead

For life is supposed to have twists and turns

In every road I fear to tread

The sides of the roads are a mystery

The sights and landmarks are so blurry

Will an image ever crystallize?

It never will, I do realize

I am born to be a wanderer

A person without a plan or care

Someone who sees no happiness

Nor does he expect it anywhere

Imagine what it must feel to feel so

When life holds no more of its pristine glow

When all that remains is curiosity

Of what the next day will bring about

Shallow ways to inject some levity

In a miasma of futility

That makes one feel he saw it all

That happiness is overrated after all

I always wake up with malaise

It'll capture me till the end of my days

Mistake not this to be suicidal

For there is no better example

Of a desire to live

To live, more than to exist

To cry and laugh and to persist

With the emotional ties that we live for

Yet, emotion is what I feel no more

The emptiness of pragmatism screams

Through its cold silence; it beckons

Me to scream too, yet

This is something I cannot do

For we are born with some wiring

That makes us to someone's bidding

Are our decisions truly our own

Or are they influenced by

Our circumstances, ties and bindings

Thus making us fatally prone

To crutches of feelings, and opinions

Of those other than our own

Humor seems to be my only crutch

It needs no emotion, no intimacy

I use it to draw a circle, which

Screams, "Keep away from me"


Friday, June 20, 2008

I need an obsession

I need an obsession

Something to drown myself into

To take away mundane worries

And get rid of small change

I need to exercise the

Amount of passion I have

On reserve

Nervous energy builds up

And releases itself in ways

Not very productive

I need a diversion

Something to surround myself with

To escape the easy outs offered

By food and alcohol

I need to cherish something

To wake up for a cause

To feel crazy about an entity

To take some pause

In this daily rat race

And this hunt for achievement

For the purpose of

Achievement alone

Why do we love to

Express ourselves so much

When it can be looked upon as

Subjecting unsuspecting ones to

Creative and emotional outbursts

It never ceases to make me angry

The amount of time I can waste

Obsessing over the need for

An obsession to my taste

Deny me my special search

Force me to conform

To regular laws and rules

And maybe I can find peace

There is probably no peace

Meant for some people

Languishing in wonder and doubt

Is probably their fate

Let not me be one of those

Let me find a pursuit worthy

Of my time, energy and life’s standards

For when my eyes finally close

I would like to be sorry

To miss whatever I have been doing.

It should feel like an end

To a life spent in fulfillment

Of a goal personally set

Of a target mentally formed

And though not achieved

I would like to have gone farther

Than I could imagine going on

The path to that achievement

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Point of view

"And then what happened?” he asked. He had an exasperating habit of eating during these sessions. The sandwiches he ate were always the same. Peanut butter and strawberry jelly: hardly a diet of a mature person.
"Well, I went up to her and introduced myself. I got the feeling she liked what she saw and I was hoping things would go forward." Sam was amazed at his own honesty. This was a straight answer that he could not even admit to himself before this. Maybe there was something to this therapy thing. Therapists eased the atmosphere so much that talking about things became easier. They could then ask seemingly ordinary questions and cause these internal repressed feelings to diffuse to the surface.
Sam continued, “There was something about her that made me notice her from the outset. It wasn’t her long flowing black cocktail dress, nor was it her sensual walk. It wasn’t her amazingly picturesque face either. She had a face fit for a sculpture. But what made me take notice was her poise, her measured steps, every movement of hers was in complete control. It was feminine but not in the scatterbrain way, which attracts most guys. It was a confident feminine charm that I could not stop looking at. I just had to talk to her.”
“Yes. Well, you said all that. What happened next?”
Sam groaned. Of all the psychologists who are famous for making people express their feelings ad nauseam, he was the only one to get a guy who was a real page-turner. He wanted to get to the destination, and not appreciate the drive there. “She looked at me. It was a calculating look, and I immediately got the feeling that I should never have got up. She then looked at the magazine she was reading, took another casual sip of her martini and looked at me again. You won’t believe this but she stared at me for a whole minute. I felt stripped naked of all my guile. I was placed in front of her, plain and simple; and she knew why I was there. She smiled. I had no idea what that meant either. There was an irony in her look, condescension with some amusement. I was so out of my league with her.”
“Look, as your therapist, let me tell you one thing. I need you to be as colloquial and narrative in your account. Do not try to be the shrink here. Stop with the medical jargon. Put it out there. It is the only way I can get a measure of what happened.”
Sam had an impulse to get up and leave. He almost did so. But something in his knees refused to straighten, and he sat there. There was no indication of time passing. There was one clock, and it was over and behind his head. It was just for the psychologist to note the billable hours, he thought with some cynicism. Ok, let’s try what he says. Let me tone it down a bit, he thought.
“She smiled and said her name was Ashley. Nothing more, just Ashley. Sometimes girls don’t give out their last name, I guess I understand. She then motioned to the empty stool next to her. I sat there and ordered a Bud-lite. I asked her if I could buy her a drink. She nodded and asked the bartender for another Long Island iced tea.”
“That is a stiff drink. I bet you thought you could get her drunk and...” he left the sentence open for the sake of propriety.
“Ordinarily, that would have been my strategy. In this case, I knew that there was no way this woman would relinquish control of the situation. I did not even bother to think carnally. To tell you the truth, I was more intrigued than anything else. I wanted to study her, to know the source of that fortitude.” Sam smiled. Again, he acknowledged his clear agenda to the psychologist, who was now brushing bread crumbs off his suit. It was an Armani. Why he would want bread crumbs to spill on it was anybody’s guess. Sam guessed he had so many; this was not a big deal. Private practice brought a kind of affluence with it that Sam knew only too well. Again, this psychiatrist was getting out some very insightful responses from Sam while doing something really mundane with his own person. It was a gift, or a great education.
Sam continued, “I could see her eyes now, cold grey eyes. Normally, I would never be attracted to someone with unemotional eyes like hers, but the package was so appealing, that the cold eyes seemed like an asset here more than anything else. We started making small talk. She told me something about a divorce and a settlement, but all I could concentrate on was her smooth skin. It was flawless, pearlescent...divine. She then said something about Project Innocence.”
“Wait a second,” the therapist said, with his penchant for interrupting the smooth flow of thought, “Project Innocence, you mean that organization which clears inmates on death row using DNA testing? What the hell was her involvement with it?”
“What kind of therapist are you? Shouldn’t you be gently pushing me to express my feelings, instead of conducting some interview?” Sam was beyond irritation.
“I am sorry; it seemed oddly out of place in the situation I was imagining as you were narrating to me. Tell me, did you ask her to elaborate on the Project Innocence?”
“No. I found out just now what it meant. I was not really listening as intently as you think I might have. I admit that the physicality of her beauty precluded me from focusing on the content of her speech. She had finished her second drink by then. I ordered a refill for her. I was still sipping my beer, embarrassingly slow in my alcohol consumption. She asked me what I did for a living. I told her I was the chief oncologist at Mass General. She did not bat an eyelid. I was shocked. That was supposed to be my ace-in-the-hole. This line works with most women. She was remarkably unfazed. So much so that I thought she had not heard me. I was about to repeat it when she said, ‘Were you always interested in cancer or was it the case of losing a close relative at a young age which motivated you?’ “
The therapist looked at the clock and said, “Our time is almost up. Tell you what, I will extend this for another hour, so that it won’t interrupt your train of thought, and we can cancel your Thursday meeting. Is that okay?”
“Yeah sure”, said Sam. He suspected that Dr. Marks was slightly titillated by this account and wanted to hear it in its entirety. Anyway, it would be better to talk now than to repeat this some other time. “I told her that my interest in cancer was motivated by my years of volunteering for the cancer facility near my high school. ‘So, while guys your age were dreaming about hot girls, you actually devoted some of your adolescent time to cancer patients? That is commendable’, she said. I felt strangely vindicated. I mean, I have saved people in terminal cancer cases, with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, but her words somehow summed it up. All those weekends when I could have passed out having beer and dope, I was languishing with my radio-ligands and old patients missing arms and legs. I became a doctor at age 23 and an oncologist at age 25. It was a record, but I always felt like I sacrificed too much...”
“Hey, you are digressing...” Dr. Marks said, “Get back to the scene, and tell me more of what you did.”
Sam was distracted by the constant interruptions and manipulation of the conversation. Well, it was pretty clear who was flying this plane, so he imagined the situation in his mind’s eye, and continued narrating, “She walked over to the jukebox, and selected ‘Strangers in the Night’ by Frank Sinatra. She did not bother asking me to dance; she was moving with the song on her own. I knew she was getting tipsy and I went to her myself...I mean come on...what better chance would I get? I clasped her left hand with my right and slid my left hand around her smooth hips. She was even more beautiful to hold than behold. Her perfume wafted over to me. It was tantalizing. She never spoke a word; we just danced, slowly. Occasionally, she smiled, more to herself than me. I am pretty sure I did not mean anymore to her than just some company. Anyway, I mustered up all my courage and asked her if she would accompany me to my hotel room. It turned out she stayed in the same hotel. She collected her purse from the bar and we went up to my room.”
Dr. Marks’ interest was piqued. “You say you just met this woman; and she was willing to accompany you to your hotel room? From your account of what happened so far, I would never have guessed that you made such a favorable impression! Tell me, what did you think will happen?”
“Come on doctor, we both know exactly what I had in mind. She obviously had the same in mind. It was a connection that neither one could understand, certainly I was more in the dark than she. As we entered the room, she fixed us a nightcap, and we kissed. It was amazing. For a woman whom I just met and then brought up to my room, it did not feel tawdry at all. Things took their normal course and I remember drifting off to sleep.”
“Now wait a second. Don’t you think you have glossed over an important part of this story?”
“Hey doc, I am willing to discuss my feelings as much as you want, but you are not getting any lurid details from me. Anyway, when I woke up, I had a bad hangover. I fumbled around the bed in the dark, but I could not feel her. Either she had gone to the bathroom, or to her own room. I was up anyway, so I went to the bathroom. I opened the door...and that’s when I saw her.”
Dr. Marks was confused, “I thought she had left?”
“I thought so too, but there she was, lying on the floor, motionless. I tried to shake her awake. I even did CPR and chest compressions. She seemed to have a very faint pulse.”
“Sam! Don’t tell me you could not revive her!”
“No doctor, the thing is I could not get her help without attracting attention. Come on, you know how that would look. I am a respected oncologist; I have a wife and two kids. There was no way I could let myself be caught this way. I had to leave.”
“Wait a second; did you just leave the hotel? I mean, is she lying in that bathroom even now?”
Sam’s cheeks flushed. He knew there was no danger in telling the therapist the truth. “I had no choice Dr. Marks. I had to leave. I switched off all lights and packed quietly. I checked out in ten minutes. She did not wake up all that time. I had no choice.”
“Sam, as your psychologist, I am telling you. Anything you tell me is strictly confidential. I will never reveal the details of any discussion we have. You know that. So tell me, is she still there. Do you think she is dead?”
“First of all, Dr. Marks, you are not permitted to reveal if I told you that I killed someone. But if I tell you that a girl was dying and that I ran away from the scene, that is an ongoing crime and you are free to report it. Anyway, I don’t know what happened to her. My professional opinion is that she is dead, and will soon be discovered by the authorities. This happened two nights ago. This thing will get out for sure.”
Dr. Marks considered this for a second. He then said, after some thinking, “I would never reveal, no matter what. If you say she is dead, I believe you. Did she give you her last name, or just Ashley?”
“No last name, all she said was Ashley.” Sam now wondered why a woman willing to sleep with him would not give her last name. It was too convoluted to make sense. Anyway, he was out of it, at least temporarily. The bar was dark and it was likely no one saw them go up together. Also, he could always argue that she probably came into the room after he checked out. So, he was safe.
Dr. Marks stood up. “As intrigued as I am with this event; we really need to conclude our discussion. I have another patient scheduled in five minutes. Don’t worry; your secret is safe with me.”
Sam walked to the door, and said, “I did not do it, you know that right...I mean if she is dead, which I think she is, I did not do it.”
“Yes Sam, I do know it. Goodbye.”
The door closed.
Ten minutes later, Ms. Peters walked in, her blond hair gleaming. “I am so sorry I’m late. Things have been crazy with me for a week or so.”
“That’s ok, Ms. Peters, tell me, how are things with you?” Dr. Marks could not help staring at her.
“Things have been wild. This weekend was upside down. Anyway, please call me Ashley.”

Sunday, June 8, 2008


It was a Sunday afternoon...evening actually except these temperate days are so long in summer, no wonder these people delude themselves by extending afternoon so much that it obscenely encroaches upon evening, which evening then forays into nighttime. Anyway, I was standing at this bus stop in DC waiting for a bus to NY. There were no labels indicating this was the actual bus stop. In true geeky fashion, I had a printout of the e-ticket with google map directions on how to get to a bus stop. It was a cheap bus and the stops were not clearly marked.

I was not sure and needed to confirm with someone else whether this was the actual bus stop. I needed to ask someone. Let’s consider this for a second. George Carlin famously opined, “Imagine the person with average intelligence. Now remember that half the people are dumber than him.” Ok, so it is not a verbatim account, but you get the picture. With my luck being the way it is and with Murphy being my companion from toddlerhood to youth, the odds were against me getting to ask confirmation from a bright person. Here I did not pause to think as to where it puts me on the intelligence Gaussian scale to have to ask someone for confirmation of a bus stop.

The guy I spotted was Indian looking. Now, the first thought is relief. Hey, this guy can probably relate to a fellow desi’s confusion in the West. Hey at least I am not like those FOBs who ask for directions after scanning the geography for a brown guy! Or wait, am I?

Ok, so this dude is Indian-looking. He might have been born here, which creates a major problem. How do I ask him the question? Do I ask in Hindi? What if he is a south Indian? Most European languages work with these guys, but Hindi they have not warmed up to yet! English would be the right choice, come on...he is here, stealing American jobs; he must know the damn language!

More importantly, how do I ask? Do I ask in my regular style or in a hammed up American accent safely stored in the arsenal of any Indian in the USA? The hammed accent might work, unless of course he is a newly entered desi. In that case, he would see through it easily, and I would have handed him a great story for the daaru parties! Stupid ass! I’d rather wait for the bus and hope it comes here.

But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? Ah it is the east, and there is a hot girl in a halter top standing alone! Yup, I am asking her. I would ask her the time or the day of the week or whatever came to mind. And here I have a legitimate question. And here, without a doubt, the hammed up American accent is the best! If I was European, I would have had a sexy exotic accent, but Indians are uniquely disadvantaged in this department.

I move confidently ahead till I am really close, poised with my accented question well rehearsed, and the original desi asks her the same question! She replies that she too is waiting for the bus to the big apple and it would arrive here. I was too close to pretend I did not hear it and ask for an encore. The desi screwed my mojo. And they wonder why Indians hate each other! Did I mention he is a stupid ass? And now the bus arrives. And I know there is going to be some obese guy with beef breath spilling onto my seat while that desi will get the pretty girl next to him. Did I mention he is a stupid ass?

Friday, June 6, 2008

I left the perfect city

I am a Mumbaikar. Through and through. So heat and humidity, pollution and noise..bring it on. Crowds are most welcome. I guess with India progressing at such a demonic rate, crowds, noise and other forms of pollution are a given in most cities. There is something about Mumbai, though. Be it the roadside food vendors, or the oft complained about but most adored train service, this city is so embedded in our DNA that it has an effect, or rather a controlling interest in our daily lives.

No matter where we are.

New York City is an amazing place, and to a Mumbaikar, life in NYC is finding a mistress who looks like your wife, but is more attractive for the sheer thrill of a new catch. Having said that, all it does is seem like a shadow of the city of dreams. They call NYC the city that never sleeps, but I call Bombay the city that breathes. It breathes and has a heartbeat and a pulse, which is resonant with every instinct we possess. It is more than a dwelling, or even a place of fun. It is a feeling, which is so organic to our being that, it has a vitality that even NYC pales in comparison to.

The mornings in Bombay were philosophical. It was truly a city where people came with little, and it absorbed them, lovingly and without condition. The morning symbolized, no wait, it inspired, no no wait some more, it engendered hope. I have been through a lot in my life, ok not a lot but it always seemed like a lot when it happened to me. The Mumbai morning, however, bleached me with the sunrays, scolding me for my negative thoughts, showing me the less fortunate but more determined: The paper boy who grew up parallel to me, who distributed papers and fresh flowers to pay for his admission in a municipality like school, the maidservant whose children starved literally, but she never came to work with anything but a smile, were my teachers in the meaning of determination. They have raised the bar so high and set such an example for me: an example I am doing a lousy job living up to.

Anything can happen in this city. This was the city torn asunder by four strategically placed bombs in trains of the western railway, and the same city which was humbled by a deluge we like to know as 26/7. This was the same city declared by Reader's Digest as the "rudest city in the world." And you know what, we are guilty as charged.

To hell with politeness, we have no time in Mumbai. The 7:30am bus, if missed meant that I would miss my 8:11am train, which made me cranky for my 9:30am class, because I have just taken a crowded train exchanging little beads with of perspiration with total strangers. If someone met me on the warpath at such a time, they would be predisposed to thinking we are the rude inhabitants of a city.

I love Bombay, unconditionally and truly, right from Gateway of India to Thane Creek (read large gutter), right from Marine Drive to the rat infested Dadar station, right from yakking obese ladies forming the video of the video-coach that we fought to get into to the fat sweaty paper reader with enough oil in his hair to solve the world's energy problems.

I miss Bombay, more than anything else, and I am going there soon. I hope it accepts me, with grudging love and some anger quite akin to the wife who forgives her adulterous but penitent husband.