Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Pride and Judicial Prejudice


One day after World Human Right's Day, India’s most progressive and respected institution stained its proud record of protecting and advancing citizens rights - perhaps indelibly. In 2009 the Delhi High Court in an inspired verdict, that decriminalized homosexuality, had said

"If there is one constitutional tenet that can be said to be underlying theme of the Indian Constitution, it is that of 'inclusiveness'. This Court believes that Indian Constitution reflects this value deeply ingrained in Indian society, nurtured over several generations. The inclusiveness that Indian society traditionally displayed, literally in every aspect of life, is manifest in recognising a role in society for everyone. Those perceived by the majority as "deviants' or 'different' are not on that score excluded or ostracised.

Where society can display inclusiveness and understanding, such persons can be assured of a life of dignity and non-discrimination. This was the 'spirit behind the Resolution' of which Nehru spoke so passionately. In our view, Indian Constitutional law does not permit the statutory criminal law to be held captive by the popular misconceptions of who the LGBTs are. It cannot be forgotten that discrimination is antithesis of equality and that it is the recognition of equality, which will foster the dignity of every individual."

After a long, convoluted appeals process that stretched four years, the Supreme Court of India overturned the Delhi High Court’s 2009 thereby re-criminalizing gay relationships. In doing so, the Supreme Court of India stands apart – in disgraced isolation - from the judiciary in every other democracy in the world – including developing countries like South Africa, Nepal, Mexico and Brazil.

In throwing the ball back to the Executive branch, the judges sought to couch their decision in terms of showing constitutional deference for the role of the executive. However the SC has never shown hesitation in striking down central and state laws over the years and has been perfectly willing to create laws (mostly good) out of thin air (e.g., the recent one banning criminals from contesting elections). In this particular case, the Indian government’s final submission supported the repeal of Sec 377 (i.e., supported decriminalization of gay relationships). This would indicate that the deference to executive authority was a fig leaf – enabling the justices to render a regressive and prejudiced decision without overtly appearing to do so. The news media rightly greeted the ruling with headlines like “SC: Gay sex illegal” and “Gay Sex is a criminal offense rules Supreme Court” - for once the media’s inability to handle nuance working in the favour of truth.

While India’s brave community of LGBT activists and their heterosexual allies will continue to fight for equality – one that they will doubtless win in the long run; in the short term, this decision does real damage to the lives of gay people who are out or in the closet. It will expose lesbians and gays to even more harassment and persecution from the police; give a fresh institutional cover to discriminatory practices in every aspect of life – housing, employment among others and could shrink the already rather limited spaces that the LGBT community has carved out for themselves in public life.

Today, the Supreme Court of India has abjectly failed in its fundamental duty to protect the fundamental rights of an individual and of minorities. Here’s hoping justices Singhvi and Mukhopadhyaya will see the repudiation of their prejudices by the same Supreme Court in their lifetimes.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Show Off Your True Colours

 
It's National Coming Out Day

A day to determine that you WILL come out. 

Come out like a butterfly. Not too early when you may be easy prey. 

Come out having used the "cocoon" not simply as shelter but to gain strength and grow wings. 

Come out knowing it is going to take work to break out. But that it is work you must do, else your beauty will wither constricted and unseen.
 
Determine to come out so you experience the joy of flying. Free.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Inexorable Wheatening of America

First of all, this is really COOL. America really is becoming an inclusive, multi-coloured nation in many ways. It's had people of colour forever but the difference is that they're gaining access to institutions of power and pop culture that have traditionally been closed to them. From a  Black/multi-racial man in the Presidency to Hispanics in the Federal Courts to an Indian Miss America - it does seem that America, specially in the public space, is steadily becoming a more off-white or wheatish (as we say in India) country.

Second of all, check out the  tweeted reactions from some of the neanderthals that still inhabit this land. Their ignorance and hatred are sociologically fascinating. Lots more here.


And before Indians all over the world get on their high elephants I'd like to quote from a FB commenter - "Let's also not forget that Nina Davuluri would not have even a remote chance at winning Miss India because she is not 'fair-skinned'." Good point.

Friday, August 30, 2013

My Sabbatical From Suck

(Hopefully a) Prologue


I’m not naturally a negative person. I can see a cloud with a silver lining in a clear, sunny sky. Ask anyone who knows me.  So it would have been an easy thing – once I embarked on my indeterminate number of months-long sabbatical – to write a blog about what an amazing, life-transforming experience it was. But all of us already have insecure, narcissistic Facebook friends who try to make us feel bad about our mundane lives by posting pictures of the fabulous things they’ve been getting up to. You don’t need more of that from me or from this blog. This blog won’t make you feel bad about your lives.

This is a feel-good blog. It will make you feel good if you enjoy reading about other people’s misfortunes. Especially tiresome people, who take sabbaticals, fuelled by a spiritual awakening and LOVE. You know they only do it so that an innocuous question about how they met their partner can be turned into a dinner-long monologue about their amazing life and relationship. You know they’re going to repeat the same story at all dinners for the rest of their lives.

So if you’ve been looking for an antidote to Eat, Pray Love. For a tale of someone who chucked everything to chase love and to perhaps find himself but instead, between Delhi’s heat and a lover’s deception, he lost his appetite and prayed for a quick way to end the sabbatical that had sucked right from the first day. Well then this is the blog for you.

Or at least that was the plan when I started writing this a few months ago, on a luxury bus to Dharamsala as it lumbered through the darkness over an unapologetically unpaved, unlit national highway. (If having the Dalai Lama traverse a road a few thousand times cannot inspire a government to pave it, then nothing will.)

I was resolved to recount to you, dear reader, everything that went wrong on my trip. To see every glass as at least half if not fully empty. To forget not a single, unpleasant happening - not the inconvenience of missed flights or the incontinence of queasy stomachs; not hours spent in traffic jams or days spent wallowing in self-pity.   

And I shall still try to do it. But it will no longer be a spiel of unrelenting despair as the one I’d hoped to write. You see, my ambitions of writing an uncompromisingly negative narrative were constantly derailed by family and friends, old and new. As a collective bunch they insisted on inviting themselves to every step of my (mis)adventure – and constantly showering me with such badly disguised love and support that it was difficult to sustain a crabby mood for very long.

They let my dog trample and shed over their beds and couches simply because they’d seen him sprawl on my furniture in Facebook pictures. They played Santa Claus on a grand scale – offering me the use of their fantastically-located, furnished South Delhi home and automatic cars and then tearing up checks I made out to thank them in a small way. They booked bus tickets for me when I had the desire but not the energy to figure out how to get to the mountains. They called and messaged me from across 6 or 12 time zones to make sure I wasn’t down or if I was, to determinedly drag me up. Drove twenty kilometres on a scooter through rush hour traffic so I could have 3G on my phone enabled a day or two sooner. Demanded an explanation for my skipping meals. Let me traipse in without notice and request sliced mangoes and three-egg omelettes for brunch. Bought beds on Craigslist (yeah there’s a context to that that makes sense). Went to the same sites for the fourth time so I would have company for my first time (Even Bali must get boring after the third time!) and then insisted on paying for the trip. Set me up with eligible bachelors. Showered me with professional contacts so I could find a job I liked in India and in SF. Didn’t get upset when I reached out to only a fraction of those contacts. Involved me in writing and marketing projects. Invited me to their homes and insisted I stay - in Faridabad, Chhatarpur, Vasant Kunj, Mayur Vihar, Safdarjung Enclave, Gurgaon. In Jaipur, Bombay, San Francisco, Fort Lauderdale, DC, New York and Jakarta. 

Listened to me for hours even - actually especially - when I wasn’t my most entertaining, attractive self. Cooked Goan curries and roasted whole chickens for me. Drank with me. Gave me Reiki. Meditated with me.

But there I go missing the dark clouds for the silver lining. Let me practice looking at this with a jaundiced eye. It isn’t hard to do – it’s just a different way of looking at things, right? Just needs a little practice. Here goes:

So basically - at the end of nearly five months off, I’m certifiably single, still without the perfect job, separated from my beloved dog, with considerably lighter pockets and all I have to show for it is the knowledge that there are people scattered across the globe who love me lots and love me back? Dear Universe, I kinda knew that already. Clearly, this sabbatical sucked.  I'll try and do a better job of proving it in future posts. 

And given a chance, I shall do my bit to make sure my friends' and family members' future sabbaticals will suck too.

Sounds of laughter, shades of life Are ringing through my open ears
Inciting and inviting me
Limitless, undying love, which Shines around me like a million suns
It calls me on and on across the universe
****
From the poem Across the Universe by John Lennon

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Stand Your Ground in Florida - Unless You're Black

A (Black) Florida Mom has just been awarded a 20-year prison sentence - yes, you read it right, 20 years - for firing warning shots at an abusive husband. This despite invoking Florida's infamous Stand-Your-Ground law which allows the victim of an ongoing crime (which can simply be feeling threatened) to immediately retaliate with lethal force in self-defense, instead of having to first attempt to run for safety and resort to violence only when all possibilities of escape have been exhausted. 

How does this square with the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, where the guy who trailed and killed a 17 year old black kid - simply because he thought the kid wearing a hoodie was looking suspicious - was acquitted?? In the Martin case, the shooter also invoked the Stand-Your-Ground law and won! Maybe it's just a coincidence that in both cases the law's been interpreted to the detriment of black protagonists.

But it seems to me that in  Florida the stand-your-ground law applies to black people only if they're the person facing a gun not holding one.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The New Algeria?


 I'm a fervent believer in both democracy and in keeping church and state strictly separate. In Egypt these two values were in conflict - if not war - when Morsi won the popular vote to become the country's first democratically elected President. It was soon clear that the Muslim Brotherhood leader was not going to hesitate to bring a more religious bent to the new constitution and to Egyptian public life. So a part of me cannot but be happy that Morsi is gone. Deposed by his own purblindness and an even larger popular revolt than Mubarak faced two years ago. My hope was that if religious parties again won a large vote share in the next Presidential and parliamentary elections, they would be more focused on economic development versus driving a religious agenda - taking a cue from Turkey's ruling party, the AKP.  The AKP is also mildly Islamist but took a softly-softly approach in the first ten years of being in power - since they faced an entrenched, arguably anti-democratic secular establishment (army, judiciary, elite). The AKP government had to deliver astounding growth ((Turkey's GDP per capita has tripled in nominal terms in the last ten years) before it was strong enough to enact religion-influenced laws without the danger of being over-thrown.

However, if today's New York Times article is right, and the Muslim Brotherhood is going to be banned once again - then it will put paid to the hopes of establishing a real democracy in the country. And the fact that the power cuts and gas shortages disappeared almost as soon as Morsi fell, leads me to believe that the army/secular establishment was hard at work behind the scenes to artificially create conditions that would bring a cross-section of people out into the streets. The people of Egypt have been had, I think.

A democracy that excludes the main Islamist party from public life will by definition be truncated. The coup has established a year as the time within which a government must deliver tangible improvements to be judged worthy of staying in office. And when the new government fails to deliver significant improvements - (as is likely - who can turn around a country battered by 60 years of despotism amidst a slow-growing world economy in 365 days?) - it will also lose legitimacy.

Real democracy requires allowing the Muslim Brotherhood an unfettered right to win elections (if they can), form a government and fail to deliver on the mundane things - over 4-5 years - that ultimately all governments are judged on, by voters the second time around. That would be the best way to demystify and defang the Islamist parties. Otherwise, what the Egyptians liberals will be left with, is another frozen peace - where they have social freedoms but no real political freedoms. Or if they're unlucky, they'll face an internecine conflict with the disenfranchised Islamists, a la Algeria.

No Egyptian should want that.

The Evisceration of DOMA and why It's Important

I was lucky enough to be in Washington DC on 24th June 2013 and in front of the US Supreme Court building at 10:00 when it annouced two momentous decisions - one legalizing gay marriage in California and the other repealing a key provision of the discriminatory law, with the Orwellian name - Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Here's my description of the scenes outside the SCOTUS building and how the DOMA decision impacts gay rights in the US and beyond.

Take a gander.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Where Hoodlums are not the Ones Wearing Hoods


As Mexico announced the capture of the leader of one of it's largest cartels, it displayed him manacled and standing between two marines. The curious part about the photograph was that the marines wore masks covering their faces. I think its because no one is safe from the ruthless, blood-thirsty drug cartels' retribution. 3 years ago, after the Mexican government honoured the mother of a soldier killed in a gunfight with another drug kingpin, the cartel executed the mother, sister and aunt, the very next day. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Friend in Need

NETANYAHU EXTENDS A HELPING HAND TO ROMNEY

Anyone else think that Binyamin Netanyahu's harsh criticism of the Obama administration's Iran policy is timed to give the flagging Romney campaign a pick-up? According to the New York Times, the Israeli Prime Minister, an inveterate and unapologetic hawk, who's been at cross purposes with Obama pretty much since 2008, said:

Addressing reporters here in Jerusalem on Tuesday, Mr. Netanyahu unequivocally rejected those comments and slapped back at the United States. Speaking in English, he said, “The world tells Israel: ‘Wait, there’s still time.’ And I say, ‘Wait for what? Wait until when?’ Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.” In his remarks, made at a joint news conference with the visiting prime minister of Bulgaria, Boyko Borisov, Mr. Netanyahu also said: “Now if Iran knows that there is no red line, if Iran knows that there is no deadline, what will it do? Exactly what it’s doing. It’s continuing, without any interference, toward obtaining nuclear weapons capability and from there, nuclear bombs.”

Netanyahu has made no secret of who he would like to be the next US President. Romney has been reeling on multiple fronts - failed convention, falling poll standings, an avalanche of criticism on his foreign policy mis-steps  including an unforced and unforgivable error in omitting to mention the troops fighting and dying in Afghanistan in his convention keynote. With his criticism of the Obama administration's approach towards Iran, probably unprecedented in its public and pointed nature, Netanyahu just opened up a new foreign policy front for his man in the game. I will wager that this will not be the last time Netanyahu intervenes in the US elections to advance his right-wing agenda. His statement will doubtless seize the next news cycle (and change the topic from how badly Romney is losing) and he just opened a barrage of attack ads that will describe Obama as weak-kneed, weak-on-Israel and dangerous for America. I'm waiting for one that juxtaposes an Ayatollah with a mushroom cloud. I might even hold my breath for it.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Ouch!

Harry Reid on Paul Ryan's Arithmetic Skills:

Being questioned by the press he said he ran that in about two hours and 50 minutes. That's pretty fast. I'd like to take a minute and apply the Ryan math to my marathon times. I'll just pick one marathon time. I ran the Boston marathon. And using the Ryan math, my time would not have been a world's record, but within minutes -- minutes -- of a world record. I could have made the Olympic team. Using Ryan math, I would have been superb. Well, Ryan's math doesn't work in marathons because you know what, Mr. President, you can always check someone's math and his math doesn't work for running a marathon or anything else. The Ryan math doesn't work with his budgets, it doesn't work with Medicare. It doesn't work with his tax plan. It doesn't work with anything that he's suggested and opined about.

http://livewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/entry/reid-knocks-paul-ryans-math-on-marathons-everything

Friday, September 7, 2012

Lance Armstrong: Prince of Thieves

For the longest time Armstrong was pretty much the only cyclist I knew by name and the only I cared to know about. He almost single-handedly popularised cycling as a sport - there may be five people in the world outside France and the cycling fraternity who heard the words Tour de France for the first time, without also hearing his name in the same breath. His life-story was heroic - a near-fatal battle with cancer, a record-breaking, epic-making come-back to the sport he loved and a devotion to the cause of finding a cure for cancer for which he raised millions and millions of dollars. No one's ever accused me of being a sports-addict and even for me he raised the bar for what a single human was capable of in life. An unbeatable, indefatigable champion of sport and for the afflicted. Unfortunately - it looks like he was beatable and defatigable, at least in his sport. If you still needed proof that drugs fuelled Armstrong's performance (and this writer doesn't here's apparently a book to end your illusions. The book is told through Armstrong's former team-mate Tyler Hamilton but nine other former Postal teammates cooperated with him to corroborate his account.  Count them. Nine.

As Christopher Keyes' article, reviewing the book, says:

The drugs are everywhere, and as Hamilton explains, Armstrong was not just another cyclist caught in the middle of an established drug culture—he was a pioneer pushing into uncharted territory. In this sense, the book destroys another myth: that everyone was doing it, so Armstrong was, in a weird way, just competing on a level playing field. There was no level playing field. With his connections to Michele Ferrari, the best dishonest doctor in the business, Armstrong was always “two years ahead of what everybody else was doing,” Hamilton writes. Even on the Postal squad there was a pecking order. Armstrong got the superior treatments.

So Armstrong was a champion at cheating and gaming the system as well.

I guess I'll go back to worshipping at the altar of Howard Roark. (And no Paul Ryan, this does not mean that you get my vote.)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Politics of Inclusion

Its rather thrilling to witness the Democratic Party's unabashed embrace of the LGBT community and their rights. Every single speaker, including Michelle Obama seemed to mention gay marriage either directly or euphemistically. At moments like this, you realise that you don't have to feel excluded to feel not-included. And that inclusion is a nice, toasty state of being.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Home is where the Hearth is?

My partner left home two months ago. And I know not when he will return. When I might next see him sitting on the couch watching grossly graphic medical programs on TV, while the dog fights his Macbook Air for real-estate on his lap. Filling up any available storage space in the bathroom with ever more exotically scented products from The Body Shop. Wafting the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee through the house each morning while getting me used to the privilege of having tea magically appear bed-side everyday. Engulfing me in his warm embrace every night. The hearth to complete our home.

He left because the system made it untenable to live at home with dignity. Climbing up Maslow's ladder of needs - physiological well-being, financial security, love, self-esteem and self-actualization - is an impossibly slippery task if you're an immigrant in the US looking to establish a career in an H1B-poor profession and if you happen to love someone of the same sex*. To have a loved one attempt the climb under those circumstances is to bear witness to the following.

To see him forced to stop working in the field he loves - and because of that, in this country have his access to healthcare severely restricted. To see him battle dozens of small everyday humiliations; small enough to be invisible to others but sharp enough to shred self-esteem. Like being unable to drive legally, in a country hostile to public transport and therefore becoming dependent on others for many of your transportation needs. Or having to hear care-less (hyphen intended), spiteful remarks made within hearing range by thoughtless acquaintances. To hear him describe what his self-actualized life would look like and then watch him chafe daily at not being allowed to start on that journey. To find yourself powerless to pull your partner onto firm immigration ground based on your own immigration/citizenship status to ensure his or her continued loving presence in your home*. To feel him silently, unhappily count down the days to his departure but know that he was already gone. To watch your home turn into a house.

I know what must happen now. But moving on, when you stayed put, is difficult. Surrounded by missing Minis and un-adopted brindled quadrupeds; unoperated coffee-makers, unvisited theaters, Body Shops.

My partner left our home two months ago. I'm afraid I know when he will return.

-----
*Straight couples with discordant immigration statuses can sponsor their partner's visa through marriage which is recognised by the federal government. Gay couples are not as fortunate since the 1998 Defense of Marriage Act (DoMA) prevents the US federal government from recognising same-sex marriages for any purpose including spousal immigration.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Skins, Sticky and Seared - Conclusion

Read Part I first

Read Part II first

Read Part III first

”Damn it!” , he heard her voice from somewhere below him. “Fucking tree!”

Kabir’s whole face was on fire. As he’d twisted in the air trying to catch hold of something, anything, he’d bounced the back of his head against a drain-pipe and immediately plunged into darkness. Apparently he hadn’t died yet – he seemed to have fallen through the cherry tree before hitting one of it's boughs so hard that he felt several ribs crack. But the bough also broke his fall. He was in shock, as much from Veronica’s bewildering betrayal as from his plunge.

“Veronica?” He started coughing up what he could only assume was blood from a punctured lung.

It sounded like she was beginning to climb the tree. Somehow he doubted it was to bring him down to safety and tend his wounds. He tried to shift his weight around but even a tiny movement sent an intense pain shooting through through his chest.

“I suppose you want to know why.”, she said as she heaved herself onto the next branch. “Very simply, you’re a boy-wonder playing in a grown-up’s world. Your product designs have made a lot of powerful guys really annoyed. So they made me a very generous offer to see if I could take you out and help them out too." He could feel her contempt coming at him in searing waves. "You were so easy. You gave me your whole heart for a smile. And for a few cheesy wake-up songs, you gave me access to your email and all your work.”


“Like I said, a boy.” She snorted in disgust. She was only a few feet away. “I was waiting for you to finish the bloody concepts. When they were done, we were done.”

He heard her panting inches away from him. She grabbed hold of a hand. “This won’t hurt at all – an empty air bubble in your blood stream. It will put you right out of your misery. Believe me, you don’t want to go on with the kind of injuries you have.” He raised his head from its resting place on the branch and looked at her with unseeing eyes. He started coughing even before he could get the first word out.

“I loved you.”

************************************************************************

Kabir awoke before the hypodermic syringe pierced his skin; chest heaving, heart pounding. Drenched in sweat. He felt so choked with emotion – pain, love, shock, fear - it was difficult to breathe. Just then the docked music player – that he’d designed, to great acclaim and that he’d failed to follow-up with a next act, to great shame - came alive with its wake-up song chosen, not by design, but randomly. As the baritone started singing “Besame Mucho”, he started crying.

He was alive. And he was still divorced from Karen.

For the last two years, he’d been trapped in a vicious, seemingly infinite loop – a creative block that filled him with frustration which in turn suppressed the few creative impulses that he might have had. She put up with months of him being wracked by self-doubt and diving daily into deep pools of self-pity. But once he started taking out his frustration on the people in his life, on her, she’d left. He’d hurt her - his one true love - he knew that. But she’d hurt him more by leaving him when he most needed her. I loved you, he sobbed to himself.

Reality was crowding quickly into his mind and he could feel the dream slipping away. He reached across to the pad and pencil lying on his side table. With a shaking hand he scrawled “iSkin” at the top of the page. “Dot microphone”. “Dot earphones”. He started sketching, crying all the while, from grief and sheer relief.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Skins, Sticky and Seared - Part III

Read Part I here

Read Part II here


They were at a dimly lit wine bar in the City’s gay district. It was Thursday when the bar owner took a weekly risk by having a live music group perform without a license. That night a Spanish guitar quartet occupied one end of the bar filling the room with soft strumming. It was a long, narrow room – warm, brown leather couches lined one wall that had been painted deep burgundy. The facing wall was covered by wooden barrels and racks holding dozens of dark hued bottles. The bar prided itself on its (truly rather impressive) collection of moderately priced yet good tasting red wine from all over the world. They had picked the couch closest to the band and over the last hour had been making their way through a bottle of a Portuguese red – one that didn’t fall into the category of port. Veronica was leaning forward – chin cupped in her hands – entranced by the music. Kabir twirled her curls in his fingers. It was only their fourth date but he felt a connection with her, one as beautiful as the one between his fingers and her curls. And as tenuous. Slippery. The thought sent a frisson of panic through him that made him tighten his hold. Veronica felt a soft tug on her hair and let herself fall back slowly to the backrest – her head coming to rest in the crook of his arm. Kabir felt choked up and had to clear his throat before he could speak. “Do you want to go back to my place for a coffee or a night-cap?”, he said. She turned the her brilliant green-eyed gaze towards him. He could see a spark of mischief in her eyes that fanned the embers of his own desire. She smiled.

They were at a tango-jazz fusion performance in the intimate basement space of the local jazz school. The room held maybe forty other patrons. As Veronica got up to get some more wine for her and coffee for him, the Argentine singer introduced her next song – dedicating it to those who’d been hurt in love – so they might find the courage, she said to “always, always, always say yes again, the next time love comes back into their lives”. Kabir felt his senses freeze with only her words filtering through. It felt like she was speaking directly to him. As Volonte started singing, he blinked back into full consciousness. “Listen.” He whispered. “Download.” The iSkin and its vast music library in the cloud would obey. And deliver. It always did. He turned in his seat to look at Veronica. She was standing with her back to him at the makeshift bar that had been housed in one of the school’s glassed-in administrative offices. Just then she turned around as well and her face lit up when she saw that he was looking at her. She gestured with her hands – placing one palm a short distance above the other and then raising it higher. Twice. There was just enough light in the bar area for him to make out that she wanted to know what size coffee he wanted. He replayed her gesture but with his right hand placed as high as he could above the left one. Very large. He was hoping it would be a long night. She laughed as he’d hoped she would. He liked seeing - and making - her laugh. The entire scene was bathed in colours from the red end of the spectrum; textured, bordered and hemmed in with shadows. Volonte’s sultry, soft voice filled the room. “Almodovar should’ve been here with his crew.”, thought Kabir. “Or maybe he already was.” The anemic light from the two incandescent bulbs above the bar counter played on Veronica’s shoulder-length, brown curls giving them a caramel glow that seemed to warm his very soul.

They were asleep in Kabir’s bed, their bodies wrapped around each other in a perfect fit. The iSkin music alarm piped up precisely at seven. Kabir groaned at the song. This was positively cruel! This was supposed to be a make-or-break work week for him. He could barely think of making it to Tuesday, let alone Friday.

A month ago, Veronica had asked to add her voice to his iSkin’s voice control. And since then she’d ever so often change the wake-up song on his Skin when he wasn’t watching. It was usually a funny or sweet surprise. She’d picked Maroon 5’s ‘Wake Up Call’ once. Pink Floyd’s ‘Coming back to life’ another time. And his favourite – Kelly Clarkson’s ‘My Life Would Suck Without You’. She’d picked “I Can’t Wait for the Weekend to Begin” as the song to begin that Monday with. He flipped around to give her a mock annoyed look. She’d woken up at the same time, since they’d taken to wearing one earphone each from his Skin each night, that they might share a morning alarm. “Good morning darling.” , She smiled mischievously. “Grrr!” was his only answer.

He rented a fourth floor walk-up in an old Victorian in one of the City’s oldest neighbourhoods. The master bedroom was right below the building’s sloping roof. It had a large terrace leading off from the room's four French-windows that provided a colourful vista of the roofs, chimneys and pediments of the neighbourhood’s majestic homes– many painted in psychedelic colours – purple and gold; hot pink bordered with lime green. Veronica rented her own apartment in one of the neighbourhoods by the sea, where some mornings she said, she was woken up not by the Skin’s music alarm but by the raucous sounds of parrots on her window-sill. But she’d said that sloping roofs had always been a fascination for her and so Kabir’s apartment had quickly become their default pad for stay-overs. Perhaps, he’d thought, it might not be too much longer before he could ask her to move in permanently.

He stood a couple of feet from the terrace railing ingesting his first fix of caffeine for the day. The wrought iron railing was practically a period piece from a decade where aesthetics sometimes over-rode safety and so were only three feet high. He’d always felt it wasn’t high enough for someone with his 6’ frame. Showered and dressed, he wanted to savour the last moments of quiet in the cool, stillness of the City’s morning, before he had to head out to the day’s craziness. Veronica stepped out, still wearing her negligee. A short purple, silk, thing that ended way above her knees. He loved its contrast with her porcelain legs. She hugged him from behind and kissed his ear. Then, as was her wont, intrepidly stepped to the railing to look down.

“Oh look!”, She cried.

“What is it?”, Kabir asked coming to stand by her. He looked down to see what she was pointing at – a cherry tree in the backyard, that he didn’t remember seeing - seemed to have exploded into colour while he was busy not seeing it. Veronica turned to him, her eyes shining with happiness. No, it was more than that. There was an energy in them he couldn’t quite describe. “Isn’t it beautiful?!”

“Yes it is.” He agreed.

“I think you should give work a miss today. Stay with me!”, She said, clasping his shoulder with both her hands. “It’s a beautiful day. The cherry trees are in blossom and it’s our five and a quarter month anniversary.”

“Yeah, right”, he laughed at the mere thought. Then turned to look at her to make sure she was joking, “Darling, the final design concepts are due today for the next generation devices. You know. I told you, remember? I’ve finally made a break-through. You inspired me.” He paused. “And now I finally have something fantastic for show everyone. I’ve kept it from the whole team because I wanted to build it up. It’s going to be huge.”

She pouted. “I know. But..”

Kabir interrupted her, “Darling, I’d have to have a really good excuse for calling in sick today.”

“Well…”, Veronica smiled coquettishly at him. He loved that look on her. And in that instant he knew, he loved her. “That could be arranged.”

Then, moving one hand to the small of his back and sliding her other hand down to the wrist of his free hand, she ripped off the iSkin that he’d wrapped on there, twisted his hand behind him, and shoved him with all her might.

By the time he let go of the coffee mug in his other hand, he was already too far over the edge to use it to grab hold of the railing.

To be continued

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Skins, Sticky and Seared - Part II

Read Part I first

Kabir walked into the book-store –he liked reading book titles in a book store whenever he had time to kill. There weren’t many people in the Almost Corner Book Store that late in the afternoon, so named because a grocery store separated it from the block’s corner. Piles of daily newspapers lay depleted to varying degrees by the entrance. The New York Times’ pile had suffered particularly in that Sunday’s weekly attack of the brunch-people. He ignored the piles of the morning papers, walking straight over to the Red Rack.

Books in the Almost Corner Book Store were primarily organized by spine colour and secondarily by height. If you didn’t know what the book looked like, you could end up spending a long time in the store. The owner, a silver-haired gentleman named Oscar Vasquez, was a retired dermatologist who’d grown up in an impoverished family in a hardscrabble town in small-town Mexico and who had taught himself to read English. Fascinated by English literature, he’d devoured every book of English fiction he could find starting from the Canterbury Tales to The Devil Wears Prada. Other people’s rather narrow-ranging reading habits constantly disappointed him. The legions of fellow book lovers he had met, who’d never read Walter Scott, or worse, hadn’t even heard of him, for example, shocked him. And so when he gave up his lucrative practice curing psoriasis by telling people to go vacation in Madeira, he decided to open a book-store that would help people expand their reading horizons. He told anyone who complained about the difficulty of finding books in his store – that the arrangement forced people to stumble across books and authors they would otherwise never even consider reading – and that if they couldn’t find the book they wanted, perhaps the universe was telling them to take a chance on a new writer, say for example Sir Walter Scott. Senor Vasquez knew every book’s colour and if you had a particular book in mind, usually the fastest way to find it in the store was to first ask him what colour it was. Several people left exasperated, never to come back. Others stayed, intrigued. And over time the Almost Corner Bookstore had acquired a cachet for the quirkiness of its experience in a city that treasured quirkiness – whether in its streets or its people.

Kabir liked the Almost Corner Bookstore –visiting it was a bit of a weekend routine for him. The rather unique method of organization actually helped his title-browsing hobby since it broke the monotony that could set in, in a traditionally organized book-store, if you ran into a prolific writer who liked following a theme in naming her books. Possession, he read. The Lost Language of Cranes. The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay. Unicorns in the Heather. Perfect Music Match. Wait, he thought. That wasn’t his inner reading voice. He looked down at the iSkin wrapped around his wrist. Not for the first time, its ability to mimic his voice had interrupted his thoughts seamlessly. He called it his iVoice in jest – I have MyVoice but the one that matters most is my iVoice, he’d joked to a friend once. He tweaked the device into rectangularity. The graphic on the screen showed two trumpets joining together to form a heart shape. The message “94% music match” was emblazoned below the graphic. The device had detected someone in his vicinity with tastes in music very closely aligned with his. It didn’t mean they had the same songs just that they liked similar sounding stuff. Browsing book titles was a calming hobby for him. Discovering new music that he liked, was a joy. A thrill, even. He looked around. The other customer had shared some of her playlists publicly – just like he had. Kabir’s pulse quickened as he flicked through her song collection. Several of his favourites were there but there were many more that he’d never heard. He looked around to see if he could spot the owner, who had to be within a few dozen meters because he’d set a distance limit on his playlist-sharing. There was no sense finding a treasure trove only to not know who had it and being able to talk to them. He turned around and caught his breath. There was only one other customer in the store. And she was beautiful. She was a vision. And she had Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun on her iSkin. That was such a guy song. (In fact, hardly any of his mates in the City knew the band let alone the song.) She was also looking at him – alerted, doubtless, by her iVoice about a kindred spirit being in proximity.

Not remembering to be his normal shy self, he walked over to her – blushing a little as she raised a delicious eyebrow at his approach. He noticed that her transluscent blue ear-studs were actually the Dot ear-phones from her Skin. She’d stuck them to her earlobes. He’d never seen anyone do that before. His were the regular silver ones and he wore them stuck inside each ear from where he rarely ever had to take them out. “I don’t mean to be presumptuous.” he said as he came to a stop before her. “But, ummm, I just wanted to tell you, that you have a beautiful…”, at this he found himself unable to prevent his eyes from scanning her from toe to top, where he saw that both her eyebrows were now arched. He stumbled over his words, “uh…a beautiful song collection.”

She smiled, amused.

Defying maybe eight different laws of physics, the sun suddenly shone through the store’s ceiling.

Read Skins, Sticky and Seared Part III


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Skins, Sticky and Seared

Kabir stepped off the treadmill and peeled the iSkin off his bicep. He winced a little, anticipating the pain as the slim slab of translucent polymer came off. The workout had left his skin covered with a sheen of sweat, which intensified the hold of the special moisture activated adhesive that coated the iSkin’s back, it also made it trickier to take it off. He felt a little frustrated. The run hadn’t relaxed him as it usually did - he just hadn’t been able to hit the “zone”, that wonderful mental state of rhythm-infused calm that once attained, left you simultaneously exhausted and refreshed at the end of a long run. He’d particularly been looking forward to it today. Fridays were usually a day he gave himself off from his daily dose of treadmill torture but after the stress of the last week it had seemed like a good idea to try and unwind with a run.

Kabir glared down at the device lying limply in his palm…as if it were somehow to blame for it all. Not for the first time, the way the polymer molded itself to the contours of his palm, with a bottom corner kind of dripping off the outer curve of his thumb, reminded him of a Dali painting. He tweaked the top right corner to bring it back to a stiff rectangular shape and put it into his shorts’ pocket. “Switch to Soothing” he said half under his breath which was loud enough for the hyper-sensitive, hyper-micro-phone, on the iSkin, no larger in circumference than the end of a cigarette, to pick up his command. The device obediently switched playlists. As the music changed from Beyonce’s latest breathless hit to a calming Sade crooning “By Your Side”, he felt his shoulders finally begin to relax and some of the tension start leaking from his body. He was in dire need of some inspiration.

Finished with his 45 minutes of daily exercise, the most that his lazy self could tolerate on a regular basis, Kabir walked towards the locker room, stopping by the water cooler for a quick few re-hydrating gulps. He peeled off the Dot micro-phone from the side of his neck and pasted it into the circular slot at the back of the iSkin.

The fingers of his right hand, unconsciously rubbed his left bicep, now iSkin-less, a habit he’d first acquired after purchasing the latest generation device a year back. It had started with him being curious to see if it was true that the device really could power itself by soaking up body warmth and attach itself post-it-like to any surface that offered up even a hint of moisture – in this case sweat buds. The patch of skin, that had been covered by the Skin felt cooler and drier than the rest of the arm. He made a mental note to apply an extra dab of moisturizer on the area. He started walking tiredly up the City’s main drag towards the tram car stop a couple of blocks up. A movement across the road caught his eye. A couple was standing there – the man had been pointing in his direction. Kabir turned to look back and saw he was standing in front of the a storefront-size, unclad Abercrombie and Fitch model. That was probably what the couple had been looking at. He walked on.

Read Skins, Sticky and Seared - Part II

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Daily Dish Needs to Serve Up a Recantation

When the California Supreme Court upheld Prop 8, prominent, gay, conservative blogger who prides himself on constantly trying to see what's in front of his nose, wrote in a post titled: Prop8 Ruling: The Right Call that it was a "perfect decision" since "It would have been dreadful if voters were retroactively told their valid vote was somehow null and void - it would have felt like a bait and switch and provoked a horrible backlash." Sullivan's a blogger I read quite often. He's always passionately opinionated - right on many issues, badly wrong on a few very important ones like the Iraq War (which he backed vociferously and then, to his credit, apologised for) and just plain, egregiously nasty on some - like his support for removing the transgender community from ENDA.

He's a bit of a lapsed conservative who clambered onto the Obama's bandwagon early on - at least partly because of his apparently deep detest for the Clintons - but his roots show every now and then, as in his reaction to the California SC Prop 8 ruling, which harks back to the ridiculous position of many conservatives in the US that people's will must supersede the courts' even on a question related to fundamental rights. The post surprised me because if nothing else Sullivan claims to be a keen observer and advocate of democracy (witness his vigorous and useful support for the Green Revolution in Iran last year and his posts in support of the "Ground Zero Mosque")- apparently he sat through only half the civics 101 lesson related to democracy being about the rule of the majority while skipping the part about minority rights being guaranteed.

Having ecstatically welcomed both the initial gay marriage ruling by the California SC and then in a more muted way Judge Walker's recent ruling invalidating Prop 8 - Sullivan should really be admitting to being wrong - in welcoming the ruling that upheld prop 8 and wrong in his understanding of how a democracy should work. You can't be the most prominent conservative, gay blogger on the internets writing primarily on politics and policy and be so wrong without admitting it, if you are to retain your credibility. And if doesn't think he was wrong, then it would be a great idea to state that as well and have his reader's debate him on the merits of his position.

Appending his original statement welcoming Prop 8 being upheld to his recantation would be a great idea. I've linked to it in case he has trouble locating it in the prolific archives of the Daily Dish.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Newly Type B Kids on the Block

So many flowers to smell, so little time

In an interesting article, a Japanese professor argues that there might be a sociological explanation for Japan's twenty years of economic stagnation - beyond a compulsive savings nature that is after all common to many other Asian societies. He posits a novel idea: that Japan is becoming a society that has outgrown growth; where the young, growing up in an aging, shrinking society and a warming world are increasingly frugal non-consumers and if that means that they end up being a smaller (though very prosperous) power, then that's just fine with them. And in any case, its slowly shrinking population could lift Japan's GDP per capita, already sky-high, even with no actual growth. In a sense he's saying Japan is transforming into a Type B personality quite distinct from Type A countries like the US, China or India or even its own relatively recent, hyper-competitive past. Instead it may be on its way to becoming, sociologically speaking, the Eastern-most member of Western Europe - several of whose nation states have also come to peace, in the last decade, with marginal growth rates (albeit at very high GDP per capita levels) and stable to shrinking populations. Western European nations don't seem to see GDP growth as a validation of a self-important self-image or an expression of their suppressed martial urges but as a means to providing their populations with a higher standard of living. Beyond a point, several have chosen to give their workers more paid days off in a year than increase productivity and GDP growth rates. Seen this way, Japan isn't suffering from a twenty year malaise but has simply opted out of the rat race, having gotten where it needed to get to. So they're trading in yen they could get in the future for some more zen in the present. It's an intriguing argument - can an entire society give up greed - and in doing so, collectively find greater inner peace?

Whether the writer is right or not about Japan, I suspect he is correct in his lateral suggestion that outgrowing growth might be the only sustainable option "in a world whose limits are increasingly apparent".