Thursday, April 17, 2014

The New Law of Reciprocation

Someone recently enlightened me about how teenagers in London, say hello to each other. I’m cutting the story short here, but it involves two teenage girls in the tube, having a casual exchange that goes something like this: ‘He sent me a naked picture.’ ‘Oh. What did you do?’ ‘(Shrugs) Sent him back one of mine.’ ‘How do you know him again?’ ‘Met him just once at a party.’ ‘You said you didn’t like him right?’ ‘Yes, but I didn’t want to be rude.’

Oh.

After discussing it with a few others here in India, I realized that it’s how it is here as well. It’s probably not yet a norm for politeness, but it does exist. I responded to this in three ways: As a person, I was appalled. As a parent, anxious. And as a writer, curious.

When I was a teenager back in the 90s, playing hard-to-get was still in vogue. Girls gave boys a good long run before they expressed any interest in them and the boys, in turn, seemed to appreciate this because it made them feel like they had won something. But like all cute traditions involving teenagers, this one also came with a rule. A rule that no one spoke of, but understood. And in my case, learned after several embarrassing situations. And the rule went like this: The length of time a boy chases you, is directly proportional to how good looking and popular you are. And oh, how much the other boys want you.
So. I learned politeness early.

I learned not to be shrewish and fussy, to not take anyone’s interest in me for granted and to always appreciate the nice things that people did for me. But most of all, I learned to reciprocate – a trait that has served me well in adulthood. Of course, reciprocation in the 90s didn’t always have to be in the same capacity. So if a boy liked me ‘like that’ but I didn’t, I responded by being nice to him and treating him like a friend. Because the rule of reciprocation went like this: You can’t like everyone ‘like that,’ but you can still be nice.  

Clearly, the law of reciprocation has been drastically revised since. And yes, I understand that it is the bane of every generation to attempt to exorcise the demons of the previous one, thereby begetting new demons. But what I don’t understand is this: What did these kids find so wrong with our hellos that they had to take such an extreme step?

Perhaps they recognized all societal norms to be a farce. They noticed that hellos between boys and girls are often loaded with sexual tension. And where there is tension, there is always an agenda.
Maybe, at a subconscious level, all they’re really looking for are friendships without hidden motives. And this is just their way of freeing themselves of said motives – by getting the sexual tension out of the way in the very beginning. And what better way to say ‘All right, get it over with and then we can be friends’ than sending naked selfies to boys you barely know and don’t really like? It’s kind of brilliant when you think about it. Right?

Hahaha, no. I’m messing with you. It’s warped, freaky and in every sense, a cry for help. We need to fix this. But how? Especially since it’s established that no generation has ever listened to the previous one. But what is also established is that they are programmed to go in the opposite direction. SO. I’m thinking, we should go completely cuckoo on them. Like, 90s-grunge cuckoo. Show up with weird hairdos, walk around in ripped jeans, break things for no reason, stay perennially high, appear promiscuous and generally act angry and misunderstood. They won’t know what hit them.


And they’ll learn to reciprocate by living on a freakishly high moral plane. If they don’t, we’ll start twerking. Just as soon as we find out what it means.

Monday, February 24, 2014

New People vs Old People (and the science of small talk)

People are always talking about how they like to meet new people. And they always say it like it's something they really like about themselves. Like, 'Oh, I just luuuuuurv meeting new people. It keeps things interesting' and 'I get a rush out of meeting and making friends with new people.' This bothers me. It's okay to like meeting people and all that, but why this over emphasis on NEW people? I mean, what about the old people? Now, I'm not against new friendships at all and I agree that newness is always exciting. But for me, the rush is in discovering new layers in people I thought I had completely figured out. You know? That moment when someone you've known for years, turns around and says or does something so out of character, that it makes you dig deeper. And then, upon digging, you find this whole story attached to this trait that's so familiar to you, and yet it's so different from the story you told yourself. It's like every person in your life comes with an infinite number of Easter eggs that are revealed to you from time to time if you won't stop looking. How cool is that. So yeah, for once in my life, I'd like to see a social media profile that reads 'I like hanging out with people I already know.' 

But then again, I'm on the other extreme of this situation. I'm so supremely happy with the alarmingly few people in my life, that I need to be pushed, bribed or blackmailed into putting myself in a situation that would involve small talk with new people. I'm like the fox in that episode of Full House where Jesse and Joey go into the forest to film the 'fast fox' for a Fast Fox Fax commercial (heh). And they sit there all night making vague noises, trying to coax the fox out of its hole, but it refuses to surface. And after a whole night of no-show, they start singing Happy Trails in their desperation and the fox finally comes out. Yeah, it takes a lot of effort and most people pack up and leave. 

But see, this is not because I'm snooty. It's because I really don't get the science of small talk. And it’s a science, mind you. An exclusive science that everyone but me seems to be in on. I've tried and I don't get it. Everything about it makes me anxious. Like, when people you've just met, look you squarely in the eye and say "Let's keep in touch." See, now everyone agrees that this is just plain, old fashioned manners, but I just don't get it. Because for me, keeping in touch is an entirely spontaneous process that I give no thought to. I meet you at some vague party, we talk for sometime, we do okay, we leave. Then we randomly bump into each other again, talk some more, find that we get along good. Then we end up working together on something and this time, we really hit it off and suddenly, tada! We’re friends.
SO. I get very nervous when people just DECLARE it like that – Let’s keep in touch. Because then, it becomes a plan. And when something is a plan, my brain goes off into OCD mode. I need to know everything about the plan so I can decide if I’m on board with it. So I want to ask this unsuspecting, friendly new person I’ve just met, a few questions about this PLAN. Like, how are we going to do this? Are you going to  call me or am I supposed to call you? If I don’t call, will you think I’m ignoring you? Also, what will we talk about when we’re keeping in touch? So many questions.

Of course, I refrain. It is never OKAY to unleash the crazies on someone you’ve just met. You should wait at least 3-6 months and see if they’ll pass the test. This is why old friends rock. Because they’ve seen you go batshit  and for some unfathomable reason, they’ve decided to stick with you. And since their expectations are so low, it can only go uphill from here, see? This is just logic.

Some people argue that you never know what to expect around new people and the whole unpredictability of it all is what they find so exciting. And then they'll annoy you with that overused sentence "because I'm a very adventurous person." I don't get it. If adventure is what you want, why not jump off a plane with a half-broken parachute? That way, you might even make it to the front page. But using new friendships as some sort of bungee jumping exercise? That's just uncool, dude. 

But they aren't the worst offenders. It's the ones who are out there "networking." I think networking is perfectly legit as long as you make your intentions known. Then it becomes a purely professional exercise for both individuals. But meeting people, pretending to be their friend, regularly keeping in touch with them and then referring to them as a "good contact" behind their backs? I will never get that. 

But that's all perfectly OKAY. As long as you're adventurous and like to meet new people. 


Sunday, January 26, 2014

When Sophie Met Sid (The Weirdly Fictitious Post).

So. Yashodara Lal Sharma, the lovely author of Just Married, Please Excuse, has come out with her second novel - Sorting out Sid. She asked me sometime back if we could get our lead characters (Sid from her novel and Sophie from my second novel, Sophie Says: Memoirs of a Breakup Coach) to meet, and I thought it would be a fun experiment. So we had a short exchange the other day, as our characters (She was Sid and I was Sophie), on Google Talk and I have to say, I'm enjoying every second of this MPD thing. It was so much fun fake-drunk flirting as a fictional woman with a fictional man written by a woman.

Schizophrenia is company. MPD is a party ;-)

         ***

Setting: A Bar in Chennai. Lights Dim. A guy and a girl find themselves sitting next to each other at the counter. Both are on their third or fourth drinks.

Sid: (Preens, trying to get her to notice his newly sprouting French Beard. He refuses to be the one to say something first even though he feels like a conversation. It would be too forward of him.)

Sophie: And this is a day I never thought I'd see in Chennai..

Sid: (Hoping she isn't one of those crazies who end up in places like this) Excuse me?

Sophie: (completely ignoring his cautious approach) Nothing, I find it charming that you think you're being subtle checking me out.

Sid: ( sputters and chokes-he was in the middle of taking another swig of his Beer. Recovers and says with as much dignity as possible). Madam. I assure you I was not. I was merely looking at MYSELF in the mirror to see how my new French Beard is coming along. I apologize if you thought I was looking at you. (He adds) I am very much a married man. Married fifteen long years, actually. (Shows her his ring to convince her of the fact.)

Sophie: (rolling eyes) Okay, relax, take a breath and all that, Gilderoy Lockhart. (a beat, speaking more to herself ) Wow, so there's hope for that sinking institution after all…

Sid: Gilderoy..who? Oh I see. I understand. I'm sometimes mistaken for a foreigner. Well, it happened once. Oh, but that's when I was in China, so I guess I was a foreigner only (Shakes head to clear it). Anyway. My name is Sid. Siddharth, actually, but everyone calls me Sid. And you are...?

Sophie: Never mind. You might be too old for a Harry Potter reference anyway (quickly realizes she's too old as well and tries to change the subject). I'm Sophie. And everyone calls me Sophie. Or The Breakup Coach.

Sid: (shocked) A ...break up coach? I didn't know there was such a thing. How unusual (Suddenly realizes she was making a barb at his age). Hey. I'm only 36. I've been TRYING to look older because I might soon become a VP at my company. And I'll have you know that my marriage is JUST FINE. No sinking institution at all. (Sinks lower in his chair, trying to keep thoughts of his last fight at home at bay)

Sophie: I was actually commenting on marriage as an institution and not your marriage specifically, but interesting response (looks at him like she's making a psycho analytic observation). Also, VP at 36, huh? Good for you. I'm 31, fashionably quit my job a few months ago because it wasn't "fulfilling" and now I have nooooo idea what I want to do… (smiles vaguely, looking straight ahead.) (a long pause). You know, at this point, it is polite to offer a sad fact about your life.

Sid: (caught off guard) Sad fact...well, I would except that my life is fine, FINE. It's Rockin'! (thinks for a bit, realizing he may be overdoing it) Well, I suppose...it could get better. Mandira and I have been ...er, having differences of opinion rather a lot. But that's normal in any relationship, right? (Changes track, embarrassed at having opened up to this strange girl, although she is kind of cute. But he's married!) So, no job eh? A free bird-types?! I'm sure joblessness has its moments. Doesn't it?

Sophie: (noticing he's embarrassed about opening up and getting a kick out of making him feel worse): Whoa, whoa, Sid…too much information.. It's not cool to discuss fights with your wife with strange women at the bar, you know? (impish smile)
Sid (feeling uncomfortable) Yes, yes...well, you're the one who started with the whole break up, sinking institution thing. Never mind. Wait, so you're not really jobless then, right? You do that...Break up Engineering thing?

Sophie: (laughing) You're so cute... (Doing a Sid impression) "you're the one who started it..nananana" (chuckling again)..sorry, sorry,  I'm 4 margaritas down. And yeah the Breakup "Engineering" thing is more of a blog I write. It's called Sophie Says. Hey, you should look it up on Facebook! Uhh, not that you need it or anything.

Sid: (Tips of his ears turning pink at having been called cute. But wait, she's just making fun of him) Yeah. I definitely, so definitely don't need your services. (Doesn't like the way that sounds) Er, what I mean is ... yeah, my marriage is fine, but still. What do you do exactly? I would look it up, but I'm not much on Facebook. I don't get the time at work, busy long days, meetings, emails, important stuff, you know. Plus (confessing a little shamefacedly) They keep using some Firewall thingy to block it at office.

Sophie: (laughs) Well, as a Breakup Coach, I get to slap some sense into Breakees. Uh, Breakees is a word I coined for people who get dumped. You know Relationship Junkies who think they're entitled to whine all over town, throw tantrums and boil your bunny because you dumped them? Yeah, I like to fix those losers. Kind of like a contribution to society and all. Also, this whole thing is built around the philosophy that it is the Breakers who suffer more at the end of a relationship and NOT the Breakees who have friends, countless tubs of Baskin Robbins and good old fashioned self-pity to fall back on…(Looks at Sid thoughtfully).Also, you keep saying that your marriage is fine A LOT. Just an observation. Feel free to ignore it. But you know, you strike me as the king of denial.

Sid: (defensive) That's because it is Fine. A LOT. That's just how it is. I am so totally NOT the king of Denial. That's just ( Realizing he's denying it too hard) ...And I have no idea what this Breaker and Breakee business is. Isn't it possible for two people to just mutually decide that it's not working, at some point? ( He takes another large swig to fortify himself. This conversation is taking a toll on him. Looks at her, with almost a plea in his eyes this time) Doesn't that EVER happen?

Sophie: Like I said, just an observation. But I feel like you're very all-caps-y every time you talk about your marriage, you know?  (she sighs, there's a pause) And I wait for that day as much as you…the day when the breaker and the breakee deal with their own problems…(examines her glass. it's empty.) So tell me, mysterious stranger with too many unresolved issues, should I order another one or are you afraid you might fall in love with me? (drunk laughs).

Sid: ( trying to suppress the strange attraction he feels towards her. Come on, you're the master of suppressing things, he tells himself) I'll take that chance. (turns away from her)  Bhaiiya! I mean Waiter! We'll have another refill, this lovely young lady and I.( Searches his head for a safe topic) So...are you from Chennai?

Sophie: (thinking to herself: Oh, crap. What did I do. I already have a Ryan and a Yatan to deal with and after all the grief I gave Bonnie about the married guy… oh, please God..I've learnt my lesson! I shall never judge again!) (Smiles). Yup. Been here all my wife. Er, life. You?

Sid: I'm from Delhi. Er, well, I'm actually from Lucknow but now I live in Delhi. Used to be in Bombay, but my wife got a great job opportunity in Delhi so we moved there. Good for me, though! Doing very well at work. The VP thing you know. ( Realizes he sounds like a bit of an ass but it's too late to backtrack)

Sophie:  I was just at that point in my margarita buzz when I had gotten past my existential pain. But now that you've reminded me again about what an unaccomplished mess I am what with that VP thing you keep bringing up and all.. (pouts at the mirror, trying to see if she can appear girly for a change) Anyway… this has been peculiar, Sid. I never thought I'd see the day in Chennai.. when a cute guy would check me out at a bar and then tell me that he was only checking out his new french beard. (smiles)

Sid: (Humorless laugh) Okay! Fine! You want to hear it? I will TELL YOU (getting very loud)...I'm a VP at my company, all right...BUT YOU HAVEN'T ASKED WHAT WE MAKE!
WE MAKE TOILET CLEANERS. YOU KNOW...STAIN REMOVAL FOR WESTERN AND INDIAN STYLE BOTH. NEW PERFUMED VARIANT. I WENT FOR THE PRODUCT RESEARCHES MYSELF. IT WAS ENLIGHTENING! HAHAHAHAHAHA

Sophie: Ohh-kay. My girl erection just went down.

Sid: So You're not the one with existential problems! I'm the LOSER! Ha ha! I WIN! (suddenly realizes what she just said, and looks hopeful) You mean I could have...we could have...can we rewind and maybe ...

Sophie: (laughs) I think this is the point in that drunk cocky boy meets drunk damaged girl scenario, where they should both get up and leave. (Leans in to whisper to him mock-seductively) You know? Since your marriage is FINE and all? (picks up her bag to leave, flashes him a smile.) This has been sweet, Sid. But let's NOT keep in touch on Facebook. (winks).

Sid: (calls after her) I wasn't interested anyway! You're not  my type after all! And I'm too loyal! My MARRIAGE IS FINE! ( Sees he is now alone except for the waiter staring at him with arms crossed. Looks at him haughtily) One more, Bhaiiya! (Slumps over the bar)


*** 
You can pick up your copy of Sorting Out Sid here and Sophie Says here

Thursday, December 19, 2013

On Part-Delusions

Gwen: 'This Dr. Reed is bad news.' 

Mindy: 'No, he has a good heart. I think he's like Hugh Grant in About a Boy.' 

Gwen: 'He's like Hugh Grant in real life.'  -  The Mindy Project  


Someone once told me "I want you forever. Not everyday, but forever." I thought it was romantic at the time. At least, it was a huge leap from the previous one who couldn’t see our relationship even a few hours into the future. Also, pop culture – and by that I mean Katherine Heigl and Jennifer Aniston movies – had rewired my brain to be suspicious of men who said all the right things. So yes, I was a sucker for blunt deliveries. I found the honesty, charming. 

See, romantic-comedy, as a genre, has been glorifying the "real" man for way too long. The emotionally-stunted guy who eventually confronts his feelings and comes around, but only after putting our adorable heroine through the worst (The Switch, Sex and the City, Jerry Maguire, Made of Honour); the guy who is always acting like a jerk but it's only because his wife died or cheated on him and left him cold and dead inside. We are then led to believe that there is this good, almost caring-too-much guy lurking just beneath the surface and all our heroine has to do is scratch that surface and set him free (The Ugly Truth, Life as we know it, About a Boy, 27 Dresses). Needless to say, this does not happen in real life. Commitment phobes are often better left alone and the guy (or girl) who acts like a jerk is really just a jerk.

I know some smartass will say 'But you're not supposed to take romantic-comedy so seriously.' Yes, I get that. But since you're feeding me lies anyway, the least you can do is feed me a complete lie. See, my all-time favorite fictional men are Henry (who is a time-traveler from The Time Traveler's Wife), Darcy (19th century), Leopold (of Kate and Leopold, who is a Duke who time-traveled from the 1800s) and my current big time TV love, Elijah Michaelson (who is a 1000 year old vampire from The Originals and The Vampire Diaries). Now you see what all these men have in common? They are entirely fictional. Which means, there is no risk of me sitting here waiting for a vampire or a time-traveler to show up and declare his undying love for me. These men simply give me a rush of blood to the head every once in a while, simply by existing in a parallel universe. And I have no trouble going back to my ordinary 21st century existence and rolling eyes at the ordinary 21st century men and their fashionable pop-psych issues.

But when you take the concept of eternal love with a gorgeous man who will adore me everyday and who'd much rather DIE than not be with me, and then you water it down to a story about a girl who finds her perfect someone in a commitment phobe or a self-serving jerk who changes in the end, you are on dangerous ground. Because you are now feeding a delusive idea that is much bigger and infinitely more toxic than the one that existed before. 'Cause here's a fun fact: vampires and time-traveling dukes do not exist but emotional halfwits are EVERYWHERE.

Besides, what's up with this need to make everything "real?" I don't know about you, but I can only enjoy my reality when it's balanced out by an alternate reality. I'm not using the word delusion because it's all in the way you see it. I mean, isn't fiction meant to be a kind of escape? And if we can't even aspire for perfection in fiction, I shudder to imagine our real world standards. So, yes. It's the part-delusion you need to watch out for. A complete delusion won't hurt you.

And it might have kept Mark Darcy alive. Yeah, Helen Fielding killed Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones 3. I haven't read the book so I don't know the cause of death. I suspect it was "real" writing.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The thing about breaking bad (and Breaking Bad)


I miss those days when we all went about our relationships with pedestrian preoccupations such as 'What if he's (or she's) cheating on me.' I mean, if I get into a relationship now, I'd have a ton of anxieties to choose from. If the guy starts acting weird, withdrawn or secretive, I'd go - 'What if he's a fraud whose lies I'd have to cover up for the rest of my life? (Suits) or 'What if he's a "good" serial killer? (Dexter) or 'What if he's a SPY who was sent to lure me into a relationship, make secret sex tape which he will later hand over to my DAD? (Scandal)' or the worst one yet - 'What if he's COOKING CRYSTAL METH, YO? (Breaking Bad). 

I mean, I get the fascination with the dark side and all that. And as a writer, I get that there is no story without conflict and the bigger the conflict, the more exciting the plot. And it's not like this telling-the-bad-guy's-story or the story of the-good-guy-forced-to-do-bad-things is even new. BUT. Please acknowledge that this is some seriously twisted shit that we're being served up on television of late and what's worse, it's by popular demand! 
Just yesterday, I was watching Breaking Bad and found myself wincing every time Walt came close to getting caught by Hank. At this point, the voice in my head yelled me into pausing and observing a minute's silence to feel nothing but shame. 
I still want him to get caught by Skyler though, so maybe my ethics are not entirely clouded by pop culture yet. But who knows? I'm only on Season 2. There are still two and a half seasons left to slowly surrender my soul to the whole Maybe-there's-no-such-thing-as-right-and-wrong school of non-thought that everyone's subscribing to these days. Hey, I don't mean to be preachy, okay? But if your addiction to these shows doesn't cause you any kind of ethical discomfort at all, then maybe - just maybe - you're on Season 5 already. Yeah, you're too far gone, yo. 

Also, I feel so sorry for the impressionable young girls growing up on this stuff. I mean, they're probably going to get attracted to seriously boring men because they are now primed to believe that they must be leading some sort of dangerous, exciting double life. 
It's true, you know? I was eleven when I identified Axl Rose as the definition of desirable. I'm 32 now and when I see a grown man in ripped jeans with even a borderline rock personality, my brain immediately orders my knees to go weak in acknowledgment. I mean, if this guy is past his twenties and is still dressing like that, he probably has more issues than I do. And while I'm more than aware that 1993 was a long time ago, my brain is still wired to think he is hot. SO. These kids growing up on Breaking Bad are in for a lot worse. I mean, they'll get into relationships or worse, get married to these nerdy types expecting epic twists to their story. And when they realize that they are just regular, good guys who care about their families and are law-abiding citizens, they are going to get disappointed. And it's not going to be easy to get out of that relationship either. Just imagine how that conversation would go: 

'Do you seriously have NOTHING to hide?' 

'No!' 

'So this is ALL there is to you? You're just a good, responsible guy?'

'Uhh, yes? I swear, I can prove it. What do you want me to do?' 

<Throws things> Are you KIDDING me? This is NOT what I signed up for! This is supposed to be the smoke-screen. You are supposed to moonlight as a drug lord or an ex-con who is now helping the police or I don't know, at least tell me you have two passports or something! 

'What? What are you talking about?' 

'Oh, dear God. It's true, it's true! I married the smoke-screen, I married the SMOKE-SCREEN!' 

'What? Wait. What smoke-screen? What are you talking about?' 

'Okay, regular-super-unforgivably-boring-dumbass, it's like the womanizing-hotel-buying-power-abusing Bruce Wayne acting as a smoke-screen for Batman. Or the plain vanilla Walter White acting as a smoke-screen for Heisenberg. GET IT? Now, tell me. Do you or do you not have a Heisenberg?' 

'Oh, man. You are so damaged. What did your parents do to you?' 

'Okay, okay. Are you at least having an affair?' 

'What? Of course not!' 

<Sobs> I can't believe this. I CAN.NOT believe this! Was I not even worth something as boring and entirely cliché as an affair? Do I really inspire NOTHING in you? <Screams and exits>' 


Yeah, that's going to be one twisted generation. This is where vampire fiction trumps everything else. For all the flak the genre has been getting (though mostly for the right reasons), I can rest assured that my daughter is never going to bring home her 137 year old vampire boyfriend and expect me to offer him squirrels and bunnies for dinner. But on a more serious note, what I like about Vampire Diaries at least (it's the only vampire fiction I watch, I promise) is that - it begins with humanity at its most depraved and pushes it along the path to redemption. So yes, give me those dark, twisted, brooding and by all means, flawed characters. But give me characters who struggle - on a daily basis - to overcome the bad. This whole overcoming-the-good-side-to-do-the-inevitable-bad-thing is a dark path that we've opened the door to and we're going to pay for it. 


But whatever, yo. I didn't write it. I'm on Season 4 and can't stop now.